about me · My Soapbox · Parenting · Personal essays

teacher Appreciation

Last week was teacher appreciation week. I have been a teacher for roughly 12 or so years – an early childhood teacher who is unforgivingly titled as a “Daycare worker.” My lack of state or national certification does not make me less deserving to be called a Teacher. This frequent “mistake” has even made me hesitant to tell people my occupation because the next question is, “oh! what grade?” Then I have to explain that it’s not a grade but an age. And unless I say I am teaching 4 and 5-year-olds, people picture piles of diapers, runny noses, and constant temper tantrums, which is not far from the truth. However, being an early childhood teacher requires lessons in not only numbers, letters, and shapes but we must also teach self-awareness, self-help, and self-expression. It has often been quoted that the 1st five years are the foundational years and I have never taken that lightly. For most, it is not until they require childcare, that people realize the importance of preschools and child development centers. Or some see another child, same age as their own, and that child is potty trained at 16 months or reading at 2 years old that they learn that their child is being taught and not attended to. Despite having taught infants, toddlers and 4 and 5-year-olds, I have never taken my role for granted. At one point, I felt that my teaching certification would provide me the validation needed for the public. It was not until recently that I have found my own validation in my teaching abilities. I have always been an advocate for early childhood programs, but it has been a hard fight trying to convince most that even though my day does not end at 3pm, I teach the children AND their parents, day in and day out.

I LOVE being a teacher. It is my gift. The amount of gratification I receive cannot be described. It is not my only calling in life, but it positively frames how I present myself to the world. I no longer wish to trade with 2nd-grade teachers in order to earn some level of professional respect. I have lost the desire to force myself into the public school system as an early childhood teacher (even though I applaud the state for including ECE into the school system ♥). Being a teacher is an often thankless job, that’s why we get a “teacher appreciation!” Parents and administrations have the opportunity to say or show thanks. A simple act that goes a long way. Most parents of children under age 5 cannot wait until Monday morning to deposit their child back to “daycare” and cannot imagine having 10 of the same age running around. Those same parents expect their child to talk, walk, read, write, and potty by age 5 through those “daycare workers.” So even if I cannot be called a teacher or if parents can’t say that their child attends school, “thank you for all you do” will suffice. I can and have adapted to the rest.


Give love. Get love.



Gifting from the Heart – Parents edition

With 7 days left until Christmas, I am updating this post from last month targeted towards a specific group – PARENTS!

If your home is already overrun with toys (see yesterday’s post )and you know your child will not be excited about any piece of clothing, consider these options:

  • Create experiences!
    • Ask relatives for memberships to local museums, like the McWane Science Center, or to the Zoo, or even play experiences such as Kindermusik, ArtPlay at UAB
    • Download/print the upcoming schedule of your local event arena and allow your child to select a performance.
    • Plan a road trip or your child’s 1st train/plane trip. You can include your child in the planning process by allowing them to pick stops or attractions. They can also help save towards the trip (a lesson in responsibility and delayed gratification 😉).
    • Take your child to their favorite restaurant or play spot. If you are a parent of multiples, spread this treat through your Christmas break with each child.
  • Participate in Random Act of Kindness
    • distribute socks and toiletries to the homeless
    • distribute homemade Christmas cards at a local assisted living facility
    • give old/gently used books to your pediatrician’s office
    • donate coloring books and crayons to a children’s hospital
    • offer a homecooked meal to a family spending the holidays in your local Ronald McDonald House

However, if you feel that your child deserves a toy or something tangible to unwrap Christmas morning, how about

  • if your child is in preschool, ask your child’s teacher if there is a toy your child prefers or plays with daily
  • choose toys that they can grow into such as magnetic tiles, legos, building blocks (search for patterns online for your child to attempt)
  • board games (they allow for not only teaching experiences but also help create family memories)
  • invest in your child’s interest (Proverbs 22:6 AMP)
    • voice lessons
    • acting classes
    • joining a team sport

Again, make Christmas more about the giving. We are all given the gift of Jesus, God’s son. He’s the reason we celebrate so in that spirit, show your children how to express that same level love, beginning in your home, and spreading it everywhere they go.

Give Love. Get Love.



Gifting and Re-gifting

We live in a day where technology has become a daily necessity and in some cases, an obsession. Toddlers know how to how to talk selfies and/text. People neglect the simplicity of just talking. But this is not an anti-technology rant but an awareness of the importance of appreciating each other and the things we currently possess. Because tomorrow is not promised, each day should be treated as a gift. That is a lesson that our children need to obtain, especially during this time of year where getting is emphasized over giving.

I read something – either a blog post or a meme – about giving each time you get. It was stated that each time you purchase something, that you should give or get rid of something. So when you buy a new purse or a new pair of jeans, you have probably just replaced a purse you no longer carry or a pair of jeans you no longer wear. I have done my best to abide by that principle because it makes so much sense to me. As much as I would love to have variety and options in my wardrobe, I lean to the comfy and the black or neutrals. My fashion instinct tells me that I should always bet on black when I dare to venture into color!! So, unfortunately, those pops of color usually end up in my “give” pile. This will definitely apply to your children!

First, it is always best to rotate toys, particularly for children 5 years and younger. “Out of sight, out of mind.” Presents that are opened for Christmas or a birthday can be divided and stored for a later day. Even those toys that don’t pop with your aesthetic, can be passed along.

Second, depending on the age of your child, you can sort through those old toys yourself or make it Saturday morning project, and decide which toys can be given to a family that cannot afford toys. Or the toys can be given to a friend that has younger children. Either way, the point is to give.

  • Children 2 and younger – just sort and bag.
  • Children 3 and up – I would involve them in the process explaining to them that there are those, the same age as them, that are not able to celebrate in the same manner. Children are able to understand lending a helping hand especially if it is taught. Do not underestimate their abilities to comprehend.

Aside from wanting to make room for the incoming, the lesson “tis better to give than receive” for the attitude towards the outgoing. Children need to be taught the appreciate the feeling that comes when you are able to give. If they can embrace this principle, they can spread the love that the world needs.

Use a few days over the Christmas break to create a new tradition. Allow your children to be the change you want to see in the world.

Give Love. Get Love.


Toddler Tidbits: Part 2

You’ve survived your 1st year of parenting! Your baby has gone from being held to crawling, and now you have a full-blown walker! Bottles are being phased out. They open their mouths every time you raise a fork or spoon to yours. And you have found less need for that huge baby bag. Maybe you have already transitioned or have found it easier to carry a backpack but now that your child is older, what do you really need to carry?

At this point, you know your child’s cries and needs. Therefore the essentials of carry are simple:

  • 1 change of clothes (this may vary depending on how your child eats and how they potty but use your best judgment, especially depending on how long you will be out and about)
  • Diapers (again the amount depends on how long you will be out but keep about 8-10 in the bag that you can store and forget)
  • 2 cups – an empty, one with juice and then a bottle of water. If you child has transitioned to whole, almond or soy milk, I would recommend using a thermos because it needs to be kept cold, unless your bag has an insulated pocket/compartment.
  • Wipes
  • Travel-sized ointments, creams, lotions
  • Snacks (varies depending on your child’s taste or your preference)
    • If your child loves fruit, use your smaller Tupperware containers and fill ’em
    • I love to combine toddler tidbits to make a little finger trail mix such as the yogurt melts, cereals, raisins, Teddy Grahams, Goldfish crackers, etc.
  • Toys and small board books
    • Toys should be small and quiet (cars, balls, action figures or small stuffed toy, 
    • It is nice to include toys that they love but I suggest that these toys remain in the bag so that your child can forget about it – out of sight out of mind. Every time they see the toy, it will be new to them.
  • Bib – not the cotton drool bib, unless your child is a drooler or still teething but a feeding bib. Walmart and Target sell them for about $5 for 2.
  • Fork and spoon (optional) depending on if you are trying to help your child learn how to self-feed with utensils

Eventually, you might be able to phase out to just a freezer bag with a change of clothes and a travel-sized pack of wipes, a couple of toys, and a cup. It truly depends on your need and how prepared you want to be for your child. I always tell parents to do what works for you. Everyone has an opinion but you must do what is best for you and your child.

Parenting is a journey definitely not a destination.

Give Love. Get Love.


Parenting · Self Love

Kitchen ABC’s

For most adults, you learn how to feed yourselves according to your appetite. If you love watching Food Network, like me, you imagine a kitchen filled with the latest gadgets and utensils. Until that dream becomes a reality, you might have these basics on hand (most probably acquired during your college years): pots and pans, spatula, maybe a mixing spoon, probably a whisk, and aside from the staple silverware, you might have a knife block. 

As a woman, the saying goes, “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” Yet, any man that is willing to cook for me and with me is a keeper! I like using my hands and trying to figure out how seasonings pair or standing over a mixing bowl saying, “what if I add this?” or “I wonder how this will taste?” Sharing my creations has not always worked in my favor BUT I can follow a recipe to a tee (I still have to add my own personal touch!)

But regardless if you have flights of fancy of starting your own cooking web series, there are some kitchen staples that every home can use. You never know when the day will come and you want to host a dinner party, or you might feel like experimenting in the kitchen like I do.


I asked my childhood friend and talented chef, Birmingham’s Chef Eryka Perry of Not Just Catering, to lend her expertise by providing a list of kitchen staples that everyone should have – married, single parent, doting bachelor or family of 5.


  • Garlic (fresh or minced)
  • Basic seasonings (salt, pepper, garlic powder, paprika)
  • Coconut and olive oils (these are NOT interchangeable)
  • Liquid amino acids – building blocks of life (great substitute for soy sauce, and flavor additive) 
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Italian herb mix: oregano, basil, rosemary, thyme, sage
  • Lemon or lemon juice



  • One good knife because it can make magic
  • One pyrex or casserole dish
  • Small and large saute pan or skillet
  • Median and large sauce pot
  • Bowls (various sizes: small, medium and large)
  • Ziplock bags (varying sizes: sandwich, quart, freezer)
  • Nuwave oven: can replace stove, oven, and microwave
  • Rubber spatula
  • Tongs
  • Wooden spoon
  • Forks and spoons (4 of each) – never know when you will want to or need to entertain



  • Greens: Kale, spinach, collards
  • Frozen fruits
  • Bananas
  • Canned tomatoes
  • Beans (canned or dried, depending on your preference)
  • Rice (brown or wild rice blend)
  • Butter

I am going to add flour and sugar to this list because anything can be made or created when you have those in your cabinet as well.

These are just some basics that you should keep stocked. You can add other foods, seasons, equipment to your liking.

Besides, recipes are becoming easier to follow. If you can subscribe to Hello Fresh or Blue Apron, you can surely select a recipe online or at your local Publix, purchase the needed ingredients and then enjoy the fruits of your labor. BONUS: Having a home cooked meal saves money and calories! 

(Shameless Plug): Chef Eryka offers food coaching, cooking classes, lunch and learns, AND she will even come to your home and cook for you and yours!!!! Contact her today <info@notjustcatering.com> and follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter and THEN subscribe to her newsletter  😉





365 days later

You made it! You survived your 1st year as a parent! You kept your child alive for an entire year :). Now you enter into the potentially highly stressful situation of planning his birthday party. Do you make reservations at the infamous Chuck E. Cheese that does not genuinely cater to children under 5? Do you go to McDonald’s or Chick-Fil-A with a cake where your child, who may or may not be walking, cannot climb up the play structures and slide? Or do you invite friends and family to your home and try to have a cartoon-themed party?

How should your child’s 1st year be celebrated? In my opinion, this should be a time for the family to congratulate themselves. Parents are not wholeheartedly prepared for the numerous responsibilities of childrearing. So many changes as your child is growing, exploring, and evolving. Does it stop after the 1st year? Of course not! However, if you take the time to glance back at the pictures you took in the hospital, during their 1st doctor’s visit, the 1st time they smiled, the video of them tasting food, or the 1st time they sat up alone, you see all of those firsts!

So it is my humble opinion that parents should enjoy their child’s 1st birthday. They deserve a level of celebration. I was discussing this topic with my sister-in-law and she suggested the parents get wined and dined and I agree! I do not see anything wrong with parents clanking glasses to say, “Yes! We did it! We made it! The little human that we were privileged to create is still here and healthy 12 months later.” This is a highly interdependent relationship: parents did not exist with a child and a child is not created without parents. Celebrations all around!

Over the past year, I have attended four one-year-old birthday parties.

  • There were 2 house parties
    • One parent had a story time. The godmother is a library so she read “Pete the Cat” and it was a hit.
    • The other party was just a big family affair with a Peppa Pig theme. All the foods were pig related – curly fries to represent a cute little piggy tail and pigs in the blanket.
  • The other 2 were on-location
    • The mall has a carousel in the middle of the food court, so these parents reserved tables near the ride. They got a chicken tray from Chick-Fil-A and the little attendees were treated to vanilla ice cream cone. Then the birthday girl and her court were able to ride, many of them for the 1st time. It was easy and convenient. (Even if someone forgot a gift or didn’t have time to shop, they could just go to a store there!)
    • One grandparent decided to have a big Mickey Mouse theme blowout with a huge inflatable house and water slide at a local park. This party had so much grilled food – hot dogs for the kids and chicken for the adults. The weather was perfect! There was no rush to leave the pavilion and when the birthday boy got tired, he napped in his stroller.

The best thing about each party is that they were all about family. That should be the goal. Surround your child with love from their village. Even though they will not remember the day, they will see the excitement, hear the birthday song, and feel the love.

Give love. Get love.




The Village

Although I am not a parent, I have parented several children throughout my years as an either an educator, nanny, aunt, or sister. Each of those roles as afforded me the opportunity to be a part of a village. From my 3-year-old niece to my just-turned-1-year-old nephew to my friend’s children to all the children I have had the pleasure of calling me, “Ms. Valerie” or more recently, “Ms. Jones,” I have the honor of being a part of several villages.

Raising a child is not easy, and I do think anyone has have made that claim. This is why it is important for parents to know how to create their village. Regardless of how convenient family is or if the grandparents are deceased, your community should consist of those friends and family or “framily” (friends who become family) that you can not only trust with your child but also those who can vent to, cry to, and expect support. Those people become responsible to your family. The 1st year of the child’s life is so unexpected yet very foundational. Books, parents, friends family, other parents, and the childless offer all levels of advice. It is your job to trust your gut and then surround yourself with those who either go with your gut or even challenge it. Then keep away those who are set on destroying what you know to be true.

Your village should protect your child. The world can be scary. The angels assigned to your child and your family are always on guard. But those you have chosen and allowed into your community will be your eyes and ears when you can’t.

Your village will love your child. Perfect love, the love that Jesus personifies, the love that God is, cast out every kind of fear. Love creates a cocoon that your child can help them face the world head on. Knowing you are loved gives you confidence, security, and a sense of bravery needed to conquer any challenge.

Your village should be available for a good laugh. Laughter provides healing to your soul. When your soul is healthy, your body is healthy. Soul prosperity is beneficial to you and your child. Do not be afraid to call on your village just to chuckle.

Your village will provide a strong shoulder. A good cry is just as important as a good laugh. Lyfe Jennings said, “Crying is like taking your soul to the Laundromat.” What we see, hear, and say is how our souls are fed. Sometimes we have been feeding too much of the wrong thing and need a crying detox. There may be times when your child is inconsolable, give them room to cry. When you need to cry, call on your village so you can have the room to just cry. Cleanse your soul.

You do not know what your village will look like. It will just come organically. Embrace those who are willing to embrace your child. Use discernment to only include those you mean you help and not harm. You are not alone. You will have moments you feel lonely, and that is okay but know when to pull on your village, your circle of love.

Give love. Get love.


Toddler Tidbits: Part 1

Wouldn’t it be magical if vegetables were as sweet as fruit?!? Feeding toddlers is not an easy task. They are still trying to distinguish different taste and get accustomed to textures. Imagine the transition – liquids –>mush—>regular foods. But all tiny tots are not the same. Some are excited about the textures – the crunchy, the crispy, the lumpy. Some gag on the softest foods for months. Regardless of your child, just go with the flow.

But parents, do not be afraid to introduce any and all foods to your children. It is so easy to feed your little ones solely the food you have grown accustomed to eating. For example, I LOVE blueberries, but this did not become fact until about 2 years ago. I asked my mom about it, and she said it was not a fruit she grew up eating so she never thought to offer to me. Blueberries are always on sale; they are small and as convenient as grapes! I am not suggesting waste money on expanding your child’s palate but do try to introduce a new food every few weeks. There maybe a vegetable, grain or fruit that the whole family will be able to enjoy.

What is the solution if your kids are stuck on pop tarts? There is hope! Sneak those healthy, bone-building foods into dishes that are enjoyed by all.

  • Smoothies: using greens allow the mixture to have a green color, but berries always win. Search the net for a fruity recipe and just add a few greens or carrots. (I love www.simplegreensmoothies.com)
  • Pizza: a cauliflower crust is an easy substitution; make your pizzas with only healthy toppings (i.e. shredded carrots, olives, lean meats, pineapples, spinach, broccoli)
  • Soup: use a vegetable broth, double the vegetables to beef stew, add carrots and peas to chicken noodle soup
  • Batter up: using panko or bread crumbs, oven fry zucchini, asparagus, string beans, or even broccoli; include a fun dipping sauce
  • Pasta: get that spiralizer and make your own version of spaghetti or fettuccine alfredo using spaghetti squash or zucchini as an alternative
  • Salad: load up on the veggies and fruits such as apples, grapes, and mandarin oranges and allow your kitchen helper to add his dressing

The best advice I can offer is: be your child’s best example. If your shadow sees you making healthy choices, then they will follow. We all want to grow up before time so if their plate mirrors yours, then their habits will also. Do not get frustrated. Pay attention to what foods they consume without being told and keep it handy. Do not stress; they will eat when they are hungry. If your child is “always hungry” then feed in moderation; however, make sure she is full at meal times.

With various food allergies and fears of creating obese children, it can be difficult to navigate the “best” way to feed your offspring.Do what is best for your and your baby but make sure real food is always on hand. (www.100daysofrealfood.com)

Give love. Get love.