Author: Kathleen Cantrell

Kathleen Cantrell lives in Columbus, Ohio, with her husband and daughter. Mrs. Cantrell has received a bachelor’s degree in English from Villanova University, as well as a master’s degree in Secondary Education from Duquesne University. She currently is an online English teacher working on a writing center website. One day she aspires to write children’s books. But more importantly, she is a mother.

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.

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.’

let them eat cake! (with pureed vegetables of course!)

puree vegetableMy three year old seems to be developing new food aversions by the day.  As a mom, I’m trying to figure out ways to make healthy food fun for her, or perhaps even sneak a bit of veggies or extra fruit into her meals without her knowledge!  As a child, my parents introduced me to foods of multiple cultures and ethnic backgrounds.  I want to provide the same experience for my child, but she is beginning to voice her own opinion more (a good thing), and with that comes the typical ‘I don’t like that!’ (not such a good thing).  In search of ways to help my toddler become more open-minded towards healthful cuisine, I found some interesting tips and techniques that I would like to share.


A few tips for Moms

Determine ‘why’ your child dislikes a specific kind of food.

1.       Does he or she have an aversion to certain types of texture?

2.       Does he or she have an aversion to a specific flavor or spice?

3.       Is he or she afraid to try something new?

4.       Does he or she enjoy the food unknowingly with other flavors present?


Knowing what the ‘aversion’ is will actually help you to re-create the same food in a more appealing light.  Below are a few specific techniques to recreate the dish that your child dislikes.

1.        If your child dislikes nuts, but you want to include some healthy omega 3’s in his or her diet, simply pulse walnuts in a food processor until they reach a flour-like consistency.  Then mix your nut puree into the dry ingredients of your favorite recipe.   They can replace some of the ‘bad fat’ in a cake, muffins or even dessert bread.

2.        Puree, Puree, Puree!  Pulse those veggies down in a food processor until your little one has no idea that your pasta sauce has pureed zucchini, broccoli and red peppers within it!  Just be sure that you cook your veggies before you puree them.  They are much smoother that way.  You could even grill the vegetables to add some extra flavor before you puree.  Or puree a banana and some berries to add moisture and fiber to your muffin mix.

3.       Sub ¼ canola oil for the typical amount of butter you use in a muffin batch.

4.       Substituting whole wheat flour can be a bit rough in texture for the typical young palate.  Try whole wheat pastry flour instead in your cakes, breads and muffins.  I like to use a 1:1 ratio of whole wheat pastry flour to white flour.  This adds fiber and nutrients to your baked goods without weighing it down, as whole wheat flour tends to do.

5.       Take your little one to a farmers market.   Make selecting veggies and fruits fun!  They can even pick a few out and tell you what they enjoy eating!

6.        Pick pumpkins at a local pumpkin patch in the fall or go strawberry picking at a local farm midsummer.  Don’t just make healthy foods accessible on your table, but show where they come from as well.   

revisiting kiawah

Quite often, when one thinks of vacation, one’s mind is immediately drawn to places outside of the United States. This year, my family found our-selves not on vacation, but residing at our home away from home, Kiawah Island, South Carolina. My grandparents on my mother’s side have a home on Kiawah Island. Strange as it is, my husband’s grandmother on his mother’s side also owns a home there. We both feel a bond to that Island. As kids, my husband and I remember the Kiawah that used to be. We remember the quiet beaches, the local roadside vegetable markets, and the wonderful preservation of the surrounding ecosystem. It was a place where people could embrace nature in a pure form without giving up the comforts of home. It was a modern day lifestyle that embraced the efforts of the Kiawah Indians. We brought our daughter to Kiawah this year, and as I watched her play in the surf, I felt a strange melancholy come over me; my daughter would never know the pure Kiawah that I knew. The quiet beaches and no-fuss island life that I knew is slowly disappearing, and in its place stands a ritzier, more glamorous, and much more populated Kiawah. It begged the question: what kind of Kiawah would we leave her?

Even as the island has gained recognition, it remains one of the most carefully preserved barrier islands that exist today; hopefully this will not change. The Kiawah Island of old was owned by the Kiawah Indians, populated with wild horses racing through the waves. In the 1980’s nature tours had to be given in a safari-like automobile while tourists were given a layout of the land in the midst of bobcats, wild horses, herons and alligators. The natural habitat is authentic on Kiawah specifically because of the many laws that protect the wild life on the island. For example, there are no street lights on Kiawah; the community does not want to disrupt the natural cycle for the animals. Not only do the animals have the communities’ respect, but the actual land itself has immense respect from the people of Kiawah. The fact that no building is permitted on the dunes certainly prevents any additional erosion. I hope that my daughter gets to experience the ecosystem of Kiawah. I hope that things do not become too commercialized. Seeing my little one splash in the water made me realize just how simple it is to enjoy nature and how humans are naturally drawn toward natural wonders: waterfalls, beaches, mountains, caverns, lakes and valleys. We all travel to see and experience these things. There seems to be something within nature itself that is innately human. Hopefully we won’t lose that piece of ourselves within nature as these areas that we love so dearly become more and more populated. There is an Indian saying that I really connect with regarding these issues: ‘Mitakuye oyasin!’ Literally translated, it means: ‘we are all related.’ Hopefully we remember these words and treat the land as if we are all related, the ocean, the moon, the stars, the animals, the people; we are all related.

savoring the senses

At times I think another culture can offer insight into our own culture. It took a specific experience that I had in Greece combined with an experience of my fathers’ (with his close Japanese acquaintance), that made me realize what may be sparse within American culture.

I can remember it quite clearly. We were in Corinth, at a local tavern. From the rustic table where we sat, we could hear the owner pounding on the steaks and chopping the tomatoes with exact precision. It was an art to him, not to be rushed. We could hear joyful conversation coming from the kitchen. The chopping, pounding and laughing all seemed to fuse into our surroundings and melded into a lovely evening full of a banter which seemed to last for ages. It was so different from the hustle and bustle of the typical American lifestyle.

I was reminded of that night recently when my father told me a story about one of his Japanese friends. Instead of being disappointed by the fact that they would not be able to go site seeing on a rainy day, Kiko simply replied, “Well, we can enjoy listening to the rain drops.” Such a simple thing to enjoy! Such a simple thing to say! But I can’t quite picture an American saying it. My father’s meeting taught me a lesson. She taught me to listen, to pay attention and actually take the time to quietly observe my own surroundings, (even the simple sound of falling rain), in the same way that I would observe some new enchanting art exhibit. She taught me that there is something about being in the moment that changes one’s attitude about one’s surroundings. Perhaps by savoring each sense as we experience it, we become more involved in our environment, and in turn we actually enjoy our experiences at a higher level.

Although we often search for locations that offer quiet and tranquil surroundings, perhaps we can find the same serenity in the midst of our own homes. Sometimes the fresh smell of chopped produce or the slight sound of dropping rain can become a tranquil moment if only we wish it to be. Perhaps we simply need to be mindful of our own environments. To learn more about other cultures is to learn more about our own, and in turn it opens a door to learning about the ‘American Self.’ And maybe, just maybe, a little introspection can go a long way. As for teaching my two and a half year-old to be introspective, well, I guess I’ll just have to start out by modeling my behavior first and figure the rest out along the way!

reviewing muzzy, bbc’s language course for children

My little girl is the first grandchild on both sides of the family, and it certainly shows with the abundance of gifts she has received. So when my mother asked me what she might ‘need’ this past Christmas, I had trouble coming up with anything specific. I told her that I would think about it. What could a child, who has plenty, possibly need? Finally, the thought came to me; my little one could use something educational. She had just turned two and was just beginning to structure words into sentences. Maybe we could begin to slowly introduce her to a second language. That was when I came across Muzzy, a BBC series of cartoons designed to introduce children to a new language of choice.

I was not sure what to expect as my little one received her gift and immediately asked to watch it onscreen. I certainly had reservations about the idea of a toddler learning a second language. Would she actually enjoy the program? Would the cartoon be remotely entertaining? Would I be able to follow along as well? When the DVD began and Muzzy, a large, fuzzy green creature with a deep voice began speaking, I was pleasantly surprised to find that my daughter was quite engaged in the cartoon. I found it amusing that her favorite character is not the king, queen or princess, but a furry green thing that enjoys eating clocks and parking meters. She thought this creature was the most hilarious thing and now insists on watching him daily!

Although my little one thoroughly enjoyed the DVDs, I certainly still had reservations about a toddler learning a second language. How soon would she catch on? Well, I am pleased to say that my little one, without any prodding, randomly counted to five in French last week. I was so shocked that I asked her to repeat it, and she did! With a master’s in education, I was well aware of the malleability of a child’s brain, but to see it actively apparent in your own child is a completely different experience and well worth the effort. The DVD’s also come with a parent’s booklet that translates the DVD’s dialogue for moms and dads so we are able to guide our children through this remarkable learning process. Merci beaucoup BBC!