E. Teix

little thoughts from a big mind

Memoir Reading Book Review- Let Me Hear Your Voice

Riding a carousel is fun, the first few loops around. As you spin and spin, reliving the same scenery as you whirl around a rotating center, the journey loses a little bit of its charm. The journey of Catherine Maurice and her two autistic children in Let Me Hear Your Voice felt a bit like this carnival ride. What was amazing, thrilling, and enjoyable at the start became monotonous and predictable as it dragged on.

It can be so hard to be honest with subjects that we find painful. Catherine Maurice did an admirable  job of describing her journey through speculation, denial, acceptance, resolution, and triumph. Her candid descriptions revealed the kind of dedication that every child deserves in a mother. Her children are lucky that they have this beautiful record of their childhoods and triumph over disability told from her loving perspective. The reader could sympathetically sense Maurice’s pain as she held little Anne Marie on her lap, coercing eye contact with her rhythmic, repetitive “look at me.” We became a cheering section. Because we took that journey with her, the reader felt an equal sense of satisfaction and jubilation as Anne Marie made strides towards “normalcy” including social interaction and  communication.

It seemed incredulous as Catherine began to hint that Michel was exhibiting signs of autism. We as readers trusted her perceptions, having “earned her stripes” through the trials and tribulations she faced during Anne Marie’s diagnosis and treatment, but couldn’t imagine that lightning could strike twice in this family. When Michel’s eventual diagnosis did occur, it could be reasonably expected that with the expert help of Bridget and Robin to support Catherine’s dedicated reinforcement, Michel too would improve. This part of the story felt redundant, and painted the family a bit too much as miracle workers than the average parent. Perhaps the story would have been more salient if it had left off at Michel’s diagnosis and the reader was allowed to fill in the blanks. Since there were no major differences in treatment, I combed the last 50-100 pages of the text looking for something new. Beyond Michel’s initial violent resistance, I found nothing.

In writing, as in life, sometimes it is best to stop while you’re ahead. Let Me Hear Your Voice was an exquisitely written journal that is surely part of the canon for families, doctors, and teachers who work with autistic children. I only wish Maurice would have displayed more trust in her readers, allowing us off the carousel before we became disinterested.


Hitting the Jackpot

I think it is the spontaneity and unexpectedness in which one’s life changes that makes hitting the jackpot so appealing. We enter casinos, buy raffle chances, and play the lottery for the mere chance of getting whalloped with winnings, probably not really believing it will happen. Yet is the hope that something better lies beyond and that we deserve karmic goodness to come our way that keeps us buying in. Perhaps it is also a bit of a daydream, a voyeuristic daily escape from reality into what could be. What’s inside my thought bubble? If I had a bottomless change purse, I have a few dreams of my own.

For someone who is the biggest homebody I know, I live to travel. In the days when facebook “interests” used to be a competition in irony and capturing yourself in witty little snippets, I believe that I had one that said that I fancied “going places and then coming home.” If financial constraints were removed, I would make a trip at least once a month. I would start with Argentina to visit family, and dot my way across the globe collecting physical and emotional mementos of each place. I would keep a paper map of each city and mark up its curves and lines with the paths I walk, creating a tangible memory of my visits.

I would create a scholarship at my high school, and donate to the Alzheimer’s Association. It is important to give back to those who have given to you, and there is no gift more life-changing than education. In my lifetime, I hope that no one will have to suffer the pain of watching the spirit of someone they love die while living that Alzhiemer’s Disease and Dementia bring. I live it daily with my dad, and would love nothing more than a cure to save other humans from this devastating pain.

I would set myself and my family up with stable futures, in terms of savings and homes. I would purchase the “Gatsby” house at the tip of the Great Neck peninsula, my hometown. I would entertain and share it with others as much as I could. I would relish the town in which I grew up and its proximity to the greatest city in the world as I woudl view the New York City skyline from my top windows.

I am sure each of us didn’t have to think too much about our first plans for our “winnings,” and that’s a lovely thing. At its purest, that faith in the possibility of “winning the jackpot” represents love and self-worth. It also shows a strong sense of identity, revealing what it is that we most value in this world. In reality, though, the schemes we devise may sound grand, but nothing feels as sweet as relishing something that you have earned. A jackpot facilitates dreams, but then again so does hard work…

Balancing Work and Family

I am glad to take any suggestions on this one, wise classmates, since I am absolutely horrible at balancing work and family. Even as I write this, it is Saturday night and my boyfriend is sitting on the couch next to me watching a movie. Oh, and this post isn’t due for weeks. My life is all work, minimal shirk. Help!

I wouldn’t say that my difficulty is in balancing work and family, but rather work with everything else (fun, relaxation, reading, enjoyment, etc.). During the school year and the academic year, it feels that my life stops to a certain degree. I feel that my days are micromanaged and covered in neatly-written post-it notes that remind me of alllll the tasks that I am to complete in one day. I make lists of books to read during the summer. I bookmark restaurants I would like to eat at on my next free weekend. I work 7 to 3 at work and then 3:30 to 10:30 at my other job and school work, most days. I am so close to burn out!

What frustrates me the most about this situation, though, is that the busier that I get, the more work I take on. I feel that I might get too busy to finish an assignment, so I like to “stockpile” my work and get ahead on tasks when I get a chance. This sounds pretty logical (I think), but the reality is that it becomes a bit of a self-perpetuating cycle that gives me the sense that I always have something else that I could be doing. Lately, I’ve found it helpful to make a checklist of goals that I would like to complete in a particular day. I have made every effort to STOP when I reach this target, but breaking the habit completely is still a work in progress.

I work the way I do because I want to enjoy the rewards of success and achievement later. But the secret of life is enjoying the passage of time, not hurrying and working it away until the next vacation or summer comes along. Well, you know what they say, acknowledging the problem is the first step…

Any advice?

“Elusive” Goals

If you haven’t already discovered this through the progression of my blogs, I am a very black and white person. I wouldn’t set a goal if I believed it to be impossibly elusive. My motto is underpromise, and overdeliver; I would rather keep my goals small and attainable than live with disappointment. Goals are like a set of stairs, why worry about the one at the top before you even take the first step? Rephrasing your goals and keeping them manageable within your current spacial and temporal confines will motivate sustained effort that will ensure that no goal is ever elusive. For instance:

  1. I will learn as many languages as possible, starting with Portuguese: (rather than I will learn Italian, Portuguese, French, Russian, Japanese, Swahili, Urdu, and Tagalog). Learning languages has become somewhat of a hobby of mine; even my free time can be used productively to attempt to decipher a magazine in one of my target languages. This is how I was able to perfect my Spanish grammar that I had initially learned informally as a toddler by speaking with my fluent parents. Portuguese is my next conquest, as I would love to honor my father and his birthplace and be able to speak to the family members who still live in the “motherland.” Becoming a lusophone is also a prerequisite for my trip to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. On that note…
  2. Attend a sporting event at the Olympic Games: In the Summer of 2012 I was in London between the Olympic and Paralympic Games, which only worsened the Olympic spirit that I originally caught watching the “Magnificent Seven” take home gymnastics gold in 1996. I have already joined the preliminary list for the ticket lottery, and would gladly attend any event from swimming to shooting just to trade pins with the athletes of the world.
  3. Witness Easter Mass in Saint Peter’s Square, Rome: As a devoted Catholic, this is my Mecca. My time in Rome brought me chills; I felt an intense connection between the spiritual history and the story of my own relatives that had walked its cobblestone streets. The election of our new Pope at this Easter season of new life has brought this goal to the forefront of my mind.

There is so much in life that is uncontrollable, but my goals are not one of them. It is simply imperative to reevaluate one’s own life and means to decide what objectives are now within reach. Of course, I look forward to getting married, becoming a mother, and working as a successful school administrator, but none of these goals are tangible or comprehensible given my current reality. When I complete the prerequisites, so to speak, they will come to the forefront of my list, just like my current objectives did. Baby steps like these will ensure that it is continually possible for me to actualize on the mother of all goals: to be happy.


A Place I Would Love to Visit

Part of what makes travel so exhilarating for me is the sense of escape, albeit temporarily, from reality and the norms that dictate everyday life. For its unique culture so different than my own, I would love to visit Japan. I can’t really think of a place on earth that I would not like to visit, but the East Asian island is definitely near the top of my list.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Japan for me is its cuisine. I am constantly awed by the Japanese culinary creativity that transform a few simple ingredients and minimalist preparations into exquisite renditions that blur the lines of food and art. The tradition of bento box lunches are a perfect example of this cohabitation. Japanese mothers are known to spend hours each day preparing their child’s school lunch, carving fruits and vegetables and molding rice into cartoon characters and beautiful nature scenes. Just as an American kindergartener’s snacks promulgate a cafeteria hierarchy, the bento box is considered a tangible representation of a Japanese mother’s love and care for her child. I would love to interview mothers and learn some bento techniques if I were to visit Japan.

Japan also appeals to the tea lover in me. It seems that every aspect of Japanese culture and cuisine is considered carefully. Nowhere is this so clear than in the art of Chanoyu, or the Japanese tea ceremony. The preparation and enjoyment of tea is as spiritual as it is physical; the ritualistic service and ordered consumption reflect the Japanese respect for elders and connection to nature.

Modern Japan beckons to me with its bright lights, vibrant Harajuku colors, and attractive state-of-the art electronics. While these innovative beacons make Tokyo an international cultural center, it is the traditional elements of cuisine and culture that make Japan a coveted stamp in my passport.

Some examples of the beautiful art of bento!




A Memorable Teacher

As a new and developing educator, I think of the teachers I have had along my educational career on a daily basis. In particular, finding myself in a middle school, I can’t help but recall Mrs. Bice, my middle school ELA teacher. Mrs. Bice was not just a teacher, she was a mother, a friend, a counselor, and a policewoman. She followed my class through sixth, seventh, and eighth grade, adapting and changing as we did. This is only the beginning of what made her unforgettable.

On the first day of sixth grade, I was greeted at the door to Mrs. Bice’s classroom with the flash of a camera bulb. “Your parents will appreciate this,” she said, adding “you will be a very different person on the last day of school.” I recently found this snapshot, which was mounted the following June alongside an additional, updated photo. She was certainly right; sixth grade is a time of incredible physical, social, and emotional change. The photos reveal a very limited glimpse of this tumultuous experience. Small reminders of my own time in middle school help me to put my students’ current reality into perspective.

Mrs. Bice’s influence in my life was extracurricular; She did not just focus on what we were learning, but how we learned and the process of personal development we were experiencing. A foundation of her classroom expectations centered around The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, by Steven Covey. Not a single day has passed since that I haven’t thought of the concrete reminders it provided, from “be proactive,” to “begin with the end in mind,” and even the ever-challenging “sharpen the saw.” These habits guide my daily life as a adult, and I thank Mrs. Bice; what greater gift can an educator give? Many teachers get so overwhelmed with the “content” and the “test” that the process of teaching and learning can become stunted. Mrs. Bice never let this happen in her classroom. As a teacher myself now, I think that she realized that the risk was worth the reward. Spending time teaching us process skills such as time management and collaboration were ultimately beneficial to both teacher and students, despite any lessons that might have been taken away from contractions and appositives.

On a related yet more tangible note, Mrs. Bice also instilled in me a love and respect for grammar. I credit her and her weekly “word bank” writing assignments for my endless vocabulary, impeccable spelling, and confident mastery of conditional statements and comma usage.  As a writer and a person, she believed in me, and made me believe in myself. I am forever grateful.



A Book I WILL Write

I’m a big believer in putting things into the universe that you desire to concretize into reality. Teachers, professors, mentors, friends, and any lowly soul who has become a willing ear over the seemingly endless years of my educational career have frequently encouraged me to publish my writing. Because the writing process can be grueling, I always laughed dismissively, shunning the intense mental labor involved in producing meaningful and provocative prose.  With time though, I am warming up to the permanence and satisfaction of leaving a text legacy. As such, I have titled this blog a book I WILL write. Who knows, maybe this will be one of the many…

If you read my post from a few weeks back, you will have learned that I can be quite inquisitive and intense in my approach to life and the topics that I am passionate about. You would also know that I am a big soccer fan, a first class foodie, and am driven by understanding global cultures and identifying the connections that make us human. Although at first glance it might be difficult to imagine an intersection of these divergent paths, my book will be that. It be a view of the world through the lens of soccer, explaining the historical, cultural, political, social, economic, religious, and linguistic reasons behind the sport’s biggest rivalries and phenomena. I will explain the salience behind Real Madrid vs. Barcelona, AC vs. Inter Milan, Celtic vs. Rangers, Red Star vs. Partizan Belgrade, and the reasons why humble cities often host the most successful teams.

Rather than divulge too much, lest a prying eye swipe the idea :), I will leave you with a bit of an excerpt:

In a country the size of the state of Texas, one might expect a sense of brotherly love and comradery to dominate. But like in any band of brothers, the case of Real Madrid vs. Barcelona seems to imply that familiarity breeds contempt. These global giants sit atop the most glorious perches in global sport, glimmering from the glow of trophies and international admiration. On the pitch, however, a different story is told. Insults and fouls fly in Castellano and Catalán, linguistically representing the divide that has alienated these sides since the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. After years of repression and marginalization during the half-century regime of Francisco Franco, the side from Catalonia serves as a public bastion for Catalan identity and independence as much as it is recognized for its ball possession. A win against Madrid is a win against the central lechera, the government, the man. From the stands, chants of “Visca el Barça, Visca Catalunya” can be heard; this is more than a game, it is an expression of identity and a cry for recognition. Independents and nationalists share the bleachers; they they order garlic-perfumed, tomato-soaked bread in the concessions. Don’t ask it’s name (pan con tomate, pan amb tomaquet), a fight may erupt. And the game hasn’t even begun…

If I were a TV/Movie character, I would be…

What this post may lack in pride, it compensates for in honesty. As much as I would like to compare myself to the dynamic Lucy Ricardo of I Love Lucy, or the subversive Mrs. Doubtfire of the eponymous film, in my heart of hearts I know that I am Monica Gellar of the series Friends.

The start of this post would suggest that I am less-than-thrilled with self-imposing a comparison between myself and a character that could best be described as OCD. Superficially, Monica is a fast-pased, frenetic overachiever. She doesn’t know the boundaries of saying “no” and has a particular knack for turning any task she endeavors into a massive project. It isn’t enough to just make jam, Monica has to get up a before dawn to get the best pick of fruit and produce endless cases. As child I was the kind to go through a whole pack of construction paper just to get the lining of a diorama to be perfectly flush with the shoe box interior. Even today, I write, rewrite, and white out (no crossouts allowed) every line I write in order to accurately capture the sentiments  I aim to express. Nothing is simple, but I always finish satisfied. If it weren’t for Monica, I would think I was alone in my endless quest for perfection and organization.

The problem with the Monicas and the Elenas of the world, though, is that they inevitably bear the brunt of joking and misunderstandings. Perhaps because people (incorrectly) feel they can’t live up to my [our] standards, we can get thrust with more than our fair share of responsibility. I sometimes feel trapped in the proverbial chicken or the egg dilemma, unclear whether this added pressure is something I ask for or simply accept because people know I can do it and that I won’t say no. Like Monica was expected (not asked) to make a dozen lasagnas for her aunt, I get assigned the task of hanging 500 paper squares to represent windows on the foods lab cabinets before the 8th grade Chefs Party. The difference though, is that here where most people would balk at the mundaneness of this job, Monica and I secretly enjoy the control and responsibility.

One of Monica’s most vulnerable moments in the entire series comes when this façade of perfection comes tumbling down. After tolerating weeks of jests and pranks from fellow chefs at the restaurant, Monica finally learns to stick up for herself and express the hurt that she has been feeling. This is a challenge I too am learning to face as I grow. It is not ok for people to take advantage of kindness and willingness, and Monica reminds me that I can advocate for myself and still maintain a sense of humor!

My Passions

When considering my passions, It would be circumventing the issue to say that my most fervent passion is being passionate. On the same token, however, it seems like an understatement to superficially discuss the hobbies and topics that fill my time. Passion is more; it is persistent, pervasive, and pressing. As I dwelled on this notion, I began to seek a common thread that would weave my pastimes into a cohesive quilt that enshrouds my being and warms my free thoughts. For me, that thread is culture.

My world is very black and white. Passion is something that I take seriously, almost to a fault. Earlier, I dismissed the idea of hobby-cum-passion because in my mind, a passion is something that never leaves your consciousness. It is a lense through which you see the world, not just a small segment of it. I could say that I am interested in foods, languages, traveling, and soccer, but each of those things occupy a finite space in my everyday life whether by choice or necessity. More often than not, some of them are pushed away into a small space, only to come out when my favorite team plays on tv or when I have the luxury of time and money needed to visit London. I value all of these interests, but since I am unable to access them with regularity, the zeal that unifies and brings them into my daily existence is my passion for culture and information.

My interests are the vehicle for my passion for culture. When I engage with any one of them, my end goal is to get a better understanding of the whos, whats, whens, wheres, whys, and hows that make, for example, tea a ritual as much as a beverage in Japanese society. When my favorite Spanish soccer team plays, the banners hanging from the stadium rafters make me consider the historical and social influences that contributed to Real Madrid’s domination in the middle of the 20th Century. These questions and curiosities allow me to sustain my interests into a passion that lingers beyond the inevitable spatial, temporal, and financial boundaries that surround them. I may not be able to hop on a plane whenever I like, but I can always research the art and science of butter sauces so that the next time I’m in Paris I will be able to more thoroughly them.

People always warn me that life can’t always be as clear as black and white. Whether or not I’m always willing to hear that, I think I intuitively accept it more than I am aware of. The confines of life mean that passions, typically hot, must inevitably stand tepid on the back burner until time or money brings them to the forefront again. We must explore them indirectly, seeking temporary hope in the shades of gray until they turn monocromatic once again.

If I weren’t a teacher…

If I weren’t a teacher, I would be the restaurant critic for The New York Times. My discriminating and adventurous palate would be in high demand; I would sample the creations of the latest and greatest chefs on a dime that is not mine. It would be a position of power and esteem where even a determination of mediocrity could be received with celebration. The Times would pay me for my mastery of the adjective, my ability to spin a ganache from “sumptuous” to “velvety” to “decadent” and back again all in one line. My judgements would be fateful; reservations would spike or wane with the strokes of my pen. Some people would love me, and others would hate me, but all would recognize and respect me for my honesty and commitment to excellence. I would be Elena Teixeira, critic extraordinaire.

Being so easily recognized might mean that sometimes I would have to work in a disguise, paying homage to the legend of a progenitor, Ruth Reichl. Like Ruth, I would use different characters and accessories to ensure my persona wouldn’t affect the final product I was served. Otherwise, my subjects might falsely dust off their fineries and sit up a little bight straighter in their chairs, so to speak, when I would walk through the door.

As the food critic of The New York Times I would travel the world literally and metaphorically through food. Harissa, saffron, and peppercorns would simulate the scents and sensations of Morocco, Spain, and China all in one meal. Tastes of different cultures would make the job dynamic, while the demands of a weekly column would require extreme creativity and open-mindedness in order to remain fresh. I might lose readers if my methods became stale or repetitive.

If I weren’t a teacher, being a  food critic for The New York Times would bring risk and reward. It would be a position with great influence; generations of writers, readers, and eaters alike would hang on my every word. International adventures, attention to detail, and the inevitable demand for innovation and originality would be standard part and parcel. These challenges would mean that as a food critic, no day would be like the one before. But then again, I could say the same about teaching. I can experience and achieve all these things from the confines of my classroom. I work with children who are eager to explore the world through cuisine as diverse as they are. I bring out the best in them with my excitement for new teaching and learning methods. My pen of choice may be red, and my audience may be a roster of 25, but I am living my calling in the food world as a FACS educator.

NY-Times-page-1-590x393  g and s


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