Meditation: a way of life

If I mention something about meditation and my daughter hears me, she’ll say, “Can I meditate with you?” We’ve been waking up on sleepy summer mornings and stepping out on the back porch to meditate together. It’s been a nice summer rhythm and so nice to share with her. I’ve been going through a 200 hour yoga training and one of the assignments was to keep a meditation journal. It’s made me aware of how important it is to find the best place and time to meditate.

I might sound strange but meditation makes me think of Julia Child. I think of Julia and Paul in their charming home in Provence…that is now a vacation rental, Le Peetch, where you can cook and practice yoga. I bet she would have been all for practicing meditation…probably in her kitchen while waiting for the pot to boil. I imagine her having a “what-the-hell attitude” and giving it a try because deep down (like most people) meditation truly is worthwhile. I tend to always come back to Julia for inspiration on life because she had it right. These are some of my favorite Julia quotes that I think can relate to meditation…

“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”
“Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.”
“The measure of achievement is not winning awards. It’s doing something that you appreciate, something you believe is worthwhile.”

This summer, I’ve had two major events…moving into a new home and going through yoga teacher training. The move was stressful and meditation helped sort out the mess. I used an app called headspace but there are several others that my fellow teacher training friends recommend. Pick one and carve out a space and time and like Julia says, “keep tremendously interested in it.

Meditation teaches us how to recognize and respond to life in a meaningful and organized way . The benefits of meditation carry over into your day and hopefully the rest of your life. Awareness is key…welcoming thoughts but stepping back from them so that you get perspective on situations that pop up. This helps to create a spacial awareness and being content in the moment. The feeling of being open and grounded remains with you as you move back into your daily routine. There’s a healing and healthy feeling after you’ve meditated that helps you remember your connection to the universe and recover a sense of peace. You have to sit still, clear your mind and be silent…it’s an active exercise. It’s helpful to feel your body relax, imagine the shoulders softening…then it happens.

Meditation is changing the world. The Dallas Police take meditation breaks to clear the mind before going back to work. You might see a sign on the door that says, “”working on an elephant” to signal an officer is working on a big project…other officers know not to bother them unless it’s urgent. “It’s like getting an oil change or washing your car,” he said. “You feel like the car is new again. This is maintenance on you.”

Did you see Andy Puddicombe guide Jimmy Fallon through a two-minute meditation? Puddicombe is the co-founder and the voice of the meditation app Headspace. He is a former Buddhist monk and the author of three books and has the most calming British voice. He says this about Headspace, “No chanting, no sitting cross-legged but rather just a really a quick and easy way to de-stress, focus and improve your relationships, sleep and overall way of living.”

It’s challenging to have a daily meditation practice…it’s a commitment just like exercise, but if you miss practice for a day or longer, simply begin again. If you meditate daily you will come to experience noticeable benefits such as your health and happiness improving and finding an inner ease. Even if it’s for just a few moments out of your day, just having those moments to be quiet is a gift. It’s the most amazing tool…take care of your mind.

Come on baby light your Tapas!

The past four months for me have been spent in the yoga studio for teacher training. It’s been something that I’ve wanted to do now for a while so I took a yoga leap and have been immersed in practice, observation, teaching and studying…it’s been a welcome challenge. I keep hearing “trust the process” and it’s true…this process of learning over the last several months have left me with a deeper desire to live the best life and be my most authentic self. The best part has been that I’ve been sharing this wonderful experience with like-minded yogis. 

One of my latest assignments was to focus on one of the ten yamas and the niyamas (external and internal ethics). I was assigned “Tapas” which translates as a fiery discipline, staying focused, doing your best and having discipline.                

It’s the third of Patanjali’s Niyamas (positive duties and personal observances). The word Tapas comes from the Sanskrit verb tap, which means to burn and evokes a fiery discipline or passion. This fieriness is what gets our heart pumping and fuels our desire for personal growth in our yoga practice.

Think about the times you are faced with a challenge in yoga class or in life…when we practice facing up to it, that’s tapping into Tapas and learning to be strong. Tapas ‘burns’ away self-doubt and leads to self-trust and inner strength.

I think of my grandmother who started smoking at age fourteen…when she quit and age eighty, she was miserable but then she began to see benefits and enjoyed life more fully. The removal of impurities allowed her body to better function.

What lights your fire? When we turn up the internal heat, we ride the Tapas wave. Tapas is NOT comfort driven…it can be truly painful. It’s the rewards that come from sticking with the fiery discipline that are so sweet.

When we have this focused self-discipline, we purify the mind of impurities, habits and patterns that are no longer serving us. By burning through the negative, we become freer and more in touch with life because we’re burning brighter.

If practicing tapas is too intense, back out, but if you can take the challenge and allow your brain to sort itself out…use that energy to jump into the fire and see a change that lasts. It’s the unpleasantness in the beginning that tells you, “yep, this is Tapas…I’m doing it right!” If you’ve lit the fire, imagine yourself glowing with positive energy and your yoga mat becomes your “Field of Dreams”…if you build it (heat), Tapas will come.

Deep down, we know what’s good for us. So…Come on baby, light your fire!

Five poses to guaranteed to light that ‘Tapas’ fire: Hold these poses for five or more breaths: Utkatasana, plank, boat, dolphin plank, and jump switch.

Music with a fiery theme and help you stay inspired:

  • Doors- “Light my Fire”
  • Jimi Hendrix- “Let me stand next to your fire”
  • Johnny Cash- “Ring of Fire”
  • Billy Joel- “We didn’t start the Fire”
  • Talking Heads- “Burning down the house”
  • E Street Band- “I’m on Fire”
  • Grateful Dead- “Fire on the Mountain

I’m currently working on my testing teach out and I’m working on a Tapas themed class. Now if I can just teach “breath of fire” I will feel elated! Every day should have a little bit of Tapas

The history of Vail: the no-named mountain

The 10th Mountain Division during WWII

WWII veterans Pete Seibert and Earl Eaton established Vail Ski Resort. They discovered a peak with a good location and snow that they called, “no-name mountain.” We know it today as Vail which opened in 1962 with one tottering gondola and five dollar lift tickets.

In 1957, Eaton led his friend Seibert up a deserted mountain of treeless bowls of powdery snow and skiing terrain so beautiful that Seibert said, “We’ve climbed all the way to heaven.”

Seibert, who trained for alpine combat was in the 10th Mountain Division and fought on skis. The 10th Mountain Division was charged with driving the Germans from the Alps. Seibert was hit by mortar fire in the Alpine Mountains of northern Italy, and his right kneecap was badly damaged. He was evacuated from the front lines and after three days, doctors said he would never again walk. Two years later, Seibert was a ski instructor in Aspen. Eaton was an Army engineer. After the war, Eaton worked on the ski patrol in many slopes, including Aspen, where he met Seibert and he mentioned his secret no-name mountain. Eaton told Seibert that, “It was the damnedest ski mountain he had ever seen and that the only reason someone hadn’t already developed it was because no one could see the top slopes or the miraculous Back Bowls from the valley below.”

Seibert handled business affairs and Eaton played an important role in designing Vail’s layouts. Eaton was in charge of mapping and cutting ski trails and building the original lifts. Seibert said, “I’m the founder of Vail, but Earl is the finder of the mountain.” 

Founders of Vail, Eaton in the middle and Seibert on the left.

Today, Vail is full of first, second and third generation residents. It’s the playground for ski enthusiasts from all over the world. Vail quickly grew to become one of the biggest and most popular snow sports destinations in the United States.  

Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the morning to find that all was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous…for they may act on their dream…and make it possible.” ~Pete Seibert

Thank you Seibert and Eaton for making the best and most varied ski resort. Vail is the ski trip of our dreams…it’s like nothing on Earth!

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Vail: like nothing on Earth

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Robert Wyland…an artist inspiring future conservationists

Have you ever listened to a child critique art? They are the best…no filter, honest and very observant of things we might not see at their eye level. The conversations they have about art are priceless. One of my first grade students said while looking at a Wyland painting, “Look, I’m swimming with the turtle and I’m not even wet.” Every year during open house our elementary has a traveling art exhibit. This year we hosted Robert Wyland. Children could not pass by the beautiful art work without stopping to stare. We could only have the banners for one week but it gave children the chance to explore and hopefully recognize Wyland so that when they someday see one of his one-hundred Whaling Walls, they will remember studying Wyland.
Here are some questions, quotes and information about Robert Wyland to inspire you and your children…
 
Robert Wyland:

Wyland is a world-renowned marine life artist who celebrates art, science and conservation. He was the official USA artist for the Olympic games in England. Wyland has painted one-hundred Whaling Walls over twenty-seven years and he did them all for free. Did you know that he has used art and science education to inspire kids around America so they will take care the planet? He’s very passionate about teaching children and has painted with over one million kids in all fifty states and many countries around the world in the last twenty years. He wants to inspire children to protect, promote, and preserve our environment. Wyland’s paintings are a celebration of the wonder of our blue planet. His murals are designed to motivate environmental awareness and stewardship, particularly in children. Wyland says, “You can choose not to go into a gallery or a museum, but you can’t ignore a giant mural like this. If people see this beauty, I know they’ll want to get involved in protecting it.” 

Have you ever met a sea turtle face to face? How about a spinner dolphin or a blue whale? The ocean can be steps away, but their world couldn’t be more different from ours…dive in with Wyland without even getting wet. 
 
Wyland is all about educating children about conservation. Here’s some inspiration from him to help us teach our children to care for the planet…
 
Conservation tips:
When brushing your teeth, turn the water off while you are actually brushing. Use short bursts of water for cleaning your brush and this will save about 80% of the water normally used. 
A faucet that drips a drop a second is leaking 2,600 gallons of water a year…so fix the drip!
Did you know that it takes five-hundred years for one plastic water bottle to break down. Be certain your empty bottles head to recycling centers. Better yet, skip the plastic bottle and choose reusable water bottles filled from home!
Wyland quotes:
The ocean is an amazing, indescribable world filled with color, movement, emotion and light.
The only thing you can hope for is to enjoy every moment and try to keep the balance by giving something back.
Saving the planet is a cool thing to do!
If you happen to see a whale, it’s only because they want you to.
Water is life and we have to protect it.
 
Craving more? Here are a couple of little videos that I showed my class…

 

Related Post:

An American in Paris

Have you noticed that musicals are cool again? New musicals like La La Land and Beauty and the Beast are making their mark in America. History has shown us that most great musicals come out in times of anxiety and disorder…hello?! Musicals help provide us with escapism…who doesn’t want to get away sometimes? Audiences love watching a beautiful fantasy about young people succeeding. Think about Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers…they provided an elegant distraction from the Great Depression.  Classic musicals like Singin’ in the Rain and An American in Paris offer that escapism that people are craving and now we’re seeing them pop up again today.

An American in Paris is the theatrical version of Leslie Caron and Gene Kelly’s Gershwin-themed 1951 screen musical…very different from the Vincente Minnelli movie. Even today, the late Kelly continues to inspire dancers, choreographers and directors such as Damien Chazelle (La La Land) and British ballet dancer Christopher Wheeldon, who directed this balletic musical. English choreographer, Christopher Wheeldon, who ranks with choreographers like Jerome Robbins and Bob Fosse, is a master at connecting storytelling through the language and romance of dance. 

George Gershwin’s beloved  ‘s wonderful jazzy American standards are still timeless today and they work well with the displays of bold primary colors and geometric shapes in Wheeldon’s An American in Paris on Broadway.

‘S wonderful, ‘s marvelous
You should care for me
Well, ‘s awful nice, ‘s paradise
‘S what I love to see

Wheeldon opens the show in 1945 (unlike the movie which opened in 1951) just after the end of the war. Paris is traumatized…dark and poor not cheerful and light. Opening with scenes of a shorn-headed collaboratrice being manhandled by the crowd. Wheeldon says, “In many ways, [the changes] makes the romance more potent because there is a contrast of the darkness and the light.”

The show is about an American WWII veteran trying to make it as an artist in a newly liberated Paris. American soldiers, Jerry Mulligan (Garen Scribner) and Adam Hochberg (Etai Benson), stay in Paris after the end of the war. The painter and composer befriend a wealthy Frenchman, Henri Baurel (Nick Spangler) and all become involved in the production of a new ballet. They also all fall in love with the same woman, Lise Dassin (Sara Esty), who has a secret past. 

An American in Paris is a love letter to the City of Lights. The virtuosic designs take us all around Paris…people fishing on the Seine and shoppers in the Galeries Lafayette. It’s a style fit for Gershwins’ irresistible “(I’ll Build a) Stairway to Paradise.” 

The dancers display balletic grace and emotion that seem effortless. These performers are true triple threats…they act, sing and dance so well that they lift you right out of your seat to take you along for the ride.

Escape with An American in Paris while you still can. 

Related posts:

Frank Sinatra: Five things you might not know

How to be Parisian wherever you are

Five of the sweetest paintings for Valentine’s Day

 

Love has been one of the most prominent themes depicted in art throughout history. Many artists have been inspired to create works that evoked powerful emotion to people around the world…thankfully for art lovers these artists channeled their emotions into timeless masterpieces.

Beautiful love paintings are much appreciated around the world. It is a favorite subject for several famous artists. Romantic paintings of lovers are a feast to the eyes and it’s beautiful to see how perspectives on love have evolved over the centuries. 

In honor of St. Valentine’s Day, cast your adoring eyes on five of the sweetest representations of romance.

The Lovers, 1855 by William Powell Frith 

The Kiss, 1907-1908 by Gustav Klimt 

Il Bacio, 1867 by Francesco Hayez

The Swing, 1767 by Jean-Honore Fragonard

Romeo and Juliet, 1884 by Frank Bernard’s Dicksee

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And then he kissed me

Beet Ravioli for Valentine’s Day

Love, Love Me Do

 Love, Love Me Do (deux)

Cozy winter cocktails

 

We’re in the middle of true winter when we could use a cozy cocktail to warm our insides.  Winter is all about being cozy…I find myself searching for warmth from a fire and a ski sweater but a cocktail may be the best way to help ease the midwinter chill. You can sip on a glass of wine any time, but there’s something particularly pleasurable about a cocktail designed for the colder months.

Hot Toddies and Gloggs have been served for centuries because they warm the body and soothe the soul. My favorite winter cocktails are those that remind me of a great day on the slopes. What better way to end the day than looking at the mountains and watching snowstorm with a steaming Hot Toddy? Another thought would be to start a new tradition of an avant ski drink before it’s time for après with an Irish Coffee…spoon a mountain of freshly whipped cream and zip, zoom, kapow! 

Finally there was the great glacier run, smooth and straight, forever straight if your legs could hold it, your ankles locked, you running so low, leaning into the speed, dropping forever and forever in the silent hiss of the crisp powder. It was better than any flying or anything else, and you built the ability to do it and to have it with the long climbs, carrying the heavy rucksacks. You could not buy it nor take a ticket to the top. It was the end we worked all winter for, and all the winter built to make it possible. ~Ernest Hemingway

These are five winter cocktails that should do the trick…Hemingway would certainly approve of your après ski cocktail! 

Irish Coffee:

  • 1.25 ounce Irish whiskey
  • ounces hot, but not scalded coffee 
  • 5/8 ounce Rich Demerara syrup (combine two parts demerara sugar to one part water and cook until the sugar dissolves; keep until needed)
  • ounce heavy cream, softly whipped

Add the Irish whiskey to a tall, heat-tolerant glass, preferably an Irish Coffee glass. Combine the coffee and 5/8 oz. Demerara syrup separately from the whiskey, then add it to the glass with the whiskey and stir gently. Float the whipped cream over the top and grate a bit of nutmeg over the whipped cream. 

Glogg:

  • 1 bottle dry red wine
  • 1 & 1/4 cups brandy
  • 12 whole cloves
  • 6 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
  • 2 cinnamon sticks, broken in half
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 orange zest strips
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/4 cup blanched almonds

In saucepan over medium heat, combine the wine, brandy, cloves, cardamom pods, and cinnamon sticks. Bring to a simmer and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in the sugar and orange zest. Divide the raisins and almonds among 4 warmed cups or goblets. Pour in the spiced wine through a sieve and serve.

Moscow Mule: 

  • part vodka
  • parts ginger beer
  • Lime wedge for garnish

Fill a glass with ice, crushed or cubed.
Fill the glass 1/3 full with vodka.
Top with ginger beer and squeeze in some lime.

Cherry Lime Hot Toddy:

  • a few dried cherries
  • lime zest strip
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • ounces whiskey
  • 6 ounces boiling water

In a mug, combine the lime zest, dried cherries, and sugar. Add the whiskey. Pour in the boiling water, and stir until the sugar is fully dissolved. Sip and enjoy!

Hot Buttered Rum:

  • ounce dark rum 
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon dark brown sugar
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • Pad of salted butter 
  • 3 cups boiled water
Boil water on the stove.
Place the cloves, rum, and sugar in cup and gently mix; after mixing, place cinnamon stick in concoction. 
Smear butter inside the cup, just above the rum.
Pour the boiled water slowly over the butter and allow it to melt. Cinnamon stick stays in the cup.

Forget the fire and warm yourself up with one of these hot drinks…extra-boozy concoctions guaranteed to keep you warm.

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Champagne chic

I don’t remember my first glass of Champagne but I’ve always love bubbly drinks. My friend Jen and I would drink Clearly Canadian to ring in the New Year when we were in middle school. Ever since then, my drink of choice has always been bubbly. Champagne was and still is linked to celebration, but we should celebrate life every day. Any time is a good time for drinks that sparkle! 

Everything about Champagne feels right…the freshness, the bubbles, and it’s easy to drink at any occasion. Gigi would agree…

The night they invented champagne
It’s plain as it can be
They thought of you and me
The night they invented champagne
They absolutely knew that all we’d want to do
Is fly to the sky on champagne. 

Champagne tends to be in a class of its own. Sparkling wines are the ultimate in chic drinks…like Chanel’s little black dress (or Marie’s pretty pink one). Marlene Dietrich said, “Champagne makes you feel like its Sunday and better days are just around the corner.

Need more reasons to sip, savor and celebrate? Here are ten things you will be thrilled to know about Champagne…

1. Champagne is from a specific region in France (named Champagne) and is considered the pinnacle of sparkling wine. Its production requires extra years of maturation, and the fruit itself is more expensive. Spanish Cavas and Italian Proseccos are refreshing and delicious, but they lack the depth of Champagnes because they are made from lesser quality grapes, produced in tanks rather than bottles, and not aged as long. Champagne is about 90 miles from Paris and it’s so far north that it’s almost too cold to fully ripen the grapes, which explains the finesse and acidic taste of its wine. 

2. There are about 1.000,000 bubbles in a glass of Champagne. 

3. Hold your glass by the stem and not by the bowl because your hands will warm the champagne up too quickly…And, holding the glass by the stem will make you look oh so chic!

4. Vintage matters! The region in France where Champagne is produced has had erratic seasons for the past fifteen years, so there’s a great difference among vintages. 

5. The best vintages are from: 1996, 2002 and 2008.

6. Chill sparkling wine at a temperature between 46 and 54 degrees Fahrenheit but not until you’re ready to drink it. Champagne shouldn’t be stored in the refrigerator because the cork dries out and shrinks so that the carbonation is able to escape, and other smells from the refrigerator can get in. Keep the cork damp to ensure a tight seal by storing Champagne (and all wine) on its side.

7. Enjoy champagne throughout an entire meal! Many people think they should only enjoy Champagne as an aperitif but that it is not the only way to drink it. Pair your Champagne with many flavors…chicken, seafood, vegetable dishes, fruit, cheese, risotto, tacos and my favorite…pizza! It can bring out new flavors you’ve never tasted in these foods!

8. If you married a bartender, like I did, you’ll know that the goal to opening a bottle is to do it quietly and gently, without the pop. This way you keep the bubbles in the wine. Hold the bottle in your hand at an angle with the neck pointed away from you and others. Grasp the cork between thumb and forefinger, then turn the bottle. When you feel the cork start to give, slowly pull it to  one side so the gas releases gradually. 

9. Champagne makes you more beautiful! It detoxifies the skin with antioxidants, and its lightening tartaric acid helps even out the skin tone and for those with oily skin, its antibacterial properties can help with breakouts.

10. Drinking Champagne can prevent dementia and memory loss. A study at the University of Reading determined that drinking one to three glasses of Champagne each week can boost brain health. 

 

Bubbles, bubbles fizzing in our coupes…keep on popping bottles. If you have a bottle of champagne in your refrigerator, don’t wait for a special occasion to enjoy it…open that bottle and the special occasion will come to you. Celebrate life every day! Santé! xx

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Champagne in a coupe

TRÈS ASHLEY GIFT GUIDE 2016

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It’s not too late to find the perfect gift! Something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read. Here are some of the most exciting gift options around…each and every item is something mothers, fathers, husbands, kids, best friends, brothers and sisters would love to receive. I really hope you like it. Happy last-minute shopping! xx

GIFTS FOR THE KIDS 

Swimming lessons (priceless) Find a swimming class near you for your little ones. 

American Girl Baking Set $49.67 William Sonoma and American Girl came together to create a sweet gift to inspire future chefs with baking essentials. 

Cat Ear Headphones $99 LED accent lights on cat ear speakers will make them smile.

Lilly Post $26 picture or board books subscription books for the little ones. 

GIFTS FOR EVERYONE 

Chat books $19 The perfect gift for grandparents. 

Crafted Taste, Hello Fresh, Birchbox, Stitch Fix…monthly subscriptions make life a lot sweeter and easier. There’s nothing better or more simple than a subscription box to gift and it’s perfect for a last minute shopper. 

Gold Pineapple tumbler $35 The best way to welcome in the New Year.

Hometown puzzle $49 The street address you grew up on made into a puzzle. 

GIFTS FOR MOM, SISTER, BEST FRIENDS… 

Sephora’s Geometricolor Palette $49.50 blockbuster palette containing 130 shades! Now every day can inspire a new makeup experience.

The Beach People Tulum Round Beach Towel $110. This big, beautiful towel is the perfect family sized beach blanket, made of weighted, super-soft, 100% cotton. It’s extra easy to tote to pool parties, parks, or camping trips.

Wantable gift subscription $20 Let your best friend pick what kind of box she wants…style, makeup, fitness, intimates or accessories. 

Tea of the month $100 Treat the tea lover in your life. 

GIFTS FOR DAD, BROTHER, BEST FRIEND… 

Carry on cocktail kit $24 A tiny versions of the tools you’ll need to mix them mid-flight—just ask for a glass, ice, and the actual booze.

Beer of the month $42.95 Make your man so happy!

Flasks for every man $24 A flask can be a lifesaver and is always a good conversation starter.

A year of shirts $1500 Give him one shirt a month.

City sidewalks, busy sidewalks, Dressed in holiday style, In the air there is a feeling, of Christmas…

Need more gift-giving inspiration? Check out gift guides from 20152014201320122011 and 2010 if you need more inspiration. Wishing you a holly, jolly Christmas now get your last minute shopping finished! xx

 

Ten reasons to see LakeCities Nutcracker…again and again

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Ah, The Nutcracker…a family favorite holiday tradition and the reason so many of us fell in love with dance in the first place. It goes without saying that The Nutcracker is a delightful experience for a dance lover of any age. The first time you see it, you’re taken with all the children in many roles, the growing tree, the snow, the magically gliding angels and the grand pas de deux. There’s something so magical about this ballet and the many ornaments of enjoyment that leave you feeling like a little child in the Kingdom of Sweets.

I had the pleasure of sitting in the audience during a rehearsal before the Saturday night performance. Sarah Lane asked the conductor to pause when they first enter during their pas de deux’s opening section and to go slower during her solo…explaining that they’d like to “try something different to keep it fresh.” Lane is extremely focused…she brings more than just steps, she gives something very special to the stage, it’s magical. Ulbricht gave Lane a sugary fairy lightness by sustaining her up, up and then UP before down during their solos.

This was my little girl’s fourth Nutcracker with LakeCities Ballet Theatre. Something I noticed this year more than others was that there was so much kindness coming from the older dancers the way they cared for each other. Daniel Ulbricht escorted Sarah Lane onto the stage in Lewisville just coming in from New York and announced how happy they were to be here again and thanked everyone sincerely for having them. Ulbricht and Lane showed tremendous professionalism and I so admire how humble they both are…they were wonderful role models for all the children involved.

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Here are ten reasons why we think LakeCities Nutcracker is the best:

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1. Ballerina Doll: My son sat still in his seat to see what was in the magical box…a wind-up Ballerina Doll who danced sharp and snappy like a dismantled ballerina. The ballerina doll, Carly Greene, moved with staccato gestures and powerhouse movements that were playful and lively…especially when she would blow kisses.

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2. Herr Drosselmeier: Drosselmeier (Ken Wells) has once again shown up to the family Christmas party in Nuremberg, Germany with his puppetry and magic tricks. Drosselmeyer has a magical and whimsical character. He elevated the entire production to the level of the kind of dream that never fades.

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3. Clara: Clara (Kristina Lorelli) was the sweetest most lovely dancer (on stage and off). Sometimes older dancers might not thing to stop and say hello to the younger dancers, this Clara made time to spend with the little ones…she even gave each little Baker one of her pointe shoes. She now has a following of sweet dancers who look at her like she is the real Clara. She would convey a sense of innocence and naiveté as the audience watched a budding romance that ushered through the Kingdom of Sweets.

4. The Party Scene: The party scene is endlessly engaging. I always think the best pictures come from the party scene because it’s so visually pleasing. It’s easy to notice something new in the first act…little Fritz (Trevin Ralphs) is such a naughty little trouble maker and the poor nanny ends up upside down.

5. The Battle Scene: LakeCities battle scene is serious combat between the Nutcracker soldiers and eighteen not-so-blind mice. These little mice meant business…carrying off the wounded in stretchers. The mice are endearingly absurd and their King is so hilariously insolent of his enemy that he dies as if believing he were incapable of death as one mouse tosses a white lily onto his belly.

6. Sugar Plum Fairy & Cavalier: The Sugar Plum Fairy, Sarah Lane, is everyone’s favorite fairy. She’s regal, affectionate and delicate yet she has an assertive presence that commands the Kingdom of Sweets. Clara may be the heart of Nutcracker, but the Sugar Plum Fairy is its soul, with her sparkling, fairy-like dancing. The audience sits through nearly the whole show anticipating her entrance.

The Cavalier, Daniel Ulbricht, lights up the room with his charm…even when he’s not dancing. His technical brilliance and athleticism is mesmerizing. Together, Lane and Ulbricht, dance in culmination with such feeling…watching their small nuances and gentle touches leaves the audience in awe. Together they transport the audience to a sweet place that is loving, touching and engaging.

7. The cherubs & angels: Little cherubs and angels guide the way as they take Clara on a journey through the snow. It’s an “angel secret” how the angels appear to be floating across the stage…truly magical, truly angelic.

8. Lewisville Lake Symphony’s Orchestra: The ballet begins with a live orchestra. Tchaikovsky’s score is played by the Lewisville Lake Symphony’s orchestra lead by Adron Ming. Listening to Tchaikovsky live enhances the full experience…his score is the true candy in the Kingdom of Sweets. Every measure is filled with enchantment and nothing can prepare the ears for the grandeur that comes with the main melody…Ulbricht supported Lane as she arched back and her descent matched one of the most beautiful descending scales in Tchaikovsky’s score.

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9. The Snow scene: The snow scene is one of the most stunning moments, with lovely clusters of ballerina snowflakes fluttering about in a pool of wintery white. The off-stage vocalizations sung by a snow choir dressed in 19th-century Russian attire put the audience in a dream world. LakeCities Snow Queen, Michelle Lawyer, transported the audience to a snowy winter wonderland with her refreshing breathiness and sweetly flowing lines.

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10. The Kingdom of Sweets: In Act II, the angels lead Clara into the Kingdom of Sweets. The Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier introduce Clara to dances from around the world…Spain, Arabia, China, Russia and France. The audience wanted to snap along with Carley Denton, Lauren Hunter, Kelsey Rhinehelder, Mikaela Seale as “Spanish Chocolate”, Andre Harrigton’s elevated in style as “Russian Baba,” but it was the underwater artfulness of Julia Tiller and Shannon Beacham in “Arabian Coffee” that still remains one of the favorite highlights of the Kingdom of Sweets. Former Cowboys player Isaiah Stanback also returned as a hilarious Mother Ginger. The entertainment finished with the dance of the flowers and the Sugar Plum Fairy dancing with her Cavalier before Clara returned home.

There’s something special about the way artistic director, Kelly Lannin, tells the classic 19th-century story that makes sense for our community today. I’m already looking forward to next year’s Nutcracker. It will be another opportunity to notice new things and new dancers…and to ponder what’s real and what’s a dream in Clara’s fantasy world. Somewhere out there in the audience, someone’s falling in love with these dancers and what they get to do up on that stage. I never tire of watching and listening to LakeCities Nutcracker.

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Frohilich Weihachten from the Stahlbaums’ household in Nuremberg, Germany!

Photo credit: Nancy Loch Photography

Related posts:

LakeCities Ballet Theatre 2015 Nutcracker

LakeCities Ballet Theatre 2014 Nutcracker

LakeCities Ballet Theatre 2013 Nutcracker

Clara’s Tea: Nutcracker Dreams