Have you ever met someone that you instantly click with? That’s Melissa. We met a little over a year ago and I don’t think a day has gone by that we have not communicated in some form of another. At first, we were two moms new to Charlotte seeking out friends for our little ones to play with. Our friendship has developed into something so much more. She is an amazing mom, wonderful friend and so much fun to be around. Her personality is like sunshine. She brings the good in everything. I feel like I have known her my whole life. She is the sister I never had.
Smarties, after you read this interview you are going to want to be friends with her, too. I am honored to introduce my friend, this week’s Smarty Mom: Melissa Miller.
Smarty Mom: Melissa Miller
Smarty Mom Stats:
Name: Melissa Miller
Career: Special Education Teacher
Hometown: Milwaukee, WI
How many years in Charlotte: 2
Children: 2 girls, ages 4 and 5 1/2
Neighborhood: St. George Place
Melissa’s Career: Special Education Teacher
Your alma mater:Marquette University (Milw)
Undergraduate Degree. BA in psychology
Graduate Degree. MA in special education (Cardinal Stritch University, Milw)
How many years have you been teaching?
What made you decide you wanted to teach Special Education?
I have a cousin who has autism which was what originally brought the area of need to my attention. During my second year of college, I started working as an in-home therapist for children with autism. That was where my love for working with children with special needs blossomed. I have worked with both children and adults with autism in different capacities ever since.
What age groups/grades do you enjoy most teaching? Why?
PreK- 3. I love working with younger students because I feel like I have a better chance of reaching them at the younger ages. I also enjoy teaching basic skills and building a foundation and love for learning. I love watching my students grow!
If you have any advice to offer parents of a newly diagnosed child, what would it be?
Early intervention is key!!! I realize that as a parent, it has to be so disheartening to learn that your child has a developmental delay. As an educator, I have seen so many students succeed in life, but early intervention was involved. That doesn’t mean that an older student won’t be successful, it’s just that old habits can be hard to break. Teachers can me most effective when being able to build a strong learning foundation. So if you have the opportunity to get educational help for your child early, it is best to do so.
You mentioned to me you love working with children with autism. They have a special place in your heart. Explain.
I love this population! These children tend to lean towards isolation so being able to make a connection with them is so rewarding. Once you find a common interest it is great to be able to incorporate that into your teaching in order keep the student interested and motivated to learn. They also tend to have splinter skills where they may struggle with basic skills but thrive with more advanced skills. It’s amazing to find those strengths and be able to build on them. It can also be very challenging. Some students have aggressive or negative behaviors. This is typically due to the inability to communicate their needs and wants. I do love a good challenge and I revel in the ability to target the function of these behaviors and help these students find their voice. It’s amazing what a little understanding and insight can do when dealing with a child that struggles with communication. Giving students an appropriate way to express themselves is extremely rewarding for everyone involved.
Describe your favorite moment teaching.
I was working with a 6-year old boy in Chicago. He had autism and was non-verbal. We had been working with him on writing his name for several months. The moment he was able to write it on his own was just exhilarating!
Describe your funniest moment teaching.
We were on a field trip to a children’s play of the Nutcracker. We lined up the students to take a picture in front of the Christmas trees. There was a little too much shuffling of the students and one boy knocked over the beautifully decorated tree. We were able to grab it before it hit the ground. Phew! While we tried to act cool in the moment, it is a moment that my paraprofessional and I will never stop laughing about.
Help us out…. I am going to do it, ask the dreaded question… what is a good Teacher Gift?
I truly believe that a gift from the student is the best. A homemade card really is so amazing! But I don’t think any teacher would be upset about a gift card for a favorite store. I will say though that most teachers have enough coffee mugs and ornaments to last them a life time. 🙂
Why did you move?
Jay was working for Bank of America in Chicago. They offered to transfer him to New York, California, or Charlotte. Although I had never been to any of those places, we felt that Charlotte would be the best move for our family. While I was sad to leave family and friends, I was looking forward to a new adventure and to warmer weather.
What made you pick your neighborhood?
Since we knew absolutely nothing about Charlotte, we put a lot of trust in our Realtor. We had some requirements for the type of home we wanted, such as a nice sized yard and a guest room for company. But, we were really driven by the neighborhood schools. That’s what helped us target specific neighborhoods.
You picked a pretty awesome neighborhood. What advice do you have for a new homebuyer?
Ha! Use our Realtor. I guess I would say to take some time to learn the different areas. One thing we had discussed was renting before we bought so that we would have had firsthand knowledge of what we were getting into. But since it was a relocation through Bank of America we really didn’t have that option if we wanted to take full advantage of their relocation package. I know we made the right decision though since I absolutely love my neighborhood! I must say, they have pretty amazing Christmas parties. 🙂
Was it an easy transition for your two little girls?
It actually was easier than we thought it would be. I think they were young enough that they had not yet become too attached to where we were. While they do talk about their friends and family that they miss, it is helpful that they visit often.
Were you scared about moving?
At first, I was so distraught. I cried for days at the thought of leaving. But once I thought about what was really happening, I came to terms with it. We were moving in order for my husband to advance in his career. It was something he had worked hard to achieve for many years. I didn’t want to be an obstacle to that. Then I also realized that I had an opportunity to move to a new place; a place that I’ve only heard amazing things about. And they don’t have harsh winters. Then I realized I was silly for even debating this move. This was an opportunity neither of us could pass up! I then became very excited about the idea.
What was the moment you both looked at each other and said this is it, we are going to be okay in Charlotte?
Actually, it was when we had come done in April of 2014. It was our first visit to Charlotte. Jay had come for an interview and I decided to tag along in order to see the area. We met with our Realtor and drove around Charlotte in our rental car. It was in the upper 70s so we were riding with the windows down. It was a beautiful weekend! When we flew home into O’Hare airport, there was snow on the ground, and Jay had to scrape ice off of the windows of our car. That was when we decided that Charlotte would be our new home.
What advice would you offer to a new mom moving to Charlotte without any family close by?
It’s important to find your “Charlotte family,” whoever that may be. Finding that close knit group of friends is critical to keeping your sanity. I was fortunate to find many great friends here in Charlotte! We’ve been there for each other as friends, sisters, and babysitters.
What is the best way to network?
I have found that MeepUp has been a great way to connect. And my neighbor told me about Charlotte Smarty Pants as a great resource to learn about happenings in Charlotte.
How did you make so many friends in such a short amount of time?
Well, I tend to be a people person. Lol. I’ve mostly made my dearest friends via Charlotte mommy groups and through my girls’ preschool, but I’ve also met some amazing women that have lived next door to me. There were some people in my life that were worried that I’d have a hard time making friends since I wasn’t working when I moved down here. I think I showed them 🙂
Do you miss your hometown?
Of course! While I lived in Milwaukee for most of my childhood, I spent my teen years in a small farm town called Fredonia. The population was 1,558 when we moved there in 1993. I have many great friends that I still keep in touch with and have many family members that live in the area. I mean, who wouldn’t miss beer, brats, cheese and cheering for the GB Packers?
What do you miss most about your hometown?
Definitely not the smell of manure. Ha! I miss the familiarity. Whether in the “big city” of Milwaukee or the small town of Fredonia, there is a chance I’ll run into someone I know. It’s a very friendly place and one where most families seem to stay. I feel like most people from Wisconsin stay there. While it may seem like a hard place to love for others, it’s definitely a great place to live. It’s home to me. Even with multiple feet of snow and negative degree temperatures, it’s still home.
I also miss the summertime ethnic festivals at the lakefront. Basically every weekend in the summer, there is a different type of festival. My family’s favorite is Festa Italiana in July. We have made it a long time tradition for all of us to meet there each year. Unfortunately, since my sisters and I have moved away, we haven’t been there the last few years. Oh, and the cheese curds. I definitely miss cheese curds.
You have lived in Charlotte 2 years and have done/experienced more things than a Charlotte Native: Nascar, Panthers Seasons Tickets, Nascar Lights, Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden, Discovery Place, adventures to Asheville, toured the Biltmore…… and this is just to name a few…. What is your favorite thing so far?
I think as a mom, Discovery Place was one of our favorite places to go. My always had a good time there. It also offered a bit of relief on those days when we just needed to get out of the house. It was an added bonus when we could meet dad for lunch.
For Jay and me, I think the Panther tickets have been our favorite. We are both huge football fans. It’s really quite amazing that we have made it as a couple for so long with me being a Packers fan and Jay being a Bears fan. At least we can root for the Panthers together. It’s kind of nice to agree on something in football. And the tailgating with friends isn’t too bad either.
What made you buy Panthers Seasons Tickets?
Since we are football fans and we have friends with season tickets, it seemed like a great way to have fun and to enjoy Charlotte even more. Since we only have two tickets, Jay and I have gone together and we have each taken friends on different occasions. Jay even took our 5 year old to her first NFL game this season. She loves football. Like really loves football! They went in September and it was brutally hot outside. Jay wanted to leave the game early in order to cool off. She refused to go until the game was over. Jay may have stretched the truth a bit when telling her the game was over. When they got home, I was watching the end of the game on TV. She asked me if I had recorded it to see if I could see them in the stands. Um, yea…
What is your favorite family activity in Charlotte?
I think we’ve had the most family fun at Discovery Place but the NASCAR lights was pretty great. My mom and her husband were in town for that last year and it was a pretty great time!
You keep busy with your kiddos, what is their favorite extra-curricular activity?
We’ve done swimming lessons, soccer and gymnastics. We love the Harris YMCA preschool swim program. Both of my girls have learned great skills while attending their program. Their coaches are amazing!
What is your favorite activity to do with your girls?
I would say going to the pool in the summer. We are avid pool hoppers with the YMCA. They like to swim while mom attempts to catch some rays. (As if that’s possible with two young girls at the pool). Maybe next summer will be my summer.
You have two dogs. What are their names? Did they move with you?
Dixie (8) and Roxy (5).
Dixie is a Hoosier. We rescued her at 6 months old in Indiana. She is the first dog I’ve ever owned. And honestly, I was not a huge fan the first week or so. Let’s just say she didn’t have all of the appropriate manners and traits a first time dog owner would appreciate. But after (many) training sessions, she turned out alright. Now she’s the best dog ever (most of the time). Roxy is a southern bell. We rescued her from the pound in Charlotte a year and a half ago. She was malnourished and basically out of control when we first got her. She had a huge obsession with raw potatoes. After some food, love and training sessions, she is also the best dog ever (most of the time). They really are the sweetest dogs. I may be a bit biased but I wouldn’t trade them for the world.
How did you come up with the names Dixie and Roxy?
Well, since Dixie is a hound mix, we felt that she needed a “southern” name. Who knew we’d all end up in the south? Since I tend to like continuity, I felt our next dog, a boxer, needed to have a name that “went with” Dixie. After going through a couple trial names, Roxy was the winner. She loves it!
All about Melissa
How did you and your husband meet?
Ah, yes. We met our freshman year of college. Being the procrastinator that I am, by the time I sent in my acceptance to Marquette, all of the female and coed residence halls were filled. At MU, it is a requirement that all students live in the dorms the first two years. And there was NO WAY I was going to live at home and commute. (Although it would have been totally feasible). Well, it’s a good thing I didn’t. I ended up being assigned to what had been the all-male dorm. O’Donnell Hall was the proud residence hall of 250 males and 50 girls. Cool, right? My dad was just livid. But it turned out to be great, because not only did I make some great friends in that dorm, I met the love of my life.
How long have you been together?
We have been together for over 16 years.
How long have you been married?
We celebrated our 9th wedding anniversary in September.
What is your favorite date night activity?
My favorite date night activity is one where the babysitter puts the kids to bed. Wait, did I say that out loud? Just kidding. It’s just that I think of date night as a time that Jay and I get to be us again. One where we get to punch out from being mom and dad. Don’t get me wrong, we love being parents to our amazing little girls more than anything in the world. It’s just so important to keep our relationship alive and remember what we loved about each other in the first place. Anyways, we love to go to new restaurants and try new foods. A bottle of wine doesn’t hurt either. Mainly we love to explore Charlottes great restaurants.
What would you like your hubs to buy for you for Christmas?
I would love a new pair of brown boots and some fancy makeup that I wouldn’t buy for myself.
What is or was your favorite Christmas Tradition?
Growing up, we always went to my Grandma and Grandpa’s house on Christmas Eve. My Grandma was from Sicily so we would always have lasagna and Italian beef sandwiches for dinner. For dessert, we’d make Sfingis. They are comparable but much better than a doughnut hole. My grandma would deep fry them and then each of the grandkids would get to shake them in a paper bag full of cinnamon and sugar.
Favorite Christmas Cocktail
I love anything peppermint this time of year. Last Christmas, I had a peppermint martini which was delicious. While I don’t have that exact recipe, I found this on pinterest which I plan to make this season! Sounds heavenly!
Melissa’s SECRET ABILITIES
I am fascinated with your ability to coupon. Please teach smarty land your secrets.
This is my superpower. Not everyone knows this about me, but those who do know that I can get pretty excited about it. Before we moved here, I had a pretty nice stockpile! I actually learned about the art of couponing right after my oldest was born. I was introduced to Jill Cataldo and her super couponing blog by a friend. There was an amazing diaper deal at Target that involved manufacturer coupons along with the store gift card promotion. Once I did that, I learned how much money I could save by couponing this way. While it does take work and patience, and the help of a couponing blog, it can save you a ton of money. It’s all about planning what to buy and when. Once you learn the technique, you can get some really super deals on items that you buy regularly. There tends to be a notion that there are only coupons for food that isn’t very healthy. While this may true in some respects, if you know where to look, you can find coupons for many everyday items. It’s more about the timing of sales than anything else.
But, I must warn you, couponing can be addicting. It’s easy to overdo the deals and create a stockpile that is excessive. You’re not really saving money if you are buying things you will never eat or use. Be mindful that grocery store sales are usually on a 12 week cycle. The items will be on sale again, so only purchase what you think you will need for 3 months. Couponing changes the way you think about shopping. So once you get a few good hauls, it’s really hard to buy anything that’s not on sale or something for which you don’t have a coupon. Just ask my husband…he’s endured my wrath for impulse purchases or for forgetting to use a coupon. Lol.
AN AMAZING HOSTESS
How do you do it? You make it so effortless. Everyone is enjoying themselves. No clashing personalities. It’s amazing. All the food is delicious. The conversations never cease. It’s always an amazing night. How do you do it? You should win the Hostess of the Year award.
Jenni, you are too kind! I really don’t think of myself as a great hostess. I actually joke that I’m a terrible hostess. If I’m planning a party, I tend to overthink it and want to make sure everything is just perfect, as many of us do. Then I tend to get caught up in the idea of everything needing to be just right. But really I forget to ask guests if they need something or if they want something to drink quite often. I really just hope my guests, my friends, are comfortable enough to either ask for something or get it themselves when they are over. I’m a firm believer that my house is your house. If you need something, don’t be afraid to ask or just help yourself. Anything is fair game. I am actually flattered when friends come over and just grab a drink from the fridge or open the pantry for a snack. I think that shows a level of comfort that I want others to feel in my home. My door is always open. I love company!
As far as everyone enjoying themselves, I think it’s because I always have fun! There is nothing worse than a stressed out hostess! I try to keep the menu simple. I’m not a huge fan of cooking so I don’t attempt anything that’s outside of my comfort zone. I stick with easy appetizers that can be warmed up in the oven. (Thank you, Costco.) Cheese and crackers are also one of my favorite go-to snacks for a party. It’s quick and easy to plate and looks so pretty. And I always have it on hand. Did I mention I’m a cheesehead? And wine. I really think the wine is what makes everyone enjoy each other’s company.
I also like to think that I keep good company and they are what make any event fun! I have so many amazing friends! I want all of them to meet each other! Some people have trouble mixing groups of friends because they fear there is no common ground and that personalities might clash. While this could happen, I feel that since all those people are my friends that there must be some common ground. I try to point out interests that may bring certain people together. But really, I may be taking too much of the credit. I really attribute successful events to the amazing people that are there!
Favorite kind of wine.
I’m currently loving La Crema Pinot Noir, any of the Apothic Red collection and Menage a tre silk (don’t judge)
I love calamari, fried green tomatoes, and stuffed mushrooms
Favorite Vacation Spot. Anywhere where I can lie on a lounge chair in the sun, read a book, sip a cocktail and take a quick dip to cool off.
Coffee or tea. I love an iced Chai tea latte!
Most absolute favorite thing EVER. If you were to treat yourself this instant what would it be: a massage!!!!
Just for you:
Food: scallop, shrimp and lobster
Vacation Spot: the carribean on the beach
Family Fun: play with the girls at the pool
Car: I’d love a convertible
Christmas Present for yourself: a trip to sicily
Last Book you read: Jennifer wiener, who do you love?
Celebrity Crush: Kenny Chesney
Favorite TV Series: I’m still following Greys anatomy but I love Ray Donovan and shameless
Favorite Place to Eat: Illios Noches, Lumiere
Favorite thing about North Carolina: the weather, especially the constant sunshine
Best Friends: Aimee and Jenni (while this is entirely true, I have lots of other besties from other areas. We might want to keep this a secret. (winky face)
Go-To Website the Know all in Charlotte: Charlotte Smarty Pants and Meetup (south charlotte playgroup)
If you could use music to describe your life what songs would be in your soundtrack:
These are some of my other all time faves! (1) Brown eyed girl (Van Morrison) (2) Sweet Melissa (Allman Brothers)
(3) She’s country (Jason Aldean) (4) Cruise (Florida Georgia Line)