Christmas Considerations

dec10_button1This is a letter to parents of young children who are so excited that Santa is coming to visit.  Santa is just amazing, isn’t he?.  He allows us to focus on the spirit of Christmas: kindness, giving, and some old fashioned magic.  But, this is a letter to parents asking that we look at Santa through different eyes.

This is such a busy time of year, I hate to even suggest that you think of one more thing. However, this is important to me and has been weighing on my heart.  I just want to join my teacher friends in raising awareness and sensitivity.  Every community and every school, no matter how affluent or how poor, has children living in homes from a variety of financial levels.

I live and work in a community where about 75% of children live in poverty.  However, that leaves 25% who are not living in poverty.  Now, I want you to think about this scenario: Johnny, Luis, and Latricia are in the same class.  They all celebrate Christmas and Santa visits each of their homes.

Luis is an only child; his family has a lovely, decorated tree. Under the tree, there are lots of presents from family and extended family.  Santa will come to the house, and as is their tradition, Santa will leave just one gift.  Santa has an iPadPro and an Apple Pencil (cost = around $1000) for Luis this year.

Latricia is one of three children. Her mom and dad both work, but money is always tight.  Nevertheless, there are presents under the tree for all of the children. Under the tree, there are lots of little presents for the children from mom and dad (pajamas, books, dolls, crayons, action figures).  This year, the three children will have a visit from Santa and he will leave an expensive gaming system for them to share along with some games (cost = $550.00).

Johnny is our third student. He is one of four children living with a single mom who is out of work and depends on welfare and occasional part-time work to make ends meet.  They have a small tree and a few presents.  Santa is coming to Johnny’s house too. However, Johnny will find a new pair of much-needed sneakers from Santa (cost = $20.00).

Now, travel forward with me to January 6, 2020.  The children are back at school and excited to share what they got from Santa. There is a big difference between what Luis got and what Johnny got.  My fear is that Johnny is left wondering why Santa likes Luis so much more than he likes him.  He worries that he was not a good boy or that he is not smart enough or didn’t do a good enough job helping his mom around the house. How sad!  We know that Santa loves all children equally.

So, here is my request.  Please think about all the Johnnys in your child’s school.  When it is time to put out the cookies and milk for Santa, please leave a note asking him to leave small gifts for your child.  This will not diminish your Christmas morning at all since you can proudly put your name on the big-ticket items for your child. I promise that Santa will appreciate how you are helping him look out for the happiness of all his boys and girls.

Merry Christmas from my home to yours!

 

Turkey Leftovers

I hate wasting food, don’t you?  To me, throwing away food is just awful.  To start with, I might as well just take my hard-earned paycheck and put it in the garbage disposal along with the shriveled tomato, wilted lettuce, or moldy cucumbers.

I remember hearing my mother say that I had to eat everything on my plate because there were children in the world who were starving.  This typically invoked a response from me that included some well-known preteen eyeball rolling.  But, like so many other things in my life, as an adult, I view things differently and have to admit that I agree. How dare I waste food when there are mothers all over the world watching their children waste away from starvation?

If I lived alone, I would live life as a vegetarian; it really bothers me that animals have to perish in order for me to eat a meal.  I resolve my emotional conflict over this issue by making absolutely certain that I never waste meat. Before I purchase meat, I have a plan in place for how I will use it all.

Thanksgiving turkey is a perfect example. Like everyone, we eat leftovers. I always have a menu planner on my iPad and once the turkey is consumed my planner has a

img_0353lot of turkey items lined up. We make hot leftover turkey plates, hot or cold turkey sandwiches, turkey salad, and finally turkey soup. The turkey soup is important to me because I eke out every bit of nourishment from the turkey.

Today is turkey soup day and it makes me happy to make this big pot of comfort food for my family.  Paired with a fresh, warm loaf of homemade bread, nothing seems better.  This afternoon as I simmered the turkey with carrots, onions, celery, and a bundle of fresh herbs, I took a moment to feel thankfulness and gratitude for my ability to provide nourishing food for my family.

So, for me and my family, the true message of Thanksgiving is not wasted, nor is any turkey.  And so, I say, “For the creatures of this Earth, I give thanks.”

Kindness Doesn’t Cost

Photo by Chad Madden on Unsplash

Tomorrow, November 13th, is World Kindness Day. The person associated with this concept is Mr. Fred Rogers, and so we are being asked to wear a cardigan to celebrate kindness and to honor the gentle soul of Mr. Rogers.

My son grew up watching Mr. Rogers with me and I loved his show for a couple of reasons. First, it was calm. There were no loud noises to startle us, people spoke to one another in a pleasant tone, and there was a simplicity to it that I found comforting. Mr. Rogers taught values, decency and understanding. I suspect that Fred Rogers would be pretty disheartened were he to spend about an our on any one of our social media platforms.

Promoting kindness is not a new idea. Buddha is quoted as saying, “When words are both true and kind, they can change the world.” Sadly, the lack of civility has run so rampant in our world today that we have to declare a day for kindness. Really? We need to put a day in our calendar to remind us to be kind? That in itself is concerning.

I am a strong believer that the Universe gives back to us what we focus upon; I try to keep my focus on gratitude and the goodness in the world. So, here’s my bottom line. I will wear a cardigan tomorrow to honor my respect for Fred Rogers. I will NOT wear it to remind myself to be kind. Tomorrow and every day I try to practice kindness.

Now, kindness isn’t just a social thing, kindness is a physical thing too! Researchers have determined that acts of kindness release hormones that make us feel good, reduce anxiety, and lower stress. People report that being kind increases happiness and the doctors tell us that increased happiness can actually lead to a healthier heart. Apparently, people who are consistently kind age more slowly, have better relationships, and stronger connections with friends and family.

My father used to tell me that people can’t help the face they are born with, but they earn the face they die with. Have you noticed that the face of a person who lives angry and bitter is noticeably different from the face of a person who spends life smiling, loving, and laughing? Look around…I promise, it’s true!

As Mr. Rogers said, “There are three ways to ultimate success: The first way is to be kind. The second way is to be kind. The third way is to be kind.” Think about it, kindness doesn’t cost a thing and it is a lot less painful than a facelift!

Gentle November

Photo by Erik Witsoe on Unsplash

Nestled between October and December is the month of November.  November allows us to glory in the colors of Autumn, the Earth’s brightest smile. I love November! 

November is when we take a breath; we relax and focus on gratitude and the blessings we enjoy. As a child, I loved this time of year. We raked, jumped in leaf piles, put on sweaters, and we enjoyed bedtime stories more because it was dark outside.

As though November isn’t already perfect enough, it brings us Thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving is such a perfect holiday. It is such an unassuming and gentle holiday; Thanksgiving is when I focus on the things I cherish…on gratitude for good food, wonderful friends, precious family, and yummy food. 

I bask in my “over the river and through the woods” Thanksgiving memories. Thanksgiving reminds me to be grateful for what I have and to do for others…to be the good in someone else’s life.  

During November, the Earth slows down and settles into the coming of Winter. Days are shorter, trees drop their leaves, animals hibernate or migrate. Nature knows it is time to settle in.  

November is a chance for us all to step back, take a deep breath, and focus on how we fit into the world. Everything calms down; there is no racing about, no shopping frenzy, no chaos.  The worst thing that happens is a post-turkey tryptophan-induced nap.

I love shopping for just the perfect, plump turkey. I get excited to smell pumpkin pies baking. I bake loaves of bread for the stuffing, I simmer autumn spices in the potpourri pot, I fill my house with pumpkins and gourds, and I relax. I spend time focusing on my gratitude…and I have so much to be thankful for.

Many of my friends already have their homes decorated for Christmas. I respect everyone’s right to do what feels right for them, but I refuse to sacrifice this time that allows me to just be still.  December will come and I will put up a tree, wrap gifts, and enjoy the twinkle.  For now, I am content to be fully present in my November. 

Winter Fest!

I have been so fortunate in my life to have lived in many places around the world! Moving so often was challenging, but on the other hand, it afforded me the opportunity to experience different cultures and traditions. No matter where I lived, Christmas was always a big deal. Like any child, I was fascinated by the twinkling candles, strings of sparkling lights, colorful wrapping paper. I loved singing the traditional carols, getting all dressed up for midnight mass, and coming home to await the arrival of Santa. I always tried to stay awake, but never was successful.

As a child, I spent several years living in Europe. This allowed me to experience the different holiday traditions in Holland, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, England, and France. What I discovered was that it was a joyful, exciting time of year no matter where I found myself waking up on Christmas morning.

I have lived in two predominantly Jewish communities during my lifetime; one in New York and one in St. Louis. Living among my Jewish friends allowed me to experience the wonderful holiday of Hanukkah. I remember wondering whether it would be more fun to get gifts for eight days rather than getting all the gifts at once on Christmas morning.

Today I live in South Georgia and have also enjoyed experiencing Kwanzaa with my local friends. I love the intention behind the seven principles of Kwanzaa. They encourage us to be the best we can be and in turn to give our best to our community. These are principles we should all live by.

Having these wonderful experiences prompted me to share them with my students over the years. I called it “Winter Fest” and it was an opportunity for students to read, think, write, and expand their world a bit. It has always been one of my favorite units to teach. It allows me to focus on the true meaning of these holidays: kindness, giving, and self-improvement. But the best thing is that the actual learning is tucked away behind the fun. It is a great way to tap into the students’ holiday excitement.

So, here is the resource that celebrates my travels and my holiday joy!

Happy Teaching! Happy Memories! Happy Holidays!

The Saga of Tater!

Like a lot of people, my school experience resembled a roller coaster ride…it was filled with happy highs and not-so-happy lows. All these moments normally remain safely tucked away in my memory bank. 

For some reason, the approach of Thanksgiving this year unlocked a long forgotten incident from my elementary school, and it floated to the surface. In 1953 my dad was in the military and we were living in Virginia for a few months.

I went to a small K-12 school situated in a mostly rural area. The entire school had fewer than 100 students with one teacher per grade level. On this particular day, our play yard was blessed with beautiful, clear blue Autumn skies and a scattering of trees wearing golden, scarlet, and bronze crowns.

The Head Master had let the teachers know that the students were to assemble in the play yard at a pre-determined time that morning. We were lined up and led to the yard in a flurry of excitement. This was an unusual event and cause for lots of whispered speculation.

Picture this…

There in the center of the play yard behind the painted hopscotch grid stood the Head Master and a T-U-R-K-E-Y! Yes, a living, breathing, gobbling turkey named Tater! If this were to happen today, I expect parents would be up in arms that the children were traumatized, but sure enough, the Head Master challenged us to come up with a plan to save Tater from his fate as Thanksgiving dinner.

Now, Head Master neglected to tell us that Tater was a beloved pet, so I remember frantically trying to come up with an idea. Blank! My mind was a total blank! I think I ended up writing that they should eat extra potatoes and vegetables. Lame, I know, but in spite of my less-than-stellar suggestion, that day was special. The students across all grade levels had banded together with common purpose. Student engagement was at an all-time high and collaboration was everywhere. I don’t remember my teacher’s name or the Head Master’s name, but the turkey’s name was Tater!

He was named Tater because his family would eat nothing but potatoes before they would ever eat him! So, Tater had a happy ending, and so does this post. I memorialized this moment and Tater with my persuasive writing activity: Save Tater the Turkey.

Tofu anyone? LOL!

So, here’s to Happy Teaching, Happy Memories, and Happy Thanksgiving!