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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!

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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. 

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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!

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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!

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9/11/2001~Looking Ahead

I lived in Northern New Jersey until 1981 and can remember my visits to New York City. I enjoyed watching the progress of the Twin Towers being built.  Once the World Trade Center was complete, my family and I enjoyed eating at the restaurant at the top of the tower, Windows on the World. I have wonderful memories of this place.

If you were alive on 9/11/2001, you probably join me in remembering exactly where you were when the news hit of the vicious attack on the World Trade Center.  I was in a meeting. I distinctly remember the feeling of blood leaving my head; the sense of horror was overwhelming. The meeting was quickly dispersed; we left in silence to return to our schools.

Like everyone else, I sat glued to my television watching the endless newsfeed reporting this attack on American soil. However, for the purpose of this post, I want to focus on the aftermath, I want to remember the America of September 12, 2001. 

Once we began to recover from the numbing sense of shock and grief, the strong, fighting spirit of our ancestors soared. American flags flew everywhere! We put everything aside in order to rally our support for the citizens of New York City, the victims’ families, and the heroic passengers on Flight 93.  

In that tragic moment, our country came together in a way I had not seen in my lifetime.  We were passionately unified and fiercely focused on sending the message that we would not be defeated. Across this nation, we proudly flew American flags, held hands while singing patriotic anthems, and knelt in prayer at houses of worship without regard for denomination. 

September 11, 2001 was a Tuesday.  That Friday, September 14th, I clearly remember gathering around the flagpole with staff and students at our elementary school. We joined hands to sing America the Beautiful, our national anthem, “God Bless the USA” by Lee Greenwood and other patriotic anthems. All 850 students were waving small flags, everyone was dressed in red, white, and blue, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.  

If we look back through history, I believe we will spot a pattern. Our patriotism is never more front and center than when we feel under attack; we put aside race, religion, politics, and economic differences in order to wave our flag in the face of the enemy. 

It seems to me that we Americans are really no different than a big family.  I remember being fifteen and so frustrated by my ten year old sister. That is, until someone else commented that my sister was a pest.  Suddenly, my sister was perfect and my focus shifted to this perceived attacker.  Yes, the old saying, “I can talk about my family, but you can’t!” is true.

I have gotten to the point today where I dread looking at social media because it is filled with hateful political rants. Our country is broken and divided.  I see women pitted against men, anger manifesting itself in racial division, politicians debating with vicious rhetoric, and violence in places where we should feel safe.  

America is gloriously full of diverse and imperfect people. Each and every one of us has a story; it is this story that forms who we are, what we think, how we feel, and our vision of the world. Let’s communicate about our differences; that means we both talk and LISTEN!  I guess today my prayer is that we can all tap into the love and pride we felt for our country on September 12, 2001 without having to first endure another tragic event.

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Seeking Gratitude

I live in south Georgia in a county with coastal waters; the Governor has declared our county in a State of Emergency ahead of Hurricane Dorian.  Hurricanes are not unfamiliar, we have faced Matthew and Irma in the last few years, but no matter how often, I always feel anxious.  

Today we are praying and preparing as Dorian heads our way.  The “cone of uncertainty” is so frustrating and seems designed to add to my stress…Should we evacuate? Should we stockpile water and ice? Should we believe it is going to miss us?  We have no answers, and I hate feeling out of control.

So, within this stress, I try to tap into my gratitude.  Today, I realized I was grateful for so many things I take for granted:

  • Having a husband who is my partner.
  • My son and his wife, who live just a few minutes away.
  • My freezer is full of food and I worry about losing the food in the freezer if the power goes out. How can I not feel blessed to have “extra” food to keep in a freezer? 
  • Being forced to clean out the refrigerator and the pantry; if we lose power, there will be fewer things to spoil.  As I do so, I think about families who go to bed hungry at night worrying about finding the next meal.
  • Water!  I am busy stockpiling water. Staying hydrated is one of my daily health challenges.  Today, my gratitude is great; so many people in the world do not have access to clean, safe drinking water and here I am stacking up a tower of bottled water.
  • Transportation…We always have “Clean the garage” on the To Do list; now we have to do it to make room for our cars. This reminds me that I am so grateful to have two cars that need to be moved into the garage! 
  • I am dreading the possible loss of power; it gets HOT here in the deep South.  Yet, today I realize I must be grateful that I have air conditioning to lose! 
  • Seeing the good in people; when faced with adversity, people step up to help neighbors. So many friends and family have already reached out to offer us shelter if needed. I am richly blessed.
  • Our first responders and linemen are already cueing up to help anyone in need. They leave their families to help others under the worst conditions.  

Yes indeed, I am richly blessed. There are so many things that aren’t on this list, but it is a good start. One thing I know for sure is that keeping a grateful mindset attracts joy!  So for today I choose gratitude. What are you feeling grateful for today? 

# forever my student!

Celebrate Johnny Appleseed’s birthday on September 26th!

I never had a “job”; I always had a “joy”! I have been an educator for 50 years; I began my career in 1971 and was in the classroom for 25 years. Yes, I am unabashedly an elementary school teacher. You know what that means, right? Yep…the cuter the clipart, the happier I am.

Every year I got so excited waiting for my new “family” of students to walk through the door. Yes, I felt like they were family; I mean, think about it, I spent more waking hours with my students than with anyone else in my life. I loved my students! They were part of my heart, and they remain there.

One of the things I loved about teaching was the opportunity to experience life through the eyes of a child. Children have an exuberance that is infectious, and I made a point of trying to tap into that excitement. I would always say, “What is better to celebrate than learning? Nothing! Let’s celebrate!”

Each month, I looked for a chance to celebrate: October was Spiderama, November was a Thanksgiving Feast, December was a Winterfest, March was a Peanut Festival…you get the idea. When I speak to my former students, so often they remind me of our “festivals”; students don’t remember doing math problems on page 136, but they remember those joy-filled moments where they could make a personal connection to their learning. These “festivals of learning” were my way of letting them know that I was proud of them and excited to celebrate their accomplishments.

The first festival of the year was our AppleFest. AppleFest was planned around Johnny Appleseed’s birthday, which falls on September 26th every year. What is it about Johnny Appleseed that makes him such an endearing folk hero? This festival celebrated his life and all things apple. Johnny Appleseed was known for his kindness, and this was a great way to focus on classroom kindness. Then, it was up to me to see how many ways we could incorporate apples into the curriculum. So much fun!!!

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy being retired; but I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t think about my life in the classroom. This week I was remembering our fun at AppleFest and put my memories into a Johnny Appleseed unit to share. Pulling together these units is such fun for me, AND I get to reconnect with all my favorite super cute clipart!

Today my students are grown, they have wonderful careers, live all over the world, are married, have children and some even have grandchildren. Yikes! I stay connected to many of my former students through social media and I am proud to let them know that they are #forevermystudent

While sitting in the dark…

In spite of my age, I am a person who has fully embraced the technology available to me.  Yes, I confess, I love my digital life and I believe it has made my life so much easier!  Here’s how:

  • I love to read, but I no longer read paper books.  My over-stuffed, sagging bookshelves have been replaced with digital copies of all my favorite books safely housed in the “cloud”.  I can read them again and again, the pages are not dog-eared, the paper doesn’t yellow or get brittle.  I can enlarge the print size if my eyes are tired, and adjust the brightness of the screen so that it is just perfect.  
  • I enjoy magazines.  I used to subscribe to so many and my coffee table always had a cluttered stack of half-read magazines with articles dog-eared for me to read next.  No more! All of my magazines are digital and I download them and can read them without the clutter.
  • Light switches are a thing in my past; my lights are controlled digitally and come on and off at preset times, dim to set the mood, or brighten slowly so not to startle me awake in the morning.
  • As much as I love to read, I love listening to music even more. I recently donated about 200 CDs to a local charity. This doesn’t mean I don’t listen to music, it means that I can stream all my music off the internet.  Again, no more cluttered shelves, searching for the CD, worrying that CDs will become obsolete like vinyl or 8 tracks, and I don’t have to spend time alphabetizing!
  • Movies? Television? No more VCR, no more VHS tapes, no more DVDs, no more Friday night trips to the DVD rental store or the big red movie dispenser. It is all living in the “cloud” and waiting for me to control with one of my devices.
  • Just like you, l’m busy.  I have lots of things to keep up with.  My entire life is now neatly crammed into a digital planner. I have to confess, I don’t miss the cute kitten or puppy calendar thumbtacked to the kitchen wall.  I don’t miss the large and unwieldy paper planner that I lugged around with me everywhere I went.  No, today I have a digital planner that lives on all my devices.  I can get to it on my phone when I am at the nail salon, look at a date on my tablet when I plan a visit with a friend, get a digital reminder on my smart watch, and have it displayed on my laptop screen while I sit typing this post. 
  • I love that I have a car with digital capabilities.  I stink with maps; my husband used to say that I could get lost trying to find my way out of a paper bag!  No more. Now, I just tell my car where I want to go, and it talks to me the whole way!  No more missed phone calls!  I can take calls (or ignore them!) In my car.  My car just alerted me that it was time for service and sent an email to the dealership.  I can talk to my digital assistant and select the music of my choice.  My car does not even have a CD player, by the way. While driving, my digital assistant can read and send text messages or emails, check my planner, and tell me a joke. NOTE: be aware that distracted driving is never okay!
  • Today, there is an app for everything.  My gym has an app; I can sign up for a class from my phone. My weight loss program is online and I can manage everything I need right from there.  Once I decide what I want to eat, it will gather up all the recipes and generate my shopping list. I can shop from my phone, order groceries, clothes, and movies.  Too busy to go to the store? It will notify the grocery store and my groceries will be delivered. No more trips to the bank, that is all done online through any one of my devices. No more searching for a calculator, math is at my fingertips.  I confess, I hate to vacuum, but I have resisted the urge to buy the little scoot-around-by-itself vacuum device. However, it may be in my future, just saying. 
  • Bored? No worries!  I can play games on all of my devices, watch television or movies, catch up on the news, and I have a playlist full of podcasts that make me think and examine my life. There are multiple social media apps on all of my devices, so I am easily able to stay in touch with friends all over the world.  

All of this is amazing and wonderful until something happens to the power!  Two weeks ago, my digital assistant’s voice loudly announced that the weather app was alerting us that we were under a hurricane watch. And as always, sure enough, we lost power.  There I sat surrounded by technology; my laptop, my tablet, and my smart phone were all in arm’s reach. Yet, I had nothing to read, no music to listen to, no access to anything. I had nothing to do but stare into the darkness, oh yes, and sweat.  It is HOT here in the deep South in September! 

As I sat here sweating, I had time to think about all the things I wanted to do that I couldn’t because they were dependent upon staying charged. At one point I ended up sitting in my car with the motor running. Yes, the garage door was up; just say “no” to carbon monoxide poisoning! I was out there so that I could charge my tablet.   

Having a power outage sheds a whole new light on things…no pun intended!  Before I picked up my tablet I needed to ask if what I was going to do was critical.  Pretty much, nothing was; I don’t NEED to read, browse magazines, or listen to music. I certainly can’t justify draining the battery to play any of my online games. I began to worry about when the power would return. 

We were lucky this time, our power was only down about three hours.  During the last hurricane, we lost power for five days! At that moment, I decided I definitely need a hobby that is not dependent upon having power in the house.  Perhaps I will take up knitting or crocheting, because my online crossword puzzle was not available!