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. 

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!

# 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

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? 

Black Friday…good name!

I blogged about the fact that for many the Christmas season now begins the day after Halloween.  Today, I am reflecting on the fact that Black Friday is certainly a dark day… “black” indeed. 

My children work in retail. Today is Thanksgiving, but I will not be sitting down to a lovely meal with my family.  No, my children have to leave at noon to get to their retail establishments because the shopping frenzy begins at 2:00 p.m.

Why? Because Black Friday is no longer a day; it has spread like a vicious virus into a week, perhaps even a month. Black FRIDAY begins at 2:00 p.m. on THURSDAY.  This gentle holiday of thanksgiving has morphed into a day of unmitigated greed.  

Are people sitting around the table lingering over coffee and pie, chatting and reminiscing?  Why no!  We are frantically focused on our Smartphones checking shopping apps for alerts that let us know where the best deals will be.  What next?  A race to the mall to fight the crowds, run up credit card bills, and load up on more “stuff”.  

Today was meant to be a day that families revel in each other, celebrate life, create wonderful memories, and reflect on life’s blessings.  So, when making the decision to race away from your family to run to the stores, think about the fact that life is so short.  When we find ourselves at the end of life, I promise we don’t think about how lucky we are to have accumulated a lot of stuff.  In that moment, it is about family and friends.  

I will NOT be in the stores today or even tomorrow.  I will be home snuggled up in front of the fire sipping a cup of apple cider. For my family, friends, and the gifts of the Earth, I give thanks. 

I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving.

To everything there is a season…

aut12_pileofleavesAs a child, I would get so excited for Halloween; costumes, candy, how can it get any better?  I would look forward to this one night for a month!  The month of October was a blur of excitement! This same pattern would repeat itself for the entire month of December. What child doesn’t love all the excitement of Christmas? The month of December raced by! Leading up to the big day there were Advent calendars, cookie exchanges, gift shopping, gift wrapping, tree trimming, enchanting store windows, and finally Midnight Mass.  Basically, December was another blur!

Nestled between October and December is the month of November.  November allowed us to glory in the Earth’s brightest smile. November is when we all took a breath; we relaxed and focused on gratitude and the blessings we enjoyed. We raked, jumped in leaf piles, put on sweaters, and went enjoyed bedtime stories more because it was dark outside.

As though November wasn’t already perfect enough, it brings us Thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving is such a perfect holiday; it is all about food and friends and family.  It is calm. There is no racing about, no shopping frenzy, no chaos.  The worst thing that happens is a post-turkey tryptophan-induced nap.

Somehow, we seem to have lost Thanksgiving.  Christmas decorations show up in the stores before Halloween.  Christmas music is played all day everyday beginning November 1 and Christmas movies are on every channel.  By the 2nd of November, my Facebook and Instagram accounts are filled with pictures of Christmas trees that are twinkling in my friends’ living rooms. And then there are the teacher accounts…teachers bemoaning the fact that though it is only November 3rd, the Christmas frenzy behavior has already begun.  And why wouldn’t it?  Everywhere children go, all they see and hear is Christmas.  Not the religious meaning of the holiday, but the glitz, glamor, and greed.

So, yes, I miss the “over the river and through the woods” Thanksgiving. 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, so why do we race into December and all the “crazy” that seems to go with it?

Let me say again, I refuse to ignore Thanksgiving.  I love shopping for just the perfect, plump turkey. I get excited to smell pumpkin pies baking. I make 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.

Will I enjoy Christmas?  Absolutely, but I refuse to sacrifice this time 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. 

Santa Claus is Coming: Please Consider This!

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 4, 2018.  The children are back at school and excited to share about 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 his 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.