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!

# 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

Stuff! Stuff! and more Stuff!

I live in a community on the coast in south Georgia and we have what seems to be an annual hurricane event. This year as we await Hurricane Dorian, my home is on the side of the county where evacuation is has been declared voluntary; this doesn’t make it less stressful, just different. I have posted before about the fact that I try to find the silver lining in every cloud.  So, of course, I am searching for things to be happy about as I hunker down watching what seems like non-stop weather news on every local channel.

First of all, I am declaring this Hurri-cation 2019.  That certainly puts a positive spin on it, right? The long Labor Day weekend has now been greatly extended; schools, grocery stores, malls, government offices are all closed, so families are spending time together. It isn’t really a “-cation” of any sort, but Hurri-cation certainly sounds better than “mandatory, forced evacuation”, at least in my thinking!

I am a very reflective person most of the time, and facing the threat of a huge and powerful hurricane certainly got me thinking about priorities.  The first worry is always for family, friends, and pets. I will have immediate family with me: husband, son, daughter-in-law, and my Yorkie. The rest of my family members live far from this hurricane’s reach. 

So now, on to the topic of this post: STUFF!  If we evacuate, or if we stay, either way I have to deal with the subject of possessions…fondly referred to as “stuff” for the remainder of this post. Dealing with my “stuff” gives me a great big headache, for sure.  

I remember years ago George Carlin did a hysterically funny bit on “stuff”.  I still laugh every time I think about it.  The gist of his routine was that we surround ourselves with stuff.  We keep all of our stuff in a “box” called an apartment, a condo, a home.  As we age, we buy more “stuff” and then have to buy a bigger “box” (house) to hold our expanding collection of stuff.  We find ourselves sitting happily in our “box” surrounded by our stuff.

Now, that is all true until something out of the ordinary happens…like Hurricane Dorian!  When the annual hurricane(s) arrive, I am faced with the prospect of traveling OR putting all the important “stuff” up high and surrounding it with sandbags!  YIKES!! That is when the trouble starts! Now I am faced with the horrible decision about which pieces of our “stuff” are important and which can be sacrificed to the storm surge, gale force winds, or flooding. Color me stressed!

I am sitting in my house today surrounded by my “treasures”; I am certain that my collection is much too valuable to be referred to as simple “stuff”. I know, go ahead, it’s okay to giggle; I’m giggling now too. Anyway,  I keep wondering how in the world I am going to prioritize my lifetime’s collection of treasures.  

So as I sit here today, I have done everything recommended; critical paperwork is sealed in a waterproof envelope and in a safe, medicines are filled, the pantry is stocked with non-perishable food, batteries are replaced, water is stockpiled.  Yet, I still feel a sense of heaviness. My home is a single floor in an area that is about two feet above sea level. If we have a flood, can I save my grandmother’s china hutch or the antique tea cart?  What about my mother’s grandfather clock?  My father’s desk, the pictures from my trip to Russia (taken before photos became digital)…the list goes on.

Well, I have a choice to make. I can either sit and worry about my “treasures” or I can focus on celebrating the fact that I have my true treasures around me: the people that I love and who love me. I choose the latter.  So, here’s to my Hurri-cation 2019.  I choose gratitude…I choose joy!     

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? 

New Products for Winter!

Check out my new items on Teachers Pay Teachers; they are all designed to bring some zing to dreary winter days.

If you have semester conference coming up, be sure to check out the Individual Student/Parent Conference Folder and the free Parent Conference Reminder Slip.

What Holiday do you Celebrate?

What holiday do you celebrate?  Is yours a home that celebrates Christmas? Kwanzaa? Hanukkah? Whether the candles are red, green, black, or blue, the message of our Winter holidays is the same. The message is one of kindness, caring, and human connection. Those flickering candles remind us to spread a message of love and light.

Today’s political climate makes this time of year even more valuable; we all desperately need to hear Winter’s message of kindness and to act upon it. I have realized that patience with an elderly person in the checkout line, a kind word for the young sales clerk, a warm smile for a stranger…each of these costs me nothing and yet could be of great value to the recipient. 

I love the holidays; I am excited for December to arrive so that I can decorate the house, trim the tree, bake warm cookies laced with warm, wintry spices, listen to favorite carols, and wrap packages for gift-giving.  In my mind, the Winter holidays reflect what our Earth is telling us; it is time to slow down and stay warm. I love long Winter nights when I can snuggle in front of a fire, eat a big bowl of soup with crusty homemade bread, and sip hot cocoa or warm wassail. I like to get busy baking cookies and smelling the pungent spices of clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice.  Indeed, Yes,I love the holiday season!

Sitting by the fire staring at the flickering flames is the perfect time for me to focus on how my life fits into the Universe. It is a time of reflection, self-examination, and goal setting.  How can my life make the world a gentler place for the people with whom I come in contact?  What can I do to improve the person I see looking back at me in the mirror each morning?  How can I keep my focus on the true meaning of Christmas?

The world I live in is media-driven; advertisers pour millions into ad campaigns to promote “stuff”.  The challenge is for me to keep my mind on what matters. I remember a Psychology Today magazine cover about 45 years ago.  It showed a child surrounded by a mountain of crumpled wrapping paper, bows, and toys tossed about the room.  The child was not impressed with any of the new toys, rather he was happily playing in one of the empty cardboard boxes!  The message was loud and clear. Running up a credit card bill was not going to make Christmas a success. 

I sat and really thought about what I wanted; it was very clear to me that what I wanted was for my son to be happy.  So the real question was, what could I give him that would make him happy?  I quickly realized that a new toy was not the answer; what he wanted was time spent with mequality time…put-your-phone-away-and-focus-entirely-on-me time.

Guess what? That is what we all want.  Your husband, wife, sister, parent, and the young person at the checkout all want a moment of your undivided attention. And that is really all it takes for them to feel valued. I have learned that simple things make people feel valued: making eye contact, smiling, listening, and replying.  All free!  

So, what I know for sure is that the message of Christmas, Kwanzaa, or Hanukkah is not “spend”.  The message is “stop”…notice the people around you, count your blessings, value the time we have with those we love, spread kindness, create precious memories, and celebrate life.  So, from my home to yours, Merry Christmas!  Happy Hanukkah! Happy Kwanzaa!