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.

The stress in the world today 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 fragrant 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 am always eager to get busy baking those cookies and smelling the pungent spices of clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice.  Indeed, yes,I love the holiday season!

Yet, the world we 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 interested any of the new toys, rather he was happily using his imagination and creativity while playing in one of the empty cardboard boxes!  The message was loud and clear. Running up a credit card bill is not going to make the holidays a success.

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 these Winter holidays?

And so, when I sat and really thought about what I wanted; it was very clear to me. I want the people I love and cherish to be happy and healthy.  If that is the case, the real question is, what can I give my dearest ones that would make them happy?  I quickly realized that “stuff” was not the answer. I determined that what they want is the very best version of me… 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 even the young person at the checkout all want a moment of your undivided attention. Actually, 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, create precious memories, celebrate life, and spread kindness.  So, from my home to yours, Merry Christmas!  Happy Hanukkah! Happy Kwanzaa! Be the light.

Missing: Self-Care!

Can you help me find it?

I have misplaced my self-care; have you seen it? How did self-care get such a bad rap? I have never understood it.  I know that I can’t pour into someone else from an empty glass, so why do I feel so guilty about taking time to care for myself? 

Let me define what I mean when I say “self-care”.

I am not~ 

  • thinking about leaving my family to go off for a week on the Riviera to walk on the beach and relax. 
  • talking about checking into a Bed & Breakfast in town to let someone else cook and clean for me.
  • imagining going on strike and refusing to do any housework for a week.

No, I am merely~

  • talking about closing the door for 20 minutes of uninterrupted time as I soak in a bubble bath. 
  • wishing for an hour to get a pedicure or a massage.
  • trying to schedule a haircut at the salon. 
  • wanting to take a Saturday morning for some at-home spa time to give myself a facial, a warm hair conditioning treatment, or a foot scrub.  

You get the idea. These are simple things that make me happy, help me relax, and make me feel pampered. Somehow, my life is so filled with “must do” things, that I keep pushing the “want to do” items to the bottom of the list.  Before I know it, I am running on fumes.

For me, I think it starts with guilt; I am an educator, and we are notoriously known for being nurturing by nature.  But, when I think about it, most, if not all of the people I know are nurturers. Go look in the mirror.  Who do you see?  Someone who spends a good bit of time caring for others? Yes, I thought so. 

Acts of giving infuse our lives. For starters we care for babies, chase after toddlers, shuffle young children from one activity to another, struggle over homework assignments, lay awake at night worrying about teenagers (yikes!). While all this is going on, in addition to a job, we are planning meals, shopping, cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, paying bills, and handling a myriad of other unplanned events. 

We take a big breath when the last one of the children is out of the house and safely on their own, but then find ourselves transitioning immediately into caring for aging parents. Oh, and let’s not forget pets. They need food, walks, clean litter, vet visits. You get the picture.  

I did not perceive any of the things listed about as burdens. Caring for my child, my pets, my parents are all labors of love that leave me with no regrets. I am retired now and blessed by the fact that I had a job that filled me with passion. Yet, I remember feeling like I barely had time to breathe, so when I flopped into bed at the end of the day, I was too tired to even worry about the fact that I didn’t get a bubble bath that day. 

You would think that in retirement I would have more free time and would do a lot better about self-care. Somehow, even in retirement I stay busy. I spend a lot of my day living a digital life, the cooking/cleaning chores still need to get done, I have a 16 year old dog who needs a lot of care. Self-care continues to elude me.  

So why do you think I have such a hard time saying “NO” to everyone except myself? I go and go until I feel tired and cranky. When I allow myself to get to that point, I begin to feel resentment. Resentment is definitely NOT a place I want to spend any emotional time or currency. 

I have thought about this pattern in my life.  Somehow, it seems, I feel I need permission for self-care.  Let’s solve that right now; I grant permission!  See? Wasn’t that easy?  Have you lost track of your self-care? If so, I grant you permission too.  Now, let’s go have that bubble bath! 

Photo by Curology on Unsplash

Creating a Self-Care Sanctuary

Part of my self-care journey has revolved around “unplugging”.  I spend a lot of time playing on my iPad, talking on my iPhone, working on my laptop, viewing the television.  I bet you do too.  So there, right in front of me, is my reason for creating a sanctuary, that quiet retreat where I can unwind, relax, reflect.  

When I conjure up a mental image of my perfect sanctuary, I see a space that exudes quiet, subdued minimalism. In a perfect life, my sanctuary would be painted in soft gray tones with white furniture, dark woods, and a few plants. The space would be lit by filtered sunlight during the day and candle light at night. There would be soothing music playing and essential oils scenting the air. 

I see myself snuggled up in a comfortable chair with sparking water bubbling in a glass on the table next to me. I am writing in my soft, leather-bound journal with my favorite fountain pen. I am wearing comfortable clothes and the expression on my face says that I am at peace. Aaahhh. Can you picture it with me? 

Well, that is a lovely daydream!  Let’s talk about reality. The first challenge that comes to mind is that most people I know don’t have the money or the space to create a dedicated sanctuary for themselves.  Another challenge is that families are busy, noisy, and demanding.  How does a sanctuary moment even fit into a busy day of work and/or parenting?  My thinking is that “sanctuary” is as much a state of mind as it is an actual place. 

The purpose of a sanctuary is to have a quiet moment to unwind. Solitude can be found in so many different places and at so many different times. Peace of mind is behind a closed door in the bathtub with some bubbles. It can be found in a ten minute walk with the dog. It can be a few moments of precious time rocking a baby before nap time. Sanctuary can be five minutes curled up in a comfortable chair in a corner of the living room once the children are settled in bed for the night. A friend of mine uses her time in the car driving twenty minutes each way to and from work to unwind and clear her mind. I have a male friend who escapes to the garage to putter about with woodworking tools; this is his quiet time.

My sanctuary is a big, comfortable lounge chair in the corner of my bedroom. I have a small table next to the chair with my journal, a pen, and a coaster for my water glass.  Is it spectacular? No. It is simple and small, but it serves the purpose.

I believe all of us need time in our day when we can be authentic, reflective, prayerful, calm, and at peace. Do you have a sanctuary in your life? If not, think about tucking one away somewhere in your busy life. 

Photo by Minh Pham on Unsplash

Seeking Joy

For the past 18 months, my husband and I have been quarantined. I joke that I am old, over-weight, and asthmatic…a perfect candidate for a really horrific struggle with whatever is the current variant of the virus. But the reality is that I have been genuinely scared. In some way, I think I have “folded in” on myself, if that makes any sense. For the first 70 years of my life I was out-going, friendly, and fun-loving. I was a “hugger”. Today, I am fearful, and that makes me sad.

While home, I have stayed busy with projects, chores, and curbside pickup, but my focus has been on the world outside my bubble. Like you, I have been bombarded with news of the pandemic, racial tension, wild fires, war, global warming, and hate-filled politics. I have relied on social media to keep me in touch with family and friends, but social media platforms have become political battle grounds and, well, there is a lot of anger and hate out there. Pretty depressing, right?

I hate feeling depressed, so in light of all this, I have decided that this is the perfect time for me to shift my focus inward. I want to indulge in self care, and the September Self Care Challenge is a perfect fit; I was sooooo excited to join all of you. Self-care will most likely mean something different for each of us, depending upon our specific needs. For me, this will include being mindful of the food I eat, beginning a gentle exercise routine, and practicing gratitude.

In my excitement for our Self Care Challenge to begin, I put together a packet to help me stay organized and focused on this journey. This includes things I will use to set goals, organize my tasks, and set myself up for success. I am happy to share it with you. You are welcome to use it or modify it in any way so that works for you. I look forward to taking this journey with you. Stay happy and healthy.

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.”

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

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