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

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!