Avoiding Holiday Stress: Part I

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There is no way around it! Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, this time of year is hectic. I feel as though the holidays have begun before I’ve even finished washing the dishes from Thanksgiving dinner! With all the hustle and bustle of shopping, wrapping gifts, cooking, cleaning, and traveling, it is easy to lose sight of what is really important – family, friends, and fun!

I know I lost track of the fun while my son was little. I remember driving to my parent’s home for the holidays with him in the back seat whining all the way because he wanted some toy that I probably couldn’t afford.

So how do we balance it all and not get frustrated? What’s the solution? How do we find time to get it all done and still enjoy our children?

  1. Start some new traditions.

Talk to your children about starting some new family traditions. For example, if you enjoy an Advent Calendar for the Christmas countdown, how about changing it up a bit? Instead of a calendar, wrap up 24 short stories;  start a tradition that every night between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve, your child gets to unwrap one book. Now, you and your child spend 10 minutes reading a Christmas story together. If your child is older, you can read a chapter book, one chapter per night. This accomplishes two things: first, it gives you a few quiet moments each day together, and second, it helps your child with reading. Reading together is a wonderful way to help your child become a great reader…and that is the gift of a lifetime!

2. Be sure to check out your local library.

The library will often have pleasant holiday activities for children on the schedule. While your child is busy with the library activity, you can check out some holiday books to use for the activity above.

3. Think about paying it forward.

This is a season of giving. Plan some quiet time for yourself by having your child/ren work on a charitable project. Here are some ideas to get you started… What is your child interested in? Does s/he love to draw? What about drawing some cards to send to folks in the hospital? Let’s not forget our soldiers overseas. Children can send holiday wishes to soldiers far from family and friends.

4. Simplify.

Another way to combine fun and family (and save money) is to create a tradition of making some of the gifts. Your child can help. For example, take a copy of a favorite family photo. Mount it on a piece of cardboard and cut it up. Now you have a puzzle! Use leftover baby jars, some glitter, and water and you’ve got a snow globe! There are many great ideas out there for fun family gifts that you and your children can make. You would be amazed at the things you can do with everyday items such as toilet paper rolls, marshmallows, buttons, popsicle sticks, glue, paint, and some glitter!  Do a simple search on the internet for “Christmas Crafts for Kids” and you will find tons of ideas!

5. Give.

The advantage to having your children make some of the gifts is “ownership”.  When children are “given”, it creates a sense of entitlement. When children “give”, psychologists tell us that human bonds are strengthened. There is greater joy in giving than in receiving and this is a lesson we should allow our children to learn. Could your child sacrifice one of his gifts to donate to the needy? What about finding a few older toys in the house that could be given to an orphanage or to a family who has lost everything to a fire?

6. Set limits.

Some families have put a limit on how many gifts are expected. Jesus received just three gifts from the Wise Men. Could you limit your giving for each child to three gifts? Other families have set items: one item of clothing, one book,  one toy, and one gift of food for each person. Other families set an expectation that each member will receive only one gift from each person in the family…one gift from mom, one from dad, one from sister, one from brother. You get the idea. Setting boundaries such as these accomplishes two things: 1. You will be less stressed trying to wrap a mountain of gifts and, 2. Your child will know what to expect ahead of time and will have realistic expectations.

So, take a deep breath…relax…make a plan…enjoy this precious time of year.  Twenty years from now, your child won’t remember the video game that was under the tree this year, but s/he will remember the time spent with you.  Merry Christmas!

 

Start with a Good Book

Screen Shot 2017-10-19 at 2.34.27 PMHere is a list of over 60 wonderful read-aloud stories that I have enjoyed reading to my child and my students over the years.  You will find many more as you visit book stores and your local library.  Your child will enjoy reading them over and over!

Click here for a printable copy of the list.  Read Aloud Books

Book Title Author Celebrate the Letters
A Chair for My Mother Vera B. Williams M/m
A Hole is to Dig Ruth Krauss H/h, D/d
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day Judith Viorst A/a
Bedtime for Frances Russell Hoban B/b, F/f
Biscuit Alyssa Satin Capucilli B/b
Caps for Sale Esphyr Sobodkina C/c
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom Bill Martin, Jr. B/b
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs Judi Barrett C/c, M/m
Corduroy Don Freeman C/c
David Goes to School David Shannon D/d, S/s
Frog and Toad are Friends Arnold Lobel F/f, T/t
Goldilocks and the Three Bears James Marshall G/g, B/b
Goodnight Moon Margaret Wise Brown M/m
Green Eggs and Ham Dr. Seuss G/g, E/e, H/h
Gregory the Terrible Eater Mitchell Sharmat G/g, T/t
Harold and the Purple Crayon Crockett Johnson H/h, P/p
Harry the Dirty Dog Gene Zion H/h, D/d
Hattie and the Fox Mem Fox H/h, F/f
How Rocket Learned to Read Tad Hills R/r
Hurry! Hurry! Eve Bunting H/h
I can Read with my Eyes Shut!  Dr. Seuss R/r
It Looked Like Spilt Milk Charles G. Shaw M/m
Kindergarten Rocks! Katie Davis K/k
Lemons are NOT Red Laura Vaccaro Seeger L/l
Leo the Late Bloomer Robert Krauss L/l
Letters from a Desperate Dog Eileen Christelow L/l, D/d
Library Lion Michelle Knudsen L/l
Little Bear Else Holmelund Minarik B/b, L/l
Llama Llama Red Pajama Anna Dewdney L/l
Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come! Nancy Carlson K/k
Lost and Found Oliver Jeffers L/l, F/f, P/p
Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile  Bernard Waber L/l, C/c
Make Way for Ducklings Robert McCloskey M/m, D/d
Me I Am! Jack Prelutsky M/m
Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel Virginia Lee Burton M/m, S/s
Miss Nelson is Missing Harry Allard, James Marshall N/n, M/m, T/t
No Roses for Harry! Gene Zion R/r, H/h
No, David! David Shannon D/d
Pete’s a Pizza William Steig P/p
Regards to the Man in the Moon Ezra Jack Keats M/m
Sheep in a Jeep Nancy E. Shaw S/s, J/j
Snowballs Lois Ehlert S/s
Snowmen at Night Caralyn Buehner S/s
Stellaluna Janell Cannon S/s, B/b
Stone Soup Marcia Brown S/s
Strega Nona Tomie DePaola S/s
Swimmy Leo Lionni S/s
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble William Steig S/s, M/m, P/p
Tacky the Penguin Helen Lester T/t, P/p
The Carrot Seed Ruth Krauss C/c
The Kissing Hand Audrey Penn K/k, H/h
The Little Engine that Could Watty Piper E/e, T/t
The Little House Virginia Lee Burton H/h
The Mitten Jan Brett M/m
The Mysterious Tadpole Steven Kellogg M/m, T/t
The Pout-Pout Fish Deborah Diesen P/p, F/f
The Snowy Day Ezra Jack Keats S/s
The Story of Ferdinand Munro Leaf F/f, B/b
The Ugly Duckling Hans Christian Andersen U/u, D/d
The Very Hungry Caterpillar Eric Carle C/c, V/v, H/h
Three Billy Goats Gruff Paul Galdone G/g,
Tikki Tikki Tembo Arlene Mosel T/t
Time out for Sophie Rosemary Wells T/t. S/s
Wemberly Worried Kevin Henkes W/w
Where the Wild Things Are Maurice Sendak W/h
Whistle for Willie Ezra Jack Keats W/h

Growing a Good Reader

rk8_bookbox1Reading Tips for Parents: You can be the key to your child’s success with literacy. As his or her first teacher, you are in a unique position to help instill a love of reading in your child. The first thing for you to do is model reading; your child should see you reading every day for information or for enjoyment.  Having a home filled with books, magazines, comics, newspapers and other print material is a good start.

Not long ago I found myself cringing in the grocery store when I heard a frustrated mom threaten her five year old by saying, “If you don’t stop that, I will take away the iPad and you will have to read.”  Nooooo!  Reading should be a pleasure, not ever a punishment!

Children with a large supply of reading materials in their homes are known to score higher on standardized tests. Why? Think about it.

There is a tremendous difference between digital input and text.  When a child watches TV or plays on a tablet, all the pictures come streaming in from the screen.  When a child reads, s/he has to visualize the text. The act of painting the picture the author is describing is a most creative process.  Reading helps students begin to visualize new possibilities, solve problems, think out of the box, and become the young adult that companies clamor to hire.

Here are some easy suggestions for helping your child develop a lifelong love of reading.

  • Read aloud to your child. Choose material (books, magazines, comics) based on topics your child finds interesting. Ask your child questions about what has just been read…the Who, What, Where, When and Why of a story.
  • Choose a sound and ask your child to cut out pictures of things that begin with that sound. Help your child glue their picture onto an index card and write the letter that makes that sound. Use these cards to review sounds. Create an alphabet of pictures on index cards. Celebrate the letters of the alphabet; make it fun!
  • Surround your children with reading material; give books as gifts, rewards, etc.
  • Encourage a wide variety of reading activities.
  • Make reading an important part of your child’s life. Have them read menus, grocery lists, roads signs, game directions, the comics, or movie time listings.
  • Be knowledgeable about your children’s progress. Schedule regular conferences with your child’s teacher each year.
  • Find out what reading skills your child is expected to have at each grade level. The school’s curriculum will give you this information.
  • Get help promptly for reading problems. Reading problems do not magically disappear with time. The earlier children receive help, the more likely they will become good readers.
  • Let your child gradually share some of the reading aloud. You read a sentence, paragraph, or page, then it’s your child’s turn. Take over if your child seems tired or discouraged. Keep reading light-hearted; focus on the fun, not just hard work.
  • Leave notes in a lunch bag or on the refrigerator for your child to discover and read. Make it simple, using words your child knows or you think they can sound out.
  • Take your new reader to the library. Pick up a library card and make a big deal about it. Let your child know how important and special books can be.

Raising a reader is a joyous journey for parents and the reward is great. Check back here on the blog for a list of wonderful read-aloud books to share with your child.  In the meantime, snuggle up tonight for a sweet bedtime story.

Magical Moments: Reading Together

Reading with your Beginning Reader

rk8_boy11In my last blog I challenged you to read with your child for 20 minutes each night.  This practice makes a BIG difference in the reader your child becomes.  Yet, parents of young children who are in the process of learning to read may have questions about how to approach this.

Actually, it is pretty easy.  Here are some tips that will help you relax and enjoy the experience with your children as they learn to read.

  • It is okay for your child to track with their finger.  In other words, don’t discourage them for putting their finger on each word as they read it.  As they become more proficient, you can give them a bookmark to slide under an entire line of text at a time.
  • In the beginning, model for your child. You read a sentence and have them repeat it.
  • Next, you can begin to take turns reading.  At the beginning, you and your child can alternate sentences. You read the first one and s/he reads the next.  As your child becomes a better reader, alternate paragraphs and then finally, alternate pages.
  • The discussion you have with your child as you read is very important, so talk about the story.  Ask your child to:
    • Predict what will happen next. You can ask,
      • “What do you think will happen now?”
      • “What makes you think so?”
    • Retell what just happened. You can say,
      • “Tell me what happened first, next, and last in the story.”
      • “What was the most interesting part?” “Why?”
    • Make a personal connection to something in his/her own life. Discuss how the characters are feeling. You can say,
      • “How do you think the character is feeling?”
      • “Have you every felt that way?”
      • “Does this story remind you of another story we have read? Why?”
    • Identify new words. You can say,
      • “Point to a word that is new to you.”
      • “Let’s look at the story to see if we can figure out what it means.”
      • “What do you think it means?”
      • “Let’s keep reading to see if you are right.”
  • Each time your child gives an answer, ask him/her to give evidence from the story to support the answer.
  • Ask questions that require your child to think deeper, to think beyond the surface.
      • Who? What? Where? When? are considered lower level questions; the answers will be right in the book.
      • Why? and How? are deeper, higher level questions that require your child to use the information in the story to come up with the answer.
  • When your child finds a favorite book, they want to read it again and again.  That’s rk8_girl5great!  Re-reading is a great strategy for building stronger readers.
  • Have lots of reading materials in your home.  Talk to your child’s teacher about his or her reading level. Find out what interests your child and help him or her find books on that topic.
  • Check books out from the school library, the public library, give books as gifts and rewards, subscribe to magazines for kids, comics.
  • MODEL! MODEL! MODEL!  If your child sees you reading, they are much more likely to become a reader.

Learning to read is a magical time in a child’s life. Reading opens up a world of possibilities and adventures.  Sharing this is a wonderful experience for a parent.  Don’t miss it…it only happens once.

How to Change a Life in 20 Minutes!

rk8_girl12Does this sound familiar? The teacher sends home a note every week asking that parents read with their child for 20 minutes each weeknight.  You are thinking, “Does she not get it?  I have 3 children! I work all day, have to cook dinner, answer the phone, fold laundry, feed the dog, clean the litter box, sign field trip forms, pay bills, and chase a toddler.  Are you kidding me!?!”

There are days when 20 minutes sounds like an eternity, but, let’s take a moment to look at this reading equation mathematically.

John reads 20 minutes five nights of every week;

Sally only reads 4 minutes a night, if at all.

Step 1:  Multiply the minutes per night X 5 times each week.

John: reads 20 minutes X 5 times per week = 100 minutes each week.

Sally: reads 4 minutes X 5 times per week = 20 minutes each week.

Step 2: Multiply the minutes per week X 4 weeks each month.

John: 100 minutes per week X 4 = 400 minutes per month.

Sally: 20 minutes per week X 4 = 80 minutes per month.

Step 3: Multiply the minutes per month X 9 months per school year.

John: 400 minutes per month X 9 months = 3600 minutes per year.

Sally: 80 minutes per month X 9 months = 720 minutes per year.

Step 4: Divide the number of minutes per year by 360 minutes per day to find the number of days spent reading.

John: 3600 divided by 360 = an additional 10 full days of school spent just reading.

Sally: 720 divided by 360 = only 2 additional days of school spent reading.

So, by the end of 8th grade, or 9 academic years: 

John will have spent an additional 90 days reading.  John has gotten the equivalent of an extra  half of a 180 day school year just spent reading!

Sally will have read the equivalent of 18 days, or one tenth of a 180 day school year.

Food for Thought:

  • Which student would you expect to be a better reader?
  • Which student would you expect to be more knowledgeable?
  • Which student would you expect to be a better writer?
  • Which student would you expect to have a better vocabulary?
  • Which student would you expect to be more successful in school?
  • Which student would you expect to conduct a better interview?
  • Which student would you expect to be more successful in LIFE?

So there you have it. Twenty minutes a day can make a big difference and set your child up for success.  Will you do it perfectly?  Probably not.  But if you teach your child to value reading by reading together, you will definitely have a positive result!  You are your child’s most significant role model and I already know that you like to read…you are reading a blog!  My guess is…you’ve got this!

Words of Praise

Our children remember two things…the most caring and the most cruel words directed at them. As a parent and teacher, I want my children to be surrounded by words that make them feel loved, valued, and appreciated. But sometimes, “good job” feels old, tired, inadequate.  Here are some new ways to let your children know how truly proud you are and how special they are!

That’s Incredible! * How Extraordinary! * Far Out! * Outstanding! * I Can’t Get Over It! * Great! 

Amazing Effort! * Unbelievable Work! * Wonderful! * Marvelous! * Phenomenal! * You’ve Got It!

Superb! * Cool! * Excellent! * You’re Special! * Out Of Sight! * First Rate! * You’ve Outdone Yourself!

 Way To Go! * Thumbs Up! * You’re The Best! * You Came Through! * Terrific! * You Tried Hard! 

Your Help Counts! * You Made It Happen! * It Couldn’t Be Better! * Fantastic Work! 
You’re a Real Trooper! * Fabulous! * Bravo! * Exceptional!  * You’re Unique! * Awesome! 

Breathtaking! * The Time You Put In Really Shows! *  You’re A Great Example For Others!

Keep Up The Good Work! * I Knew You Had It In You! * Dynamite! * It’s Everything I Hoped For!

You Should Be Proud Of Yourself! * What An Imagination! * You Made The Difference! * Stupendous! 

You’re Sensational! * Very Good! * A+ Work! * Super Job!* Good For You! * Take A Bow! *Nice Going 

Well Done! *Class Act! * You’re Inspiring! *How Artistic! * Hooray For You! * You’re A Joy! 

How Thoughtful Of You! * You’re Amazing! * You Go The Extra Mile! * What A Great Idea!

You Deserve A Hug! * Extra Special Work! * You’re Appreciated! * Thoughtful! * You’re Tops!

Great Role Model! * You’re Neat! * You’ve Got What It Takes! * You’re #1! * You’re A Shining Star!

Outstanding! * Wow! *  Remarkable! * Beautiful! * You’ve Got Know How! * Very Impressive!

You’re Sharp! * You’re A Winner! *  Hot Dog! * Spectacular Work! * You’re So Kind! *Hard Worker!

Totally Involved! * Thanks For Helping!  * Great Discovery! * You’ve Earned My Respect! 

Thanks For Caring! * You’re A-Okay! * Congratulations! *  How Original! * You’re A Champ!

You’re A Pleasure To Know! * Very Brave! * What A Genius! * You’re Very Talented! You’re The Greatest!

You’re Super! * You’re On Target! *

If you don’t like any of these words, try three simple words…   “I LOVE YOU!”

Kindess Lives!

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Today we are still evacuated from our coastal homes in Savannah, Georgia and St. Augustine, Florida.  Sitting in a small hotel room in a small town in Alabama has allowed me lots of time to reflect.  Today people are struggling to make sense of the devastation left behind by Hurricane Irma.  Today is also the anniversary of the horrific attack of September 11, 2001.  How are these two events so closely intertwined?

Lately the news has been so overwhelmingly negative.  Social media is filled with images of police using excessive force, vengeful attacks on police, angry mobs carrying torches and screaming epithets of hatred.  I read about frightening incidents of road rage, people purposefully driving vehicles into innocent groups of people, bombs being set off at concerts.  It is easy to sink into feelings of depression and despair.

But, what IS real? Can I allow the media to shape my vision of the world I live in?   Let’s take a moment and think back to 9/11.  Yes, this was a hideous act of terrorism. However, out of this act emerged tremendous human kindness and selflessness. People, complete strangers, reached out helping one another with no expectation of anything in return. The news was filled with images of men and women committing amazing acts of courage and kindness. The lesson I learned from 9/11 was that the light of humanity in all of us is not easily extinguished.  Good Samaritans are everywhere.  Instead of diminishing our country, it was strengthened. There was a resurgence of pride in being an American. Flags flew proudly across our nation.

Look at the human response to Hurricane Harvey in Houston. There were countless examples of people risking their own safety to rescue a complete stranger.  People from all over the country mobilized to help in any way possible. Today, people are already reaching out to see how they can help in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. We are strong. We are resilient. We are America.

Will bad people still do bad things? Sadly, yes.  But I prefer to see the good in people.  One of the elementary schools in my Georgia community is challenging students to perform daily Random Acts of Kindness.  We are instilling in our youngest citizens the importance of doing good, showing compassion, being kind.

When the news reporters interviewed the everyday heroes of 9/11, Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, they all had one common response.  When asked, “How does it feel to be a hero?” every one of them said, “I am not a hero. I was just doing what anyone would. I didn’t stop to think about what I was doing; I just did it.”

These folks are right. Yes, what they did was heroic, but I believe that within all of us lives a hero.  Too often the media focuses on the negative, the frightening, and the violent.  These isolated incidents sell news, but they are not representative of who we are as Americans. Kindness, in its every day form ~ quiet, gentle, subtle ~ doesn’t attract attention and so, often goes unnoticed.

What is the lesson here? I have been reminded today that it is human nature to care, to protect, to love. I choose to believe that this is the true picture of who we are as a human race and as American citizens.  I am actually grateful for this day of reflection.  I am happy in my restored belief that Kindness Lives.

HURRICANE IRMA & ME: It’s all about the STUFF!

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I am among the millions of folks who have been evacuated in preparation for the landfall of  Hurricane Irma.  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 here in a small hotel in a small town on the Mississippi border.

First of all, I am declaring this Irma-cation 2017.  That certainly puts a positive spin on it, right?  It isn’t really a “-cation” of any sort, but Irma-cation certainly sounds better than “mandatory, forced evacuation”, at least in my thinking!

I am a very reflective person most of the time, and this has certainly given me time to slow down and think about what’s going on in my life.  The first thing I needed as I prepared to evacuate was the reassurance that those I love would be with me ~ my fiancé, my son, my daughter-in-law, and our pets.  The rest of the family live in New Mexico, Connecticut, Ohio… far from Irma’s reach.  Yes, a big sigh of relief that everyone is out of harm’s way.  But now, on to the topic of this post: STUFF!

My “stuff” gave 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.  Then, as we accumulate wealth, we buy more “stuff” and then have to buy a bigger “box” (house) to hold all of our stuff.  We sit happily in our “box” surrounded by our stuff until something out of the ordinary happens and we have to travel!  YIKES!! That is when the trouble starts! Now we are faced with the horrible decision about which pieces of  “stuff” are important and must accompany us and which pieces must, sadly, be left behind.

And that is exactly what happened to me!  I sat in my house last week 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, but at the time there were some tears involved. Anyway,  I kept wondering how in the world I was going to walk away from my lifetime’s collection of treasures.

We are traveling in a small sedan.  I can’t take my grandmother’s china hutch or the antique tea cart. I have to leave my mother’s grandfather clock behind chiming for no one to hear. My father’s desk, the pictures from my trip to Russia (taken before photos became digital)…the list goes on. So I stood with an open suitcase filling it with the non-negotiable “stuff”. Clothes, underwear, nightgown and slippers, make-up, shoes, laptop (a MUST for me!), snacks, and a bottle of wine all made the cut and came with me. All the rest was left behind.

Now I have a choice to make. I can either sit and worry about the fate of my “treasures” left behind while I listen to endless hours of Irma coverage in the hotel coffee shop, or I can focus on celebrating the fact that I am in a town I have never visited before, meeting new people here sharing my evacuation experience, and enjoying time with my family. I choose the latter.  So, here’s to Irma-cation 2017.  Indeed, I am richly blessed!

I Keep Tripping Over Gratitude

Let me share a few examples…
First, there was the stand up comedian I spotted while flipping through the channels one evening. It is a nightly ritual. I pay a lot of money to have about a gazillion channels and then complain every night that I can’t find anything on TV to watch. Well, I paused my channel surfing routine when I spotted this comedian. He was one of those chubby, overweight Southern boys who can usually get a laugh out of me. Here’s the part of his monologue that I caught. It went something like this…
My buddy Bubba was told by his doctor that he had only six months to live. In shock, he asked if there was anything that could be done. He was still a young man and had many things left to do in life. The doctor thought about his question for a bit, and then finally gave him a solution. The doctor told him to go out and find the ugliest, most cantankerous woman he could find and marry her. He told Bubba to be sure that he found a woman who would nag him constantly, and complain about everything he said or did. Next, he had to go out and buy the most beat-up old pickup truck he could find, preferably one that would spend most of its time broken down in the yard. Then he needed to buy a run down old trailer and a dog that wouldn’t come to him even if he hung a pork chop around his neck. Well, my friend Bubba was real skeptical; he said, “Doc, are you sure that this will help me to live longer?” “Not at all,” replied the doctor, “but it sure will make six months seem a lot longer!”



I was laughing, but it dawned on me that our human nature just loves to complain. In fact, I’d just been enjoying my nightly ritual of complaining about the choices on TV. A few days later I was surfing the internet looking for something I needed to buy for my cousin’s wedding. As I clicked here and there, somehow I landed on an advertisement for Gratitude Rocks. Yes, you heard me, rocks. People are making money selling rocks. But, it was the idea that struck me. Put a gratitude rock in your pocket, each time you touch it you are reminded to take a moment to thank God for your blessings.
I was cleaning my home office and came across a book of poetry by e.e.cummings. In it he wrote, “I thank You God for this most amazing day; for the leaping greenly spirit of trees and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes.”
Finally, my Oprah magazine arrived in the mailbox. There was a little blurb about how Oprah keeps a gratitude journal. Well, I knew this was true because she had inspired me to do the same thing. I have been journaling my gratitude for a few years now. Do you remember being little and having your mother lean down and whisper, “What do you say”? You knew you were expected to say, “Thank you”. My gratitude journal is my way of reminding myself to say “Thank you” for the blessings in my life. I was feeling pretty smug; yup, I had gratitude covered with my journal. In fact, I picked up my journal to read some of my entries so that I could pat myself on the back for what a really fine and grateful person I am. I flipped through the pages and began to read some of what I have written. Well, I wish I could report to you that what I found reinforced my belief that I had gratitude all taken care of, but unfortunately I can’t.
I’m so old that when I was in elementary school we could actually pray. I remember the “Johnny Appleseed” prayer we used to recite daily before we ate our lunch: “Oh the Lord is good to me, and so I thank the Lord, for giving me the things I need, the sun and the rain and the apple seed.The Lord is good to me.” Did you have a prayer like that? Sort of the “God is great, God is good, and we thank him for our food.” plain brown wrapper kind of prayer that you recited without ever really thinking about it? Well, when I looked at my supposedly marvelous gratitude journal, that is pretty much what I saw.  My entries were basically, “I am thankful for my home, my family, my friends, and my health.” And I just sort of recycled those themes over and over again in one form or another over the years.
So, okay, this had all gotten my attention, but I was still questioning: Is gratitude just some New Age, touchy-feely thing, or am I really supposed to remember to say “Thank you”? My answer is that I believe that a purposeful act of gratitude will enrich our lives, make us more connected to each other and to God. Now, the question becomes, “How do I take this and apply it to my day to day life?” Dr. Wayne Dyer is quoted as saying, “With everything that has happened to you, you can either feel sorry for yourself, or treat what has happened as a gift. Everything is either an opportunity to grow or an obstacle to keep you from growing. You get to choose.”
Wow! That is an aha! moment for me. I have the power to choose. If I let my human nature control my thoughts, I may choose to be grumpy rather than grateful. Yes, it is our nature. People like to complain and they like to listen to others complain. I can’t remember seeing people at work sitting in the break room talking about all the things they are grateful for, I usually hear them complaining and griping. It is up to me to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. I hear people just like me saying things like:
“Why me?”

“My husband doesn’t listen!”

“My wife never shuts up!”

“I deserve more respect!”

“They can’t do that to me!”

“My boss doesn’t appreciate all the work that I do!”

I guess I’m telling myself that I need to stop, step back. Life is a divine appointment and there is a plan for me, and that plan is unfolding each and every day. And so, I have made a new entry into my gratitude journal. I made a list of all the things that upset, frustrate, or sadden me. Then I have begun thinking about ways to turn them into an opportunity for thanksgiving and gratitude. For example, I hate that I am overweight. However, I realized that I should be grateful that over my 46 years in education, my weight has provided many children a soft place to land in times of trauma. I really, really hate to pay bills. I put it off as long as I can before they are past due. This month, I gathered the bills in my lap and took a moment to reflect on how lucky I am to have a life style that creates bills. You know, I didn’t mind paying the bills nearly as much.
How many grumpy thoughts can you transform into grateful ones?