7.31.2011

Forgiveness On The Fifty

Yard line, that is.  But that's not where this story starts.  Find a way back to 1986. No computers.  No Internet. No cell phones.  How much of what were you doing that year do you really remember?  I’d just been hired to teach Spanish and do some coaching at Friendswood High School. It's my third job in three years so I really want it to work out!  I’m coaching freshman volleyball before school, teaching six sections of Spanish during the day, and sponsoring the Speech and Debate team in the afternoons, so I’m pretty busy.  But it’s going really, really well, even better than I had hoped.  I've made some new friends, my VB team is winning, and I like my classes.  In fact, it’d almost be perfect, except for that one student whom I’ll call D.
    Everything I know about what doesn't work with kids, I learned from D. He was difficult disrespectful challenging rude obnoxious. I tried everything. I tried being nice to him, well, kind of, as best I knew how. I tried incentives. I tried wishing him out of my class. I tried getting him a schedule change. Nothing worked.  I called my dad one night a few days weeks into the school year, and found myself complaining about D.  When I told him in no uncertain terms that my classes would be perfect if not for D, my father told me that that even if D were to drop my class, there’d always be another D.  He surmised that someone else would likely become my least favorite student and suggested that I find something to like about him. Again, I tried. His sister was on my freshman volleyball team and I like her – does that count?  I liked his mom when I met her at Open House – is that good?  Sadly, I never found a way to make peace with, to get along with, or even to remotely like that student.  It was a long year for both of us. 
   If you’ve heard me speak, then you may already know what's about to happen.  As I reflect on 25 years as an educator, I realize that if I could have one do-over, it would be to find a way to make it work with D.  It’d probably be as simple as simply being nicer to him.  If I’ve told this story once, I’ve told it a hundred times. The point?  Find a way to like your students, to make each one of them your favorite. Individualize. Differentiate. Make. It. Work.  Because there are no do-overs, not in school, not in life.  So, to get back to the fifty-yard line in my story’s title, we have to flash forward twenty years.  
   Now that my daughter's in high school, I've returned to FHS as a Band Mom.  It’s been 15 years since I’ve even been to Mustang stadium, way back when I taught Spanish there, before I became a counselor. I was attending the Friday night football game during Kaitlyn's freshman year that just happened to be Homecoming.  At halftime, we hear over the loud speaker that those of us who were working at FHS in 1988 are invited to meet the graduates who came home for the reunion on the fifty-yard line for a photo op.  My husband elbows me and encourages me to go down onto the field.  I hesitate, because I can’t even remember who was in that class, but with prodding, I reluctantly head that way. I see a few friendly faces, students who actually live here as adults and whose children attend my school, but mostly I don’t recognize very many of these now thirty-eight-year-olds.   
   As I float from circle to circle, I do see a group of boys men that I know.  One of them only looks vaguely familiar, and all I can come up with is Hector. Since I always called my students by their chosen Spanish name, that’s what I called him as I said hello to this very tall man. Hector. He laughed and said, “It’s me, D!”  There. He. Was.  A million things went through my mind at warp speed. I'd said over and over again that I'd regretted how I treated D.  After all these years, this was my chance to make it right.  So right there, on the fifty-yard line, before I could talk myself out of it, I extended my hand to shake his and heard myself say this:  "Oh, D, I think I owe you an apology. I wasn’t very nice to you when you were in my class.” He interrupted. “Dude, it was my bad. I was a s**t back then.”  Be that as it may, (wink, wink) I continued. “I should have found a way to make it work. Please forgive me.”   
   It was awkwardly amazing to finally apologize. I’d been regretting how I treated him for more than twenty years and it felt great to make amends.  It was unbelievably liberating to be able to ask that kid student for forgiveness on the fifty; in a weird way, it may have even been better than that elusive do-over I knew I could never get.

7.30.2011

My Stars!


Busy as a beaver on Saturday, I finished with my letter puddles, then went shopping for a pool noodle to cut up into 1-inch pieces to make stress squeezers for school.  I lucked out and found this green star-shaped noodle and - voila - stress stars were born. Now I'm working on what to say on the little note I'll attach for each teacher as a welcome-back-to-school surprise.  Thanks to Danielle for this fun idea!   You could even take it a HUGE step up and make pool-noodle sculptures. Happy sculpting.

Deals on pool-noodles are everywhere; even though they are cheap, don't pay full price.

Letter Puddles

Blogging, my newest hobby, has introduced me to SO many creative people.  Mrs. Eiken, for example, posted the instructions for letter puddles at Create-Share-Inspire; just look at the result of my Saturday afternoon deep in the heat heart of Texas! These little magnetic jewels will hang on the filing cabinet behind my desk so that students can manipulate words when they come into my office for a visit.  You could also put them into a basket and let students use them in a spelling center.  What other ways can you think of to utilize letter puddles?  I think you'll find that they're super easy to make; happy crafting!

Creating A Chain Reaction

   One of the saddest, yet most profound experiences I've had in recent years is my visit last spring to the Columbine Memorial. I didn't actually go there on purpose. I was in Littleton to visit a National School of Character candidate school and had some extra time on my hands, so I found myself driving past Columbine High School. As I approached, I flashed back to that horrible day in history, April 1999; it looked exactly like I had seen it on the national news over and over and over again. I remember it so distinctly because I was home on maternity leave with a newborn, leaving me with a lot of time to be riveted to the television accounts of what was happening.
    I got out of my rental car and went to the front office where they told me that the Memorial was out back, behind the school.  I spent the next chilling hour reading reflections at the Ring of Remembrance, every word more emotionally gripping than the one before, especially in light of the fact that I had a junior and a freshman at home, both of whom could have been any one of those loved ones.  As I slowly progressed along the Wall of Healing, I began to openly grieve and cry uncontrollably.  For the victims. For those who were left behind.  For our youth.  For their stakeholders. For our future.
   But there’s a tragedy-to-triumph piece to this overwhelmingly painful and difficult story, the eventual peace that resulted from a family’s desperate need to keep their child’s memory alive while preventing this sort of devastation from ever happening again. There are quite likely many examples of this, but the one I’m most familiar with is Rachel’s Challenge.  Rachel Scott was one of the victims at Columbine High School that day.  Her sister came to Friendswood Junior High to share her story and, from what I can tell, Rachel was a balcony girl, someone whose positive personality, amazing attitude, and endless energy lifted people up. Suppose it's simply a coincidence that her middle name was Joy? And though her time here on earth was cut short, she continues to make a difference. From the Rachel's Challenge website: We exist to inspire, equip and empower every person to create a permanent positive culture change in their school, business and community by starting a chain reaction of kindness and compassion.  
   Rachel said it herself in her journal writings: I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion then it will start a chain reaction of the same. That’s the challenge that this 17-year-old (and now her family on her behalf) put out there for each and every one of us, to spread compassion and create a chain reaction. And in the news this week, some Texas high school students in Seguin joined the millions who have been motivated by Rachel's Challenge to do just that. Oh, and double-dog daring us to add next link.

7.28.2011

Spirit In The Sky

An airline that takes "the friendly skies" seriously is a real blessing.
While I don't want this blog to become an advertisement for a particular company or product, I don't mind telling you that I am NUTS about Southwest Airlines.  In addition to their low fares and the fact that they serve honey-roasted peanuts, here's why:  Last October, I found myself fogged in in San Francisco, facing a three-hour delay as I tried to get home from the National Forum. During a long delay like that, customers aren't necessarily friendly or patient. But I was trying to be both as I questioned the Southwest gate agent about our connection in Los Angeles. I'd arrived at the airport plenty early, so I was eager to look at all of my options so as to not get stuck in CA for an unscheduled overnight layover. I was told by the lady at the counter not to worry because they would likely hold the plane in LA for us so that we didn't miss our connection.
   So if you're like me, you're laughing now, right? You're thinking that there's NO way that they're going to hold a plane in LA for over an hour so that a few fog-laden passengers can make their connection. Exactly. I heard what she said, but I didn't really believe her. I went back to the counter two or three more times just to see if I'd get the same story. Sure enough, each time she was pretty sure that they'd be holding that plane. "Well, if they hold that plane for us, I'm going to be super surprised" was what I said over and over to myself, but who knows? I've never heard of anything so customer-friendly, but maybe?
   When we finally left San Francisco, it was a little after the time that our connecting flight was scheduled to depart LA, so I was certain that we were stuck. I was figuring out a plan in my head as I flew south. Surely I know someone in LA who can help me out when (noticed I wasn't even saying IF) I get stranded there overnight. But, I was wrong. After we got our welcome to LA and as we were taxiing to the gate, an announcement confirmed that Southwest had, in fact, held the connecting flight to Houston and they respectfully asked the other passengers to please let those of us with a Houston connection make our exit first. Unbelievable!
   Evidently examples like this abound with this company. Last December, I saw online that a pilot held a plane again, this time not just for a mom like me who was eager to get back to her family after a long weekend away. This time it was for a man whose grandson had been killed, a dad who needed desperately to make it to Denver to comfort his daughter at the loss of her little boy. This pilot put his on-time departure stats aside and waited twelve minutes for this single customer to arrive at the gate and board his plane to make his connection to Colorado. And his employer - you guessed it, Southwest Airlines - supported him and said they were "proud" of the compassion he showed to this grieving grandfather.  Just this June, another delay when I flew home, but this time it was because the pilot insisted on deplaning to pay his respects to the family of the fallen soldier whom he'd just brought home to his final resting place.  Spirit In The Sky, obviously so much more than just a clever campaign catchphrase to this awesome airline.

7.27.2011

Words In A Window

Jodi over at Fun In First has TONS of back-to-school activity ideas posted so hop on over and join the fun.  Here's an idea my family members, students and workshop participants enjoy; happy new year!

Window cards might very well be my favorite pick-me-up. Do you know about these?  From Bliss to Brilliance, from Spirit to Success, from You Can Do It! to You're Incredible!, these little cards with a secret message hidden inside intrigue and inspire me. I first stumbled on them a few years ago when Starbucks marketed them as BLOOM (for adults) and LEAP (for kids) cards. The summer they were discontinued, my sister and I spent an entire day in Chicago going from store to store scooping up the half-priced treasures. Do you know how many Starbucks there are in Chicagoland? My suitcase was packed! What a fun memory that is.
   I love to tuck them into thank-you notes, leave them on the pillow after I've spent the night somewhere, add them to lunch boxes, even put them in a basket in my office for my visitors, big and small, to open with me or take with them. They can also be used as an engaging getting-to-know-you activity; take turns buddy buzzing with a partner about your secret message and what it means to you. When I pitched this idea to my friends at Rising Star Education, they let me help write the inspiring, character-focused messages for the Turbo Booster cards they added to their product line.  You can even make your own using a die-cut shape and a sticker to lift the flap that'll cover the secret message.  
   Yesterday morning, I handed a Practice Kindness card to my sister-in-law on our way out the door after a wonderful week-long vacation stay at their place, my childhood home, on the family farm.  She opened it and read it out loud:  Leave every story better than you found it. I pondered that wise counsel all the way back to Texas. I'd never really thought about it that way, that with every encounter, you enter someone's story. You stay for a spell, then you move on. So much wisdom in one little window. How might these help you live inspired?

Expect Great Things

It's no secret that I don't like shopping.  It's something that I pretty much only do when I can't put it off any longer - you know, like when my shoes actually have holes in them -  so I don't even really have a favorite place to shop.  But if I had to pick a store that I feel like best suits the needs of my family, I'd pick Wisconsin-based Kohl's.  Not only do they have an incredible hassle-free return policy, but they also offer substantial discounts and periodic Kohl's Cash as incentives.  I do like saving money!  
   But that's not all.  To me, Kohl's most important draw is that they give back by recognizing and rewarding young volunteers with Kohl's Cares scholarships and a donation to the honoree's non-profit charity of choice.  This year's recipients have raised the bar when it comes to leadership, compassion, and service to others; I stand in awe of amazing kids.  I totally appreciate companies like Kohl's for honoring the commitment of tomorrow's leaders to making their communities, and ultimately our world, better.

7.19.2011

World Peace

I experienced a little piece of what World Peace must be like this past week, in La Grange, Texas, of all places, at Camp Lonestar for the Discovery Camp 2011 closing gathering. After six days of hanging out as either a Bolt or a Gladiator, tackling the challenge course, participating in devotions, roasting mallows over the campfire, praying together and getting to know one another, Discovery teens close out their time together by passionately praising their Maker. They talk about their week, perform the Christian Music Videos that they’ve choreographed and rehearsed, sing songs, and share key Bible verses. We witnessed unparalleled beauty as we watched 170 teenagers move in perfect harmony with one another and in love for their Lord.
   To simply say "WOW!" would be gravely inadequate; these teenager testimonials were transformational. Young people who might typically be scared to death of public speaking stand up to publicly profess that their faith trumps their fear. That week in the great outdoors gives them a chance to take a break from batteries and search their souls, to get away from cyberspace and commune with nature, to let go of their troubles and team build with like-minded teens. And then, they give it all back to God. They share their struggles and their successes, their connections and their challenges, their weaknesses and their wishes.  And then, they give it all back to God. The emotion behind their tears at the Benediction was so heartbreakingly painful; their sorrow at saying good-bye spoke to the special bond that they shared in the Spirit and said all that was left to say. 
   So what does that have to do with World Peace? I think that the answer is simple, really. These kids are our future. If each of them takes that elevating experience and feeling out into the world wherever life takes them, and if they’re able to call on the Peace that passes all human understanding, especially during times of conflict and struggle, it cannot help but ripple out into the lives of people whose paths they cross.  When these teens pay it forward and share that love that so deeply connected them that week and was so palpable in that closing ceremony, then World Peace will be close at hand.  

7.18.2011

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

OK, so maybe there wasn't a train, but it was still like something out of a John Candy comedy, only it was happening in real life, to me. Our airplane was actually on the tarmac, ready for an on-time takeoff, when the pilot announced that we’d be going back to the terminal for more fuel.  That can’t be good, I thought.  Turns out that storms in Atlanta might keep us circling in the sky longer than usual, so they were taking precautionary measures.  I appreciate that in an airline, I suppose.
  And circle we did.  We circled so much that I missed my connecting flight to Chattanooga, so off to the bus terminal I headed.  What choice did I have?  I was scheduled to speak at a conference first thing the next morning.  After a significant wait, I boarded a shuttle for the two-hour ride north. When I arrived in TN, it was 10 pm, way past my bedtime and way too late to eat.  Still, I hadn't had a meal all day, so I headed out in a taxi for what felt like a midnight a snack at Chili’s before tuck-in time.
   So you can imagine how exhausted I was as I stood at the door to my break-out session, mustering up what little energy I could to greet workshop participants with a handshake and a welcome as they trickled into the room.  The coffee hadn't quite kicked in yet and I wasn't feeling the usual adrenaline rush I typically feel before a presentation.  That’s when I saw this somewhat familiar smile heading my way.  I’m in Tennessee, a long way from my home in Texas, how could I possibly recognize anyone?  I quickly glanced at her nametag.  Catie.  I recognize that name, from email I think. She reaches out for a handshake and says, “So nice to see you again!”  She's oozing with enthusiasm and positive energy.
   But the Catie I’d chatted with online a handful of times is from a small school in Oklahoma, surely it couldn’t be the same one.  So I ask her to remind me how we know one another.  That’s sort of awkward and slightly uncomfortable, I know, but it trumps the alternative, which is pretending that I know exactly who she is or how I know her.  She says that she came to my workshop last summer in Dallas, but that since I was only presenting in IN and TN this summer, she’d gotten district approval to attend the Chattanooga conference.  I probably looked shocked trying to figure out what she was telling me; I was, after all, sleep deprived from the trials of the previous day’s travels.  To help me understand, she added that she had driven 700 miles just to participate in my workshop to Sing, Dance, Laugh, and Build Character with me.  Seriously?  This counselor trekked across the country for my workshop, to learn from me?  I still treasure that amazing affirmation.  The instant energy from her heartwarming smile, her hearty handshake and that heartfelt handful of words resulted in most likely one of my best presentations ever!
   Catie continues to inspire me.  Much like the drive from OK to TN (and back!), her life’s journey has been, at times, quite arduous and challenging.  But her gentle, giving spirit coupled with her incredibly tenacious nature always cultivate the stamina and sustenance she needs to not only survive but to thrive.  Catie reaps what she sows; she’s a successful mom, grandmother, counselor, author, motivational speaker, life coach, and friend.  Visit Empowerment International for her delicious recipes for the kitchen and decadent recipes for life. 

7.17.2011

Sweet!

I love this question:  If you were arrested for kindness, would there be enough evidence to convict you?
   It's been said that kindness is a learned behavior and we know from experience that modeling is a powerful teacher.  That’s why I was glad that my boys were with me on that Wednesday morning when we fought a downpour to treat ourselves to donuts.
   In haste, I grabbed five single-dollar bills as we headed out of the car, dodging raindrops to go inside and get our breakfast of champions (aka sugar fix!). We ordered half-a-dozen donuts before inquiring about the cost of a large milk.  The man behind the counter answered “a dollar twenty five,” and I knew that we didn’t quite have enough money with us for that.
   Before I could ask him how much a small milk would cost, the lady at the table to our right told him to go ahead and give us the large, that she’d gladly pay the difference. He said thanks, but that wouldn’t be necessary because he could get the difference from his tip jar.
   OK, so two people we’ve never met before are jumping to our aid so that I don’t have to run out in the rain to get more money and my boys don’t have to split a small milk.  Simple?  Yep.  Random?  Certainly.  Impacting?  Without a doubt.  Besides what my boys learned from that brief encounter, the kindness of these two strangers brightened up a rainy day and we enjoyed a sweet side of generosity with our donuts and milk.    

7.16.2011

Her Instrumental Legacy

I didn’t even get to her funeral, but I understand that it was very nice.  People from all walks of life packed the church to pay tribute to my great aunt Norma.  They tell me that when the minister asked those who had been her students to stand, the majority of the people rose from their seats to proudly proclaim that she had been their first grade teacher.  In fact, several of them went to the pulpit to share their memories of a woman who so naturally helped them to learn about addition and subtraction, about spelling and reading, about music and God, about life and love.  With her contagious smile and her inviting personality, Aunt Norma never met a stranger.  I wonder if she had any idea what an incredible impact she had on the lives of those people.
Even though I didn’t get to stand at the funeral, I was one of those people.  Aunt Norma, or Miss Natzke as I knew her in the classroom, was a mentor long before it became a buzzword.  She took her students under her wing and taught them values like honesty and kindness way before the big push for character education was even on the horizon.  And she loved all of us unconditionally before psychologists suggested that ‘unconditional positive regard’ was important.  I was lucky to be her niece because that meant I had her during the week in school and on weekends at her house.
You see, Aunt Norma wasn’t married and didn’t have children of her own, so my dad often lent me to her.  Before I was old enough to spell my name, she taught me to recognize and play notes on the piano.  Together we’d play all weekend long.  After dinner on Friday night, we’d play until we were too sleepy to sit in front of the keys anymore.  Then we’d eat fudgesicles while she read from the Bible and say our prayers before she’d tuck me in.  By sunrise on Saturday morning, I could smell the coffee and knew it was time to get back to the music, she at the organ, I at the piano, where we’d sit all day long.  When she’d finally walk me home, she’d tell my dad that I have the most “stick-to-it-tive-ness” that she’d ever seen.  My aunt Eileen tells me that Aunt Norma said that about her, too, and that she was somewhat relieved when I came along so that she wouldn’t have to go there as much anymore.
But I really liked it!  Aunt Norma had a way of making life so comfortable.  She had music in her heart and peace in her soul.  Her raspy voice, with its soothing quality, made me feel safe; the gentle calmness of her being made me feel secure. Her very presence wrapped me up in a warmth that made me want to stay at her house forever.  Sixty years my elder, Aunt Norma was my best friend.  I would have painted the world whatever color she wanted, if she’d have asked.  That’s what I would have said at her funeral.
Aunt Norma retired after dedicating 50 years of her life to the nurturing of impressionable youth like me.  Her first love was teaching; her second love was Adolph.  She married Adolph when she was 73 years old.  Together they had mastered 23 different musical instruments, she by training, he by ear.  He put the harmony into her already melodic existence. What a joy it was for me to experience the magic of their beautifully-orchestrated musical celebration of life.  And what a heartbreak when, after only six years of marriage, Adolph passed away.  He planted an early garden that year, carefully labeling all the rows, as if he knew that soon he’d be leaving Aunt Norma to live alone, again.
It wasn’t too much later that Parkinson’s got its grip on my great aunt Norma.  She spent the last ten years of her life in a nursing home.  Of course, people came to visit, especially at first, and she had them sign her guest book, share their stories and sing from the red Lutheran Hymnal.  Even when she couldn’t remember the words, she would still hum along in harmony.  She thrived on the details of that special project you had going at church or in school.  And she always asked for a Bible verse. Aunt Norma loved to sing hymns and hear Bible verses.  But little by little, Aunt Norma’s spirit was fading.  It felt like we had lost her long before she actually died.  Even though she didn’t recognize me anymore, I still visited and played piano for her, the teacher who had inspired me, filled my soul with music, and made a notable difference in my life.
Aunt Eileen felt exactly the same way.  That’s why she, too, continued to visit even when Aunt Norma could no longer put out the guest book or comprehend her stories.  And when Aunt Eileen sensed that Aunt Norma’s life score had played itself out, she sat by her bed all night long and literally sang her into heaven, one song at a time, starting with Open Thou Thy Gates of Heaven, through the entire red Lutheran Hymnal.  She was determined not to let Aunt Norma, who had given so much to so many people in life, face death alone.  Now that’s “stick-to-it-tive-ness!”
I was kind of miffed that they didn’t ask for my input when planning her funeral.  Sure I knew her better than anyone, I was positive that I was her favorite.  And I cried when they told me that they hadn’t sung “How Great Thou Art,” Aunt Norma’s favorite.  But in truth, every hymn was her favorite, just as every child was.  She loved music like she loved teaching children, like she loved Adolph, like she loved life.  And above all, Aunt Norma loved God.  Her musical legacy is alive in my home every time my children and I play our 100-year-old upright grand with the worn and missing ivory keys, the very same piano on which Aunt Norma learned, and taught me, to celebrate life through music.  I wish for every child one day a mentor and friend like I had in my great aunt Norma.

7.15.2011

Out Of The Ashes

It was the right thing to do, that's what 80-year-old Duane told reporters about his extra-ordinarily good deed.  Click here to read all about the kind gesture of this Wisconsin landlord to his now-homeless tenants.  Sometimes it's the smallest things that make the biggest difference.

7.14.2011

The Kindness Boomerang

Kindness is such a hard thing to give away because, like a boomerang, it always comes back.
   Take my sister, Debra, for example. She’s one of the kindest people I know. She makes friends so easily and is always there to lend a helping hand.  She’s the kind of person who always leaves a thank-you note on your pillow after a stay at your house or sends flowers to express her gratitude for something you've done. Her greatest gift recently was walking her late-neighbor’s elderly son, Bill, through his last few years and ultimately his last days of life. Somewhat socially awkward, Bill had a true friend in Debra. She took excellent care of him and she misses him every day now that he’s gone. Still working to settle his estate, Debra has frequent reminders of Bill.  But, in an interesting twist of fate, their roles have kind of reversed this week and he’s become her guardian angel, God’s right hand, maybe even St. Anthony's helper, taking care of her. Here’s an abbreviated excerpt from Debra’s story the morning after her purse was snatched:
   The first thing I did yesterday was call Bill’s personal banker; his name is Chris and he has been very good to both Bill and me since January. I told him about my misfortune and he was able to put a stop payment on the remaining checks that were in my purse. I then called the State treasurer and asked them to cancel that check of Bill’s that I hadn’t deposited yet, and although they were very kind and sympathetic to my plight, they could do nothing for 30 days.
    Throughout the day I had waves of anxiety mixed with hope. Would my purse be sitting on my porch when I got home?  Perhaps they would be plagued by pangs of remorse and bring it back. That happened to my sister once, the thief actually mailed the contents of her wallet to her house, but by then she had replaced everything of course. I do not and have not lived in fear. I do not want to start now. With this in mind, I started to pray for the thief and kept on working.
    When I got home from work, I had two messages, one from the bank, the other from the police. Chris’ message said that a woman showed up at the bank attempting to cash a check written out to her from Bill for $500 from Bill’s account!!  Needless to say I quickly returned his call to get additional details. He told me that at the time she came in, he “just happened” to be walking behind the teller when he saw Bill's name on the check. He promptly stepped in and told the teller that he was Mr. Fairbanks’ personal banker and he would take care of it. He asked the woman how she knew Bill, and she told him that she had done some work for him and that he paid her, blah, blah, blah. He said that he played it cool and collected the check and her ID, assuring her that he simply needed to verify some details and he would be right back. He went into the vault and called the police. The long and short of it is that the police came, arrested her and the woman in the get-away car. He was able to talk directly to the police, tell them about his relationship with Bill and me, that Bill was deceased and that he talked to me just hours prior, that my purse had been stolen and I had canceled the checks. All very tidy.
   Let’s go back to the part where Chris “just happened” to be walking behind the teller and the exact time the woman was presenting the check and in that bank. As a personal banker, it’s not typical that he walks behind tellers. Hmmm . . .is it odd or is it God?  Chris said that they were pulling all sorts of stuff out of the car, but he didn’t know if my purse was in the car. By the time I called the police back, the officer assigned to the case was off duty and no one else could answer my questions. I will be able to call after 7 today. The anticipation is steep!
    God has a plan, perhaps to help this woman get to her bottom, perhaps to give a very good personal banker a fun and exciting day, or maybe to show me that I can find a treasure in every trial, that I do not have to crumble under adversity and that God continues to provide me with everything I need, purse or no purse.
   As a coincidental aside, Bill generously gave money to all sorts of religious organizations, so he still gets prayer cards, medallions, rosaries and things like that in the mail with donation requests dailySeveral of these have centered around St. Anthony, patron saint of lost and stolen articles, so Debra’s been praying these St. Anthony prayers, not cause she believes in it, necessarily, but just as another way to keep Bill’s memory alive. So we’re pretty sure that Bill is watching over her to somehow repay her kindness.
   Yesterday, Debra got a call from a bartender down the street who actually found her half-empty purse. As you can imagine, she’s gushing with gratitude and just plain joyful about being reunited with some of her stuff. And on her agenda today? To take a box of gourmet chocolates along with hand-written thank-you notes to a conscientious personal banker and the honest fella who helped her purse find its way home.  The kindness continues.

7.13.2011

Fired Up!

I treasure watching a good story unfold, especially when its ripple effect ignites movement in the right direction.  I just love this one from last October.
   It couldn’t have happened to a nicer, more congenial group.  That’s what I decided once I woke up enough to thoroughly comprehend what they were asking us to do.  Startled out of a very deep sleep, I understood the voice over the speaker to say, “This is an emergency; please exit the building on the stairs.  Do not use the elevators.  I repeat, do not use the elevators.”  Thinking it was an errant alarm going off, I glanced toward the light of the clock and saw 2:33 on the digital screen.  I heard the voice again, and wondered out loud if it really meant us.  It didn’t take a third time before my roommate and I realized that we’d better put a coat over our PJs, find a key, and head downstairs.  Neither one of us even thought to put shoes on.  As we made our way bleary-eyed down sixteen flights of stairs, our “upgrade” to the 16th floor no longer seemed advantageous.  I remembered that there had been a bomb scare at the airport earlier in the day and tried to keep from catastrophizing, wondering what happened to get all of us up and out of bed during the wee hours of the morning like that.  Was San Francisco always this chaotic?  I really empathized with the elderly and the families with small infants, both of whom seemed completely disoriented.  I marveled at the fact that the stairwell was as peaceful and calm as it was.
   Once outside, we watched patiently as the firemen entered the building to check things out.  We visited with people we’d met earlier in the day at the National Forum for Character Education that we were attending.  We even found things to chuckle about despite the fact that we’d all rather have still been sleeping.  The sidewalk was slick from the mist that was falling and we wished we’d have grabbed our shoes like most everyone else had.  As time passed, I thought about the fire drills at school and imagined getting the all-clear with a message that went something like this:  
Good job, Hyatt partners.  We were able to completely evacuate in 12-and-a-half minutes.  Thank you for your part in making this fire drill such a huge success.
   After about what seemed like an hour but was really only fifteen minutes, we did, in fact, get the all-clear and we were invited back into the building.  Here comes the challenge, I thought.  Going down was probably the easy part.  We inquired about taking the stairs, but were told that the stairwell doors are locked and they don’t have the manpower to unlock them at this hour, so we’d have to take the elevators.  Take the stairs down, but don’t take the stairs back up, really?  As the lobby filled up, frustration levels went up and the once-friendly Hyatt partners were fired up.  Tired people, who had to wake up, wanted up.  Now!  I know, ‘cause I was one of them.  It really seemed like this might take forever!  And the fact that it was the bagel shop nextdoor and not even the Hyatt with the smoke issue didn’t help.
   The first elevator door opened and a woman who had been separated from her friend called to the back for her to join her.  We all looked at her to see what she’d do and we could tell that she REALLY wanted to take her up on the offer.  “No, that wouldn’t be right,” she called back.  “I’ll wait here until it’s my turn.”  That’s when it happened.  The people between the elevator and her gave her permission - encouraged her, even - to bypass them and ride the elevator up with her roommate to their room.  It was as if the waters parted so that she could go up.
   With everything that people say is wrong in this world, there’s SO much right with the world, too.  There was peace when there could have been panic, sensitivity when there could have been spite.  There was empathy when there could have been exasperation and compassion when there could have been covetousness and chaos. 
   It was on my ride in the service elevator back up to the 16th floor to go back to bed at 3:15 a.m. that I realized that it couldn’t have happened to a nicer, more congenial group.  Way to go, Hyatt partners! 


7.12.2011

Fruitful Things Stem From Core Values

   The employees at Gringo's Mexican Kitchen know what they stand for, or at least what their work place does. Their customers are finding out, too, because Gringo's associates are wearing these Core Values t-shirts to make their vision and mission visible. Here's what they stand for at Gringo's:
Core Value #1 - Building guest relationships one meal at a time.
Core Value #2 - Fostering honesty and respect amongst our associates.
Core Value #3 - Reinvesting in our associates and local community.
Core Value #4 - Developing a relationship of trust with our vendors.
Core Value #5 - Never being satisfied.
   Curious about these Core Values when I saw them for the first time, I asked the associate who waited on our table to explain the campaign. She said that they're learning the values and that you can find them on posters around the building as well as on the Ts. While she didn't have them all memorized - yet - she seemed pretty excited about them and we got great service.  I couldn't help but wonder what difference, if any, her wearing that t-shirt would make if a customer had a comment or a complaint. Maybe that T might even spark a compliment.
  Gringo's five Core Values closely parallel the pillars of character that we espouse at our school; there's trustworthiness, respect, responsibility (complete with a shout out for their  stakeholders!) and citizenship. I was pretty excited to see values in action out in the real world, because that means that our students will be the kind of associates that Gringo's will one day be happy to hire.
   What does your work place stand for and how do people know?   

7.11.2011

Service With A Smile

   There was something special about that quick trip to Kroger Sunday morning to fetch a few last-minute Camp items for my teens.  I'm pretty sure it had something to do with Drew.  When I got into the 15-items-or-less aisle, I was greeted by the chipper young checker.  I returned the greeting and couldn't help but notice that Drew was trying desperately to hold back a yawn.  So when I asked him how he was this morning, and he responded, "tired," I said, "I see that," and we both chuckled. Honesty, I like that in a kid!  I told him I didn't have my Kroger card. No problem, he could just type my number into the computer.  We chatted casually for the minute or so that it took him to ring up the soda, shampoo and four other impulse items I was buying.  Then I left.  That's it.  Nothing out of the ordinary, really, except for something about his courteous, customer-friendly manner made me pause as I was about to pass a man who appeared to be the manager on my way out of the store.
  "May I help you with something?" he asked.  So I stopped to tell him that Drew was really a pleasant employee. "Drew?" he replied with a somewhat shocked inflection in his voice and look on his face. I went on to explain that Drew was the kid on the 15-items-or-less aisle who had just waited on me and that I could tell that Kroger cared about its customers because they'd hired a really good kid.  "Oh, yes, Drew.  He's a good boy; it's just that we don't usually get very many compliments. Thanks for letting me know."
   My brief encounter with Drew that morning reminded about a Simple Truths clip that features Johnny the Bagger. Click here to see Johnny's simple strategy that set him apart and had the power to transform. Oh, and the next time you're thinking something really nice about someone, try saying it out loud and watch what happens.

7.10.2011

Hitchin' A Ride

My picture of that morning has surely faded, but my memory hasn't one little bit; whom do you know that would be willing to go a few extra miles for you?
   It was the summer of 1988.  I had just suffered through a disappointing and painful relationship split that spring, so when my brother’s friend Douglas asked if I wanted to backpack through Europe, I jumped at the chance.  The chance to get away, to forget, to meet new people, explore new places, even visit Spain, the country whose language I’d studied since 9th grade and had been teaching for four years.
   I got the cheapest airline ticket I could find, and Doug met me in Brussels to begin our trek. What an amazing adventure it was.  We rode in new cars and old, fast cars and slow, an 18-wheeler, even a school bus, and we were abundantly blessed to meet so many interesting people as we were ferried from place to place. It was always a snap to get a lift as we hitch-hiked from Belgium to the Strait of Gibraltar, except for on that one sunny Sunday morning in Germany.
   We had spent a lovely evening meeting and getting to know Doris and Matthew, friends of my friend Audrey, whom we’d looked up and connected with in Stuttgart. They invited us to spend the night and after we enjoyed a tasty breakfast, Matthew offered to take us to the highway. He suggested a spot a bit farther down the road than we’d planned, almost an hour’s drive for him. We didn't want to trouble him, but he said he didn’t mind because he was certain we’d have much better luck getting a ride from there en route to our Switzerland destination. We bid Doris adieu and headed out with Matthew. Grateful that he’d gone those extra miles for his weary new friends, we thanked him profusely and offered to return the favor if he ever got back to America.  Then we watched him make a U-turn and head back for his hour-long drive home.  A strong start for what turned into a very slow Sunday.
   As I remember it, there wasn’t much traffic and what traffic there was certainly wasn’t stopping for us. This was a new and somewhat frustrating experience because we’d gotten rides quite handily until now. Wasn’t anyone willing to share their Sunday drive south? An hour went by, leaving us discouraged; two hours passed, and we started to second-guess our spot. But  Matthew was SO sure that this would be the perfect place to catch a lift!  Then, a glimmer of hope. A car slowing down, pulling over . . . could it be . . . our ride to Switzerland? Something about its approach was vaguely familiar . . . Wait, is that . . .  Matthew?  Relief seemed to wash over his face to see that – though we should have been long gone – we were right where he had dropped us off.  We were thrilled, of course, to see a friendly face, but why had he come back? Getting out of the car, Matthew opened up the trunk and handed each of us a welcomed bottle of water. Then he reached back into the trunk, pulled out Doug’s hiking boots and with a simple smile said, “We thought you might need these.” As if it weren’t enough that he'd come back to bring us those boots, we find two chocolate bars, one inside each boot, for a sweet Sunday snack. 
   We were left speechless by Matthew’s kindness and generosity. Could it have been pure coincidence that we had waited for two hours, the exact amount of time that Matthew would need to get back home, find those boots, grab some water and candy, and return to that same spot?  And what about this:  Just as Matthew was pulling away for the second time, a sports car pulls up and its driver (whom I'll affectionately call Speed Racer!) asks, “You two need a lift?” Another coincidence?
   Let's just say we made up for any time we'd lost, arriving in Geneva by nightfall. The whole way there – and still today, actually – I wondered what it was, exactly, that made Matthew take the chance that we’d still be there. And then I imagine a world in which there are more people like Matthew, and I smile. 

7.09.2011

The Stranger at Starbucks

It's been almost two years now, and I still miss my coffee-shop companion.  
   I get that Starbucks is pretty expensive coffee, so after a summer of almost daily visits, I’d been trying to only treat myself occasionally.  I set the alarm to go off a few minutes early that rainy November morning so I could snag a quick caramel macchiato before school.  Stacey greets me and rings up my order before I even tell her what I want.  As I wonder if maybe I’m still coming here too much, the barista asks me if I knew L.D.  It might have been my puzzled expression that prompted her to add, “He’s the man who always sat over at that window table.”
   As she pointed in that direction, I could see him sitting there as clearly as I had every time I’d gone to Starbucks these past two years.  After a few months of simply noticing him, I started smiling and saying, “hello.”  Then I decided to introduce myself.  What could it hurt? I wondered; he seemed like a nice guy.  Sure enough, he was, and he appreciated that I’d want to get to know him.  So while my candy bar-in-a-cup was being crafted, my friendship with the Stranger at Starbucks was also brewing.
   He loved to visit.  He talked about his garden and his granddaughter, about squash and soccer, about fences and family, about a new grandbaby on the way and a new way to grow okra. Much like a small bean transforms into a delicious cup of coffee, this Stranger was quickly, over time, becoming my friend.
   It wasn’t that weird when he wasn’t at his table on that December day because he wasn’t due back from his family’s ranch until Friday.  She said that no, he had passed away on Sunday night.  She’d gone to the visitation the night before and the funeral, she added, would be today at 11:00.
   Time kind of stopped.  I still can’t make much sense out of that morning.  I remember my brain racing and my eyes stinging as I sat down to wait for what seemed like forever for them to make my specialty drink.  My tears confused the heck out of me.  He was, after all, the Stranger at the Starbucks. No one would understand my shock and grief if I couldn’t.  I didn’t even really know his name.
   So, in my sadness, I wrote his family a note and attended the service to say goodbye one last time to the Stranger at Starbucks.  Rows and rows of people had come to pay their respects to my friend.  There were at least seven of us that he knew only from Starbucks.  How many other lives had he touched just by being the guy at that premium window seat?
   I learned a lot about L.D. at his Celebration of Life service.  He was only a month older than my dad and he shared the same last name as my father-in-law. There was no way I could have known that, but there was always that mysterious connection I felt.  I could tell that L.D. had lived a good life.  He was blessed and he, in turn, blessed others.  Just by being.
   As I struggled with my uncomfortable feelings, my friend Lee asked if I would have done anything differently had I known that L.D. wouldn’t be back at Starbucks that morning, or not on Friday, or not ever?  And how many times do I think I made L.D. smile?  I don’t know about the latter, but I do know that the answer to the former is “absolutely not!”  I am better because I introduced myself to the Stranger at Starbucks.  On the mornings that I got to visit with L.D., I left with more than just a jolt of java.  I wouldn’t trade that for all of the coffee beans in the world.  Is the caramel macchiato pricey?  You bet.  But when it results in a priceless relationship, it’s clearly worth every cent!

7.08.2011

A Project (and a Post!) With A Purpose

   We had enjoyed such an amazing Advocacy Day in DC; Elizabeth, then eight years old, had gone through an exhausting morning of meetings before lobbying on Capitol Hill to help reduce the staggering infant mortality rate.  Along with the CEOs of Save the Children and Warm Up, America!, she and I were guests that afternoon at the White House! Our appointment with First Lady’ Laura Bush’’s Chief of Staff had made front-page news in the Houston Chronicle.  Elizabeth had been knitting a baby cap all the way to DC and had finished it just that morning, so she had it there with her to show the fruits of her labor. In the First Lady's library, where we sat.. She got to tell the staffer, Cherie, all about our school's knit-for-service club. I was so proud of that little Westwood Ambassador as she explained why we do what we do to help Save the Children worldwide. As we were saying our good byes and thanking her for her time and interest in our project, Cherie asked Elizabeth if she'd like to leave her handiwork at the White House for Mrs. Bush, and she politely acquiesced.
   In an interview aT a Museum reception that night, Elizabeth was asked how it felt to leave her hand-knit hat in the White House for the First Lady. She thought about it for a split second before she replied, “It was ok, I guess, but I really made that hat for a baby.”  That's when I knew that Knit One, Save One was more than just a fun phrase; it meant something special to this novice needle worker.  And that's why I'll never again underestimate the power of a project with a purpose. 
   Click here to watch a reflective video we made during the KOSO campaign, then use the book Shall I Knit You A Hat by Kate and Sarah Klise as inspiration for a service-learning project of your own.  Read all about what happens when little Rabbit's mom knits creative caps for all of his friends.


7.07.2011

Grandfather's Wrinkles

My post about Grandma Natzke made me think about this inspirational tale about grandparents.
   It's been said that "every cloud has a silver lining" and "hidden in every complaint, there's a compliment." Might it follow, then, that every wrinkle holds a priceless memory?
   Grandfather's Wrinkles by Kathryn England would answer this question with an unequivocal YES!
   In this heartwarming dialogue between Granddad and his inquisitive granddaughter Lucy, the lost art of storytelling emerges as the vehicle whereby the elder recounts the happy events behind his every wrinkle. This intergenerational story puts a positive spin on the aging process, sending the message that it's important to appreciate, reflect upon, and enjoy one's journey through life. Its beautiful scrapbook-style illustrations by Richard McFarland enhance and enrich the tale. At a time when communicating by laptop is all but replacing sitting and visiting atop a lap, this treasure offers a refreshingly creative way to trip down Memory Lane. I found myself yearning for more lap-time with my own grandparents. Do yourself a favor: find a lap, connect with someone special, share this book aloud, and get ready to pass along a few wrinkles of your own.  

How do you connect with and celebrate your grandparents?  At Westwood, we host a GRAND celebration each year.  Third graders invite their grandparents and lead a program during which they entertain their elders with songs about values and character.  Students then escort them to their classrooms where their grandparents have the chance to reminisce about days gone by with our 21st century learners. 
   Visit Flashlight Press for more information on this book and their other picture story books that explore and illuminate.

The Hum Bug




Almost as alluring as free fun fonts are to a blogger, the contagious courtship call of the cicadas reminds me of the only other bug I rather enjoy catching.

   If I sit really still and get really quiet, I can still hear her humming. It sounds weird to say it, but I can almost see her, too. In her chair while she read, in her kitchen while she cooked, in the car as she drove, even on the couch while she napped. Grandma Natzke was always humming. I loved that. I loved going to her house when I was little and hearing her hum. I loved visiting her at the retirement center into my adulthood and listening to her hum. It's something that I dearly miss about her now that she's gone.
   What I've noticed over summer break is that my youngest boy also hums. A lot! I hear him humming at the table as he puts together his 1000-piece puzzles, in his room as he plays his games, in the car as we're traveling. It's so endearing. And it makes me wonder: Are people happy because they hum or do they hum because they're happy? I wasn't sure, so I did a search. I found a 2008 study which was part of the London Zoo's Get People Humming campaign that found 67% of those surveyed hum because they feel on top of the world. Not groundbreaking research, but interesting, I suppose.  Whom do you know that's been bitten by the Hum Bug?  Do they have a happy disposition?
   Other sites reported that we hum for comfort, out of boredom, or even out of fear. According to the Sing and Hum website, humming can even have a healing energy with physical and emotional benefits. What I know for sure is that listening to my son as he hums has a wonderfully cheerful effect on me.  It connects me back to my childhood days by sparking treasured memories of Grandma Natzke, a humble soul who must have known about the Hum Bug's contagious quality to calm, comfort and cheer.  

7.06.2011

What Motor Knows


Maybe you've seen the poster Everything I Need To Know I've Learned From My Cat?  Just make that my sister's cat.
 
   Meet Motor, my sister's fabulous feline whose infectious purr just DARES me to reach out, run my fingers through his luscious fur, maybe even tickle his tummy, and make friends with him. I thought it'd be easy, to become Motor's friend. I figured I knew how to be his friend because I'd grown up around cats. Tons of cats.  We had cats everywhere on the farm and I made friends with all of them, even the scardiest of cats.  Course, I was a lot younger, but what should that matter?  Cats love me, or so I thought. 
   I followed Motor around my sister's house, I mean HIS house, for three days trying to connect with this cat, trying to get him to accept me, like me even, trying to - BEGGING really - get him to let me pet him and maybe even - gasp! - to sit on my lap. I knew that if I could get him to be my laptop, then I'd won him over. He'd purr and purr until he was fast asleep. I first tried sitting still and calling him over.  No deal. I tried approaching ever-so-slowly. Not happening. I'll get down on my knees and pet him at his level, then he'll be hooked, I thought.  Wrong!  Right before I took this picture, I tried petting him in his chair, hoping to lure him to my lap. Nothing. That's when I realized I was wrong. It wasn't easy to become Motor's friend; it was work, hard work!
   So on about day four, I stopped trying. I kind of figured what's the use, but I was still secretly wanting him to notice, accept, maybe even like me.  That's when it happened.  I was sitting on my sister's porch reading a book when I saw Motor eyeing me up from his recliner across the screened area. I just kept on reading. It was then that I noticed him approaching.  He was coming over to me, slowly and very methodically, mind you, but he was moving in my direction! I was totally holding my breath, careful not to make an errant move.  He crawled up on my lap and nudged the book out of his way so that he could get comfortable. Though he stayed cautiously ready to leave me at any moment, I felt him sort of settle in and rub his chin on my hand as if to let me know that now would be a good time to pet him. On his terms, of course. The purrrfect sound of his motor was music to my ears!  Motor was teaching me how to be his friend. And when he'd had enough petting, he nipped at my fingers ever so slightly as if to say "don't mind me, now go back to your book and let me rest here for a spell."
   I learned a lot from Motor that week that I'd probably have paid a lot of money to eventually discover with a behavior therapist. The bottom line is that, like with Motor, we have to teach people how to treat us. It's our job to let them know who we are, what we want and need, what we dream about, what we hope for, what we stand for, what we believe in, and how we feel. Motor pretty much knew (and was able to show me) the answers to all of that stuff. So my question is this: how might what Motor knows change the way you interact with your students, children, family or friends? I cannot wait to see what it does in my interactions with mine!

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