Grateful For It All

Tonight I'm in awe.
Of the world around us.
Of birds.
And of Joshua, 
who makes friends so easily.

Of nature's eye candy 

and of heart-shaped cacti.

Of breathtaking blue skies.

Of my daughter and her positivity

and of my husband and his pioneer spirit.

Of the Texas Hill Country 

and of the handiwork of this German piece.

Of the big bass that took John's purple plastic worm 
and almost got away with it. 

Of the neighborhood deer who are almost like pets

and of my son Jacob, who loves to 
 forge ahead and blaze trails.

And I'm grateful for it all.


She Offered To Wash My Hair

Before I go off of the grid to spend time with 
and give thanks for my family, I'm sharing one more reflection from the 
Kind Spring 21-Day Gratitude Challenge:

If loss and learning go hand-in-hand, then I ought to be a genius by now. This year has been a challenging one in the loss department to be sure. Being a big fan of the saying, "What doesn't kill us makes us stronger," I also ought to be Sampson strong. But rather than focus on what's lost, let me share what I've found.

In the dark, scary hour that left me with a total-loss vehicle, numerous physical injuries and a broken spirit, my friend Margaret came to the rescue. Her super power is compassion and caring. She lent my husband a vehicle so he could take the kids to the orchestra. She brought over dinner and reading material to keep me comfortable. She checked on me every day and she even offered to wash my hair. That was huge because the collision was on Thursday afternoon and by Sunday, I desperately needed it. I'd lost my mobility, and she offered to wash my hair.

I can't count how many doctor appointments I had, but I never had to worry about transportation because friends with cars came to my rescue. For two months, people had to drive me everywhere I went. To school. To the ortho. To physical therapy. To church. To counseling. To the treating doctor. Back to ortho. I'd lost my freedom, but I had friends. Lots of friends. Friends with the super power of comfort and caring. Sometimes they even delivered food when they'd pick me up. Friends with food. Comfort food. And some friends came by just to visit. I'd lost my freedom, all right, but when I couldn't go to them, they came to me.

By the end of May, the trauma set in pretty badly and I knew I couldn't be an effective counselor at that point, so I took a medical leave. To heal. And rest. And restore. Again friends (and family!) helped out. My sister spent a week with me, as did my Dad and his wife. Their visit was medicinal in ways I can't explain. And many people used their super powers of affirmation and encouragement cheer me and lift my spirits:

Dear Barbara,

I have been a follower of your blog for a long time but have never commented or responded. Your blog is the first site I check each day and I will say I find myself sighing when there is not a new post. I have gotten to know you through your posts and feel like you are my “cyber friend."

I wanted to let you know how much I appreciate all you do for your school and all the “cyber friends” you help each day with your posts. I am thankful for all your wonderful words of wisdom, advice and fantastic lessons!

I hope this summer will be a time of healing both physically and emotionally! 

Thanks again!

I'd lost my joy, but kind notes like this one from a 
sweet counselor out in cyberspace named Christi came to the rescue 
and, bit by bit, they helped me to find myself again.

Early in the summer, two of my very good counseling colleagues and friends lost their battles with illness and went to be with their Heavenly Father. More loss. Accompanied by grief and sadness. But knowing them made me a better counselor. I will forever hear Sally's sweet voice spurring me on with a whisper, "What's the gift in that?" and see Catie standing at the front door with a smile to greet her little ones, a practice I've adopted and carried out in her honor this school year. These two role models, both of whom were mentors to me, had the gift of gratitude, comfortability, life and love. We lost them from their earthly journeys way too soon for my liking, but their legacies are alive and well in my heart and soul.

It's said that things happen in threes, and I'm happy to report that in my case that's true. No other losses to survive this year. Just recovery and restoration. 
And the lesson.

From little on, I was taught that it's better to give than to receive, and for the most part, I believe that to be true. But learning to receive, 
that's been a gift that'll likely keep on giving indefinitely, a present I first opened on January 13th, when Margaret offered to wash my hair.

Have a Blessed Thanksgiving.


An Angel's Kiss

I'll never forget that tearful morning when I first recommended Buddy Booby's Birthmark to a mom. She was about to register her beautiful daughter for kindergarten and she was coming to terms with the painful possibility that the child could very easily become the target of bullying behaviors as children aged and noticed her Port-Wine-Stained cheek. She lovingly told me that it'd always be an "angel's kiss" to her, but wondered out loud what they could do to prepare their precious angel for a potentially less-than-pretty reality.

Written by mother-son duo Donna and Evan Ducker, 
Buddy Booby's Birthmark tells that very story. 
Evan's story. 
Using birds instead of people.
A birthmark on Buddy's beak.
And people birds who don't always understand because they haven't walked in those webbed-feet before.

Now there's another book that tackles this same tough issue only it uses brilliant watercolor pictures of people rather than birds.

Told in rhyme and based on the authors' son's story, 
Sam's Birthmark by Martha and Grant Griffin is short and to the point. 
Sam is born with a birthmark near his nose and he isn't ashamed of it.
Not at all. Nor should he be.
In fact, it's what makes him unique. 
What makes him special.
What makes him Sam.
But when his friend Amy lets him know that his birthmark makes him different, Sam is faced with the new reality that not everyone celebrates different in the same way.

After reading either or both of these aloud, download the H chart below or create a double-bubble graphic organizer to compare and contrast these two titles.

Then ask your little angels to switch places and talk about how they would feel if they were Buddy or Sam. 
What might that experience be like? 
How would they handle it? 
What might they say? 
If surgery were an option, would they have the birthmark removed or just let it be? Sounds like a persuasive speech waiting to happen.

Check out these books; I think they'll be a rich addition
to your character building. 


Books, Crafts and Kids In The Kitchen

Who doesn't love the combo deal of a 
good book and good sale? 

Today I'm excited because Vivian Kirkfield's Show Me How! is available for a short time for $10.00. That's a holiday steal! Are you a parent, grandparent, teacher, childcare worker, aunt, uncle, guardian, older sibling, or kid person of some other kind? Then this book has something for you. With reviews of 100 classic picture books and a craft and recipe to go along with each story, Vivian's book has a recipe for success to connect with the children in your lives. Click the graphic to go shopping at Amazon to get your copy now!

Just for fun, I decided to try Vivian's formula:

We love the Amy Krouse Rosenthal sweet series about cookies. They're basically just written (and beautifully illustrated!) using character words and phrases that have to do with baking cookies. 
The holiday version is called Christmas Cookies: Bite-Size Holiday Lessons and it's scrumptious!

You know where this is going, right? 

We make our Sour Cream Sugar Cookie cut-outs every December.
 They always turn out so pretty. Get the recipe {here}.

And for a craft, we could use the cookie cutter to trace
an ornament onto card stock and decorate, personalize, and fancify it to use as a plate topper when we give our cookies away.
Ooooo, I might be on to something.

Thank you, Vivian, for your passion 
and this awesome resource.


Humility and Gratitude

I can't believe that our 21 days are almost gone.
What a joy and a blessing it has been to focus on thankfulness.
Today's gratitude challenge spurred some interesting reflection. 
My initial response to not want to waste spend my time thinking about something I value about myself because it seems there's already too much me, me, ME! 
in this world.

But a few questions about this opportunity changed my mind.

1. Why do we readily share what we can't do well 
yet struggle to share what we do have to offer?
2. What is the difference between boasting 
and being humbly proud?
3. Would exchanging pride for gratitude help?

I know all too well what I'm not good at; 
to name a few these skills include but aren't limited to

Sitting still.
Messing up.
Paying attention in meetings.
Being patient.

Some of those are hard to admit and certainly not anything I'm proud of, at all. They're something that I not only tend to beat myself up for but also feel guilty about. A lot.

The skills that I do have I either tend to take for granted or blow off with statements like, "no big deal" or "anyone could do that." 

Why is that? For me, it's because we were taught that it would be bragging to go around thinking you were all that. A small dose of healthy pride, sure, but there was no room for a big head in our house.

Then, I became a mom.
Talk about your bragging rights.

And not because my children were necessarily any different from anyone else's, 
but a child, well, that's a huge source of pride.
Then multiply it by three.
Frustration, too, of course. And angst. And worry.
And pride. 
Humble, unadulterated pride (if there is such a thing!).

I'll never forget the time I was playing cards with my sister and going on and on about the kids and what they'd accomplished and who they were becoming and my husband leaned over to her husband and asked, "Does Debra brag about her daughter all of the time, too?" Ouch!

It hurt, but it also gave me pause. And a lot to think about.
That's when it first hit me.
What if I exchanged that pride for gratitude?
What if, instead of boasting about how well they were turning out (through a mom's lens, of course), I'd reframe that pride with gratitude for the gifts that we'd be given. For the chance to raise three beautiful little beings and for the challenge to help them become 'value-able' family members, friends, and colleagues to the people who cross their paths in the world.

One little word.
So simple.
Yet often so complicated.
Such a beautiful reframe.

Then, this summer, when a successful businessman in the field of chemical engineering who'd met our son on a band trip in March called to offer him a matching full-ride scholarship to the University of Texas if he'd rather go to John's alma mater and be where his sister is (instead of to the rival Texas A & M), I didn't want to share that story with too many people at the risk that it'd sound boastful. But my overwhelming gratitude to this man and his generosity toward Jacob trumped those thoughts as I shared my joy at this incredibly kind offer that further cemented my belief in and hope for human kind. 

So, to my friends at Kind Spring, my answer is that showing gratitude is one skill that I value in myself and and that I'm working to refine in who I am becoming. 
Perfecting my practice of gratitude in. all. things.
Until it becomes my superpower.
Humbly grateful.
 For my gifts.

So now it's your turn:
What skill do you most value in yourself?


Human Kind As It Could Be

I typically love Steve Hartman segments, and this one is
no exception. Though it's been online since early August,
I saw it for the first time yesterday and
it. warmed. my. heart! 

I like the part about this photographer capturing not what is,
but what could be. 
It was so real that even the subjects felt it.

Hope makes me grateful.


PPBF: The Weird Series

Today I am thankful to be able to give an awesome update to our 
Citizenship Cookie Campaign.
We sent 45 boxes of homemade deliciousness in the shape of cookies and cookie bars to our deployed servicemen and women this week. YUM!

The generosity of our community never ceases to amaze me.
We packed at least ten dozen cookies/bars in each box. Simple math predicts that approximately 5400 tasty treats are on their way to the troops from Texas in time for Thanksgiving. This makes me happy, happy, happy.

Switching gears, today's PPBF is actually a three-in-one series 
though they could stand alone as well. 
Let's start with Weird!

Title:  Weird!
Author: Erin Krankel
Illustrator: Paula Heaphy
Publisher: Free Spirit Publishing
Date: July 27, 2012
Suitable for: grades K-4th
Themes: respect for differences, acceptance, point of view
Brief synopsis: When Luisa changes key things about herself (including her polka-dot boots) to keep from being called weird, nothing else changes. What will it take to fit in?

Opening page: Hi. My name is Luisa and I have a problem. There is a girl in my class named Sam who thinks that everything I do is 

Download the Leaders' Guide from Free Spirit {here}.
Read reviews on the books' website {here}.
See what Youth Literature Reviews wrote about the series {here}.
Read more at the Children's Book Review blog {here}.
Please Hear What I'm Not Saying poem {here}.

Why I like this book: I was intrigued at the point-of-view concept of this trio because it's basically the same scene but told through the eyes and in the voice of three very different girls. It's clear that the author and illustrator worked so well together to bring this story to life. The author has thoughtfully written not only a thorough leaders' guide but also loads of activity suggestions and ideas in the back of each book. Confidence, Kindness, or Courage Club anybody?

Each one of these girls wears a "mask" that hides her real identity.
Find out from your students if there's a difference between who they are and who others think they are. What does it take to be confident in who you are despite what others think? My Kaitlyn used to tell me she had a Camp Kaitlyn and a school Kaitlyn. I loved that she could be who she really was at Camp!

The lessons and the corresponding self-talk messages that these three main characters learn are timeless and oh, so very important!
In Weird!, Luisa learns that there's only one she so she'd best be the best she that she can be.
In Tough!, Sam learns that being a friend is more important that being cool.
And in Dare!, Jayla learns to stand up for herself.

Each book ends with notes from each of the girls that'll help others who are in their shoes manage and deal with similar conflicts.

Two thumbs up for this stellar series!

Want more PPBF new titles today? 

Next week Friday we won't have a PPBF 'cause we'll be doing the Turkey Tango with our families. Weird, I know.


Super Schools Celebrated

Today I'm grateful to be guest posting at the Character Educator. I've enjoyed wonderful partnership over with my friends at the Josephson Institute of Ethics, home of the Character Counts! Six Pillar framework, these past thirteen years. 

Click {here} to go there and read all about our time at the Character Education Partnership National Forum celebrating the 2013 National Schools of Character! The deadline for this year's application is December 2nd; why not consider applying for this distinction? Please contact me if that's a process I could help you through or consult with you on.

This morning I'm on my way to the Post Office with an additional 24 boxes of cookies for the troops. That makes 40 in all ... 400 dozen cookies. I can't wait. When I was in the Post Office on Monday, a customer overheard me scheduling our appointment. He said, "Hey, you're the soldier boxes lady! I've helped you before." I thanked him and then the man behind the counter said, "How does 9:30 work?" So for fun, I turned to the man in the line and asked, "How does 9:30 on Thursday work?" Sure enough, he put us on his calendar and is meeting us there in the morning to help carry boxes in. He told me that he'd be bringing the Chief. Yay. Chief of Police Weiners helped last year and it seems he'll be showing up again.
 Gives new meaning to It Takes A Village ...

I also wanted to give you an updated look at our 
Tree of Thanks-Giving!

At the time of the year when leaves are typically falling off of the trees, it's glorious to find a tree where leaves are growing. These particular leaves bear words and drawings that represent appreciations, gratitude, and blessings.

Don't you just love Thanksgiving time?

Want to experience more thankfulness?
Watch this TED Gratitude video {here}.
Then teach your students to show appreciation with
help from Laura Candler's post {here}.


In My Dreams

This week, we are baking and packing up homemade goodness to send to our troops as a Thanksgiving treat. From Texas with love. 
My job was sweet and smelled yummy yesterday!

Ginger Snaps.
Sugar Cookies.
Rice Crispy Treats.
Peanut Butter Cookies.
Snickerdoodle Cookies.
Oatmeal Raisin Cookies.
White Chunk Macadamia Nut.
Blackberry White Chocolate Bars.
16 boxes.
One more day.

That means I get to do it again today.
Honor our heroes.
We've partnered with the Friendswood Rotary
to get at least 33 boxes shipped. After that,
families Adopt-A-Box to defray the
fifteen dollars that each box costs.

In my dreams, I never thought we'd still have soldiers overseas.
We are grateful for them and will never forget. And in my dreams, I never thought I'd work with such a generous school family and community. Sixteen boxes equals approximately 160 dozen, give or take a few, and we're not done yet. Our boxes are headed to Germany, Korea, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and who knows where else. All with our thanks and prayers for a safe return.

This year in my nighttime dreams, I'm fighting to stay alive, just like they. Since my head-on collision, I've been almost killed many times (in my dreams) and it's frightening. Over and over again. But then I think about their reality and I know that I can manage my night terrors that undoubtedly pale in comparison to what our heroes are living every day. 
For me. For us.

And never in my dreams did I think that I'd actually send off a signed contract to a publisher who wants to help me get a character book on the market. It was actually something I'd thought about, but I'd never let it be a dream. Because I was afraid. To fail, I suppose. Anyway, in October I got this email from a cyberspace friend quite out of the blue, with the single word Promise in the subject line:

Can you promise me one day when you consolidate all of your amazing posts into your future best-selling book that I can get a signed copy? Your posts belong on a bookshelf as well as your blog, especially in libraries everywhere. Dream big, God has incredible plans for you. Love you sweet friend, Tamara 

Keep in mind that I've never met this sweet friend in person, but she's certainly got the gift of encouragement, doesn't she? I was understandably on Cloud 9 from her affirmations and confidence in me, yet still not sure that there'd ever be a book.

But she planted a seed and today, just a month and a half later, I'm excited to share that I'm writing a book. 
There, I said it.

My book.  
It's like a dream.
Only it's coming true.
Doesn't seem real, really.
More details as they unfold.
Pinch me.
Am I dreaming?

I'm so grateful that you're in this dream with me.


Manners Don't Come Naturally

The only book that I still have from when I was a youngster is 
Manners Don't Come Naturally by Robert Sylwester.
And I'm glad, too, because it was one of my faves!

It was published in 1964. Can you tell?
Imagine if that were the biggest playground issue we had.
And the reason I loved it?
The boy had to write a paper about manners and he did it
in code! 
There were two pages for the reader to decode in the back.
I still get excited when I see it.

So I adapted it slightly for my second graders a few years back.
Here's what it looks like; click graphic to download.

There were even a few blank pages after the code
so readers like me could work it out.
Funny how childhood memories can come back so vividly.
I remember creating lots of codes after that.

And here we are, fifty years after this book was published,
still working with our little learners on manners,
because children's aren't born with them.

Practicing on manners with your class family?
Click {here} for some ideas in my guest post Manners, Please.
Then visit Holly over at Crisscross Applesauce 
for a Magic Words freebie.

What was your favorite childhood book and why?


Beyond The Character Cape

Today I'm excited because a portion of my breakout session from the CEP ForumCharacter Is Our Super Power,
is now available. Click {here} to watch.

It'll be like you were in DC with me ... 
only you can participate from the comforts of your living room. 

I'm so grateful to my friends at CEP for capturing the session so I can share it with my family up north. And with you, my readers.
Just. so. grateful.

I hope you'll take away that it's not about the cape, so much, 
as it is about who you are beyond the cape. 
To whom are you a superhero? 
Who is your superhero? 
What are your superpowers?
And what are theirs?

Last week the character cam caught me playing
super heroes with my friend in my office ...
his super powers are grit, resilience, and love.

Do I have a super fun job or what?


But It's Just A Game

 Today I'm excited to join a bunch of blogging friends over at 
Laura Candler's Corkboard Connections 
to showcase Julia Cook's social-skills picture books.
Thank you, Laura, for putting Julia's work in the spotlight!

I had the pleasure of spending some time with Julia in St. Louis this summer; she was there to keynote at the CharacterPlus conference. Just look at how adorable she and her sidekick are. Dressed in her Seuss-striped PJs, Julia rode in on a unicycle playing a accordion. Quite an unforgettable entrance. 

That evening, she was so excited to read her latest manuscript about video gaming to our friend Laurel and me. And we were mesmerized.

It was this title with a topic about a 21st-century addiction that 
totally pushes my buttons, so to speak.
Prepare to be WoWed by But It's Just A Game.

Click this graphic for more information and/or to buy it.

This story features Jasper Thumbs, a young boy who just can't put his technology down. The part that struck a chord with me was that he's the king of his universe when he's playing. The feeling of being in control of something, anything, in a world that can often be very chaotic and out-of-control has sucked him in ...
and it won't let him go.

Another Julia Cook book that tackles a tough issue that's 
just. so. real.
She challenges her readers to discern between 
a game controller and a life controller.

Click {here} for a sneak peek from her publisher at National Center For Youth Issues. (Just FYI; NCYI President Robert Rabon and his wife Beth are the nicest and most generous people you'll ever want to meet.)

According to a U.S. News post, kids are spending up to 22.5 hours per week on their video games and are falling prey to what experts are calling pathological video gaming. And though we're not always sure which comes first, the propensity to a disorder or the game itself, these students often show serious symptoms of 
impulsivity, anxiety and depression. 

Strategies on what to do to keep this from happening to your family are included in the "Tips from Tip" section at the end of Julia's book. Kim "Tip" Frank is an expert on addictions who also wrote the forward to this book; his latest title, Lost and Found, addresses rescuing our kids from video game addictions and reclaiming them as our own.

Some of the things we've done with our three include housing the computer in the living room, setting a timer and limiting screen time to thirty-minute blocks of time, pulling out jigsaw puzzles and sitting down with our children to put them together ... together. Providing that replacement behavior is key to prevention!

Read what Julia has to say about this timely topic
in a guest post she did for Moms Everyday {here}.

I haven't had an opportunity yet to share this title with my students, I can totally see using it to help them switch places with Thumbs and then transfer that concern back to their situation. Empathy can be a powerful antidote.

Recently I've drawn an uncanny parallel between the kids at our school who come to talk about impulse control with the me and the ones who seem sucked into the world of games like Minecraft. So I checked out that game on Focus on the Family's Plugged In and, sure enough, it's got an addictive quality. 
Click {here} for that review and information.

Then check out But It's Just A Game by Julia Cook; 
I enthusiastically recommend it.

Need more information on the issue of too much screen time?

Are you raising Digitally Healthy Children? Click {here} to take the Parents magazine quiz.
Click {here} to see what the Mayo Clinic has to say about monitoring and limiting screen time.
Then see how Teach Mama deals with screen time {here}.
And {here} to see how screen time affects early childhood?
And now, there's actually a diagnosis called 
Internet and Computer Addiction.

Here's hoping you can limit screen time without scream time!

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