A New Word For A New Year

Tonight I'm joining Denise over at Sunny Days in Second Grade
to share our One Little Word (OLW) for 2014. 

Click this graphic to head there next and link up.

For my OLW, I've picked JOY.

You see, I tended to take joy for granted 
until I lost it for a bit this past year.
And, let's be honest;
it's pretty easy to fall prey to gloom and doom.

To prevent that from ever happening again,
I'm going to focus on joy, to keep it out in front.
On purpose.
Every day.
To always remember that it's portable ... 
and to take it with me wherever I go.
And share it whenever I get a chance.
As much as I can.
Joy is like that ... 
it's something that you can give away
and still keep!

Click the graphic for sources on my EnJOY Pinterest page.

Since we only get this one life to love,
I'm determined to live mine as a joy maker.

May you feel great joy as you journey through 2014.


That Pale Blue Dot

As we continue relaxing and restoring,
and moving out of one year and into another, 
I, for one, am feeling philosophical.

This clip has given me rich food for thought.
And though we are small and seemingly insignificant
in this vast universe and in the big scheme of things,
I still maintain that every small pebble,
dropped into the water 
at the right place
 and at the right time,
has the enormous capacity to ripple out
and make a world of difference.

Happy rippling.


Frozen Melts My Heart

Yesterday I made a reference to the fantastic film Frozen, my favorite flick this year. It was recommended by my daughter, so  the boys and I went after we launched her back to Austin, and 
it warmed my heart. 
It even made me cry. 
Happy-sad tears, if there is such a thing.

Have you heard this beautiful ballad?

After the movie, our son made a text-to-text connection comparing Elsa's storyline to Elphaba in Wicked. I find that interesting because Idina Menzel, the songster who first brought that wicked witch to life on Broadway, is the voice behind Elsa. It'd be a challenging compare/contrast activity with which to engage your older learners.

In any event, if you haven't seen this cool film,
treat yourself to some wholesome entertainment
that the whole family can enjoy!


Worth Melting For

We had a wonderful visit yesterday from some dear friends we met 21 years ago in Lamaze class. Our babies were born a month apart back in 1994 and our lives were intricately intertwined until they moved away at the end of the kids' second grade year in school. We've stayed in touch, and yesterday it felt like old times when the five hours we spent together passed as if it were five minutes. Oh how good it felt that they came back home, even if only for a visit.

Here's a personal narrative I wrote nearly thirteen years ago as they were getting ready to drive out of our neighborhood, out of our town, out of our state, and as I was frantically trying to run away from the intensity of the feelings I was experiencing. And yes, they moved pretty far away, but geographical distance will never be able to take them from our hearts and our lives. If you've seen the movie Frozen, then you'll understand when I say that this family is 
worth melting for.

A Moving Story About Best Friends
By:  Barbara Gruener

I cried all weekend long, so I’m tired today. Not the kind of tired that you feel when you haven’t quite gotten enough sleep and could really use a nap.  More like exhausted. Physically, mentally, and emotionally drained.  Kind of how I felt after I completed that biathlon. Or how I felt after biking from Houston to Austin in the MS 150 that year. Like how I felt after twelve hours of labor when my first child was born. And it’s not like I’m prone to emoting like this. In fact, I’m much better at teaching people how to feel than actually doing it myself. But this is different. Our best friends are moving away on Wednesday and I’m just plain sad about it.

It’s bittersweet because of course we’re thrilled for them. They’re opening this exciting new chapter in their family’s saga by moving to the Pacific Northwest, one of America’s most naturally beautiful areas, which means we’ll have a wonderful new vacation spot. But that’s not helping now as we watch them pack their life into boxes in preparation for the movers who will be here tomorrow to transport their things cross country. I’m struggling to breathe; it feels as though someone has just punched me in the stomach and knocked all of the wind out of me. I need to stay busy. Where can I go? What can I do? There must be an errand I can run. Someone must need something. Yesterday when I jumped into the car, convinced that we needed ketchup or something from the store, this sad, empty feeling came along. And then, through my tears like a mirage on the horizon, I saw their car coming toward me. How weird is that? This may very well be the last time that happens. The cliché you can run, but you can’t hide slapped me in the face. As we met, I smiled and waved, hoping that they didn’t notice my red face and puffy eyes.

We first met this couple in Lamaze class eight years ago as we were preparing for the births of our first children. Both due in May, we were at a fun yet frightening time in our lives. When we saw each other at our new church the following Sunday, they asked if we’d like to join them for lunch and we graciously accepted. As we talked, we discovered that our husbands worked for the same company and that we lived in the same subdivision. Coincidentally, our street actually turned the corner into theirs. We had no idea that a spur-of-the-moment luncheon would be the start of such a beautiful friendship. Their little boy Andrew was born in April that year, just one month and two days before our daughter Kaitlyn. It was so nice to have someone to walk through this exciting time with us. Tirelessly, we pushed the strollers up and down the streets of our neighborhood as we adjusted to parenthood and got to know each other. We quickly became best friends. We took the babies on outings to the park and the zoo, we met regularly at the neighborhood pool, we ate out together, and stayed in together. We celebrated birthdays and holidays and life, together. A year later, our son was born, then another year later their daughter came. Before we knew it, we were enrolling our babies in kindergarten. Soon afterward, our third child, a little boy, joined us, followed five months later by their third, a baby girl. Our families were nearly inseparable. Until now. 

As a counselor, I facilitate a Lost and Found grief group. It’s becoming clearer what lost really feels like. But how will I ever get to the found? A vital piece of my life’s puzzle is about to drive away. I want to scream, “Please don’t go.  Please don’t take my kids’ best friends away. Don’t leave us. Don’t leave me. Please!” How do I explain to my two year old – their godchild – when he’s repeating “see Abby, see Abby, see Abby” as we pass by her house that she moved, that someone else is going to live there, that you won’t see Abby for a very long time? And that when you do see her again, you may not even remember her? Ok, so I’m sounding dramatic, but wow, this is not how I would have written our lives’ screenplay. We I had plans – we were supposed to grow old together.  Our kids might even date as teenagers – ok, so I might have gotten ahead of myself with that plan, but there were so many more chapters for us to write together. If I’m feeling this lost before they actually leave, how do I go on past tomorrow? How do I fill this cavernous void? Can we replace the missing piece? My husband suggested waiting a few months and then calling their old phone number to ask the new people to be our friends. That’s almost as silly as taking out an ad in the classifieds or putting a blurb in the Green Sheet - LOST:  Our Best Friends or WANTED:  New Best Friends.  Will we ever find that perfectly matching piece? 

Tomorrow we’ll be starting a new chapter of our own as they drive off to begin theirs. The only difference is that they’ll be surrounded by new scenery, and we’ll just be rearranging what we have left. I imagine that, in time, our missing piece will be less and less noticeable. And technology truly does make it a lot easier to keep in touch and stay close. We have always wanted to hike around Mount Rainier and Mount St. Helen, so I know that we will get there for a visit or two, eventually. For now, I’ll probably just busy myself with the small stuff, keep on keeping on through the daily routines, trying not to think about our huge loss and great sadness too much. Life goes on. I know that in time it’ll feel better than it does today.  Until then, does anyone have a tissue? 


Who are the friends in your life that are worth melting for?


Expect Good (I mean Great!) Things

OK, I'll admit it ... I did a little day-after shopping today. Well, I had some Kohl's cash from my mother-in-law, a Kohl's reward that was about to expire, and a Kohl's 20% off coupon, so guess where I took Kaitlyn ... and look what we found on sale.

I was thinking it'd be good for my office,
but I kind of like it in the kitchen by my coffee fixins.
It reminds me that every day I get to choose.
And if I choose awesome, guess what I'll get ...

Today I also thought a lot about my OLW for 2014.
Living One Little Word ... with purpose, intention, and meaning.
In 2012, I picked peace. In 2013, I got gratitude.
I do believe that this year I'll choose joy.

I want to be a joy maker, someone like this.

Joy . . . Expect Great Things.


What Tune Is This?

Merry Christmas 
from our house united to yours. 

We all got A&M gear from Jacob; he sewed the split shirts!

Enjoy our musical message:

May the magic of Christmas fill your hearts

and bless you day by day in the upcoming year. 


The Wonder Of Words

I was so touched by the gift that Katie over at Little Warriors
got that I just have to share! Click the graphic above
to be transported to a true treat,
in the Spirit of Christmas.

Her post got me to thinking about gifts.
And giving.
Christmas is all about giving, because humankind got
The Best Gift Ever!

And, in obedience to Him, we celebrate the birth of His Son
and we give gifts to others.

The gifts from the heart, those no-cost gifts, are the ones
that I tend to gravitate toward and treasure. 
From Luke 2:19 - 
And Mary kept all of these things and pondered them in her heart.

The Kindergarten boy who re-gifted the special candy cane 
from his teenage mentor to his bus driver, because
"Christmas is all about giving."

The card that came in the mail checking on me 
and asking if I had regained my strength of joy.

The classroom invitations I got to read my favorite
Christmas stories to my students before break.

The musicians who are sharing the gift of music
with choral and instrumental pieces this Christmas.

The email I received asking if I need any help.

The friends who took the time to make an affirming video for Katie, 
telling her how special she is to them and her school family. 

Words of joy.
Words of love.
Words of hope.
Words of peace.
Words of caring.
Words of respect.
Words of apology.
Words of gratitude.
Words of kindness.
Words of affirmation.
Words of forgiveness.
Words of encouragement.

Add up the wonder of words ...

Zero dollars + zero cents = Priceless!

Click {here} for the Tell Me message from the Hallmark people who also appreciate the wonder of words.

Merry Christmas.


The Christmas Miracle

Though I'm usually on the lookout for new books to introduce and review, I secretly get equally excited when I come across what appears to be an oldie but a goodie that I haven't ever heard of or seen. Enter The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, written by Susan Wojciechowski and gorgeously illustrated by P.J. Lynch.

People refer to that old woodcutter as Mr. Gloomy because of his gruff disposition brought on by loss, grief, and despair, but when a widow and her boy show up at his doorstep with a request that he make them a new nativity scene, a miracle happens and Christmas magic gradually transforms Jonathan Toomey.

If you want to hear this book read by the beautiful and talented author Kathleen T. Pelley, click {here} to sign up for her newsletter and enjoy a Christmas blessing mesmerized by her enchanting European accent and wonderfully warm way with words.

There's just nothing like a well-crafted story of 
loss and love, healing and hope.
Talk about the essence of the Christmas miracle ...


Samantha's Santa Song

Today I'm excited because we have early release and will launch our little angels into the winter break. I'm so ready for some rest and restoration! Activities this week included Polar Express Day, Pajama Day, a Choir Concert, a Band Concert, and Party Day. Exhausted but energized! 

Yesterday at one of the parties, my little Landon said, "Mrs. Gruener, your face is so pretty that it belongs on a Christmas card." Could a compliment get any better?

I'm also excited because the Corner was featured in this Top Ten Counseling Blogs list. What an honor to be among such great company. Thank you, Matt, for your kind words about my passion and work!

And yesterday I was invited to keynote the 2014 National Forum for the Character Education Partnership. Am I dreaming? But the dream doesn't come without a few butterflies because this is huge
A huge platform, 
a huge chance to make an impact, 
a huge opportunity to positively influence a lot of people.

So with those big announcements comes the chance to share Captain Courage and the World's Most Shocking Secret by Stacey A. Marshall.

As the curtain opens, the Principal at Blythe Elementary, Mr. Magico (aka Captain Courage), is having a nightmarish time on the stage at the school's talent show. As he awakes to realize it's only a dream, the reader gets a glimpse into the one thing that secretly scares him the most: performing in front of people.

In an interesting twist, this fearful main character is a leader at school who spends his time helping scaring away his students' fears. He even wears special fear-stomping shoes. Will his young friend Courageous Katie be able to successfully help him pull off a performance in his talent show debut?

At the book's end, the reader is treated to the author's formula for fighting fears (using the acronym BELLS) as well as some tips from Captain Courage, a booster shot for your confidence. 

Finally, I am excited about this clip of a solo performance by a Westwood alum who is now a senior in high school. We were treated to this song when our Hometown Heroes from the Friendswood High School Choir came to bring their choral Christmas greeting to us on Wednesday. I first got to know this songster when she was in second grade and having some normal eight-year-old anxiety and stress. You'd never know it now when you watch her perform with unbelievable confidence and poise. It is with pride and admiration that I share 
Samantha's Santa Song with you.

Bravery is a beautiful thing.
Whom will you encourage today?


Grateful Parents

Look what showed up in our teachers' lounge this week.

And this is what I found when I peeked inside the card:

It wasn't just java either. The assorted treats included hot chocolate, tea, espresso, and cappuccino. This little gesture of gratitude warmed a lot of hearts!

And speaking about heartwarming, I had a visit from two little kindergarten friends who wrote about my visit in their journals:

Their teacher said they could write about anything they wanted;
can you tell that they sit at the same table?

Unexpected happiness, gratitude, love and joy 
on a day that started out kind of shaky (I forgot to make my share for the plates of the treats we give every year to our district support people - ugh!) but ended up with a candy bar in a cup, two great big hugs and a smile that seemed to stretch a mile long and every bit as wide.


Giving Is Snow Much Fun

Holiday greetings from the Grueners. 
Have you finished your preparations?

Today's holiday story dates back twelve years. I know that because I got her phone call my first year as a counselor at Westwood Elementary. She wanted to provide a new coat for a child who didn't have a warm winter jacket, so I called her back with his size and she delivered it to me at school in the most beautifully-wrapped package ever. From there it bloomed into something bigger. She wanted to adopt a whole family. And she was going to fulfill wishes from their Santa list in honor of her children. She wanted to share stuff that matters, on their behalf, with someone less fortunate than they. On Christmas, they'd  unwrap up a little description of what she'd bought and whom she'd given it to, instead of to them.
To teach them about gift of giving.
To help them look beyond themselves. 
To celebrate the reason for the season.

So this year I called my Christmas angel to thank her for her generosity and to see if she was planning on me finding her a family to continue her tradition. And, though she desperately wanted to do it again, she explained that things had significantly changed for her family this year and she wouldn't be able to complete an adoption this year. She didn't want to take a year off, she even offered to donate some money if I could get someone to do the shopping for her, but I told her that even God rested on the Sabbath.

So as I was praying for her restored health and wondering what I could do to repay her for a dozen years of boundless Christmas compassion, it occurred to me that I (with the help of a few friends!) could pick up where she left off to keep her tradition going. After getting them two gifts each, I stopped shopping for my own children and turned my attention toward three families who could use things like new clothes, shoes, a pair of PJs, some educational toys, stuff that matters, more than ours. It was great fun to shop in honor of Kaitlyn for another little girl, and then Jacob for a second grader and his sister, and then Joshua for a little preK friend. I'm wrapping up cards telling them a little bit about the children we gave gifts to on their behalf. I hope they'll be as excited about this time-honored tradition as I am.

And, just for fun, I wrote that donor a Christmas card to assure her that her spirit of giving is alive and well at Westwood-Bales.

Who knew that giving could be snow much fun! 


A Stress-Free Me

The calendar tells me that Christmas is officially just a week off and I'm staring at it in disbelief, because, how can that be? And as joyful as the end-of-the-year festivities can be, they can also bring with them a certain amount of stress.
Stress balls or busses, stars or spacecraft anyone?

Here's the good news: 
Stress is a choice!
You can choose to not let holiday stress to ruin your fun.
What are your best practices for keeping stress at bay?

I wrote a guest post with my suggestions {here}.
E-learning online has an interactive page about stress relief {here}.
And there's a calendar of ideas to help you de-stress {here}.

Additionally, here's a post I received by email this week:

Parenting Tips For Stress-Free Holidays

Prevent Child Abuse Texas offers the following tips to help families enjoy the holidays while keeping tension to a minimum:

1.   Establish a budget for holiday spending. Be realistic about what you can afford to spend on gifts, entertainment, decorations for the home, special foods, travel, etc.
2.   Hold a family meeting to discuss holiday plans. Ask for ideas from the children for family activities that would appeal to them.
3.    Post a calendar of family activities in a place where all family members will see it. Ask each person to remind you of school events, church activities, parties, etc.
4.    Remind children that a gift’s importance is not determined by the amount of money spent on it. Handmade gifts and freshly baked cookies are welcome and appreciated by friends and relatives.
5.    Check community calendars and local lists of events to find inexpensive or free activities for children. Write all possibilities on individual slips of brightly colored paper and put them in a “holiday fun jar.”  When children have been especially cooperative with other family members, allow them to choose a slip of paper from the jar. Then, the family can enjoy an afternoon of skating, sledding or other fun activity together.
6.    Have your children make a list of elderly or shut-in neighbors in your area. Plan to share a meal, some of your time, or run errands for these neighbors. Explain to children that helping and sharing are important elements of special holidays.
7.    Find time to relax and reflect on the simple joys of the holidays. When you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed, take a break to get a better perspective on what needs to be done and what can be done.
8.    If you find that it is becoming difficult to avoid being verbally or physically harsh with your children, STOP. Don’t take out your anger on your kids. Instead, try the following:
·         Take a deep breath and count to 20.
·         Phone a friend.
·         Take a walk outside, or use another form of exercise.
·         Laugh. Even a comedy show on television will help relieve stress.
·         Spend one hour doing something you really enjoy.

Prevent Child Abuse Texas is the leading organization working to prevent the abuse and neglect of our state’s children.

More information is available by accessing the organization’s web site {here}.

Cheers to a stress-free we! 


The Yarn Angel

In the middle of the week last week, a fifth-grade girl who just got her cast off of her arm greeted me with an uncharacteristic smile and told me that she learned to make worry dolls while she was healing.

Intrigued by her new-found skill (and the fact that this is probably more conversation than she's ever engaged in with me in her six years at our school), I told her I'd love to see one and here's what she handed me the very next morning.

She wanted me to have it after explaining to me that you can also braid the skirt if you'd rather that your doll have legs.

So struck by how cute they were and the potential I instantly saw for hope and healing, I asked her how much it would cost to make a few more for me. She said she would make as many as I wanted but that she wouldn't charge me anything. 
Not. a. penny.

So I've already given this first one away and I've gotten requests for three more already, along with a plea to meet the yarn angel who's making these healing dolls for us.

The students in our third-grade Knitting Club are also yarn angels because they're creating caps, an essential tool to save the lives of preemies babies around the world. 

Here are some other projects I've recently learned about that would put your old yarn to use for good.

Why 'knot' get the ball rolling 
by supporting one of these angelic opportunities?

Then follow up by reading and reflecting on this treasure
whose storyline has the most beautiful thread:


Something Special In The Mail

Today I'm sending birthday wishes to my older brother Tim. Though every time he turns older, that means in six months I will, too, I'm still celebrating with him from afar on his special day. And I'm going to guess that he wishes he were in Dallas at the Packer game with Joshua today ... go Pack go ... and Happy Birthday, Tim!

I'm also thinking about the phrase 
not good, not bad, just different 
that I learned back in the early 90s at a training that I attended. It's probably because of this special surprise by a mother-son duo that I got in the mail this week. Knowing that we have the same taste in books, Pat from 
Children's Books Heal sent me this treasure for my shelves. 
Thank you, Pat!

Brilliantly illustrated by cartoonist Jules Feiffer, Jacob's Eye Patch by Beth Kobliner Shaw and Jacob Shaw tells the story about a young boy who really is okay wearing an eye patch and usually doesn't mind sharing his story. Until he's in a hurry, that is. When he's got his eye on a special something and everyone slows him down by stopping to inquire about the patch, Jacob gets mad and throws his patch down in frustration. How will he resolve being okay with his differences and the potential conflicts that can arise from people's curiosity about it?

Wearing an eye patch is neither good, nor bad, it's just different.
The benefits from it, of course, can be very good.
But sometimes the cost is higher than we want to pay.
Jacob's finding that out as he goes through his patching years.
Our son Jacob had a similar eye issue, though we were able to correct it with early intervention and eye exercises which he totally disliked doing. But the benefit of not having to wear the patch outweighed the cost of time and energy to strengthen the weak eye through exercises. 

Use this story as a springboard for a cost-benefit analysis discussion. Every time we make a decision, we have to consider the cost against the benefit. What might happen if our Jacob had decided not to do those exercises? What might happen if the Jacob in the story had decided not to put the eye patch back on after he threw it down? What if he decided not to wear it at all?

In the end, Jacob meets a friend with braces. Our most recent struggle is the rubber bands that are indicated to go with the braces. Joshua wore them faithfully at first, but as time has gone on, he's gotten more and more lax about that discipline. What might the consequence of his choice to not wear them be? 
Ask students for other examples; they'll have them!

Then ask them what it means to them when they hear
not good, not bad, just different.
Discuss the benefits of using it as a touchstone
for accepting and celebrating differences.

Oh, and check out these other Jules Feiffer books in my collection:


The Joy Maker

It was a year ago today when the Sandy Hook tragedy jarred us all into the reality that sometimes evil wins. But evil didn't win that day according to Emilie's mom. Click {here} to watch her AmAzInG testimony. Then head to Mother Nature Network to honor the memory of the victims with 26 ways to spread kindness. And if you don't already have a copy of Snowflakes Fall by Patricia McLachlan, you might find comfort in that tribute to honor the memory of each of the fallen that day, each one beautifully unique and loved. To honor those lives lost, why not do an act of kindness today.

Switching subjects from sadness to joy
isn't this Wall Art so festive? 

Click the graphic to go and get a freebie download.

Turns out Blair over at One Lesson At A Time is a 
Joy Maker! 
There are three designs to choose from; 
thank you, Blair, for sharing these with us.

I got ahold of the marquee and 
issued a little challenge this week:

And I've been joyfully playing Christmas angel all week
by matching generous donors with families in need 
and it's been funderful!

Did you know that for every service a kid or a teen performs this next week, Hasbro will donate a toy to a child in need? Click the graphic below for more info and to sign up.

Joy to the world!


The Caturday Before Christmas

Today I'm celebrating post number 850 at the Corner
Sharing positivity positively fills me with joy 
so I'm looking forward to 850 more.

I'm also entering the third-annual holiday writing contest over at Susanna Hill's blog. From her post, here's our challenge:
The Contest:  Write a children's story about a Holiday Mishap, mix-up, miscommunication, mistake, or potential disaster (a la Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer :)).  Your story may be poetry or prose, silly or serious or sweet, religious or not, based on Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or whatever you celebrate, but is not to exceed 350 words not counting the title (aren't I being generous?! :)  It can be as short as you like, but no more than 350!)  Did the dog knock over the Christmas Tree? Did little Johnny's costume get grape juice all over it moments before the holiday pageant? Did the menorah go missing?  Did travel arrangements get snarled or miscommunicated? Did Santa's sleigh have to make an emergency landing? The field is wide open! Have fun!

And now, without further ado, my entry.

The Caturday Before Christmas by Barbara Gruener

‘Twas The Caturday before Christmas, I remember it well.
Why we’d gotten that cat I still really can't tell.

The hubs? He didn’t want it. My son wasn’t sure.
But she needed a home so I'd said yes to her.

We went right off to PetSmart to buy her some things.
We got her a litter box and some play toys with rings.

A scratch post with feathers, and a blanket so soft.
We fixed her a bed on a top bunk bed loft.

We waited and waited for her to finally arrive.
And she strutted right in with a twinkle in her eye.

She went straight to the tree, it was the first thing she saw.
She took refuge beneath it while we watched her in awe.

As she batted those branches, they swayed to and fro.
Then she darted around it like a train on the go.

In a flash she ascended, headed straight to the top.
We weren't sure she'd make it but claws wouldn’t let her drop.

And before we could stop her, she was the angel on high.
She mewed loudly to tell us that Christmas is nigh.

And then in a dash that tree started to fall.
We watched, but just couldn’t do anything at all.

The bulbs crashed, then shattered as ornament shards flew.
The lights were a blinkin’ - but just what could we do?

That crazed cat caused chaos in her thirty minutes here.
Our catastrophe tree wouldn’t bring us much cheer.

We had wanted to help out that little rescue cat.
So we'd just have to train her and forgive her all of that.

When she came out from under all that broken tree stuff,
we realized she’s really a cute, playful fluff.

Her name? Well, it’s Mekah; it means Twinkle in Latin.
She has green eyes that sparkle and black fur sleek like satin.

This cat tale we'll forever remember all right.
Merry Christmas to all. Happy new year, good night!

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