Living In Harmony

While I was away, my guest post at the Character Educator went live; 
click {here} to read about a few of my favorite things.

Today I'm feeling reflective because another New Year's Eve is upon us, a chance to go out with the old, in with the new. Goodbye 2014. Hello 2015.
My one little word for this year was joy; click {here} to remember what I said about that a year ago today. Intentionally choosing joy truly impacted my year in positive ways, so I'm going to once again participate in Ali Edward's eight-year OLW tradition. Since 2012, these have been my focus words, in order:
peace, gratitude, joy and now, harmony.

Click graphic for source.
One little word. 365 days, if we're lucky.
Because we're not promised tomorrow, really. Just today.
One day at a time.
So I choose harmony for this year's one little word,
because life's too short to live in discord.

Oh, sure, we'll have incongruous times, guaranteed.
But we don't have to feel discontent when those days find us.
Think of them as pit stops that help sweeten the harmonious resolve.
Harmony - agreement, accord; consistent, orderly or pleasing arrangement of parts, congruity - is a choice. 
Even when it's disorderly, chaotic, and messy.

So how did I come to choose harmony?
First, some discord. I've been in a bit of a funk since Thanksgiving, an annual pattern for me, brought on by the barrage of holiday busy-ness, mayhem and mania. I much prefer slow, simple, and serene and find myself easily overwhelmed by and quick to retreat from fast-paced and flashy. Be that as it may, this book made its way onto my desk just as this year's holiday blues were setting in.

Books tend to do that; they find their way into my life when I'm not even looking. It came from my friend Ann, whose brother recently lost his battle with cancer. The note inside read: I bought it, I read it, I'm passing it along. Ann had told me about this author, so I'm I'm thinking the connection for her is that it was written by a blogger, like me, and I was touched that she would help this book find me. 

As I started reading it on the plane ride home for the holidays, I saw that one of the endorsements was written by Ann Voskamp, whose book One Thousand Gifts I read on our Christmas trip home two years back, the book that sparked my olw for 2013: gratitude. That would just be the first of many connections I would make with Kara's inspirational story. 

And though I must confess that I can't fully understand what she must endure in her battle against the beast that is cancer, I can connect (on a much smaller scale) with her pursuit of peace in the struggle, in the hard, in the ugly. In her post {here} just two days ago, Kara shares that her husband has now called for hospice care. Her earthly days are waning, so, unlike most of us, she's not only saying goodbye to 2014 right now. And yet, she's faithfully mining blessings in this burden and peace from her peril. Please keep this sweet soul and her family in your prayers.

Then, some resolve. On the road between my sister's home in Madison and my brother's place in Fond du Lac, I saw a sign, written on the side of a barn. 
One little word: harmony
At that moment, everything fell into place.
The disharmonies that had made my holiday heart heavy resolved.
And I knew.

What can improve for you this year?
May your journey be filled with beautiful, harmonious interludes.


Looking Back, Moving Forward

As 2014 winds down and we move toward 2015,

I'm joining Sally over at Elementary Matters and looking back. 
What do you see as you look into the rear-view mirror?

With almost 300 posts to choose from, I decided to use with data to help me with the Corner's Top Ten.
Here they are, in no particular rank or order.

A few lists from other sites that might interest you include:


Kindness Confetti

Yesterday, I came across a mantra that grabbed my attention:
Throw kindness around like confetti.
And I can totally imagine how colorful our world would be.
So today, some final musings about kindness
before I unplug for the holidays.

Look at these decorative utensils I received wrapped with love 
by two of our knitting friends as a reminder 
to spread kindness because kindness matters.

Thank you, Laura and Cindy.

Aren't they exquisite? 
I see them as a challenge to invite kindness to the table
 and serve it at every meal.
Kindness to others, kindness to self.
Kindness to friends and {gasp!} kindness to foes.
Then, bright and early this morning, I jolted up to this ...

 and was dazzled by this ...

both from Joelle's Hood's Kindness Revolution FB page. 
Together they filled me with joy at the possibility of all of those
 glitter-filled, caffeinated hearts.

One act of kindness.
One person, one situation, one day at a time.
How many hearts will sparkle ... 
because of me,
because of you,
because of us?

Then this beauty, from Lisa at Ripple Kindness, jumped for joy.

Even the hardest of day.
Because there will be difficult days, guaranteed.
But it's virtually impossible to be down-in-the-dumps when you're 
practicing kindness
Thank you, Lisa, for being a Climate Changer!

So as you rush into the holiday, 
don't miss that feel-good holiday rush that kindness brings. 
I wish for you many magical, one-of-a-kind days ahead
complete with family and friends by your side and
filled with health, happiness, and hope.

And let kindness be your light.
 {Until it glistens like little pieces of sparkly confetti.}

Now it's time to sign off, but not before I thank you, 
my friends, for routinely stopping by and reflecting with me.
When I get back, we'll talk about our
One Little Word for 2015, so start thinking ...

Merry Christmas!



Today marks the first day of our winter break and I couldn't be happier as I skipped out of the office and dodged raindrops to get to my van and 
head home for the holidays. It's a #kindawesome feeling!

Where do you stay when you go on vacation? If we're not with family for friends, I prefer to stay at Marriott hotels, in large part because there's just something really special about the AVEDA rosemary mint shampoo they provide to their guests. So you can imagine my delight when my sister asked the cleaning staff for a few extra little bottles of it the last time we were together. Here's the token of our thanks I left behind. It was a beyond-#kindawesome trade.

Now that I'm about to run out of that happiness in those hotel-sized bottles, I'm thinking about some of my favorite things.

You see, although I like that yummy shampoo a lot, the bigger thing here is that my sister would think to request a few extra bottles ... for me ... just because she knew how much I loved the scent. A whole lot. It was the #kindawesome surprise that warmed my heart. Thoughtfulness is like that, more valuable than any thing she could buy for me.

Generosity is right up there with thoughtfulness.
Just last week, we asked our school family for socks, scarves, mittens, gloves and hats for the homeless in our Head To Toe Giving campaign. Yes, it's right before the holidays, {but who could resist those adorable signs the StuCo made?} and yes, we were still able to fill the back of a van with our warm donations. I had the pleasure of heading to the streets of Houston Wednesday night to help deliver the goods. Our character cam caught this homeless man warming up with the red scarf I knit ... just for someone like him.

Two of our students came along, with their Dad. What a blessing, to see these tween-aged girls ministering to the homeless population by sharing our surplus.
With joy and delight in their servant hearts. 
Without an ounce of pity, fear or trepidation.
Smiling at and interacting with them, 
as if ... 
even though ...
and knowing that they need more from us than just 
hats, mittens, and socks.  

More #kindawesomeness!

Yesterday, one of my students brought a bar of shark-fin soap as a gift, with a note that a donation had been made to the United Conservationists. I talked with this first-grader when he delivered my gift; turns out he's done a lot of research and is quite passionate about saving the sharks. I think it's #kindawesome that he would include me on his crusade.

Another #kindawesome thing is Brittany's Dream, a girl's goal to raise $20K by cooking up kindness in the kitchen in exchange for help funding a water well in Malawi. She also organized a Well Walk to simulate what it's like to walk miles and miles just to get a drink of clean water water. Talk about your empathy elevator! For more information or to support her efforts, visit her Wishing Well page.

There's a really fun character clip about generosity {here} ... and then, Good News out of Dallas; you must watch what happens when this school's beloved crossing guard loses his car {here}. 

Finally, check out this organization that sends challenges, ideas, and activities to put caring into action in the mail. If you need a creative and inspirational gift idea, why not consider a subscription to Giving Families. 
Click the graphic below for details.

Opportunities to be caring, thoughtful and generous abound!
How will you be #kindawesome today?


How We Treat Each Other

How we treat each other MATTERS!

So I put that into writing this Star Tree Bulletin Board.

On the stars, I wrote things like this:
Be kind.
Show respect.
Have empathy.
Be responsible.
Be a good citizen.
Play fair.
Have integrity.

I originally planned to say treet each other, 
to cleverly play with the words,
but it just seems wrong somehow,
to misspell things on purpose,
in an elementary school,
where modeling is key.
So I put the word treat on the tree instead.
And that's how it turned out.
Since it's not necessarily seasonal,
it can stay up well into the new year.
Who knows, the stars may morph into
leaves as winter turns into spring.
Now that's a distinct possibilitree .....


The Gift Of A Memory

As I continue to showcase the cyberspace connections I've made this year, let's travel to California to check in on parenting expert Annie Fox. You may remember that at the end of October Annie interviewed me by Skype for a Family Confidential podcast that she posted {here}. She's a brilliant, talented, and compassionate empowerment educator who's passionate about building social courage and emotional intelligence in tomorrow's leaders. 

Annie recently shared the good news that she'd be writing an article for the Huffington Post and she posed an interesting reflection opportunity: 
Recall a meaningful gift you received as a child. 
What comes to mind and why was it so special to you?

I'm here to tell you that it wasn't an easy-breezy-lemon-squeezy question to answer by any means, but it was, indeed, a thought-provoking inquiry to ponder that took me back, waaaaaaay back, to the frozen tundra of our family farm, to treasures that are tucked deep in the recesses of my 53-year-old heart and mind. 

It was a real gift, that trip down Memory Lane where I was able to relive how I felt about Grandma Larsen's hand-knit slippers, about the matching hand-sewn flannel nightgowns that my mom made for my sister and me, and about the handcrafted specialty I'd get from Dad's wood shop. 

The one thing I do remember that all of the children in our parochial grade-school unequivocally anticipated and eagerly awaited was the big grocery-store paper sack of mixed chocolates, peanuts in a shell, and three pieces of fruit - a grapefruit, an orange, and an apple - that we'd receive after our performance in the Christmas Eve service. Those coveted malted milk balls were my absolute favorite! 
Sometimes it's the little things ...

Anyway, today I'm celebrating with her because that article posted {here} earlier today. Thank you, Annie, for being a Climate Changer and warming our world.

Oh, and we'd love to know how you would have answered Annie's inquiry, so feel free to share the gift of your favorite childhood holiday memories.


Shine On

Two years ago today, I made this evergreen; 
the message that wafts from its branches still applies today.

Please lift up the families who were involved ...
 as we remember our friends in Newtown ... and hope for better ...
for our children ... for our world.

I believe that kindness has the power to heal and transform.
The Smile Cards on our cars Friday afternoon, for example, which  launched us into our weekend, touched the hearts of our school family in a very special way.

From our first graders ... 

in Jennifer Quigley's class ...

wishing us well ...

and sharing a smile. 
Sometimes it's the little things
that mean the most. I know it made a lot of friends smile ...
and more than that ... it made us want to pay it forward.

Then, another intentional act of kindness,
a warm email from a reader, thanking me for my work
and sending me a copy of her Christmas poem.
Ah, the gift of words can evoke such powerful imagery
and festive feelings.

And if that didn't bring enough joy ...
I was sitting all alone yesterday afternoon
at a local Barnes & Noble book signing,
without (m)any customers to speak of.

And after two hours of not very many people two people to talk to, in walks Amy, a counselor at the Junior High in town,
through the front doors with a huge smile on her face 
and her precious family in tow. 
{Her husband agreed to play paparazzi to capture the memory.}

It's not like they were in the area, either. She made the trip on purpose, intentionally, to surprise and support me. Not only does she buy a book for her baby girl's collection, but she insists on treating me to a salted caramel mocha from the adjacent Starbucks. A planned act of kindness ... it doesn't get any sweeter than that. And it makes me want to do something kind 
for someone else.

I'll be the first to admit that sometimes it's really challenging to shine on in a world where people can be self-centered and mean and violent acts take a front-row seat in the news. Trust me, I get it.

when we
search for 
ways to be kind,
one person at a time,
one vehicle at a time,
one Smile Card at a time,
one Starbucks drink at a time,
our light will shine and eventually brighten 
even the darkest nooks and crannies in the world.
Now that's something transformative to smile about!
And it will be
a coveted gift
under your tree.


Giving Back Guest Post

Today I'm excited about this guest post by a teacher I met in my #teacherfriends Twitter chat. Travel back with us in time; what do you get for the elderly family members and friends in your life at holiday time? 
Welcome Elena with some creative ideas.

Giving Back On Christmas Eve by Elena Burdette 
The following idea was inspired by articles {here} and {here}. 

This year our family will begin a new tradition with our teenager, that will allow her to experience the joy of giving back. Instead of sitting around obsessed with what presents will be under the tree for her this holiday, she will be helping her family put together and deliver big gift boxes to give as a surprise on Christmas Eve. 

We could have chosen a needy family or an elderly neighbor, but this year we've decided to bring the joy back to those in our own family who seem to have lost the true spirit & pleasure of Christmas. In our family, that happens to be our daughter's grandparents. As folks who lived through the end of WWII, the Vietnam War, the summer of love, Ronald Reagan & Bill Clinton, 9/11, hurricanes & globalization, earthquakes & tsunamis, they've grown clearly jaded. 

Though we remember lovely Christmases spent together under their trees, that was years ago. Now, they come to dinner on Christmas with envelopes of checks in their pockets, full of love, but done with buying, done with Black Friday, online shopping & returned gifts. They smile through the unwrapping, but they leave early & we know why. They're 70; we understand.

Still, we have hope to rekindle just a small candle flame in their hearts by surprising them on Christmas Eve with a big box of loving gifts and cheer that they really won't be expecting. We will use the following websites for inspiration, but our boxes and contents will be as handmade & hand-chosen as possible. We want them to feel special and remembered, the way we felt as children, under their trees, so long ago.

Grandparents might appreciate simple Christmas eve traditional gifts (pajamas, slippers & favorite snacks) but personalized touches will really ignite Christmasmas spirit.
This is the same idea as above, but the gift is given in a handmade wooden box, painted with a personalized message!
Creative, unique & traditional gift baskets for adults at a discount price.
The purchased, ordered & pre-prepared candy & fruit baskets. A fun website to peruse for ideas.
The purchased, ordered & pre-prepared wine basket. This would be fast & fancy, but not as personal. Also, may not be appropriate for all families as grandparents can be on medications that prohibit alcohol consumption.
In a rush? No time for personal touches. Amazon wins for fast, easy & fairly affordable prices. Use the Amazon filters to locate a price-range that fits your budget. A Christmas eve basket without breaking a sweat or the bank.

More ideas {here}

Happy Holidays!

Mother, Daughter, Teacher
San Francisco Bay Area, CA
Author bio: A mother for seventeen years and a teacher for almost twenty, Elena has learned many lessons along the way. Currently, she teaches a 6th grade English & Social Studies core, along with ELD/ELA classes, grades 6-8 combined, to international students from around the globe. This year she's spending every Friday in ELA teaching empathy, kindness & empowerment.


PPBF: Christmas Cookies

Yesterday I was the administrator on duty all morning long, so I grabbed the character cam and we spotted a decorated door, which begs the question: 
How are you a light?

We also spotted this bulletin board with responses to the writing prompt: 
What is the greatest gift you've ever received?

Across from it hangs this Grinch bulletin board to track kind acts,

and we found a first-grade anchor chart 
with sparkle words describing the Grinch
and noting his transformation. 

So, as we near Christmas break, today's PPBF pick 
also features a festive theme.

Christmas Cookies: Bite-Size Holiday Lessons
Author: Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Illustrator: Jane Dyer
Publisher: Harper-Collins Publishers
Date: September 30, 2008
Suitable for ages 4 and up
Themes: Christmas, values, manners
Brief synopsis: Using common holiday words, the author defines vocabulary in connection with baking cookies. 
Opening Page: ANTICIPATION means, I've been thinking all day about making the cookies. I'm so excited. I can't wait.

Read a review of the book on the Imperfect Parent blog {here}.
See all of Amy's books and watch an author interview {here}.
Using Amy's books as a therapeutic parenting resource post {here}.
Watch the book's trailer on You Tube

Why I like this book: It's probably as much a book for adults as it is for kids, complete with illustrations that are precious and words that perfectly complement this time of year. Words like tradition, responsible, thoughtful, gracious, joy, gratitude, peace, and hope. And to keep it real, the author even included a few not-as-uplifting words like disappointed, selfish, and lonely. Brainstorm words that your learners would have included and talk about their cookie-connection definitions. Let them illustrate their word and, voila, you'll have a delicious visual display! 

But positive or negative, all of the vocabulary connects back to the time-honored tradition of enjoying kindness in the kitchen making Christmas cookies. Together. Talk about a tasty treat. I predict you'll love every little morsel of this holiday treasure, including the recipe in the back of the book. Here's a plate from our house to yours; click the picture for our Sour Cream Sugar Cookie recipe. 

After you make and decorate a batch, why not deliver them individually or on a plate to a neighbor, friend, or family in need.

Happy baking!


sELF Respect & sELF Control

First, a holiday joke.
Why did the elf go to counseling?
To help boost his elf esteem.

Second, the bulletin board that I see when I leave my office
with the first-grade students' creative elf tales.

And in true elf fashion, I have a sneaking suspicion 
that there's a lot of truth to this claim:

Click graphic for freebie download
But does the same ring true for your family at school?

This year I'm blessed to be part of a Design Team whose job it is to create awareness, make connections, and enhance communication. Check out these skits we did as a review of our Love & Logic solution options for classroom management. 

In this first clip, Coach Rommel cast in the role of the Art teacher uses hyperbole to demonstrate that sometimes we may react a certain way toward a student who doesn't seem to be listening because we feel disrespected, which can easily result in frustration, anger and maybe even a loss of self-control (I couldn't resist ...):

How does the teacher feel? What does the teacher need?
What does the student need? How does the student feel?

Reminded that some students need to hear what we have to say more than once and often times in a different way, in take two we try a more positive alternative. Flex your empathy muscles and look at the scenario from the shoes of not only the instructor, but the student who didn't understand and the classmates around her as well. Remove the emotion from the reaction and feel the difference that this kinder, gentler, more loving redirection makes.

I know which family I would rather play with, don't you?

Have yourself a wonderful Wednesday!


Who Decorates Your Tree?

I went in to greet the students today and take care of a few small details before coming home for a much-needed day off. I'm hoping to get in to see my chiropractor because the kink in my neck from that head-on collision two years ago is causing me a lot of discomfort lately. Before I left, I snapped this picture. 

At first I couldn't understand why we had a half-decorated tree in our school entrance. It seemed like someone just got pulled away right in the middle of a project ... and never came back to it ... so I asked about it. Turns out, it wasn't finished, on purpose, intentionally left under construction, as an invitation to our guests to help us complete our tree. I kind of thought an invitation might help make that clear, so I added the sunshine-yellow sign with these words: You are invited to help us decorate our tree. What a nice metaphor for life, I thought.

then, I
Who helps 
complete your tree? 
Who are your lights? 
Who are your ornaments? 
Who is your string of beads?
Who is the angel or the star on top?
What do they do to make you whole?  
How do you let them know what you need? 
And how will they know 
when their job is done?

Why not tell them why they're a gift to you.
Click image to download.

And as I was reflecting, I found this video clip {here}.
Grab some tissues and watch how this courageous woman
completed the ten-year circle of a fragmented journey that, 
coincidentally, involved a car collision like mine, only worse.
I just love how gratitude has helped make her whole.

How positively inspirational is that?
Hosting a thank-you party,
for the people who've helped complete you.
This story has put a light on my tree.
What a wonderful gift.