Monday, February 6, 2012

Not Pollyanna, just Positive

There is a blogger called Galen Pearl who writes a blog called 10 Steps to Finding Your Happy Place.  I recently discovered her blog and am loving it.  Here are her 10 steps:

  1. Give yourself permission to be happy.
  2. Decide if you want to be right or happy.
  3. Give up the delusion of control.
  4. Feel your feelings.
  5. Make haste to be kind.
  6. Judge not.
  7. Practice compassion.
  8. Forgive everyone.
  9. Develop an attitude of gratitude.
  10. Be here now.

Although I never put it into these words before, it is the way I have tried to live.   

At times, I argue with my husband, my daughter sometimes talks back, I have carried balances on credit cards and, frankly, I eat waaaaaay too much chocolate.  I have suffered betrayal and loss.  I've had some pretty hard times.  I don't talk about those things here, though, or anywhere really.   In general, I call my sister or my mother, and complain some, get a little tea and sympathy, then try to get over it.  Not avoid it, but not dwell on it either.

Of course, things go wrong in life.  That's not what's really important.  What defines us is how we respond to those circumstances.  

Monday, January 16, 2012

Cousin Camp and Salma's Giveaway

Every other summer (more or less), my sisters and I gather up our mother, husbands, and kids and head for the beach at Hilton Head South Carolina for a week or so.  Each family gets a condo, we take turns cooking, and the kids all run in a pack.  I love those weeks at the beach.

We bring special foods to cook that my sister who now lives in Virginia doesn't get up there.  Once we arrive, my mom rents a whole row of umbrellas at the beach and we all rent bikes.  Everything is so close to hand:  pool, beach, and each other.  We only ever get in the car to go to Pirate's Island for our big putt-putt tournament:  girls against boys.

My husband is a great breakfast cook and I'm always an early riser, so the nieces and nephews always know they can rely on an early meal at our place with their uncle as chef.  Once I get my coffee, I bike down to the beach to lie under an umbrella, listen to the waves, and read, read, read.  I make the occasional foray from the shade to build a sand castle or swim with the little kids.  I don't like to be in the sun, though, so any long walks for me are limited to early morning or late evening.  Lovely lazy days.

If I don't feel like the beach, there's the pool, or someone's shady porch to sit on.  We play board games and cards, make puzzles, and cook together.  I usually have some hand-sewing or a knitting project, with which I have many little helping (ahem) hands.  Mothers who need a break from the constant demands of little ones have lots of help from older cousins, aunts and uncles.  (I'm happy to offer my napping services for the under-5 crowd.)  We have a few fiddle and guitar players who enjoy getting together, too.  Once the boys became interested in video games, they started bringing their Wii and now I routinely lose every game of "Mario Brothers Dance Dance Revolution."  But I keep trying...

Over the years, the little children have grown up and new babies have come along.  The once early-rising little ones turn into night-owl teens and twenty-somethings.  Some milestones have happened, like this past summer, 7-year-old Vava learned to ride her two-wheel bike with no training wheels.  I captured the whole thing on video and emailed it to any family who weren't there.  We generally celebrate summer birthdays, including Gem's.  (She is one who has changed into a night-owl 15-year-old.)  In the next couple of years, we will welcome new great-nieces and nephews.

In all, I am so thankful to be part of a larger family who love and support one another.

When Salma came along with her giveaway of scrapbooking software, I couldn't resist.  The simple Turn Up the Heat template brought me back to those easy-going, happy beach days of Cousin Camp.  If you're reading this, I hope you enjoy Salma's blog, Chasing Rainbow, and take a look at her giveaway.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Cinquain Challenge

 Juicy, Fragrant, Sweet
Growing, Slicing, Bursting.  
Eat them right off the vine.

This is my Cinquain about home grown tomatoes.  It is possible that this world has something more wondrous to offer, but I haven't found it yet.

I found this fun poetry challenge on the blog of Princess Fiona:

Line 1:  One noun.  This is your subject.
Line 2:  Three adjectives which describe your subject.
Line 3:  Three descriptive gerunds (verb + ing).
Line 4:  One complete sentence that relates to your subject.
Line 5:  One noun that is a synonym of your subject.

Thanks, Fiona!  Now I feel myself beginning to wax poetic about yard eggs...

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Lazy Susan: She's a Tease

scene of good times with family and friends
I love my square dining table that seats 8 comfortably.  Square is wonderful because it's so sociable -- everyone who's there can talk together, or to their immediate neighbors, with no craning of necks or raised voices.  It is, however, difficult to reach a dish that may be all the way on the other side of its wide surface.  

a seemingly elegant solution
I found the perfect solution:  the Lazy Susan.

In theory, she's great.  I can put everything on the large disk in the middle of the table and it's all in reach.  Hypothetically, when I want the bread, or the salad, or more sweet potatoes, I have only to extend my hand.  

Unfortunately, so does everyone else.  Usually at the same time I want it.

Husband scores corn muffin

Just as I'm going for the salt, Gem spins it to the other side of the table.  I reach out for the beans only to see them whirl away in  Husband's quest for salad dressing.  The empty promises of Lazy Susan.  

Goodbye, Butter.  It wasn't meant to be.

Friday, January 6, 2012

2011 Reflections

Even though I have been completely AWOL for many months, dearest Salma thought to include me in her newest blogging venture, called 2011 Reflections.  You can read about it here.  I am going to take Salma's invitation to restart my blog as a blessing, and not worry about whether I deserve it.

Because one thing I learned last year is that blessings come when you least expect it – and have nothing to do with whether you deserve it or not.

In July 2011, I accidentally got a job.  I wasn’t looking for it. In the last few years, I have loved working very part time as an Early Steps provider and completely full-time as a mother and wife.  I had planned to continue that until Gem, now 15 and a high school sophomore, leaves for college in the fall of 2014.

I was spending a few weeks with my sister in Virginia while Gem was at a nearby science camp.  Cooking, working, and visiting with my Dearest Sis, playing, reading, sewing with the kiddos. 

My friend Lynn phoned from back home to say that a local public school (BCP) needed a teacher to work with preschoolers who have special needs.  She said that when I talked to BCP, I wouldn’t be able to say “no.”  I spoke with their special education committee over the phone.  Lynn was right.  When my husband agreed that I should give it a try, I did.  Gem and I arrived home August 1st and I started work on the 2nd.

Some of my unlooked-for blessings:
  • The children: They’re always the best part of teaching.  Each day shows me a new side to each personality.  I have always said that being a preschool teacher is the most fun you can have and still get paid.
  • My colleagues:  Because “my” kids are included in the “regular ed” (bad terminology, I know) classrooms, the teachers have to accept me into their domains.  In my experience, some teachers don’t play well with others.  At BCP I am fortunate to work with a warm, caring group of professionals who really put the needs of children and families uppermost.
  • Meaningful, fulfilling work to do every day.  
  • Learning that my family will pitch in with the housework.  I can’t seem to let go of my cleanliness/nutrition standards, but can’t keep up with it all on my own either.   Things aren’t so tidy as when I did it all, but it feels better somehow.  My favorite meal is when my husband makes breakfast for supper.
  • An unexpected financial cushion. 
 When you least expect it, a blessing might come to you.  Open your heart and let it in.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Bullying: Not O.K.

Recently, Colette of Jamerican Spice posted about her son's experience being bullied in his kindergarten.  (  I didn't like the solution the teacher gave.  Apparently, in the restroom some boys said that his behind smelled bad.  Predictably, he told the teacher.  Her solution was that he should pee inside of the stall, rather than in the urinal like other boys.  Why should he have to separate -- ostracize -- himself?  Shouldn't the bullies be made to stop?

I hate to hear the excuses adults give for not stopping children's bullying:

  • "He didn't really mean it."
  • "She's has a hard life; she's just acting out what she sees at home."
  • "Don't make an issue of every little thing."
  • "Can't he take a joke?"
and the worst:
  • "She's got to learn to stand up for herself."
Of course, all of these things are true.  Sometimes, it is just a joke and we are oversensitive.  Certainly kids do try to process bad situations by re-enacting them (this time turning the tables and being the ones with all the power).  And, yes, kids do have to learn to stand up for themselves.  Whatever -- allowing child-on-child cruelty is not the solution.

As a classroom teacher (preschool/kindergarten), I know that bullying can be subtle and complex.  Sometimes it's hard to detect just who the instigator is.  Sometimes, the "victim" is actually the instigator, creating a situation in which he or she can get special attention.  Yes, sometimes.

One thing I did was to be realistic in knowing that there will be bullying at some point in time, by some children in the class, and forestall it (somewhat) by putting it out there and talking about it.  Why is bullying -- or any typical childhood behavior -- just taken as it comes?  We need to think it through and plan ahead of time for the inevitable.

I always considered myself a behavior "coach."  Just like a basketball coach models techniques and skills to move the ball, then watches his team as they practice, correcting and supporting them in their efforts, I did that with behavior.

I would set up a situation, model a "script," and let the kids role play.  

"What if I were playing with the red ball and Sara wanted it?  What could she do?  What could I do?"  We'd go from there and then a few kids would act out what we decided (with my guidance) would be a good way to negotiate the particular situation.  It was always very compelling because every child had been in both positions many times before throughout their young lives.  It was also effective.  I could hear the strategy playing out over and over again throughout the days following.  

"What if Mekhi and I were painting at the easel and he called me a Cuckoohead?  Is that o.k.?"  Same thing.

I would try to anticipate situations that were brewing and stop them before they got out of hand.

When bullying did occur, I would handle it immediately.  

First, I would have the bully apologize.  Not everyone agrees with this and with good reason.  Sometimes, children take an apology as a free pass.  "What?  I said I'm sorry."  They don't really mean it and their behavior isn't going to change.  I look at the apology as a manners issue.  It's words that help us get along in a civil society.  I figure as they grow up, they will learn the real meaning of an apology through many repeated encounters both as the apologist and apologee (not a word).

After that, they needed to make an appropriate reparation.  Did they take something?  Make fun of another?  Exclude someone?  They have to restore verbally and/or physically -- in a public way -- that thing.  Then we did a role-play of the specific situation.  This time, the right way.

"Let's pretend we're at lunch.  Shala, Leah, and Georgia see Lakesha coming towards their table.  OK, girls, what might be a good thing to say in this situation?"  By now they know the only acceptable thing is, "Hey Lakesha, come sit with us."  (Catty girl behavior does not just emerge in 7th grade.  If you're a girl, you know this.)

A few more groups of kids got to practice this too.  As a coach, I did not condemn the children who got it wrong.  They were not defined by their poor behavior.  Rather, I looked at it as a practice.  They needed my guidance and support to learn the correct behavior.  Just like that basketball player, they needed a coach to teach them the right techniques, postures, and moves to score.  This is no different -- and far more important.

Another thing I considered was whether it was an incident or a pattern.  If it was one incident, it went no further.  But if I saw a pattern, I brought in parents.  I approached it as a person concerned for their child's well-being, but who would tolerate no nonsense.  We talked about how problems are handled at home, what sibling dynamics are like, etc.  Frequently kids who bully feel they have no power.  It is never acceptable to get power at another's expense.

Kids do need to learn the script of standing up for themselves.  We practiced that too.  If Sara wanted the red ball when another had it, that went like this:
Sara:  "I want to play with the red ball.  Would you take the blue one?"
Acceptable response, "I like this one the best and waited to get it.  You can have it when I'm done."

Mekhi, "You're a cuckoohead."
Acceptable response, "It's rude to call people names.  Stop right now."

When my daughter was in kindergarten, a boy in her class told her, "You're mom has a big butt."  Of course, this has nothing to do with anyone's actual hind end and everything to do with power.  Gem and I talked about it and various ways she could handle it.  Tell him to stop, ignore him, tell the teacher... The one she picked?  She laughed and said, "Oh yeah?  Say it one more time and she's going to come sit on you with that big butt."  Then kept playing with her friends (who also laughed; though one did say, "You're mommy's not fat."  Bless you, Catherine.).  And yes, we practiced it in the car on the way to school after she decided that's how she wanted to handle it.

Our children get their self-confidence from us.  When we give them our attention and respect, we are teaching them that they are worthwhile and should expect the world to treat them accordingly.  When we act justly and fairly, they learn to expect justice and fairness from the world.  When we react to the inevitable bad situations with calm self-advocacy they learn that too.

This is a hard issue with me.  The adults in my life did not teach me self-confidence and how to handle bullies effectively.  They did their best, but their best was "stand up for yourself."  (Then if you don't know how, you're somehow deficient?  Pile on the self-loathing.)  I am thankful that I came out of that dark place and now can nurture and protect the children entrusted to me.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Playful World Traveling

2009 was in some ways a low point in my life.  I was at a crossroads.  Some paths were closed off to me, some paths were newly opened to me, and some I wasn't sure how to find or if they were even there.  I had been through a very painful breach and learned that I had some friends who really weren't.  I felt like there was a hole in my heart, in my life.  (Sorry to be mysterious, but these are the essentials.)

The best way to go forward was to count my blessings every day and I began to do that.  My husband and daughter give me a reason to get up every day and make breakfast.  (I really started with the basics.)  My old (gradually less!) dilapidated house where something always needs painting, nailing, sewing, cleaning gives me employment when I need to not think...  I went back to graduate school (What's another 18 hours?).

I began to see a path through the wilderness of my mind:  a set of tasks to do every day, leading to a discernible end, building something worthwhile.  I wanted to talk about my feelings (but not dwell on the pain) and hear others' stories at the same time.  Self-help books and therapy didn't satisfy this.  I wanted a conversation in real time.

I started to sew again and found the world of YouTube stitch tutorials.  From there, I stumbled onto blogs.

Here was a group of people, all at different places on life's path.  Sometimes I feel I can help them, sometimes they help me, at all times we can support one another.  I am drawn to stories of family life, feminism, teaching, sewing and crafting, gardening, cooking.  Found some of those blogs.  I am interested in different cultures and ways of living, so I found some Amish blogs.

I went looking for Muslim blogs when a dear friend stopped wearing hijab because she felt threatened.  I listened to her (over coffee, what else?) with my heart in my throat, while her two little boys played at our feet.  She wants a good life for them -- doesn't want her "appearance" to hold them back.  What?!  That's just wrong.  I realized that I as a nonMuslim need to counter the negative climate by reaching out to sisters and brothers in Islam and celebrate our common humanity -- we need to not see any people as "other."

What I get in the blogosphere is encouragement and inspiration for myself every day -- and from people all over the world whom I never would have had the opportunity to know.  What a miracle!

I feel very fortunate to have found a true soul-sister in Salma of Visual Notes.  She wrote the Pledge of The Playful World Traveler.  Here's her link:

As  a Playful World Traveler I PLEDGE to:

* blog with integrity

* understand that while I have {my own} opinions they can be hurtful to others

*reject notions, ideas & words that humiliate and isolate others

*understand that I inhabit various locations simultaneously

that I can be an oppressor as well as oppressed at the same time

*identify and celebrate differences without being something that I am not
NEVER defending who I am (my background, race, class etc)

*know that the world outside my window is a trifle of God's creation & be thankful for his mercy

*understand that we all experience and handle situations differently

*reach out to encourage & support other bloggers when they are faced with the negative aspects of life, and 
celebrate the positives ALWAYS

*celebrate the beauty of humanity/parenthood/sister-brotherhood  
(trying to be gender-neutral here, so it's not just for women)

Thanks for this, Salma.  I am lucky to have you as a friend.