Monday, November 14, 2016

Mondays have a bad reputation.

Mondays have a bad reputation.  Long before Karen Carpenter sang about the dismal, mood-altering properties of the first day of the work-week, there existed a certain dread for the proverbial return-to-the-grindstone of the traditional work week. 

Weird thing, though, not everybody feels that way.  I am one of those people who views Monday as the fresh start.  It doesn't have quite the same feel as a new notebook, or turning the page on the calendar, but it does allow me to shake my arms and legs out a bit, like Usain Bolt about to go into the blocks before a big race.  

Because, face it, from about 7:35 on Monday until 3 pm on Friday, that's pretty much how a teacher's work week seems to fly.  It's a race, even if it does seem like a marathon at times.

21 Days of Happiness.

More than 3 weeks ago, I committed to returning to daily blogging as my own version of the 21 Days of Happiness project that my students were doing.  Today, two classes shared the results of their projects, and the general consensus was that journaling and random acts of kindness seemed to have the greatest impact on personal happiness, with gratitude as a close third.  Conversely, meditation was not a success.  

One of the most interesting reports came from the recipient of kindness, rather than the RAK=giver herself.  This student had taken it upon herself to write notes of encouragement with facts about Mondays.  

"I know today is Monday and you assume it's going to suck, but according to statistics, there will be over 5,000 weddings, 10,000 childbirths, and 42 million hugs occurring today throughout the United States.... There will be 600 dogs adopted, ........ because according to statistics, it should actually be a really nice day....."

We all know that there is no sense in arguing statistics.  And yes, it was Monday, and yes, one single letter passed out to some friends made an impact that started a comment, which generated a discussion, which created a blog topic, which made me wonder what wonderful statistics exist for Tuesday.

Have a great week! 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

This teacher is a teacher, inside and out.

In a post for my grad class today, I commented about how I am the same person in the classroom as I am outside of the classroom.  I don't have a "teacher voice" and I rarely pull the "teacher" card, choosing to foster mutual respect for the space and each other, instead of a dictatorship run by someone who once slipped on banana pudding and missed almost half of a semester as a result.  After all, how much confidence would you have in that role model?

The interesting thing about the classroom relationships and my social media relationships is that they are very similar.  It is rare for me to be unhappy in a classroom, and I am conscious of my level of negativity on social media as well.  

Given the negativity that has existed over the past several months, coupled with the fact that we've been studying Happiness in Themes in Literature, there have been opportunities where I've spoken on this blog about assignments for my students that I've also posted for social media friends.  The idea of the TDO - the Talent Development Opportunity project - was tossed out to adults to see what they could do if they had the equivalent amount of one period per cycle to work on something new to them.  Just 80 Minutes became the mantra in its own group on Facebook.

Today, in a blog of one of the participants was this:

In nine weeks, I have gone from inept to confident as a paper piecer! Granted, I spent more than 80 minutes each week; most weeks, it was probably double that. But it was the discipline, the setting aside of the minimum of 80 minutes and working on learning a new skill, that paid off.

Other people explored and cooked healthier recipes, organized specific spaces with an intentional time dedicated each week, tried geocaching, and posted results.

Just for the record - I have clearly seen the benefits of focused effort over the past few weeks and I am grateful to this group for helping rediscover the concept. However, I do not plan to continue creating an accountability blog and/or FB post every Monday. I want to use those minutes (and a few more) to actually read the many books I've gathered (part of my larger plan to limit the amount of time I spend at the computer). Best wishes to all!  

The 21 Day Happiness assignment resulted in the creation of another group - 21 Days to Happiness.  Again, my friends supported the project with their own reports, as they meditated, exercised, expressed kindness, journaled or showed gratitude:

What brings you lasting happiness? For me gratitude is the essential key to happiness. Not things, not people, but being honestly thankful for everything. Even in my worst times the shear act of gratitude will totally change my experience into a peaceful experience.
Just putting that out there


So far I have shared my gratitude with 3 individuals. Not only has it reminded me of all that I am grateful for, especially during a hard time in my life, but it has brought joy to the folks I have shared with. Can't wait to spread some more happiness!


Soon it became evident that we started noticing kindness and happiness all around us...

I am sitting at Masonic Homes catching my breath for a moment and just witnessed the sweetest thing. This woman obviously wanted to see the foliage and flowers in the garden. So this man helped her out of the car (and caught her going both ways when she nearly fell) and then stood and talked with her until she had her fill 

This week, I am challenging myself to be more authentic and caring in this crazy world.  It's getting busy -- the holidays are coming, the semester is ending with my grad class, there are gifts to be made, purchased, and wrapped.  There is a presentation to be had at the annual state Gifted Conference this week in Harrisburg, with late nights and many connections with colleagues from various parts of the tri-state area, and lesson plans to write for a substitute who will cover in my absence.    

The world will continue to turn, and next weekend will provide a celebrated relief and proof that I survived this very busy week.  What will you have to show for your efforts?  Join me in taking some time to be grateful, drop a note to someone who won't expect it, hold a door, share an umbrella.   

Make a difference.  Even if it is small.  We all have time, no matter how busy we are.


Saturday, November 12, 2016

Valuing Values

The other night, my husband and I were watching American Pickers "On Demand," and a political commercial came on slamming Hillary Clinton.  Within five minutes, another followed, this time slamming Donald Trump.  I was suitably outraged, because it was THURSDAY, and the election was over, and, well, I was truly looking forward to no more mudslinging for the foreseeable future! Bruce talked me off the ledge, explaining that the show was essentially, prerecorded.

This political season has been marked by one thing:  news media AND candidates who spent less time talking about long-range plans for the country, and more time focused on the values, or lack thereof, of the opponents. The best that they seemed to be able to do was to point out exactly how deficient the opponent was when it came to basic societal decency.

 Values Education

A common theme in many schools these days is one of "Positive Behavior," rewarding good, rather than criticizing students for infractions.  While there are folks on both sides of the actual effectiveness of this model,  it does seem to appear that there are many students in classes who choose to act one way at school, and entirely differently in the presence of their parents.  This works both positively and negatively.  Some parents are shocked to find that their rambunctious offspring are perfect angels in school, while others discover, with great horror, the exact opposite.  There is definitely a trend, however, for values or character education in our schools these days.

We're trying to engage our students in being better people.  As I drove this morning, it occurred to me that society is encouraging and expecting schools to "fix" this generation of kids.  Make them appreciate the little things, be respectful, be kind, be accepting of each other, not bully others.  The anti-Clinton commercials and the anti-Trump commercials angered everyone, and further divided an already divided nation, yet they shared a common theme:  VALUES.  Neither side liked the values displayed by the other.

A comment left on my aunt's blog resonated with me.  The quote is attributed to Joe Piscopo, although I haven't been able to verify it:

 "A president doesn’t make America. We do. America is awesome because of Americans. The better we are, the better America is." Volunteer. Donate to causes you care about. Help out your neighbor. Love each other. Pray. DO whatever it is you think our country needs on whatever level you can. It starts with you, and your actions matter.
That is what is most important - what we the people do.
So maybe, just maybe, this election is more about the common theme, and that we, as Americans, can step up and help the parents, teachers, and, heck the whole world, by figuring out what we value, and move towards instilling those values in the world.  

Even if we don't need to do it because it will look good on a college or job application. Even if nobody has asked or expects us to do something kind.  We need to DO whatever it is that we think our country needs, on whatever level we can.  And yes, actions matter.  We can move this nation to one of character, rather than a bunch of hyped up characters.

Value values.  Pass it on.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Eleven Eleven @ Eleven

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
John McCrae, 1915 

It's 11 - 11.  The annual Veteran's Day assembly culminated, as it does each year, with nearly 900 students filing silently out of the auditorium at 11 am, honoring the memory, sacrifice, and service of so many.  

I am proud to teach at Donegal, yet I am especially proud on Veteran's Day.  While the news and social media is filled with less than desirable tales of cruelty in schools, today at Donegal was filled with kindness.  the choir sang, the band played, The Voice of Democracy winner presented her winning paper, and sitting front and center, the veterans of our community, who were honored in a roll call by branch of service.  Sitting amidst them was Harold Billow -- the only living survivor of the Malmedy Massacre.    

This man is a genuine inspiration to our small community.  So much so, that more people called him "Pap" today, than by his given name. He was escorted by a graduate of Donegal, who worked on a National History Day project several years ago with Mr. Billow, who now regularly visits him, because of the deep bond they formed over that project.  There he was, in his original uniform, smiling broadly, adding an extra sparkle to a sense of national pride.

Yes, pride.  While each year there are more than a few tears shed and wiped away, Veteran's Day is celebrated, recognized, and immortalized for a generation of students who realize the responsibilities bestowed upon them, as they stand on the shoulders of giants who have served before.

One of whom is a slight man, who still fits in a uniform that he wore more than 60 years ago.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Lesson Plans Tossed to the Wind.

Wednesday, November 9th.  The Day After.  

It was pouring rain, and virtually everyone at school appeared sullen and sleep-deprived.  Given that the "Theme" in Themes in Literature this semester is Happiness, suffice it to say that my pre-planned "Activating Strategy" was pretty much DOA. After several more attempts, with side conversations between students bursting into larger class discussions, the lesson was called on account of disequilibrium.

We've all witnessed a sporting event "called" on account of darkness, lightning, or serious storms in the area, when someone in charge makes the decision to pull the plug on the plans for the day, in the interest of all involved.  The same works for teachers when conditions are not sufficient in the classroom.

We had a quiet discussion, exploring what we already knew from the wonderful Mr. Groff's AP Government and Politics class from the last two years.  There are checks and balances, the government moves slowly - sometimes too slowly - in making changes in policy and decisions.  The legislative branch of the government is notorious for its ability to examine a given situation from more perspectives than most people would ever consider.  It seemed that we could transition back to business as usual.  

Suddenly, we were back to square one.  

I don't usually have my phone on my desk, yet I caught a glimpse of a message from my aunt:  "It doesn't change who I am. "

It's amazing to me how inspiration comes when it is needed most.  All of my students have Chromebooks, and use Googledocs as their main platform for writing.  I asked them to open a new document, and to ask them to consider how influential any politician actually is on their day-to-day life, motivation or happiness.  Can anyone else influence who you are? If the answer is no, then write "It doesn't change who I am."

The free-writing began, and continued until lunch, about 20 minutes later.  In teacher-speak, this wasn't the way I had planned my day, but it was necessary to put aside the plans for the sake of the kids.  After lunch we posted 600 post-it notes containing happiness quotes and inspiration throughout the school.  (We'd been working on collecting enough to put one on every locker at some point, yet it was easy to see that they were needed on this grey, rainy day, where so many were so torn.)

What I hadn't considered was the impact of split decisions on students.  We live in the heart of Amish country, where there is a fairly even split between the candidates.  Even the supporters of the new president realized the ongoing challenges of such a close election.  High School students have friends, and align their support, often, with their parents or their social circles.  Students with friends in two camps are particularly torn on a day like November 9th.  How does one celebrate with one group of friends without offending another group?

I awoke this morning to find a text from Ellen, thanking me for the unplanned Googledocs activity.  She had continued writing well beyond the school day, finishing sometime after ten pm. This junior in high school had reflected upon her reflection, her day, her relationships, and her world, and shared her finished work with me.  By the time I'd read the first paragraph, I was ugly-crying, and spent most of today looking like a puffy Pufferfish.  

And I don't even care.   Because yesterday's experience was nothing like the lesson plans I had written, yet turned out to be the one of the most memorable of my career.  There are days when the lesson plans need to be tossed to the wind.

I am privileged and honored to be able to share Ellen's Thoughts with you, with her permission:

Ellen's Thoughts 
The President cannot change who I choose to love.
I am no different than I was yesterday.
THIS does not change who I am. THIS does not change who my family is. THIS does NOT change where my hope is to be found. THIS does not change me.

Today, I choose to laugh onstage tonight. I choose to push all that I can out of my mind.

I choose to rant, then be still. I choose to recognize that my God is an Awesome God. I choose to remember what I’ve been telling myself all along: there is more to people. People are not just Republican or Democrat. Heck! That’s only for American people anyway! There is so much more to this WORLD. Languages, culture, LIFE.

I choose my friends, NOT the President. I choose when I will stand up and when I will sit down. I choose to tell my younger sisters and my future children, whether they be my students, small group of youth, or my children's children, that they CAN choose.

Choose Joy! I am not happy on this day. I am joyful that one day this all will end. “This too shall pass.” I praise not the man or woman, not the system or its followers, but the joy and peace put before me.

I choose because I can. I have power over my thoughts, my actions, what I choose to say tonight, what I choose to express and how I will go on in the future. I choose. And this isn’t ABOUT pro-life or pro-choice, rather about my ability to be human with grey areas and confusion. I have a choice.
    Help me to choose life, dear God. Life-giving words, life-giving actions, life-giving encouragement, life-giving friendships. I choose it. Lead me to following through.

But most importantly, I choose to remember how HE loves. My Savior. The one who IS my identity, IS my Lord, IS my hope. It’s not even that God is testing us or whatever people say; it is the choices we’re making and I’m choosing joy. I will not be happy with this election and its results, but I will choose to not let it break my character.

I am more than the checkmark next to Trump’s face when I googled the results this morning. I am more than the T-shirts and hurtful statements. I am more than the questioning of my friends. I am more than the magazines printed and the speeches given. I am SO MUCH MORE.

I am changing, evolving, growing, moving, learning. I am.

“I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart.
I am, I am, I am.”  (Sylvia Plath)

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Make America Kind Again.

I went to bed last night without knowing who won.  I resisted the urge to look at the results at 3:30 when I woke up, knowing I would not be able to get back to sleep, no matter what the results.  At five, the ability to ignore reality was too strong and I looked at CNN. 

I know there is concern, fear, trepidation, and a crashed Canadian Immigration website.  I know that there will be gloaters and criers on television, on the streets, and probably at work today.  Years ago, I had the privilege of visiting Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her Virginia home.  Although you may not recognize her name, she is the one responsible for the research on the Stages of Grief. She found a way to help people deal with their feelings of despair, isolation, and hopelessness.  She herself was a very caring and kind person, who specialized in understanding the end of life, yet did so with joy and happiness.  Her stages of grief are not unlike what many have - and will - experience, given the political divide that was evident in such a close race last evening.   So yes, there will be anger, there will be bargaining with Canadian immigration, and eventually acceptance.

But none of that matters.  What matters to me this morning is exactly what mattered to me yesterday.  What matters is kindness, civility, optimism, and hope.  Regardless of who won, I went to bed knowing that the world will go on, and that I have hope for the future.

Hope doesn't come from politicians, political parties, or CNN.  Hope comes in the banding together of common people to affect change for the good of everyone.  

My sister's Facebook status around 4 am was this:

Let's all find courage, compassion and conviction to face the election results (regardless of your choice of candidate) with the theory "Make America Kind Again." 


At 8 am this morning, there will be 52 Key Club members in my room.  They will be planning a menu of opportunities for service projects.  Key Club is the high school version of the adults' Kiwanis Club.  This is Key Club Week, and these kiddos are already working to Make America Kind Again.  They are passing out Powerpacks to hungry families, collecting soda tabs for patients in need, setting up and tearing down events, babysitting for families experiencing medical difficulties, raising money for UNICEF to help eliminate Malaria.  They are trying to advance an understanding of autism and its impacts. They are practicing Random Acts of Kindness so often that the idea of RANDOM doesn't really apply.

National Honor Society, Future Business Leaders of America, National Art Honor Society and Mathematics Honor Society, and Varsity Club all have chapters in my high school, and every single one of these groups provide kind service to make the world a better place.  

On Friday, our school will hold its annual Veterans' Day Assembly. I will stand, as I always do, so very proud of my country, the veterans, and the student body, who will demonstrate kindness and respect.  

A week later, the Extraordinary Give will be held in Lancaster County.  A single day will make a world of difference for many organizations providing hope in this world. I will spend another night watching totals roll in - this time for something that really matters.  Hope.

So on this morning when I fear for the Stock Market opening, and stand wondering why our world will determine success or despair based upon votes and stock values, I am choosing to pull a Fred Rogers, and look for the helpers.  

Fortunately for me, I see helpers every day because my world is largely comprised of 14 - 18 year olds who don't know what it means to give up, instead choosing to have hope,  to STEP up, and  to Make America Kind Again. 


Tuesday, November 8, 2016

They Couldn't Vote, but it Didn't Matter.


I voted.  The line wasn't bad, and I got a sticker, which appears to be a small victory given that many on social media are indicating that they were not as fortunate.  I really didn't realize that the sticker was all that big a deal, yet I suspect it will be a topic of conversation in my classroom tomorrow.  For despite the fact that today was the weekly meeting of the Debate Club, I believe there will be an impromptu meeting tomorrow for some Monday (or Wednesday) morning Quarterbacking after the results are finally announced.

While many adults may think that "these kids today don't care," I am here to tell you that they do.  I've heard more responsible arguments and analysis of this election from 14 - 18 year olds than I have from either candidate.  The kids in my room are bright and articulate, but more importantly, they show respect for the opinions of others, and truly care about the issues.  Their language use in no way reflects society today, nor do I need to have a 30 second delay and a bleep buzzer handy.  I know when the Debaters are in my room that the discussion will be lively, comprehensive, and informative.  The group is entirely student-led and driven.  (I view the idea of discussing my political beliefs with students the same way the state views the idea of my discussing my religious beliefs with them.)

I get to be the proverbial fly on the wall, knowing that no matter who wins this evening, I am happy in the assurance that these young people care about their country and their future.  And I have no doubt that their voices will be heard, even if most of them didn't even have the power of the vote this year.

Is there happiness on this election day?  You bet.   I can think of two excellent reasons:  #2, there will be no political commercials tomorrow, or for many days to come, and #1 -- the NUMBER ONE reason that I am happy, is the phenomenal promise I see in the political future that today called itself the Donegal Debate Club.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Old Mr. Sandman

I am in desperate need of a chronobiologist.  Admittedly, I didn't really even know that term until I started writing this piece, but I know now that an expert who can study the circadian rhythms of my own body -- as well as the 100 + students with whom I interact each day.  Such an individual could certainly help to explain why even though I KNOW I got an extra hour of sleep this past weekend, it hasn't done anything to improve my functionability on this fine Monday, not to mention the attitudes of the aforementioned students.

Data shows that teenagers require 8 - 10 hours of sleep a night.  Honestly, most of my students report bedtimes well after midnight, and these same individuals are in my classroom before 8 am, so the actual number of kids sleeping 8 - 10 hours are probably counting the hours they nap in classes during the school day.  

Certainly one of the major arguments I have heard AGAINST the idea of later school start times involves the early dismissals necessary for sports activities.  The later the school day begins, the more class time will be missed for games, matches, and competitions.  It seems odd that extracurriculars would drive something as critically important, but it certainly speaks to a potential contribution to the discussion.

Our district has a chunk of time in the beginning of the day known as Tribe Time.  Roughly a half hour to catch up with teachers, meet with others to work on projects, take that quiz that you missed last week, etc.  It also serves to push the academic "start" for the day to sometime near the magical recommended 8:30 am start time.

Here's the deal, though.  TODAY, 8:30 should have felt like 9:30 to these bodies in my world.  Aside from a few kids saying how nice it was to see sunlight on the way to the bus stop this morning, there were few who sang the praises of Monday with the enthusiasm of the soundtrack of Oklahoma.

So how can we, as educators, make an impression on the sleepless that sleep is important?  They all love it -- heck, even I love it.  Why do we choose to make sleep the one thing that we deny indulging in while living in a society of overconsumption?

Tomorrow I am going to celebrate sleep.  I'm going to ask kids to describe it, and I'm going to get them to consider how much happiness it provides.  We're going to look at why we don't have enough time to sleep, and see what has happened to the idea of happy, well-rested kids over the last century, as we've evolved to this permanent state of exhaustion that seems to exist.

Did I mention that we're working on Zeitgeist?  Literally translated, it's "Spirit of the Times."  Right now, I'm hoping that Old Mr. Sandman is the spirit that embodies the times.


Sunday, November 6, 2016

Band Parents: the Unsung Heroes.

This isn't meant to sound redundant, so I apologize if you feel that you are reading yesterday's post again today.  Last evening was the 40th Anniversary of a tremendous accomplishment in the world of the Cavalcade of Bands.  The celebration was wonderful, and the magic was obviously evident.  Who would have imagined sitting in a world-class stadium on a crisp November evening with lifelong friends and bandmates, watching the video of the championship win on the jumbotron? 

The reunion was a tremendous success, thanks to the hard work of the planners.  Two of the three original directors were able to join us, and more than a few people commented on the way out of the four hour event that they had somehow forgotten to eat dinner, because they were busy catching up with old friends.

Some of the friends were much older.  Debbie Ewer's mom attended, wearing her Abington Band Parents jacket, and looking exactly as she did in 1976.  And the band parents of the current Abington band were kind enough to orchestrate the delivery of some of the trophies we won all those years ago, to complement the maroon and white balloons.

You see, bands are so much more than friends.  Bands are family.  

I was reminded again of this this morning, when I opened Facebook and saw that the annual ACC Pancakes were being made and delivered.  While I was a band parent, I engaged in a pancake challenge with Michele Bennett, as we both attempted to be the perfect motivational band moms by making Atlantic Coast Championship pancakes on the morning of the competition, to deliver them as breakfast in bed to our daughters.  This tradition officially became a tradition in 2011, when it happened for the second year in a row.  The following year was just a bit melancholy for me, as my bandmember had graduated and was living at college.

So that year Michele and I made ACC pancakes and delivered them to all of the newbie band members.  It's evident from Judy Barber's assembly line of ACC pancakes (photo above) that the tradition has lasted five years, and will continue, I hope. This morning, Michele presumably made her last batch of in-house pancakes, as her daughter is a senior.  Next year, she'll be in delivery only mode.  Because that's what band parents do.  Kids may graduate, but band parents are always band parents.

Kay Ewer proved that last evening as she dug her Band Parent jacket out of the closet and proudly wore the maroon and white one more time, supporting all of her band kids - even though many of them are grandparents now.

It takes a village to raise a championship band.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

The Galloping Ghosts March On.

Picture it.  A crisp, November evening, 1976.  Our marching band had done a lot of marching that year; after all, it was the Bicentennial of the United States, and we lived just outside of Philadelphia.  We'd marched in Memorial Day parades, marched the trek from the high school to the stadium approximately a mile away for every home football game, participated in THE biggest 200th celebration of America's birth by marching in the Philadelphia Independence Day Parade -- in full wool uniforms, I might add.  We'd competed, valiantly, against the likes of our competitive archenemy, Plymouth Whitemarsh, and it was all culminating in the All-Conference Cavalcade of Bands Championship in Veteran's Stadium.

Astro-turf is nothing like the turf fields we know today.  If you've ever been on the back porch of someone with plastic grass carpet over cement, imagine dropping down into a one count kneel, with precision and authority.  I dare bet that I am not the only one who has had a knee replacement as a result of the repetitive nature of the drill of marching band and indoor guard competitions.  Marching in a professional football stadium is unlike anything we'd ever done, and being one of the largest bands, we competed in the last bracket, adding the large lights to the magic of the evening. 

And when the winners were announced that night, I'm pretty sure that the planning for our 40th Reunion of the State Champions began. Okay, so that may seem a bit premature, because we certainly went on to celebrate in our own ways, including the best darned end of season Band Banquet held in the school's history.

Veteran's Stadium is Gone...

Standing on the grounds of the site where we marched 40 years ago is Citizens Bank Park.  It is there that a group of more than 100 bandos will gather this evening.  Facebook has been abuzz with yellowed pictures, wool Varsity jackets with winning patches and letters, and lamentations over attendance.  We've buried a few friends in the last 40 years, and really haven't stayed in touch as a large group, yet the memories of a week away at Band Camp at Susquehanna University in 1976 is not a distant memory to any of us.  

We were assigned our roommates in alphabetical order, matching genders.  Joyce Denelsbeck and I were not really friends then, but we were roommates.  Marching Band is one of the biggest team-building extra curricular activities with magical properties.  Forty years later, we are very good friends, who have communicated more regularly in recent years than we did the entire week at Susquehanna.  Many of the band members are now sharing homes and children, as more than a few intermarried.  We've been in each others' weddings -- two of my closest friends even played their flutes as a prelude in mine -- and we've hugged each other standing graveside as we buried one of our own.

Extracurricular activities are viewed by colleges as something of great importance on applications. It isn't possible for a freshman in high school to fully comprehend the power of what happens after 3 pm on any given school day, and the long-term, life-long connections and relationships that are forged.  

Tonight, as we toast our accomplishment of 40 years ago, as well as the accomplishments of the reunion planners who have pulled together this amazing party,  there are bands polishing their white bucks and Dinkles, in preparation for their own championships through Cavalcade of Bands and Tournament of Bands competitions.

I pray that they clear their calendars for November, 2056.  They're not going to want to be anywhere else. 

Friday, November 4, 2016

Not the Fajita Inhibitor.

After a long week at work, I opted to go super-easy and make chicken fajitas.  A lack of cheddar necessitated a string of text messages with Kristin this evening....

Are you home for dinner?

At 6

Is there a place on the way that sells cheddar cheese?  Ours is gone??  Did you move it somewhere I can't find?

Yes I live to sabotage the cheese in our house
Shredded or regular?

You are a sick and twisted fajita-inhibitor.

I headed off to the store for some shredded cheddar, and by the time dinner was ready, Ben and Bailey had joined us for an impromptu dinner.  What did we do before cellphone technology?  My husband will disagree, as he is just fine leaving his at home, or turned off, yet I use mine constantly.  And mostly for things other than communication.   My phone is a constant camera, a tool for Skype or Messenger (yes, I realize that is communicating....,, but yesterday I used it to call Chloe in England to help Bella with her NHD research...).  It's a calendar, it's a great extra whiteboard.  If a class is brilliant in its use of a whiteboard, I take a picture, and project that picture during the next class to remind them of where they were in the past.  

The happiest thing about cellphones for the next four days is that neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton have called me on mine.  The same can not be said for my house phone.  I am happy to have a cellphone, and even happier to have caller id on the house phone.  

Most of all, I am happy that I have a family that will come together for a quick fajita dinner, and a lot of laughs.

Happy Weekend!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Defining Happiness.

Once we all learned to pronounce SCHOOLOGY the way it was intended, (as opposed to School OLOGY), people seemed to settle in and appreciate the new technology.   Schoology is, as I explain it to parents, sort of like Facebook for school.  Teachers have the capability to assign and collect assignments electronically, and grade them within the program.  Quizzes and tests can be designed and scheduled to be released, with multiple variations of the same test to accommodate the differentiation needs of learners.  Calendars exist, with assignment dates running in the right-hand margin to make sure a full accounting of pending homework can be seen by students, teachers, and parents who are brave enough to sign up for their own accounts.

Clubs and groups within the school post updates and links, principals post agendas for faculty meetings, and students and teachers can send private "email" messages to each other through the platform.  This is the second year for Schoology as an active, all inclusive tool, and it is finally being embraced by everyone.  This year, no one dares to say "I don't ever LOOK at Schoology," as an excuse for missing a meeting or an assignment.  It's a paper-saver, a time-saver, and a nice introduction to 21st century learning.

Being the Tech Savvy individual that I am (NOT!), I am challenging myself to explore new options in lessons.  Last week I posted a "Discussion," asking students to take all of their current knowledge about Happiness, and actually write and share their own definition.   The Discussion feature allowed students in all three classes to read and respond to the definition of classmates, and aside from some rambunctious flamingos, most contributed mightily to the discussion, in an articulate and respectful manner that permitted everyone to be heard.  

I am amazed, delighted, and very proud of their efforts.

The current assignment is to assimilate all of that reading into a revised definition of happiness and defend the reason for the change.  Here are three samples:

Old Definition-Happiness is a feeling that comes from giving to others, finding yourself, and finding a purpose in life.
New Definition-Happiness is feeling content with how you are living, but also having a purpose to works towards.  Happiness is also finding virtues that are most important to you, and living by these ideas.  It can also be influenced by your environment, but happiness from an external influence, such as an item, is usually temporary, as this item could be destroyed. When the sense of satisfaction comes from within or from a decision you made, the feeling tends to last longer. 
After our discussion yesterday, I realized that happiness is limited when you rely on material things to make you happy.  You are happier when you find a purpose or something to work towards, because this gives you a sense of satisfaction.  For example, people who volunteer are generally happier, because they made the choice to help, and it made them feel good.  The volunteerism could also go along with living by virtues that you believe in.  Ultimately, you are happy when you believe that what you are doing is the best thing for you, so I wanted to incorporate that into my definition.

Old definition: 
A state of contentment and bliss 
New Definition: A state of contentment and bliss derived from one's experience and circumstance
I believe that in my definition, God has a large part in my happiness. I believe that realizing the beauty in the world that he has given us, along with gratitude for what he has given us allows us to be content, which is part of my definition of happiness. However, I do not think that God is a part of everyone's happiness. For those that do not believe in God, or follow a religion, i think they derive their happiness from other things. I think that their definition involves contentment and bliss in what they are experiencing, similar to my personal definition, but attribute those experiences to circumstance and not a higher deity.
Original: Happiness is a word defined differently by everyone. To me happiness is an overall feeling of fulfillment. In my eyes people are only truly happy when there is no weight on their shoulders, and no worries in their mind. However sometimes little things in life can bring small "spurts" of happiness or enjoyment.
Revised: Happiness is different in everyone's eyes. A word containing many subcategories such as joy, elation, and laughter, happiness can not be defined by one person. Therefore I am happy when I feel there is nothing for me to worry about, and I am happy when little things happen that bring a smile to my face. In MY opinion happiness is rather spontaneous and shows up at times you don't expect it, and generally makes your life a bit more interesting.
Throughout this lesson in class, and by reading these fellow classmates responses I have found out that our happiness is something we hold very close to our hearts. The fiery discussions are the effect of each persons happiness being defined, and being that we all view it differently, as rather intelligent students we defend our happiness. Therefore I reworded my original response because it needed to be emphasized that what I believe to be happiness can be the exact same, or the polar opposite of what you believe. Happiness does not have a definition because it is more than just a word.

So here's the reality:  Online discussion, in the case of this assignment, has been a powerful tool for all of us.  We're finding our way, communicating and respecting each other.  The coolest thing for me is that the three classes' responses are co-mingled, so there are discussions happening in the library, cafeteria, and Commons, as the discussion continues.

Take the challenge yourself, and share it in the comments.  Discussing happiness, even with some different opinions, will bring joy to you as you share understanding with others.

Clearly, such enthusiasm, deep thinking, and engagement makes this teacher very, very, HAPPY!  

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

(Not) Just Another Dent in the Wall.

As mentioned earlier this week, we're undergoing a bit of a shakeup in the living space in our house.  The dining room furniture is officially sold, and will depart as soon as its new home is painted and ready for its arrival in a week or so.  Once it is gone, painting can happen in our space, without the need to climb over or cover the furniture, and then the installation of our new (to us) stuff can commence.

 As we were eating dinner this evening, Bruce pointed out that we need to make sure that the painter, whomever it is -- as we are considering hiring a professional -- makes NO changes to the dent pictured behind the ark in the picture.   

Despite what others may think, the very existence of that dent brings happiness to our family.

Yes, you heard me correctly.  One of my greatest sources of happiness is a dent in my living room wall.  It represents me as a person, me as a mother, and Bruce and I as parents.  And without waxing philosophical, it also serves as a reminder of one of the most classic US moments living as a family in this house. 

Happiness is picking your battles...

When I was a kid, there was a common theme on sitcoms that demonstrated what I can only refer to as the "wrath of mom."  (Sometimes seen in the "wrath of dad," but you get the idea.)  Peter Brady broke Carol's favorite vase, and the classic line, "Mom always says 'Don't play ball in the house,'" became an instant motto for many families of my childhood friends.  Somewhere along the line, fathers became the heavy, and kids on TV were warned, "Wait until your father gets home!"  Twenty years later, TV showed goofy fathers in all kinds of mischief conspiring with their kids to hide whatever indiscretion had happened that day from the mother of the house.

For me, and for Bruce, we've just laughed and let those things create memories that have continued to serve us well in the department of promoting happiness in our lives.
  • The time one brother pushed the other brother down the steps in a large brown box.  Only trouble?  No adults were home, the box caught a corner, and rolled, shaking the contents of the box pretty significantly.
  • The time that the little sister confiscated the videogames from her brother and hid them -- because they were swearing at each other and keeping her awake.  The brothers pointed fingers at each other, swearing that the other had obviously done something to tick off a parent.  Neither wanted to ask the parents, so they fought, incessantly, in their room until the confiscator returned the games, told them to stop swearing, and went back to sleep.
  • The time one jumped off the porch roof into a snowbank, or licked the street sign pole at the bus stop on a freezing day, or held a 9 volt battery to his tongue to break some sort of record.
I'm sure there are dozens of stories that you have in your life, and many more that I have chosen not to share.  Sometimes rolling with the punches, the world becomes a happier place.  I figure, these very individuals will be choosing my nursing home at some point, and I hope that they'll like me enough, and remember the good times, to find a nice place with a view and cable television.

Oh, and the dent?  It was an ice cube battle.  To be fair, I started it.  Fortunately for me, Ben ended it with a wicked overhand throw that was powerful enough to make me smile for many more decades with the imprint that it left in the wall.


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

It's the Little Things...

Cancer sucks.  

We've all read it, heard it, seen it posted on social media.  Today, I celebrate the life of Amy Jane Nadley Lessman.  This superhuman was in my life from freshman year in high school until April of 2014, when the complications from what was essentially cancer of the appendix took her life.  

Today would have been Amy's 55th birthday.  She was a teacher of profoundly disabled children, who impacted the world more in her years on earth than ten ordinary people combined.  She loved love.   She loved being in love. She loved teaching love.   

While we were still in college, she and I were walking around Philadelphia one day when she stopped into McDonald's and bought a large fries, walked out to the street and approached a homeless man.  "Would you like these fries?"  

"Yes, m'aam."  
"Do you have a friend?"
"No, m'aam."
"Come with me."

Amy led the man about 20 feet down the street to another homeless guy, asked his name, introduced them to each other and then turned to the first guy and said, "Share these fries with your new friend.  And watch out for each other.  Cities can be rough."

 I stood with stunned disbelief.  Only Amy would give a lecture on the importance of having somebody's back to total strangers living on the streets of Philadelphia.

It's the Little Things...

It's been a pretty somber week, as cancer seems to be far-reaching and unstoppable.  I've delivered coffee and chocolate in Amy's memory today, and appreciated seeing her smile through the faces of the recipients.  Amy had more friends than most, and there were people all over PA and NJ sharing stories, java, and chocolate, and genuinely trying to make the world a better place.

So on this day -- and I hope every single day I have left here on earth -- I am trying to channel Amy and make the world a little bit happier than it was yesterday.   I am grateful for the friend that I had, and even more grateful for the lessons of happiness and gratitude that I learned from her.  I've made some new friends who were friends of hers as well, and we all have stories that could fill volumes illustrating the difference that one person can make in this world.

All because we had the love of Amy in our lives.