Tagged life lessons

How much are you willing to risk to reach your goals?

Coalition of the Willing


How much are you willing to risk to reach your goals?

As I sat in a professional development class last week a new idea was brought to my attention that struck a chord with me. The idea is “the coalition of the willing.” Now, on further review there are some political ideas that might accompany that phrase, but this was not at all how the presenter explained it. We were embarking on how to be more blended in our approach with technology in the classroom. If you teach or deal with technology, sometimes the thought of really purposefully merging the two is quite daunting. Over and over the presenter said, we are not looking for perfection or to have everything figured out before you start, but rather a coalition of the willing.

Willing to try, willing to fail, willing to try again.

I am a person who loves learning and in learning there are always some failures. Most failures are great teachers. I like the idea of seeking out others on this journey that want to be in a coalition of the willing.

I can see many parts of my life where this is applicable:

  1. I have much to learn and much to teach about kids and parenting.
  2. I love to find new books to read and will talk to anyone about what they are reading even if it is a genre I don’t usually care for.
  3. I aspire to learn how to crochet better and hope a high school friend that lives far away can be a mentor.

I tell my first graders that one of the most important things they will ever do is become a life long learner. How can I espouse that, and not truly be following my own advice?

In my adulthood, I have wanted to learn new things in certain wheelhouses or in my comfort zone. I now seek others that can teach me, guide me, learn from me, and fail with me so we can strive for new learning and new adventures.

May this fall be filled with adventures, learning, teaching, mentoring and fun with others that seek the coalition of the wiling.


A simple craft project to teach gratefulness and thanksgiving. The Shukr Tree

The Shukr Tree


As autumn kicks into gear, we are marveling at the vibrant shades of orange, yellow, and red that adorn the trees, treating us to a magnificent display of nature’s beauty…

Just kidding! We’re in Houston and that whole leaves changing colors thing doesn’t happen here. Bummer. As we more accurately reminisce about the beautiful changing colors on trees – a special playgroup project sticks out in our mind.

The Shukr Tree.

A simple craft project to teach gratefulness and thanksgiving. The Shukr Tree

Shukr is an Arabic word for gratitude and thankfulness. The feeling of being sincerely appreciative is something we as adults struggle with on a daily basis. Likewise, our children require a constant dialogue of finding contentment and recognition that what we have is very valuable and special – and so many people in the world aren’t as lucky as we are.

The Shukr Tree was something one of my dear friends planned as a playgroup activity for our preschoolers during the Islamic month of Ramadan. Traditionally, this month signifies 30 individual days of fasting, self-reflection, and charity. Since children didn’t have to participate in the actual fasts or supplemental worship – we playgroup moms concentrated our efforts on helping them learn how to be grateful.

Thanksgiving is coming up and we’re really excited to re-visit this project and utilize it again to continue our reminders of appreciation and thanks. Shukr is an internal state with an external expression. Dialogue can only encompass so much in terms of a child’s comprehension. Their innate ability to internalize and express can be so much more profound with a visual, hands on activity. Having a child verbalize what they’re appreciative about, writing it down, adding it to a growing list of other items that generate thanks was an eye opening experience for all of us.

The first year we did this project, our leaves generously included belly buttons, grandparents, and umbrellas. After a nudge, mom was added, followed closely by lollipops.

A simple project for reminding us (and our kids) about thankfulness.How to create your own Shukr Tree:

1 – Trace and cut the outline of a large tree with ample branches – best done on a poster board. Allow children to color or paint (parents & guardians may assist)
2 – Use different colored construction paper and cut out leaves large enough to write a word or two legibly but small enough to fit on the branches comfortably as they fill up
3 – Use glitter glue or glitter pens (those are a doozy, aren’t they?) and encourage your child to write down or help them write down something special they’re grateful about
4 – Adorn with leaves all at once or once a day for a countdown to a special occasion
5 – Display proudly

We tend to cultivate our habits and nurture our spiritual psyches based on our surroundings. Having a giant reminder of our blessings is a wonderful sight. Even when it’s not Thanksgiving, a religious occasion, or a child’s birthday, spending a few weeks growing your own Shukr Tree can make hearts blossom with goodness. Supplementing this activity with something more tangible to include helping others (volunteering at nursing homes, soup kitchens, other community based organizations) may result in more leaves – just a fair warning.

My personal goals from the Shukr Tree include developing more inner peace & empathy. My kids goals? Gluing on as many leaves as possible before the tree is hanging by a corner, overloaded with happy reminders.

See 9 Best Books on Gratitude

Pinterest Activities on Teaching Thankfulness

How to help your kids find joy everyday.

Joy in the Journey


I have long marveled at how my own two children approach life in so different a manner. One, is enthusiastic when giving gifts and eager to show the recipient the gift they picked out. This child is also the one that squealed with joy at a new dress her grandmother got her and said “I have wanted this for my whole life, thank you!” The other child is less joyful in giving and less grateful in receiving.

How to help your kids find joy everyday.

So, if they are being raised the same, it must be based more internally. I pondered gratitude and how to get my children to see the joy around them and cultivate that for others. It is going to be our fall project. I want to daily highlight the things we are grateful for, but not just list them of in a sanctimonious way. I think to truly be more grateful, you have to find the joy in the little things. Not every day brings celebrations, cake and presents, yet I am grateful for each day none the less. My children do have advantages in life that others do not and I want them to notice the difference and to be called to action. This fall our family will undertake to find more joy in the simple little things in life, and to cultivate joy in others’ lives.

Our habit at the dinner table is to share highs and lows or a favorite thing from the day. I love to hear the highlights of my family and what they remember at the end of the day. I plan to help us recognized our joy filled experiences at that time and to plan out how we can inspire others.

As with all new endeavors I am not sure how this will go, but I will see what we have learned next by month. Maybe we will be experts in spreading joy, and recognizing our own abundance!

How do your kids feel about going back to school?

Reluctant or Rejoicing: A New School Year Begins


As the new school year approaches, there are a myriad of feeling swirling about for both parents and kids. Many kids are thrilled to back to school shop, break out the new backpack and head off for a grand new adventure in their new grade. On the flip side, some students are anxious about their upcoming school year. These kids might have anxiety, or be at a new school, or just struggling this year.

How do your kids feel about going back to school?

Here are some tips to help start the school year off right no matter how your child is feeling.

Rejoicing Students:

1. Help them start off organized with folders, and new supplies.

2. Talk with them about what they are most excited about as school approaches.

3. Talk with them about what they can do if their feelings change. (Like when they learn their best friend is in a different class, or they did not get the teacher they wanted, etc…)

4. Celebrate the beginning of the school year with a fun breakfast!

5. After the first day have them share out what they liked best! Some kids might like to draw or write about their day as well. A new journal might be just the ticket!

Reluctant Students:

1. Talk about the things that are making them worry. Are their things that can be done to minimize these feelings? Talking to the new teacher? Touching base with the school counselor? A good friend?

2. Go through the morning routines before school starts. Practice what the morning will look like and what the kid will need to do so there are fewer surprises. For some students, a picture schedule may help.

3. Celebrate the new school year with a special breakfast. For some students their favorite or “regular” breakfast will be a source of comfort.

4. Help the student know what each item of school supplies are used for. Sometimes they will need practice putting items in folders, using parts of backpacks etc. Model with items at home so they have a better idea how to stay organized. For those student that struggle with executive function, or focus, this will be an ongoing lesson.

5. Talk about the positive things that will be happening at school. This could be a good friend to play with, a familiar routine, teachers they know, or fun events that happen at school.


The most difficult part may be to gauge what category your child falls into because it may change day to day or minute to minute. Talking to the teacher or school staff if your child is really reluctant may help so they can have a heads up and try to quickly get your student involved as they enter the building. If you have more than one child the struggle may be to keep the rejoicing student from overwhelming the reluctant student OR it may be keeping the reluctant student from stealing the joy from the rejoicing student.

Good Luck on a brand new school year! Celebrate each small joy, small victory and focus on the positive. This will help all of the students in your life!

This is a great bucket list for before you turn 30

My Bucket List: 30 Before 30


This is a great bucket list for before you turn 30

This list was before two kids. This list was before I had real deal responsibilities, like making and cleaning up after 3 squares a day and making sure my oldest doesn’t torture my youngest, or something equally as fun. This was a list of my dreams and many of them easily obtainable. It was written in 2011, when I was 29. I am now 33. See list briefly, judge me on tardiness, dock me for incompletion, and meet me back at this point.

Life happens. Or shit happens, depending on whether you are a glass half-full or empty-type-of-person. We get going in the monotony of our day to day that we forget our dreams or ideas of how to make our lives more happy, challenging, and full. Isn’t that our purpose on this earth? To take care of ourselves and others, have some fun, hone some skillz, and honor and remember those we love? I think so.

I have put this out there to start a conversation.  I am interested to hear what’s on your list. I may or may not steal some ideas for my new one: 40 before 40. I *think* I have enough time.

What do you want to do before you turn 30?

30 before 30 List

  1. Join an group-intellectual, emotional, giving etc-Joined a women’s group nearly 3 years ago. Love those awesome ladies!
  2. Habitat for Humanity- helped out with the TPUMC 2015 Mission trip just this past week. Great fun.
  3. Successfully grow a garden-Summer 2015 The basil and dill is eeking along…time will tell.
  4. Make a cleaning schedule and stick to it- Tried this a few years back, was way too ambitious and failed miserably.
  5. Create a piece of art worth “professionally” framing
  6. Open a flower shop- bahahaha Yeah, no. Uh Uh. I’m doing good to do events out of my mother’s house on frequent trips to San Antonio. I can see this (maybe) way down the line once the littles are in school full time.
  7. Big Brothers Big Sisters-has evolved to Drive a Senior September 2015
  8. Cultivate a new group of friends
  9. Regularly attend yoga…I’ve realized this is just not me. I am looking forward to Kundalini Yoga in a park on our upcoming San Francisco trip. Random yoga is more my style.
  10. New York City- Christmas 2016???
  11. Landscape (design) the front and back yard
  12. Grief counselling- Since I wrote this list I’ve lost someone (again) who was very dear to me. Do we ever really work through the pain of losing someone special? I feel as though I might be numb or desensitized to death. Need help with this one.
  13. Wear a bikini (tankini?)-Realistic goal?
  14. Volunteer at the Majestic and San Pedro playhouse DID IT back in 2007. Great fun and got to see nearly an entire show for “free.” I feel I won’t go down this road again until I’m 70.
  15. Start and maintain a book a week reading schedule-need this
  16. Take a radio voice class
  17. Have a fondue party-I think my neighbor Chris could make me do this one.
  18. Attend a book binding class
  19. Attend the gym regularly- my fairly recently acquired FitBit is pushing me towards this one.
  20. Learn how to apply eye makeup correctly 2014/2015 In 2014 I discovered the genius that is YouTube. Yeah, I know, I’m a late bloomer. Also, I still suck at eye liner.
  21. Know how to use all of our electronics-this will probably be on the list at 50
  22. Maintain a small email inbox-organize- My friend Andria just helped me begin this process by showing me a nifty thing called “the swipe”  Thanks Andria!
  23. Camping at Big Bend- anyone have any tips for camping with kiddos?
  24. Befriend the elderly- Drive a senior September 2015
  25. Attend a hat making class- really
  26. Invite Chavez family for a backyard bbq-some of the best neighbors of all time. One of those families you want to adopt you or at least have you over for delicious coffee bread and a good chat. Will make this happen one day.
  27. Get rid of all unwanted furniture- DID IT August 2014 before our move from Frisco to Pflugerville Best.Feeling.Ever.
  28. Go swimming in that cave pool- see clipping in travel scrap book or click here. This is an easily obtainable goal now that “that cave pool” is just south of where we reside. Waiting for school to start and the crowds to die down before reaching this one.
  29. Marathon-for Cindy and my dad- I just ran for the first time a few weeks ago. It hurt like hell. This goal may be eons away.
  30. Walk dogs daily

Herb Garden


Sand, seal, and install gardening/bar sink- this was a giant sink unit we pulled out of our 1920’s kitchen..sat under the carport and eventually was stolen by metal pickers. Heartbreak!

Keep poop out of yard- haha

Take a glass blowing class

Take a dance class-master it!- For those that know me, take a moment to laugh.

Form a habit of completion- Says it all.

7 Tips to Help You Help Your Kids Build Healthy Friendships

7 Tips to Help Your Kids Build Healthy Friendships


I consider myself very lucky. I had two best friends growing up, both of whom are still in my life. I no longer live in the town where I grew up, which seems to be more the norm these days than in the past. Neither of these friends live in our hometown either – we all scattered for college, got married and are now raising kids and pursuing our careers. I’m grateful that technology has allowed me to maintain connections with both of these bright, thoughtful, supportive women.

7 Tips to Help You Help Your Kids Build Healthy Friendships

As a parent, I want to help my kids build these kind of healthy friendships. Despite what my husband says, building healthy friendships doesn’t always come naturally to everyone.

Our kids sometimes need support and coaching, because let’s face it – friendships can be hard. You are opening yourself up to someone else, becoming vulnerable in a way you haven’t with anyone other than family before and it is quite likely that your best friends will hurt your feelings sometimes. Managing through the ups and downs of early friendships sets the stage for building healthy friendships throughout your child’s life.

All kids are different and need their own guidance and support – especially kids who are outliers due to various asynchronicities, cognitive ability or emotional regulation. As parents there are some specific skills we can encourage as our kids journey into healthy, life-long friendships.

Build Negotiation Skills

At the heart of all healthy friendships is the give-and-take that is rooted in a deep and genuine concern for the other person. That give-and-take rarely comes naturally to kids (at least it hasn’t to my kids).  As adults we have likely learned complex negotiation strategies – either through formal education and training or just through years of experience. Breaking those strategies down for kids can be daunting, so I suggest starting with the idea of teaching our kids to focus on a shared interest or outcome.

I’m going to pick on my own kids for a moment. They both really enjoying playing together – they like spending time together – but they don’t share a ton of common interests. Given their druthers, Davis would play basketball and Patrick would play Minecraft. This used to result in lots of fights and hurt feelings. We have worked hard to teach them to focus on a mutual goal – spending time together. When that is the goal, then they can both step back a bit and make a compromise – maybe it is a game of Around the World first and then a cool down with a collaborative session of Minecraft or a competitive game of Plants v Zombies. Whatever the plan, when the focus is on the goal of spending time together (and not what they are doing), the squabbles abate and they enjoy themselves immeasurably more.

Foster Empathy

Healthy friendships require that both friends are able to put their own emotions aside and respond appropriately to the other person’s emotional needs; healthy friendships require both people to practice empathy.

Empathy isn’t simple. In fact, it requires some fairly sophisticated skills like distinguishing your feelings from someone else’s, understanding another person’s perspective and regulating your own emotional response. Some kids are naturally better at these skills and other kids need lots of practice.

In our house, we focus on:

  • Naming our own feelings
  • Identifying other people’s feelings
  • Role-playing facial cues and body language that frequently accompanies specific feelings
  • Exploring how people can have different perspectives
  • Developing an internal moral compass

Teach How to Say, “I’m Sorry” (and Mean It!)

Learning how to apologize is really an art form. Many parents want to rush the process by insisting that their kids say, “I’m sorry” for transgressions. However, if your kids aren’t cognitively and emotionally ready to apologize, then the obligatory apology doesn’t do any good. It becomes a hollow way to brush past hurt feelings. The simple recitation of, “I’m sorry” doesn’t teach our kids what an apology means.

True apologies require that our kids have 1) the cognitive ability to understand that they did something wrong, 2) the emotional skills to empathize with another person, and 3) the moral compass to want to make things better. This isn’t the apology of a toddler – it is the sophisticated and meaningful apology of someone capable of and interested in developing healthy friendships.

So next time your kid makes a misstep and really should apologize to someone, stop focusing on the outcome (the apology) and focus on the process.

Role Play Through Tricky Situations

Almost all friendships hit a rocky patch every now and then. What defines healthy friendships is the ability to manage through the hurt feelings and get back on track. This takes negotiation skills, empathy, and the ability to say, “I’m sorry.” Even with all these skills, sometimes it helps to practice in a non-threatening environment – that’s where role-playing comes in handy.

When your kids hit a rough patch with their friends, there will be hurt feelings on both sides. Helping your child break-down what has happened, how (s)he is feeling and how to make amends will make the actual friendship mending process go much more smoothly.

Our kids don’t always have the right words or the emotional regulation to do this naturally, so let them practice with you. Be the coach. Provide encouragement, a safe place to process, help deciphering the situation and gentle guidance.

Encourage Hobbies (Find a Tribe)

Making friends comes naturally to some kids, but not all kids. Kids who are outliers for whatever reason (IQ, the alphabet soup of diagnoses, innate nerdiness, etc…), sometimes struggle to find their tribe. The best way to find a friend is to do things that interest you and do it with other people!

Take inventory of your kid’s favorite activities and then seek out groups who enjoy those things. Martial arts, sports teams, chess clubs, naturalist groups, church groups, etc…It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it is important to your child.

When you find these groups, help your child understand that the friends may not share ALL the same interests as them and help him/her focus on their commonalities. It is unlikely that any one friend will meet all of your kid’s needs – encourage your child to appreciate the difference between friends and how they complement each other.

Make Your Home Welcoming

Yes. You want your house to be the “It House” – the house where all the kids come, where they feel welcomed and know they will have fun and be safe. It may be an inconvenience at times. It may go against your introverted nature. It may be noisy and raucous at times. You still want to do it.

When your kids friends come to your house, they will have lots of fun, but they will also have squabbles. If they are at your house, you can help model the steps of maintaining healthy friendships. You can teach kids to negotiate, model empathy and make amends.

This is hard work and takes a BIG commitment from you (and your spouse), but teaching your kids these skills is worth more than any formal education they will ever get. A PhD in microbiology won’t get you very far if you don’t know how to get along with other people.

Model Healthy Friendships

More than anything else you can do, you can model healthy friendships. Show your kids what it means to have a best friend – how you support each other and have fun together, how you work through disagreements, what it means to make room for another person in your life.

We travel with our best friends frequently (like 3 or 4 times a year). These are family affairs – two couples, each with two kids. The kids are also best friends, which makes it great for everyone. Part of why we can travel together is that we know each other so well and make allowances for each other’s quirks and needs – we accommodate each other.

I guarantee that if we are together for more than 3 days, the kids will hurt each other’s feelings. Every time it happens, we huddle with our own kids and help them process and then teach them how to make it better. It’s a hands on learning process in a very safe environment. I couldn’t ask for more.


Can Children Learn to Negotiate?

Teaching Empathy: Evidence Based Tips for Fostering Empathy in Children

Coaching Children in Handling Everyday Conflict

How to Help Kids Make Friends: 10 Evidence Based Tips

Hoagies Blog Hop - Gifted RelationshipsThis post was written as part of a blog hop hosted by Hoagies Gifted Education Page.

Check out other people’s thoughts on Gifted Relationships.

Great ideas for letters to send your kids at summer camp!

Summer Camp: 5 Letters to Write to Your Kids


Summer Camp. Descriptions from summer camp brochures and promotional videos extol the almost mythical place where summer days are filled with crazy adventures and new friends. The nights around the campfire are filled with songs and cool breezes. It’s a place to try new things, meet new people, and experience new traditions.

Great ideas for letters to send your kids at summer camp!

I’ve written before about why I send my kids to summer camp:

  • Develop Independence
  • Practice Interdependence
  • Improve Frustration Tolerance and Resilience
  • Disconnect and Decompress
  • Connect with Nature

There is no doubt that I believe sleep-away summer camp to be a formative experience in my life and my kids’ lives. Each summer when our kids return home, I marvel at how much more self-confident and self-sufficient they are. They are more flexible and creative. They occupy themselves without electronics and are more tolerant of other people.

During the month that the boys are at summer camp, I spend a lot of time thinking about my kids. I miss them. Honestly, by the end of the month, I even miss their bickering. So I do what any parent does when their kid is at summer camp – I spend a lot of time with my husband; I catch up on chores I’ve been neglecting, and I write them letters.

Over the years, my letters can be lumped into 5 main themes:

  1. The “I’m Proud of You” Letter
  2. The “Goals for Camp” Letter
  3. The “Nothing’s New at Home” Letter
  4. The “Update on the News” Letter
  5. The Coded Message Letter

The “I’m Proud of You” Letter

This is always the first letter I write my kids at camp. It’s the ego boost and connection back to home that is supposed to help my kids get through the first days of homesickness and their adjustment to the new routine.

Topics in the past have included: improved negotiation skills and teamwork, learning how to set and attain goals, prioritizing including others (especially when a friend is feeling left out), figuring out how to cool-off and take a break when needed, and successfully navigating a new school.

My kids have a good bull-shit meter and don’t pay attention to fluff, so this requires that I think critically and really get specific about each child’s accomplishments for the year.

The “Goals for Camp” Letter

Before my kids leave for summer camp, we spend a fair amount of time making goals for camp. In mid-Spring, the camp they attend asks for goals from both the camper and the parents. So everyone normally has a good idea of what they are hoping to get out of camp. the boys’ goals tend to be focused on doing stuff – more horseback riding or more hiking. Rob’s and my goal’s tend to be more focused on personal growth.

My second letter is normally about being intentional at camp.

Topics in the past have included entreaties to: have fun, unwind, support your friends, give people second chances, try something new, include kids who aren’t always included, encourage other people, give people the benefit of the doubt, say you’re sorry when you mess up, and try again if you don’t get it right the first time.

The “Nothing’s New at Home” Letter

This may be the most important letter that a homesick child receives. Now, not all kids are homesick, but no kid wants to get a letter from home detailing all the exciting things they are missing out on at home.

Most of my letters to camp consist of a lot of monotony. I tell the boys about just how normal my day is – work, dinner with their dad, grocery shopping, walking the dog.

It’s just a simple letter to let them know I am thinking about them, that I love them and that the world at home is still stable and predictable.

The “Update on the News” Letter

This is the easiest letter to write!

Think about what your kids love and send them updates about it. I have one kid who loves sports and national news and another kid who loves computer programming and dystopian fiction. I can easily check out the websites they frequent and print a few articles each week with updates and news. I slip these into an envelope, slap on a stamp and an address and the letter is on it’s way.

These letters do a whole lot more than connect my kids back to the things they find important – I’m showing my kids just how well I know them. I’m showing my kids that I pay attention to them, value what they value and want to encourage their interests. It is a powerful way to connect with them from a very long distance.

The Coded Message Letter

This is the letter that my kids beg me to write. They love getting a puzzle or coded message to solve. It gives them something fun to do during rest time or down time.

Our favorite coded messages are: The Pig Pen Cipher, The Block Cipher, and The Cut-Up Letter Puzzle.

You can mix it up – send the key-code before you send the coded message letter or send it after and see if you child can figure out the message without the key-code. If you have a hard time getting your child to write you back, send the key-code first and have them compose a coded message to you, before you send them your coded message! A little incentive never hurts.


Great tips for sending letters to your kids at summer camp!Remember – it never hurts to spice up any of these letters with glitter or confetti!

Also – If you have a kid who doesn’t like to write letters, try sending them with some fill-in-the-blank, Mad Libs style letters to complete and mail home. It has definitely increased the number of letters we get when our boys are at summer camp!

For everyone facing Father's Day without their Dad

My First Father’s Day Without Dad


Father’s Day is approaching, and it’s a first for me.  The first one without my dad.  I know many of you reading this are in the same boat due to many different storms.  Mine was a surprise attack.  Literally.  A heart attack that no one suspected.  It swooped in, off the radar, no alert or warning, and left me floating here in this sea of life without the man who for many years redirected my sails when they got off course.

For everyone facing Father's Day without their Dad

I’m a teacher, and encountering the fatherless is a daily occurrence for me.  Recently one of my students wrote of his experience adrift in the Dadless Sea.  He told of floating along making frequent stops on islands where he would meet a new man, hoping he and his mom could drop anchor and stay, only to find out that they had only tied temporarily to that shore.  He painted an image he had seen many times as a younger kid of other boys walking to their cars after a football game, dads holding their sweaty shoulder pads, laughing and joking together as they relived the victories and defeats of the game.  There was a visceral yearning coursing through the veins of his essay.  I mourned his loss as I mourned my own.

A couple of days ago my oldest daughter and I were talking about my dad as we drove down the highway to pick up the younger one from cheerleading camp.  I spoke of Father’s Day and wishing there was a way to ship a gift across space and time to heaven.  I chuckled at the thought of all these heavenly dads and granddads receiving ties, coffee mugs, and fishing gear from their earthly kids.  You know how the owls deliver mail in the Harry Potter books?  Well, in my mind’s eye, I could envision doves swooping in on the heavenly host, dropping the gifts, little parachutes deploying, and all those clichéd items finding their recipients.  We laughed.

But in all seriousness, I told her that I was sorry that she had only had a grandfather for a short time in her life.  I think back to hammering, sanding, and sawing in the garage, memories I built with my granddad. I’m sorry she won’t have more of those moments.

This is what she says in response. “Be that as it may, Mom, things are still pretty good.”

And, you know?  She’s right.   This boat I’m floating in isn’t leaky; it was built to withstand the storms.  I had a great sailing instructor.  And, these are some friendly waters.

Thanks to my daughter, I’ve now got a killer idea for a Father’s Day present, or at least, a pretty darn good way to honor Dad.  While I’ve still got time on earth here with my family, we’re not running from life’s harsh realities. We’re not hunkering down in a storm shelter, hands over our heads, ducking the forces of nature. Instead, we’re thanking God for all the grace we’re given and choosing to see and share the good.

My dad had the foresight to write his own obituary about 10 years before his actual death, so we weren’t saddled with that daunting task.  In it, he eschewed the notion of head stones, grave markers, and things of that ilk.  They were fine for others, just not for him.  He hoped that we, his survivors, would be the markers. Listening to the words of my daughter, I think I get it.

So for all of you who are sailing towards this Father’s Day without a dad, my hope for you is that you’re able to say, “Be that as it may, things are still pretty good.”  And for all of you dad-type guys out there, look for the kid walking off the football field with his mom.  Walk over to him, punch him in the shoulder, carry his sweaty shoulder pads and say, “Good game, son.

Teacher Appreciation

Life Lessons I Learned from My Teachers


Teacher AppreciationIt’s May.  If you’re a teacher, you know exactly how many days are left until the end of school.  You might even know the total hours, how many more bus duties you have to attend, or how many more bleach wipes you’ll need to clean your room because your school’s custodial staff went AWOL one day last week.  Fatigue has set in. It feels as if you are the base acrobat with all of your students balanced on your shoulders in the shape of an inverted pyramid and your goal is to carry them all through the remainder of your state-mandated testing and curricular content to the last day of school without dropping any.

After a late night of grading research papers or after scraping a partially fossilized raisin from your classroom floor 2 hours after the last bell rang, you might find yourself wondering, “Does any of this matter?”  “Am I making any difference at all?”  “Will they remember anything I’ve taught?”

Take heart, weary teacher.  It does.  You are.  They will.

I had the privilege of having an awesome public school experience in my day, staffed by many talented, hard-working, intelligent, and caring teachers.  I learned a lot and credit them with all kinds of things, but I’m pretty sure they have no idea of the lessons I carry with me today that I can trace directly back to them.

So, in honor of them and in honor of you teachers who are still in the trenches, here are few of my favorites.

Lesson # 1

Don’t underestimate yourself.

I think my second grade teacher may have literally hung the moon.  For sure, she was the bright and shining sun of our classroom and we all willingly fell into orbit around her. Second grade was listening to her rendition of Ramona the Brave, writing my pen pal from her hometown in a state far away, and vying for the honor of having Tex (a longhorn puppet situated atop an empty Pringles can) sit on my desk for the day.

One day she stepped in front of our little desks holding a sheet of paper pressed tightly against her chest and announced, “Students, one of you made a perfect score on our recent quiz over nouns.  There were absolutely no mistakes.  It was excellent work.  Would anyone like to guess who it was?”  Many of us guessed names.  I racked my brain, “Who are the smart kids?  It’s probably one of them.”  I started forming guesses in my mind of who might be able to accomplish such a feat.  Finally her eyes shimmered as she looked my way and said, “Well, Jennifer, it was you!”

It must have been a funny sight when my jaw dropped to the desk and my blond pigtails shot straight out from my head.  I remember the mental progression from, “But I thought it would’ve been one of the smart kids” to “Oh my, maybe I am one of the smart kids.”   She thought she was teaching about parts of speech, but really she was teaching about parts of me I hadn’t realized yet.

Lesson # 2

Take pride in how you present yourself.

            “Come on, now, that’s bush league.  We don’t do bush league around here.”  The baseball metaphor was totally lost on me, but I quickly figured out that when my band directors scolded us for being “bush league,” it meant someone was being lazy or sloppy.  I carried white shoe polish for my marching shoes.  We lined our hat buckets up in straight vertical and horizontal lines in the stands so that when we took the field at halftime our vacant seats looked sharp.  Concert season brought pressed black taffeta symphony gowns and tuxedos.  While traveling, our busses were to be kept clean and our manners to the general public were to be impeccable. As visible representatives of our school, people would form opinions about what kind of school we attended based on what they saw of us.  That idea was frequently reiterated.

My band directors might not have anticipated that I’d hear the phrase “bush league” echoing in my memory all these years later, but I’m glad it does.  And, I suspect that the same thing resonates with a good number of my former classmates.  It’s a reminder that we set standards for ourselves based on who we want to be and what we represent.  We set a standard of professional behavior when we face less than professional people at work.  We maintain a standard of a polished appearance and speech when presenting ourselves publically.  We are poised confidently with the knowledge that when it’s “go time,” we know how to look the part, act the part, and be the part.

Lesson # 3

Music is magic.

It’s magical to buzz around the cafetorium stage in your home made bumblebee costume or to sing of “Goin’ to Texas” with the rest of your 5th grade class to celebrate the state sesquicentennial because your music teacher was crazy enough to tackle multiple grade-level musical productions each year.

My fifth grade social studies teacher and his guitar are solely responsible for my ability to quote the Preamble to the Constitution, but don’t ask me to do it without singing the song.

Direct object pronouns in Spanish?  A breeze when you set them to the tune of Barry Manilow’s Copa Cabana.

T.S. Elliot poetry is pretty cool in its own right, but discovering that Andrew Lloyd Webber used it as a basis for his musical Cats and then getting to listen to the music in class?  Even better.

Watching the school’s performance of Annie Get Your Gun and The Pajama Game from the orchestra pit with an assortment of student and adult musicians is pretty exhilarating.  Definitely the best seats in the house, even if I was desperately trying to keep pace with the infinitely more talented adult musicians.

Somewhere between the bee buzzing and the humming along with Mr. Mistoffelees, music’s magic took up permanent residence with me. My teachers connected art to academic content and then academic content back to art.  They shared their outside interests and talents with us and wove them into our daily activities.  Possibly they were trying to soothe our savagery.  But one thing I know for certain is that when you sing and dance and play with kids, it goes directly to long term memory.

Lesson # 4

For some roads there is no shortcut.

As a high school freshman I took Honors U.S. History taught by the head football coach.  Many athletic director/head coaches don’t teach academic classes due to their other responsibilities, but he loved history and we were his one class a day.  His delivery method was somewhere between drill instructor and auctioneer.  After a while you got used to the shouting and the breakneck pace.  The man knew his stuff.  He started barking biographical stories, statistics, and facts the second we hit the door.  We scribbled madly, our hands several sentences behind our ears.  But our brains held on as tightly as they could because he was fascinating.

When tests came around, nothing less than his level of knowledge would satisfy him.  He insisted that we know the big picture and the tiny details.  I began the year laboriously studying for his exams, rewriting my notes, and retelling his lectures to my dad, who was a history buff himself and could critique my comprehension.  I did really well, and then I got cocky.  Surely that level of preparation wasn’t necessary. I listened in class and took decent notes.  I decided to just glance over my notes the night before the test.  I’d be fine.

WRONG!  When he passed back that test, he flicked it onto my desk like you’d dispose of a rotten grape.  No words, just a shake of the head.  An F.  He and I both knew I’d earned it.  He set a standard of excellence in his class that required his students to demonstrate complete mastery of the subject matter.  Mine had been shoddy, at best.  When I got home and told my dad what had happened, his only words were, “Well, I guess that didn’t work out how you thought it would.”

I’ll confess, it’s been more than 25 years since I took that class and I can’t recite the number of Americans killed on D Day or tell you the exact date that the Treaty of Versailles was signed.  But, I can tell you that there are times in life when there are no shortcuts and my attempts to circumvent difficulty aren’t going to lead me where I want to go.  Life requires what it does.  You face the challenges that are put in front of you, and sometimes they’re harder than you anticipated.  Sometimes there’s no alternate route, no short cut, no pre-blazed trail.  I’m grateful that this gruff and gritty man cared about us enough to teach the tough stuff.

So, to all you tired teachers, you matter.  You make a difference. You count!  (Really…keep on counting, you’re almost there!)