Sunday, December 26, 2010


The Rocky Road – Author Unknown

“In ancient times, a king had a boulder placed on a roadway. Then he hid himself and watched to see if anyone would remove the huge rock. Some of the king's wealthiest merchants and courtiers came by and simply walked around it. Many loudly blamed the king for not keeping the roads clear, but none did anything about getting the stone out of the way. Then a peasant came along carrying a load of vegetables. On approaching the boulder, the peasant laid down his burden and tried to move the stone to the side of the road. After much pushing and straining, he finally succeeded. As the peasant picked up his load of vegetables, he noticed a purse lying in the road where the boulder had been. The purse contained many gold coins and a note from the king indicating that the gold was for the person who removed the boulder from the roadway. The peasant learned what many others never understand.”

“Every obstacle presents an opportunity to improve one's condition.”

I’ll go one further. Every obstacle presents an opportunity to mature and become stronger. As I look back over the past year and the many obstacles I and other family members and close friends have faced, I am certain of one thing. I feel stronger, wiser and more powerful having traveled my own personal rocky road during 2010. Birth, marriage, divorce, job loss, legal woes, financial concerns, sleepless nights, serious illness, and death were all part of this year's path. No doubt every reader can relate. Yet, despite worry and depression over events beyond my control, here I sit feeling optimistic about the future. I believe that like the song "Going on a Bear Hunt", I'm not going to be afraid - I'll somehow surmount all road blocks. If I can't move the rocks I'll simply figure out how to go around them, and encourage others to do the same.

Here are ten strategies for traveling a rocky road:

1. Train yourself to develop a positive attitude. This CAN be done, but it takes work.

2. Decide to have empathy for others. Put yourself in their place and think how you would feel, and what would make you feel better.

3. Do good deeds without expectation of payback.

4. Develop your listening skills, so that you listen more than you talk.

5. Offer to help someone who is in difficult straits. Running errands, taking a friend or neighbor to the doctor or shopping, offering emergency care for a child, or any other task that would lower someone's stress level, can make a huge positive difference when one is feeling low.

6. If you know someone with children is having marital problems, offer to help out with babysitting so that the people involved can have some alone time.

7. If you see that someone is "stuck" and unable to move ahead in their life, try to find out what the sticking point is, and see if your fresh ideas might be helpful. Example: A young person I know has recently moved with her family far away from friends and her comfort zone. She wants to go to technical school, but doesn't know how to find out what steps she needs to take. I have experience in this area and have received permission from her to explore what she should do first. Thinking about her takes my mind off my own troubles.

8. Go to a nursing home once a month to visit residents there. My mother, along with her friend, baked a birthday cake every month to share with those having birthdays in that month. Many people in nursing homes are forgotten or ignored by their family members and friends, and this small gesture might be the only outside, positive, caring contact some of them have. Visualize how you would feel in this situation; in fact, it could happen to any of us some day!

9. If you have time, explore the idea of becoming a "big brother" or "big sister" for a child in need. Go to to learn more. Thinking about others helps remove rocks from the paths of those others as well as one's own.

10. Smile often and have a pleasant, welcoming expression on your face. Say hello. Try it everywhere from the supermarket to people you pass on the street. You will be amazed at how you feel and others respond.

Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea and Listen to the Wind encountered many 'rocks on the road" in Pakistan, where he started schools so that children could learn and have a future. Some of the "rocks" or problems included no place to conduct school, no school supplies, and no bridges to transport materials for making and conducting those schools. In these books we learn how stones along the way were used in the building of bridges and classrooms. One man made a huge difference by removing the rocks on the road figuratively and literally.

Thinking about rocks in our paths makes me think about rocks on the beach. Some are jagged and rough, while others are smoothed and flattened by the water's constant motion, creating good skippers. It seems to me that, in a way, life's rough waters bounce us about and change the way we look and feel. In other words, we're shaped by our problems and how we solve them.

Here's to 2011 and whatever rocks the year may have in store for us. Let's resolve to move the rocks like the man in the fable above and like Greg Mortenson in Pakistan. We may be pleasantly surprised at what's underneath.

Sunday, December 19, 2010


'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free,
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gain'd
To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd,
To turn, turn will be our delight
'Till by turning, turning we come round right

Simple Gifts, by Joseph Brackett,
American Songwriter (1847)

Years ago, as a single mother of three children, 12, 10 and 8, the Christmas holidays were an emotional and financial struggle. Many are facing that same struggle today. It didn't help that we were living on Mercer Island, in an area and time when divorce was still uncommon there, and most folks had the financial wherewithal for the latest in fashion, toys and exciting experiences. An example of the latter was a neighbor who invited one of my sons on a private plane flight to Portland for lunch. It provided a wonderful experience, but also an unattainable hope or expectation for my children.

I experienced a kind of discrimination implying that single mothers were somehow deficient in parenting. If a child from a "broken home" was guilty of a misdeed at school, comments would be something like, (Tsk, Tsk) "Oh, well, what can you expect, coming from a broken home." With a high degree of shame, I confess to having had similar thoughts myself before falling victim to single parenthood.

With minimal child support I was forced to hold two jobs, leaving my children to fend for themselves at times. Looking back I now realize how helpful it actually was to be living in a community which valued intact families and neighborhood connections. If I couldn't be there for my kids, my neighbors could.

I remember always being "a day late and a dollar short" when trying to provide my children with whatever was in at the time, clothing or toy-wise. At one point owning a VCR was a big status symbol among their friends, and finally, after these wonderful machines were common in most Mercer Island family rooms, I scraped together enough for a Magnavox VCR which Santa presented to all three as their main Christmas gift. I think I designed a treasure hunt to get the gift, which added to the fun. Of course renting the VCR movies presented another financial problem because of the membership fee at the video stores. I was truly thankful when that was no longer necessary.

Looking back I realize how many opportunities I deprived my children of by trying to" keep up with the Jones". You never really can. How much better it is to face what you have to face and put a positive spin on it. Giving creative, simple, inexpensive, or even free gifts all beautifully wrapped, containing certificates and gift idea cards would have sent an important message about frugality to my children.

Here are some examples:

1. Dollar Store Adventure Certificate A pre-Christmas present. Present the coupon along with the dollar amount you have determined will work for your family. Such stores are everywhere, and are a wonderful source of items for all occasions. I would be willing to bet that if you gave your kids five or ten dollars to spend they would have a lot of fun trying to choose the right five or ten things that would give the most bang for their bucks. Watching them having fun shopping is actually a gift being returned to you. Completing the adventure might be a stop at the local Dairy Queen or other ice cream store.

2. 'Smore Making Certificate. Each child could have their own certificate, redeemable on a date to be mutually agreed upon. Wrap the certificate up with a box of graham crackers, Hershey bars and bag of marshmallows. A preview taste test would be permissable. Make the 'smores in the fireplace, and serve with some hot cocoa. If you don't have a fireplace, an electric burner works fine. I tried a candle as well, and it also works, although the marshmallow caught on fire a couple of times. As with anything involving flames or heat, this should only be done under adult supervision.

3. Monster Sleepover Certificate. Present it all wrapped up, and include a monster activity sticker book available at your local supermarket, Target or Fred Meyer store. Each child gets a certificate to invite a friend to sleep over. Requirements would be wearing a monster costume, and playing monster games. If you have more than one child, the sleepover certificates can be combined for one big affair.

4. Model and Makeup Party Certificate (Presented all wrapped up along with a bottle of inexpensive nail polish.)This would probably be a girls only party, although little boys might enjoy playing some kind of role. Is there a little girl on the planet who doesn't love dressing up and putting on mom's makeup? Your old clothes, high heels, wigs, hats, and anything else that could be fun for dressing up, can be used. Ask relatives and friends if they have some old clothes they would be willing to loan for the event. Have a curling iron, hair dryer, makeup and nail polish available. Turn the kitchen sink into a beauty salon station and have the girls take turns shampooing each other. Let them also take turns being manicurists, doing each others' nails. When finished, put on a fashion show, with picture taking and champagne (sparkling apple or grape juice).

5. Grand Prix Extravaganza Certificate wrapped up with a special hot wheel race car which you can buy very inexpensively these days. Your child can invite a group of like-minded car racing enthusiasts for a hot wheel Formula One race. Ask each guest to bring their favorite car for Race Day. If some kids don't have such a vehicle in their toy collection, buy a few extra at places like the dollar store. Part of the fun will be having the kids design the race course. This can be simply done by tilting pieces of plywood, or other flat materials, from a chair to the floor and use masking tape to define the lanes. After each race, the course can be repeated for as long as the children remain interested. You can even get a toy trophy for the grand winner and ribbons for all participants - again at the dollar store. Giving each kid a car party favor would be an additional hit. For people who like to bake, a car shaped cake with appropriate frosting would add to this memorable party. Don't forget to take pictures of the participants and cake for later posting on Facebook or other posting, if you have that capability

So, how much have you spent?

Total Approximate Cost of five gifts: From $15.00 to $25.00 depending on the Dollar Store allowance. See the breakdown below:

1. Dollar Store $1 to $10 cash depending on your cash gift.
2. Cost of a box of graham crackers, ($3.29) bag of marshmallows, $1.19 and some Hershey Bars ($ .99 each) Approximately $6.00 although prices vary from store to store
3. Create Your Own Monster Activity Book ($1.50) or other monster book similarly priced.
4. Bottle of nail polish (Wet and Wild) $ .99, Sparkling Grape, $1.00
5. Hot wheel $1.00 - $1.49, cake mix and frosting, approximately 6.50 for two

at Safewy.

And what is the value?

You have five gifts that are exciting to open, provide some immediate fun, and keep on giving for weeks to come. As you plan for each event, the children have the joy of adding their own unique ideas , not to mention anticipating what lies ahead. The value added is in providing the most unique Christmas ever, with memories that will live on for your family and others as well.

Like the song, above about "Simple Gifts" if you create a set of unique gifts for your children, you will be "in a place that is just right for you."

Now click on the YouTube site here to receive my simple gift to you. It's a beautiful rendition of "Simple Gifts" with music and scenes. Have a wonderful, joyful, and frugal holiday season.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


I first learned about Santa Lucia during my freshman year at the University of Washington. Because half my DNA was Swedish, and for some other crazy reasons I won’t go into here, I found myself studying Swedish language and literature. Let’s just say that Dr. Walter Johnson, head of the small department, was quite persuasive.

I knew very little about my father’s Swedish relatives, but by immersing myself in the language I began to explore my roots, and December 13 found me and a number of other girls in the department getting ready for the annual Santa Lucia Pageant held in a large social hall across the street from campus. I was to be one of the attendants, gowned in white, with tinsel in my hair and a plate of cookies in my hand. The girl chosen to be the Lucia was a striking dark blonde, also dressed in a long white gown. On her head would be a crown of lighted candles, and she too would be carrying cookies. An engaging little guy dressed in red pranced along in front, playing the role of Tomten, the elf equivalent of Santa. The lights were dimmed, the hauntingly beautiful Santa Lucia song began to play, and we processed in, our faces aglow as we reenacted once again a tradition going back generations.

I didn’t realize then how important this tradition would become in my life. I went on to spend my junior year at the University of Stockholm where I was chosen to be the Santa Lucia, returning to be given the honor yet again at the U.W.

What is it really all about? In Sweden the festival of Santa Lucia begins on December 13. With the winter solstice approaching it signifies the coming of light to a dark and dreary world as well as the beginning of “Jul” or Christmas. Stories abound about how the tradition came to Sweden, but it originated in Sicily in about 300 AD. Legend has it that there a Christian girl named Lucia was blinded and slain because of her ministrations to the poor, attaining martyrdom. However it came to Sweden, Santa Lucia pageants are held all across the country on or close to the thirteenth. On that morning the music of Santa Lucia is heard everywhere as white robed girls with lighted candles on their heads reenact the age old story to honor the martyred saint.

In homes all over Sweden children wake up in excitement as they prepare to wake their parents with candlelight, singing, coffee and special saffron buns. The oldest daughter gets to wear the crown of lighted candles. Younger daughters wear tinsel in their hair. Sons become star boys, wearing pointed hats and carrying star tipped rods as they parade through the house.

Now on or about December 13 one can find the Santa Lucia reenactment from Stockholm to Seattle, from Fresno to New York City and in locations all over the world. For the past twenty years my husband and I staged a Santa Lucia party for a large group of friends and family. Over the years I had gathered enough long white dresses in many sizes and mens’ shirts, so that whoever showed up could participate. After dinner, the children were all ushered into a back room to assume their roles for the pageant. The oldest girl there became the Lucia, while the others were attendants or princesses and star boys. It was a holiday highlight for many, and with the passing of so many years, children who once played a part, now had children of their own doing the same. After processing throughout the house to the old familiar Santa Lucia song, passing out cookies as they went, the group was positioned for picture taking, and must certainly have felt important to be the center of so much adulation and attention. Glogg, a potent spiced wine, was then set aflame, and served as a fitting end to our annual festival of light.

For years in December as a teacher I gathered up my costumes, battery operated crowns, tinsel, star hats, and cookies and reenacted the Santa Lucia pageant at our school's holiday assembly. The students in this inner city school were predominantly African-American, and I like to think that their exposure to this Swedish tradition was an important part of their multi-cultural growth.

Now retired, I will be subbing tomorrow in a class where the teacher is allowing me to bring in some of my own ideas for the day. So once again I am gathering up my crowns, gowns, and cookies to bring the tradition alive for still another audience. Santa Lucia will shed her light on a new crop of students, hopefully promoting multicultural understanding in a warm and caring fashion.

To see more about the story and to hear the Santa Lucia song being sung, click on the following site. It might touch your heart and bring you joy.

Sunday, December 5, 2010


"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead

Last night my husband, Vaughn, and I hosted a table for ten at the Festival of Trees auction in the former Leopold Hotel's Crystal Ballroom in Bellingham. Although it is now the Leopold Retirement Residence, I fondly remember the once grand hotel as the site of my senior prom in 1955. Seeing that slowly rotating glittering ball was thrilling then, and is equally thrilling now, despite the change in circumstance.

My son, John, introduced us to the Festival of Trees four years ago, knowing that I would love participating in this very unique form of philanthropy - an auction of gloriously decorated Christmas trees. Sponsored by the Health Support Center in Bellingham, twenty-two organizations are provided many services as a result of the auction and other fundraising efforts.

Guaranteed to put even Scrooge in the Christmas spirit, the evening went something like this. Upon entering we got a bidding card and a table number. Walking into the grand old ballroom, we were treated to the sight and sounds of the Bellingham High School Strolling Strings in holiday garb, as they wandered about playing holiday favorites. Tables seating ten were ringed by sixteen uniquely decorated and lighted Christmas trees, each with its own theme, and each decorated and donated by dedicated volunteers.

To name only a few: A tree named "A Poinsettia Christmas" featured handmade felt poinsettias, while a fanciful Grinch was poised atop the "Grinch Who Stole Christmas" tree . "Twas the Night Before Christmas" tree was laden with different Santa ornaments and topped by Santa, a sleigh and eight reindeer made by the decorator's son. All of the trees were set to be auctioned off to the highest bidders. Organizations such as brain injury and Parkinson's support groups, National Alliance on Mental Illness, Northwest Braille Services, Kids Council Northwest and seventeen other worthy causes would benefit by the evening's fundraiser. In addition, auction participants were treated to a silent auction where everything from jewelry to wine and getaways was available for bidding.

Participants feasted on a wonderful roast beef buffet. To get dessert required another creative form of giving. A myriad of delectable desserts, all different, were available for viewing to one side. Each table had a dessert envelope in the middle and people were encouraged to put whatever they could afford in their table's envelope. At a designated time the envelopes were collected and the contents counted. Tables with the most money got first choice of dessert, and so on until everyone had something yummy to eat. Our table, with pick number three, feasted on a calorie laden chocolate cake. Table center pieces were auctioned off in a similar fashion.

After we ate, the evening's master of ceremonies-auctioneer and the center's executive director shared the mission of the Support Center before the bidding began. Caught up in the spirit of giving we successfully bid on "Greetings From The Sea", an evergreen laden with all kinds of handmade sea animals such as starfish, sea horses, crabs and other unique ornaments perfect for our nearby beach cabin.

By the evening's end, sixteen final tree bids ranged from $250 to $1200 were made, which, along with the silent auction, centerpiece auction, dessert contributions and $40.00 per person dinner added up to a successful evening for the Center and its member organizations.
Because of the generous donations of auction gifts, food, venue, decor and other costs there was very little overhead.

A wonderful addition to the Festival is how the trees are delivered to the new tree owners. I understand that early Sunday morning HSC staff, a volunteer tree delivery coordinator, and Boy Scout Troop #23 arrived at the auction site to bag, load and deliver the trees. At a pre-arranged time today, two scouts and an adult came to our house with the tree, set it up in a unique rolling stand, positioned it where indicated, and filled the stand with water. We are now enjoying a seaworthy vision of loveliness in keeping with our view of the Strait of Georgia. To make this experience even better, the same boy scout troop will return on January 6 to pick up the tree and stand for disposal. The trees are taken to a park and rec facility to be chipped and used for mulch. The stands are stored for use the next year. It is an efficient and well run process.

It's a great feeling to know that last night we made a difference in a small way to some important organizations because of the Health Support Center. It is also important to remember that groups like it are working across the country to help others in time of need. To know more about the important work of this organization click on its name. You can also surf the web to find similar organizations in your community, or better yet, find a group of likeminded individuals and start your own festival of support. So many people in need would be grateful.

In the meantime, a heartfelt thank you to all "groups of thoughtful, committed citizens who are changing our world." Have a joyous and rewarding holiday season.



The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein is a serious thought-provoking story, ostensibly for children, about giving, what it means for giver and receiver, and if we are ever faced with the concept of giving too much. It's a soul touching book. I read it to my elementary school students around Christmas to help them think about gifts from the heart, and how parents might feel when it comes to meeting their kids' requests and needs. Children get it, especially those with a developing sense of empathy. For adults there is an even deeper understanding of what seems to be an underlying message. That message one needs to determine for oneself. Listen to the entire story by seeing and hearing The Giving Tree on Youtube, and share it with your kids. Ask them some questions like the ones you find on the Common Sense website here. This website is definitely worth checking.

If you are a teacher, here is a writing idea for students that might prove interesting. After reading the story and a discussion period, give them writing paper with a space above for illustrations. Write this story starter on the board.

"If I could give anything to anyone I would give ____________ to __________.

You can add depth to the writing by having the students tell "why" they would choose to do this. The students will be eager to share. You might be surprised at the results.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


Christmas! The very word brings joy to our hearts. No matter how we may dread the rush, the long Christmas lists for gifts and cards to be bought and given when Christmas Day comes there is still the same warm feeling we had as children, the same warmth that enfolds our hearts and our homes. - Joan Winmill Brown

Thanksgiving is barely over, with leftovers still in the fridge and turkey soup simmering on the stove. Black Friday has come and gone with cyber Monday mere hours away. The Christmas season and all that it entails is ramping up, and children are already queuing up to give their wish lists to Santa.

One important tradition for two of my grandchildren is enjoying the daily offerings of their advent calendars, often candy or treats. Since they are not part of a church-going family I don't think they really understand what Advent means, but the calendar is part of the season, and not to be dismissed. This year their mother is departing from the typical calendar by setting up an activity for each day for the girls to enjoy. It seems like a fun way to get ready for Christmas, and I'll share my own list of possible ideas below for anyone who wants to try something different. But first, a lesson about Advent and why we should realize it's more than just opening a little door on a 25 day holiday calendar to see what surprise it holds.

Basically Advent is the time in the church season that leads up to Christmas Day. This is when Christians remember that Jesus came into the world over 2000 years ago, with a promise to one day return. It usually begins on the Sunday nearest November 30th and lasts until midnight on Christmas Eve, which includes four Sundays, each with its own significance. It signifies the coming of Christ.

There are several important symbols during advent. A wreath made from greens symbolizes continuous life and contains four candles. Three are purple and one is rose, with a candle lit each Sunday during this holy time. A fifth white candle is located in the middle to be used for lighting on Christmas Eve.

The lighting goes like this:

On the first Sunday, symbolizing hope, one purple candle is lit, followed by a prayer and reading from the bible.

On the second Sunday, two purple candles symbolizing hope and peace are lit, followed by a prayer and a reading from the bible.

On the third Sunday, two purple candles again symbolizing hope and peace and the rose candle symbolizing joy are lit, followed by a prayer and a reading from the bible.

On the fourth Sunday, all four candles symbolizing hope, peace, joy and love are lit, followed by prayer and a reading from the bible.

On Christmas Eve, after sunset, all four candles and the white candle symbolizing the light of Christ are lit, and remain lighted throughout the evening.

Christian families often have their own additional advent candle lighting ceremonies and devotions at home, often before dinner or right after sunset, preparing for the coming of Christ.

Advent calendars were first seen in the 19th century, with different ways of marking off the days of the season. Calendars with doors hiding little surprises came about in the 1920s. If you have been enjoying advent calendars without the benefit of religion or an historical perspective, and want to know more about it, you can go on-line to Wikipedia for more details.

If you would like to give your children twenty five mostly secular experiences beyond opening a little cardboard door and extracting a piece of chocolate, try the activities below in whatever order works for your family or circumstances. Going on line will provide many other activities guaranteed to bring pleasure and hours of family fun.

1. Bake gingerbread men cookies.

2. Make mock gingerbread houses.

3. String popcorn. Add dried cranberries for color.

4. Make a paper wreath using a paper plate with the center cut out, and gluing small green rumpled squares on the wreath. Dot with occasional rumpled red tissue squares for berries.

5. Make an orange and clover pomander ball for a great gift.

6. Make a Christmas snow globe. Using a baby food or other small jar, cut out a tree from green plastic and decorate with paint, or make a small snowman, which you can affix to the bottom of the jar with clay or fix-all. Add a generous amount of silver glitter and water.

7. Make Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer by folding a brown square into a triangle shape. Fold up the top two corners for ears. Trace your hands on black paper, cut the traced hands out, and glue them on top for antlers. Cut out a red circle for a nose, and two white circles with smaller black circles inside for eyes.

8. If you have a computer, go to Microsoft Word, and using clip art by clicking on insert, design a holiday card or letter to people in your family.

9. Make salt dough ornaments.

10. Make candy cane cookies.

11. Learn the song The Twelve Days of Christmas for kids.

12. Gather family members and neighborhood kids for a night of Christmas caroling. Come back to the house for hot cocoa and some of those gingerbread men cookies.

13. Make a gift for your favorite male in the family. Wash out a cat food can or other small jar or can. Cover it with small squares of overlapping masking tape. Cover all the tape by rubbing on brown shoe polish. Take black shoe polish and rub it over last. You will have a gift that looks like brown leather for holding pins, pencils, or other small objects.

14. Make candles in the sand. An adult must be with children every step of the way.

15. Make paper chains in alternating red and green strips, of one inch by four to six inches. This can be an ongoing project with paper chains festooning as many rooms as desired. Glitter can be added for that extra pizazz.

16. Make a shrink art ornament by taking the clear plastic lid off of a throw-away food container, inking on a design and border, and popping it in the oven to shrink. Be watchful. It doesn't take long.

17. Design ornaments made from small unusual pasta pieces. Lay them out on a piece of wax paper and glue them together. Spray the finished products with silver or gold spray paint and add glitter for an unusual tree ornament or gift. When dry, do the same thing with the other side. Hang with a piece of yarn.

18. Make a manger scene for display in whichever room is best. Use dolls for the figures, dressing them appropriately or check out the following web address for other ideas.

19. Put on a skit about the birth of the baby Jesus. Invite your family and neighborhood kids to see the performance. The skit can be done with real people or puppets.

20. Make butter. When finished, spread crackers with the butter and enjoy!

21. Make a sparkling squiggle. This is really a clever ornament. You need white glue, glitter, waxed paper, and string or yarn. Squeeze the glue in thick squiggly lines that loop and cross each other. Add a lot of glitter. If you have other small beads or metallic pieces, add them. Let them dry for a couple of days then add your string and hang the new ornament on your tree.

22. Make a Santa face wall or window hanging. Cut out a circle the size you desire from white, brown or flesh colored construction paper. make a pointy hat out of red paper with a white circle at the tip. Add a beard and eyebrows of white cotton, round red nose and two beady black eyes. If you want a whole Santa, make a rectangular red body, with red arms and legs, a black belt, and black boots. Add buttons and other decorations.

23. Find some smooth rocks, paint designs on them with airplane model paint, and add other decorations for great paper weight gifts.

24. Make your own wrapping paper by taking a potato, cutting it in half, and then cutting away more of the potato to make a design such as a star or Christmas tree. Paint the cutout with a small amount of poster paint and press the potato on white paper. Keep repeating the potato design over the entire paper.

25. Make donuts and enjoy them with a cup of hot cider.

Throughout the twenty-five days, listen to the old carols as well as the new, and enjoy each day. Your memories will mean a lot in later years. Have a great beginning to your holiday season!

Sunday, November 21, 2010


"Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow." ~Melody Beattie

Teaching young children in a meaningful manner was one of my goals, with experiential learning as the vehicle. I miss having my own classroom, especially in November. I loved using Thanksgiving as a way of comparing and contrasting the lives of Pilgrims and native people on the east coast, with the lives and celebrations of Northwest Coast native people in the early days of our country. It was higly interesting to the children, especially because of the many "hands on" activities.

As part of social studies another first grade teacher and I planned and executed lessons that led up to reenactments of the Pilgrims' first Thanksgiving in one classroom, with a Northwest native potlatch harvest celebration in another. One class would host the Pilgrim party, while the other would host the Northwest Coast potlatch. All children would be in simple costumes appropriate to the time. Each would have learned about the respective cultures and would set up their rooms accordingly for two days of stories, reports, reenactments and feasting. Children in these classes learned about diversity, caring, sharing, gift giving, and appreciation in a very concrete and unforgettable way. They also had the chance to share orally and in writing what made them feel thankful.

As the children learned about the Potlatch, they saw regional differences in tribal customs, food and shelter. They found that the Northwest tribes used potlatch celebrations for everything from weddings to coming of age with gift giving and one-up-manship as the focal point. No doubt successful harvests were also celebrated. Food included seeds, fruits, fish or seal meat along with seal oil in which food was dipped, and more. Feeding guests to the point of their becoming sick from overeating was the sign of good hosting. Sound familiar?

The students learned how our Thanksgiving Day was set in motion by the Pilgrims and Wampanoag Indians in 1621, when they celebrated a lifesaving harvest and their survival in a strange and hostile land. That long ago festival was supposedly a one-time affair, lasting several days with feasting, dancing, games, and merrymaking. It featured foods like venison, fowl, clams, etc. The Pilgrims had no idea at the time that, because of them, over two centuries later in 1863, President Lincoln would declare the last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day. It would finally be designated a legal holiday by Congress in 1941.

So we now know what the Pilgrims were thankful for but what will we be giving thanks for on Thursday? The Pilgrims' appreciation had to do with survival and freedom to worship as they pleased. As our culture and lifestyle has evolved, it is hard to even imagine such a simple time and such basic needs. They no doubt took joy in just being alive, being able to worship as they pleased, and having enough food to get through the winter.

Today some of us feel slighted if we don't have large screen TVs, the latest cell phone, and every bell and whistle of the 21st century. Somehow even the poorest of us can scrape up enough money for a Big Mac and Coke while feeling jealous of the apparent wealth and well being of those who have more.

Perhaps we need to get back to our country's roots and be grateful for some food, shelter and just being alive in a land where so much is still possible. Those Pilgrims, assisted by their native "brothers" set in motion the American Dream, but one wonders what they would think should they be dropped into our century on Thanksgiving Day. Aside from culture shock, would they be aghast at the waste and materialism? Would they shake their heads over those who do not appreciate what they have? Would they be appalled at the lack of caring for others?

Many of us are going through hard times and mind numbing adversity right now. But does it even approach what the Pilgrims went through? Perhaps it's time to focus on appreciating the simple pleasures. Here are a few of mine:

1. A cell phone
2. A television
3. A bed with blankets
4. A car
5. Studded tires on a snowy day
6. An instant hot water tap in my sink for soup and tea
7. The internet and e-mail
8. My hot water bottle
9. Electricity
l0. A fireplace with real wood crackling and burning in it
ll. A refrigerator stocked with a reasonable amount of food
12. A view of Puget Sound out of my window
13. Fairly good health
14. A book to read
15. And most of all, a bunch of people in my life I care about and who care about me!!

And next Thursday I will be in my kitchen, along with others, preparing a feast for more than thirty people. Most will be relatives, but all know they can bring anyone along who has no place to be that day. Because we are a family of cooks and food aficionados there will be plenty to eat. Diets will be out the window. Eater's remorse will be saved for the next day.

I think we will take time that day to talk about those long ago pilgrims and be prepared to say one thing we are thankful for. We owe it to the Pilgrims, their companions who didn't survive, and the Wampanoag Indians, without whose help our country would not be celebrating its unique multicultural beginning.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


"The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them." by Ralph Nichols

Articles and books on the subject of bullies and bullying are countless. No matter how much advice is given, however, bullies continue to do their malevolent best to hurt, frighten or tyrannize others in families, at school, and in the workplace. This is my fourth article on things to think about when trying to understand bullies and their motivation.

We can all agree that bullies are difficult people, either as children or as adults. Years ago in a class about dealing with difficult people, I came away with this nugget of wisdom: There is no such thing as a difficult person - only a person with unmet needs. The trick is to find out what the unmet need is, and Voila! The problem is on its way to being solved. It might be interesting for you to spend some time thinking analytically about people who have caused you grief, to see if you can come up with their unmet needs. If you think you might have been a bully, analyzing your own needs would also be fruitful.

Here are a few examples:

At school: Billy the Bully teases, trips, hits, or hurts others.

Unmet need: Billy wants acceptance, attention and love. Provoking others helps him to get attention from peers and teachers. He may be trying to get some control over his own life, or getting even with those he sees standing in the way of his own happiness. It may also be a cry for help with his own uncertain home life - hunger, abuse, feelings of worthlessness, cruel teasing by older family members or older kids in the neighborhood.

At home: A child hurts siblings or family pets, engages in cruel teasing, and breaks or steals objects.

Unmet need: The child is not feeling loved, valued and accepted. He/she feels jealous, abandoned and wanting attention. Such children often have a lack of empathetic , consistent , and effective parenting.

In the workplace: A supervisor harangues an employee under him/her, finds fault, and makes unjust requests thereby creating a hostile environment.

Unmet need: Such supervisors want to seem successful and knowledgeable. They also need to feel important and in control, craving recognition by superiors so they can move ahead. Deep down they may question their own ability to lead. Some may resort to dirty tricks to get their needs met. (See November 7 blog)

The trick now is to determine the unmet need and figure out how to meet it. Here is an example of using honey to deal with a social bully.

My husband, Vaughn, and I used to play duplicate bridge at a club with twenty-four other couples. An elderly lady was a weekly tyrant while her husband sat meekly across the table from her. She had a universal reputation as an unpleasant, snide and difficult person. In trying to see if he could change her behavior Vaughn learned that she had formerly been a beauty queen. Aha! The unmet need. Her looks and celebrity status were a thing of the past. From that time on whenever she sat at our table Vaughn complimented her on her hair, dress, and appearance. Before long one would think she was his best friend at the club, preening and smiling as she welcomed us to her table. Here was a woman who simply needed to know she still was attractive and still mattered.

The above technique makes it hard for bullies to be mean to anyone treating them nicely. Whenever a bully responds with caring behavior it’s time to reinforce it with a verbal reward or accolade appropriate to the situation.

If a neighborhood bully is just seeking attention or a desire to belong, one idea is to throw a party with him/her as the honored guest. Elementary school classrooms often have “students of the week” where they share their interests, hobbies, and family members. Why not have a neighborhood “student of the block” party, which could help the young person gain a sense of belonging.

If the impossible person is a supervisor, honey can be applied through expressing an interest in their well being, bringing an occasional treat and being very positive.

As we grow older some of us get more introspective and compassionate. Thinking back over past regrets, we want to make things right with others. I learned during one of these reflecting times that my sister, younger by six years, frequently felt bullied by me during her early years. I was shocked but realized that from her perspective it was true. Her unmet need was to be my friend and companion. I didn't see it at the time. We had a healing conversation and she later told me that it was like a wall between us had come down. We are now truly best friends as well as sisters. The point is this: Apologizing heals, and it's never too late!



Understanding the concept of unmet needs was really helpful to me when dealing with a very difficult supervisor I had a few years ago. I could not answer those needs on my own as they were deep seated. I could however, stay calm, positive, and empathetic, and do the best I could at work. Jeff Brown has a great article on the pain of unmet needs that I hope you will read.

Also definitely worth reading is an article from Wise Quotes on what respect is, how it is fostered particularly by parents. Among other things it says “When we do not feel respected by our parents while we are living with them, we have an unmet need to feel respected later in life. . . “ It goes on to say how that need translates into negative interpersonal experiences at school, in the home, and at work.

Sunday, November 7, 2010


"Workplace bullying - in any form - is bad for business. It destroys teamwork, commitment and morale." Tony Morgan, Chief Executive, The Industrial Society

Bullying is a hot topic these days, but the focus has been on school age children. I guess it should not be surprising that little bullies will graduate eventually from school settings to the workplace, their abusive techniques honed by years of tormenting others.

A woman I know well has been victimized by her direct supervisor, another woman; and she feels powerless to stop it. The two share a small enclosed space in a large, high-pressure medical facility. If even half of what I am hearing is true, the situation is untenable, and short of quitting, seems unsolvable to my friend. In trying to help her I found a useful site on the internet called Understanding Workplace Bullying .

While overt bullying is easy to witness, according to the article, covert bullying is equally destructive, and might include:

• constantly undervaluing your efforts
• persistent criticism
• setting deadlines or objectives that are impossible to achieve
• moving the goal posts
• withholding information and blaming you for being ignorant
• spreading malicious, unfounded rumors
• ignoring, excluding and isolating you
• making threats
• removing areas of responsibility for no real reason
• giving you menial or trivial tasks
• stealing your ideas and taking credit for your achievements
• giving you too little or too much work
• blocking promotion
• refusing reasonable requests for holidays or for training
• constantly overruling your authority
• monitoring everything you do
• blaming you whenever things go wrong.

My friend feels she is subjected to many of these examples of abuse, and cites the "Gotcha" mentality of her supervisor as devastating to her morale and well being. It is particularly painful because it seems that others are not given the same treatment. Furthermore, the bullying is so subtle and secretive - usually confined to their enclosed work space - that few people would be aware of it.

The article goes on to talk about symptoms which may be the result of bullying, and might include:

Backache, severe headaches, sleeplessness, feeling sick, sweating and shaking, palpitations, excessive thirst, constant tiredness, skin complaints, loss of appetite, stomach problems, acute anxiety, panic attacks, irritability, mood swings, tearfulness, loss of interest in sex, loss of self-esteem, lack of motivation, obsessiveness and withdrawal, depression, suicidal thoughts, avoidance of contact with perpetrator and sickness related absence.

Teachers, trained in helping children deal with bullying, are sometimes themselves victims of emotional abuse by building administrators. I know of one such principal who enjoyed setting people up for failure and whose "Gotcha" mentality had created a hostile and divisive environment. It got so bad that those who were not "favorites" were often in tears, and frequent visitors to the union office. I can personally remember feeling a sense of relief when I saw, upon arrival at school, that her car was absent from its parking place.

What can be done about a workplace bully, especially one in a position of authority?

1. Keep a Journal, with time and dates.
2. Document every bully act, whether overt or covert.
3. I don't know about the legality of a small tape recorder which could truly make your case, but such evidence would be hard to refute.
4. Keep all communication records such as e-mails, evaluations, etc., and add supporting details to help jog your memory if needed.
5. If the behavior is subtle, enlist the aid of a sympathetic colleague who can be on the lookout for these behaviors, and serve as a witness.
6. Be calm and do not retaliate with aggression or defensiveness.
7. Because bullies succeed best with people they perceive as weak, show that you will not tolerate being victimized by giving clear "I" messages. "I don't like it when . . . " "It is hard to be productive when. . . . "
8. Find out what your workplace policy is on bullying and take whatever steps are suggested.

Sadly, if you are truly a good employee who is being victimized, your company/school stands to lose a trained and loyal worker. Only you can determine whether or not to stick it out. Someone in authority should know what is going on, though, because "Gotcha" will continue abusing anyone coming after you. Don't you wish someone would have given you a "heads up" before you took on the job? I also think most managers would prefer to be informed about abusive behavior of supervisors under them. Certainly collegiality and a good, positive work environment trump the toxic atmosphere generated by "Gotcha" and his/her ilk.

"The challenge of being a manager is to get the best out of everybody, not just the few who are clones of yourself." - Unknown

Other valuable articles on this subject follow:

Words Do Hurt - Stop Bullying From Affecting Your Health

Covert Bullying

Covert Bullying at Work

Sunday, October 31, 2010


"Happiness comes from spiritual wealth, not material wealth... Happiness comes from giving, not getting. If we try hard to bring happiness to others, we cannot stop it from coming to us also. To get joy, we must give it, and to keep joy, we must scatter it." By John Templeton

When I was in my early twenties, and going through a time of great angst, someone asked me what would make me happy. I rattled off my wish list of material possessions, believing that therein lay the road to bliss. Later, having attained some of those things , but still not really happy, I came up with a different answer – having peace of mind.

Years of vague discontent rolled by, until one day I realized that I had not been thinking about my own feelings of happiness for quite some time, and wonder of wonders, I was at peace with myself and actually pretty happy. What was different? The answer? Having children. . . and they weren’t even ON my original wish list. I realized that they were keeping me so busy I didn’t have time to think about ME at all. In other words, thinking about their needs trumped mine. Could the answer to finding happiness really be that simple?

As I continued to evolve and mature, I came to realize that, at least for me, happiness is not a perpetual state of being. It is strongly influenced by external factors such as the people in my life, their actions, my reactions, health and well being of loved ones, job satisfaction, freedom from worry, dwelling on past mistakes and hurts, and putting things off until tomorrow. The negative fallout from all of these factors is a happiness-breaker!

With twenty-four children, their spouses, and grandchildren taking up mental space there is always “a situation” of some kind to keep one off kilter. Instead of dwelling on these situations I have decided to share my thoughts and insights in the hope that you can find some seeds of happiness you can sow in your own mental garden. Here are two lists that could prove helpful: (1) Ten doable things that might make you happy, and (2) Ten quotations from people wiser than me on the subject of happiness and fulfillment.


1. Master a new task. These days there are hundreds to be mastered.

2. Find out what someone wants and give it to them (within reason)

3. Organize a junk drawer or closet.

4. Do something today that you would normally put off until tomorrow

5. Call, write or e-mail someone who might need an emotional lift, or who would be thrilled to hear from you.

6. Replace every negative thought with a positive one for 24 hours. If that’s too long, try one hour.

7. Decide to smile and say “Hello” or “Good Morning” to as many people as possible today. Make it your goal to do so every day.

8. Strike up a conversation with your supermarket or other checker and learn something about him/her.

9. Volunteer at a school, food bank, or shelter. Better yet, become a Big Brother or Big Sister.

10. Step outside, at sunrise or sunset, smell the fresh air, perhaps with a hint of wood smoke, listen to the birds, and appreciate the incredible gift that nature provides us every single day.

You don’t like these? Then make your own list of ten things that would make you or others happy. I would be willing to bet that just thinking about others for that little bit of time will take your mind off your troubles.


1. “The really happy person is one who can enjoy the scenery when on a detour." Unknown

2. “People take different roads seeking fulfillment and happiness. Just because they're not on your road doesn't mean they've gotten lost.” H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

3. “When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.” Helen Keller

4. “Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.” ~Nathaniel Hawthorne

5. “Three grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.” ~Joseph Addison

6. “If you observe a really happy man you will find him building a boat, writing a symphony, educating his son, growing double dahlias in his garden, or looking for dinosaur eggs in the Gobi desert. He will not be searching for happiness as if it were a collar button that has rolled under the radiator. He will not be striving for it as a goal in itself. He will have become aware that he is happy in the course of living life twenty-four crowded hours of the day.” ~W. Bertram Wolfe

7. “The greatest degree of inner tranquility comes from the development of love and compassion. The more we care for the happiness of others, the greater is our own sense of well-being.” Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama

8. ‘Each morning when I open my eyes I say to myself: I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn't arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I'm going to be happy in it.” Groucho Marx

9. "Are you bored with life? Then throw yourself into some work you believe in with all your heart, live for it, die for it, and you will find happiness that you had thought could never be yours." ~ Dale Carnegie

10. "The purpose of life is not to be happy - but to matter, to be productive, to be useful, to have it make some difference that you have lived at all." ~ Leo Rosten

Anticipation is also a big part of happiness, A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh says it best. “Well, said Pooh, “what I like best,” and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you begin to eat which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called.” So, spend time thinking about things that might make you and, more importantly, others happy, anticipate the pleasure you’ll derive and get busy. Remember, “happiness is a choice that requires effort at times.” (Anon)



A wonderful lesson in helping children to grow in a positive, thoughtful way is to read Happiness is a Warm Puppy by Charles Schulz. The cartoonist captures simple ideas of what causes happiness. After reading the book, have the children write and illustrate their own page of what Happiness is. . . . for a class book. Publish the results, giving each student a copy and placing the original in the class library corner.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


"Role modeling is the most basic responsibility of parents. Parents are handing life’s scripts to their children, scripts that in all likelihood will be acted out for the rest of the children’s lives." By Stephen R. Covey

What if you were told that there was an almost sure fire way of raising your children to be bullyproof - either as a bullier or as one who is bullied? It would also guarantee that they would grow up to have positive self images, even if they were not the most beautiful, the most book smart or the most athletically able. What if I further told you that it simply boils down to making more daily deposits into, than withdrawals from, what I call your children's emotional bank account.

In an earlier article I talked about how all of us are born with blank slates upon which are written every visual, auditory and kinesthetic experience we have. These experiences shape our view of the world and our place in it. It would seem logical that children, whose parents are calm and skillful, have an edge over those whose parents are uptight, unwilling, or unhappy. This is not intended to diminish the importance of nature in the nature vs. nurture debate. Certainly a baby’s personality/nature/disposition plays a huge role in how it interacts with its parents, family members, and others during its continuing development. Colicky, sick, crying and demanding babies can tax the most patient parent, but from the beginning, negative reactions will surely guarantee negative results whereas the use of patience, humor, and understanding will surely reap some positive benefits.

Try thinking about your child as an investment – his/her development as a bank account to which you add positive emotional deposits. Unfortunately, out of ignorance or personal stress, your negative reactions will also bring about negative emotional withdrawals from the account, which in turn effect the emotional cash flow.

Positive deposits include the following: Compliments, cuddling, kissing, storytelling, smiling, listening with an appreciative ear, talking in a calm, soft voice, spending time together, showing empathy, seeing your child with an appreciative eye, treating your child as a child, not as an adult, modeling a neat environment before expecting your child to keep a clean room, teaching your child to be a helpful part of the family in terms of chores, helping your child with homework, being proud of your child’s small accomplishments, loving your child unconditionally, and expressing that love daily.

Negative withdrawals from the emotional bank would include: Sarcasm, yelling, belittling, threatening, hitting, frowning, ignoring, meanness, constant scolding, being overly worried, using put downs, impolitely demanding that the child shut up! sit down! come here! (What happened to "please"?), having impossibly high expectations, having no expectations, inconsistency in behavior modification, applying unfair or overly harsh discipline, having no boundaries, allowing fighting and wrangling within the family, etc.

An example of a negative withdrawal I have seen repeatedly in public places is this. An exasperated parent (usually the mother) administers a spanking to a young child, while also shouting, "How many times have I told you not to hit your brother!" Oops! There went a withdrawal, a mixed message, and a lesson learned from the most important role model in the child's world. If my mom hits me, it must be o.k. for me to hit others, even if she says not to.
Perhaps a more effective measure would go like this. Holding the child close, say (not yell) firmly, "It is not o.k for you to hit your brother. We do not hit others." Look him/her in the eye and ask if he/she understands. If the hitting continues, repeat a variation of your message. If you are able to do so, distracting the child with a story, or removing him from the situation can help.

Divorce, and all the unpleasantness and stress that comes with it, can have a profound effect on the emotional bank balance. A healthy bank balance because of prior positive emotional deposits dwindles rapidly as daily emotional withdrawals are taken. Such withdrawals are similar to the ones listed above, but are exacerbated by the turmoil, uncertainty and worry in what is now a hostile and scary environment. The emotional bank account becomes so overdrawn that the child/children will then react negatively to the parent who is perceived as having caused the pain and disruption.

Like any bank account, more withdrawals than deposits will result in an overdrawn account and unpleasant penalties. Penalties from an emotionally overdrawn account might include such unpleasant reactions as tantrums, slamming doors, yelling "I hate you", moodiness, disrespect, whining, kicking, biting, screaming, running away, and later, more extreme reactions such as drug use, promiscuity, criminal activity, and the tragedy of suicide.

Here’s an exercise you can do on your own. Analyze the next 48 hours with your child/children and briefly jot down every interaction you have with them, both positive and negative. At the end, tally up the responses and see if you are in the emotional black or red. If the former, pat yourself on the back and keep up your positive parenting. If you are in the red, determine how you can make more deposits by using one of the examples above. If you have a spouse who needs "an emotional financial advisor," share these ideas with him/her and suggest that in the future you both try to add more deposits than withdrawals to your children's accounts.

If there is drinking, drug use, mental illness or abuse in the family, it goes without saying that these are problems which need to be dealt with immediately for everyone's safety and well-being. Teachers and other trained school personnel can be valuable resources in helping to solve these kinds of issues. In the meantime, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and others close to the children, can be adding their own loving deposits to the account.

Having a healthy emotional bank balance allows us to have feelings of self-worth, and the ability to help others by making deposits in their accounts. This concept can be threaded throughout the fabric of your day, as you deposit smiles, and other positive actions wherever you go.

"You are in charge of your feelings, beliefs, and actions. And you teach others how to behave toward you. While you cannot change other people, you can influence them through your own behaviors and actions. By being a living role model of what you want to receive from others, you create more of what you want in your life." by Eric Allenbaugh


Enemy Pie by Derek Munson, and illustrated by Tara Calahan King, shows how one astute father helps his son become friends with a new neighbor boy he thinks is his enemy. Jealous because the new boy, Jeremy, is spending time with Stanley, his best friend, our boy goes to his father for help and guidance. Father, understanding what is going on, uses some reverse psychology, and a clever ploy to bring a new friend into his son's life. He is making large deposits in his son's emotional bank account by his empathy, and role modeling.

Teachers, try this activity to help students welcome new students into their lives. On a piece of lined paper with a space for drawing at the top, write the following:

Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other is gold!
My old friend is _____________. My new friend is ______________.

At the top, have the students illustrate their pictures by showing their old and new friends playing together. Mount the illustrated story on black construction paper. Have your students add gold and silver glitter around the border or in the picture for a glitzy touch.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


“Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.” Old saying from the time of slavery.

Are bullies and victims born or made? And what role does a parent play? Here are some things to think about.

You get a call from school. Two scenarios. (1) Your child is in the nurse's office with a head injury. Could you please pick him up. OR (2) Your child is in the office for pushing another kid on the playground resulting in a head injury. Please come in for a meeting with the principal.

Somewhere in these scenarios lurks a bully and a victim, and after twenty-five years of teaching and playground supervision, I could say that the truth may not be immediately clear. I could also say that often the situation is not dealt with in a satisfactory way for all parties. I could further say that any parents involved would probably have feelings of anger, embarrassment, denial, helplessness or any combination thereof. Once home, the children may face an unsatisfactory parental response - either no consequence, no understanding, or even abusive punishment. There will probably not be a lot of active listening or "how to"s for the future.

Whatever the case, the truth needs to be determined. Sometimes the supposed victim starts out being a bully, with the supposed aggressor having had "enough" resulting in a bully-like response. Example: Billy, a known playground bully, consistently picks on Jimmy both in class and at recess. Jimmy suffers in silence or is not getting satisfaction from teachers and playground supervisors. For Jimmy, Billy knocking the ball out of his hands while also making a "yo mama" comment, is the "last straw". Jimmy pushes Billy down resulting in the head injury.

Hopefully right will be done, the truth ascertained and the situation dealt with fairly, ending in emotional growth for all concerned. Often, though, the wrong child gets blamed, or doesn't feel heard, causing yet another layer of anger and hostility for the original victim. It could also give the actual bully a feeling that he won the encounter.

More than likely, though, Billy the Bully has pushed Jimmy down "just because" resulting in injury, and the incident is just one more notch on his “bully belt.” He will lie or distort the truth, and rationalize his own behavior to avoid consequences. Either he gets too little or too much punishment, and learns no lessons which might curtail future behavior. He may also see bullying modeled at home which adds to his bully arsenal. Sadly, Billy's victims are also getting messages of not feeling heard, both at school and at home. In these cases layer upon layer of anger, helplessness and despair can cause depression, dysfunction at school, and later lashing out at society as they become bullies themselves; i.e. the perpetrators in the Columbine tragedy.

Girls have “bully belts” as well, with example upon example cited in the media. A fascinating incident played out recently in Seattle where one girl was attacked by another, under the eye of security guards who did nothing to stop the conflict, and with sympathy going out to the supposed victim. As the story unfolded we learned that the girls had a long-standing history of antagonism towards each other, in other words, both were bullies. In other instances, bullying, with horrible outcomes, has taken place via the internet, often with girls as the perpetrators.

Babies certainly don't come into the world as bullies, but they soon learn how to manipulate their parents, whether it is related to eating, sleeping, or going out in public. A parent’s reaction to any given situation sets the stage for future actions and reactions. We hear jokes about babies not coming with handbooks, and we see lots of parents who are uninformed, unwilling, or unable to be effective parents for whatever the reason. Unwittingly they may be creating baby bullies by not setting boundaries, enabling, or finding excuses for bad behavior. If the parent does not fully understand a parent's job and the child's needs, the bully behavior can escalate. On the flip side, if the parent is not listening to his or her child's concerns and stories with an appreciative ear, the tendency to be victimized will also escalate.

It follows that one of the solutions for curtailing bullying is to help parents be more effective, for teachers and school administrators to have expert training on the subject, and for better programs to help children to avoid being bullied or victimized. School programs like Second Step have many good points, including picture cards and role playing ideas, but they work best if the teacher is well trained and the entire school-parent-community is on-board. Looking back, there was no consistency in the school where I taught, and no real school-home connection. I question such a program’s overall success with kids under these circumstances.

Next week I will discuss how parents can raise happy, mentally healthy children by regular deposits in their children's emotional savings account.


In continuing my on-line research this week I found several sites that offer hope and help. The most intriguing was called Bullies to Buddies . Here you can find free materials showing "how to stop being teased and bullied without really trying.” It is aimed at students, teachers, parents, administrators, mental health professionals and work place personnel. The over-riding advice to a would-be victim is to ignore the bully. Read the article for greater detail.

Other sites worth checking out are:

Top Strategies for Handling a Bully for both children and parents, citing that a wise line of defense is avoidance. Other suggestions include using humor, recruiting friends, telling the bully to “Get a life. Leave me alone.”

Dealing with Bullies” is a very easy-to-read article showing why bullies act that way, how to handle them, how to prevent a run-in with one, what to do when you encounter one, and what often happens to bullies.

Education World: “Strategies for Stopping Bullying”. In essence this article is saying that since bullies are made they can be unmade, and offers some clear steps to deal with the problem.

Monday, October 11, 2010


"Bullies are always cowards at heart and may be credited with a pretty safe instinct in scenting their prey." by Anna Julia Cooper

Check below for some lesson ideas on bullying. The book under discussion is called Bullies are a Pain in the Brain, written and illustrated by Trevor Romain. Very cool!

Bullying is a hot topic these days, with CNN Specials, alarming stories of teen suicides attributed to peer bullying, and articles galore on causes, effects and possible solutions. Most of us have a childhood "bully story" and cringe at the memory.

My sister clearly remembers a particularly scary incident when a child in the neighborhood came after her with an ax, threatening to kill her, then cackled with glee when my sister ran away. Upon changing schools my 3rd grade daughter was teased constantly on the playground, several boys calling her a "white witch" because she had such light blonde hair. I, myself, had a hair incident in ninth grade when a group of girls spread rumors that I, a natural platinum blonde, dyed my hair so that it would be that color. It was a silly rumor, but had the desired effect on me - embarrassment and denial - which only made them do it more.

Yesterday my 12-year-old grand-daughter, Lily, now in middle school, was wondering what to do about a bully in her science class. He is one of four students in her cluster group of two girls and two boys. Let's call him Billy. The story goes like this: The other little girl asked my grand-daughter if she could borrow her black colored pencil. Billy the Bully snatched the pencil and wouldn't give it back. The girls responded by telling him to give it back, but of course, he wouldn't. Finally, after he had achieved the desired drama, he threw the pencil back at them.

Those of us hearing Lily's story began to offer ideas of how to handle Billy and other bullies based on our own beliefs and experiences. What became clear to me is that there are no easy answers to this complex problem. However, here are some strategies we came up with:

1. Raise your hand and tell the teacher that Billy apparently needs a black pencil, and is there an extra one available for him? This would be a subtle way to call attention to his behavior without "telling on him." Perhaps he would be sufficiently embarrassed to refrain from such behaviors in the future.

2. Ask Billy a question, i.e. You seem to be in a bad mood. Are you having a bad day?

3. I am wondering why you find teasing people so much fun. Please return the pencil.

4. What you're doing is not o.k. Please show respect.

On other occasions apparently Billy the Bully engaged in verbal bullying, calling the other little boy, who is shy and serious, a "fat hippie." In this case, the bullied child shot back with "I'm not either a fat hippie." which, of course, does nothing to stop the taunts.

Name calling is prevalent in school from kindergarten on, resulting in complaints, or tattling, tears, and teacher intervention. Some things a student might say include:

1. Name calling is not O.K. Please stop.

2. I don't like it when you call me names. Please stop.

3. Why do you like to call people names?

4. Kids don't like it when you call them names, so stop it now.

5. You show no class when you stoop to name calling. Get some class.

6. I want to be your friend, but I can't when you act so mean.

One suggestion is for teachers to have a Class Meeting Box where students can write anonymous concerns on paper. Teachers can then designate a time during the week where these complaints can be discussed and resolved. When the solutions and consequences come from peers, the offenders are more likely to listen. It also gives an opportunity for "the other side of the story." This process takes a little time away from instruction, but the pay-off in overall learning and emotional well-being far exceeds the expenditure.

Of the many on-line articles I checked out, the one forwarded to me by my sister, stood out. Called Life Lessons - Compassion for a Bully by Jodee Blanco, the article seeks to show ways to defuse bullying by finding out the underlying causes and addressing them. The example used showed ways that two different teachers handled bully incidents, one making the situation worse, and the other causing a real turnaround in behavior.

Other interesting articles include ParentFurther's "Introduction To Bullying and Violence," with FAQs, what bullying is, what to do about it, information on cyberbullying, what to do if one's own child is a bully, and more.

Another called Teasing and Bullying: No Laughing Matter, by Diana Townsend-Butterworth, also describes what bullying is, how it starts, effects, warning signs, how to help, and what to look for at home and at school.

Bullies are made, not born, and unless the offending behaviors are addressed, a bully's aggressive behavior can do serious, long-lasting damage to all concerned. Jails are full of them. Psychologists' offices are full of their victims. Nice people like my sister, my daughter and myself have painful childhood memories because of them. It's time for us to take a grassroots stand against bullying and bring about a return to civility. If each of us committed to putting at least one bully in his place this week, what a difference we could make. I pledge to try, and will report back.

In the meantime, if you have a bully story or a bully solution, make a comment. We'd all benefit.
If you are a teacher, check below for an interesting resource on this topic.


Bullies Are a Pain in the Brain, written and illustrated by Trevor Romain, is a practical, sometimes humorous, book filled with bullying examples, solutions, and resources for kids, parents and teachers. Example: "Bullies think they've hit the jackpot when they make you cry. Don't reward a bully with tears. Instead, stay as calm as you can and walk away with confidence." I would add this: It's easier said than done, so role play with a family member or friend on how to respond, and what walking away with confidence looks like.

To use this book in class, try the following:

1. Print out the examples on separate pieces of paper. At a class meeting or during a "dead time" (every class has a few minutes of this), pull out a paper for presentation and discussion.
One good time is before lunch or before recess so that the subject is on everyone's mind.

2. Take the examples and turn them into skits for presentation to the whole class. Follow with discussion.

3. End the day with reading from the book, and ask if anyone has seen examples during the day of that particular kind of bullying.

4. Have a PKC Club (entry is gained by being polite, kind and considerate) in your class where no bullying is allowed. Have a reward at the end of the week for those in the class who are still members, i.e. They have not been designated as a bully by anyone. I had a PKC lunch to which I brought dessert. That's pretty time consuming and ambitious for the teacher. Instead, have a surprise or treat box, cookies, or some other thing that kids enjoy.

Good luck on helping kids be caring, empathetic people. It is SUCH a good mission.

Sunday, October 3, 2010


“What is the essence of Iceland, the island in the far north? Silence and solitude despite occasional volcanic activity, color and expanse, wilderness and grassy farmlands, ever changing ocean and villages, symphonies of color and tones of light.” Reykjavik Living and Beyond

Note: You will find a lesson plan using a variety of multiple intelligences activities for elementary age students at the end of this article.

What comes to mind when you think about Iceland as a country? Snow and glaciers? Volcanoes? The northern lights? An isolated people whose language looks and sounds funny, especially the capitol city, Reykjavik?

Whatever my preconceptions, I was not prepared for what would become the experience of a lifetime. Upon landing my first impression was of an incredibly modern airport of glass, steel and wood – light, airy and spacious -- followed by a 45 minute drive across the most barren and desolate terrain I had ever seen. It felt a little like landing on the moon.

During a four day visit I viewed the old colliding with the new. In the quaint old section of Reykjavik, with its myriad of shops, were streets heated thermally because of volcanic action. The latest in fashion, much of it designed by Icelanders, and the most modern of home furnishings were available everywhere one looked. Beautifully designed sweaters, hats, gloves and slippers made from the wool of Icelandic sheep, were impossible to resist. Lava, a rocky reminder of long ago eruptions, became gorgeous jewelry, candle holders, and other objets d’art. Nine swimming pools and hot tubs were available year round, offering a place to relax and meet others.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was the climate. Somehow I thought that the country would be blanketed in snow during much of the winter. Not so. Tempered by the gulf stream, Iceland enjoys milder weather than its fellow Scandinavian countries. Last year was unusual with no snow at all - attributed by many Icelanders to Global warming. Even higher elevations had only a few days of ski-ing. During this visit in early October, I noticed how changeable the weather was – a little rain, a little sun, some rainbows and very unusual cloud formations seemed to be the norm.

So what is there to see and do in this distant land, shrouded in mystery and lore. Here are some snapshots (written) of my own experiences:

(Click) Breakfast – free with a hotel room – includes eggs, bacon, sausage, potatoes, fruits and juices, many different kinds of bread and rolls, cheeses, herring, and other traditional foods. One doesn’t need to eat again until dinner. Click on "Breakfast" for some very unusual Icelandic recipes.

(Click) Hallgrimskirkja – A beautiful church that is the tallest building in Iceland, rises majestically, its concrete exterior design reminiscent of ice formations, its interior soaring skyward. Basalt-like columns lend support. A huge pipe organ dominates the rear of the church, sending forth its music from 5275 fifty-foot-tall pipes. Outside a statue of Leif Ericson faces west, a symbol of the once dominant Vikings.

The Pearl – another visible landmark, and well-named because of its glowing pearl like shape – symbolizes the thermal heating advantages for the people of Reykjavik. The Saga museum, which portrays some of the old stories, is a unique feature of The Pearl.

(click) The present
Parliament – housed in a small building in the heart of town is a tangible location for the oldest parliament in the world once located in what is now Pingvellir National Park. Presently it is the site of a dicey and heated political situation. The Icelanders’ outspoken frustration with their government was highlighted the day after we arrived. On this first day of session, two thousand demonstrators pelted the parliament house with eggs, tomatoes and rocks. I should mention here that, population-wise, this is a tiny country of just over 300,000 residents with nearly half living in and around the capitol city. There’s a feeling of revolt in the air.

(click) Architecture is eclectic, with newer structures being ultra-modern. Residences of unpainted concrete with white trim, or painted corrugated houses mix with row houses of many colors. Unpainted buildings or multi colored rows of buildings, both old and new, abound. The economic downturn has unfortunately caused many office and apartment buildings to be vacant or uncompleted.

(click) The Blue Lagoon - It must be the world’s largest natural hot tub! With the smell of sulphur in the air, amid steam rising, one applies healing mineral mud to one’s face, while soaking in water ranging up to 102 degrees F. On the day we were there, the Norwegian Men’s Chorus was off in one area singing songs as we all sat in the healing water. It was my husband's birthday, and he called this impromptu concert the best birthday present he had ever had. Our fellow lagoon mates spoke many different languages. Striking up a conversation was easy, illustrating diversity at its best. Many people spoke some level of English, which always makes me regret the lack of emphasis on foreign languages in our American schools.

(click) One of five facilities, the
geo thermal power plant we visited serves a wide area a short bus ride from Reykjavik. These plants make it possible for Icelanders to enjoy heat, electricity, cold and hot water for a fraction of what other world citizens pay.

Geysir is the geothermal field where geysers erupt every few minutes with mud pools bubbling, and lending an other-worldly feeling to the area.

(click) Gullfoss, called the queen of Icelandic waterfalls, sends huge amounts of water crashing hundreds of feet below to a rushing river. A most splendid and awe-inspiring sight.

(click) Pingvellir – where from the first century, Iceland’s most important historical events took place. Icelanders of long ago rode by horse from every corner of the land, sleeping in tents, to meet and make decisions in what was the site of the first and oldest parliament (Althing) in the world. The parliament was moved to Reykjevik much later. Now you can walk up the hill between massive lava flows and crevices and get a taste of what that old trek must have been like.

You have reached the end of my slide show. There was neither time nor energy to do more in our brief visit. Perhaps now you will be inspired to fly to the land of the Vikings. BUT, don’t come to Iceland thinking that it’s a bargain vacation. The cost of living is high and the tourist attractions are expensive.

Here are some more experiences for another trip: Horseback riding on the small, darling shaggy Icelandic horses, helicopter rides to look into volcanoes, whale and puffin watching, white water rafting, and tours to see the Northern Lights, to name a few. And try to take a Saga tour where you can learn about the stories, legends, and inhabitants, real and mythical, of old Iceland.

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Now, let's make learning about Iceland a fun project for students and children everywhere using the seven (multiple) intelligences.

Rikka and Her Magic Ring in Iceland by Hendrikka Waage is a modern day story about a little girl who, with her friend Linda, goes on educational and exciting visits around her country by using her magic ring. Together they learn about volcanic hot pools where they can relax and swim, sculptures at an art gallery, handball which once gave Iceland an Olympic silver medal, horseback riding, snowmobiling, glaciers, icebergs, Viking history, fishing, folk sagas, elves, trolls, geysers, puffins, whales, and finally, the Imagine Peace Tower on a nearby island. Get ready for your own Icelandic adventure!

Make clay people similar to the ones Rikka saw at the art gallery. If you have beads and pipe cleaners, make a simple magic ring. Turn a lump of black clay (lava) into a beautiful stone necklace. Inscribe a mystery design on your stone. Poke a hole in your masterpiece and thread some ribbon, string or yarn to fit around your neck. If you are really ambitious make a troll out of a dried and shrunken apple. Clicking on "troll" will give you step-by-step directions.

With a partner, each make a small volcano using a plastic prescription bottle, pop bottle, or other small container, a hardening substance like plaster of Paris or other waterproof clay, vinegar, baking soda, vinegar, liquid soap, and food coloring. Mold the clay around the bottle, shaping it like a mountain with an opening in the top. Click on "make a small volcano" for more details. Help each other to find a way to make the volcanoes erupt. Chart your results and draw a picture of your final product. Research on line what causes volcanoes and what really makes them erupt.

(1) Pretend you have a magic ring. Write and illustrate a story.

If I had a magic ring I would go to ________________because____________________. Keep on writing to develop an interesting story.

(2) Find a book about trolls in your library and learn about the different kinds of trolls and elves in Iceland. Go online if you need more information. Icelandic Trolls by Brian Pilkington is a wonderful and fanciful, beautifully illustrated book, filled with facts about trolls. This is a “must read” selection for kids who like fantasy stories.

Think about where you live and list five places in your community that you would like to visit or show someone else. Tell a little about each place. Share your information with a partner or the class as a guest speaker in charge of tourism for your area.

Learn facts about Iceland on Yahoo for Kids. Study the map and learn about the people there. See the flag example and make an Icelandic flag using construction paper in the three different colors – red, white, and blue. Compare it to the American flag.

At recess play a rousing game of handball. Check with your PE teacher about the rules and where best to play.

Listen to the beautiful choral rendition of the national anthem of Iceland.