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