The Right Clothes Could Improve Your Memory


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 I often can’t remember where I’ve put something or even why I’ve gone into a room and yet I could tell you what I’d be wearing to work today, if I wasn’t retired. It’s the same thing I’d worn for years on the last day of school before the kids went home for spring break. I was their well-educated, sophisticated teacher, after all.

 Years ago, the majority of our school staff could be seen sporting this svelte form of attire. One fellow teacher actually had the exact same sweater! But before you judge, I want you to consider a few facts.  The elongated holiday sweater, with all of its designs and embellishments, complimented one’s body.  Okay, okay…so it didn’t flatter anyone’s figure but it did a pretty good job of just covering stuff up.(In its defense, this poor thing had hung in my closet, “growing”, for years before I realized it and put it in a drawer.) Deciding what to wear that Friday before Easter was never a problem, once the pink rabbit sweater came into my life. And there was something quite festive about walking around the classroom, all day, in a sweater that made such a bold statement. Even if that statement was…”The teacher dresses funny.” 

I was thrilled when I went to a  local high school campus, last December, and saw many of the students dressed in colorful holiday sweaters. I thought I’d found a  kinder, gentler, student body until I was informed it was Ugly Sweater Day. Adolescents…what do they know anyway?

 Researchers recognize that, as a general rule, we remember those emotionally charged events better than the dull, boring ones. I can attest to the fact that those days in a classroom, before a holiday…with all those classroom festivities… are pretty unforgettable. There is also some research to suggest that memories are more easily retained when they are accompanied with vivid, visual images. So I’m thinking that holiday celebration days, from my classroom, will be a part of my memory for a long time. Although the sweaters might be ugly…the memories are sweet.



Lessons Learned From the “Little People”


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It happened every year on St. Patrick’s Day.  I’d swing open the door of my  classroom to 30 eagerly awaiting kindergarteners and prepare to deliver the unsettling news. Our classroom was a mess. Somehow, blocks and toys had been left all over the floor, paints had been tipped over, and tiny little green footprints covered the countertops and whiteboards!  The children would always be horrified…delightfully horrified.

There was never any argument about the clean-up. Everyone was anxious  to help, confident that under the next pile of blocks or in the next cupboard, they would find the leprechaun responsible for the mess. It had to be a leprechaun, didn’t it? Although an actual mischievous sprite of Irish folklore was never caught, several were seen running past the door or escaping over the playground fence. It would be well into April before the sightings stopped.

I suspicioned that when I left kindergarten for third grade , I’d miss the naive charm of a five-year old.  Although most third graders no longer believed in leprechauns or other fascinating creatures, they delighted in other things. One of those things was the magic of nature. A lizard zipping across the pavement would bring squeals of excitement from most eight-year olds. I was always reminding my students that a paper cup and a handful of grass was not the natural habitat for ladybugs but there were times when their wide eyes, brimming with tears, would force me to concede…”How about releasing them after you show  mom and dad?”  Their enhancement with nature was undeniable and it didn’t stop with living things.

We were lucky enough to have a large, six-foot window in our classroom that looked out on a grassy area and several trees. Not the students that passed by the window or even the workers that climbed ladders, in front of our window to the roof, caused as much of a distraction as the changing weather.  Every time it started to rain, there would be a rumble in the classroom, a couple of my most impulsive students escaping from their seats to get a closer look. The first time it happened, I headed to the window with full intentions of closing the blinds.  But, I stopped.

Wasn’t curiosity the very thing that teachers hoped to encourage? I believed it played as important of a role, in the education of a child, as learning facts. And isn’t a certain portion of  adult success (that is a long-term goal of educators, after all) measured by personal happiness? It always seemed to me that happiness had more to do with being awed by life and the things around you than it did with wealth or fame.

But most of all, I had promised myself, as a young college student, that I would always be a champion of childhood.  Closing the blinds, at that moment, would be communicating that enjoying the sights and sounds of the rain was far less important than our lessons. But the rain wouldn’t last forever and their attention spans were short. The mystery of the rain would pass and we would be able to get back to the joys of multiplication. But for now, for this short moment in time, we needed to delight in what was in front of us. And so we did.

I learned numerous lessons, from my students, over the course of my teaching career. I always knew childhood was a magical time but they reminded me, year after year, that keeping life magical had a lot to do with knowing when to let your imagination run wild and remembering to view everyday events as celebrations. And those, thank goodness, are lessons I don’t have to let go of as I age.

Rosary High School’s RED and GOLD… It’s Much Ado About Teamwork


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Mathematically, it just doesn’t add up.  Take a group of about six hundred high school girls, give them the task of creating two school-wide competing musicals that include all the basic elements of theater, without the benefits of an extended timeline or a generous budget and then anticipate a delightfully creative, energetic production evidenced by sold-out performances. It may not “add up” but that is exactly what happens every year, at Rosary High School.

Rosary High School is a Catholic High School for girls located in Fullerton, California. It’s a high school, like many others, populated with students of diverse interests and skills. It isn’t made up of students who have all decided to pursue a  profession in theater or the arts.  But once a year, for six weeks, they work together like they were auditioning for the TV show Smash!

Red and Gold is their honored, forty-two year tradition. Its goal is to “unify the school community and profoundly deepen school spirit, loyalty, and pride.” The students are divided into two teams (the Red and Gold Teams) which are led by student producers and captains. These teams must then work to create a script that coordinates with the year’s theme as well as produce dance/musical numbers, create costumes, track the budget and create publicity ,and build props and scenery.   And don’t assume that those girls can’t wield power tools!  The local boys Catholic high school, Servite, provides some technical support as the Black Team, but the girls don’t ever forget who is in charge.  The White Team (a neutral team made up of ASB members and representatives of the junior and senior class) helps with the logistics and announces the winner at the end of the last performance. The performances truly have to be witnessed to be believed.

Watch the girls at the  Red and Gold kick-off rally and the 2012 theme is announced.

 I remember the first time that I sat in the audience for a Red and Gold Production. The energy in the theater was unmistakable and when the girls hit the stage, their obvious dedication and talent overwhelming. It is rare within the intimidating high school experience that the opportunity is provided for students to take a risk and try something they have never done before with the support of friends and peers.  It is true that this kind of achievement would never be possible if it weren’t for a school administration/staff that supports the idea and champion the girls along the way, and the parents, who are the girls’ biggest fans. But it is a testament to the girls, themselves, and the power of teamwork. Collaborating to achieve a common goal while celebrating individual strengths… priceless life skills best learned by experiencing them first hand. Kudos to Rosary High School, and its staff, for recognizing that fact. And praise to those Rosary girls who go above and beyond to make Red and Gold such a magical event.

“Where the Sidewalk Ends” is this year’s Red and Gold theme. The performance opens on Friday night, March 9, with additional performances on Saturday, March 10, at the Servite Theater, in Anaheim.

Red and Gold Program 2011

Out of the Kindle and into the Backyard


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About 13 years ago, I played a supporting role in an off-Broadway production of Ludwig Bemelmans’ classic children’s book, Madeline. When I say off-Broadway, I mean more than 2,000 miles from New York City, in my niece’s backyard in Southern California. Although I had no script to memorize or rehearsals to attend, I was expected to wear a costume, bring the character of Miss Clavel to life, and help supervise a group of little girls. I was part of a literature themed birthday party.

There may not have been twelve little girls and we were definitely not in two straight lines but we were engaged!

Planning a child’s birthday party has turned into big business over the last decade.  Even if you aren’t a parent who typically hires an event planner to choreograph your child’s party, you undoubtedly feel some pressure to create a special celebration that involves more than a clown creating balloon animals and doesn’t necessitate borrowing from your child’s college fund. By sharing bits and pieces of my niece’s literature-themed birthday party, you might be inspired to create a party based on something that is already near and dear to your child’s heart…a beloved story from their own bookshelf. Involve your child in some of the planning and you’ll be creating birthday memories even before the invitations are addressed.  

Setting the Stage

Alex wore a Madeline costume as she greeted her guests, at the door. If you decide to have your child wear a costume and his/her birthday is near Halloween, finding a costume will probably be a no-brainer. Several websites offer children’s costumes for sale throughout the year, or if you have the time, you could possibly assemble a costume yourself. Although Alex only wore the costume long enough to welcome her party guests, the costume played another important role which I will explain in a minute. 

Creating a Backdrop

This step may sound a bit labor-intensive but it doesn’t have to be and a backdrop can be both decorative and functional.  I don’t have a picture of the mural Alex’s mom created, by itself, so you will have to look past the three of us to get an idea of what I am talking about.

Alex’s mom is quite creative so I believe she free-handed this backdrop, using a page in the book as a reference.  She used  large sheets of white butcher paper for the “canvas”. Butcher paper can be purchased at a teacher-supply store. You could also use a couple of large picnic tablecloths or an inexpensive white sheet. If you aren’t that confident of your free-hand artistic talents, you have several other options. Simple black and white images can be projected onto a white surface, traced and then painted or colored. Or, if you want to avoid the whole painting thing, create a “scene” using things around your house or backyard. For example, if your child loves Curious George, their costume might be the yellow clothing and hat worn by the “Man with The Yellow Hat”.  A small stuffed monkey and a tree in your backyard could be your scene.

Sometime during the party, when Alex and her guests were busily engaged in activities, the guests (one by one) put on the Madeline costume and had their picture taken in front of the backdrop. After the party, Alex’s mom printed the pictures and turned them into thank you cards that Alex sent to her guests.

                                      The thank you note that I received.

 Other Options

Once the guests had all arrived, Alex’s mom read Madeline to the children. Start your festivities with an actual reading of the favored book. Or, if your child’s favorite book is lengthy, like Harry Potter, choose the perfect excerpt to help create the mood.

We played Pin the Yellow Hat on Madeline. You can create games or activities that relate to the book’s theme. Or, take a classic like, Pin the Tail on the Donkey, and rename the parts.

Madeline lived in Paris, France, so little finger sandwiches (peanut butter and jelly) and petit fours were served. One of your choices can be to have your treats and/or your cake reflect the book’s theme.

Alex gave paperback copies of Madeline to her friends. Obviously, purchasing books can be expensive. If your child’s classroom teacher offers Scholastic Book Orders to her students, you might check those flyers. Frequently, they offer paperback books for $.99 each. Check for special offers and the dates of their local warehouse sales. If you like creating treat bags for the party goers, this can be a relatively easy place to interject he theme.

Alex’s mom had access to adult costumes from a local theater group so our nun costumes were on loan. It was a decision we made on a whim but it was one we never regretted. Just have fun with the whole thematic idea and consider including other interested adults.


Whatever you choose for your theme, or even if you choose not to have a themed party at all, isn’t as important as choosing to create a celebration that is all about your child. Alex loved books and reading. Your child’s celebration should reflect his/her unique curiosities, young dreams, and ever-changing interests. Keep that in mind and the birthday party will be a success, whatever form it takes.                                         






National Letter Writing Week January 9-16


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Many of the classic tasks of yesteryear have become obsolete after the arrival of technological inventions, like the computer. We are in an era where efficiency is held king and faster typically correlates to better. Efficiency is defined as “the ability to accomplish a job with minimum expenditure of time and effort.”  But is that always better?

Psychologists and life-style coaches remind us that a happier, healthier life can only be accomplished through balance. We somehow need to include, on our endless list of “to-dos”, those tasks that big us joy and reflect the things we value. I think most people would agree that our lives are richer because of the relationships we share with family and friends.

So, this is a perfect week for me to tout hand written letters. I’m not talking about replacing e-mails sent for business purposes or general communication with a hand written note. I’m talking about spending a few quiet moments contemplating the people, in your life, who might really benefit from knowing that they are in your thoughts. Aging relatives? Widowed friends? Empty nesters? Service men and women? I was raised by a mom who devoted a small portion of her day, every day, to correspond with friends and loved ones. I saw the impact that it had on people’s lives as well as her own. Most of us don’t hesitate to send a sympathy card to a friend, after a death, but how about a card, months later, as a reminder they are still in our thoughts?  A hand written letter doesn’t have to be long or say anything profound. In fact, it doesn’t really need to say much more than…”I’m thinking about you.”

It’s always a bright spot, for me, when I pull something from the mailbox other than bills and junk mail. I challenge you, this week,  to help create that bright spot for someone else. Identify just one person who might really benefit from a hand written note. (Seriously, who wouldn’t?)  A simple note that just says “hi” but communicates so much more. Think of all the people who could be encouraged, all the lives that could be brightened. It’s a moderate amount of time and effort for a huge payoff.  For me, that’s true efficiency.

My Four Star Style Resolution


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I have had “live in 4 star style” as a New Year’s Resolution for as long as I have been writing resolutions. The expression obviously comes from the rating system of restaurants and hotels that existed in the years I first started contemplating resolutions. In the 1970s, grade point averages peaked at 4.0 and so did rating systems. But my resolution has nothing to do with living a sumptuous life. In the same way that a quaint, unassuming bed and breakfast might qualify for a top rating because of its uniqueness, quality of service, or the fact that it is situated on a breathtaking ocean bluff, I attempt to live my life in my own personal 4 star style.

For me, that means being true to myself and my sense of celebration of life through relationships and an attitude of appreciation.  It means things like keeping a gratitude journal, hiding love notes in my husband’s gym bag, adding a personal greeting to that birthday card (not just my signature), and not waiting for a special occasion to use the “good” dishes.  It’s about being a little more patient, being a little more forgiving. 

In classic goal setting terms, this is a ridiculous resolution. It gets points for being a goal that is under my control but how do I make it specific and measurable?  I don’t even want to.  How do I know when I’ve been successful? I know. There is a certain element of spontaneity that this resolution requires and yet there has to be planning to make it successful. It’s an oxymoron, of some type. Sometimes I lead with my head and sometimes my heart. Even without specific timelines or markers to meet, there are days and times when I know that I have failed miserably.  I know when I’ve been too tired or too focused, on myself, to put in the extra effort. I know when I’m just being lazy. But I also recognize when the extra effort turns an ordinary day into something special.  Each day really is a new beginning and I like that.

And so I enter 2012 with my absurdly undefined and basically outdated (I know I should update to 5 Star Style) resolution. But it is my “old tradition” and it makes a year of 365 or 366 days full of possibilities…. possibilities for celebration.

Do You Remember Taffy…that Infamous Welshman?


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My neighbor is in the process of putting together a costume for her five-year old daughter. Kindergarteners from the local elementary school will be participating in a Halloween parade, this year, dressed as characters from nursery rhymes. Little Bo Peep… Little Miss Muffet… The Queen of Hearts… All require dramatic costuming and provide the opportunity for props… desirable options for a parade of this sort. We can’t help but chuckle at the thought of a classroom full of elaborately costumed five-year olds.

Years ago, in preparation for a teaching career, I was enrolled in a children’s literature class. I had loved the nursery rhymes, as a child, so I was excited when it came time to discuss them, in class. Instead of focusing on the colorful characters or the meter of the verses, we examined their content for violent themes, learning that many of the well-known nursery rhymes were never really intended for children. I found that fact interesting but I would have rather discussed why these rhymes still have so much appeal. Understanding that nursery rhymes were cartoons, of sorts, with their roots in the political and social undertones of the day, explained why they were often politically incorrect. But did anybody have any insight into how children explained the “plots” to themselves? I should have asked but it was the 70s…we were focusing on social injustices.

Rereading all of these nursery rhymes, in my college class, made me curious. Did I have a favorite one, as a child? Did it have a violent theme? Did I ever question the stories depicted in those rhymes? My mother didn’t even hesitate when I asked her about my favorite nursery rhyme.  My unchallenged favorite?   Taffy was a Welshman


Taffy was a Welshman. Taffy was a thief;

Taffy came to my house and stole a side of beef;

I went to Taffy’s house, Taffy was in bed;

I picked up a marrow bone and hit him on the head.

Mama Lisa's World @ (from National Nursery Book/publication date unknown)

Sort of a bizarre choice for a girly-girl who disliked confrontation. But I recognized it, as soon as my mom said the title, and I immediately could recite those four verses from memory. I would later learn that there are numerous verses and versions of this nursery rhyme. But the gist of the rhyme is clear from these four lines and they were the ones that made me laugh.

It could be argued that this is a rhyme with anti-Welsh lyrics. It was popular in England, in the 1800s, at a time when it was thought neighbors from Wales were stealing from the English. But there is also another theory that says the rhyme has its origins in Celtic Mythology. Taffy was derived from Amaethon, the God of Welsh Agriculture, well-known for stealing wild life from the God of the Otherworld. How did I handle this politically incorrect verse? Politically what? I just assumed Welshman was Taffy’s family name.

How did I handle the violent actions in the rhyme? I was somewhat of a shy child and I didn’t handle my frustrations by whacking others. Sometimes I saw my classmates do it but I never remember thinking that was funny. Reading about someone being hit on the head, with a bone, was very funny to me. Perhaps because I knew it was just a made up story. Maybe because table manners were important in our house and it struck me as hilarious that someone would take a meat bone, from their dinner plate, and sprint across the street with it.  It really didn’t need explanation, for me. I knew that characters in books and poems often did things that I couldn’t or shouldn’t do.

I came away, from that class, with the opinion that educators/parents need to be aware of what their children are reading as well as paying attention to their interpretations and reactions. No person, with a conscience, purposely endorses violence or encourages prejudice so we need to make sure that we don’t do it inadvertently Once we’ve done that, we might be able to just sit back and enjoy the rhyming verses, the charming illustrations, and in many cases, the humor of it all.

It’s Autumn on Balboa Island


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One of the most delightful things about being retired is the ability to make a simple event, like eating lunch, into an excursion. My husband and I recently made a lunchtime journey to Balboa Island, a picturesque island nestled between Newport Peninsula and the city of Newport Beach. It’s a southern California location just about fifteen minutes from our home.

This bridge and the ferry are the only ways of entering Balboa Island.

As you can imagine, this charming place is a hot spot in the summer. The ferries that trek between the island and the peninsula are typically packed with cars, bicyclists, and pedestrians, all anxious to get onto the island or to the peninsula where The Balboa Fun Zone awaits. Yachts, sailboats, and  kayaks busily navigate the waters surrounding the island. Bicyclists, roller-bladers, and folks, just out for walk, fill the sidewalk, which runs the perimeter of the island, at the water’s edge. Marine Avenue, the island’s aptly named main street, is lined with small boutiques, coffee shops, and restaurants as well as a post office, fire department, and grocery store…all the necessities for those who call Balboa Island home. Despite all of the activity, being on this quaint island is peaceful and relaxing and provides, at least temporarily, an escape from the everyday routines of the real world.

But we weren’t having lunch on a summer day. Summer had been dismissed and a stroll around the island reminded us of that fact. A fall day on the island is a stark contrast to a typical summer day. The activity level has definitely dropped as the weather has cooled and the vacationers have gone home.

Sailing class enrollment is down.

A lone sailboat in the bay

A ride on the ferry minus the cars.

A somber Balboa Fun Zone typically bustling with activity.

The change of seasons provides a break from the challenging parking conditions and the crowded sidewalks as well as furnishing the residents with new decorating opportunities.

Pumpkins on a pier!

Battened down umbrellas and a pumpkin centerpiece add to this picturesque setting.

Fall means displaying your team spirit!

Flags fly year-round on the island. A beautiful sight even against the overcast skies.

We ended our visit with a walk down Marine Avenue.  Traffic remains on the only street on and off of the island as the local visitors continue to enjoy the island throughout the year. But we didn’t see a single person, that day, enjoying a frozen banana or a Balboa Bar. Final proof that summer is behind us.

No crowds at the candy store today.

There are even some available spaces to park your bicycle.

We hated to leave!

Our sentiments exactly...regardless of the season!

The Miraculous Make-Over of the Little House


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I fought back the tears as I signed my name on the line marked SELLER. I fought back the tears as I pressed my inky thumb in the Notary’s document book and I fought back the tears when I handed over the envelope at the Fed-Ex counter but once back in the seclusion of my own home…I gave up the fight.

Many years ago, my mother said, “Promise me you’ll do something with the little house after I’m gone.” She was referring to her childhood home, a small house that sat on the gentle slopes of the Oquirrah Mountains in Utah. Built in the 1920s, my grandparents were its first and only owners and my mother had lived there until she left for college. The house might have been diminutive but it was always loved and well-tended. My grandmother sewed the curtains that hung in its windows and cared for the billowy hydrangea that flourished on the side of the house. I never knew my grandmother but I saw her handiwork every time my mother pulled out one of her tablecloths or quilts. I was well aware of her love for family and the elementary school children she taught. My grandfather and I, on the other hand, were great buddies. He taught me to whistle before I could talk and bought me  pink corduroy overalls after watching me attempt to crawl in a dress. He called me his little giant interpreting my persistence as strength instead of what I suspect it really was… stubbornness. I loved him with all of my young heart. My mother’s sentimental attachment to this tiny house made it difficult for her to let it go even though being an absentee landlord, after my grandfather had passed away, had never been easy. As the little house aged, it needed more and more attention and I was well aware that it had become a concern for her.

The little house in the 1920s.

As parents age and roles reverse, providing support can be a challenge, but it can also provide opportunities. Opportunities that give you a chance to repay a bit of the love and support that has been demonstrated towards you, over the years. My mother had been a parent, a friend… an encourager all of my life. I knew that I would do everything I could to fulfill her request to take care of her childhood home.  So, after her death, my husband and I headed to Utah, to determine what our first steps would be in carrying out her wishes.

A dear family friend, Ken, had been acting as a rental agent and general handyman for the little house for many years. He was more than willing to help us make a list of initial repairs and actually complete some of the work himself. The process would take time as we would have to proceed in baby steps…we were both working and money would be a consideration… but it was a start. Nothing I could do would ever fill the emptiness that I felt after losing my mother but the thought of working on the little house, the house that had been the setting of so many of her cherished childhood memories, brought me immense joy. As we flew home to California, after that initial visit, I was encouraged and filled with anticipation.

Upon returning home, we resumed our jobs and routines and I continued to be energized with each little step we took towards our goal. One day, I returned from work to a message from the insurance company informing me that there had been a fire in the little house. The external damage was minimal but the interior structural damage was significant. The cost of rebuilding would exceed the little house’s value so it could not be rebuilt. The insurance company would cover the cost of demolition and removal of materials.  They would be in touch as to our next steps.

My father had passed away when my mother was in her forties. She was such a young widow and she used to say to me, “If we can live without your father…we can live without any thing.” I knew this house was just a possession, just a thing. I diligently tried to hear her voice and have that familiar message give me solace.  Logic and reason couldn’t change anything…my heart was broken. The next few weeks were a blur filled with numerous bits of information from both the insurance company and the fire department. Thank God, we were between renters, so we didn’t have the concern for human safety. The arson investigators determined there was no foul play so signing papers appeared to be all that was needed to close our case. End of story…or so it would seem.

Another phone message, about two weeks later, changed everything and redirected the fate of the little house. A contractor had been found that would build a new home for the insured amount. Pushing my surprise and confusion aside, I focused on preparing for a meeting where, I was assured, all the details would be discussed. Greg searched the internet for tips on working with a contractor and I prepared by gathering old pictures of the little house. I suspected that the interior of the new house might be different from the original design. After all, we didn’t need to build another coal shoot, but I hoped that the exterior could somewhat resemble that original design. It fit the neighborhood and I was still dealing with the sentimental issues.

Our contractor couldn’t have been more willing to try to make my visions a reality. Sketches of the exterior of the house and  blueprints went back and forth, in the mail, until we both were satisfied, and then the work began. The demolition of the little house was hard to contemplate so I chose to focus on the construction instead. It began in late fall and Ken sent pictures, regularly, as promised.

We did need a new foundation. No rebar had been used in the original.

There was a little snow evident on the neighbor's roof but framing had definitely started.

Work was going on inside, at this point. Brrrr!

A new little house had been born!

Seeing this sweet little house,completed, was overwhelming. It was no longer the house my mother had grown up in but it sat in the same spot, in the same neighborhood, in the same town. I wanted to put in a front yard and then my project would be complete. The little house would be ready to sell…ready to really belong to a family, again.

Greg, Ken, and I worked, that fall, putting in a sprinkler system and a lawn but I could still feel myself stalling for time. Could we hold onto the house for a year?  I hoped that if we could spend just a few days, in the little house, during each of the seasons, I’d be content.  Utah is a beautiful state and we enjoyed the variety and the splendor of each season…except winter. Utah had one of its harshest winters on record, that year, and we decided not to chance the drive. We returned in late spring the following year. I knew that our days, enjoying this little house and its surroundings, were numbered. I had accomplished all that I had set out to do and I knew that letting go of the little house didn’t mean I had to let go of any memories. They would go home with me, and stay with me, forever.

One morning, as I looked out of the window at the grey clouds and the listened to the soft rain, I commented on our accomplishments. We had done all we had set out to do. It was all like a dream come true…a sort of little miracle. My only regret? I’d missed seeing the little house in snow.  And then it happened… the rain got heavier, the sky got darker…and it started to snow. Just a light dusting at first but then heavier and heavier until snow softly blanketed the lawn. The folks in Utah probably didn’t even count it as snow, but as far as I was concerned, it was the winter I’d missed. If I had any question that I’d made the right choice to let go, to move on… I had my answer.

It started as rain and turned into snow,

dusting the lawn with a touch of winter in spring.

The little house was only on the market for about 4 months before it sold. It was what we wanted but I still cried.

My mother was a master at knowing when to lead with her head and when to lead with her heart. I always wished I had more confidence when it came to making that choice. There were numerous times during this journey when my head told me I should reconsider. Instead, I listened to my heart. I will be forever grateful that I did for it allowed me to fulfill a very special promise.

Mrs. S


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Every year at this time, as the kids go back to school, I can’t help but reflect on my own years as a student and then as an elementary classroom teacher. This year, my third grade teacher, Mrs. S, has been in my thoughts not only for who she was but for the part she played in developing my beliefs about the role of a teacher.

Third grade could have been a difficult year for me. We were an Air Force family and we had recently moved from Ramstein, Germany back to the states. I had been in an elementary school, on the base in Europe, where a new student was somewhat of a regular occurrence. That was not the case in the public school in Forestville, Maryland. I was a bit shy and Mrs. S. made sure that the transition was as painless as possible. It’s ironic I actually don’t remember much about her except that she had grayish blonde hair, was pregnant, and put her arm around my shoulders…often.

Many years later, during one of those reflecting back discussions with my mom, the topic of school and my third grade year came up. I was shocked to find out that my mom and dad initially had reservations about Mrs. S. I can’t remember exactly what my parents’ concerns were but it had something to do with her academic goals for the year or her professionalism. But my mother was very clear about the reason that they kept me in the class. “You needed a safe, loving environment. We had just upset your little world with a big move and it was most important to us that you went to school each day feeling happy and secure. Mrs. S did that for you.”

My college days, that were spent preparing for a teaching career, were filled with courses and lessons on learning theories, best teaching practices, and the gentle nature of the young child’s psyche. Those topics were repeatedly addressed over the course of my teaching career. But as the years progressed, we talked  more and more about test scores and the importance of students being able to compete in a global economy. Ahhh…that global economy. I have read several articles, over the years, that say there is a  characteristic among American entrepreneurs that makes them unique. That characteristic is their willingness to fail and then try again. Our culture does not really view failure as failing unless one gives up trying.

If one of our strengths, as a nation, comes from our people who are not afraid of failure, then we need to start when students are young, encouraging them to be all that they can be, to take risks knowing they have the safety net of caring teachers for support. It goes without saying that we need to have classrooms that provide students with academic opportunities but we also need to provide some emotional support as well. Adults, in our schools, need to “put their arms around the shoulders” of their students whether it’s in protecting them from bullies, encouraging them to believe in themselves, or just giving support during life’s scary times.

I sincerely hope that as our nation struggles to improve an educational system, that seems to be failing so many, we don’t underestimate the value of demonstrating tenderness. I had a teacher who exhibited compassion towards me, over 40 years ago, and I never forgot it. It made a difference then. It can make a difference now.