Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Changing Traditions

When my twenty-four-year-old son recently said, “This doesn’t feel like Christmas,” the title of a book by Thomas Wolfe, “You Can’t Go Home Again,” popped into my head. Although we did some decorating as well as some gift shopping and wrapping, the meager group of presents under the tree didn’t look like the gift pile of past Christmases.

“Welcome to Grown-Up-Land,” I replied. When the kids were little it took very few dollars to fill the space under the Christmas tree. Now that they’re grown and half of them have moved out, we have scaled way back and limit the presents to one per person. This benefits me the most, since the majority of the baking, decorating, shopping, and wrapping, always fell to me. Now I have a lot less stress during the holiday season!

With changing family dynamics comes a change in traditions. We got our tree up this year. It is pre-lit and there’s an angel at the top. In addition, there are three candy canes on the tree. Two of them look like mice. The rest of the decorations sat in a box at the foot of the tree until Christmas Eve. We (my husband Denis and I) just couldn’t figure out when to decorate the tree.

Back when our children were young, we decorated as a family. Denis strung the lights and then we hung our favorite ornaments. Finally we added the silver glass spherical ornaments. They really reflected a lot of light. All this while munching on homemade caramel corn; my grandmother’s recipe.

This year I wasn’t in the mood to make caramel corn for just the two of us. I can’t handle that much sugar. Neither of us need the calories. But it was more than that. It just didn’t feel right. So, we never really decorated the tree.

So it’s time to create some new traditions. Traditions for two. For now. Until, perhaps, when the time comes that our family dynamics change once again?

Have your traditions changed? How did you handle it? What did you do? Leave me a comment. I’d love to hear from you.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

‘Tis the Season of Gratitude

Is it just me or is our society getting ruder? Please and thank you are so underrated and underused lately, in my opinion. When I worked at a fast food restaurant, my first “real job” back in the 70s, we were taught to give the customer their change and/or food, look them in the eye, and say, “Thank you, come again.” We even added a “Have a nice day.” With a smile.

My recent shopping experiences have concluded with me being handed my change and/or purchases and told, “Here you go.” To which I reply, “Yes, here I go.” The look on the clerk’s face is priceless and clueless. I don’t blame them. I blame their management, the people training them in customer service. Or not training them, apparently.

I feel that in this tight economy, retailers should be grateful for any business that comes their way. Showing gratitude to their customers through interactions with their employees is a place to start.

So now my fun shopping game is to look the clerk in the eye as I get ready to “go” and say, with a smile, “You’re welcome. Enjoy your day.” The blank, confused look is priceless. I’m sure they just think I’m insane. Perhaps, but at least I’m grateful.

What do you think?  Do you think manners are important to a positive shopping experience?  Leave me a comment.  I'd love to hear from you!

Friday, December 9, 2011


“Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year?” I heard some people asking each other in my writing class a few years ago. I had no clue what they were talking about so I eavesdropped so more. I soon learned that NaNoWriMo stood for National Novel Writing Month which happens to be November. It sounded insane to me—write a novel in a month.

Write a novel in a month? Fifty thousand words, to be exact. (1,666 words per day) As a true procrastinator I’ve never even written a novel in a year or make that all of my 51 years. I was always afraid to start one because it might not be perfect and I probably wouldn’t finish it anyway.

So this year I signed up for NaNoWriMo. (I even gave a modest donation to help this nonprofit that promotes writing.) And on November 1, 2011, I started to write.

I wrote and I wrote. I didn’t make the daily word goal every day but I didn’t give up. I wrote before and after school daily and for hours on the weekends. Unfortunately I “lost” some writing days due to Thanksgiving but it was worth it, the feasting was delicious!

Some days the story just flowed from my fingertips to my keyboard. Other days I struggled. Those were the times that my main character got hit by a car, was sickened with food poisoning, and got the flu. I laughed as I typed and I cried. It was amazing how emotionally involved I got with my characters. I imagined my fourth graders reading my words. I kept it clean—rated a mild PG. There’s no bad language or nudity, but it is a bit scary and sad due to the ghosts and orphans.

Now that November has ended in one big flurry of typing, I have a 50,013 word manuscript to work with. It’s not great, but I did it. It was painful at times. Especially the day I typed 8,000 words. My teddy bear shaped ice packs came in real handy that day.

I’m letting my manuscript “rest” for a while. I’ll probably start editing it in January. I know it will be a lot of work but I actually can’t wait! I’m so proud of what I accomplished so far.

The bottom line? Even when you think you can’t do something, just do it. You might just surprise yourself.

Have you ever done something you thought you couldn’t do but did? Leave me a comment. I’d love to hear from you!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

NaNoWriMo 2011

Hi Everybody!
I just finished my first draft of my first novel ever!  I'll be back next week to tell you all about!  I'm all typed out.
Yours truly,
Peppermint Patti P.E.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Halloween That Wasn't

This year Halloween didn’t happen. At least, not in the traditional sense.  We had a big nor’easter a few days before that wreaked havoc on trees that had not yet shed their leaves.  Thousands of people were without electricity.  Streets were dark and littered with downed branches and wires.  We went into survival, not haunting mode.

While some people got their power back within 24 hours, for many it took more than a week!  Communities sent out robo-calls updating the status of the power companies’ progress as well as-gasp-to cancel Halloween!  It just wasn’t safe.  I didn’t even walk the dog—I hibernated—and gained five pounds!  And no, those five pounds weren’t from the leftover Halloween candy.  I sent that to my son’s girlfriend’s house. 

We didn’t have much food in our refrigerator/freezer upstairs nor our chest freezer in the cellar, yet we didn’t want to lose what we did have so we packed coolers with snow and started cooking.  Because we have a gas stove we still could use the burners if we lit them manually.  We ate and ate. 

Hanging out at local warming centers during the day gave me a glimpse into my future.  The Senior Center in Agawam still had internet!  It was fun sitting in the computer room with the older folks as they checked their email and watched their soap operas.  It just wasn’t comfortable sitting home trying to stay warm with no source of heat.  Our oil burner uses electricity so we had no heat or hot water.  By boiling water on the stove, solar gain during the day, and candles at night we could get the house temperature up to a roaring 58o F.

We were lucky, we survived the week.  Friends and family offered hot meals and showers.  Many people also showered at the YMCA.  I missed the coffee maker most of all. Coffee was percolated four cups at a time on the stove.  The quality was inconsistent—too weak, too strong, burned, etc.  It’s too bad we’re so dependent on these modern conveniences. 

Above all this week gave me a greater appreciation of our forebears who endured much bigger inconveniences to get us to where we are today.  

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Jaywalking is NOT Cool

Chickens aren’t the only ones who cross the road. We all have to get to the other side eventually. The safest and smartest way to do that is to not only look both ways but also obey the pedestrian laws.

The other day I saw three young, probably pre to early teen, boys cross the street. Not just any street, a four lane state highway that runs through my town. Granted, the top speed for that stretch of the road is 30 miles per hour, but we all know that drivers often exceed the speed limits.

Anyway, not only were these boys sauntering across the road during rush hour traffic, they were about 20 feet outside of the crosswalk. Oh, and did I mention this crosswalk has a pushbutton to change the lights at the intersection so pedestrians can cross safely? It gets better: they crossed right in front of a police car that was traveling at a high rate of speed with the blue lights blazing.

Newsflash—cars can’t stop on a dime! At 30 mph with dry road conditions, it takes about 90 feet for a car to stop.

As a driver I make sure I stop for pedestrians. Not only is it the law, I would be devastated if I ever hurt or killed anyone. But pedestrians have to do their part, too. Cross in the crosswalks! If you push the crosswalk button, wait for the light!!! The rules vary from town to town. Obeying the traffic rules not only prevents you from getting a ticket, it can save your life.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Manners--A Thing of the Past?

The teenagers in my neighborhood don’t know it but they’re participating in a little experiment of mine. When I’m out walking Benny the Wonder Dog before school in the mornings the high schoolers are waiting for their buses. I don’t want to walk rudely by them so I say “Good morning” or “Hello.” The first time this happened not one of them responded to me. I thought they didn’t hear me. But when it happened the second time I realized they didn’t know that when someone says “Good morning” to you it is good manners to say “Good morning” right back.

So that’s when I decided to start my experiment. What would it take to get a teenager to say good morning to a middle aged lady walking a semi-neurotic dog?  (Or is it a middle aged dog walking a semi-neurotic lady?)

The next day I made a bit of a ruckus as I approached those three young ladies at their bus stop. They had their backs to me and as Benny and I got closer, two of them turned around. I greeted them with my usual cheery, “Good morning.” One girl responded with a polite, “Good morning,” one girl kept her back to me and the other one just turned back around. Progress, I thought.

The next day I upped the ante. Not only did I say, “Good morning,” I also said, “Have a nice day.” “You, too,” responded the spokesperson of the group. She smiled. I smiled. It was a good start to the day.

Manners make the world a better place. Let’s be a littler nicer to each other. We’re all in this together.

What do you think? Please me a comment. I’d love to hear from you!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Brat Factor

When I entered the grocery store last night, I knew I was in for trouble. An ear-piercing shriek emanated from the produce section. Wincing, it didn’t take long to discover the source of the ruckus: two rambunctious children under the age of six were playing tag around the fruit and vegetable bins. A tired looking mom and dad basically ignored their offspring occasionally muttering, “Quiet down.” But due to the lack of follow-through, those two hellions pretty much ran amok.

I love children, on occasion. I like children, usually. Last night, however, I had evil thoughts of tripping them as they ran past my cart. I envisioned hiding around a corner and jumping out as they dashed by to scare the-you-know-what out of them. I was even hoping they would slip and fall.  I wanted to say something to the parents, like, "Do your job!"

Spurred to action by the uproar, I grocery shopped in record time. I couldn’t wait to get out of the store and away from the misbehaving children. But wait, was it misbehaving? Is it unreasonable to expect children to be well-behaved in public?

Recently, on Dr. Phil’s show, there was a discussion on “Brat Ban.” Some restaurants are banning children under six. CLICK HERE  to read more about this topic .

It all boils down to expectations. I do expect children to be well-behaved when necessary. The only way they can do so is to be taught what is expected of them, consistently. There is a time and a place for everything. The grocery store is not a place for tag, in my opinion.

What do you think? What would you have done? Please leave me a comment. I’d love to hear from you!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Getting Organized

My second grade teacher had a method for dealing with students with messy desks:  dump them on the floor.  You guessed it; my desk was dumped almost on a daily basis.  Quite frankly, it didn’t make me more organized.   Embarrassed, I just picked up all the stuff and crammed it right back into my desk.  I often wonder where I would be today if I had been taught organizational strategies when I was younger.
In my classroom we spend a lot of time during the first few days of school organizing our materials and supplies in our desks.  I give the students zip lock ® bags and plastic trays to corral their belongings.  I even draw a diagram on the board as to how these things should fit into their desks.  But it never fails, every year I always have some students who struggle with organization. 
This year is no different.  Part of the problem is that when I say, for example, to put a math paper in their red math folders, they don’t do it.  I’m not sure why.  Perhaps they don’t hear me, they’re not paying attention, or they just don’t care. 
No big deal, you’re probably saying.  It is a big deal when I tell the students to get such and such a paper from their folder and invariably there’s one kid who says, “I can’t find it.”  The whole lesson or activity comes to a screeching halt while I attend to the needs of this one student.  I can tell it frustrates the rest of the class.  It certainly frustrates me.
I try to assign helpers to these less-than-organized kiddos.  Sometimes it helps, sometimes it doesn’t.  I’m just not sure what else to do.  

Do you have any suggestions?  I’m willing to try just about anything!  Leave me a comment.  I’d love to hear from you.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Letting Your Child Stay Home Alone

One of my favorite movies of all time is “Home Alone.”  It’s amazing how an eight-year-old boy, Kevin McCallister (played by Mccaulay Culkin), outsmarts the bad guys!  Unfortunately that doesn’t always happen in real life.

It’s important to stay safe when you’re home alone, no matter how old you are.  People think this is just something to think about for children, but it’s also something we need to keep in mind for our elders, too.

We thought our elderly mom would be safe in her own home.  She has a monitored alarm system, answering machine, and keyed deadbolts.  We told her over and over not to let anyone in.

It took a couple of tries—Mom told us that a man had come over and tried to talk his way into the house but she refused.  But then that one time, she let him in. 

The man said he had to check the water so he sent her into the kitchen and had her turn on the water.  In a flash he was back in the kitchen, told her she was all set, and left. 

It could have been worse—“all” she lost was some money, she could’ve been hurt or killed.  But all of us were robbed that day of our sense of safety and security for Mom in her home. 

Have you ever let anyone in your home and then regretted it?  Has anyone tried to gain entry to your home but you refused?  Please leave me a comment.  I’d love to hear from you!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Cutting Your Own Hair Can Be a Disaster

I don’t know why but I don’t like going to get my hair cut.  I put it off and put it off until my hair style is shaggy and all grown out with lots of dry ends due to all my pool time. 

One time I was invited to my niece’s baptism and once again I’d put off going to the salon.  I thought I would take matters into my own hands.   How hard could it be? 

My hair was short back then and cutting the bangs wasn’t so bad.  The sides came off next, one side was longer than the other so I kept snipping left and right until they were even, sort of, and really, really short.

I remembered how the stylist used the clippers to layer the hair in the back.  I felt confident that I could do it myself.  I started clipping the back of my head.  Bzzz, bzzz, bzzz.  The hair fell to the floor and when I looked in the mirror—I had shaved all the hair off the back of my head!

What to do?  What to do?  I wore a sequined hat to the event thinking no one would notice.  Hah!  Nothing escapes the eagle eyes of my older sister Cindy.  She noticed immediately and wanted to know what had happened.

After hearing my explanation, she shook her head and said, “Only you, Patti, only you.”  So I am no longer allowed to cut my own hair—my children forbid it.  I’m due for a trim—overdue, actually. 

I meant to get it cut last weekend but there was this hurricane…

Have you ever had a self-haircutting disaster?  Perhaps you cut someone else’s hair?  Please leave me a comment.  I’d love to hear from you!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Children's Author Jamie Michalak

Children’s book author Jamie Michalak visited our school this past spring. I sat in on her chats with the children every chance I could get! I thoroughly enjoyed her visit and wanted to follow up with a few more questions.   Find out more about Jamie at Candlewick Press. CLICK HERE for the link.

Peppermint Patti: On your website you list one of your oddest jobs-- dressing up as a large mouse at a mouse-themed restaurant. As a fellow costumed character, what do you miss most about being a giant mouse? What was your funniest giant mouse experience?

 Jamie Michalak: I miss the fame that comes with being a giant mouse at a mouse-themed restaurant. Whenever I entered the room, I was immediately surrounded by cheering children.

On the down side, the mouse costume was made for a big and tall man. I had to shuffle to keep the feet on and could barely see out of the mask’s eyeholes. Because I could neither walk nor see, two servers had to escort me out to the dining area, where most children would hug me, but others would poke at me and shout things like “You’re not real!” (Always a little alarming when you can’t see your attackers.) Thankfully, the costume was padded. Did I mention that the inside of the costume was also super stinky? I would not recommend a career as a giant mouse impersonator.

PP: Do you have any exciting news regarding your writing career?

JM: Joe and Sparky, Superstars! the follow-up to Joe and Sparky Get New Wheels, released in March to excellent reviews. Teachers and librarians can find a free Joe and Sparky activity kit on my website, and students can take an “Are You a Joe or a Sparky?” personality quiz.

My first picture book, The Coziest Place illustrated by John Davis, will be published in Fall 2013.

Vincent: What inspired you to write in the first place?

JM: When I was in elementary school, my mother gave me a diary. Because I could be shy, writing down my thoughts became the easiest way to express myself. The more I wrote, the more I wanted to write. I also read a lot, which inspired me to make up my own stories. One of the books I read was Harriet the Spy, a story about a girl who made writing seem exciting, cool, even dangerous. I was hooked.

Gigi: What did you want to be when you (grew up) were a kid?

JM: Co-host of the Today show.

Gigi: What do you like to do besides write?

JM: Read, go to the beach, swim, try to surf, play with my sons, try to cook, watch movies, and sing loudly in the car. (You don’t want to be sitting next to me at a red light.)

Gigi: What is the book you are most proud of?

JM: Joe and Sparky Get New Wheels will always be dearest to my heart because I wrote the first draft with my sister, Julie, who was ill at the time. Since she couldn’t do much more than lay in my bed, I wrote the story to entertain her as she threw out ideas. Writing stories together is something we did as kids, too. Julie and I didn’t write Joe and Sparky Get New Wheels to get published; we wrote it to crack each other up. So the eventual publication and everything that came after has been the most incredible, happy surprise.

Gigi: What is your real name?

JM: Jamie Michalak. It’s pronounced Mc-Cal-ick (rhymes with “metallic”). I sometimes write under another name for movie and TV show adaptations.

Gigi: Did you like school when you were younger?

JM: Yes, although I liked some classes more than others. I loved all of the subjects that encouraged creativity--reading, writing, and art. I also liked gym, except for volleyball. The ball always managed to find my nose. Bonk! There’s no hiding on a volleyball court.

Gigi: What is your favorite color?

JM: Blue. And white, if that counts as a color.

Emma: How many books have you written?

JM: 18 with one on the way (7 original stories and 12 TV show or movie adaptations).

Emma: Who are your [favorite] characters?

JM: Joe and Sparky. For me, the stories usually start with the characters. Then I let them go wild and see what sorts of sticky situations they find themselves in.

Jackie: How many times on average do you rewrite a book before it is approved by an editor?

JM: It’s always different, but I can rewrite a story up to twenty times or more. I want every word to be included for a reason. I don’t send a manuscript to my editor until I can read the whole story without stopping at a word or sentence that seems off. I also wait for my critique group and my sons to give me the thumbs up. Sometimes when you look at your own story for so long, you become blind to its strengths and weaknesses. Hearing what others think can give you a fresh eye.

Hailey: Where do you get your ideas?

JM: EVERYWHERE! Eavesdropping, observing things my children do and say, remembering my own childhood, stumbling upon an imagination-sparking tidbit in an article... Students I’ve met at school visits always offer brilliant ideas for new stories, too. Like Harriet the spy, I always keep a notebook on me to write down the interesting things I see and hear.

Thanks, Patti, to you and your students for the smart questions! Enjoy the new school year!

Thank YOU Jamie!  Hey everybody--CLICK HERE to visit Jamie's way cool website!  CLICK HERE to take the  “Are You a Joe or a Sparky?” personality quiz and post your results.  Can you guess which one Peppermint Patti is?  Leave a comment soon.  I'd love to hear from you!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

De-stressing With Meditation not Medication

My doctor has “prescribed” meditation for me because my blood pressure runs a little high and I’m overweight. So after our daughter moved out I converted her old bedroom into my “Zen Room.” My husband and I hung a photo mural of a tropical sunrise on one wall. I took one of the sky colors from the mural—a periwinkle blue, and painted that on the other walls. Window treatments came next and there is a plan for an area rug—probably an imitation Oriental—as well as some mirrors for the wall.

After seeing a meditation garden in a magazine I thought I would like to create one in my yard! So for the past three summers I have been working on this relaxing outdoor space. It’s almost done—I’ve got stepping stones to put down for my pathways and some edging to install. All in good time…

Anyway, the result is two nice relaxing spaces to meditate and practice yoga. Now I start and end each day with “Five Good Minutes” and some relaxing yoga. I’m still overweight—oops, but I’m definitely less stressed and my doctor is very pleased with my healthy lifestyle efforts.

So…I thought: what effect would meditation have on my students? I did notice that when the physical education teacher was in the midst of the yoga unit the class was much calmer and nicer to one another. Could a daily dose of meditation help as well? 

After some “arm-chair research” on the Internet, I came up with some interesting information. Read my “Guidance for Grownups” and “Pointers” blogs to find out more. I plan to incorporate some meditation into my students’ daily school experience this year. I’ll let you know how it goes…

What do you do to de-stress? Leave me a comment. I’d love to hear from you!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Don't Depend on Spellcheck

I’ve noticed recently that proper spelling has become a thing of the past. I’m not just talking about everyday people and their correspondence, I’m talking about professionals; people who make a living out of using the English language. In my opinion, they’ve gotten sloppy. 

 Now, I realize the English language is one of the more difficult languages to learn. In fact, “Mark Pagel, an expert on language diversity at the University of Reading, acknowledges the irony that despite being the international lingua franca, English is the most difficult to learn.” CLICK HERE  to read more about this topic. (In case you’re wondering, lingua franca means a language used for communication among people of different mother tongues. This definition is from

It stands to reason that if English is the most difficult language to learn to read, it will also be a language quite difficult to learn to write. That is why I hold the “professionals” up to a higher standard. Those writing copy for advertisements, billboards, signs, etc. should not only have an exceptional working knowledge of the usage of the English language, they should also know how to edit, self-correct and utilize resources when their language knowledge is lacking.

I cringe when I see McDonald’s ® “i’m lovin’ it” ad campaign. I worked all last year trying to get one of my students to capitalize the pronoun I with no luck. If that’s what children are seeing in their environment, that’s what they’re going to do. But wait, there’s more: a company down the street from my house has a sign out front that says one of their services is “bookeeping.” A teacher-friend of mine gets such a kick out of it she wants to mail them an envelope full of boos in need of keeping. Do you think they’ll get it? 

Reading the newspaper can also be frustrating for me as I see more and more evidence of the use of spellcheck with no regard for careful proofreading. I understand budgets are tight but don’t get rid of all the editors! They are the last line of defense against misspelled words and incorrect grammar.

While reading a local free paper this morning I read a headline: “Can you unstick a stuck tire cap for left than 71 bucks?” and an advertisement: “Bring in this coupon for an additional 5% more.” Argh!

I’ll close now so I can carefully proofread and edit my words.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Good DJ!

While at a party this past weekend I had the opportunity to clown around while listening to some nice, appropriate children’s music.  You’re probably thinking, big deal this must happen to you a lot.  On the contrary, in my 35 plus years of clowning around, the music choices of the various DJs have been, shall we say, rather disgusting.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love music.  Music is an important part of my everyday life in the classroom, in the pool/gym, in the car, and at home. Music boosts your energy and your mood.  Howard Gardner even includes music in his eight categories of intelligence.  Click HERE for more information. 
What I object to is the choice of music often played at children’s parties.  I perform at birthday parties where the DJ must think he is at a night club.  Sometimes I happen to catch the lyrics and I find them downright embarrassing.  They include profanity—words I wouldn’t say in front of my mom—as well as narration that describes women as worthless beings to be treated in unmentionable ways.  Even worse—the children sing along!  I ask them if they know what the song is about.  I even ask the grownups if perhaps the music might be inappropriate for the young audience. No one, except for me, seems concerned.
This recent party was a refreshing change.  The DJ played all of the traditional favorite children’s songs:  “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” “The Hokey Pokey,” and more.  It was loud and I had to read the children’s lips to see what balloon they wanted me to make for them but we all had a good time singing along.
Do you have a favorite childhood song?  Do you think the Hokey Pokey is what it’s all about?  Leave me a comment.  I’d love to hear from you!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Nutrition/Wellness Policies

With school starting soon, children in many school districts will be receiving their “summer letters” in the mail.  These are letters from teachers, welcoming their new students into the classrooms.  This first interaction children have with their upcoming teachers helps alleviate some first day jitters. 

One thing I include in my welcome letter is my Healthy Snack Policy as well as a link to our school district’s Wellness Policy.  My Healthy Snack Policy is: “Bring a healthy snack such as fruit, whole grain crackers with cheese or peanut butter, popcorn, veggies, 100% fruit juice, water, or milk.  JUNK FOOD—candy, chips, soda, or any drink that is not 100% fruit juice is not allowed to be consumed in Room 46.  We will learn the difference between food as a fuel and food as a treat this year.  Being healthy is important.  Please see the school district’s Wellness Program policy:”
I started my Healthy Snack Policy after becoming an ACE certified Lifestyle and Weight Management Consultant.  I noticed that my students were eating Doritos at 10 o’clock in the morning!  Eww!  Now I like Doritos as much as the next person but as a treat at a Super Bowl party, for example, not a midmorning snack.
Unfortunately some grownups don’t understand the importance of good nutrition for ultimate brain/body functioning.  Good nutrition contributes to better focus, self-control, and learning.  This is win-win for everyone—the students, their classmates, teachers, and families.
The new USDA dietary guidelines are so easy to follow.  All you have to do is divide your plate.  (See the picture to the right.)  There is a lot of great information on the USDA website with updates scheduled throughout the summer.
Snacking is an important way for children to get all of the nutrients they need each day.  Healthy snacking helps keep blood sugar levels steady.  My Healthy Snack Policy is based on the concept that fueling the brain/body during the school day is crucial in helping kids learn and behave.  I believe in making every calorie count.  Check out some cookbooks to help you get started.  I found some great books HERE.
I’m hoping that this year I can help my students achieve their utmost awesome potential.  I’m hoping I have the help and support of their grownups.
Does your school have a wellness policy?  Leave me a comment.  I’d love to hear from you.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Book Review: Hamlet and the Magnificent Sandcastle

Hamlet and the Magnificent SandcastleTitle: Hamlet and the Magnificent Sandcastle
Author: Brian Lies
Publisher: Moon Mountain Publishing
Pub Date: 2001
ISBN: 0967792924
Concepts: sandcastles and friendship
Audience: Ages 5-8
Reviewer: Patricia Bessette
Review Date: July 21, 2011

Hamlet, a pig with a vision, determines to build the biggest sandcastle in the world. His porcupine friend Quince is his reluctant partner who worries that things will go wrong. And sure enough, when the tide comes in it brings trouble. (

Are you adventurous or a worrywart? Either way, you’ll identify with a character in Hamlet and the Magnificent Sandcastle by Brian Lies (pronounced Lees). Two friends, Hamlet, the adventurous pig, and Quince, a worrywart porcupine, take a train to the beach in this exciting story. Hamlet dreams of building a magnificent sandcastle. Lies’s detail in the illustration of a sandcastle formed in the clouds was just perfect for this scene.

Meanwhile, Quince is determined to remain on the lookout for the dangers of the beach such as driftwood, crabs, jellyfish, sharks and even quicksand. He sets his clock so they don’t miss their train home.

Will Hamlet make a magnificent sandcastle? Will Quince save them from danger lurking at the beach? Will they miss the train home? You’ll just have to read Hamlet and the Magnificent Sandcastle to find out.

I agree with the publisher that Hamlet and the Magnificent Sandcastle has an interest level of ages 5-8. From a teacher’s perspective, I think high second graders/average third graders could independently handle this book. With an ATOS book level of 3.2 (third grade, second month) and 1508 words, it is too wordy for a read aloud. The book size is a bit small for whole class. It could be used in a guided reading group.

As for a one on one read aloud, I think a four year old could sit on a lap and be engaged in this story. The details in the illustrations lend themselves to lots of discussion including prediction and cause/effect.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Brian Lies drew me into the story with his words and pictures from the beginning of the tale right to the very end. The crisp illustrations enhanced the words perfectly. Hamlet and the Magnificent Sandcastle would make a great beach read while on a break from building your very own magnificent sandcastle!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Riding My Bike

My parents were always sticklers for safety when I was growing up.  That included lots of rules for safely riding our bikes (helmets weren’t available for kids, yet or we would’ve worn them).  We didn’t have sidewalks on our street so we learned the rules of the road early. 
My sisters and I had hand-me-down bikes my dad got from the dump and fixed up for us.  The one I remember vividly is “Little Black Bike” (LBB).  It was a small two-wheeler that was our training bike before we “graduated” to a brand new bike a few years later. 

My dad put training wheels on it at first, raising them up as we got better at balancing, removing them altogether when we were confident.  Ah, the freedom!  We could bike down to the playground at the end of our street.  When we were much older we biked to the library and even to school.

It was during a ride around the neighborhood that I gave my across the street neighbor, Tony, a black eye.  I didn’t do it on purpose but my elbow and his eye collided.

See, he got on the back of LBB and wouldn’t get off.  There was a rule in our house:  never ride double!  I was so afraid I would get in trouble and LBB would be off limits so I nudged backward with my elbow to try and jab Tony off my bike.  Apparently I nudged at eye level with a bit more force than I realized.  Tony went home crying, threatening to tell his dad (whom I was petrified of).

I went home crying, too, afraid of the wrath of Tony’s dad.  It never appeared.  He got in trouble for riding double on my bike after I told him to get off! 
Thus began my love of bike riding.  As a teen, I rode up Provin Mountain (Agawam, MA) before school in the morning.  I even raced on Sunday mornings at Forest Park (Springfield, MA).  The one girl in a sea of men and boys flying around the loop, pedaling as fast as we could!  Then as they loaded their bikes into their vehicles, I biked the ten miles home.  That’s when I started wearing a helmet on every ride (required for bike racing, not for riding on the roads at that time).   

I still love to ride my bike, wearing my helmet and following the rules of the road.  Do you like riding a bike?  Do you have a favorite bike trail?  I'd love to hear about it--leave me a comment!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Book Review: The Cats of Mrs. Calamari

The Cats of Mrs. Calamari
The Cats of Mrs. Calamari
Author: John Stadler
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Star Bright Books
Publication Date: 03/01/2010
Pages: 32
Trim Size: 8" x 10"
ISBN: 9781595722577
List Price: $6.95
Category: FICTION - JUVENILE: Animals & Nature: Animals
Reviewer: Patricia Bessette

On Monday morning, Mrs. Calamari and her many, many cats move into a new apartment. On Tuesday, the landlord, Mr. Gangplank, informs her that no cats are allowed. Fortunately he has lost his glasses so when Mrs. Calamari says, "Cats? Of course not! They are visiting relatives," he believes her. But readers know better and will be delighted by the unusual ways Mrs. Calamari ensures that Mr. Gangplank sees no cats. On Saturday, Mr. Gangplank invites Mrs. Calamari and her "relatives" to the beach and when he finds his glasses, is so charmed by Mrs. Calimari (sic) that he happily considers her cats relatives. Finally, on Sunday, all the cats are invited to their wedding. This charming book was a Booklist Editor's Choice, Best of the Best selection by Chicago Public Library and selected for Read Aloud America. The Children's Museum of New Hampshire has a permanent life-size exhibit of Mrs. Calamari and her cats.  (Starbright Books)

In The Cats of Mrs. Calamari, it’s a good thing cats can’t read!  The sign in front of their new apartment building says, “No Cats Allowed.”  Even though the landlord, Mr. Gangplank, keeps predicting dire things will happen on Sunday if there are cats in the building, the cats do not seem worried.  In fact, the cats save the day!  Is this enough to get Mr. Gangplank to change his mind?  Does he enforce the “No Cats” rule and evict the cats?  Even if you’re not a cat person, you’ll cheer for the cats in this delightful romp by JohnStadler.
Suggested grade/age levels listed for The Cats of Mrs. Calamari are grades 2-3 and ages 4-8.  From a teacher’s perspective, preschoolers through second graders would enjoy The Cats of Mrs. Calamari as a read aloud.   The illustrations are adorable and engaging, better suited for small groups, but workable for a whole class read; possibly even a guided reading group.  High second graders and average third graders could read this independently.  There are several opportunities for discussion in The Cats of Mrs. Calamari.  One avenue I would explore with students is Mr. Gangplank and his dislike of cats and how it applies to friendships and biases. 
I highly recommend using this as a parent/child read aloud.  Although there are many words on the pages a cat-search/count on each page would be a fun activity to keep small children interested.  The format of the book lends itself to the use of a powerful reading strategy:  prediction.  Before turning the page, ask your child, “What do you think will happen next.”  I recommend this charming book!
My advanced digital edition of The Cats of Mrs. Calamari was received through NetGalley.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Doors of Fame

When I was growing up we didn’t give teachers formal end of year gifts like people do today.  We brought a handful of flowers our mom said we could pick from her garden or an apple; small tokens of our appreciation.

Many years ago, fourteen to be exact, I taught at a small private school.  The clientele was a bit well-to-do and the teacher gifts were extravagant, in my opinion.  Higher end jewelry, gift cards with amounts of $50 and more(!), and certificates to spas that I had never hoped of visiting were all graciously given and received.  I’m grateful for all that was bestowed upon me but the best gift I received is still growing in my front yard—an azalea bush.  The cheery bright pink flowers help welcome spring year after year and remind me of the wonderful children I had the privilege of working with for those two years.

This years I received a few gifts—the fewest ever.  I hope it’s the economy and not a commentary on my teaching—much like you would leave a smaller tip for less than stellar service!  One mom made me the most scrumptious banana bread ever.  I wrote her a poem to thank her.  Along with the Dunkin Donuts and Michaels gift cards, chocolates, candles, Mardi Gras beads, and impatiens plants were my absolute favorite gifts of all:  letters of appreciation. 

There is a huge human need to feel appreciated and teachers are no different.  Many of us pour our hearts and souls into our daily interactions with the children we have been blessed with for 180 school days.  We go home drained only to put in another 2-3 hours correcting papers, planning and creating new lessons, making phone calls to parents, and more.  While I am thankful to be paid for a job I love, I really enjoy getting letters from grateful parents and students.  It’s like getting a pat on the back—it feels good and is very motivating.
These letters and cards go in a very special place in my classroom—on the inside doors of my cabinet.  I call it my “Doors of Fame.”  When I feel low and wonder if it’s time for me to “retire” I open those doors and read the affirmations of my efforts.  This recharges my batteries and I can then continue to do my best at this job/profession/avocation/mission:  creating lifelong learners.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Intelligence--Do You Feel Smart?

According to the Encarta World English Dictionary, intelligence is the ability to think and learn: the ability to learn facts and skills and apply them, especially when this ability is highly developed.

The good news is one can get smarter! Intelligence can increase! The bad news is that intelligence can also decrease. For whatever reasons, this is what we’re currently seeing in the classroom and beyond.

Many children are having a hard time learning lately. They seem to have difficulty remembering and/or applying what was taught. Logic and common sense are very rare these days. Problem solving skills are not the norm, either. Could this be linked to the lack of work ethic seen in children these days? Could the plethora of distractions, such as sports, video games, dance, etc. be the culprit? Some people argue that sports, dance, and other hobbies are important for a well-rounded child. However, they do take reading/homework time from children’s lives.

When I was growing up everyone had their IQ tested. This supposedly was a predictor as to future success. It also identified children who might need a modified education. I peeked at my school record once and saw that in first grade my IQ was 121! With average being 100, 121 is pretty high. According to the intelligence charts I’ve seen, it’s considered “superior.”

Well, nobody ever told me. I grew up feeling very dumb. I was a great reader but I thought everybody was. I had a hard time in math and I thought no one else struggled, just me. The memorization of basic math facts eluded me. Flash cards didn’t work. Now I know that I need to write things down and say them out loud to help them stick in my brain.

Back then (1960s and 1970s) education was “one size fits all.” Special education was in its infancy then so children with learning differences got left behind. They stayed back, sometimes developed behavior problems, and often when of age, they dropped out. More on the history of special education:

When I was in sixth grade, the grownups in my hometown came up with what they thought was a brilliant plan. They took all the highest ability students and grouped them in a separate classroom. They were called the “HI-HOs” (high homogenous). I was not selected to be part of that elite group. That further convinced me that I was dumb.

It wasn’t until ten years later as I graduated from Holyoke Community College that I finally realized that learning didn’t come as easily to others—that I was pretty smart—and also very fortunate. But here’s the kicker—recent studies show that we adults should not overpraise kids on how smart they are: That is counterproductive. Instead, we need to praise their efforts. Who knew?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Ice Cream Soup

When I was growing up ice cream was an extremely rare treat. My two sisters and I usually enjoyed it on birthdays and other special occasions. It was scooped out of a cardboard box at home, never at a restaurant (except when we visited cousins in California in 1973) and never from a cone. Our favorite part of ice cream: making ice cream soup! We stirred and stirred until the ice cream had melted and then slurped up the cold liquid with our spoons until there wasn’t a drop left—then we’d lick the bowls!

Not everyone thinks ice cream soup is a good idea. My dad’s mom, “Grandmama” we called her, thought ice cream soup was rude. On one visit she served us ice cream and we made our “soup.” Grandmama was appalled! She was disgusted! She vowed she would never serve us ice cream again and she was true to her word.

She was not our favorite grandmother to spend time with. Can you see why? My other grandmother, “Grammie,” was the fun grandmother. We had some great adventures with her. We’ll save those tales for another day. I’m going to go have some ice cream!

Do you enjoy ice cream? Do you prefer a cone or a dish? I’d love to hear from you! Please leave a comment below.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Turkey Monsters at Thanksgiving by Anne Warren Smith; A Book Review

Title: Turkey Monsters at Thanksgiving
Author: Anne Warren Smith
Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company
Imprint: Balzer + Bray
Pub Date: September 1, 2011
ISBN: 9780807581261
Category: FICTION - JUVENILE: Concepts: Issues of divorce, death, and friendship handled with love and humor
Readers: Intermediate
Reviewer: Patricia Bessette
Review Date: May 23, 2011

Nine-year-old Katie Jordan lives with her dad and three-year-old brother, Tyler. This year, instead of celebrating Thanksgiving in their traditional way by eating pizza in their pajamas, Katie wants to create the perfect holiday and be just like a "real" family. But by Thanksgiving Day, Katie has invited guests Dad didn't expect, festooned the house with what may be poison oak, set the sweet potatoes on fire, and forced her little brother to face a dreadful turkey monster by himself. At the end, however, Katie, her family, and her guests sit down to a most unusual dinner—one that succeeds because it comes more from the heart than from fancy decorations and elaborate menus (Albert Whitman & Company).

What an enjoyable read! Turkey Monsters at Thanksgiving by Anne Warren Smith draws you in from the very beginning of the first chapter and keeps you reading right through to the very end! Will Katie’s Thanksgiving be a disaster? Will she have a Thanksgiving like a “real” family? Who or what is the actual “Turkey Monster?”

Smith creates believable characters that readers can connect easily with. I was glad to learn that this book is the first in a series because it is evident that these characters have more to do and say!

The suggested grade/age levels varied between second and sixth grade, listed as an ATOS level of 3.2.

From a teacher’s perspective, I believe it would make a great read aloud for first and second graders. Turkey Monsters at Thanksgiving is only 112 pages, 13,964 words and judging by the vocabulary level, this book could be read independently by high second graders to very low fifth graders. Interest level range, in my opinion, is late first through early fifth grades. However, I don’t feel that savvy fifth and sixth graders would be drawn to Turkey Monsters at Thanksgiving.

Due to the topic of divorce and families in Turkey Monsters at Thanksgiving, it would promote discussion/conversation to help children process this subject matter and would be perfect for a guided reading group selection. I thoroughly enjoyed Turkey Monsters at Thanksgiving. I highly recommend this to parents dealing with separation or divorce.

My advanced digital edition of Turkey Monsters at Thanksgiving was received through NetGalley.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Friendly Letter

One of the most powerful things we do in my fourth grade classroom is correspond through a dialog journal. The year starts with me writing a letter to my incoming class over the summer telling a little bit about me and what’s to come in our year together. The children then have an assignment, due on the first day of school, to write back to me relating what they’ve been up to over the long break.

For the next ten months we write back and forth, usually once a week. The children can ask me anything they want and I will answer. These written conversations are private and confidential. The students can tell me anything that’s bothering them. They tell me when a classmate is preventing them from getting their work done, a pet dies, or a sibling is annoying them. I try to give them strategies to deal with these sorts of things. They also tell me about their accomplishments, what sports they’re playing, or what dances they’re preparing for an upcoming recital.

The best thing about the dialog journal is the personal attention I can give each student. This is important to me because I want my students to know I care about them as individuals, something I didn’t have when I was in school. I felt invisible throughout my formative years; as if my teachers didn’t even know I existed. I certainly never felt like a teacher’s pet.  As a result, I didn’t feel important or valued. When I became a teacher I vowed that would never happen to any of my students, if I could help it.

As another school year comes to a close, I enjoy flipping through the dialog journals as a way to revisit our journey together. I know more about the lives of my students outside of school and they know more about mine due to our written conversations. They make me laugh! Some bring tears to my eyes. Soon it will be our last day together and as we celebrate our achievements I will hand back the journals one final time for the children to take home. Some children, I’m told, hang onto them for years to come, treasured memories of our time together.

Did this trigger any memories for you? Please leave me a comment. I’d love to hear from you!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Bronx Zoo Trip 2011

For the “big kids,” the fourth graders at our school, the most exciting thing they look forward to is the Annual Fourth Grade Bronx Zoo Trip. Parents start asking if they can chaperone for this special excursion in September. I was glad this year that I could invite all parents who had volunteered as chaperones! I was also fortunate to be able to invite my husband along.

This trip is a big deal. After lots of planning and fundraising, the big day arrived. With an iffy weather forecast, we left Southwick on four King Ward buses—over 200 students and chaperones! The one change we did make was our goal to leave fifteen minutes earlier—6:45 AM rather than 7:00 AM. Success! This put our actual departure at 7 AM whereas in the past we left closer to 7:15 AM.

Fifteen minutes may not seem like a big deal but it made a huge difference in our arrival time at the zoo. We got into the parking lot around 9:50 AM and zipped right into the zoo as the gates opened at 10:00 AM.

We headed straight to the Congo to view the gorillas. They did not disappoint. These creatures seem so human-like! One female was reclining casually on a log, watching us. The highlight for many children was the regurgitation habits of one particular gorilla—ew! Then we headed on down to the Wild Asia Monorail and JungleWorld.

Because it was a threatening, overcast day with a forecast of thunderstorms, there were hardly any people besides us at the zoo. It was great! The animals were more active and the lines were very short and quick moving.

While meandering along shady paths we watched animals and people, too. Why teenagers felt the need to screech like the peacocks or roar like lions, we didn’t know but we found it amusing and video worthy.

Animal babies are always cute and the babies at the Bronx Zoo are no exception. Maggie the giraffe, now a year old is getting big but still loves to play tag. She bonked the ostrich on its head and it got a bit agitated! We especially enjoyed watching the newly hatched crane baby and its parents being fed by a zoo keeper. It was so fuzzy!

Enrichment activities equal excitement! There’s primate training at the Monkey House, penguin feedings at the Sea Bird Aviary, sea lion checkups at Astor Court, and the Bee-eater Buffet at the World of Birds. The tiger enrichment was suspended this year. The sign said it was due to the presence of the cubs in the enclosure.

The Bronx Zoo is one of my favorite zoos, comparable to the San Diego Zoo, the Cincinnati Zoo, Busch Gardens Zoo, and the Lowry Park Zoo (Latter two zoos Tampa, FL). In general, the animals at the Bronx Zoo seemed happy and well cared for. The smelliest building was the Carter Giraffe Building. The air reeked so badly that it made my eyes water.

By 3 PM the zoo was almost deserted as the local schools bused backed home. Soon it was time to get back on our buses for the three hour return trip. The chaperones did a great job! We didn’t lose anyone and the students were very well behaved. I’m already looking forward to next year’s trip. I love to go wild!

What is your favorite zoo? Leave me a comment. I’d love to hear from you!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Death is a Part of Life

Contrary to popular belief, clowning is not always about being silly. There is often a serious side to being a clown. One time I was invited to clown at a party after a funeral. A young man had died suddenly in a car accident. He was a fun loving guy who left behind a wife, two young children, and many devastated friends and relatives. His mom thought it appropriate to invite me to her house and make an attempt at cheering up the guests. She felt her jokester of a son would have approved.

When I arrived, most of the guests were in the back yard. There were a few crying grownups in the house and when I walked through, they angrily demanded to know what I was doing there. Nervously I explained that I was invited to distract the children, excused myself, and continued to the back deck.

I sat very quietly on the steps and got out my skunk puppet, Jr. Mint. Slowly the children came closer and soon I was able to engage them in a little magic, face painting, and balloon animals. Little by little the adults relaxed and enjoyed the interactions between the children and myself. I could feel the tension in the air dissipate. Before long it was time for me to go.

As I passed through the house on my way out to my car, I encountered the same “welcoming committee” that had confronted me a short hour before. This time they hugged me and said thanks. I had lightened their spirits and helped them remember all the fun times they had with their loved one.

I sat in the car for a moment before driving away. It’s not easy driving with tears in your eyes.

Have you ever been in a situation where you did not feel welcome? Please leave me a comment. I’d love to hear from you.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Thermo Cats Story

Do you remember…? This is a favorite topic when gathering with my family. I have so many memories of my childhood home—both bitter and sweet. My favorite is one I call “Thermo Cats.” When I was growing up my family tried to conserve energy and our finances by keeping the thermostat set on the low side. The thermostat was on the hallway wall just around the corner from the kitchen table. It was about 4 ½ feet from the floor and had a gold dome with a round, toothed dial on the front that you could turn to adjust the temperature of the house.

For some reason our heat kept being turned up. Dad was angry and blamed us. My two sisters and I claimed our innocence while secretly wondering which one of us had done it. No matter what we said, Dad thought we were guilty until…

…One day we were sitting at the nearby kitchen table eating supper while the cats ran around the house like their tails were on fire. As if tearing up and down the hall at full speed were not enough to keep the cats entertained, (It was not a long hall as we lived in a five room ranch-style home at that time.) they started jumping up and swatting the thermostat on their way by.

Dad immediately realized that the cats were the culprits and we girls were indeed innocent. With much chagrin he quickly apologized! Forty years later, we still enjoy a satisfying chuckle when we recall this time of our childhood.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Maple Sugaring

The best part about spring in New England is maple sugaring! There’s nothing like sipping the slightly sweet, slightly maple-y sap out of little paper cups. Step into a sugarhouse and it’s as if you’re stepping into a maple-sauna. The cloud from the evaporator steams your glasses and you can’t see a thing! But the smell…heaven!

Over the years, my family and I been to several sugarhouses but our favorite one is Maple Corner Farms in Granville, Massachusetts. ( Not only do they have a fabulous sugarhouse, they have a full restaurant set up as well. You order at one counter and they give you a wooden carved maple leaf with a number or letter on it. Take a seat and wait as patiently as you can for the wait staff to deliver your breakfast! Trust me, it’s worth it.

The most amazing thing about maple syrup is how it is made! I find it astonishing that it takes about 50 gallons of sap to boil down for one gallon of syrup! The Ripleys, owners of Maple Corner Farms, hope to produce 1,000 gallons of syrup this season! That’s a lot of sap!

The nights are freezing; the days are warm. Sap is flowing. Maple season doesn’t last long—get to a sugarhouse before you miss out!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

April Fool's Day

I don’t like April Fools’ Day…I love it! It is so fun to pull simple pranks on people. I don’t do anything hurtful, just mischievous. This year I started small: just pointed to the floor and said to children walking by, “Be careful!” They looked down and I said, “April Fool!”

Prior to the children arriving yesterday, I set my big plan of the day in motion. I left a note for the school secretary to call my classroom at 10:15 AM. At the prearranged time, the phone rang. “Hello. What? If you say so. Thank you,” I said into the receiver. I told the students we had to evacuate the school but not to worry. We were going to the high school to wait for their parents to pick them up. The best thing, I continued, was the milk shake machine in the high school cafeteria. We’d have a treat while waiting.

So we packed our bags and put on our coats. We walked to the cafeteria. My students sat at a long table and looked at me expectantly. I leaned forward and said, “April Fool!” They were angry, which I expected. Nobody likes to be made a fool. I had also lost their trust. I knew I would have to do something to gain it back. I decided to tell them we were having a pizza party after lunch. I knew they wouldn’t believe me, which they didn’t. But that was the point.

Meanwhile, the kids pranked me. They put on band aids dotted with red marker and told me they got a really bad paper cut, used red marker on facial tissues and told me they had a bloody nose, and hid under my desk. They tried to get me to look out the window or go out into the hallway but I didn’t fall for everything they did.

With some help from a coworker, they got me--twice. When I got back from ordering pizza, they were sitting in the wrong seats, pretending to read silently, trying not to giggle. We had a good laugh and got back to work. Soon it was time for lunch and I reminded them to not eat too much as we were having pizza after. “Yeah, right,” they all said, very skeptically!

After lunch we settled in and played a game of division bingo. When the secretary came in the door with a large pizza box, their eyes lit up, their jaws hit the floor, and then they yelled, “Yay! We really are having a pizza party!”

At the end of the day they got me again. My coworker told me the principal wanted to see me in her office. Those words struck doom in the pit of my stomach! Was I in trouble due to my hijinks of the day? I reluctantly went into the office and asked where the principal was. The secretaries jumped up from their desks and shouted, “April Fool!” They were in on it too, apparently!

When I got back to the classroom I told the class, “You got me good!” We enjoyed a good laugh and all agreed it was a fun day. It was a welcome relief from the tension of our high stakes testing and as some kids said, “This was the best day ever!”

Thursday, March 17, 2011


There’s something magical about puppets—they really seem to come to life like Pinocchio!

The best thing about puppets is using your imagination to create stories about them! You can make puppets from just about anything! Over the years, I’ve used puppets in my classroom, my clown act, and with my own children.

One time, I was visiting a nursing home as Peppermint Patti. After finishing my show, I visited the people who weren’t able to get out of bed. I brought my bunny puppet with me as an ice breaker. It is so realistic looking; people thought it was a real bunny. As they patted the bunny, they reminisced about the pets they once owned.

Jr. Mint is my faithful sidekick when I do my Peppermint Patti shows. She is a skunk puppet but she doesn’t know it. She thinks she’s a kitty cat. She likes to play tricks on me. She also loves it when I read to her. (That’s another way to get kids to read books—involve a puppet!)

When my children were little they loved watching a video by Sheri Lewis. What a talented performer! She inspired us to make our own puppets and put on puppet productions on many a rainy day.

Recently our fourth grades went on a field trip to the Lincoln Theater in Hartford, Connecticut. We watched a Jim West production of Aesop’s fables. The puppets were incredible! When they showed the audience how to make a newspaper tree, it brought me back to my childhood. My favorite books from the library were ‘make and do’ books. I’m hoping that the show inspired some of my students to try puppetry. Perhaps Jr. Mint will make a surprise visit to our classroom soon!

Has your family enjoyed a good puppet show lately? Leave me a comment—I’d love to hear about it!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Read Alouds

My favorite part of the school day is when I read aloud to my students. It’s so much fun to make a book come alive as I change my voice for the various characters. I love the looks on my students’ faces as they become lost in the telling of the tale. Even my reluctant readers become engrossed in the story.

I read three long novels per year. In addition, I read shorter books that correspond to the season or holiday (Friendship, women’s rights, Black History, etc.). The book we’re currently enjoying is Peter and the Starcatchers. It’s a contemporary book written as a prequel to Peter Pan.

Our read aloud time is about twenty-five minutes every day—just before recess. I try to time it so that I stop at a real exciting part. (The kids are onto me—they know I do it on purpose!) It’s great to leave them hanging until the next day.

Sometimes if they’ve been really good I’ll read to them for a few extra minutes at the end of the day. It’s great incentive for them to get ready to go home quickly and quietly. It’s also relaxing for all of us as we are transported to a place and time with pirates, crocodiles, and mermaids.

Do you read aloud to your child? Does your child’s teacher read aloud to his class? Leave me comment below.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Indoor Winter Fun

Indoor winter fun

There are endless possibilities when it comes to indoor fun during a New England winter. Some of my favorites include baking, playing games, and making paper snowflakes. When my children were little, as a stay-at-home mom, ours would often be the go-to house when it came to snow days. This sometimes resulted in a houseful of kids!

After a morning of quiet-ish activities such as building blocks, dolls, dominoes, and the like, it was time to get moving! Getting the kids to clean up was easy as they were excited about what we were going to do next—go sliding—indoors and not with sleds. What? You are probably thinking. That’s right, on bad weather days we would do static electricity experiments with a small plastic slide in our family room!

The kids got in a line and took turns sliding down the slide. I gave them old keys to hold. When they got off the slide, they tried to see how close they could get to someone else’s key to make a spark jump. It was really great on dark and dreary days to see that electricity crackle through the air. We rubbed balloons on our heads and stuck them to walls. The kids loved it when their hair stood up on end! We put salt and pepper on paper plates and made the pepper jump onto a static-filled balloon! Science was my salvation on those long days when I was grossly outnumbered.

Now that my kids are grown, snow days are much quieter, filled with correcting papers and shoveling out elderly parents. It’s fun to remember the look of wonderment and joy on the kids’ faces on those wild winter days.

Do you have any snow day memories? I’d love to hear about them! Please leave me a comment below.

Saturday, February 12, 2011


Winter is so much fun, filled with many outdoor activities not available any other time of year because of that fun precipitation--snow! We’ve had more than our share of snow this winter, resulting in frequent snow days!

One of my favorite winter activities is sledding. I always wondered why I don’t care to jump on a sled and careen down a steep, slippery slope face first. I prefer to sit on my bottom and slide down, ready to lean and fall off the sled at the first hint of danger. That mystery was solved recently during a family movie night. While enjoying some crunchy buttery popcorn and warm hot cocoa, we watched some old films of my childhood. These super-8 films have been put on video tape making them much easier to view.

One event caught on film was a family outing. I was probably about five years old or so at the time. We were all dressed warmly in puffy snowsuits, boots, mittens, hats, and scarves. Our chubby cheeks peeked out from our hoods and you could see the puffs of our breath as we spoke. Unfortunately, our conversation is lost forever because was no sound recording at that time (c. 1965).

There it was—a shot of me sliding face first down the hill at Cook Playground…into a snow pile. My back arched as my legs flew up over my head. Ouch! It’s a wonder I don’t have worse back problems today! The person who transferred these movies from film to video thought it would be hilarious to also record this segment in slow motion backwards and forwards a few times. I found it a bit painful to watch.

Now I know why next time I go out sledding, I’ll be sitting on my bottom, enjoying the rush of the wind in my face rather than a face full of snow.

Do you like sledding?  Where is your favorite hill for sledding?  Leave me a comment below.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Little Red Hen

One of my best friends is Little Red Hen. She likes to go on vacations with me, uninvited. She somehow manages to stow away and then appear as if nothing out of the ordinary is going on. Her latest escapade involved “The Great Chicken Caper”.
We were on a cruise to Canada out of New York City when Little Red noticed a deck cam. She always wanted to be on TV so she flew back and forth in front of the camera, hoping that a famous talent scout was watching. No word yet, but she’s still waiting for her big break into show biz.

It’s fun traveling with Little Red. People like to talk to her and have their pictures taken with her. You’d think she would be a little stuck up due to all this attention, but no, she’s still a humble little hen. Surprisingly, she’s actually quite shy.

In about a month I’m going on a cruise to Grand Cayman and Cozumel. I haven’t told Little Red, yet, but I suspect she knows. She was packing her carry-on bag yesterday. Stay tuned…

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Migrating Geese

The honking of geese can stir a variety of feelings, depending on the time of year. For me, August honking signals back to school while late winter honking: spring! Both are harbingers of new beginnings.

In the predawn moments when I’m out walking the dog and I hear the ruckus of geese flying overhead, I’m always compelled to look up, fascinated by the v-formation. As far as I know, geese are the only birds that fly in that configuration. Sometimes they are in perfect synchronization and the honking seems to be a supportive, “Let’s keep going, guys.” Other times there is chaos in the skies with the formation looking more like a w and the honking more argumentative. I imagine they’re like my students, fighting to be the leader.

The times that I feel the saddest while observing the semi-annual migrations are when there is one solitary goose, honking and flying solo. It makes me wonder…did they lose their mate? Geese mate for life and the thought of their loss creates a lump in my throat.

It’s incredible how far these birds fly every season, inspiring, even. Just goes to show how far we can get in life with a little help from our friends.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Holiday Traditions

One of my family’s traditions for decorating the Christmas tree involves homemade caramel corn. Not just any caramel corn-- Grammie Forbes’s recipe. I usually whip up a batch just before it’s time to start the festivities. We put a Christmas carol CD in the player, box brigade the ornament containers from their cellar storage, unpack, munch, and decorate. We enjoy reminiscing about the histories behind our very un-Martha Stewart-y ornaments as we hang them on the branches. It’s always a pleasant surprise to discover that the mice have neglected to eat the macaroni wreaths made by Kate and Nick 20-odd years ago during their preschool years. Last year, however, something happened that changed my life forever.

As a person who finds it difficult to stay on task, I have a new rule: No texting while cooking! In the middle of whipping up my annual batch of caramel corn, I suddenly had an uncontrollable urge to text my daughter, Kate. Although I can’t for the life of me remember what it was I “just had to tell her,” I interrupted my kitchen duties to tap out a message on my cellphone.

Meanwhile, back at the stove, a saucepan of sugar, corn syrup, butter, and vinegar was boiling merrily as the needle on my candy thermometer inched toward the goal: 290o F. Usually I tend this molten mixture closely, stirring frequently until it turns a creamy amber. Too hot and it burns, too cool and it stays sticky, never reaching that crisp-crunchy-melt-in-your-mouth heaven that is Grammie Forbes’s Caramel Corn. (This recipe is practically famous having traveled around the world during the Vietnam War to sustain my uncles and their navy friends.)

I snapped my phone shut and mixed in the vanilla and baking soda; the liquid was now a foaming froth, threatening to bubble over the rim of the pan. I quickly stirred and poured it on the waiting popcorn, coating every kernel. Finally, the popcorn cooled and I popped a morsel into my mouth, only to discover that my teeth were now stuck together! With visions of pulled fillings, I kept my teeth together, waiting for the sugar sealant to melt. What seemed like forever later, I was able to open my mouth. Argh! The batch hadn’t reached the proper temperature! It was a soggy, ruined mess! All for a text that could have waited the ten minutes it would have taken to perfect Grammie Forbes’s caramel mixture.