In the early twentieth century, Swiss psychologist Carl Jung coined the term synchronicity to describe causally unrelated events that appear to be meaningfully connected in some way. In my own experience, I’ve found that if you keep your senses open to synchronicity, it happens all the time. A few months ago, I even began keeping a synchronicity journal to remind myself of how extraordinary it can be.
A few of my most memorable synchronicity experiences occurred when I was trying to land a teaching job. It was a really long haul to go back to school as a recently divorced mother of two children and obtain a master’s degree and all the credentials required for the various New York State teacher certifications that would make me more marketable in a highly competitive job market. Sometimes I became discouraged and overwhelmed by the marathon and the slim odds of receiving a job offer in a supersaturated field. However, one day it occurred to me in a moment of clarity that I held a key to a door that would only open for me – because I alone had the key. I just needed to find the door. It was an empowering insight that renewed my enthusiasm. When my son came home from school that afternoon, the first thing he said to me was, “Look what I found!” And then, with great excitement, he presented me with a very old key that he considered quite the treasure.
And so did I! My eyes must have bulged out of my head when I saw physical confirmation of my insight. The old-fashioned key remains on my meditation alter to this day.
That is synchronicity.
As I got closer to approaching that metaphorical door, I was contacted by two school districts for interviews. One was a second interview with the district I really wanted to work in – the district I attended from kindergarten through high school graduation and in which my children were enrolled at the time. I did my student teaching and all my substitute teaching there, and it felt like the logical place for me. The other was a much smaller, agricultural district a couple towns away, with which I had no prior experience or contacts. About a week before the interviews, I received in the mail a publication from my religious order, and on the back cover was a poem about how sometimes the things we want so badly might end up having a bitter taste, and perhaps we are better off without them for reasons we may never know. I had a feeling after reading it that it spoke to my situation, although I tried to convince myself otherwise. At the time, I worked part-time as a library shelver and sometimes played a little game while walking through the stacks: I’d open a random book to a random page and read it. The next time I was at work, amazingly, on the page I opened to, my eyes fell upon the name of the second, smaller school district, with a different spelling but the same pronunciation! Now, what are the odds of that happening when you open any random book in a large library to a random page?
To make a long story short, I was not offered the job in the district that was my top choice. And I felt devastated. However, the next day, I had an interview with the smaller district and was offered the job – and felt jubilant. I considered the synchronicities as indicators that this was simply how it was meant to be.
Fast-forwarding more than five years, I’ll share the two most recent experiences that occurred this past week.
This summer, I began a massive cleaning and restructuring of our house. It’s time to lighten our load and change things around – get the chi flowing and make room for new energy to flow in. I was going through some old magazines and decided to get rid of most of them. On the way to the recycle bin, a magazine fell open to a page with an ad for a book that caught my eye. It was a new release (at the time) called One Hundred Days of Solitude: Losing Myself and Finding Grace on a Zen Retreatby a Zen teacher named Jane Dobisz. Without reading anything more about it or ever coming across it previously – and despite not being a Zen practitioner – I knew intuitively that I needed to read that book and ordered it immediately. And it turns out it is exactly what I need right now and is shedding so much light on my current situation. It’s absolutely perfect. I have been longing to go on a lengthy retreat somewhere although it is not the right time to do so, and I am able to experience it vicariously through the author. In the off-the-cuff definition I offered above of synchronicity, perhaps this doesn’t seem to fit because it (seeing the ad for the book) was just one event. However, there were a few other details that would take too long to explain but made it seem clearly synchronistic. I recognized the book ad instantly as an answer I was seeking, without having to think about it at all. Intuition bypassed the conceptual mind, and I just knew.
I find that there is a certain feel to synchronicities. You can choose to ignore them or to follow them. In my experience, I have found that it is a marvelous adventure to follow them. They often lead to more synchronicity, a trail of new possibilities and enhanced energy and creativity. I regard synchronicity much the same as I regard dreams. I don’t know whether they are generated internally or externally, but it’s the noticing and intuitive knowing about them that is meaningful to me. If you decide to take a walk and look for things that are a certain color – let’s say, purple – then purple objects will begin to jump out and register more in your field of awareness. The same thing happens when you play I-Spy. Maybe synchronicity operates along those lines. Or perhaps in Jungian terms, it is the connecting principle of the collective unconscious, bridging our inner and outer experiences, uniting mind and matter.
Finally, I was on the river earlier this week. For the most part, it’s not the peaceful experience it has been in past years due to all of the traffic from work boats and dredging barges. The pontoon work boats tend to disregard posted speed limits and “no wake” signs and gun it up and down the river. I was paddling for about an hour, encountering considerable traffic, and as I got closer to home it occurred to me that I hadn’t seen any wildlife the whole time I was on the river. No beavers. No herons. No egrets. I assumed it was because of the constant activity between the two locks this year. In my mind, I asked, “Where are you, beavers and herons?” And just then, I received an answer: A great blue heron lifted into the air from a concealed location and squawked as if responding to my question. It was so uncanny that my jaw dropped.
After fetching my camera, I went in search of the heron, who I found standing still as a statue on a log in a shallow area. I paddled ever so gingerly toward the heron in an attempt to get as close as possible because I was in need of “heron medicine.” I was able to get quite near and observed the heron so closely that it felt as if we were one being. I entered “heron consciousness,” a state of intense presence and patience. It is a state of mind free from distractions; even the intense heat and bright sun didn’t make an impression on me (which is highly unusual). But at the same time, I was highly alert, with a laser-sharp focus. Aware but not distracted. When you are in “heron mind,” you know instinctively what to do and when it is time to move on.
I was so in tune with the heron that I could tell by a subtle movement that it was about to take off. I have been wanting to photograph a heron lifting off for years but never have been quick enough; it always happens so suddenly. But this time, I was ready!
So I ended up with a satisfying photo, but that’s not all. Having entered “heron mind,” something clicked inside me, and I knew that the deep presence is the element I need to bring into my teaching for the next year. As the curriculum becomes narrower, more demanding, and more tightly scripted, deep, authentic presence might be the key ingredient to help me navigate through the year with as much grace and integrity as possible. I ordered prints of both of the heron pictures to place on the cover of my planning notebook so I can stay in touch with heron energy throughout the year. Last year it was water lilies and the slogan, “Bloom where you are planted.” This year it is heron energy and “Be here now.”
When I read a chapter in One Hundred Days of Solitude about Zen koans, I thought of the question that has been on my mind all summer and the dualistic way I’ve been approaching it: Should I do this or something different? Suddenly, it became a koan to me – a question with no logical answer, designed to liberate you from thinking – and I saw in my mind the answer in the form of the action and energy of being present. Seems the answer is not a yes or no – an either-or – but rather, enlightened action that bypasses yes or no altogether. Deep presence that cuts through the opposing possibilities to something…deeper.
I truly believe that if you are alert, truly present, and able to embrace the “now” rather than resist it or be distracted by too much thinking, you will find your way and end up where you need to be. The journey is the destination, and every moment makes a difference. Either you will find meaning and joy in your current situation, or your zest will lead you in another direction and open new doors.
Guidance and possibilities are everywhere, always, and it’s interesting to take note of what resonates!
I bought my new At-a-Glance weekly/monthly planner yesterday. (As a teacher and parent, my year runs July to June rather than January to December.)
It’s turquoise – my favorite color. And it felt so good to file the old one! As I transferred birthdays and such into the new planner, I noticed the notes I’d jotted down about all the “events” that arose during the past year. Although I’ve kept a running tally in my head of the major events, there were some that had slipped my mind. And – wow. It totally explains why I ended up feeling as I do: Questioning virtually every aspect of my life situation and wanting to reinvent myself. I guess the bottom line is that some years are like that – and my nature photography was the saving grace that pulled me through and helped me to find beauty and inspiration to rise above the waves rather than be sucked under. When a year like that comes along, you’ve got to cull whatever grace, blessings, and wisdom you can from it and keep going.
“There are no tough times, hard knocks, or challenges that aren’t laden with emeralds, rubies, and diamonds for those who see them through.” -Mike Dooley
The past year helped me to get my priorities straight. I am ready for deep transformation and for living a more authentic, congruent life. Life is short, and I simply don’t have the energy for anything else.
I’ve been thinking about happiness a lot this week. And that’s usually not a great sign because if you’re thinking about being happy, you’re probably not doing it. Too much thinking can be a real handicap on the spiritual path. It can be an addiction, a distraction.
It seems I’ve come to a fork in the road. One way points to Authenticity and Adventure and the other to Fear (which runs perilously close to the dense forest of Hopelessness).
I know which road I want to take. But I think I am programmed to take the other through nearly half a century of conditioning – most of it well intentioned. Realizing this is really frustrating – and at times, downright painful. Because the former route is the way of Life, and the latter is the way of Death. Is there anything more regrettable than an unlived life – remaining closed in a bud rather than blooming and sharing your gift with the world as fully as possibly?
My hair is a perfect metaphor for the ambivalence I’m struggling with. Although most of my hair is dark auburn, the roots are mostly silver. And I’m okay with that. I’m tired of putting poison on my head, and the last time I did it, it didn’t feel like “me.” I’m considering letting my hair go natural rather than mask who I really am. The way I see it, silver strands of wisdom are growing out of my head, and I’ve earned every single one of them.
So yes, I am ready. Ready for deep, voluntary transformation. For rewiring my neural circuitry. Not just talking about it or learning how to do it, but really doing it.
I have been obsessing for the past year over a situation in my life that I would like to change. With everything that has occurred in the past year, it’s difficult to sort out whether the situation is really as bad as it seems or if managing all the major events during the past year has been so overwhelming that I simply couldn’t cope with it as resourcefully as I might have been able to other years. I want to avoid making the mistake of throwing out the baby with the bath water.
One of the problems is that I can’t think of a compelling alternative to the present situation. That is because I have accumulated enough life experience to know that happiness does not depend on situations or conditions external to ourselves (i.e. “If I get/achieve this, I’ll be happy.”) I have had the good fortune of manifesting various situations and relationships my heart desired and have learned that enduring happiness doesn’t come from those things/people. The interplay of all the external conditions in our lives is constantly shifting and changing like the image in a kaleidoscope. Although I haven’t had a great deal of material success so far in this lifetime, I realize from knowing and reading autobiographies about people who have everything money can buy, that material success is not the Holy Grail of happiness. Happiness is an inner quality, an attunement and sense of well being – and when it is activated in you, the situations in your life are irrelevant.
I truly believe that, unless there are biochemical issues at play, happiness is a choice. If you’re not happy with a current situation, you have the choice to change it or to change your attitude toward it. You can make excuses for why you cannot do either, but the bottom line is that your happiness is at stake.
The buck stops here. I can no longer blame people or situations for my unhappiness or depend on them for my happiness. I simply can’t accept that anymore. The change from discontent to happiness must come from within. Period.
So I wonder which is better: To stay where I am and hope the situation becomes more palatable to my soul or to remove myself from the situation and hopefully find something more nourishing? Some people need to have the next step lined up in order to make a change, whereas others are more comfortable taking a leap of faith. As much as I’d like to be in the latter category, might there be some value – a certain depth – in remaining? Or is it a cop-out? I guess that depends on personality and intention; it is not black and white.
Perhaps there is another alternative: To stop thinking so much about it and simply be present. Show up each moment as authentic, mindful presence. Even if the outward situation seems artificial or restrictive, perhaps bringing my authentic self to it can somehow transform it into something better? Or perhaps it is at least worth a try? The gift of presence.
I have a role model for this. Back in the fall, I wrote about Lorenzo, who directed traffic through a local construction project. He spent the entire day – for weeks – spreading joy and kindness to everyone who drove by. It was incredible. I always felt that somebody needed to write or make a film about him because what he does is that inspired. And it turns out his story is going to be included in a forthcoming book about happiness! The author – who I follow on Facebook – put out a call for stories of people whose happiness is infectious and who inspire others to be happy. I thought immediately of Lorenzo and filled out the form to nominate him. He was contacted right away, and after his phone interviews got in touch with me via Facebook to thank me for nominating him. What happened next was pretty awesome. I let my Facebook community know that his story will be included in the book, and people started writing about how happy he made them when he directed traffic in our town, and sharing stories of what he said and did that made a difference in their day. What he did for each of us was both radical and simple at the same time: He noticed us. And he was kind. When we were driving in our cars. What more impersonal situation is there than that? And yet he found a way to be so present that he connected with everyone who drove by and made us feel seen and noticed. He made us feel that we mattered. Even in our cars as we were in between wherever we came from and wherever we were headed to. It certainly took me by surprise the first time I drove by him! Standing on the road all day directing traffic, he was able to be a channel of joy and blessings. He transformed what otherwise could be a boring, hot, repetitive job into a true vocation in the most spiritual sense. He was a point in which the Light came through – a beacon for us all. We were drawn to his energy and light, which he kindled within us, as well. I’d love to know how many lives were positively affected by this one man simply showing up for life and letting his light shine. Surely, ripples were set in motion!
If Lorenzo was able to do this standing in traffic, so can we. Each and every one of us. No excuses!
Why not just be happy now, DESPITE IT ALL? Believing that I will be happy if this or that were to change robs me of personal power. It places my happiness in the hands of others or fate, rendering me powerless. Really, it’s just an excuse. A commonplace and ordinary excuse. I’d rather live an exceptional life, like Lorenzo. Sometimes the best way to begin is by helping others, being kind to others, being of service.
Another way of putting it: Would you rather be happy when your clothes fit better or be happy now? Again, what’s at stake is your happiness! Our world is in desperate need of people who exemplify happiness and can model it to others. We Westerners are so good at beating ourselves up.
I’ve heard a story about a couple visiting a town and thinking about moving there. An old man was sitting in the middle of town, and the couple asked him what the people are like in the town. He asked, “What are they like where you live?” and they answered that they’re horrible – unfriendly and dishonest. He replied, “It’s the same here.” Then another couple visited the town, and they, too, were thinking about moving there. They approached the man with the same question, and again he asked what the people are like where they live. The couple said they’re wonderful – so helpful and kind. And the old man replied, “It’s the same here.”
The point is, happiness is an inside job. It doesn’t depend on external factors. You can move, change jobs, change relationships, or change any other life situation, thinking that doing so will make you happy. And maybe it will for a brief time. But enduring happiness is a quality that can only be cultivated in your own mind and heart, no matter what circumstances show up in your life.
My friend, Chandi, is doing a link-up on her wonderful holistic education blog, Inside Out, and asked me to link up a summer activity. The first thing that came to mind is something I’ve done at the end of the school year three years in a row: a Camp-In Day, or faux indoor campfire. It’s awesome – and worth a post of its own! It’s a great activity to do if you work with kids or have kids at home and would like something new and fun to do on a rainy day. The idea is inspired by my son’s fifth grade teacher who ran a summer camp and treated his students to a modified camp experience for the final week or two of the school year. It’s all about atmosphere and imagination!
I transformed my large carpet space into a campground, complete with a small tent that the children took turns using. This is what the completed setup looks like (with enough light for a proper picture):
Here are the steps I took to assemble the faux campfire:
Mount a small box fan (I used a 10-inch red fan) on top of a few rocks (to elevate it from the floor).
Surround the fan with three layers of real firewood.
Create cellophane “flames” (cut from red, yellow, and/or orange cellophane in the shape of flames up to about 15 inches high), and attach them to sticks (small tree branches). I cut the flames twice as long as I needed them, folded them in half, put a stick over the center fold, and taped the cellophane just above the stick to create two flames from each piece of cellophane. (See photo below.) I used a total of three sticks with two pieces of cellophane (making four flames) each. The sticks need to be about the same length as the diameter of the firewood structure you built so they will stay in place.
Position the sticks (with flames attached) an inch or more above the fan, securing them between the top two layers of firewood.
For light, I arranged five LCD (battery operated) tea lights on the corners and very center of the box fan.
An optional and very realistic finishing touch is to surround the campfire with a circle of clean river or garden rocks.
To prevent children from tripping over the fan’s electrical cord, I covered the cord with duct tape where it ran along the floor.
Here is a closer view that shows more detail:
With the lights off, shades down, and the fan turned on low, it looked so real!
I also sprayed a touch of woodsy-scented room spray and played a CD of cricket sounds. The room spray I used was “Marshmallow Fireside” by Slatkin & Co. (from Bath and Body Works). It was a rather dense, heavy fragrance, and a little went a long way. Lanterns lit dimly with LCD tea lights would have been another nice touch.
I gave the children glow sticks to play with, and we listened to stories on CD. They especially enjoyed Bill Harley’s stories, “The Eeny Weeny Beeny Ghost”(which they asked to hear again) and “Mrs. Lunchroom Lady.” We played circle games like “telephone,” and children took turns telling their own stories or jokes around the “fire.” My husband, who is a professional musician, came in with his guitar and sang songs with us. Any adult or child who entered our room wanted to stay!
Another idea is to play a video on the SMART Board (via YouTube) of a fireworks display or a camping-themed storybook being read aloud.
I put carpet squares around the faux campfire so each child had a designated space. (They pretended they were sitting on top of a sleeping bag.) The first couple years, I didn’t think to make a ring of rocks and instead put down a circle of tape around the campfire as a boundary. Rule number one was that no part of their bodies was allowed to go past the tape. They ate their morning snack around the faux fire, and during play time, we kept the lights off, only raised the shades a crack, and children were invited to play with Lite-Brite or flashlights, which gave off a realistic campground glow. Some children made hand shadows on a wall. It was dark in our room all day long.
For a special camp-themed afternoon snack, we made s’mores using a pizza box solar cooker that I set up just outside of our classroom. But first, I talked about the science behind it and how the pizza box oven would trap the heat from the sun to melt the chocolate and marshmallows. The chocolate melted more quickly than the marshmallows, but it all worked out just fine. However, we did need to do this on a sunny day!
For instructions to make a pizza box solar cooker, click HERE. Our Camp-In Day is always great, relaxed fun. The children’s energy is appropriately mellow, and many of them tell me it’s their favorite day of the entire school year!
My daughter graduates from high school this week! My, how time flies! When she was a baby, older folks (almost always, women) would approach me with a sparkle in their eyes and tell me to savor this time because children grow up so fast.
I found that difficult to believe back when she was a baby and a good night’s sleep was an elusive dream, or later when I spent my days chasing after an energetic, mischievous little runner-climber. I remember how difficult it was while pregnant with my second child to take a nap in the presence of my daughter who, at 2 1/2, had long since given up napping. My bright idea was to babyproof a room completely, with barely more than a futon mattress on the floor and a variety of toys to keep her occupied while I attempted to nap. But after a few minutes, when I was just starting to fall asleep, she’d tell me she needed to use the toilet. So I put her training potty in the room with us. And then, rather than use it for its intended purpose, she employed it as a step stool and attempted to climb over the baby gate and jailbreak when I was nearly asleep. Her timing was impeccable.
She also infamously led other toddlers in a momentary breakout from the health club’s child care room into the parking lot while I was on the treadmill – an event the former owner and I laugh about to this day (although we weren’t laughing then).
It was always a gamble to leave my daughter alone in a room. Once I left her in the kitchen unattended for a minute or two, and in that time she managed to mastermind a way to climb onto the countertop to gain access to a bag of cheese puffs that were stored up in a cabinet. Her (premeditated?) route involved pulling out drawers and climbing on the washing machine to work her way around the kitchen on countertops. (In hindsight, maybe I should have kept a bag of cheese puffs in the babyproofed room where I tried to nap!)
By the time she was preschool age, we found it necessary to install a home security system and chain locks high up on the doors so Little Houdini couldn’t open the doors and escape. (Strategically placed chain locks alone were insufficient because she would stack pillows, sofa cushions, and whatever else she could find to attain her goal of freedom.)
The preteen and teen years were really rough, especially once I began teaching full-time and moved to the neighboring school district. Within months of moving and beginning my first year of teaching, she moved in with her dad full-time and was able to return to her former school district, spending summers and school vacations with me until this past year.
This is a soul that has always refused to be confined or hindered. Now that she has greater freedom, she seems so much happier, more motivated, and stable. She doesn’t seem to mind the responsibilities that go along with greater freedom – and even embraces them – because independence seems so necessary in order for her to thrive.
I was tired by the end of the day but never for a moment regretted staying home with her when she was little. Although we didn’t have a second paycheck, we were rich in golden moments, and I journaled and wrote lots of poetry about magical moments with my daughter. We spent rainy days reading books and watching birds feast from feeders mounted outside the large picture window. It was so amazing and life transforming to bond with her and to see the world through a child’s eyes that when I finally prepared to re-enter the working world after her little brother started kindergarten, I knew I needed to work with children and changed gears completely to pursue a career in teaching. But back in the early years, time passed in milestones: smiling, rolling, crawling, eating solid food, cruising, first steps, walking, weaning. Each day blended into the next, and it almost felt like time stood still. It was impossible to imagine that she would grow up as quickly as the older folks assured me she would. I think life really sped up once she began school.
Now that I’m on the other side, with an 18-year-old daughter who began taking college courses last fall, I realize how very true the words of the older folks were. Children grow up more quickly than any new parent could ever imagine. Now I’m one of the older moms who looks wistfully at new moms wearing their babies in slings or wraps, remembering how precious it all was. And knowing how fast it goes by – and that someday they, too, will wish they could hold their baby just one more time or read one more bedtime story. These small moments that seem so routine and eternal are the moments that matter most when you look back. You don’t remember how tired you were. You remember the splendor of ordinary moments. That ultimately eclipses all else.
My daughter’s path hasn’t been what I had envisioned for her, but it is her path, and I have learned the hard, roundabout way to honor and trust it. She has always been fiercely independent and unbridled, creative and compassionate. Although she is currently interested in business, she is also a talented writer, singer, and pianist. How she will weave together the strands of her personality, talents, passions, and choices into the fabric of her life remains to be seen. I surely hope to be around to watch it come together in a pattern that is uniquely hers.
I have been putting together a graduation gift for her and am excited to give it to her. It’s not money (which I’m sure any teenager would prefer) but comes from the depths of my heart. My desire is to pass along some life wisdom to her via a collection of books that have been particularly influential in my life. Some of the books are dear friends that I have turned to in times of sadness, confusion, and/or when I sought answers and guidance. Many of them have lifted my spirits and opened new doors of awareness and possibility. Every one of the books was a response to the questions: What do I want my daughter to know about life? What kind of wisdom would I like to pass along to her? What is most important for her to know? If someday I’m not around when she needs motherly advice, what resources can I give her to help her along her way?
Fast forward from my daughter’s napless toddlerhood to this afternoon, when I set out to acquire books for her graduation collection. While stopped at a red light in town, I noticed a woman in the car behind me and thought for a moment that she was trying to get my attention for some reason but couldn’t figure out why. Was there something wrong with my car that I didn’t know about? When I looked again in my rear view mirror, it didn’t appear that she was trying to get my attention after all; she was moving her hands in a curious way that my mind interpreted as perhaps smoking a cigarette with panache. I continued to drive along the road, and when I stopped at the next light, I thought once again that the same woman was trying to get my attention. This time, her arms were held out to her sides in a gesture that begged to know, “What is wrong with you?” I wondered what on earth I could have done to upset this woman. And then I realized that the woman was my daughter and waved exuberantly at her! In our separate cars, we shared a good laugh, and then I waved again as I turned and she continued on (not smoking, I might add). Never before have we followed each other on the road unintentionally. And the fact that it happened for the first time – and that she looked so grown up behind the wheel that I didn’t even recognize her – while I was on a mission to buy books for her graduation present was highly significant to me. How perfect!
Here are the books I selected and why:
The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran: A friend whom I knew only for a summer and experienced as a kindred spirit loaned me his copy after we spent a day boating on Cayuga Lake with friends and engaging in philosophical conversation. This book awakened something in me and left my soul rejoicing. I bought a copy for myself that same week, and it has been like a bible to me ever since, offering advice about Love, Joy and Sorrow, Children, Pain, Marriage, Teaching, Work, and many other aspects of life. It’s been a while since I’ve read it, but I know many passages by heart, and I think it would be interesting to see what chapters would resonate most with me now. Probably many of the ones I found less compelling when I was younger. This book turned me on to the Lebanese-born poet, Kahlil Gibran, and I went on to read the rest of his published works and to think of him as a soulmate of sorts.
Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah by Richard Bach: My dear, departed friend, David, gave me a copy of this book when I graduated from high school. It was a mind-blower that started me on my spiritual journey. It is the story of a spiritual mentorship (making it a perfect gift from my first spiritual mentor) that forms between the author (a writer and biplane pilot) and a former mechanic who teaches the author how to let go of the personal limitations that he passively allowed to define him and the world around him. Interspersed throughout the story are passages from the “Messiah’s Handbook and Reminders for the Advanced Soul,” and I memorized and was intrigued by nearly every one of these gems. I read several of Richard Bach’s books after this one and found them all to be illuminating and magical. Giving my daughter this book is like passing on the torch that David handed to me. It is an empowering book to read when you’re feeling stuck.
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho: Soon after we met, my husband insisted that I read this book, and I’ve never had a book recommended by so many kindred spirits. It is a fictional account of a quest to find a treasure and all of the helpers and circumstances the main character encounters on the journey that point him in the direction of the treasure. It is an inspirational story about listening to your heart and following your dreams. One of my favorite children’s picture books, The Treasure by Uri Shulevitz, has striking similarities to this novel. It was so enchanting that I ended up reading many more novels by Paulo Coelho, who has become my favorite novelist.
A New Earthby Eckhart Tolle: Eckhart Tolle is one of my main gurus, and it all began with this illuminating non-fiction book about entering the present moment and transcending ego consciousness. I love his explanation of the pain body, which I think my daughter (a quintuple Scorpio) will relate to. I think she also will appreciate his lack of religious language. His teachings make sense, and so much of what he talks about I know to be true through personal experience. I practice “entering the now” every day of my life and have been transformed and enriched by doing so.
Oneness with All Lifeby Eckhart Tolle: This is a beautiful edition of inspirational passages from A New Earth. It is one of my favorite books to open to a random page and read whatever I find there when I seek guidance or inspiration.
Man’s Search for Meaningby Viktor E. Frankl: This is the author’s personal account of being a prisoner in Nazi death camps and how the suffering endured by him and fellow prisoners became a path of renewed purpose and meaning. This book was assigned reading for a Death and Immortality course I took as an undergraduate. The author asserts, “It is possible to practice the art of living even in a concentration camp, although suffering is omnipresent.” Survivors accomplished this through a sense of humor and noticing beauty in the natural world. Well, if people were able to practice the art of living under such deplorable conditions, we have no excuses! This is also a book that makes you count your blessings. I had trouble deciding between this book or Night by Elie Wiesl. I like the way Frankl’s book emphasizes the importance of having a sense of purpose and meaning that makes life worth living.
Tuesdays with Morrieby Mitch Albom: In this popular book, the author reconnects with a former college professor during the final months of the professor’s life and learns important lessons about life as his mentor approaches death. This is a book that puts life into perspective and highlights what really matters.
The Last Lectureby Randy Pausch: One year on our professional development staff day at the beginning of the school year, the principal showed a video of Randy Pausch, a Carnegie-Mellon professor who had been diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer, giving a lecture about living life to the fullest and pursuing our dreams. This book is an easy read based on the principles he presented in the lecture. It’s similar in theme to Tuesdays with Morrie – a book that looks at the Big Picture.
A Thousand Morningsby Mary Oliver: Everyone needs a good collection of poetry. This is Mary Oliver’s most recent book, and I want my daughter to have it because it’s so lyrical and inspiring and focuses largely on the wonders of the natural world. It took a while to decide which volume of Mary Oliver’s poems to give my daughter. I plan to attach a couple of my favorite poems found in other volumes to the inside cover. It’s something she can read during a quiet moment when she needs a lift or is trying to make sense of her place in the world. I like this collection because it has fewer religious references than some of the author’s other works – something my daughter would appreciate.
Life’s Journeys According to Mister Rogers: Things to Remember Along the Wayby Fred Rogers: Mister Rogers always had a way of making you feel good about yourself. This little book is a collection of nuggets and gentle advice that we all need to be reminded of from time to time.
Tales of a Female Nomad: Living at Large in the Worldby Rita Golden Gelman: This is a personal account – kind of like a travelogue – written by a woman who gave up her house and possessions and became a nomad back in 1986. She remains a nomad today and continues to write about her adventures on her website and blog! How interesting – I just visited her blog so I could link to it and discovered that right now she is staying in the Berkshires, which is very close to where I live! And equally fascinating, her latest blog post discusses Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning, which I listed above! The book is filled with fascinating accounts of the author’s experiences with people in different cultures around the world. It reaffirms the goodness of people all over the world and the reality of serendipity and chance meetings that open one to a whole new world of possibility. What possibilities and blessings are we passing by because we are functioning as creatures of habit, not fully seeing or perceiving the living world around us? What possibilities might we discover by being truly present when we interact with others by listening, by speaking our truth and being honest about our needs, by lending a helping hand?
Manuscript Found in Accraby Paulo Coelho: This is the author’s latest book, and it reads very much like Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet. It is loaded with wisdom that really resonates and inspires. I find myself quoting it frequently lately.
The Four Agreements: A Toltec Wisdom Book by Don Miguel Ruiz: A colleague gave me this book a few years ago, and it contains a lot of practical wisdom around the “four agreements” for rising above self-limiting beliefs that compromise our quality of life: 1) Be impeccable with your word, 2) Don’t take anything personally, 3) Don’t make assumptions, 4) Always do your best.
Women in the Material Worldby Faith D’Alusio and Peter Menzel: This book provides, through gorgeous photos and compelling commentary, an intimate look at the lives of 20 different women in different countries and cultures throughout the world. It underscores what women around the globe have in common and also how our lives are, in many cases, dramatically different. I have opened up this book countless times when I was feeling down, and it never failed to remind me that I am blessed beyond belief and share a connection with women around the globe, who experience the same feelings, frustrations, and joys that I do. At times when my energy is vulnerable and I think that my life situation doesn’t measure up to the standards our society seems to expect, this book sets me straight! I hope it will serve this purpose for my daughter, too. She and I have enjoyed exploring the companion book, Material World, together over the years, as well.
Warrior of the Light: A Manual by Paulo Coelho: Is it obvious that I love Paulo Coelho’s writing? This is a phenomenal companion to The Alchemist that offers wisdom for our life’s quests. I bought my copy of this book when I was pursuing a career in teaching, and it provided perspective that kept me fighting the good fight to attain my goal.
The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom: I have loved everything I have read by Mitch Albom and am convinced that his work is deeply inspired. I was in a college bookstore many years ago perusing the required and recommended books for various graduate teaching courses, and this book was on the list for one course. It speaks to the potential within each of us to change someone’s life. Although this book wasn’t originally on my list, it revealed itself in a way that convinced me it needed to be included in the collection. I could have included any of Mitch Albom’s other novels, as well.
Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skillby Matthieu Ricard (not pictured): The title of this book says it all. I want my daughter to be happy on her life’s journey, and this is my favorite book about happiness, written by a biochemist turned Buddhist monk in the Tibetan tradition. It offers practical, sound advice synthesized with neuroscience.
I intend to present the books to my daughter in a wooden crate. I have had so much fun planning and putting together this present!
This is another teacherly post. I want to share a tutorial of my favorite art project of the year: Eric Carle-inspired seahorse collages. I got the idea from a lesson plan I purchased from Deep Space Sparkle a few years ago and have modified over the years for implementation with my kindergarten students.
We haven’t done much painting this year due to our switchover to the rigorous Common Core curriculum. The paint bottles have been sitting on the shelf above the cubbies calling to me. I have been waiting all year for this opportunity. Throughout the year, we have read a number of Eric Carle picture books, and one of the children’s favorite snack time videos is a collection of Eric Carle stories that includes The Very Hungry Caterpillar; Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me; and The Very Quiet Cricket. So they are quite familiar with his work. (And I love the calming nature of the video.) Toward the beginning of our ocean life unit, I read Mister Seahorse to the children. This book features aquatic fathers that take a primary role in carrying for or protecting the eggs and babies. Seahorse fathers, rather than mothers, are the ones who become pregnant and give birth. So this is also a Father’s Day tie-in, and we create the seahorse collages as Father’s Day gifts. (Father’s Day can be a tricky celebration to acknowledge in the classroom since some children do not have a father present in their lives. In such cases, I encourage children to give their collage to an important male figure in their life or whomever they choose.)
Click HERE for a video of the Mister Seahorse story being read aloud.
We also watch a fabulous video, Eric Carle: Picture Writer, in which Eric Carle talks about early influences (including his kindergarten teacher) that nurtured his interest in art. He also reads from some of his books and demonstrates his process of creating collages in his studio. Here is the complete list of supplies I have on hand for the project. You can definitely improvise; not everything is essential! Materials:
Two sheets of white 12″x18″ construction paper (per child)
Watercolor paint (blue, green, purple)
Smaller and larger paintbrushes
Several different colors of tempera paint
Scrapers (or a plastic fork)
Textured “stamps” (i.e. backings from carpet samples, bubble wrap, anything with a textured pattern)
An old toothbrush (for splatter painting)
Patterned sponge rollers and/or matchbox cars
Plastic trays (for applying paint to the sponge rollers; I use the large rectangular lids from store-bought salad mixes)
Newspapers or some kind of protective covering for tables
Glitter glue, or glitter and Elmer’s glue, or metallic paint pens
Black Sharpie marker
Hot glue gun or tacky glue
Poster board or cardstock (to make tracers)
Procedure: Each child needs two white sheets of 12″x18″ construction paper for the seahorse project. (I have considered using a paper size that is easier to frame but haven’t done it since all my tracers are sized for 12″x18″, and the size really seems to “work.”) The first paper will become the ocean background, and the second paper will become “pretty paper” for the seahorse. Note: If you are doing this at home with one or two children, you will want to make a few sheets of “pretty paper” for the project; one won’t be enough. 1. Create the Ocean Background
I start by having each child write his/her name in pencil on what will be the back side of one sheet of white paper. Then they turn it to the front and paint squiggly “waves” all the way across using the blue, green, and purple watercolors. After making the lines, they can splatter-paint or let their wet paintbrush drip color onto the paper to suggest “bubbles.”Set aside to dry.
This step goes quickly, and I did it with one child at a time. I was fortunate this year to have one student who volunteered (without being asked) to be the cleanup person. He was ready with a wet paper towel (see top photo) to clean up any paint that got on the table surface. (I didn’t put down newspaper.) Another student took it upon herself to be the teaching assistant. She explained directions to her classmates and showed them examples of the ocean backgrounds in the Mister Seahorse book. I had the next child write his/her name on the paper and sit at the table watching the child who was painting, to see how to do it. 2. Create the Pretty Collage Paper
This step takes at least two days to complete. On the first day, children paint their second sheet of white paper the color of their choosing (after writing their names on the back in pencil). For this, I like to mix tempera paint to make interesting colors, like tangerine, indigo, turquoise, chartreuse, fuchsia, dandelion, terracotta, etc. Then I dilute the paint with water so it covers the paper more easily and lasts longer.
One year, I asked children to choose a color ahead of time and grouped them together according to the colors they chose so they could all paint at the same time. That worked well (as long as you have enough paintbrushes and space). Other years, I’ve set up a table during play centers time and worked with two children at a time, allowing them to select from a variety of mixed colors. The children cover their entire paper with one color of paint. They use the thickest paintbrushes I have, to make it go faster. We let the papers dry overnight.
The next day is the messiest but also the most fun. Children need to wear smocks for this! I set aside one table as the painting table and put out numerous cups of mixed, diluted tempera paints, paintbrushes, plastic trays, textured stamps, kid-sized sponge rollers, sea sponges, etc.
Then I call one or two children at a time and guide them to:
Paint or roll lines or dots across their paper (straight, zigzag, or squiggly) using a contrasting color.
Use a patterned scraper, plastic fork, or the handle end of a paintbrush to scrape through the painted lines, to create texture and color variations.
Use a sea sponge and/or patterned stamp to add even more texture.
Finally, I take the children outdoors to finish their papers by splatter-painting a contrasting color on top. They can use either a paintbrush or a toothbrush for this. If using a paintbrush, they flick the paintbrush (held several inches above the paper) to propel the paint from the brush to the paper. If using a toothbrush, they hold the toothbrush above the paper with one hand and rub the opposite thumb along the bristles to propel the paint to the paper.
Let the “pretty papers” dry. 3. Trace and Cut the Seahorse I made tracers from poster board in the following shapes: seahorse, coral and/or seaweed, rock, starfish, and tiny fish. You can do a Google Images search for the shapes, print them out, and trace them on poster board or cardstock, etc. to make the tracers. I trace the shapes on the back of the “pretty papers” because children have a tendency to put the tracer smack dab in the middle of a paper. (They do this with cookie cutters and dough, as well.) I like to save the scraps for others to use in their collages, and there are more (and larger) scraps left over if I trace the shapes strategically close to the edge of the paper. I also write the child’s name in pencil in the middle of the seahorse shape. The pretty paper each child painted will be the paper used for his/her seahorse, which is the largest element of the collage. I give each child his/her paper with the seahorse shape traced on the back. The children cut out their seahorses, and I save each child’s seahorse in a separate ziplock bag that will be used to store the rest of his/her collage pieces. I have them put their scraps on a table. 4. Trace and Cut the Other Shapes I sort the paper scraps into piles according to whether they would make good coral, seaweed, rocks, starfish, or tiny fish. Then I trace the shapes on the back of the scrap papers. Hopefully I can trace a few of the same shape on the scrap paper. Then I cut around the traced shapes to make smaller pieces of pretty paper that the children can cut into the shapes. I put all of the paper with coral tracings on the back into one ziplock bag, all of the seaweed tracings in another, etc. Then I have the children select the papers they want to use for the rest of their collage pieces. I’ve found that this works best as a small group activity, and I definitely recommend having another adult in the room to help manage this step. I did this during our work stations time. Some children read independently to themselves and others used the computers, while a third group selected their collage papers. I set up piles of the different pretty papers (with a certain traced shape on the back) on a table, and an adult volunteer supervised the children as they selected a paper for each object in the collage. For instance, one pile contains paper scraps with a starfish traced on the back, another pile has paper scraps with rocks traced on the back, etc. The children put their collage papers into their plastic bag along with the seahorse they cut out previously. (Note: I let the children choose either a seaweed or a coral paper, but not both.) Then this group of children goes to a table, writes their name inside the traced shapes, and cuts out all the shapes, saving the scraps in a bin (that will be dumped into the “scrap paper” drawer of our art center paper organizer for future use) and putting their cut-out shapes into their plastic ziplock bag.
5. Assembling the Collage Meanwhile, I have been setting up a table for them to assemble their collages. I put each child’s ocean background paper on the table along with lots of glue sticks and some Sharpie markers. I talk the children through the process of assembling their collages in the following order:
First, they glue and place their coral or seaweed toward a bottom corner of the paper. (The paper should be oriented so that it is tall, rather than wide.)
Next, they glue and place their rock in front of (and slightly overlapping) the coral or seaweed.
Next, they glue and place their starfish in the opposite bottom corner (on the ocean floor).
Next, they glue and place their seahorse somewhere in the center of the page.
Finally, they glue and place their two small fish anywhere they want.
They finish by signing their name in black Sharpie. They also could draw tiny circles on the starfish and coral to create a more textured look.
6. Applying the Finishing Touches I use a hot glue gun to affix a wiggly eye to the children’s seahorses and a very small wiggly eye to their tiny fish. (You could instead use a hole punch, white paper, and a black marker to create eyes.)
An optional final step is to allow them to accent their collages with glitter glue, metallic (gold or silver) paint pens, or glitter and glue. The children LOVE this step, so I always try to make time to include it.