December 17, 2014

25 Favorite Christmas Picture Books

I hope everyone is enjoying the holidays!
One of my favorite things to do is snuggle up with the family 
and a stack of treasured holiday books.
This is my list of 25 Favorite Christmas Picture Books
 (in no particular order):
  1. The Trees of the Dancing Goats by Patricia Polacco
  2. Winter is the Warmest Season by Lauren Stringer
  3. The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry
  4. The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
  5. The Hat by Jan Brett
  6. An Orange for Frankie by Patricia Polacco
  7. The Missing Mitten Mystery by Steven Kellogg
  8. The Wild Christmas Reindeer by Jan Brett
  9. Snowmen at Night by Caralyn & Mark Buehner
  10. The Christmas Wreath by James Hoffman
  11. How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
  12. Strega Nona's Gift by Tomie dePaola
  13. Madeline's Christmas by Ludwig Bemelmans
  14. Welcome Comfort by Patricia Polacco
  15. An Early American Christmas by Tomie dePaola
  16. The Baker's Dozen: A Saint Nicholas Tale by Aaron Shepard
  17. Olivia Helps with Christmas by Ian Falconer
  18. It's Christmas, David! by David Shannon
  19. Christmas Tapestry by Patricia Polacco
  20. The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore
  21. Book of Christmas Carols by Tomie dePaola
  22. Twelve Days of Christmas by Jan Brett (I learned from this book that traditionally the 12 days of Christmas are celebrated AFTER December 25, until Jan 6, Three Kings Day)
  23. The Snowman by Raymond Briggs
  24. The Three Snow Bears by Jan Brett
  25. The Legend of the Poinsettia by Tomie dePaola
Merry Christmas!

December 15, 2014

Why I Still Believe In Santa Claus

Growing up, I always knew that Santa Claus was fictional--and let me be clear, that made him no less important, no less real. Being fictional didn't threaten my belief in him, it protected it. Santa Claus has always represented a rare kind of magic, a kind that lingers even as we grow old. It is magic rooted in kindness, in mystery, and in memory.

I grew up in a home FULL of stories. My mom raised us with stories, and we loved them. We read all the Harry Potter series and the Narnia books together. Those stories were real to us, and we shared that as a family. You know the feeling--when you read a story, you are THERE. You experience the emotions and the adventures. It makes a place in your mind that can handle dragons and battles and heroes. Having a lot of practice in that department, it was easy to put Santa right alongside Hagrid and Mr. Tumnus. Actually, one Christmas morning my parents included a gift under the tree signed, "Love, Hagrid." It was the newest Harry Potter book. We didn't bat an eye about having presents from Santa AND Hagrid. It fit. It made sense to us.

Part of being human is learning how to differentiate between fact and fiction. In my experience, fiction is one of the best tools for understanding life. Fiction has always helped me to process the facts more clearly. Albert Einstein even had his two cents on the topic: "If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales."

I'm grateful to have parents who taught me to believe.

We were (and still are) very chill about Santa at our house. We knew there would be presents from him, but we never left milk and cookies. There was definitely no Elf on the Shelf.  It made perfect sense to us that Santa Claus would make an appearance in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, because they belong in the same world. Santa making a visit to our local mall, however, always made me deeply uncomfortable. That was against the rules.

Because I had this particular version of Santa in my home, there was no Moment Of Clarity, no Devastating Revelation, no Loss of Belief. There was no tragic moment when I finally 'found out' the truth. The truth was all I knew, and I loved it.

At home, we loved stories. And we loved Santa, because his world and our day to day world are complimentary. We read the Christmas Carol and watched the Muppet's Christmas Carol every year. We didn't spend much time talking about Santa or focusing on him. Who was the main man at Christmastime? It was Christ. We spent more time talking about Him and less time about Santa. We celebrated in our own way, as a family--it was a balance that worked.

And now, as an adult, I still read stories, I still get swept up in the magic, and I still believe in Santa.

December 8, 2014

Staying Healthy Through the Winter Months: 6 Tips for Teachers

Staying Healthy Through the Winter Months: 6 Tips for Teachers

That time of year is upon us . . . sniffles and sneezes and wheezes. 
If your classroom feels like a germ factory, keep these simple steps in mind:

1. Eat your vegetables
Along with the treats from all the winter holidays, make sure you are giving your body the vitamins and nutrients it needs. Find fruits and veggies that are in season. Stock up on vegetable juices—it is a quick way to get your veggies (all teachers need that!) and doesn’t go bad as quickly.

2. Create a cleaning routine in the classroom
You know it’s true—the flu bug you caught this month came from the children. Reduce those germs by having a set time daily or weekly for disinfecting desks, chairs, doorknobs, and shelves! Use safe cleaners and be aware of kids with allergies or skin irritation.

3. Maintain your exercise routine
I am adding this one on this list because it is the one I struggle with the most! My motivation to go to the gym or on a quick run plummets in the winter. Why? It is cold. And no one will notice any weight change under all the sweaters and scarves. I would rather eat gingerbread. Did I mention the cold? You may need to set up a new system, give yourself a reward chart (borrow a sticker chart from school . . . ), or track your progress in a public way (that might mean tweeting your goals or starting a fitness challenge with teachers in your building). What works for you?

4. Set aside time each day to de-stress
It is easy to get tightly wound with all the hustle and bustle. You have tests to give (and grade), plans to make, and meetings to attend. You have to write calming emails to angry parents. And that is just at work. Chances are you have a trouble or two outside of your job as well. Do yourself a favor and STEP BACK. Give yourself credit for what you are doing. Choose a 15 minute block of time every day dedicated to stillness. Find your own brand of unwinding; the possibilities are vast, but you can start with one of these:
  • Breathe deeply
  • Tell yourself 5 things you are good at
  • Slowly eat a square of chocolate
  • Practice a yoga move or two
  • Remember all the funny things your students have said recently
  • Make a mental list of all the things you are genuinely grateful for

5. Get enough sleep
A rested body is in a much better place to fight infection—don’t overlook the importance of a consistent bed-time. I know you are tempted to stay up late putting another layer of ruffles on the tree skirt, or watching another re-run of Downton Abbey. Those are strong temptations, but you need time to regenerate for tomorrow. Grab a calming herbal tea or a hot rice bag instead of the remote or your sewing kit.

6. If you need a sick day, TAKE IT!
I know too many teachers who carry on through viruses and fevers needlessly. The world will not end if you stop to take care of yourself.  Your students will be fine. Get away from that copy machine and Go To Bed.

What do you do to stay healthy?