How An Attitude Adjustment Saved My Life

In the later stages of pregnancy with my son I developed preeclampsia. My blood pressure got dangerously high and an emergency c-section was performed for fear his life was in danger, as well as mine. He was born a very healthy baby boy while I, on the other hand, was not in a good state. I was immediately put on high blood pressure medication and placed in intensive care. Consequently, I couldn’t have my new baby son in the room with me. I couldn’t have any visitors or phone calls. The room needed to stay dark and quiet at all times. The slightest stimulation would elevate my blood pressure.

Time would tell if my blood pressure would naturally go down as my body returned to its non-pregnant state or if the pregnancy had pushed my body over the threshold for a lifetime of high blood pressure. Nonetheless, I was told I had to take high blood pressure medication every day until further advised.

I realize the medication was to save my life, but I was not happy about taking it. If you know anything about me, you would know that I don’t even like taking Tylenol for a headache. So, the idea of taking a prescription pill indefinitely upset me. I complained about it to my husband. I complained about it to my doctor. I complained about it often.

At the same time, whenever I would come across an article or brochure about how to manage blood pressure I would read it. I was the most knowledgeable person when it came to preventing high blood pressure. The advice was always consistent. Exercise regularly. Manage my weight. Limit my sodium intake. Reduce my stress. Get adequate sleep.

Really? How is a first-time mother with a newborn baby suppose to find time to exercise, sleep, cook healthy and not have stress? Impossible!

Fast forward two years later… my son is now a toddler and I am still taking blood pressure medication every day and still complaining about it to my doctor and husband. Both would say to me, “You know what you can do to manage your blood pressure besides medication. Just do it.”

It’s not what I wanted to hear. Sometimes the truth hurts. But, they were right. I knew everything I needed to know and do to manage my blood pressure. I just wasn’t doing it.

Until…

One summer day I decided to take my two-year-old son to the swimming pool. I put my swimsuit on and looked at myself in the mirror. I had done this before, but something was different this time. When I looked at myself in the mirror on that day I saw how unhealthy I was.

During my pregnancy I had gained a lot of extra weight and two years later I was still carrying much of it. The mirror didn’t lie that day. I was overweight and unfit. In that moment, something changed. The change was with me. The change was in me.

What changed that day in front of the mirror?

It was my ATTITUDE AND MOTIVATION!

I had an attitude adjustment!

That day was the beginning of new habits for me. I started an exercise regimen, ate healthier, practiced yoga and got as much sleep as possible with a 2-year-old. Over time, my weight went down and so did my blood pressure.

The day finally came when my doctor told me I could go off of blood pressure medicine! But, he reminded me that I needed to keep doing what I was doing if I wanted to stay off of it.

This was 32 years ago. Since then I have been on and off of blood pressure medication. My habits of exercise and diet have gotten off track at times and when they do, my weight goes up and so does my blood pressure. My habits get off track when my attitude and motivation gets off track. There is a direct link between these two.

With My Son On His Wedding Day

My story is a reminder that to get any desired behavior you need three things – the knowledge to know what to do, the skills to know how to do it and the attitude and motivation to want to do it!

You can teach your students all the alcohol, tobacco and drug information they need, but knowledge alone will not keep them from using alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. So, if you are using an information only approach in your prevention work with kids you may be disappointed in what you get as an outcome.

You can also teach your students the skills they need to not use alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, but they alone, or even when coupled with good information, won’t do the trick. For example, I have always had good skills, such as decision making, goal setting and resistance skills. The problem was how I used the skills. When it came to my decision making skills I made the decision to eat the potato chips, rather than to not eat the chips. As for my resistance skills to say “no”, I wanted to say “yes” to eating the potato chips! The bottom line is…Skills are utilized best when they are aligned with the right attitude.

Your kids’ attitudes can override all the information they know and the skills they have. They might know all they need to know. They can have all the skills to do what they need to do. But, if their attitude doesn’t support the behavior they are needing to change or adopt, nothing else matters.

Your kids’ attitudes about alcohol, tobacco and other drugs begin to erode as they move out of elementary and into and through middle school. They begin to question the information. They think they know more than you. They know everything. They begin to think they are invincible and can do whatever they want and nothing bad will happen to them.

In fact, the research says that one of the biggest changes with kids in middle school is their attitudes. What do your middle school students need more than knowledge and skills? They need an attitude adjustment!

The most effective prevention approach you can use with your middle school students is one that targets their attitudes about alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. This is why All Stars – a program for middle school students – is so widely popular and loved by schools and community-based organizations! It specifically works on the ever-changing and eroding attitudes and motivations of middle schoolers when it comes to risky behaviors. It’s a program I encourage you to learn more about no matter if you are a parent, teacher, administrator, youth worker, counselor or someone who just simply loves and cares about kids. Download the Guide to All Stars at to learn more about how this program changes the lives of kids and families!

In the meantime, is there a behavior you have been wanting to change or adopt, but your attitude and motivation is getting in the way of making it happen? Then, you, too, might need an attitude adjustment!

It’s No Joke

The end of the school year is no joke. Most of us who work with kids can see humor in just about anything, but when spring comes around, the humor can disappear because we are all too familiar with the peril that comes – the end of the school year. The home stretch of the school year can be the equivalent of a full moon on the day before Christmas break.

Dealing with rising temperatures inside and out, increased behavioral referrals, compromised attention spans and student burnout can be a daily battle in the final weeks of the school year. Some days it can be too much for anyone to deal with – perhaps even for you.

I know you are tired. You’re stressed. Your to-do list is a mile long and summer is so close you can taste it. But amid all the chaos and anticipation, I want you to remember why you are here and why you do what you do.

You want to make a difference.

You want to help kids.

So, pause a moment, look around and really see your students. See the girl who is nervous about the test that she needs to pass so she doesn’t fail your class. See the exhaustion in the face of the teen who has been working a job after school all year to help support their family. See the student who is worried about not having the security and safety of school every day – something they can’t count on at home during the summer.

In a few short weeks or maybe even days when you are lying by the pool soaking up the sun with a good book, what will you remember?

Will you have simply survived – finished your to-do list and washed your hands of the place? Or will you have taken every opportunity to impact the lives of your students?

Because here’s the truth. This time of the year can be the most valuable. You know your kids. You’ve invested in their lives. You’ve built relationships. While they may be driving you up a wall, you are likely more able to speak into their lives now than you ever were before.

I promise the summer will be here soon. But until then, don’t throw the towel in. Don’t coast. Don’t go through the motions. You only have a short time left to impact your students. Don’t waste the time. Don’t give up yet. These last few days and weeks can make all the difference!

This is your chance. This is your moment.

Take a breath, pray for strength and make each day count.

It’s no joke.

 

P.S. Keeping your sense of humor this time of the year is important for lots of reasons – one being for survival. So, here are a few fun memes that I hope make you chuckle and lighten your days and weeks ahead. Smile!

The Odds of Getting Struck by Lightning Twice

Imagine yourself being a father working in the steel industry or a mother in the banking business, raising two toddler sons, 23 months apart in age, in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, in the late 80’s. If someone told you that someday both of your sons would be professional football players AND play against each other in the Super Bowl, would you believe them? What would you think or say?

“Are you crazy?”

“It’s impossible!”

“Never!”

“Lightning will strike us before that ever happens!”

The road to becoming a professional athlete certainly isn’t easy. The chances of going pro aren’t in one’s favor. It’s something only 1% of the top 1% achieve.

Actually, it’s even less.

Only the top 8% of the top 1% of the top 1% of high school football players will make it to the NFL – let alone play in the Super Bowl. To put these percentages into perspective, the odds of getting struck by lightning at some point in your life are greater.

Growing up, Jason and Travis Kelce used to dream of playing professional football with the goal of playing in a Super Bowl. They envisioned themselves reaching the big game with their hometown team, the Cleveland Browns, that they passionately rooted for and pretended they were members of during neighborhood football games.

Defying the odds, their dream of playing in the NFL came true, but not with the Cleveland Browns. Travis is a record-setting tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs and Jason is a fan-favorite center for the Philadelphia Eagles.

As for their dream of playing in the Super Bowl, it came true, too. But what they didn’t ever dream of was playing in a Super Bowl against each other.

So, when the Kelce brothers made history on February 12, 2023, by becoming the first brothers in NFL history to square off against each other in a Super Bowl, lightning didn’t strike once, but twice!

Imagine being the parent, school counselor, classroom teacher, or middle or high school football coach of Jason and Travis. At some point, you likely would have heard their dreams verbalized, and not just once, but many times over. It probably sounded something like this…

“Jason, what do you want to be or do when you grow up?” “I want to be a professional football player and play in a Super Bowl.”

“Travis, what do you want to be or do when you grow up?” “I want to be a professional football player and play in a Super Bowl.”

And, each time they shared their dream, you more than likely would have thought or said,

“Are you crazy?”

“It’s impossible!”

“Never!”

“Lightning will strike us before that ever happens!”

Lightning literally did not strike the Kelce family twice on February 12, 2023, but the power of dreams did.

In his book, Your Road Map for Success, John Maxwell shares what he has learned about the power of dreams and how they can shape our goals, our work and our lives.

A Dream Gives Us Direction
Have you ever known someone who didn’t have a clue as to what they wanted in life, yet was highly successful? I haven’t either. We all need something worthwhile to aim for. A dream provides us with that. It acts as a compass that shapes our choices that can shape our way forward.

A Dream Increases Our Potential
Without a dream, we may struggle to see potential in ourselves because we don’t look beyond our current circumstances. But with a dream, we can step out of our present and begin to see ourselves in a new light, as having a greater potential and being capable of stretching and growing to reach it. Every opportunity we meet, every resource we discover, every talent we develop, becomes a part of our potential to grow toward that dream.

A Dream Helps Us Prioritize
A dream gives us hope for the future and it also brings us power in the present. It makes it possible for us to prioritize everything we do. A person who has a dream knows what they are willing to give up in order to go up. They can measure everything they do according to whether or not it contributes to the dream, concentrating their attention on the things that bring them closer to it and giving less attention to everything that doesn’t.

A Dream Adds Value to Our Work
A dream puts everything we do into perspective. Even the tasks that aren’t exciting or immediately rewarding take on added value when we know they ultimately contribute to the fulfillment of a dream. Each activity becomes an important piece of the bigger picture.

A Dream Predicts Our Future
When we have a dream, we’re not just spectators sitting back hoping that everything turns out all right. We’re taking an active part in shaping the purpose and meaning of our lives. The winds of change don’t simply blow us here and there. Our dream, when pursued, is the most likely predictor of our future. That doesn’t mean we have any guarantees, but it does increase our chances for success tremendously.

Jason and Travis dared to dream big. They didn’t let their dreams sit on a shelf. They acted on them. They lived them. Their dreams became their future.

They are a reminder of how our dreams are the most valuable thing we will ever own in our life. So, whether it be with your own child, a student you work with or even yourself…

Nurture a dream…

Encourage a dream…

Believe in a dream…

Protect a dream…

…even when the dream feels so big that the odds of getting struck by lightning at some point in life, not just once, but even twice, seems greater.

P.S. Are you looking for a process that will encourage your students to dream big, plan for their futures, set high expectations for themselves and have loads of fun doing it? All Stars – Building Bright Futures for Kids might be just what you are looking for! Download the Guide to All Stars to learn more or reach out to me by phone (402.489.1072) or email!

Working Below the Surface

After months of surgeries, recovery and healing from a hedge trimmer accident in May that severely injured one of my fingers, I finally find myself in an emotional, mental and physical state of acceptance. It’s been quite the journey for me as I face the reality my finger will never bend again. It wasn’t easy.

If you’re anything like me, you have probably experienced periods in your life when you felt helpless, stagnant or impatient. When you can’t see any discernible progress, you conclude that nothing is happening at all. But just because you can’t see movement right this minute or day doesn’t mean that important work isn’t happening below the surface.

I was reminded of this by a gift I received from a dear friend at Christmas – a waxed amaryllis bulb. A waxed amaryllis is a bulb that’s coated in decorative wax and is completely self-sustaining. It requires almost no care because it’s already fully hydrated, which the wax seals in, and it has enough energy built up so it doesn’t need soil or additional water. The waxed bulb contains everything needed for flower stalks to slowly grow, eventually producing big, beautiful flowers.

My waxed amaryllis bulb is blooming now after seven weeks of waiting and watching. It seems the flowers have sprung from nothing as if by magic. But that’s not actually the case. Growth has always been taking place. The water locked into the dark confines of the wax has been sustaining the bulb all along, growing it in ways that I could see and not see, eventually creating today’s beautiful blooms. Visible evidence that important work was always happening below the surface.

 

Just as I waited and watched for my amaryllis to progress, I waited and watched for progress with my finger. Progress for me was measured as to whether the finger would bend or not – a clear, visible sign that something was working below the surface of my finger. For eight months, I waited. For eight months, I watched. For eight months, the progress I wanted to see, never happened.

I was reminded by my surgeon and physical therapist over and over that just because I might not always see progress in the way I wanted to see it, it didn’t mean that healing, strengthening and growth still wasn’t happening. Time would eventually reveal what was really working below the surface of my finger.

And so, I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And then, I felt something. It was a sensation. Something I had not felt in my finger since my injury. I had almost forgotten what it was like to feel my finger. The slight sensation slowly and gradually grew stronger over the months. The sense of touch returned to my finger – giving it new life. Working below the surface all this time, nerves slowly healed and strengthened. Progress was made. I just couldn’t see it. Or, maybe I couldn’t see progress the way I was wanting to see it.

When you find yourself waiting, watching and looking for signs of progress – whether it be in your personal life, with your own children or the students you work with – and you can’t see what you are looking for, don’t conclude that nothing is happening at all.

Sometimes…

We are looking for progress in ways that can’t be seen or known in the moment or sometimes ever.

We are measuring progress in the wrong ways.

Waiting and patience can reveal progress.

Progress happens when you least expect it.

Progress occurs in ways you never thought possible.

Periods of seeming stagnation, frustration and disappointment are times when real work and progress is happening.

And, sometimes…

It takes a waxed amaryllis bulb to remind us that new life can bloom from below the surface.

P.S. Thank you for your patience during the absence from my blog over the past months. I have new life and I am back and ready to roll! Thanks for rolling along with me!

Pushing the Restart Factory Button 2.0

My last blog post on May 5 entitled, was my public confession to struggling with the transition from a pandemic to post-pandemic life and my commitment to intentionally resetting and restarting my life. I needed to find a good balance between life as I knew it during the pandemic and life as I wanted it after the pandemic. I needed to be intentional on how I planned to move forward and to find a way to merge the best of both lives.

I made an “embrace” and a “nix” list. I thought about life before and during the pandemic and the things that brought me enjoyment, inner peace and a sense of well-being. Those things made my “embrace” list and are what I planned to embody in my post-pandemic life.

I also made my “nix” list. This list included everything that brought me sadness, distress, anxiety or that I simply disliked before and during the pandemic. These were the things I planned to let go of and not allow in my life going forward.

There was one more list I made. It was the things I wasn’t doing before or during the pandemic, but wanted (or needed) to do in my post-pandemic life. This was my “no ifs and buts” list.

My intentions were genuine and my plans were concrete when I wrote about them on May 5. I was ready to push the factory restart button in my life!

Until this happened on May 24

by this garden tool

which required me to have surgery on June 3 to repair severed nerves, a tendon and an artery. The surgery ended with four of 5 fingers in a splint for 3 weeks. This was also the beginning of the longest medical leave for me in almost 30 years.

When the splint came off, my hand and fingers were very swollen!

I started physical therapy and when I was told I needed to bend my fingers, especially the injured one, I thought they were kidding. They weren’t. I left therapy with a new splint for just two fingers. Despite still having restrictions with the use of all five fingers, I was excited to have three fingers freed now!

Physical therapy continued for four weeks with some success at bending my injured finger. Unfortunately, my progress was short-lived. An infection set in requiring me to have emergency surgery on the injured finger on July 16. The swelling afterwards was worse than it was following the first surgery and all gains earned in physical therapy prior to the surgery were lost.

Every waking hour of every day after the second surgery I did 15 minutes of physical therapy exercises, in addition to two workouts a week with my physical therapist. I didn’t know there were so many exercises and movements you could do with a finger! I eventually graduated to a new splint for just the injured finger! I was making progress with four fingers now being freed!

Unfortunately, despite the spiffy, colorful splint and all the exercises and physical therapy the tip of my injured finger still wouldn’t bend on its own.

And it still doesn’t today.

While I am free of all splints, bandages and wraps, have feeling returning to my numb finger and have learned to type with nine fingers, my recovery is still ongoing. In late October I will likely have a third surgery to release the tendon from scar tissue in hopes the tip of my finger will once again bend without help.

It’s obvioius my initial “factory restart” plans did not go as planned. Yet, today, when I read my blog from May 5, these words speak even louder to me than when I first wrote them…

What if we could all have a “restart” in life – not just once, but maybe twice or even three times over – where we can create a clean and empty slate and start afresh?
 
Real life is complex. It’s hard to imagine how we could just wipe it out entirely with one push of a button. However, real life does give us multiple opportunities to reset and restart.

Real life stuff got in the way and derailed me this summer. But, I am fortunate to be given a second opportunity to reset and restart (and with all ten fingers intact!). My embrace, nix and “no ifs and buts” lists have changed slightly, my goals are re-adjusted, and my determination and will power to do what I need to do is stronger than it ever has been.

In my May blog post, I questioned if you, too, were feeling or experiencing the need for an intentional “factory restart” in your life. I invited you to do the same list-making, goal setting and work during the summer to start afresh!

Did you? Did your “factory restart” go as planned and offer you the refresh you needed? Or, were your plans derailed like mine? Maybe you didn’t feel the need for a restart or refresh in May, but you do today.

No matter your situation then or now, you and I have an opportunity today to push the “factory restart” button again, and again and again.

My words on May 5 are a reminder of this…

Whether it be accidental or intentional, a “factory restart” may be what we all need in life once, twice, or three or more times over. So, go ahead, and push the restart button and do it as many times as you need to.

So, I invite you to once again join me in a relaunch, restart, reset and refresh! Let’s do it together!

Pushing the Restart Factory Button

Recently, a friend of mine accidently launched the “factory restart” mechanism on her phone. I’m sure you’re wondering as I did, “How is an accidental factory restart even possible?” This is a legitimate question to ask. For most people, the factory restart is reserved for the “all hope is lost” moments – when there is nothing more to do than wipe your phone clean and relaunch it as an empty slate. Ordinarily, launching a factory restart on your phone requires a high level of intentional button pushing.

This is not the case for my friend. The irony here is that she has accidentally launched a factory restart of her phone not once, not twice, but THREE times in the last couple of years. You are likely questioning if she should even be allowed to own or operate a cell phone. This is also a legitimate question.

After initially feeling my friend’s distress over the situation, I started to wonder. What would it be like if we had a “factory restart” button in our life we could intentionally push when things start looking and feeling like they are out-of-control or when we are running around in circles trying to sort stuff out or make things better and we find ourselves longing just to drop everything? Imagine that with the push of a button, we could wipe it all away. Just like that.

Poof! It’s gone.

Think about the relief and the spaciousness we would feel.

A fresh start. A next opportunity. A new beginning!

What if we could all have a “restart” in life – not just once, but maybe twice or even three times over – where we can create a clean and empty slate and start afresh?

Real life is complex. It’s hard to imagine how we could just wipe it out entirely with one push of a button. However, real life does give us opportunities to reset and restart.

Two years ago, life as we knew it was disrupted by the onset of a worldwide pandemic. This historic event found its way into our lives – from the youngest to the oldest. This massive disruption led to enormous hardship for many, but it also gave us opportunities to reassess our lives and, in some ways, to reset and restart it.

For some of us, the pandemic offered an opportunity to make a change in our surroundings – like a new apartment or home, moving to a new city, starting a new job or school or remodeling or rearranging our existing space.

The pandemic encouraged others of us to adopt new and better habits or routines in our life, such as exercising, eating healthier, reading, meditating, enjoying more quality time with family and friends or even learning a new skill and talent.

For others of us, life was reset and restarted by a change in personal relationships, such as marriage, divorce, a new baby, a break-up, a new friend or a death.

The pandemic was an accidental “factory restart” for many of us.

However, a few months ago, my life as I came to know it during the pandemic was beginning to be disrupted. The more I transitioned out of pandemic life and into a new “normal” way of post-pandemic living, the more unrest I felt. The quiet, uninterrupted and reflective time I settled in to during the pandemic was now beginning to resemble the stressful parts of my life before the pandemic – long “to do” lists, a calendar full of meetings and social events, eating on the run, late nights and early mornings and little time for relaxation or reflection. My pandemic life and post-pandemic life came head-to-head and created a tension that left me feeling pulled between both worlds. I found myself overwhelmed, exhausted and going around in circles.

I needed another “factory restart.” But this time, it required a high level of intentional button pushing.

I needed to find a good balance between life as I knew it during the pandemic and life as I want it after the pandemic. I needed to be intentional on how I planned to move forward and to find a way to merge the best of both lives.

Recently, I made an “embrace” and a “nix” list. I thought about life before and during the pandemic and the things that brought me enjoyment, inner peace and a sense of well-being. These things made my “embrace” list and are what I plan to embody in my post-pandemic life.

I did the same with my “nix” list. But this list included everything that brought me sadness, distress, anxiety or that I simply disliked before and during the pandemic. As much as I am able, these are the things I plan to let go of and not allow in my life going forward.

There was one more list I made. It’s the things I wasn’t doing before or during the pandemic but want (or need) to do in my post-pandemic life. This is my “no ifs and buts” list.

Perhaps you are feeling or experiencing the same as I have lately. Maybe you are struggling with the transition from a pandemic to post-pandemic life. You, too, might also need an intentional reset or restart. I invite you to do the same list-making as I did. With the end of the school year and the start of summer soon approaching, it’s the perfect time to start afresh!

Making the lists is as far as I’ve gotten with my intentional restart. There’s more to do. I’m sure of it. There’s goal setting, creating a plan of action and then doing the hard work to make it all happen. Along the way, it will also require focus, determination, will power and maybe a few more intentional restarts.

Perhaps my friend’s accidental factory restart of her phone three times over in the last couple of years shouldn’t be questioned. Whether it be accidental or intentional, a “factory restart” may be what we all need in life once, twice, or three or more times over. So, go ahead, and push the restart button and do it as many times as you need to.

Relaunch, restart, reset and refresh!

P.S. Many of you have been checking in with me given I haven’t posted a blog in about six weeks. I really appreciate your attention and thoughtfulness. As you now know, I’ve been doing a high level of intentional button pushing during this time!

 

The Teacher’s Pet

I recently received word that Mrs. Steensnes, my 1st-4th grade teacher, passed away at the age of 101. Her death has caused me to reflect on my time as her student. I remember how she often smiled at and complimented me. She asked me to be the piano accompanist for music class instead of asking two other students who could also play the piano. She trusted me to work one-on-one with the younger students who needed tutoring and extra attention. She placed me in other leadership roles in the classroom. I was the one she expected to always have the answer to a question when no one else did.

She counted on me. She trusted me. She believed in me. I was her “teacher’s pet.”

I didn’t strive to be or necessarily want to be. I don’t recall what grade I was in when I learned I had earned the title of being the teacher’s pet, but I do remember how it was declared. Another student accused me of being a “brown noser” to Mrs. Steensnes during recess and exclaimed to everyone on the playground that I was the teacher’s pet.

I can still recall what she said, “You are Mrs. Steensnes’ favorite! She likes you more than the rest of us!” The announcement was made loud and clear for all to hear.

I was in tears. In that moment, I wanted to be anything other than the teacher’s pet.

Reliving the memories of being Mrs. Steensnes’ student has made me wonder. Was I really her favorite student and if so, why? Do teachers choose who will be the “teacher’s pet”? How do teachers pick their favorites?

I can’t imagine teachers sit down with a spreadsheet comparing the class roster with the grade book and the number of behavior referrals and circle the names of students that will then become their favorite pets for the rest of the year. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t work that way. I know it isn’t what I have done in all my work with kids.

Some of us would argue that we don’t prefer one student over another and that we treat all our students the same. Yet, at the same time, we are human beings with opinions, feelings, likes and dislikes and we would naturally be drawn to some students more than others. I don’t think we should deny this or see it as something wrong or unprofessional. It’s a dynamic that is present in all our human interactions – even with the kids we work with.

So, what are those qualities or characteristics you might tend to favor with kids?

For me, it varies.

I love kids who respect my knowledge and authority, but who also know how to engage me as a human being that likes to laugh and have a good time. I love the kids who can joke with me, but then respect my requests to focus when it’s necessary.

I love being able to trust a student. I want to know that when I give a task to them, it will be completed without my constant supervision and without complaint or laziness. A student who does this will shoot pretty quickly to the top of my list.

I also like the kids with genuine personality – whether it be loud or quiet, outgoing or reserved, quirky or conventional. I appreciate kids who are real and don’t try to be someone else other than who they really are.

I love students who can look me in the eye and hold a conversation with me. I know that sometimes it’s a tactic to stall what we might need to be doing instead, but I still enjoy and appreciate it.

I’ve also noticed that I tend to be drawn to the kids who know what it means to struggle. I have a heart for the kids carrying emotional strain and who don’t beg for sympathy or even demand special treatment. We might talk about whatever they are going through, or we might never discuss it, but I know to leave them alone when they’re moody instead of insisting they cheer up. I know how to let them know I care without calling attention to them and they find little, subtle ways to let me know they appreciate it. I have a deep respect for what they are going through and they reciprocate by behaving well and working hard for me – even if they do act out for other teachers or adults in their life.

I really appreciate a dedicated work ethic. A student doesn’t have to be a straight-A student or the best at anything to capture my heart. I just like to know they are passionate and care about what they are doing and are giving it their best effort.

And, sometimes, the students who get good grades or who are on the honor roll are my favorites, too. However, it seems it’s always the personality that earns my affection more than the number in a grade book.

You and I will be drawn to different favorite students within the same group or class and it won’t be because of any unifying themes. We want the sweet kids we can trust and that thrive in our belief in them. We appreciate the uniquely quirky kids that show confidence. We love the witty cleverness of the kid who makes us laugh. We value the kid who works hard even when the outcome doesn’t always show it. We embrace the child whose struggles we want to take on as our own.

I’m not for sure what Mrs. Steensnes’ was looking for in her favorite students, but whatever it was, she found it in me. My aim wasn’t to be a teacher’s pet, but nonetheless, it was a label I found myself with. As much as I hated it at the time, I thrived from it just as much. Mrs. Steensnes’ validation built my confidence, taught me tenacity, established the benefits of showing mutual respect, encouraged me to always do my best, and most of all, made me feel appreciated and valued.

Looking back now, I believe Mrs. Steensnes appreciated and valued each one of her students during her 55 years of teaching. She was a brilliant teacher who modeled fairness in the classroom while also recognizing and meeting the unique needs of each of her students. This meant not always treating her students the same. The treatment some of us received may have been perceived as favoritism from her, when the reality was she was actually favoring all of her students, but for different reasons. What I know is that Mrs. Steensnes’ favor towards me had a positive impact on my life, and if it meant having to bear the title of “teacher’s pet” during those years, then so be it. It was worth it.

Thank you, Mrs. Steensnes, for being one of my favored teachers. Rest in peace.

P.S. What about you? What do you think about teachers’ pets? What characteristics are you naturally drawn to with your students?

What’s Your Story

“So, what’s your story?”

All of us tell stories about ourselves. When we want someone to know us, we share stories of our childhood, our family, our school years and our work experiences. Our stories have plot twists and turns, moments of heartache, some failures and faults, as well as high moments.

Today, we all have a new story to tell about ourselves.

Two years ago, this month, our life as we knew it was disrupted by the onset of a worldwide pandemic. Far from a short-term incident this historic event found its way into our life, weaving itself into our stories in ways large and small. Stories abound from our pandemic experiences.

    • Stories of loss, grief, despair, distrust, disappointment, anger, loneliness and uncertainty.
    • Stories of blessings and joys.
    • Stories of challenges.
    • Stories of opportunities.
    • Stories of struggle.
    • Stories of growth.
    • Stories that yearn for connection, understanding, hope and healing.

Stories define us. To know someone well is to know their story – the experiences that have shaped them, the trials that have tested them and the lessons they have learned along the way.

Sharing our stories with others is not always easy. It means we have to take a risk. It requires us to be vulnerable, transparent and honest in hopes that we are not judged or put down by those who hear them.

Throughout the pandemic, I have shared stories with you about my own life experiences. From welcoming the birth of my first grandchild to facing the death of my husband 10 days later and my dad four months after, my pandemic story reveals the highest and the lowest times of my life. My life story over the past two years has been shared around the world through my blog and with thousands of people – most of whom I don’t know or have never met.

Despite the risks, sharing my personal stories with you is something I challenge myself to do with every blog I write. My hope is that my story is also your story. My stories may have different characters, settings, plots and endings than yours, but I trust that weaved within every story I tell there is something we share in common or that you will be able to relate to. Perhaps it’s the challenges we faced, the emotions we felt or the lessons we both learned. Our collective stories have a way of connecting us no matter the miles between us or whether we have ever communicated with one another or met in-person.

The benefits of sharing our stories with others far outweighs the risks of doing it. When we share our stories, we invite others into our lives. Telling our story might be exactly what someone else needs to hear. We can find meaning, healing and hope in our own story when another’s story sounds similar to ours. We learn we are not alone. Understanding each other’s stories helps us see how we can offer encouragement, care and support to one another. Connections deepen among us when we share our stories with each other.

 

“So, what’s your story?”

Take a moment and reflect:

    • What has been the #1 thing that stood out to you over the pandemic?
    • What happened?
    • What did it feel like?
    • What did you find yourself thinking about or what do you think about now?
    • Who or whom has all been affected by this significant event and how?
    • Who have you leaned on in the past couple of years?
    • What do you feel called to do after having gone through the last few years?

Think about how you can share your story with others. There is no one way to tell your story. There are many ways, whether it be through art, music, poetry, video, blogging or a one-on-one conversation with someone. Tell your story in a way that is most comfortable to you. Just tell your story.

Be reassured that no matter how your pandemic story reads, sounds or feels, your story is also someone else’s story. You are not alone. May this reassurance bring you hope, healing, peace and strength as your life story continues to unfold and be told.

P.S. After you have had the opportunity to reflect on your pandemic story and share it, challenge the kids and parents you work with to do the same. The pandemic impacted all ages – from the youngest to the oldest. Ask them, “What’s your story?” Challenge them to reflect on and share their story with one another. They deserve to experience the encouragement, support, empathy, hope, healing and connections that will come from sharing their story. It might be just what they need to continue living out their life story.

 

It’s One Thing to Earn It. It’s Another to Keep It.

One of the questions I asked my children often as they were growing up was, “What word do you want other people to use to best describe who you are as a person?” It was a behavioral management strategy I used as a parent to help my kids align their behavior with the answer they gave to the question.

For example, my son, Christopher, consistently would answer my question with the word, “Helpful.” Christopher was by nature a good helper, but having him verbalize it as something he wanted to be known for was useful to me when I especially needed to hold him accountable as a helper.

As a 6th grader participating in the in school, he was asked to think about the reputation he most wanted to earn in his future. His answer, “to be a helper”, was of no surprise. It fit. It was consistent with the answer he always gave me when I had asked him the same question at home.

The Getting a Reputation activity in All Stars took it one step further than just simply asking him to state what he wanted his reputation to be. He was asked to partner with someone in the class he most respected to get advice on what he would need to do to earn the reputation he wanted. Of course, Christopher partnered with his best friend, Elijah, who advised him to:

    • Volunteer to help without being asked;
    • Willingly help when asked; and
    • Always have a positive attitude when helping.

As with any advice we get from another person, we can leave it or take it. But when the advice comes from a best friend, you are most likely going to take the advice. And that is exactly what Christopher did. He willingly wrote down on his Getting a Reputation worksheet the three pieces of advice he got from Elijah.

After school Christopher brought the worksheet home to share with me and to ask me for further advice. I still recall telling him how lucky he was to have Elijah as a best friend and that the advice he gave him was the best advice he could get and the same advice I would give him as his mother.

Little did Christopher know that day how important the reputation activity and the discussions that followed with me and Elijah were until six months later…

It was a hot and humid July day and I asked Christopher to pick the tomatoes in the garden. He gave me every excuse as to why he couldn’t do it. I wasn’t in the mood to argue with him. In fact, I knew I didn’t have to argue with him. Within an arm’s reach, hanging on the refrigerator, was his Getting a Reputation worksheet from All Stars. I removed the worksheet from the refrigerator and calmly asked him to listen to what he had written six months earlier in All Stars. I read back to him, “More than anything else, I want to have a reputation of being a helper.” I also read aloud the advice Elijah had given him and that he choose to accept that day, especially the advice to “willingly help when asked.”

I then gave Christopher three options:

    1. Pick the tomatoes and earn his way towards the reputation he most desires;
    2. Don’t pick the tomatoes and risk earning an undesired reputation; or
    3. Choose a new reputation he wants to have if “being a helper” is no longer important to him.

After a moment of silence and a look of dismay, he walked out the door to the garden and picked the tomatoes. He probably cussed me the entire time, but nonetheless, he still did what he was asked to do and proved he could be a helper.

That evening Christopher and I talked about the incident that unfolded earlier in the day. I reminded him of the classroom discussion they had in All Stars six months earlier when it was determined that a reputation is only earned with consistent behavior repeated over a long period of time. I impressed upon him that he can’t earn something he wants if he isn’t willing to do the work over and over to get it. I acknowledged that he probably felt like I was a nagging mother, but I challenged him instead to see me as someone who cared about and loved him enough to call him out when his actions didn’t align with what he said he wanted.

We all want the best in our futures. The real test is whether we are willing to do what we need to do to get it. It’s easy to say one thing and do another. We get lazy, lose focus or have times when we just don’t care and give up. We all tend to get off track. It is then that we most need the help of others to get us back on track. We need people who are important to us to remind us to do what we need to do. What might feel like nagging is really an act of care and love by them towards us. They simply want the best for us.

Now for the rest of the story…

Six years after that hot July day in the garden, my son was graduating from high school. At his party we asked guests to write down on a piece of paper the one word they would use to best describe Christopher. There were many positive words given, but guess which word was given the most often?

HELPFUL!

As a mother, I couldn’t have been prouder of Christopher. He did the work he needed to do consistently over the years to earn the reputation he always said he wanted from the youngest of age. It wasn’t always easy. There were many times over, I had to help him get back on track. But, at the end, his hard work paid off. He got what he wanted.

When it was revealed that “helpful” was the most common word used by others to describe Christopher, he turned to me and asked, “What do I do now that I’ve earned the reputation I want?”

My answer to him was, “Work even harder to keep it. Earning a reputation is one thing. Keeping it is another.”

Take time to ask your own kids, the students you work with or even yourself the question, “What word do you want other people to use to best describe who you are as a person?” Give it deep thought.Think about specific things you can do repeatedly over a long period of time that will help you earn this desired reputation. Share with others who are important to you what the reputation is that you most want. Accept advice from them on what you can do to earn it. Then, be ready to do the work and be patient. You won’t earn it overnight. It will likely take years. Most importantly, be willing to let others help and support you along the way, especially when you get off track. It’s their way of caring about and loving you and wanting the best for you! Most importantly, remember that once you earn it, the work isn’t over. You now have a reputation in the eyes of others to maintain.

 

The Tradition of Lefse and Krumkake

Traditions have always been important in our family.

My husband was very proud of his Norwegian heritage and he found great joy and pride in sharing his family’s traditions with our two children, especially when it came to preparing Norwegian foods. He was as adamant that our family NOT continue his family’s holiday tradition of making lutefisk (codfish preserved in lye) as he was about continuing the tradition of making lefse and krumkake. Every holiday involved him and our two kids in the kitchen, for hours, messily preparing these two Norwegian favorites. Having lefse and krumkake to enjoy eating was part of the motivation for making them, but it was also about the experience of them doing it together that made it most special and memorable over the years.

Nothing reminded me of this more than having our first holiday in 2021 without my husband. His unexpected death last April created a void during the holidays. We not only missed his presence, but we also missed the traditions we came to know and love as a family with him – including making lefse and krumkake.

I was thinking a lot about traditions as the holidays were approaching. I thought about our family’s past traditions. I thought about the traditions we might continue in his honor and which traditions we might start as a family moving forward without him.

Simply said, I’ve been thinking a lot about family traditions.

Traditions are experiences or activities that are recreated, year after year, and are usually passed down between generations. Traditions connect us to our past and create memories for us that last a lifetime. Many of our most magical memories of childhood can be linked back to traditions we shared with our family.

When most of us think of family traditions, we naturally think of holiday traditions first. But families can also have non-holiday traditions and ones that are as often as daily or weekly that are unique to them.

Daily traditions can be the small things you do each day as a family, such as sitting and eating a meal together around the dinner table or reading a storybook together before bedtime.
 
Weekly traditions can also be small activities you do together like holding game night every Friday night or attending religious services together each week.
 
Annual traditions can be those special activities you do once a year as a family, such as going to the stadium on the opening day of baseball season, apple picking in the fall, camping in the summer or picking out a Christmas tree.
 
Life change traditions celebrate milestones, such as going for ice cream on the last day of the school year, passing down a family heirloom, like a piece of jewelry, at each wedding or baking a special cake that is a personal favorite of a family member celebrating a birthday.
 

The time you put into creating and maintaining family traditions year-round has more positive impact than you might know:

Traditions teach and reinforce your family’s values.

Traditions help impart the values to your children you think are important. Attending a Christmas Eve church service reinforces the importance of faith and the true meaning of Christmas. Game night reinforces the importance of family time. Serving at a soup kitchen reinforces the importance of serving others.

Traditions provide a source of identity.

Traditions help establish a sense of “This is us! This is what we do. This is who we are.” Traditions help your children understand who they are and create a stronger sense of belonging and connection and a feeling they are part of something unique and special.

Traditions help your family bond closer together.

Family traditions keep generations connected and give them something special in common. Coming back together for family traditions gives us a sense of home and helps us feel grounded.

Traditions ensure that you take time for emotional connection.

It’s all too easy for time to slip by without really being “present” with our loved ones. Traditions help bring us together face-to-face with our family members and reconnect us to one another during our busy lives. Even during difficult times in life, family traditions can be a bright beacon of light or an anchor of strength that helps us find our way through this crazy world.

Traditions create lasting memories for your children.

Traditions help create the warm, nostalgic feelings we get when we think back to our childhood. When we think about what we most remember about our childhood, it’s typically the most simple, everyday traditions, like family dinners, holiday get-togethers and bedtime stories.

Traditions provide your kids with security.

The predictability and consistency of traditions provides your children with the security and comfort they can depend on, especially during turmoil. One of my friends said that when her kids were little and life felt upside down due to divorce, their daily and even weekly traditions brought a sense of stability to them and are traditions they still want to observe even now when they are adults.

Traditions provide your family with roots and wings to flourish.

Families change. Individuals change. We grow up. We get married. Sometimes we get divorced. And we lose people we love to age, illness and accidents. While we want to continue our connection with loved ones through family traditions, it is important to recognize that traditions can change as our families change. Family traditions can stretch and bend and change with each year and still keep us rooted in place.

Starting new traditions will take time, commitment and planning. The important thing to remember is that your family traditions can be anything you want them to be. What is most important is ensuring you have some traditions established in your family.

Give some thought to your family traditions.

    • What are some traditions you fondly remember from your childhood?
    • Why are they still important to you today?
    • Which traditions have you continued into adulthood or with your own family?
    • What are some of your family’s daily, weekly, annual or holiday traditions?
    • Is your family in need of new or more traditions?
    • What is at least one tradition you can start in the next three months?

Visit with your family to identify what traditions might be valuable for all of you to continue, but also begin new.

For some non-holiday traditions, here are a few ideas that might spark something for your family:

  • Volunteer each spring in the annual community cleanup.
  • Cook hamburgers on the grill on Saturdays during the summer.
  • Take a silly family selfie during summer vacation each year.
  • Buy food for the local food pantry once a month and deliver it together.
  • Serve in a local soup kitchen together once a month.
  • Go apple picking or visit a pumpkin patch each fall.
  • Have a particular food on a set day each week, such as brunch on Sunday, breakfast for dinner on Friday or tacos on Tuesday.
  • Build a fire and make hot chocolate on the first day of winter.
  • Take part in an annual fitness challenge as a family.
  • Go on a family walk or bike ride every Sunday afternoon.
  • Watch the sunrise together on the first day of summer and the sunset on the last day of summer.
  • Plan a regular family game night and play board games together.

If you’re looking to create new winter or holiday traditions with your family, here are some ideas that might get your creative juices flowing:

  • Give everyone a new set of pajamas and take a family photo in your matching PJs.
  • Give each child a board game or puzzle and play the games or assemble the puzzles together as a family.
  • Watch a seasonal movie, like “Home Alone,” “Elf,” or “The Grinch.”
  • Cook a meal together as a family on your family’s special holiday.
  • Get hot chocolate and watch a community tree lighting ceremony.
  • Tour your community to look at the light displays on homes or businesses.
  • Host a family or neighborhood cookie exchange.
  • Assemble care packages for family members who are away during the holidays.
  • Write heartfelt letters to family members you can’t spend time with during the holidays.
  • Host a white elephant gift exchange.
  • Attend a holiday performance or concert each year.
  • Get a new piece of holiday-related decor, like a Christmas ornament, each year, or make an ornament to commemorate the past year.

Our family changed with the passing of my husband. While my children will likely continue traditions in their families they fondly remember with their dad, such as making lefse and krumkake, I came to realize that it is also ok to change our family’s traditions moving forward.

Our family’s holiday ended up being a wonderful experience. It was a nice balance of old traditions mixed with new traditions. A new tradition we started as a family (and one of my favorites!) is wearing matching pajamas for our family Christmas photo!

 
 

No matter what your family traditions are or what your family chooses to create, just having something for all family members to look forward to each year and throughout the year is important. Traditions help create warm, positive memories that can be recalled fondly in the best and the worst of times and draw family members back to one another year after year. And, when done right, traditions can lend a certain magic and spirit not just during the holidays, but to your everyday life.