Monday, June 30

The Happiness Project: July (Buy Some Happiness...can you?)

For the month of July, author Gretchen Rubin focused her Happiness Project on "Money (buy some happiness)."

Specifically, her goals were:

  • Indulge in a modest splurge
  • Buy needful things
  • Spend out
  • Give something up

*Please note that this was one of twelve months devoted to an exploration of happiness, and in my mind not at all one of the most important. But it's an interesting topic to reflect on, if only for a short period of time.*

I'd like to think I have a pretty good relationship with money. That might be because I've never had to worry about it excessively (which is absolutely not to say that I haven't worked for it.). I actually drafted most of this post as my financial history, from childhood to date, but then realized I was getting a bit off I'll save it for another day!

Long story short, I think you can live on a very low income and be a happy person. I also think you can be a miserable millionaire. But I agree with Rubin that money can, to some degree, buy a bit of happiness.

Making charitable donations certainly gives me a high. Surprising a departing colleague with an item that she had been coveting definitely lifted my mood. Taking my parents to dinner for their 40th anniversary was very special. Spending on experiences (trips, concert tickets, restaurants) can not only bring some joy in the moment, but also some lasting memories. And, I will admit, some material purchases bring happiness too.

Recent example: my husband took me shopping on the weekend to pick out my birthday gifts (we both like this deal). First we stopped to purchase some accessories for the bathroom we're renovating. Now that is a MAJOR expenditure, but it's already bringing me happiness, and all I can see at the moment is the new paint colour. I know the novelty will fade away, but I will always be pleased to have a beautiful, updated bathroom.

Next was Chapters, where several of my students pre-purchased me some happiness with their end-of-year gift cards (I'm usually all about the library, so this was especially fun). I bought the books shown below, and have already finished Sharp Objects (great book!) Again, these books will be read and passed along within weeks, but I believe that the momentary happiness of reading by the pool is extended because those characters and stories remain with me.

I am not ashamed to admit that for my birthday, I also wanted some "stuff". Two new tops, some accessories (all from cheap stores) and a brand new bag. While this is one of the few areas where I like to splurge (my Louis Vuitton and Coach bags, for example) I've been wanting something colourful for summer, and this Ricki's purse (regularly $39.95 but with 40% off when we were there) fit the bill just fine. I've only been using it for two days (yes, it was supposed to be a birthday gift but I couldn't wait) and I know I smile every time I go to pick it up.

Coincidentally, as I was writing this post on the treadmill (there's no way to measure the health/happiness that big purchase has brought me) Frannie walked by and remarked "I love my iPod. I'm so glad I bought it." That was the most expensive item she's ever purchased, but already she's had so much fun with it, and was also able to stay connected to her best friend after a surgery at Sick Kids and several weeks of recovery at home.

Money also buys happiness in the sense that it can buy me time. During the school year, we have a cleaning lady come for two hours a week to tackle the main jobs. Of course I still clean my house (if you know me, you know that once a week doesn't really cut it) but unless there are any big spills, I don't scrub my floors while I'm teaching. That's happiness, not because I desperately hate floor scrubbing, but because it gives me more time for other to-do's (or want to-do's).

I totally believe experiences make people happy. Of course there are many things you can do that don't cost a cent, but Jamaica (for example) is not one of them. I have a few great blog experiences happening this month - two for the family that aren't costing us money, but usually would, and two that I'm doing on my own that don't cost anything except gas for my vehicle. I fully expect that these events will be highlights of July...but along with celebrating my birthday with family and friends (I'm referring to the time together, not the gifts), hanging around the pool with my girls, and sleeping in just a little bit...all of which are free, and priceless.

Do you think money makes you happy? What expenditure has brought you the most happiness? (Comments make me very happy, and they're free too!)

Tuesday, June 24

Inside Lainey Gossip's SMUT Soiree 2014!

Last night was my first trip to Lainey Lui's annual SMUT Soiree, held in Toronto at The Evergreen Brickworks, and it was a blast!

When my friend @sarahnewk from Sleeping is for Losers - whoops, I mean Sarah, she has a real name - invited me to go, I jumped at the chance...even though it was on a school night! (Here is Sarah's take on the event.)

I quickly glammed up after school in our not-so-glam staff washroom (I went with a short dress and heels, since photos from previous years looked pretty dressy).

We arrived just a few minutes after the 6 pm start time, which was a good move...there was still lots of parking available, and the line to get in was short. The line to have your photo taken in front of the backdrop for the chance to be chosen "most stylish" and win a shopping spree was long, but we decided to remove ourselves from the competition, you know, in order to give someone else a chance.

The perimeter of the room held various sponsor booths, like Rimmel (giving free manis), TRESemmé (hair touchups), and Unilever (with a self-serve swag line for samples, shown below). Note: if you have your heart set on something, you need to get in the line right away or you'll be waiting a while! I'm looking forward to trying out the dry shampoo, a product I've never used but hear so many people recommend.

The $54 ticket price also included "open bar" (there was a beer booth and a Grey Goose martini bar) and hors d'oeuvres like a hot dogs (served from an authentic hot dog truck) salmon sliders, something seafood-y, cheese breadsticks, popcorn and Skinny Cow treats. I was on a total sugar rush by the time Lainey took the stage!

Folding chairs were set up in rows for the actual "smut session", and when we noticed other ladies saving their seats, we followed suit and dropped our sweater/jacket somewhere in the ninth row so we could be close to the action. Bonus: there was a Paulette's chocolate donut waiting on each seat! (Like I said, sugar rush!)

We unknowingly managed to photobomb a shot of Lainey that she shared on Twitter - can you spot us?

And was she trying to take a picture of us here? Nope - it was her mom (and subject of her recent book) the Squawking Chicken, who was in attendance along with her father and husband Jacek.

Host Teri Hart and Lainey got the gossip going right at 8:00...and did they dish the dirt. Not only do they both have years of experience interviewing the stars, Lainey has all sorts of (seemingly reliable) sources filling her in on Hollywood (and New York and Toronto) goings-on, both the conscious uncoupling and the very random coupling. I'm not going to go into details here (out of respect for Lainey's process and those who paid for their tickets) but I am almost convinced that there isn't a fully straight man left in Hollywood.

Lainey confirmed the identities of many celebrities she's written about in blind items on her site, LaineyGossip
sometimes directly, and sometimes with hints like "Pretty in Pink" or "he got a perm for his last movie role". You don't even want to know what tidbit she was confirming with that last clue.

What I will tell you: Jennifer Lawrence is supposedly as nice and funny and self-deprecating as she appears in interviews. One of America's sweethearts is not. (Which disappointed me.)

A huge chunk of the talk was devoted to "question and answer", with microphones set up at three points in the middle aisle where attendees could ask their burning gossip questions.

After a full hour of chatting, the session wrapped up and we were back in the car by 9:15 (just perfect for this early-to-bed gal, since that didn't get me to bed until 11:15!)

On the way out, we were handed a little swag bag (contents shown below):

I would definitely attend again, and go in feeling even more confident next time as I know what to expect. Well done, Lainey...see you next year! Actually, I'll see you next month (squee!), but that's a whole other blog post.

Yep, I just said "squee". You know it's going to be big.

Monday, June 23

School Roundup: May and June 2014

I'm going with bullets for this one, and focusing on the highlights!

  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: book and movie. Discuss proper use of words "fat" and "ass". 

  • Science: Great unit on Structures taught by the student teacher we had with us for the month of May. The highlight just may have been the gumdrop towers:

  • Mother's Day brooches: (purchased plain at Michaels, painted, decorated and glittered with love at school, with safety pin hot glue-gunned to the back.)


  • Wigs For Kids: I posted about our big hair donation assembly day here. It was a pretty big deal around my house, and in my classroom...and we already have girls saying they're on board for next year.

  • EQAO: this is our province's standardized testing, and the Grade 3's write tasks for Language (Reading, Writing) and Math. To make it fun, we all wear our jammies, and the kids are permitted to bring gum or hard candy from home to enjoy while they write. (Note that the parents provide treats for their own child, and sugar-free gum and organic lollipops are welcome.) Throughout the year the students are exposed to questions from past assessments (which are made available on the EQAO website for that specific purpose) so they know exactly what to expect. I'm always glad when it's done!

  • Class trip to Legoland: We brought the girls here in the summer, but this was my first time taking a class to Legoland and I thought it was great. Feedback from the students and parents/grandparents was overwhelmingly positive.

  • Grad time capsules Every year I get my grade threes to write predictions about their grade 8 graduations. Five years later, I visit them in June to read their work, and the kids try to guess who was who - for prizes! Lots of fun, and a nice way to connect with my former students before they move on. 

  • Flower art and reflection I got this idea from Pinterest, but adapted it to be cut paper instead of paint. Having the kids complete a reflection sheet on their work (what the did best and what they would change if they could) is an important step, and provides great details to use when reporting on Art.

  • Father's Day toolboxes (see Pinterest link), with special messages for Dad on the back of each tool, plus draws for some great Hallmark gifts - which we did for Mother's Day too.) 

Father's Day Idea

  • Cursive writing - No, it's not on the curriculum and no, there's not enough time for it, but I try to squeeze in some mini lessons during the month of June. This book is a great resource, teaching the letters in order of category (e.g. "mountain climbers"), not alphabetical order. 

  • Health - PBS Kids No Smoking website  - very helpful for teaching kids about the dangers of nicotine (a drug that we study as part of our health program)

And that's the year that was! (Well, with a couple of days to go!) I don't know if any of these posts have been helpful to you, but I plan to refer back to them as I plan ahead for next year....not just yet, though!

Friday, June 20

Getting Kids Involved in Charity and Social Justice

I have been so blessed in my life, and I always feel like I should be doing more to give back. I'm quick to make charitable donations, partly because I have the luxury of time often meaning more to me than money. I give to the church, and I love to pledge friends who are running/walking/biking, or support kids who are fundraising for their organizations.

While this is certainly valuable, writing cheques doesn't really do enough to teach my own daughters about charity and social justice, but I also know that our current schedules don't allow for a lot of opportunity to roll up our sleeves and volunteer our time. (Yes, we could choose to make the time, but right now it isn't happening.)

I pondered this dilemma last summer, and came to a decision: that I would be the staff adviser (along with the principal) for our school's Leaders Today/Student Government group. That way, I could devote my time (recesses, lunch hour, prep time, after school) to these sorts of initiatives, and incorporate them right into my teaching practice. Maybe I'm not out working at a soup kitchen, but I am mobilizing close to 200 children to get involved. That has to count for something, right?

I'm also in a very unique position, having my two daughters at the same school as me. I know they will be directly impacted by all of the projects and fundraisers, so I'm combining my parenting with professional practice. (You know how I love to multitask!)

With the support of staff and parents, here's what our kids accomplished this year (and while skimming the numbers, please keep in mind that we currently have an enrollment of only 174 students!)

Terry Fox Fundraiser: this started a few years ago at our school as "Toonie For Terry", asking for a $2 donation per student in advance of our big walk date, which would raise between $300 and $400. This year, we upped the challenge and were not disappointed, donating slightly over $1000 to the Terry Fox Foundation.

Having the principal volunteer to colour his hair green and take a few pies to the face may have helped!

Thanksgiving Food Drive: The day before Thanksgiving weekend, we held a staff dodgeball game in the gym, asking for a non-perishable food item from each student as admission. Everyone attended!

Christmas Hampers: Every year students donate the items that are needed to put together a Christmas dinner...and more. Cash donations are put towards the purchase of  turkeys and perishable goods to complete the meal. Often these hampers go to families right from our own school community, so the needs hit very close to home, and it gives students such a sense of pride to be able to help.

Kinsmen Toy Drive: Our barrel of toy donations was full again this year, bringing joy to many children throughout the community on Christmas morning

Used Children's Book Drive: In January, we put out the call to families to clear off their shelves of any children's books that they no longer needed, and boy, did they rise to that challenge (you know I'll do anything to get people to purge and declutter!) We collected over 1200 used children's books, which were organized by category and age level and set up in the lobby of our local Ontario Early Years Centre. There, they were made available free of charge to any families who needed them. I'm told it didn't take long to clear those tables...and the newspaper even came to take a photo of our kids with the books!

This initiative was particularly important to me because I want kids to know that doing good work like this doesn't always involve money. Many of our families can't afford to be sending in cash donations on a regular basis, but this was something kids could do on their own - go to their shelves and find even one book that they've outgrown or no longer enjoy.

Valentine's Day Dance for Abush: "What's Abush?" you ask? It's not a what, it's a who...and he's our sponsor child from Ethiopia. On Valentine's Day, the Student Government planned games and dances for the students (based on age) and asked for a $2 donation each. It takes $454 to support a child for a year, and this helped us get close to that number.

Food For Fitness: In April, a local fitness instructor generously donated a day of her time in exchange for food donations from the students. Combining charity with fitness..what a great combination!

Easter Card Sales for Development and Peace: There was a big local focus with our projects this year, and we wanted to step back and think a bit more globally during the Lenten season, and also support a Catholic organization which has such an important impact around the world. One of our very artistic Student Government members hand-drew a series of four Easter cards (two religious, two secular) to be coloured by the students and given to their friends and family. We kept the price low and sold them for $0.25 each, yet still managed to send a cheque for over $100 to support the work of Development and Peace.

Wigs For Kids: You may have seen my full recap about our exciting hair donation day, but in "short" (ha ha) eight students and one teacher donated 10" of hair to be used to make free wigs for children with medical hair loss. We had a really fun assembly where the entire student body watched the ponytails get chopped, and some great sponsors donated prizes for a jam-packed gift back for our girls. There are already students asking about doing it next year!

My daughters and me before:

And after:

While these projects were school-wide, in my own classroom we also wrote letters to Canadian peacekeepers situated in Jerusalem (we thought it was appropriate to thank them for continuing Jesus' work right where He started) and we did a collection of items for our local St. Vincent de Paul store (Vinnie's), again encouraging the kids to painlessly donate items they no longer use.

Could we have done more? Of course. Could I personally be doing more, both in the school and outside of it? Absolutely. But this was definitely something.

Thanks to our staff, parents, and amazing students for making all of this happen.

What initiatives take place at your child's school? I'm always looking for new ideas!

Wednesday, June 18

Wednesday Words on Ambition and Encouragement

"Keep away from those who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you believe that you, too, can become great." 

Mark Twain

Thanks to everyone who makes me believe that I can be great, and to God for putting all of you in my life.

Thursday, June 12

What Phase Are You At? Newborn Poo, Loose Teeth, Performance Anxiety and Teen Shaving

I know, I know, the title is a bit of a wordy mish-mash (which covers a huge range of parenting phases), but today I want to share links to my most recent published articles.

From Today's Parent:

Newborn Guide to Infant Poop (I joked on Twitter that this was the "dirtiest" article I've written yet!)

Kids and Performance Anxiety (this one applies to sports, music, classroom, etc. "Stage fright" can happen anywhere!)

From Parents Canada:

The Loose Tooth Guide (when they'll fall out, what to expect, and some Tooth Fairy tidbits thrown in)

Teen Shaving Tips (maybe not just for teens. My eight year old has already noted her lack of appreciation for her dark leg hair. Sorry, kiddo.)

Thanks to all of the amazing parents and sources who contributed to these articles. I couldn't do it without you! Plus a shout out to the supportive editors that I'm lucky enough to work with!

I have a few more exciting things in the works...I'll keep you posted!

Monday, June 9

What Hallmark Has In Store: Father's Day and Graduation

You can always count on Hallmark to have you covered for gift-giving occasions. Here are my favourites for two special June events: Father's Day and Graduation! (Plus a little hint if anyone's shopping for me...)

First, the Father's Day gifts. These ones are currently on the ledge at the back of my classroom, and will be up for grabs as prizes the week before Father's Day. (This went over really well with the Mother's Day gifts!)

Harley Davidson - Life Doesn't Come With a Road Map Tin Sign ($14.95) and Boxed Coaster Set ($24.95). I'm not too sure how many biker dads we have in our class, but there's certainly a target market for these fun items out there!

StarWars - Yoda Bottle Opener with Sound ($14.95) and Darth Vader Cut-out Desktop Sentiment ($19.95) - may be inspiring in the workplace!

Dad's Remote Novelty Gift ($14.95, $9.95 with any purchase) - sure to make Dad laugh, buttons include "bad call", "power nap" and "the game is on"!

Love You Dad Book ($11.99) - This one's got adorable National Geographic photos of animals and sweet sentiments for Dads

Magic Prints Frame and Travel Tumbler ($14.95) - Daddy would love to receive one of these gifts from a little one to always have them close...their handprint, anyway! (Moms...I'm not sure about you, but I see enough of the handprints! Just kidding. Sort of.)

Now we're moving on to Grad. These gifts are going to be put to good use as well. Every year, I get my Grade 3's to write about how they envision their Grade 8 Graduation. What will they wear? Who will come? Who will their best friends be? Their favourite subject/sport/show, etc.? Then I tuck them away in my filing cabinet. When the students reach Grade 8, I go back to their class and play a fun guessing game, where they try to figure out who said what, five years earlier, and give them back their work as a souvenir. This will be my third time revisiting my former students, and I plan to give away these great Hallmark gifts as prizes for our guessing game.

Accordion Display Board Album ($12.95)

Autograph Owl with Pen ($16.95, special $12.95)

Sculpted Sentiments ($14.95) - this one's a lock that says "Unlock your potential". There's also a beautiful typewriter that says "Write your own story" on it...and while I'm not a father or a graduate, if anyone's looking to buy me a gift I'd love that one!

One-of-a Kind Creations 2014 Frame ($24.95, save 30% before June 16th) - in partnership with Shutterfly, you can upload a photo and have it send to you free, precut and ready to slide into your frame.

Thanks for all of the great ideas, Hallmark!

Thursday, June 5

The Happiness Project: June (Make Time For Friends)

Gretchen Rubin's goal for the month of June was to improve her happiness as it relates to friendship. My friends are so important to me - the ones I've had forever, the sisters-in-law I married into (plus the one my brother married), my book club gals, friends I've made at work, friends from my community, and friends I've made online - one in particular (you know who you are!)

Not all are subjected to my deepest, darkest secrets (which of course I hold in abundance) but I have some fantastic women in my circles. (Funny I said "women"...aside from some that I work with, I wouldn't say I have many close male friends. Other than my husband. Of course. And my friend's husbands, but I consider them sort of friends-once-removed. And my brother. Okay, there are a few.)

Anyway, with all of my other commitments, sometimes fostering friendships gets pretty low on my list, so I can certainly jump on board with this area of focus.

Gretchen's goals, and my take on them:

Remember birthdays

I think I'm pretty good at this, though I get a bit messed up when we've already celebrated someone's birthday before the actual date, because I think my brain believes the birthday to be over. So I have missed a few for that reason. I even have a list at work of staff members' birthdays that I've compiled over the years, and I try to acknowledge them, even with just a comment, email, or note left on their chalkboard. I have to admit though, that lucky as I am to have a birthday on the summer holidays, I still feel a bit (immaturely) disappointed that these efforts can't be reciprocated the same way. (I know, I know, I said "immaturely".)

While I love the ease of throwing cash or a gift card into an envelope (and love receiving such envelopes) birthdays are a bit different now as an adult, at least within my family and those I exchange gifts with. I would make an attempt to change that but...see parentheses above.

Show up

Just be there. This probably includes showing up at your friend's Stella and Dot jewelry party, but it was such a busy week, and I did shop online! I'm much more likely to "show up" on e-mail, text or phone for people who need me than I am to attend functions, but when people really need me, I try to be there.

Don't gossip

This is a tough one. When I go to confession and struggle to come up with things to say (realizing full well I am as much a sinner as anyone else), "I gossiped" seems to be a good ol' standby.

I consider myself a very trustworthy friend, and I will take to my grave many secrets about marriages, babies, illnesses, and jobs. (No, I'm not going to tell you!) Often I will come right out and ask "are you keeping this a secret?" or "Do you want others to know?" just to be sure, and I'll clarify "When are you telling people?" or "What do you want me to say if someone asks?" so I know I'm on the right track.

At this time of year, my coworkers and I find out our grade assignments and some apply for transfers, leading to much school-based gossip to be told and heard (plus remember, I work in my own community, where my family and friends are also parents) so resisting the urge to gossip can be pretty tough. My goals are to be professional, keep other people's secrets confidential, share my own information carefully, and try to be positive, not mean-spirited when dishing the dirt. (Though "dirt" probably isn't the best choice of words if I'm focusing on being positive...)

Make three new friends

Do you ever feel that you just have enough friends? I don't think I would be very successful this month setting a quota like Gretchen's for myself, but I will try to stay open to the possibility of friendship. I think for me though, putting more time into my existing friendships would be a more productive (and happiness-inducing) goal.

Be generous

One of my favourite passages from scripture advises us to do our good deeds in secret, and not let the left hand know what the right hand is doing, so this isn't a place to list my attempts at generosity, but I can acknowledge that it's an area I keep working on. Gretchen points out that being generous isn't just about giving things. You can "help people think big", "bring people together", "contribute in [your] way", and even "cut people slack" as acts of generosity. Giving the benefit of the doubt can be the most generous thing you do for someone.

I will leave you with a quote, and a question for TV lovers of my generation:

"Some people argue that because doing good deeds brings happiness, no act can be truly altruistic, because when we act for the benefit of others, we please ourselves."

Does this bring to anyone else's mind an episode of Friends? Wow, I miss that show.

Looking forward to July's challenge: "Buy Some Happiness"! Perfect for my birthday and the start of holidays...

Tuesday, June 3

In Defense of School Dress Codes

With the warm weather finally here, the idea of dress codes for children seems to have become a hot (no pun intended) topic. Let me be clear that I am not commenting directly on recent events regarding dress codes at other schools, because without having all of the information, I am very hesitant to give my take. I am going to give my opinion on the dress code at my Catholic elementary school.

Here's what went out in our June newsletter:

"As the daily temperature rises to warmer levels, a review of appropriate clothing would seem to be in order. Both boys and girls should be aware that shorts/skirts should be appropriate in length; that tops should be appropriate in design and any written message. Please use this guide when deciding on appropriate dress for the school day:

  •  ripped or torn clothing (including cut offs) should not be worn 
  • clothing with pictures/slogans/words/logos promoting drugs, alcohol, racism, violence, etc. is not permitted 
  • shorts/skirts should approach the knee, (arm to the side should not touch bare skin) 
  • all tops should cover to at least the shoulders; halter, tank tops or spaghetti straps are not appropriate.
  • midriff/stomach must be covered 
  • exposure of undergarments is not permitted"

These rules apply to girls AND boys in every grade. With style as it is, the boys do not tend to push the limits with short length (though it happens), but some do with shirts, the straps of which need to be three fingers wide to be permissible, just like the girls' tops (which takes the issue of visible bra straps right off the table).

Yes, the dress code makes it a bit harder to shop. I have two girls who attend my school, and I get it. Mind you, they are young and still do what they're told (for the most part) when it comes to their wardrobe, and I understand that it's much harder to get your thirteen year old to dress in shorts that "aren't cool". But I also know that we are the parents, and that should mean something. As for price, I'm looking at several pairs of very stylish Old Navy Bermudas for $16 at the moment (online, free shipping coast-to-coast, and no this is not a promotion). If kids absolutely must display their favourite brand-name or logo (again, I'm not at this phase yet), let them have it splashed across a properly-sized t-shirt.

From what I've read, some schools require long pants, which would not be reasonable in our 50 year old building with noticeable lack of air conditioning. But you can't tell me that kids will immediately overheat and combust (even outside) with an extra inch of fabric over their shoulders or their thighs.

Every morning, I stop in front of the mirror and double-check what I'm wearing as well. Not only to set a good example for the kids, but because I think being a teacher does call for a certain level of apparel.

I talked to my class about dress code yesterday, and the reasons for it. God gave us our bodies and they are beautiful top to bottom, but it demonstrates modesty (which just happens to be our School Board's Fruit of the Holy Spirit for the month of June) to have certain areas covered up more than others at school. I told them that when I'm at home or with friends, I wear swimsuits, tank tops, and sometimes shorts or dresses that don't reach the tips of my fingers with my arms at my sides, because they're appropriate in those situations. This is my workplace, and it is also theirs. Many other workplaces have dress code requirements, some even specific uniforms, which they will likely discover when they get their first part-time jobs. Do parents fight that fact that Tim Hortons has the nerve to tell their child what to wear?

And yes, I wear a bra (wow, I'm getting really personal here), as do many girls at our school, and I would venture almost all girls at secondary. Yes, we should be proud of our bodies and not ashamed of supportive female undergarments. But are they appropriate to be displayed in a workplace? Do you often see your bank teller's bra straps, or those of your postal worker, restaurant server (Hooters waitresses excepted), doctor or shopkeeper? (Note that the boys are not allowed to flash us their underwear above saggy waistbands either.)

To me (and all of the staff I spoke with) this is absolutely not about girls distracting the boys (perhaps if other schools were able to provide a better reason than this, it wouldn't have caused such controversy), or an issue of sexualization (though we did have some trouble convincing a parent that her daughter's track pants covered in the Playboy bunny logo weren't appropriate). And believe me, the dress code is not just about the girls. One staff member told the story of an incident (at another school) where a male elementary student was wearing a t-shirt reading "Be gentle. It's my first time." The teacher asked the student, straight-faced, what the shirt meant.

"You know..."
"No, I don't. What does it mean?"
"You first, sex?"
"Right. Go to the washroom and turn it inside out and don't wear it to school again."

On rare occasions, we see slogans relating to alcohol, drugs, or violence of some kind, which are understandably (I hope!) not allowed in our school setting either.

Some parents make a very valid argument that all of these rules shouldn't apply to our littlest students (like it or not, there is a difference between a four year old in short shorts and a 14 year old). However, I would argue that kindergarten is not too soon to begin teaching a sense of modesty, being part of a community, and (not least importantly) following the rules of the institution to which you belong.

As an added bonus, many of our graduates continue on to the local Catholic secondary school, which requires a uniform, so this is particularly good training for them.

As a teacher and a parent of girls, I fully support having rules about children's clothing in place at school. As for enforcing them...that's a whole 'nother blog post.

Monday, June 2

My Thoughts on "Thrive" by Arianna Huffington

Over the weekend, I devoured Thrive by Arianna Huffington (cofounder, president and editor in chief of the Huffington Post). The book was written after she had a health scare - a broken cheekbone and a gash over her eye - which happened when she took a fall due to exhaustion and lack of sleep.

The point of the book is that our success can't just be measured by money and power, and that we need a third "metric" (like a third leg on a stool) to keep ourselves from toppling over. I figure if a woman in Huffington's position is able to stop and smell the roses, the rest of us could try to give it a shot as well.

I'm certainly fortunate to have well-paying work that I enjoy doing, and autonomy within my work to feel a relative sense of control, but I don't think many public-sector employees judge their success based on money and power. However that doesn't mean that the life components Huffington is promoting (well-being, wisdom and wonder) can't still have a huge impact on our lives and our happiness.

A few things that stood out for me:

  • Words to live by regarding stress: "...and whenever I'd complain or was upset about something in my own life, my mother had the same advice: 'Darling, just change the channel. You are in control of the clicker. Don't replay the bad, scary movie.'" 
  • And... "The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another." - William James. I am really going to try to keep these words of wisdom in mind when dwelling on something, which I admit I tend to do. Even the small, ridiculous things, like that person who unfollowed me on Twitter. Enough. (But was it something I said?)
  • Meditation: while I have always found this topic a bit new-agey for me (and the goal of 'clearing my mind' unattainable), Huffington points out that religious rituals, such as praying the rosary, are actually a form of meditation as well. That, I can get on board with. I have to admit that I'm much more likely to fall asleep rosary in hand in times of need, but perhaps making it a more regular part of my daily routine will help to clear my mind and bring my focus where it needs to be.
  • "Sleep your way to the top" - my favourite section. But no, it's not like that! Huffington cites overwhelming research which supports what I've always known - how important sleep is for the mind and body. (One researcher believes an hour of sleep helps with weight loss more than an hour of exercise!) In the corporate world, lack of sleep is something to brag about, and Huffington wants to see a shift where we admire those who get their eight hours, instead of lauding the ones who work around the clock. I am not at all a lazy person (okay, except in the kitchen) and I am quite proud of what I manage to accomplish at work and at home with only 16 hours of wake time each day. The last time I hosted book club, I even tacked on a P.S. to the invitation e-mail: "Please remember that I turn back into a pumpkin at midnight." My friends respected that, even though they may think I'm just a little crazy. (Sleep isn't just for grownups, either - Huffington also writes about the importance of sleep for children, and an interesting correlation between ADHD and sleep disorders.)

While I was actually hoping for a bit more "memoir" material in this book, Huffington does share many personal stories, from her childhood to present (as a divorced mother of grown daughters), which I found fascinating. Thrive has definitely reaffirmed many of my beliefs about success, forced me to take a critical look at other values I hold, and inspired me to make a few changes in my life