Kindness Unleashed

Today, more reflections on the kindness that Hurricane Harvey unwittingly unleashed. So many stories of rescue and relief.

This morning, an email from a school in Pennsylvania whose student leadership team has planned a Dance/Hop-A-Thon and will donate all of their proceeds to help us recover. I can't wait to see the pictures of them dancing up a storm for us. 

A family moved out of their home so that another family that flooded could live there. Others are lending their cars. Can you imagine? 

A real estate agent new to our area who took it upon himself to go shopping for clothing and shoes that he donated and delivered to school. How kind is that? 

This flood survivor. Once they could get back into their home, she asked her mom if she could donate some of her clothes for other children who flooded. 

When I asked her why she gave away things that still fit her, she told me that the flood made her realize that she didn't need so many things.  

Then there's these boys, who made and sold rubber-band wristbands on a street corner for funds to give to their PE coach, who lost everything in the flood waters.

Earlier in the week, a care package with comfort cards from FL,
another from Allen, Texas, two from Colorado, two from Missouri,
and this priority mail from counselor and author Laurie Mendoza
and two of her school's classes in MA.

Today, news that another special delivery is headed our way
from WA and yet another from VA.
So much kindness ... unleashed!

Still, I'm reminded that it doesn't have to take a natural disaster
for us to show kindness to one another.
Before anyone ever heard of Harvey,
my Godmother Sue sent this beautiful book to me,
just to be kind and because she liked it so well.

Written by Lisa Barrickman, a friend of theirs from church, this treasure trove details the forty acts of kindness that the author set out to do as a way to celebrate her forty years of life. Every chapter is better than the next as Lisa weaves in how she made kindness actionable and how it positively affected not only her as the giver but also the person on the receiving end. Each chapter concludes with an inspirational verse from the Bible. 

I especially love the reference to Dr. Patty O'Grady's work about how kindness changes our brains. Turns out the experience of kindness imprints on our brains not just by talking about it or thinking about it. Instead, we have to actually feel it so we "can reproduce it." (p. 29)

Clearly we are experiencing kindness in a big way in the Lone Star State; 
its wave of compassion and love is more powerful than that storm called Harvey ever dreamed of becoming. 

Check out A Case For Kindness and prepare to be inspired. Join the movement at their Facebook page {here}. Then check back and let us know how you've unleashed kindness in your world.



The Tree Stands Alone

Today I'm exhausted, just dog tired.
It has been a difficult, emotionally-loaded week.
Shock has worn off and a grave reality has begun to set in.
Just over 10% of our students have been displaced because of flooding and are living in apartments, campers, hotels, with family, with strangers who have become friends by necessity. On Friday, there were lots of tears, because they're tired, too. But I'm also energized because this morning, this happened.

Dressed in a live generously shirt, FISD School Board member Pastor Ralph, knocked on the door at about 9 am with his chainsaw in hand; not too far behind him, a crew led by my friend Carol showed up with their tree removal equipment,

to help us get rid of this Arizona Ash tree that Harvey toppled.

It took our crew about three hours to go from this ...  

to this. 

I was especially touched that this man, Forest, would be a part of our crew as his home was one of the 3,000 houses in our town to flood. His sister lost her home, too, and yet, there he was, in our yard, helping get that tree out of our back yard.

 When the truck filled up, the rest was neatly stacked to the side,
ready for us to fill and carry off a second load later in the week.

It's sad to me, to lose a tree like this, but also interesting to get a sneak peek inside. Pastor Ralph was quick to point out that its rings tell its story; the thin rings were bad years for this guy, the thicker ones, good. It tells a story of survival through tropical storms, a ground saturated with flood waters, hurricane-force winds and the draught.

And finally, it fell right over in Harvey because it was
the last tree standing in what used to be its protective grove.
And so it goes in real life with human kind, too.
When we are surrounded by that community of family and friends
to hold us up when gale-force winds threaten to topple us,
it's a whole lot easier to survive and thrive than when
we, like this tree, attempt to stand alone.

And so, another Harvey lesson is this:
 Life is too hard to go it alone.
Together we're stronger.
All. As one forest.

Last night at our first home game under Friday Night Lights,
we saw evidence of this truth when we played the Kingwood Mustangs.
Many of these teenagers lost not only their homes, but also their school. They are now attending school somewhere else; among their losses, band uniforms and football uniforms. But life must go on, so they borrowed football garb and the band wore casual dress. To honor their burden and support their healing, our band opted to not wear our uniforms, but to go casual as well. A small thing that meant a lot to our friendly rivals, the other Mustang blue team.

And this, the message from our Superintendent
that played on the jumbotron to kick off the game.

So many of you have sent cards of empathy and encouragement; thank you, thank you. Each student that I saw on Friday got to choose one of your beautiful expressions of comfort and love. I coupled them with a reading of Marianne Richmond's treasure, Be Brave Little One, after which we each shared a one-word reflection about the storm and/or the notes.

Out of that natural disaster known as Hurricane Harvey
have come supernatural acts of compassion and care.

We have appreciated every single note, text, email, phone call.
Each one helps us move forward into our healing with hope.
On Tuesday night, our parents at Orientation will be invited
to fill out a card for our school's hope chest.

Faculty and staff have already filled ours out; 
students will be sharing their hopes and dreams, too.

In case you missed my We Are Teachers guest post this week,
click {here} to read about how it went on our first few days back.


Our Mindfulness Button Bin

Today I'm excited because the Green Bay Packers are playing and we actually get to see it on television down here. Somehow it just feels so good to watch the green and gold battle it out on the football field. This week has been a good but difficult one; laying on the couch to root for my childhood team comforts like home.

Did your learners start school this past Tuesday?

We actually celebrated a happy re-new year on Wednesday when our superheroes returned from our Harvey detour for a second start. And while we are officially back in business, we're going to go easy on assigning homework so our families whose homes flooded don't feel hammered again trying to get homework done. My cousin said that in her district that was also flooded, there will be no homework this entire year per district leadership. I think it's awesome that they're putting emotional recovery needs first. 

As academic pressures do mount this year, consider these strategies 
for helping in my guest post at Free Spirit earlier this week. 

The most intriguing idea I found is the backward breathing.
Have you ever tried to intentionally exhale first?
It's kind of cool, in a challenging sort of way.
At the very least, it takes my mind off of my hard emotions
and helps me to be in the moment, mindfully aware.
It's one of my goals this year, to increase mindfulness in my personal life
 and in my professional practice. Inhale calm, exhale chaos.

Click the above image to check out my mindfulness Pinterest page.

Enter our Button Bin; its backstory is kind of an interesting one.

Last Saturday, we left town en route to see our sons, help Jacob finish moving into his grad-school house, and take them to dinner. On our way to eat, we decided to swing through downtown Bryan and do a little antiquing. Just inside the door of our first stop, a bowl of buttons caught my eye. At a cost of ten cents a button, buying them wasn't on my radar, but once I put my hands into these little treasures and started to manipulate them a little, I found myself feeling oddly calmer and I was sold. When I told the owner my plan to use them for mindfulness with my students who are recovering from the flood, she said I could have them for five cents a piece. So the boys helped me select two hundred of our favorites, then when we got home I added all of the buttons I could find around the house.

So what makes the Button Bin a mindfulness tool 
that feeds the senses to keep us in the here and now?
Here's what I envision:

Sound: The clanking as you run your fingers through the buttons, picking them up and putting them down, makes a musical sound.
 Sight: The cacophony of shapes, colors and sizes appeal to the eye. 
Scent: By spraying an essential oil on them, you can scent them with lavender, ginger, tea tree, or eucalyptus. Or let them smell nostalgic, like Grandma's house.
Touch: The buttons feel big, small, rough, smooth, thick, thin, cold, warm.

I can also see using the buttons to talk about diversity {Every button is different, every one equally as important.} and empathy {Who do you think wore this button? What do you think their life was like? How was it easy? How was it hard?}.
How might you use a Button Bin?

Speaking of empathy, check out my book review and read-aloud of
You, Me and Empathy at Ripple Kindness {here}. Comment below if you'd like to review your favorite book for them.

And finally, I'm so energized by all of the ways that people are working to help with Hurricane Harvey Relief efforts. Today I've made a huge batch of Chili Soup to feed three displaced families tomorrow after school through our community Meal Train. My son Jacob made this Bottle Cap Artwork and our friend Rachel added the word strong so we could auction it off on Facebook with 100% of the highest bid donated to help the 86 teachers in our district whose homes flooded. It was a fun delivery to make today.

And my friend, third-grader Jet Stream Jax, is still collecting donations {here} to help his neighbors and friends
and rebuild.
Grab your tissues and some tea and prepare to be inspired
by and fall in love with this mini-meteorologist
whose heart is bigger than that storm ever dreamed of being.

If anyone has a connection to Ellen or Oprah,
Jaxson is the kind of kid they want to meet,
so please share this video with them
to help him meet his giving goal.


Embracing Adversity

Tonight, I'm exhausted, emotionally spent. We went back to school as a staff to prepare to launch the 2017-2018 school year, take two. Students will return to us tomorrow after having endured the fury of Hurricane Harvey. I spent today making phone calls to listen to their stories. 
Scary stories. 
Sad stories. 
Sensational stories.
Stories of grit and grace. 
Stories of loss and starting over.
Stories of healing and hope. 
And I cried. 
Sometimes with a mom right there on the line. 
Others silently after we hung up.
Because this is what many of their homes look like now.
At least until the FEMA trucks get to town.

We started the morning together as a district in a convocation led by our new Superintendent, Thad Roher. That superhero was on a mission when the flood waters started to rise, to not only save his district, but to save his town. He drove a school bus to nursing homes and through neighborhoods in search of people who needed to be evacuated and taken to safety in our makeshift shelter. This morning he reminded us that this year's theme ~ Mustang Pride ... Unleashed ~ is more than just a mantra; it's a way of life. It's not just something fun that we had put on our blue shirts; it's who we are and what we do when flood waters threaten our very existence. Forget the capes; those of us wearing those mustang-blue shirts are called to come to the rescue. He normalized and validated our feelings. He challenged us to embrace adversity and to make it our friend. And he asked us to remember what our children have been through and to be the anchor that they need when they return to class tomorrow. 

If you want a peek into our town's Harvey experience, click {here}. 
Every view will bring in a little donation for our survivors.

Steve Hartman's On The Road coverage is brilliant;
Check it out here.

Harvey reminded me that there's a reason we're called humankind.
As we continue down our path to recovery,
people have reached out to see what we need
as we embrace adversity and move into our new normal.
Prayers for comfort and care,
for empathy and encouragement,
and warm wishes for lots and lots of Perseverance, Appreciation, Togetherness, Hope.

Wanna be inspired?
You must see this creative, therapeutic musical
 Les Harveyables made in a neighborhood down the road.
Now that's what I call embracing adversity!


Flooded By Compassion & Love

Today I'm feeling hopeful as the healing begins; we started the day by kicking Hurricane Harvey to the curb, literally and figuratively.
True confessions: We actually went to the wrong house for our
10:00 commitment to help an elderly couple with restoration.
We'd been drafted to move some furniture and remove some wood flooring, so we ought to have snapped when there was no furniture to be moved or wood flooring to speak of. {That, and the couple didn't seem elderly, really, as they were kind of our age.} But we were at house number 302, so we pressed on and removed these soggy baseboards, until we got an SOS from a friend and decided to move on down the road. We figured out later that there's a difference between Lane and Court. 

Maybe we are more elderly than we think we are.

Anyhow, we spent an hour with them, then we landed at a friend's mom's home and were able to get a lot of this stuff out of the flooded house and out to the curb.

It felt good to walk alongside of the homeowner and hear her story.
She'd just finished a remodel, so the carpet was pretty new. 
Until it got flooded. 
And overnight became old.
She smiled with relief when her contractor stopped by to check on her and put her on his calendar for next Monday. Sometimes it's the little things.

So let's back up.
Friday we had off from school with hardly any rainfall to speak of.
We actually wondered if we should have been in school.

Then Saturday morning happened. 
This is midnight, the sky lit up by lightning.
See our mailbox? The water was rising as the rains fell hard.

We had a mini-hurricane at 4:30 a.m.
and by 6:30 am this tree had toppled in our back yard.

Harvey's rage kept hammering into swollen creeks.
By Sunday, those creeks were lakes.
This is the road adjacent to our church that night.

It was unbelievable.
We were landlocked.
And Harvey wasn't done with us yet.
Boat and helicopter rescues were rampant
as some people could only get on their roof and wait.
3000 homes flooded in our town alone
as we were getting a year's worth of rain in three days.
Here's Heather's homeclick the picture to help them.

One thousand of those people without power.
And more rain on its way Monday night.
Tuesday morning our streets were still impassable.
But our house had survived and we were grateful.

I woke up early to bake breakfast for our Police Station
and when I couldn't get there, they send an officer to us.
They'd been working around the clock and
were thankful for our egg casserole and banana bread.

And what a difference a day makes. By Wednesday, the sun was shining and we were no longer landlocked on all sides. The Marines came to town to help finish up the rescues and start the rebuild workout.

Stores were opening back up,
but shelves are still bare because trucks can't get here yet.
Here's a FB update from today; 
so grateful for social media at times like these.

Today it was time to start that restoration process.
We'd planned to take lunch to our nine staff members whose homes flooded, but our pizza place was still closed and many of them were still out of town. Our district leadership team met and agreed that all teachers would call their families to check on them. Tomorrow morning, the district counselors will meet to plan for our return to school on Tuesday. 

Passionate educators from all over the nation have reached out to ask how they can help. Check out these two beautiful comfort cards that are headed our way.

Isn't that a beautiful expression of empathy and encouragement?

Be still my beating heart.

Superheroes like this little friend have set up lemonade stands;
I wish you could have seen her dancing in the streets!

Ventriloquist Dennis Lee and his sister Lisa has been checking in on us 
and they send us their prayers and warm wishes.

And Jax, a third grader from my school, is collecting donations.
Click the image below for more information and/or to contribute.

So many ways to help. It's how we roll.
Because this sort of natural disaster brings people together.
It unites us, ignites our empathy and mobilizes our compassion.
It brings the realization that life is precious.
It reminds us that life is fleeting and that connections trump stuff.
Every time.
People are outside of their homes,
crusading for a cause. To help shoulder someone's burden.
To make someone's life a little easier.
To love unconditionally.
Just like last year at this time with the Pokemon Go craze,
only way better.
Bringing healing and hope, two beautiful gifts.
Flooding our flood-ravished community with love and support.

Want some additional ways to help?
are all collecting for Harvey Relief. 

So tonight as I lay my head on my pillow
and reflect on today,
my prayers are with the people who are starting over,
who have taken their stuff to the curb
and who will need extra tender loving care 
as they recover and restore.
And I'll show my gratitude that we were spared
by distributing your comfort cards
and baking as I have opportunities to feed people,
and listening to their stories of survival and suffering,
and crying with them when it's too hard to talk anymore.

And we'll keep on spreading joy and serving others because, above all, we are called to flood the world with compassion and love.


Taking Back To School By Storm

Today I'm excited because we had seven amazing back-to-school days before Hurricane Harvey stalled school for a spell and gave us today off.

Our staff did some team-building before the students showed up; check out this coverage of our Spot It! circle game that our character cam caught. 
Super fun to watch them laugh, connect, and reflect.

On Monday, we viewed the eclipse in our NASA-approved solar shades.

We spent the week reconnecting and getting to know one another better. 
I put one of these treats in each staff member's box ... 

 and got this bulletin board up inside of our learning space.

I received a beautiful note pad from my friend Tanya in Montana,
 so I used it to write these lunch invitations to our new students.

It's optional so I told their teachers to let them choose, because I get it if they'd rather stay in the cafeteria and eat lunch with their new class family friends. It was supposed to be today, so we'll be rescheduling for one day next week.

One of my superheroes brought me this bouquet of flowers, to cheer me up as I adjust to our empty nest. Won't they look pretty on our new-students lunch table?

And in the back-to-school mail this week, two special deliveries of thoughtfulness, one from a Twitter connection, a card thanking me for my inspiration, the other from my friend Maria, a note with prayers for comfort and strength as we make the transition to our new season at home by ourselves, with no kids living there. 
Small acts of kindness that made a big difference to my heart.

Yesterday afternoon, I tried using Zoom to go live with on We Are Teachers and give a tour of our learning space. A colleague of John's at NASA helped me so much the day prior by doing a practice chat with me and help allay a few of my fears as I stepped out of my comfort zone and used my iPad to connect and grow. 

It was a blast; thank you, We Are Teachers, for that fun opportunity.

On Twitter, one of our friends piggybacked our YET-goals idea; 

isn't it going to look amazingly colorful when it's up?

Speaking of colorful, check out this gem that a Bales alumni created at the end of May in her sixth-grade Language Arts class at Friendswood Junior High.

Using our Bales school True Colors theme, 
Caley wrote about a town that had lost its color, 

only to find it again when once they restored their core values.

Isn't it breath-taking? Thank you, Caley, for living your true colors!

Finally, we got three of these Gaga Ball Pits on our recess grounds.

I'm wondering as I type if they're mini-swimming pools right now.

So tonight, we stay inside while Harvey blows through.
Hopefully, we're back to class on Monday.
Then, on Tuesday night, join us to discuss these questions
on the #teacherfriends Twitter chat.

Happy 2017-2018; how will you take the new year by storm?

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