Counting Blessings And Giving Back

I recently attended two events, which brought home both the importance of counting our blessings, and giving to others during this holiday season.

MerylMarty Lyons Foundation

This week, I was privileged to meet Marty Lyons at the grand opening of the new headquarters of the Marty Lyons Foundation in Commack. Marty Lyons, former NY Jets star, founded the Marty Lyons Foundation (www.martylyonsfoundation.org) in 1982 after the birth of his son, and the deaths of his father and a young boy to whom Lyons had been a Big Brother. Over the past 30 years the Marty Lyons Foundation has granted nearly 6,500 special wishes to children with life-threatening and terminal illnesses in 13 states. Marty is passionate about the foundation’s mission, and he takes a personal interest in the children and their families that are served.

Marty believes that by fulfilling a child’s special wish, the child and his/her family can be transported from the daily heartache of coping with illness.

“It is a joyous time that creates a wonderful memory and a better quality of life.  Every child has a dream, and although we can’t promise a lifetime of happiness to these seriously ill children, we can make one dream a reality!”

The Marty Lyons Foundation has granted wishes, including: special trips to Disney World, meeting celebrities, throwing extraordinary birthday parties, renovating homes to enable children to live with their families while receiving treatment, purchasing computers, filling a swimming pool with spring water, and many more.

Adults and Children with Learning and Developmental Disabilities

20131008_133652I was recently introduced by my friend, Ellen Spiegel, to another worthy charity, which inspires us to count our own blessings while giving to others. Ellen is a trustee of ACLD (Adults and Children with Learning and Developmental Disabilities http://www.acld.org/), a not-for-profit agency that serves the needs of individuals (and their families) who have developmental disabilities, are neurologically impaired, or are on the autism spectrum. The ACLD mission is to provide the opportunity for children, teens and adults with developmental disabilities to pursue enviable lives, increase their independence and improve the quality of their lives. At the fashion show, which I attended, the models included individuals who are served by ACLD as well as its supporters.

Ellen said that when her son, Fred, was born more than 40 years ago, there were practically no services for those with developmental disabilities on Long Island. Today he is one of 300 adults in ACLD residential placements, and he has a job. According to Ellen, ACLD now supports more than 3,000 children and adults in a variety of programs.  One of these is fellow trustee Megan Gardner’s son, Brian, who is nine-years-old.

“When Brian entered ACLD’s Preschool program at the Kramer Learning Center he could not speak; he could only grunt,” Megan recalled.  “He presented with no cognitive skills with the exception of touching his nose or stomping his feet on command – and those skills had taken nine months to achieve. But I knew Brian was in there, I knew my Brian was awake, aware, alive.   And … the entire team at Kramer believed me and believed in Brian’s potential too. Over the course of three years at Kramer, Brian learned to take a bus to school; he learned to make eye contact, to stack blocks and then bam!  He started to paint and color, he learned to write his name…he started to read. Now in third grade, he happily participates in ACLD’s Afterschool Program in Bay Shore.”

At this time of year, as we count our blessings, check out these two worthy organizations, which give to those who need it the most.


Profiles in Courage: JFK’s Lasting Legacy

KenedyAn article that I read yesterday on Huffington Post alerted me to the fact that the JFK Memorial Library is soliciting stories from people of how President Kennedy inspired them. In honor of the 50th anniversary of his assassination, “An Idea Lives On” website will feature people from all walks of life talking about the influence Kennedy had on them. The name is based on a 1963 quote from JFK, when he said: “A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on.”

President Kennedy inspired me to read daily newspapers, watch the news on TV every evening, and become a fan of Meet the Press at age 13.  It was easy to ace the weekly current events quizzes in junior high school. Kids today may be obsessed with the Kardashians. My friends and I were smitten with the Kennedy family.  We kept scrapbooks, followed their every move, and couldn’t get enough of our handsome president, his beautiful wife Jackie, and their children, Caroline and John John.

But in becoming obsessed with the Kennedys, we not only followed their fashion and lifestyle, we learned about government and politics. I learned the name of every cabinet member he appointed, and consequently knew each cabinet department, and what it did.  I learned about the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Peace Corps, James Meredith entering the University of Mississippi, and countless other happenings. It was all fascinating to me and inspired me to engage in school and community service.

When he was brutally assassinated on that beautiful November day, it was as if the wind was knocked out of our generation. We would never be so innocent, so idealistic, and so optimistic again. But his legacy continued to teach us about our country. We had a peaceful transition of power.  We learned about the Constitution’s provisions for presidential succession as we watched Judge Sarah Hughes administer the oath to LBJ with Mrs. Kennedy standing by.

My fascination with government and politics continued. I majored in political science in college, got a masters degree in teaching, and became a high school American History and Government teacher.

Profiles in Courage is a book that I read when I was in high school, and it was one that I had my students read. Of all of President Kennedy’s legacies, I believe that this book is the one that is most sorely needed today. Kennedy writes about the courage of elected officials to do what they believe is right even when it meant going against public opinion, their constituents, and political action committees.

President Kennedy wrote:


“In whatever arena of life one may meet the challenge of courage, whatever may be the sacrifices he faces if he follows his conscience – the loss of his friends, his fortune, his contentment, even the esteem of his fellow men – each man must decide for himself the course he will follow. The stories of past courage can define that ingredient – they can teach, they can offer hope, they can provide inspiration. But they cannot supply courage itself. For this each man must look into his own soul.” 


What more fitting tribute could there be to President Kennedy than for our elected leaders to heed his call on this the 50th anniversary of his death? May each find it within him/herself to find that courage. In so doing, they can continue to make President Kennedy’s memory a blessing, and entrust the survival of our democracy.

Meryl Ain is the coauthor of The Living Memories Project, to be published in March 2014 by Little Miami Publishing Company. It demonstrates how grief can be transformed into positive action and living legacies. Follow on Twitter: @LivMemoriesProj

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/18/jfk-memories_n_4295373.html

http://www.jfklibrary.org/Events-and-Awards/Profile-in-Courage-Award/About-the-Book.aspx


7 Tips for a Safe Halloween

20131027_130423Last year, Halloween festivities were swept away on Long Island in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. It was difficult to celebrate with the massive devastation, loss of power, and overall misery engendered by this destructive superstorm.  But it looks like Halloween is back in force in 2013. Here’s a blog I wrote about how to keep your kids safe during Halloween. It appeared in Huffington Post on October 23, 2012 – before Sandy!

There’s a nip in the air and pumpkins are everywhere: In patches, on porches, in stores and in schools. It’s hard to ignore the signals that Halloween is fast approaching.

Almost every store has aisles of costumes and candy. Elementary schools plan Halloween parades and high schools organize Safe Halloween festivities for pre-school and elementary school children. But I can’t help think that Halloween is not what it used to be, when armies of little kids combed the streets collecting goody bags from moms who had lovingly assembled them.

That was long before there were objections to Halloween on the grounds that as a religious holiday it shouldn’t be observed in public schools. A Seattle elementary school recently banned Halloween costumes on the grounds that the holiday interferes with learning. It was long before we knew sweet treats were taboo — and even dangerous for those with certain food allergies. It was long before deranged people inserted razor blades into candy and sexual predators prowled the streets. And it was long before the craze of candy-flavored tobacco in brightly colored packages. Cigarillos, cigars and such smokeless tobacco products as chew, snuff and dissolvable tobacco — considered by many the first step to tobacco addiction — compete with Halloween candy for shelf space in convenience stores.

As I recall, we got real about Halloween when schools began recommending that parents bring to school all of the candy their children collected to be X-rayed. When that happened, I thought for sure he holiday was doomed.

But it’s made a great resurgence in recent years. People now adorn their homes with Halloween lights and blow-up pumpkins, witches and scarecrows. It’s a bigger business than ever before.

And yet, Halloween has changed.

First, there are parents who object to Halloween celebrations being held in public schools. With children coming from so many religious and ethnic backgrounds, parents are opposed to celebrating holidays that are not part of their tradition.

On the other hand, it’s probably a good thing that much of the Halloween observance has moved off the streets and into the schools. It’s a lot safer. Every year it seems we get fewer and fewer youngsters trick or treating at our door.

Parents have to decide for themselves if and how their children celebrate Halloween. What do you think?

Here are some tips for a safe Halloween:

• If your child has a food issue, make sure you discuss it with the teacher and school nurse ahead of time.

• If you have an objection to a Halloween celebration on religious grounds, make sure you let your principal and teacher know about it well in advance of the holiday.

• Even if you take your children to a safe Halloween sponsored by your local high school, watch them carefully. It may seem like a very safe environment, but keep in mind that the school gym is full of strangers.

• It’s best to accompany your children if you allow them to trick or treat, including for UNICEF. And of course, discard any treats that are not pre-packaged or look like they have been tampered with.

• Honestly, it’s just a bad idea nowadays for children to go door to door — especially in the dark — to strangers’ homes.

• If you do allow your teenagers to go out, they should go to people they know — and in a group. Make sure they have cell phones with them and that you know their route. You should also stress the importance of obeying laws, respecting private property and not engaging in pranks or vandalism.

• Better yet, encourage your teens to volunteer at a Safe Halloween event at their school.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/meryl-ain-edd/safe-halloween-tips_b_1990569.html


Memo to Elected Officials: You Were Elected to Make Things Better

GWI shared the thoughts below in a blog that I wrote immediately following the 2012 Presidential Election. A week into the government shutdown with a looming debt crisis days away, it seems like a good time to implore our elected officials to follow a few rules that every teacher and student already knows!

Let’s also remember the example of our First President George Washington.

Washington was a model of the behavior we should expect from our elected officials. He was guided by civility throughout his political career. At 16-years-old, his tutor gave him the assignment of copying by hand 110 Rules of Civility, an exercise that influenced his life. These rules were composed by French Jesuits in 1595 and were disseminated in Washington’s era. While many of the rules are outdated and anachronistic, their purpose was to foster respect for others as well as self-respect. They provided a guide to Washington and others living at that time about how to get along with one another and work together for the common good.

Advice to teachers and parents always boils down to: Model the behavior you want to see. President Obama might wish to copy his own rules and distribute it to members of Congress, and let everyone know he plans to emulate them himself.  Harry Truman’s sign on his desk, The Buck Stops Here, sent a message to the entire country. Perhaps President Obama would like to frame his own rules and place them on his desk. Successful teachers and parents know that by creating a sense of order, consistency, and trust, they send the message that respect, kindness, and accomplishment are paramount.

I don’t know of an elementary school teacher who does not begin the school year with a discussion of class rules. Secondary schools also have rules, and school districts are required to have Code of Conduct policies. Where is the Code of Conduct for our elected officials?

Here are a few “class” rules – gleaned from teachers and parents – that should help our representatives do the work of the people who elected them – and get to work solving our country’s daunting problems!

  1. Remember You Have Been Elected to Make Things Better
  2. Respect Your Colleagues
  3. Be Prepared To Compromise
  4. Stay On Task
  5. Complete Work On Time
  6. Respect Other People’s Opinions
  7. Stop thinking About The Next Election And Start Thinking About The Good Of The Country

The original blog was published in Huffington Post:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/meryl-ain-edd/election-obama-education_b_2093121.html

http://www.foundationsmag.com/civility.html


Not Your Mother’s PTA

pta-meeting-parents-e1316549376678With the new school year in full swing, it’s a good time to emphasize the importance of parent involvement. This is the time to make a resolution to actively engage in your children’s education. One of the easiest and most accessible ways is to join and become active in the PTA.

Do you think PTA is synonymous with bake sales?

Think again — today’s PTA is about a lot more than cupcakes

We know that research indicates that students whose parents are actively involved in their schools have better grades, attendance, behavior, and graduation rates. But PTA membership is a personal investment you make not only for your child, but for yourself too.

Many opportunities await you at your next PTA meeting. Advocating for a worthwhile mission, having a positive impact on your schools, and supporting amazing events for students are the obvious benefits of PTA involvement. But I have also witnessed more subtle perks that may come to active parents.

Here are five things that you might not know about today’s PTA:

1. Volunteer and get access.

Being an active PTA member gives you legitimate reasons to have input and to be in your children’s school during the school day.  For example, do you want to have a say in booking a children’s author, a play or a music or science program for your children’s school?  Then join your PTA’s cultural arts committee. You will work closely with your principal and teachers to plan enriching events that PTA fundraising supports.  As a member of the committee, you will be able to attend programs to assess their success.

By becoming a known quantity to school staff, you will get a birds-eye view of what’s going on and principal, faculty and staff will know you by name. This will come in handy should you ever have a question or concern. Similarly, you may be asked for your perspective as a parent when issues occur. It’s sort of like the classic Peter Sellers movie, Being There. Because you are there, you may become a go-to parent.

2. Contribute and make friends.

You will meet like-minded parents who have children of comparable ages, with whom you will share similar concerns, goals, and hopes for your children. You will form close friendships and you will help one another through the sharing of ideas. If you are new to an area or your first child is starting school, PTA is a good place to meet people.

3. Give and receive much more.

PTA provides you with a wonderful outlet and platform for your passions. For example, if you are passionate about healthy eating, you can join the PTA’s health and wellness committee, and exert influence not only on the school lunch program, but also on classroom practices, such as giving candy for rewards.

If you are a parent of a child with special needs, you are probably already a strong advocate for special education. It is essential that you join SEPTA, Special Education PTA. There you will meet like-minded parents and professionals who will provide you with a support network, cutting edge information and strategies to help your child succeed. You will have the benefit of attending presentations by outside experts. And you will be able to forge positive relationships with district special education administrators, who attend SEPTA meetings. This will give you easy access to these professionals, should you have questions or concerns.

4. Be a player and get the “skinny.”

You will reap enormous benefits if you rise to the highest levels of PTA leadership. If you are the PTA president of your school or a member of your District PTA Council, you will meet with your Superintendent of Schools on a regular basis.  He or she will update you on news, issues and problems and ask for your support. If you are a person who likes to be in the know, you will be informed of everything from district accomplishments to drug busts. You will have the information first and will be the one to share it with your members.  The superintendent will also solicit your opinion and may ask for you to poll your members on various issues, such as proposed budget cuts.

As a key stakeholder, you may also be asked to serve on interview committees, citizens’ advisory committees, and task forces.  The superintendent may also recruit you to help plan district-wide events, and to request that PTA help sponsor them.

5. Hone your skills and show what you can do.

The more you give of yourself and the more you hone your skills, the more valuable you will become to your PTA, your school, your district and community.  The seeds you plant may bear fruit in unexpected ways. Is your main job CEO of your household for the foreseeable future? Then why not put your accounting expertise to work as a treasurer? Or use your organizing skills to plan events? Utilizing your background and experience can help close gaps in your resume. Continue to dazzle everyone with your generous contribution of your talent, time and energy, and your volunteer experience could lead to paid employment!


The Music of Giving Back

musiccampAs summer draws to a close, it’s nice to remember that education is a 12-month-proposition, and that good teaching and good parenting are infinite.

Brian Biederman, 24, a middle school music teacher in Nashville, Tenn., fulfilled his lifetime dream of starting a music camp this summer. The Littlestone Summer Music Academy brought together 23 seventh through twelfth graders from diverse backgrounds to make music together.

As a youngster, Brian discovered his own niche when he attended music camp for the first time when he was 11-years-old.  He later worked at music camp for several summers, and formed lifetime friendships as he honed his musical talent.

“My dad said that camp for me was what I did in between school.”

“I attended the same camp as my dad,” he recalled. “I didn’t want to go to band camp at first, but my dad told me to try it for two weeks. Within three days, I wanted to extend my stay for two weeks. I ended up staying four weeks.  I knew immediately that I had to be part of the music camp community one day –as a patron, participant or to start my own camp.”

About 10 years ago, Brian, a 2010 graduate of Vanderbilt University in Nashville who holds a master’s degree from Vanderbilt’s Peabody School of Education, began planning how he would start his own music camp.

This year his dream came to fruition.

Brian comes from a family tradition of not only music, but also of community service.  His parents, Debbie and Mitchell Biederman of Commack, N.Y., are co-presidents of Helping Hands, a Long Island based charity that provides essentials to struggling families. With the advice and support of his parents, Brian created an educational non-profit organization.

“I contacted everyone I knew,” Brian recalled. “I found a private school — Montgomery Bell Academy — which agreed to let me hold the camp there.”

Brian kept cutting the tuition until he got 23 students to sign up.  He also made special arrangements for those who couldn’t afford to pay, and asked friends and professors from the Vanderbilt community for donations to help pay the staff.

“I wanted to let anyone come who wanted to,” he said. “I wanted to provide an opportunity for young people who don’t feel comfortable in a school environment. And I wanted to create a community where kids were comfortable and confident in looking at and playing music.”

Brian said he endeavored to blur the lines to have a mix of kids from diverse ethnic and socio-economic levels making music together.

“Let’s all make music together; it’s not where you come from,” he said. “Music is bigger than all of us.”

The finale of the summer season was a performance by Littlestone’s Festival Choir. Brian said the concert celebrated the diverse cultures of the students, and all students and staff participated.

For next year, Brian is looking to recruit more students, bring in guest artists, and raise money for more scholarships for students who would otherwise be unable to attend.  He also hopes to start a community choir in Nashville.

http://www.newschannel5.com/category/125220/video-landing-page?clipId=9168869&autostart=true


Memo to Anthony Weiner: The “G” Word is a Blessing, Not a Curse

 

“What are you going to do about it, grandpa?” — Candidate for NYC mayor Anthony Weiner to his 69-year-old opponent George McDonald at an AARP-Univision forum, according to the New York Post. McDonald reportedly told Weiner, 48, to not touch him again after they exchanged greetings. Read more: http://swampland.time.com/2013/08/06/anthony-weiner-calls-opponent-grandpa-at-aarp-event/#ixzz2bNyBkg69

“What are you going to do about it, grandpa?”
— Candidate for NYC mayor Anthony Weiner to his 69-year-old opponent George McDonald at an AARP-Univision forum, according to the New York Post.
Read more: http://swampland.time.com/2013/08/06/anthony-weiner-calls-opponent-grandpa-at-aarp-event/#ixzz2bNyBkg69

When Anthony Weiner referred to George McDonald, his 69-year-old rival, as “Grandpa” in an AARP Mayoral Forum this week, it set off a firestorm.  Beth Finkel, director of AARP in New York State, called the remark, “unfortunate,” saying that “a person’s age should not be a factor in politics, or anything else.”

As someone who does not vote in New York City, I have no dog in this fight. But as a grandparent, I have a big problem with this entire story line.

To begin with, ageism is nasty — just as racism, sexism, and all of the other “isms” demean us as human beings. It should have no place in politics, in the workplace, or in our lives. Our society still has a lot to learn from other cultures, which venerate the wisdom of age. When are we going to stop being so shallow?

In any case, 69 is not all that old nowadays, when people are living well into their eighties and nineties. Ronald Reagan was 69 when he was elected president in 1980; Queen Elizabeth is going strong at 87. And should Hillary Clinton run for president in 2016, she would be 69.

When did “Grandpa” become a pejorative word?  As a young child, my Grandpa was the love of my life. He was a consistent nurturing and attentive companion to my brother and me during our weekly visits to my grandparents’ apartment.  Although he did not have the benefit of higher education himself, he was a strong believer in life-long learning. He had us learn the capitals of every state in the U.S., all of the presidents and vice presidents, and the most difficult spelling words.

He would then test us on the assigned topics the following week, emulating the quiz shows of that era. For every correct answer, he would reward us with pocket change. He would take us to the local soda fountain and order cherry sodas for us.  He died when I was 12 years old, leaving me bereft — but I keep him alive by remembering. The taste of cherry soda still brings back sweet memories of my grandpa.

Today, grandparents can be 42 or 92. It doesn’t necessarily mean you are “old” if you have a grandchild. It depends on what age you had your children, and then when your kids embark on childbearing.

Many grandparents nowadays are vigorous enough to be raising their grandchildren when their children can’t. And those who aren’t raising them – if they are fortunate – are involved in their grandchildren’s lives. Grandparents babysit; they read to their grandchildren, they play with them; some even travel with their grandchildren. And they pass on family stories and values.

I imagine that many – if not most — children and grandchildren are appreciative of the unconditional love, help and support they receive from grandparents.  And if the grandparents are not young at heart, healthy, strong, and able to provide assistance, shouldn’t they still be respected, loved, and appreciated? I would hope so.

You have only to listen to grandparents to know that most of them live for their grandchildren, and relish them in a way they could not enjoy their own children when they were small. My three grandchildren enrich my life with their smiles, their insights, and their love. What a joy it is to see the world anew through their eyes!

I sincerely hope that Anthony Weiner becomes a grandpa one day, and learns that far from being an insult, being a grandparent is the ultimate reward and honor.

The Living Memories Project, by Meryl Ain and her co-authors, will be published this winter by Little Miami Publishing Company.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/07/aarp-anthony-weiner_n_3719222.html

http://www.wjla.com/articles/2013/08/anthny-weiner-s-grandpa-comment-criticized-92427.html


9 Tips for Parents If Your Child is Changing Schools

newscoolMy last blog discussed my reactions about our recent move. I’m happy to report we are settling into our new home, and I thank everyone for all of the good wishes.

The anxiety I experienced as an adult made me think of all of the children who may be changing schools come September. Whether your family is moving — or your child is changing schools for any number of other reasons — there are steps you can take now to ease the transition for your child.

Whatever the age of your child, it’s a good idea to arrange a visit to the new school. Although school is not in session over the summer, a visit will demystify the new school environment by enabling your child to see the physical building, including classrooms, playground, and cafeteria. The principal may be around, and as the school year approaches, teachers may be at the school setting up their classrooms. Meeting some of the school personnel will familiarize your child with the new cast of characters in his or her life.

There are also many excellent children’s books for young children that deal with school, such as Curious George Goes to School by Margret Rey, and The Berenstain Bears Go to School by Jan and Stan Berenstain. My all time favorite book for children and adults of all ages is Oh, the Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss. It inspires kids of all ages to be bold and courageous in new situations.

Here are some tips to help you and your child become comfortable in the new school.

1.   It is normal for both you and your child to be anxious about entering a new school, but if you have concerns, please don’t express them to your child. Express confidence and optimism about his/her ability to meet the new challenges.

2.   Look for opportunities for your child to meet his/her classmates over the summer. Check with the school principal, PTA, religious and social organizations and other groups to find connections.

3.   If your child has special needs, such as a learning disability or food allergy, work with the new school as far in advance as possible to determine placement and to line up services and support.

4.   Keep the spark of learning alive during the summer. Students can lose from one to three months of learning during the summer, so plan to keep your child engaged by encouraging reading, word games, math and nature activities. Simply cooking and baking with kids can help develop math, reading, and science skills.

5.   Call the PTA or PTO president and introduce yourself. Parent organization leaders are in a good position to share information and issues about the new school with you. Ask how you can contribute your skills and interests. Getting actively involved in your child’s new school benefits you and your child! Research indicates that the more involved parents are, the more successful their own children will be.

6.   Know the names, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses of your children’s teachers, principal, and school nurse. By all means, contact them if you have questions or concerns.

7.   Become familiar with your school and school district websites, and check them for calendar changes, meeting announcements and minutes, news, policies and procedures, and other information.

8.   Check your mail for the publication of the annual calendar/directory. Keep it in an accessible place.

9.   Find out how your school communicates important information to parents and then be alert to those messages. Is it by automated phone message, e-mail blasts, electronically through systems such as Parent Portal, newsletters, snail-mail, or in your kids’ backpacks?

Staying on top of information and issues will enable you to be a proactive and informed parent. Your ongoing engagement, support, and encouragement will expedite your child’s transition into the new school.


Moving Memories

photo-8When people ask me whether I miss the house our family lived in for more than three decades, my knee jerk reaction is an unqualified NO.

It wasn’t until our eldest son expressed the desire to “see my house one last time,” that I thought about what, if anything, the house meant to me.

Through his eyes, I saw our house as the home we made.

It was the house in which he took his first steps, the house in which we brought home from the hospital two more newborn baby boys, and in which we celebrated all of their accomplishments and milestones. It was the house in which I cried when the babies were old enough to go to kindergarten — and then camp and college.

My eyes welled up as I pictured my parents parking their Buick in front of our house and coming in for their weekly visits  — always carrying food.  There were countless holiday celebrations and lifecycle events with our parents, siblings, extended family and friends.

It was the place in which we entertained prospective daughters-in-law and where I pondered what it meant to be a mother-in-law. It was the same house in which we were consoled by our family and friends after my father, mother, mother-in-law, and father-in-law died over the span of seven years.

But before that it was a party house where I catered numerous kid and adult birthday celebrations, anniversaries and assorted get-togethers.

It was also the place where we grappled with problems and analyzed issues. We searched for faith and attempted to inculcate values. It was the sanctuary in which we shared our disappointments, rejections, and hurts, and sought words of wisdom to comfort each other.  It was simply put – home.

So much has changed in the world since we moved into our first house so long ago. We had been married less than three years, younger than all three of our children are now.  There were no cell phones, cable TV or Internet.  There were 34 children on the block, and after dinner each evening there was a friendly parade of strollers. Neighbors rang the bell bearing pies to welcome us.

But that changed over time, as the mothers went back to work and the children grew up and moved on.

The house felt empty and quiet. The time was right for us to start anew.

The Optimum commercial says: “Moving is hard.” And it is. It is emotional; it is stressful; it is exhausting. What to save, what to toss — as lives are relived through photos and papers and objects.

Do I miss the house in which we raised our children? No, I do not miss the physical house. It was merely the canvas in which we lived our life as a family.

The memories do not reside in the house; they live forever in our hearts. We take them with us to our new home.

The Living Memories Project, by Meryl Ain and her co-authors, will be published later this year by Little Miami Publishing Company.


10 Tips to Encourage Summer Learning

FDRhseThe hot weather is signaling to us that summer is on the horizon. School – with all of its structured routines, homework, testing, and projects — will soon be over.  Summer – with its outdoor play, excursions to the parks and beaches, and vacations — will replace the frenetic daily school schedules.  Both kids and parents are likely to be more relaxed!

But did you know that when students return to school after summer vacation, they’ve often lost one to three months of learning?

Research indicates that math skills are most in jeopardy. Elementary students at all socio-economic levels typically lose math skills, while middle class students often make slight gains in reading. But the weak economy has taken its toll on families across the board. Fewer parents will be able to afford camps, tutors, and the plethora of other summer programs that can enrich learning during the summer. And school budget cuts have also reduced free summer educational programs that existed in the recent past.

So what’s a parent to do? Here are 10 tips for maintaining your child’s skills and learning levels during the summer.

  • Foster the expectation that summer is a time for learning. Ask your child what he/she would like to learn over the summer. It’s also helpful if you are a role model for learning. Discuss with your children what you plan on learning this summer.
  • Encourage reading by providing your children with plenty of books that interest them. Use school summer reading lists and library grade-level reading suggestions. Visit the library often and check out special summer events. Read with your children, and discuss the books they are reading with them. If you are really ambitious, organize a book club with a few of your child’s friends.
  • Understand that any topic of interest to your child can be a source of learning. For example, if your child is interested in baseball, surround him or her with baseball books and magazines. Watching a baseball game and keeping score or cataloguing baseball cards can be a lesson in statistics, i.e., RBI, ERA.
  • Car trips can evolve into math or geography lessons. Instead of the perennial kid question: “Are we there yet,” ask your children to estimate and calculate the travel time to a destination. Encourage your kids to recognize different state license plates, and talk about those states with them, fostering their geography skills.
  • For social studies learning, make day trips to local historical sites, such as Teddy Roosevelt’s home at Sagamore Hill in Oyster Bay, or FDR’s home in Hyde Park, NY. Overnight trips to Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Gettysburg, and Boston, offer a wealth of information about our nation’s history. And for science skills, don’t overlook children’s science museums and zoos, as well as outdoor natural wonders to explore, such as caves, beaches, and parks.
  • Let your child calculate what the change should be at stores, restaurants, and activities that require admission fees. If your children are old enough, ask them to calculate tips in restaurants.
  • Try word games, including board games, such as Scrabble, and crossword puzzles and Sudoku to build vocabulary. Encourage your child to learn a certain number of new words during the summer.
  • Sharpen your child’s math skills by playing games with him or her that require computation, such as Monopoly or dominoes. Let your child be the scorekeeper or “banker.” You can also use flash cards to help review addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Go online for worksheets that match your child’s learning needs and skill level. Many of these can be printed or downloaded for free.
  • Don’t overlook the kitchen as a wonderful learning lab.  Involve your children in cooking and preparing meals, and they will exercise their reading, math and science skills. For example, have them read recipes, measure ingredients, and observe how the combination of different ingredients leads to the creation of something amazing.  For advanced learning, ask questions, such as how many pints are in a quart, or what made the dough rise?
  • Inspire your children to write about their summer learning experiences. Remember to keep learning fun. You want your children to return to school in September with improved skills and a renewed love of learning!

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