Author, Teacher, Psychologist and Speaker

Monday Musing


Posted by on Oct 8, 2012 in Blog, Monday Musing, On Writing | 2 comments

One of the finest moments of the annual SCBWIC conference in Charlotte, NC last week-end was the keynote address by Molly O’Neil, Children’s & Young Adult book editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books.

During Molly’s inspirational speech, “We Are All Apprentices: Learning Publishing’s Past While Writing & Illustrating for the Future“, she read to us the following passage from Bobbie Pyron’s A Dog’s Way Home.


A Dog’s Way Home
“I got to follow my north star, Abby honey. Being a professional musician is my dream.”

“Just like the three wise men followed that other star to Bethlehem?” I said.

“Just like.” Daddy nodded like he was agreeing with himself. “Most folks got a north star in their life – something that gives their life extra meaning. Mine is music.”

Without even thinking, I said, “Mine is Tam.”

Tam is Abby’s Shetland sheepdog. An accident separates them and this story is about their efforts to reunite. Not only is Abby certain that Tam is her north star, she is confident that she is Tam’s. It is an excellent story, and a great example of what it means to have a “north star”. And how empty it feels to be without one.

Abby’s story stirred something in me. I realized I had lost my own north star. Certainly, I had had many connections, directions, and paths throughout my life. My star’s description had changed many times. But suddenly I felt a loss, a hole, an ache deep within me – and I knew – I didn’t have that connection, that direction, that beacon.


Ask people what a “north star” is and among the varied answers might be:

It’s Polaris, the brightest star in the sky (even though there are at least 50 stars brighter) and the star that’s most useful for navigating in a northern direction, either by land or by sea.
Or a mountain in Colorado,
North Star Mountain CO
Or a small town in Ohio,
North Star OH
Or a retreat center in California.
North Star Retreat
To others it is a connection,
A beacon,


A moral compass,

Moral Compass


If you find yourself way off course, lost and surprised where your life direction has taken you. If you wake up one day and realize that you aren’t where you want to be – where you thought you would be – where you were headed. If you have lost your way, strayed off your path, changed direction in midstream – you may have lost your north star.

Eye of the storm

If you feel as if your life is trapped in the eye of a hurricane, swirling in the center of a tornado, plummeting through the crevice of an earthquake. If you find that you are sometimes confused, dazed, unhappy, and lonely. If you wonder or question where is your center, your control, your balance – you may need a compass. A beacon. A navigational instrument.

navigational tools


For me, a north star is means of survival. It gives my life meaning, purpose, and direction.


Do you want to change direction and don’t know how to chart your course?

First of all, keep in mind that you can have more than one north star.

For example, some define the north star as anything that guides a person’s decisions based on morals or virtues. This is the moral compass. Certainly an examination of your conscience and spirit joined with your faith will lead you to this north star.

Others, like well-known author and life coach, Martha Beck, describe the north star as the “place where the relationship exists between you and your right life, the ultimate realization of your potential for happiness.” This is the connection. This discovery is made based on a multitude of personal choices, past experiences, desires, needs, fears, ambitions, and emotions.

Still others view the north star as a guiding force that gives their life purpose, meaning, and direction. This is the beacon. This is the “star(s)” that to me is the most vital. This is the zenith of my life. What is my primary goal, my defining reason, my ultimate climax? What do I want more than anything else? Like a character in a novel: What do I want more than anything and what will I do to get it?

Second, your north star may change over time, as you grow and change direction or path. We are constantly evolving and learning new things about ourselves. We might need to reevaluate, refocus, renew.

Once you discover your north star, set your internal compass and follow. Let nothing distract you. Just like Tam and Abby in A Dog’s Way Home.

“I reckon they were all following their north star, just like Daddy.

Thinking of Daddy and his north star made me think of Tam, my north star.  My heart got all heavy and sad.”

My north stars are out there in the universe waiting and shining on me guiding me home. Where is yours?

North Star

For more:

A Dog’s Way Home, Bobbie Pyron

Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live, Martha Beck

Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom, Rick Hanson PhD

Nike, my North Star




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Posted by on Sep 10, 2012 in Blog, Monday Musing | 4 comments

There are very few moments that etch into our memory. Given the number of breaths we take each day, we would be hard pressed to account for each accompanying activity. Then there are those events that take our breath away. And those are seared like soulful statues in our hearts.

I am old enough to have several such memories. The assassinations of John and Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., John Glenn’s first orbit into space, Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon, Oklahoma City, Columbine, Virginia Tech to name a few.

But, like many of you, nothing has ever impacted me like September 11, 2001.

And I, like so many others, used words to help me cope:


The Day We Became Americans – again

She had always been here, our America.

And, though we loved her, we had been treating her in much the same way as we treat others that we love.

We held her in our hearts, but we took her for granted.

And We:

Sang to her only at ball games & on the 4th of July.

Saluted her when the parades passed us by.

Asked God to bless her at a rally or celebration.

Spoke about her only in terms of “the nation”.

Stood up to defend her only when freedom was tried.

Paused but for a moment when a soldier died.

But on September 11, 2001, that image changed forever.

And Americans:

Stood together, arm in arm, in shock and in shame.

Hugged strangers, though we didn’t know their name.

Flooded New York and D.C. to lend a hand.

Praised the champions of police, fire, and medicine.

Searched for loved ones in the dust and the rubble.

Gave what anyone needed – it wasn’t too much trouble.

Reached deep into our pocket and our soul.

Served our neighbor – it was our only goal.

Rolled up our sleeves to donate our blood.

Prayed to Allah, Jesus, Jehovah and God.

Cried tears of thanksgiving, loss, and fear.

Clung to the values and freedoms we hold dear.

Flocked to stores in search of old glory.

Listened to survivors tell us their story.

Vowed to fight the perpetrators of this crime.

Pledged to stand together through time.

Sang The Battle Hymn of the Republic and God Bless America.

Called parents, spouses, and children to say: “I love ya!”

Some of my other favorite 9-11 tributes:

Hole in the World” is a song by the Eagles, written by Don Henley and Glenn Frey in response to the September 11, 2001 attacks.


Alan Jackson’s “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning” expressed his thoughts and emotions. “I didn’t want to write a patriotic song”, Jackson said. “And I didn’t want it to be vengeful, either. But I didn’t want to forget about how I felt and how I knew other people felt that day.”


Bruce Springsteen sang “My City of Ruins” to open the September 21, 2001 America: A Tribute to Heroes, introducing the number as “prayer for our fallen brothers and sisters.”


I Was Here”, sung by Beyoncé Knowles, was motivated by the 9-11 attacks and written by Diane Warren. It is about wanting to leave an impact on the world before her life comes to an end.


Neil Young’s “Let’s Roll“, was his response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.


Billy Joel performed “New York State of Mind” at the NYC 9-11 Tribute concert.

Taylor Swift’s “Didn’t They” describes the feeling that a lot of people had when they heard the news.


Paul Simon performed his hit “The Sounds of Silence” at a 9-11 memorial in Central Park.


Budweiser’s famous 9-11 commercial tribute aired only one time but has been playing on You Tube for years.


And Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” has become a 9-11 anthem.


What were some of the words, music, art you found comforting?


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Posted by on Aug 27, 2012 in Blog, Monday Musing, On Writing | 10 comments

I was nominated for THE LIEBSTER BLOG AWARD by the very talented “DLKoontz”.


According to my research on THE LIEBSTER BLOG AWARD, it is given to “up and coming bloggers.” (With followers numbering from less than 200 to 3000 – that part was hard to decipher!) Bottom line is “Liebster” is German for “favorite”. This award is the “favorite blog award” . I am honored! Thank you, DL!

The rules for this award state that you must answer the 11 questions asked of you by the Blogger who gave you this award. Then you have to list 11 random things about yourself. And finally, choose 11 of your own Leibster bloggers to whom to pass the torch with 11 of your own questions.



1.  If money were no object, where in the world would you live? (Be specific!)

This is a difficult question because on any given day, I want to live any number of places. But if I had to say, today (and most days) I would choose to live on the Hawaiian island of Maui – Lahaina to be specific.

2.  What is your favorite color?

Black. Always has been black – much to my mother’s disappointment as she wanted a girlie girl in love with pink!

3.  What household chore have you been ignoring the most and why?

Inside – cleaning out the cupboards and closets. Why? Because I need to unload stuff and it is so hard to decide what I will never again need/want.

Outside – weeding. Why? Because it never ends!

4.  If you could return to age 20 again, what would you do differently for your future?

Wow, the questions aren’t getting any easier. Believe it or not I am not a fan of Frank’s “My Way “and the no regrets phraseology. Although as a psychologist, I believe that regrets are a stressor we do not need because we cannot go back, I often think of what I would have done differently. Yet, I know that it has to be an “if I knew then what I know now” approach – because that kid would have more than likely taken the same path. Shorter answer stayed the course and not allowed other people dictate what I should be doing. I would have stayed in law school.

5.  Do you play a musical instrument? (If not, what hobby do you enjoy most?)

I do. I play piano and saxophone.

6.  What is your all-time favorite book? (Bible and cookbooks do not count)

Yikes! This is a much harder choice than where to live. But since I have to choose just one – I will – The Giver by Lois Lowry.

7.  What is the most wonderful unexpected moment you’ve ever had?

Just one? Living post cancer.

8.  Mountains or Ocean?

Maui – I get both!

9.  If you had to be stuck in a hospital bed for three months, and so did another…who would you want in the next bed?

Lucille Ball – because laughter is the best medicine!

10. If you could have lived any time in history, when would you have wished to live (assuming good health)?

Though this is not an easy time in many ways, I don’t think that I would choose to live at any time in the past. I love history and although many eras seem exciting, desirable and romantic, I appreciate the bounty of the struggles that my ancestors endured so that I can enjoy the freedoms, health, and opportunities that I have in this age.

11. If your house were on fire, what one possession would you grab on your way out?

Any living being in my sight! If I am alone, this computer.



1.  I love the ocean. One of my favorite childhood memories is seeing the ocean for the first time. Rockaway Beach. New York. First “slice”. First spumoni Italian Ice.

2.  I value honesty in a relationship above all else. Love and all those other emotions are wonderful – but a great bond is built on a solid foundation of truth.

3.  I have an addiction to television. I attribute this to my mother leaving me in front of the TV in my playpen to be entertained by Howdy Dowdy, Roy Rogers, and Lassie.

4.  My best vacation was traveling through France and Italy with my mother

5.  From a very early age I have had a love affair with cats. Up until this past March, I was never without one in my life.

6.  I love research and learning new things.

7.  I am fascinated by hummingbirds. They are the tiniest, fastest, most specific creatures.

8.  I love Body Combat, the Les Mills mixed marital arts cardio training.

9.  When I was little, I wanted to pitch for the Cincinnati Reds. I would still like a try-out!

10. I skipped Kindergarten. I entered first grade at age 5 and have been playing catch-up ever since.

11. Every now and again, I remind myself that my life is a miracle and I am grateful for every breath I take!



1.   Joyce Meyer Hostetter

2.  Joan York Edwards 

3.   Roxie Hanna

4.   Stacy Cacciatore  

5.   Christine Fonseca

6.   Laurel Snyder

7.   Maureen Wartski

8.   Linda Martin Anderson

9.   Carol Baldwin

10. Kristina McBride Purnhagen

11. Keiki Hendrix


1.  If you were on death row, what would be your “Last Meal” menu?

2.  What is your greatest fear?

3.  You are packing for a 6 month tour in space – who is in your backpack?

4.  What is your favorite time of year and why?

5.  If you could relive any year of your life – which one would it be and why?

6.  What is the one word your friends would use to describe you?

7.  Beatles or Elvis?

8.  What’s your favorite guilty pleasure?

9.  Imagine you were president, what legislation would you most want congress to pass?

10. Dogs or cats?

11. What would be the title song of your life?

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Back to School

Posted by on Aug 20, 2012 in Blog, Monday Musing | 6 comments

In the Beginning

Today is the first day of school for many of our nation’s children, teachers, and parents. I remember my first day back – first as a student, then as a teacher and later as a school psychologist. To say that my emotions were often a mixed bag would be an understatement – an excitement sundae topped with sprinkles of apprehension, sadness and panic! Whether I was the new kid in the back of the class or the new teacher in the front of the room, my butterflies had butterflies!

In each instance, frequently what saved me was a strong arm wrapped around my shoulders telling me that it would be alright!

According to the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), “Getting a new school year off to a good start can influence children’s attitude, confidence, and performance both socially and academically. The transition from August to September can be difficult for both children and parents. Even children who are eager to return to class must adjust to the greater levels of activity, structure, and, for some, pressures associated with school life.”

So I want to offer just a few of my favorite “Back-to-School Tips” to help you get started:

For Students

  • Emotional readiness – not just for the first day, but for every day! Learn how to relax and remain calm throughout the day. Practice breathing exercises, visualization techniques, and positive thinking.


  • Physical readiness – be sure to get enough sleep and eat well balanced meals – especially breakfast – and get plenty of exercise.


  • Preparedness – get ready for each new day of school before it arrives! Make sure you have the supplies, materials, and books you need. Have your study space ready when you come home each day – your room cleaned, your desk cleared, and your computer serviced and ready.


  • At school – be on time – to school and to each class, meeting, and extracurricular function. Come to class with pencils, paper, and any other needed supplies. Sit close to the front or near the center of the class. Take notes. Be organized. Ask questions when you don’t understand. Write down all directions and assignments. Be especially quiet and well-behaved when visitors are in the room.


  • Respect – be interested in what the teacher is saying. Raise your hand and volunteer answers frequently. Don’t argue with the teacher in front of others. If there is something you don’t think is fair, talk to the teacher in private. When the teacher has gone out of the way to help you, be sure to say thanks. Offer to help the teacher when he or she needs help. Listen to other authority figures in and around the school. Be conscientious, courteous, and respectful of your peers.


  • Social Pressures – you might already have a lot of friends in your classes on the first day. But it’s a great day to get to know some other kids. Make the first move, especially with students who are new to your school. Keep an eye out for your fellow students who might be experiencing any difficulties, such as anxiety, or fear. Report any instances of bullying or trouble to your teachers.


  • Extracurricular Activities – make time for school clubs, sports teams, and activities. Everyone is good at something. Be an important part of your school and expand your skills, talents, and proficiency.


  • At home – have a regular place to keep your book bag, and supplies – both at home and at school. Get some shelves, mini chests, binders and notebooks in which to keep your supplies, assignments, extra paper, etc.  Set a regular homework time each day to study and to get assignments completed on time. And make it a habit to review notes, go to the library or computer lab, get a head-start on your homework, or research that big term paper. Learn to prioritize.


For Parents

  • Emotional readiness – not just for the first day, but for every day! Learn how to relax and remain calm throughout the day. Practice breathing exercises, visualization techniques, and positive thinking. Visit your child’s school. Become familiar with the teachers, and the rest of the staff.  Let your children know you care about their experiences and happenings at school.


  • Physical readiness – be sure your child is in good physical and mental health. Discuss any concerns you have over your child’s emotional or psychological development with your pediatrician.


  • Preparedness – go shopping for school supplies together. Some elementary school teachers will provide specific supply lists for their classes. Your area’s office supply store may also have local school supplies lists on hand. Shopping from a teacher-supplied list will ensure your child has the right supplies, and could save you a ton of money and time.


  • At school – go to your child’s Open House Night. Get to know the teachers, ask questions, learn what is expected, address problems and find out what’s going on in the classroom. Good parent-teacher relationships lead to good student-teacher relationships!


  • Respect – show your child that you respect the teacher and the staff at his or her school. Remember that they are on your side! They care about your children and want them to be successful. If your child’s teacher contacts you about a problem or something that happened at school, understand that the teacher is trying to work with you to resolve any conflicts that may be getting in the way of your child’s success. Trust in the teacher’s feedback. If a teacher reports a particular behavior that you haven’t seen, realize that the classroom and home environments are quite different, and oftentimes children behave differently when forced to follow rules and work with peers. Listen to what the teacher has to say and work with him/her to find a solution. If you want to discuss something with the teacher, schedule an appointment or a phone consultation. Teachers cannot leave their classrooms during the day to talk to a parent that just “shows up”. If you’re having an issue with the teacher, your child, the subject matter or the classroom in general, talk directly with the teacher before going to the principal or other administrators.


  • Social Pressures – prepare your child for social situations in the elementary school classroom. A certain level of social anxiety is normal for elementary school aged kids. Teach them to introduce herself or himself and make friends. If your child is older, role play various social scenarios with them—from sharing classroom supplies to encounters with older kids.


  • Extracurricular Activities – go for quality, not quantity. Your child will benefit most from one or two activities that are fun, reinforce social development, and teach new skills. Consider your family schedule and personal energy level, choosing activities that can be easily managed without interfering with dinner time, other children’s needs, and study time. Try to find some activities where your child can carpool with other kids.


  • At home – support positive study habits early! Create a homework center—a specific area in the house where your child can do homework each evening. Make sure that it’s in a quiet place and stocked with enough supplies, such as pencils, erasers, paper, a folder or two, and a calculator. Check children’s agendas and take-home folders every night. Check on homework regularly. It’s important to review your child’s homework, but if they get an answer wrong, take the time to help them understand why, rather than just giving them the right answer. Establish a regular routine each night. This includes having children pack their backpacks the night before to make sure they have everything they need for school the next day. Keep encouraging literacy at home. Read frequently with your kids and make frequent trips to your local library.  Keep books everywhere—in the car, in the kitchen, and anywhere you spend time. Make special weekend trips to the library to freshen up the collection.

For Teachers

  • Emotional Readiness – not just for the first day, but for every day! Learn how to relax and remain calm throughout the day. Practice breathing exercises, visualization techniques, and positive thinking.


  • Physical Readiness – be sure to get enough sleep and eat well balanced meals – especially breakfast – and get plenty of exercise.


  • Preparedness – get ready for each new day of school the day before it arrives! Make  sure to pack up all materials, books, and papers that you may have taken home with you.


  • At School – have lesson plans ready for the first week. Have an agenda on the board before the students arrive, outlining your plan, goals, and strategies. Have a “warm up” activity every day to give the students something to do at the beginning of class while you are taking care of housekeeping duties. Have an icebreaker activity for the first day to help you and your students to get to know each other. Create, post, and discuss your classroom rules and responsibilities, grading system, homework policies, etc. Get to know the staff that control the multimedia of the school and can make your life much easier. Make sure any multimedia equipment you get works. For example the overhead bulb might need to be changed. Get to know the secretarial staff. They will be invaluable as sources of information. Get to know the secretarial staff. They will be invaluable as sources of information.


  • Respect the Student –be consistent in the treatment of all students. Handle each discipline problem as it arises. Do not make threats, and particularly, do not make threats in anger that you will be unwilling or unable to back up later. If it is necessary to punish students for their misbehavior, make the punishment fit the infraction. Do not demand punishments that are contrary to the policies of the school. Make only those rules that are necessary to your effective teaching. Have a reason for the rules in your classroom and explain those reasons to the students. Recognize incorrigible students and have them removed from the classroom. The learning rights of the other students should not be infringed upon by one or two persons who have no desire to learn and wish only to disturb the class. The golden rule is not a one way street. Choose your words and actions carefully and expect the same from your students.


  • Social Pressures – help students deal with social pressures. As teachers, we have the training, tools and experience to help reduce school peer pressure among students. We can encourage students to develop socially acceptable interactions and grow up to live happily and effectively amongst their peers in society. Appropriate attitudes and the inherent capacity to adjust and improve help establish a positive atmosphere in the classroom to help our students handle school peer pressure. Teachers can help students identify skills needed to resist negative peer pressure. Thought-provoking discussions can identify situations which illustrate negative peer pressure, and determine the possibilities for students to become more resilient and respond in positive ways.


  • Extracurricular Activities – encourage and provide opportunities for students to participate in clubs, music, drama, sports and other activities that are appropriate for them and will serve as compliment to their academic endeavors. Teachers should also engage in activities with students and other teachers that will enable their lives to be more complete. In the classroom, some extra fun activities:

Top 5 Ways to Welcome Students Back to School

Fabulous First Day Ideas

Free Back to School Printables

Icebreakers, Warm-ups, and Energizers

Icebreaker Activities

Positive School Climate

What are some of your “First Day of School” memories?

Do you have any special tips for parents, students, or teachers?

I want to wish a happy and successful school year to you all!!


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Posted by on Jul 30, 2012 in Blog, Monday Musing | 2 comments



I am taking a couple weeks of this to:
















I will be back soon, hopefully filled with refreshing words!






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Posted by on Jul 23, 2012 in Blog, Monday Musing | 4 comments

Once again a nation collectively mourns death at the hands of a young man who looks like the “boy next door.”

Growing up, James “Jimmy” Holmes was a popular kid who “got along with everybody”. He was athletic – often chosen first by his classmates because of his speed. He was friendly. He loved music. He was, as one friend said, a “normal dude”. Another childhood friend said that he was a nice, quiet kid who played and got along well with all the other kids. He was not a loner back then.

He was already proficient in computer programming at the age of eleven, setting up a class website. An honor student, he was competitive academically – often challenging his friends to get better grades. Holmes was raised upper middle-class in suburban San Diego and played Junior Varsity Soccer in middle school and Varsity Soccer in high school, where he also ran cross country. He had been a camp counselor.

As he grew a little older, according to one of his teachers, he was quiet and shy. He grew up in the Presbyterian Church. His pastor said that he never initiated conversation, that he was extremely introverted. Some people began to notice he kept to himself more, but he was still excelling in his studies, especially in the sciences.

He graduated with honors from the University of California-Riverside with a Bachelor of Science degree in Neuroscience. Holmes was a member of several honors societies, including Phi Beta Kappa and Golden Key. He was an intern at the Salk Institute, where he designed a computer program to illustrate brain injuries. He was a doctoral student at the University of Colorado.

His Colorado neighbors described Holmes as a recluse and a loner, who always kept curtains closed and lights off at night. He was isolated, by now, with very few friends. He had no web presence on Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace or Twitter.

When did that “good” kid go “bad”? Why does a shy boy, an honor student, an athlete, a budding scientist become a young man we will fear, even hate? Where is the turning point? There are many influences on behavior. Probably no one thing would cause a person to incite this complete chaos. But could the comic book itself, which has a scene with this type of violence, be a contributing factor.

When apprehended, Holmes told law enforcement “I am the Joker”. He had painted his hair red, like Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight. According to some sources, there is new evidence suggesting that he was inspired by the Batman series of comic books and/or movies.

Some have cited the 1986 comic by Frank Miller. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns contains a scene in which a lunatic kills people in a movie theater. A similar scene occurs in The Dark Knight Rises where a violent gang, led by a masked villain, blasts into a packed football stadium, and fires guns and throws explosives on the innocent crowd.  In Frank Miller’s comic book series, The Dark Knight Returns, the Joker murders an audience by deploying “smile gas.” Holmes began his massacre by setting off a smoke bomb in the theater.

I have no idea why James resorted to this unspeakable act. There are numerous reasons/causes for aggressive, violent, and/or deadly behavior. Some of which are:

  • Previous aggressive or violent behavior
  • Being the victim of physical abuse and/or sexual abuse
  • Exposure to violence in the home and/or community
  • Genetic (family heredity) factors
  • Exposure to violence in media (TV, movies, etc.)
  • Use of drugs and/or alcohol
  • Presence of firearms in home
  • Combination of stressful family socioeconomic factors (poverty, severe deprivation, marital breakup, single parenting, unemployment, loss of support from extended family)
  • Brain damage from head injury

Some warning signs might be:

  • Intense anger
  • Frequent loss of temper or blow-ups
  • Extreme irritability
  • Extreme impulsiveness
  • Becoming easily frustrated

Do you think that the prevalence of media violence – video games, television, movies, music – contributes to the kind of deadly force that James Holmes enacted upon the patrons in that Aurora, CO movie theater?

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