Tag Archives: community

Mandala Project

This week, our community was honored to host five monks for a week long mandala creation project. I had never heard of a mandala, but learned that it is a piece of artwork created by taking millions of grains of sand in various color and laying them out in geometric patterns creating a spiritual piece of artwork . Mandalas have been created for hundreds of years. The meticulous work takes days to create and it is thought that they create positive energy in the universe.

I was a bit skeptical at first but since I was asked to take photos of the opening ceremonies I decided to check it out. Listening to the guttural moans and chants coming out of these monks was mystifying, intriguing and enthralling! I cannot think of enough adjectives to describe it! The monks were from The Drepung Loseling Monastery in India.


The mandala is said to be a spiritual representation of the universe. Some say it gives energy and balance. The process took all week and I found myself checking into The Woodland, where it was being constructed, nearly every day this week to watch the process. I became truly riveted. Watching their steady hands as they drew the lines and spread the sand captivated me. I spent hours there just watching!

Throughout the week, yoga and meditation classes were held around the mandala. You could truly feel the energy! Believe me, I am a skeptic and truly didn’t think that was possible, but it was. Whether that energy was coming from the mandala itself, or the hundreds of people who came daily to watch the construction, it was there!

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After the opening ceremonies, (which made me feel so spiritual even without understanding the language), they began drawing the lines. It was math, science and art all in one! I took hundreds of photos of their hands and the lines and none of them can do it justice. The chalk as it rose above the lines in a cloud as they laid the lines, the steadiness of their hands – those will have to stay in my memory.

As they began to lay the sand, the richness of the colors and the designs in each quadrant, were becoming more and more vivid. With each day that passed, it became more elaborate. The three dimensional effect was remarkable.

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I decided to try some of the meditation classes that were offered. One was a guided mediation which I loved – again, going in skeptical and cynical but leaving inspired and rejuvenated. I also had the good fortune to be invited on an early morning walk through the reservations with the monks. I jumped at the chance and although the walk wasn’t long, watching their faces as they saw the New York City skyline and the faces enthusiasm of the few of us on the walk, I was once again energized.  That spirit was truly in the air and whether it was “all in my head” or not, it gave me such a sense of peacefulness.

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Yesterday, was the final day of the project. All of that hard work and beauty was swept into swirl of color. People were invited to take a small spoonful and the rest was carried in a procession and poured into the local brook. It is said that by doing this, they are releasing the energy of the mandala into the water, dispersing that energy into the universe sending blessings to all. Such a beautiful sentiment.

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The entire project was filled with love, peace and kindness and for the entire week, it truly brought that to our community. I was so sad to see it end and was feeling a little disappointed after the ceremony. That is why last night, when I got a last minute invitation to have dessert with the monks as they visited the home of a friend, I happily accepted! These friends have beautiful antiques in their home, most of them from Asia and the monks seemed fascinated to see many of them. I didn’t get to speak much to them, again, the language barrier interfered, but I shook each one of their hands, we exchanged our names and smiles. Truly an amazing way to end the week.


Night of 100 Dinners

giving receiving

Once a year, The Achieve Foundation, a volunteer organization in our two towns, Maplewood and South Orange, New Jersey, holds a “Night of 100 Dinners.”

This night began with 10 individuals hosting 10 people each at a dinner party at their home, hence, “the 100 dinners.”  Now, eleven years later, it has grown into something much larger!  This evening, 75 hosts opened their homes to over 1000 people across the two towns.

Hosts create the theme, guest lists and provide all the food and entertainment for their own parties.  Each guest is asked to make a donation and all of the money goes to the Achieve Foundation which in turn, “funds provide classroom grants, volunteer tutors, professional development, family outreach, and technology and facility improvements to enrich the learning experience at all grade levels.”

As the recipient of several Achieve grants over the past few years, I was asked to speak at two of those events to talk about how I have benefited from these grants.  I have been so fortunate.  In my eight years teaching in the district, I have received several reading based grants, a math grant and one science based grant which have all gone directly back into my classroom.

The Achieve Foundation made this possible and I am so grateful for all that they do for our school community.  Tonight, I extend a great big thank you to everyone who participated in this evening to help make it such a success.

Here for you

we are here for you

In a few of my most recent blogs, I have been mentioning a young boy who was in one of my first Kindergarten classes at Tuscan School,  Zach.  He is in sixth grade now.

As a teacher, I find myself getting attached to most of my students.  It is bittersweet to watch them move on to the next grade.  They spend seven hours a day for  180 days with me.  How could I not get attached to them?  But once in awhile, I get a student, or a family of a student, that remains with me forever.  Zach and his family are the perfect example of this.  I assumed it was because Zach and Drew are in the same grade, are friends and have been on baseball teams together, so when I found out his brother was going to be in my class a few years later, I was overjoyed, knowing that I’d be a part of this family’s life in a big way once again.

I often grow strong relationships with the families of children I have taught.  My children have grown up with theirs.  Living in the same town, they all go to school together.   I am involved in the community.  I see students and their families everywhere I go, at the pool, at sporting events, at the supermarket…our town is not very large so I see them outside of school all of the time.  I love this.  It is a part of what makes me the teacher that I am.

Since Tuesday, when I first heard about Zach, I haven’t been able to think about much more.  I have been in contact with his mom Marnie nearly everyday.  She sends daily email updates to a growing list of caring friends and family.  Despite the gravity of his situation, her emails are upbeat and hopeful and though she tells everyone how serious it is, you can hear the hope coming through each email that she sends.  She is aware of the love and support that is radiating not just from our town, but from all around.  Anyone who was touched by Zach and his family is praying for him and sending positive energy his way.

Yesterday, I had heard that Zach’s dad Joe was having a tough day.  Not surprising at all.  I had sent her a message asking if she was up for a visitor later in the evening.  She hadn’t gotten back to me, so I assumed it would be good to wait.  I keep feeling that I need to do something, but what can anyone do right now but offer their support and prayers?  I decided to go and just get them a little goodie bag that I filled with snacks and magazines.  Just something to help fill the waiting… Shortly after I got home, I got a message back from Marnie saying that she’d love a visit so I went to the hospital to see them.

When I got there, Zach had one other visitor.  Another local mom who has been keeping me updated on the family.  His small room is filled with so much love.  Pictures, cards, balloons and so many well wishes are covering the walls.  The love radiates from that hospital room.  The refrigerator on his floor is filled with food for the family sent by others who just want to do something to help.  Minutes after I arrived, more visitors did too.  So many, that we took shifts in the room while the rest of us sat in the PICU waiting room.  Joe had gone home for awhile to see his other boys and came back while we were all there.  You could see the weight of what his family is going through in his eyes.  He sat with us for awhile and while he explained what was going on and how his recovery might play out, through the tears, there was also laughter.

Marnie came back to visit with us and before I left, I went back to Zach’s room with her to see him for awhile.  Seeing him hooked up to all of those machines brought back so many memories of my mom and Francine.  It was  hard knowing that he is going through this and he is so young, so vulnerable.  Marnie said that they’ve been told that he can hear us, but won’t remember any of this.  I talked to him for awhile telling him how much everyone loved him.  His recovery is touch and go.  His parents say that with every two steps forward, he falls one and a half steps back.  It is going to be a long and difficult journey for them.  He has a tough recovery ahead of him and a few more surgeries to get through, including one tomorrow, on his 12th birthday.   They aren’t even taking it day by day right now, but hour by hour.  So with each hour that passes, fever free, and complication free, it is a step in the right direction.  This morning Marnie emailed us saying he had a good night and because of that, both she and Joe got some much needed sleep. I am sure that gave them some relief.

Keep all of the well wishes coming.  I know they are feeling the love and support!

Inspire Others

doing good feels good

Our annual 100th Day Food Drive was a success!

Our students and teachers had been collecting food since the beginning of February.  Today, we gathered it and lined it all up in the hallway outside of my classroom.  I lost count but there were close to 2000 items.  It makes me so proud to live and work in such a great community.

Our school is a K-5 school and I know that the older students understand why we do these food drives, but when my five and six year old students see that number of bags and the amount of food, the looks on their face is priceless.  The best part is that they realize why we are doing this.  We talk about how there are people in our own neighborhoods who cannot afford things as simple as food and it doesn’t take a lot of effort to make a difference.  Even at such a young age, they are demonstrating a social responsibility and helping others.

The bags I purchased yesterday worked out even better than I thought they would.  We stuffed them as much as we could.  At the end of the day, close to 150 bags and boxes of food were packed and ready to go.  I am so grateful to the teachers, students and parents who helped to pack up cars and deliver the food.  It would  have never have gotten done without their help. I am especially grateful to one former dad, Chris, who still comes back and helps us out every year even though his daughters no longer attend our school and to my husband Dave who comes and helps with all of my “projects” all of the time.

I don’t do these projects to get praise and accolades from others.  I do it to raise awareness.  If we, as parents and teachers, can begin to instil empathy in children at a young age, perhaps we can inspire them to continue to make contributions to society as they grow.

Jerseys From Jersey

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For a few years now, I have been involved in an organization called, Jerseys from Jersey.  Their mission is to collect used, washed soccer uniforms and work with organizations to distribute them to children in Peru, Kenya, Guatemala, Bangladesh, China, and Nepal.  We collect old soccer uniforms that are not being used anymore and we work with different groups to donate the soccer uniforms to children in various developing nations around the world. Today, we collected over 200 jerseys, more than 100 pairs of shorts, 41 pairs of cleats and lots of soccer socks and shin guards.

One of our local soccer groups, Cougar Soccer, held a “Community Day” today,  We asked players to bring their old jerseys and equipment to drop off so that we could support this wonderful organization but we also wanted to do something good for our own community so we had them bring food donations as well that we donated to a local food pantry.  This afternoon, we were able to drop off more than 25 bags filled with food!

There is the quote, “it takes a village,” and today, our soccer community proved that!  Teaching children how easy it is to help others at a young age gives them the chance to see that even something small like giving away an old jersey, can amount to something so much larger!


small town

Once a year, our town comes together with a big music festival.  This year celebrates the tenth anniversary of Maplewoodstock.  Over the last ten years, it has grown in size and is now held over two days and has started to feature national acts, in addition to community musicians.  It is big celebration of community, music and art.

With hundreds of people showing up to picnic, shop and listen to the bands, it is one of those weekends that makes me happy to live in Maplewood.  Our town is known for its diversity, and seeing all of the families spread out across the hill is a wonderful representation of that.  People arrive early in the morning on the first day, “claiming” their spots and stay there all day – and sometimes all weekend!  It is a place where adults can sit, relax and listen to music as they socialize with friends, while the kids can run around with one another in the play zone or by the pond.  So many people know one another here, you feel safe knowing that there are people all around keeping an eye out for one another and their children.

Maplewood truly defines the word,  COMMUNITY, “a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests and goals.”  Maplewoodstock is one of those weekends that confirms this for me.

The Eulogy

we don't lose loved ones

I got through almost the whole eulogy until the end.  That is when I cried.  I was able to read all of it except the quote at the end.

This was the eulogy:

Good morning,

My family and I want to thank all of you for being here today to celebrate our mom.  We always knew what an amazing, generous and kind woman she was, and this last week, the outpouring of love and support has proven this to be true.  Thousands, (and that is not an exaggeration), of emails, texts, calls and messages have come to us.  The lines at her wake were so long, at times, they were out the door.

I want you all to know that I read all of your emails and postings to her.  I don’t know if she could hear me but if she could, I know that she would have been humbled at this outpouring.  She was never one to put herself before others and knowing that all of these people, some who don’t even know her, were out there praying and thinking of her would have moved her to tears.

I honestly do not know how I can adequately describe our mom with words.  She lived her life in the most positive way.  She saw the good in everything and encouraged others to do the same. Her actions and the incredible example that she showed her children and grandchildren are behaviors that should be emulated by all of us.  She was a true role model.  A person who possessed qualities we should all try to imitate.

My mother cared deeply for everyone she knew, whether you were her family, friend or a member of the community.  She was always willing to help out someone in need.  She had the kindest heart of anyone we knew. Her house was always filled with friends and family.  All of our friends called her “mom”, because she was like a mom to everyone.  Friends lived at our house, (usually invited by her), and they were always treated as if they were one of her own….even if that meant pulling out the spatula or wooden spoon when they misbehaved.  Our good friend Kenny, even told my dad that he thinks his grades went up when he started spending so much time at our house because of the “no homework, then no play “rule she had.

She was a person so filled with light.  Everyone knew her.  Everyone loved her.  She was like an institution in Maplewood.  She’d park herself outside on the bench in front of The Maplewood Stationers and talk to every person and dog that walked by – especially during “duck season”.  For those of you who don’t know, she was known around town as “the Duck Lady” because she organized the annual rubber duck race every year.

She was a generous, loving, supportive and unselfish woman who always put other people before herself.  She was charitable, giving, considerate and kind.  She was always involved in something. The YMCA, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, 4th of July celebrations, Galas here at OLS, Kiwanis, The Twigs of Overlook…the list could go on and on.

We joked that she should run for mayor because she knew EVERYONE!!!  We could not go anywhere without bumping into someone that she knew.  As kids, it made us crazy but as we grew older and we saw what a positive influence she had on so many people, it was gratifying.  I have modeled my own life around this.  I know that I am the person that I am today because of her influence.

She adored her grandchildren, DJ, Drew, Gabi and Mikey, and we know that as she got sicker and sicker with her COPD, one of the reasons she fought so hard was for them.  She saw them all of the time and each one of them had a special bond and connection with her.

We will miss her with all of our hearts and will always cherish the times we spent together. She was always there when we needed her and was the most loving and caring wife, daughter-in-law, mother and grandmother. She was selfless and always put others ahead of her.  She never wanted people to go out of their way for her.  Yet, she did it all of the time for others.

She has touched the lives of so many people and even though she is gone, her memory will live on in all of our hearts forever.  Her spirit has not left us.  Everyone who was ever touched by her in his or her lifetime should have faith that she will be watching over them because that is just the kind of person she was.

She has left reminders of herself everywhere: on the bench in front of the Maplewood Stationers, in the sound of Christmas Carols, (her absolute favorite), every time we see a rubber duck and every time The Wizard of Oz comes on tv. She probably saw, (and sang along to) that movie hundreds of times.

Our mom was a remarkable woman and I doubt she ever realized how many, many people she has had an impact on in her lifetime.  Cherish the memories you have of her and honor her memory by doing good things for others.  This is how she lived her life and there is no better way of honoring her than by following her example.  Her love for all of us, all of you, is what is going to pull us all through this.  All of the many, many people that who’s lives have been touched by her should take comfort in knowing that right now, she is standing at the gates of heaven, breathing in huge breaths of air.  That is what is getting me through this.  Knowing that she can finally breathe on her own. It makes me so happy for her, even though I am so sad for us.

So I leave you with a quote from The Wizard of Oz…

“A heart is not judged by how much you love; but by how much you are loved by others”.

My family and I thank you for being here today.

Giving Kindness

giving kindness

Today, I went to my mailbox at school and found a package inside.  It was the book, Hibernation Station, by Michelle Meadows.  Right before the holidays, a 7th grade class from the local middle school came to our classroom to read it to us.  They did a fun project that went along with the book.  My Kindergarteners loved it and I think the “big kids” did too.  They shared gummy bears and created cute little books of their own.   What a surprise when we found the book in our mailbox today.  There was a letter included.  Apparently, upon doing a little more research on the book, they realized that our school library did not have a copy so they donated theirs to our school so that other students would be able to have the same joy upon reading it as my class did.  The smiles on my students’ faces, knowing that they can check it out of the library, showed just how happy they were!  We talked about how kind this was and how great it made us feel knowing that others did something nice for us.  We cannot wait for them to come back and visit again in February!