The Kranks

This year, for the first time in more than 30 years, instead of Mr. and Mrs. Claus, Jim and I are Luther and Nora Krank. Have you seen Christmas with the Kranks, the 2004 film based on the novel Skipping Christmas by John Grisham? If you have not, you must. It will make you laugh and it will make you think. Better yet, read the book. Not one of Grisham’s acclaimed works, it is, however, warm and funny. 

This year we decided on a shared family experience instead of a traditional store-bought Christmas. This means no wrapped gifts or stocking stuffers, a small tabletop tree, limited decorations and outside lights, no children at home, and a trip south for some fun and sun. I am surprised that I do not feel guilty. At all. Watching parents I know with young children who are stressed as they finish all of the last minute details to create the perfect Christmas for their families, I have a deep satisfaction in knowing I did that for many years. Now, Jim and I are in a kind of sweet spot, with adult children and significant others, but no grandchildren in sight.

On Christmas night we will be dining al fresco with a view of the Gulf of Mexico with one of our daughters. I cannot wait. No over-the-top commercial Christmas, and a short trip. The year of the Kranks. 

I have been thinking a lot about 2020 – the beginning of a brand new decade. I wonder what it has in store for my children, Kent School, and, of course, Mr. and Mrs. Krank. What would it mean to eschew commercialism this year and be grateful for what we have? And, if we have to shop, shop local and small, with a nod to all of my friends with businesses I love in Chestertown. I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions as I find they sound great with a raised champagne flute on New Year’s Eve but really don’t materialize during the rest of the year. This year I will make an exception, I resolve not to spend on unnecessary household items, like decorative pillows or linen kitchen towels – both slight obsessions of mine. I will think before I add or replace something to an already full home and life. 

As I grow older I realize that my Christmas list is shorter and shorter and there is nothing on it that comes from a store. The only present I really want is the presence of my husband and my children – all together – a few times a year. And, if that means travel expenses, so be it. I will start my travel fund in January.

Anyone want to buy a decorative pillow? I have a closet full of them.

Wonder

No other time of the year captures our heart and imagination more than the holiday season that is unfolding before us. And, wonder is its key ingredient. Defined as a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable (dictionary.com) wonder also offers us moments to feel grateful. Even if you have lost a bit of life’s wonder over the years, there is a palpable sense of wonder that comes alive at Christmas – and you can see it in the faces of children who believe.

I get to look into children’s faces each day at Kent School and I cannot tell you the joy it brings me, personally and professionally. I recently read We’re All Wonders by R.J. Palacio aloud to the First Grade. This beautiful children’s book illustrates every child’s wish to belong, and to be seen for who they truly are. It’s the perfect way for educators and parents to share the concepts of empathy and kindness with young children. The book reminds us that we need to appreciate each person’s unique gifts, a message that resonates with us, especially during the holiday season.

We live in an age of wonder with smartphones, self-driving cars, robots, and roombas (my roomba actually locked me out of my house once, but that is another story!). Scientists, engineers and technology professionals are continuing to explore AI and automation. What does this even mean for life and work in the future – the future we are educating today’s students to lead. Mike Walsh, author of The Algorithmic Leader, a book which describes human intelligence in the twenty-first century, said recently – the future is not about technology. It’s about humanity. The greatest threat we face is not robots replacing us, but our reluctance to reinvent ourselves.

I also believe the future is about humanity. It is precisely the qualities that make us human, such as wonder, love and compassion, that protect us from replacement by unfeeling robots. But, how can we help humans gain the qualities needed to live a purposeful life. 

Education. We need to educate students about our shared humanity from a very early age. I am proud that at Kent School we are taking steps in our new health and wellness curriculum to focus on building healthy, human relationships through conversation (not texting), kindness and empathy. 

This holiday season, and in the coming new year, reinvent yourself. Be a role model. Be kind. Be caring. Change one person’s heart. Look up at the sky. Wonder.

Full Nest, Full Heart

Today’s rain fit my gloomy mood as early this morning the last of my birds went south. The westward bird flew yesterday and the nearest bird on the western shore left Friday for a friend’s 30th birthday party. But, what an incredible four days we had all together, beginning with my birthday dinner, cooked by my children. James turns 26 on Monday, (he is finally off my health insurance, but that is another story) and sadly, I won’t be with him for his special day. We certainly did have fun celebrating our family all week though.

The magic of Thanksgiving is that it is all about the joy of being with family and friends, and sharing our grateful hearts. No gifts to wrap, no light strands to untangle, no cookies to bake or stockings to stuff. It is both relaxing and reflective, even more so than on New Year’s Eve. It is the best of all the holidays wrapped in one long and buttery meal, with leftovers that last all weekend. It is like luxuriating in a nest of love, in a satiated state, for a few wonderful days.

This year we had a big crowd of extended family and needed two turkeys. I won one at the Gunston School Bullroast silent auction and it was the best fresh turkey we have ever had. And, the second, we deep fried with thanks to a friend’s deep fryer, and Kelsy and Steven’s perseverance. As I write, turkey soup is simmering on the stovetop, a fire is roaring, and Jim is watching the Ravens. Both of us are feeling thankful for the fullness of our lives, while also feeling just a little exhausted. 

I literally ran the dishwasher twice daily for a week, and the laundry was non-stop. Yet, I would not trade the busyness and happy noise for anything. I fell asleep each night to the lullaby of my children’s voices lingering into the wee hours. A jigsaw puzzle, created from a personal vacation photo, was completed with one missing piece, which miraculously, and suspiciously, showed up on the table a day later. 

Now as I gather the towels and begin to put my house back together, I am reminded of Anna Quindlen’s opinion piece Flown Away, Left Behind in Newsweek in 2004. In describing her eternal role as a mother above all else she wrote: Three rooms empty, full of the ghosts of my very best self. Yes, each of my children possesses a small part of me, and always will. That knowledge is reassuring and heartwarming.

My full nest this week resonated with the laughter of childhood memories that only siblings can share. It also resonated with all of our hopes for the future. I wish for you and yours a warm holiday season. And, may your nest and heart be full.

More Than Just a Day

I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual. Henry David Thoreau

My chaos, oops I mean my children (darn autocorrect) will descend upon the red roof inn this week and I truly cannot wait. I am pretty easy to shop for on my birthday, all I ever want is my family’s presence on my special Thanksgiving birthday. For a long time I told my children it was a command performance to come home for Thanksgiving and my birthday, but then I started to feel bad about the pressure I may have put on them. They deserve to live their adult lives in the way they see fit – which I am sure includes their own Friendsgivings. 

I am grateful for any time the five of us can be together – even if now the group also includes a few significant others and a few dogs. The more the merrier – especially at this time of year. The joy we feel during the holidays, when we are with our family and friends, is as comforting as a cozy blanket, a fire in the hearth, tea with honey, and a good book. The laughter, the heated discussions, the wine, and the warm embrace of love is uplifting and can sustain me well into the long, dark winter.

But, what if Thanksgiving were more than just a day. What if we could keep the joy in our hearts, that we feel when we are with our loved ones, each and every day. I know it is not yet New Year’s but I have decided how I will live in 2020. I will be grateful for what I am and what I have. I will be grateful for my loved ones – in person or in my heart. I will be grateful for my school community which brings me such joy on a daily basis. Each day I will offer a word of thanksgiving. 

And although I won’t eat turkey every day I will feed my soul with gratefulness.

Making Lemonade

Although the season calls for cider, I have been thinking a lot about making lemonade. The Chestertown Spy recently cancelled my column. I have been writing for this online community news service for nearly three years. What began as a purely personal creative outlet which I thought I had earned by the merits of my writing, ended when a new editor decided to make my column contingent upon a school advertising sponsorship. Throughout my career in advertising and in education I have worked with many news organizations, and advertising is never a prerequisite for editorial content. That, my friends, is an example of quid pro quo – an advantage granted in return for something.

I am pleased to say, however, that making lemonade caused me to launch my own blog – That’s Another Story. This is truly a dream come true and I hope that you will read my stories. 

As many of you know, this academic year I selected GRATEFUL as a word to keep before the Kent School community. There is no better time to celebrate this word than in November. Thanksgiving is a time to pause and reflect on what you are grateful for. 

The older I get the more I discover that what I am most grateful for are the people in my life. Many research studies have proven that positive connections with other people are essential for happiness and health. In a recent study conducted by Amit Kumar and Nicholas Epley at the Booth School of Business at The University of Chicago, entitled Undervaluing Gratitude: Expressers Misunderstand the Consequences of Showing Appreciation, they wrote:

Positive social connections are a powerful source of well-being, and creating those connections can sometimes come at little or no cost. However, they also require that people choose to engage in actions that strengthen social bonds, such as expressing gratitude.

Expressing gratitude is a powerful act of civility benefitting both the giver and the receiver. At this time of year, especially, I plan to write gratitude notes to the people in my life whose presence keeps me grounded. I will see 22 of them on Thanksgiving Day and I cannot wait to tell them in person how much they mean to me!

Thank you to all of you who read my first blog Be Kind. Grateful to have made my lemonade. Now I can make some Thanksgiving foods.

Be Kind

I just finished Demi Moore’s raw and revealing memoir Inside Out. I was a huge Demi fan from the moment I first saw her in St. Elmo’s Fire. Ghost opened in August 1990, a month before I gave birth to Jenna. I got the short Demi Ghost haircut thinking it would be easy when my first baby arrived. (I may have a slight problem copying hairstyles, since in junior high I tried unsuccessfully to have wings during my Farrah Fawcett phase, and in high school I had a Dorothy Hamill short cut, but that is another story.) 

I was two months pregnant with Kelsy in 1991 when Demi did her famous, or infamous, Vanity Fair cover, nude and pregnant. A photo that was intended to be a private gift was selected by the brave magazine as its cover. Controversial as it may have been, I found it incredibly beautiful and liberating. So, I shed the tent dresses of my pregnancy with Jenna and began to appreciate the female body creating life in a wonderful, new way. 

While I never knew her personal struggle with childhood trauma, Demi was an actor I believed was a humble and kind person. After reading her book, I am sure of it. Childhood trauma comes in many forms and as educators we need to remember that each child comes to school with a set of experiences, issues, concerns, and questions that differ from his or her classmates. This is why when my children were growing up I always told them to be kind above all else – because you have no idea what someone may be dealing with in their life. 

Being kind has so many benefits to you and to the person who receives your kindness. If we can internalize kindness and make it a part of who we are, we can live a happier and healthier life. Scientific research shows that being kind releases feel-good hormones, reduces anxiety, improves heart health, and reduces stress. Kindness also builds relationships, and positive relationships new and old bring great joy and purpose to our lives. 

Always be kind. Someone’s health might depend on it – and it might be yours. 

About Nancy Mugele

Nancy Mugele is passionate about the written word. She is an aspiring columnist, writer and poet. Nancy believes that being grateful and kind can help change the world.

Nancy is the Head of Kent School, an independent day school serving girls and boys in PK – Grade 8 on the bank of the Chester River in historic Chestertown, MD. She is the Secretary of the Board of the Association of Independent Maryland and DC Schools, a member of the Board of Horizons of Kent and Queen Anne’s, and a member of the Education Committee of Sultana Education Foundation.