Saturday, June 30, 2012


"One touch of nature makes the whole world kin."  Shakespeare

            There are lots of reasons for choosing Fort Collins as a place to live.  Whenever we make the top ten lists, outsiders tout our great schools, weather, scenery, growth opportunities, etc. etc. What they can't see so easily from the outside, however, is the fact that there is in Fort Collins a sense of place, a sense of commitment, a sense of gratitude. 

            According to recent psychological research gratitude is a highly important and often overlooked disposition.  In fact, being thankful can improve one's sense of well-being, make us happier, more likely to help other people, and can even help us sleep better and longer.  Mental health, spiritual health, and physical health are all improved by giving thanks. 

            I am reminded of this research as we residents of Fort Collins experience an explosion of emotions as a result of the recent devastating wild fires in the mountains near us and around the state: Shared grief for those hundreds of families who have lost their homes and possessions, sacrifice on the part of fire fighters, crews, mental health workers, and police, many of whom work tirelessly in shifts around the clock and sleep in tents and trailers, far from their own homes and families, generosity from friends and neighbors who have opened their homes and hearts to the newly homeless. 

            The other emotion that gets expressed, however, is gratitude.  When the High Park fire subsides and is finally extinguished, thousands of firefighters and volunteers, sweaty and exhausted, will head for home and to a well deserved rest before they are called to duty once again perhaps in another location.  But as they drive through Fort Collins on their way home, they will not miss the city's sense of appreciation.  The pictures below tell the story. 

            For anyone interested in the psychological research on gratitude, Professor Robert Emmons (UC-Davis) and his colleagues have compiled the following list of research articles:

            And in case you want to measure your own sense of gratitude and compare your score to data from national samples, try out this six item questionnaire:   

            Some of Professor Emmons' recent books on this topic include:

The Psychology of Gratitude (Oxford University Press), Words of Gratitude (Templeton Foundation Press) and THANKS!: How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier (Houghton-Mifflin).

            Now I'm hoping the researchers will look not only at individual scores on gratitude but also develop scores for whole communities.  If they do, I think Fort Collins will be at the top of the curve.




Thursday, May 31, 2012

A New Series for the Small Fry

Mermaid Tales by Debbie Dadey

            Denver Downtown Aquarium (formerly Colorado's Ocean Journey) has always been a favorite destination for a Saturday or holiday outing with the grandchildren. There's something magical and mysterious, almost mesmerizing, about life under the sea.  Remember the Jacque Cousteau TV documentaries?  Now children's author, Debbie Dadey, has captured that same excitement of underwater life in her new series of chapter books, called "Mermaid Tales."

            So far two books have been published in the series, "Trouble at Trident Academy" and "Battle of the Best Friends" with more tales to follow. Book Three will be "A Whale of a Tale" and judging from the teaser at the end of Book Two it looks like another winner.  I was excited when this series was announced because I had read Dadey's book for authors, "Story Sparkers: A Creativity Guide for Children's Writers," and I knew her own work would be fascinating.

            I always like to read children' books before I give them to the kids, not so much to make sure they're age appropriate and interesting for them, but more because - confession time - I like to read the good ones, myself.  Who wouldn't be interested in squid, octopus, oysters, plankton, mussels, and the sharpnose sevengill shark?  Especially when they're friends, or enemies, of a beautiful mermaid named Shelly in a story with a plot that any third grader will recognize as home territory.  In fact, I suspect that at times some young readers may forget that the five main characters are mermaids and not boys and girls.  The third grade at Trident Academy is full of interesting people - merpeople, that is - and plots.


            As the reader gets engrossed in the Mermaid Tales, they're sure to come across underwater life they'd like to get to know better.  Dadey provides a wonderful glossary that's a great place to start.  Who knew that a sablefish could live to be 90 years old or that "the sea wasp is another name for the box jellyfish, which is the world's most venomous marine animal?"

            The books are further enhanced with such features as a map of Trident City, class reports written by the main characters, and clever illustrations throughout the chapters.  One of my favorites is the page of portraits of the "cast of characters:"  Shelly, of course, and her best friend, Echo, an awful snob named Pearl, a shy but courageous classmate named Kiki, and Rocky, a cool dude of a merboy.  
            I'll give these books to Madeleine as a present to mark the end of her grade two school year.  I know she's going to enjoy them as much as I did.  Maybe I'll ask her to be a guest blogger when she's done reading the first two Mermaid Tales.  She can tell my readers if I got it right. 

            PS  By the way, my grandsons have always been as fascinated by the Downtown Aquarium as the girls - maybe even more so.  Couldn't there be a chapter book series, maybe about sharks or sting rays, for the boys, filled with the same wonder, plot, and excitement as the Mermaid Tales?  I don't mean to complain; it's just that.... well if I give The Mermaid Tales to Eloise and Madeleine, what's for August, Jacob, Sonder, Odin, Larson, and Noah (and me, of course)?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Are We a Culture of Bullies?

           This week has been designated as the annual "No Name-Calling Week" in the schools, a week meant to encourage educational dialogue and activities designed to address the issue of bullying.  This post is my small effort to enter into that dialogue.
           During the past few weeks several newspaper articles have dealt with this issue.  Some have examined incidents of bullying (one including the suicide of the victim).  For statistics on the relationship between suicide and bullying, see
           Other articles have concentrated on the attempts by school districts or state legislatures to combat bullying in the schools.

           As a parent, teacher, and citizen, I am as concerned about the bully as I am about the victim, who are often, by the way, one and the same.  I know that bullying is a learned behavior, but I am not sure where and how children learn it.  When I see "approved" bullying on the national news (e.g., in the current political campaigns), much of which is applauded, I can't help but wonder about the modeling this provides for children and adolescents.

           I am also aware that some may read this and say, "Here we go again."  A few years ago, one college freshman told my class that the problem was not with bullies but with the whining sissies who reported them.  I was not so shocked by the comment as I was by the lack of any outcry from his fellow students.

           For some good resources for teachers, parents and pupils on this topic, see:

           Also, here are some references I've found helpful. 
1) Sanders, C.E. (2004).  What is bullying?  In C.E. Sanders & G.D. Phye (Eds.). Bullying: Implications for the classroom (pp. 1-16). San Diego: Elsevier Academic Press.  (NB: Two appendices list the most prevalent characteristics of bullies and victims)

2) Shariff, S. (2008).  Cyber-bullying: Issues and solutions for the school, the classroom  and the home.  New York: Routledge.

3) Losey, B. (2011).  Bullying, suicide, and homicide: Understanding, assessing, and preventing threats to self and others for victims of bullying.  New York: Routledge.

4) Espelage, D.L. & Swearer, S.M. (Eds.).  (2010). Bullying in North American Schools.  (2nd ed.) New York: Routledge.

5) Jimerson, S.R., Swearer, S.M., & Espelage, D.L. (Eds.).  (2009). Handbook of bullying in schools: An international perspective.

6) Patchin, J.W., & Hinduja, S. (Eds.).  (2011). Cyberbullying prevention and response: Expert perspectives. New York: Routledge.

7) Coloroso, B. (2009). The bully, the bullied, and the bystander: From preschool to high school: How parents and teachers can help break the cycle of violence. New York: Harper Collins

           Please comment.  How do you think we can make our homes, schools and communities safer?  How do you think bullying gets started?  How do you think it can be stopped?  In line with my earlier blog on "accentuating the positive," is there some pro-social approach that ought to be taken?  I really hope to hear from some parents, some teachers, and especially some students.