Building Gingerbread Houses! (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

My son with his Disney-themed gingerbread house (November 28, 2015, Snellville, Georgia)

My son with his Disney-themed gingerbread house (November 28, 2015, Snellville, Georgia)

One is never too old to enjoy some holiday fun of building and decorating gingerbread houses, which is what my son and I did today.  WalMart now offers a large variety of gingerbread houses and cookies to decorate.  Just in the past couple of years, the many choices of gingerbread houses have exploded onto the scene.

Showing off my Hello Kitty-themed gingerbread house (November 28, 2015, Snellville, Georgia)

Showing off my Hello Kitty-themed gingerbread house (November 28, 2015, Snellville, Georgia)

This year, I bought Disney and Hello Kitty-themed gingerbread houses at WalMart, made by Brand Castle at BrandCastle.com in Bedford Heights, Ohio.  They were a little more pricey than the usual style, but for $3 more each, it was worth it.  The cookies not only came with frosting and candies, but also cardboard and plastic platforms.  The cookies were extremely well-packaged, and none of them were broken upon opening the boxes.

Examples of Character-Themed Gingerbread Houses by Brand Castle

Examples of Character-Themed Gingerbread Houses by Brand Castle

While we never create and/or decorate gingerbread houses that look nearly as nice as what the pictures on the boxes show, we always have fun.  And, another great thing about building and decorating gingerbread houses is that they can also be eaten – yet an additional way to enjoy our work!  Happy holidays!

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Thoughts on Some Recent Societal Violence (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Talking, writing, and/or teaching about violence in society, and ways to reduce it, are always sensitive issues that tend to stir up many emotions in people.  Unfortunately, many times, emotions sometimes get the best of people regarding situations, and those situations escalate into those that only fuel maladaptive and/or harmful conduct.  Two recent situations that I would like to address include the terrorism at Charlie Hebdo in Paris, France, and the killing of a 12-year-old boy (who was holding what appeared to be a real gun) by a police officer in Cleveland, Ohio.

As a person who tries to view all sides of a situation or issue, I am one who does my best to think through it before addressing or weighing in on the subject.  My approach is the same in regard to the two above-identified issues.  Knowing that these are sensitive and controversial issues that have created tragedy and turmoil, my approach is one that tries to consider and share different perspectives.  These, of course, are views that others may or may not agree with, and I understand that.

Admittedly, regarding Charlie Hebdo, I know little about this company, but can already see that the satirical cartoons published by it may be offensive to particular people.  First, as a Caucasian, Christian, and Westerner, I understand and appreciate people’s freedoms of speech, expression, publication, and the arts.  Even if what is expressed is offensive – and certainly, there are plenty of publications and art mediums out there that are offensive – there are protections on them that are guaranteed by official government documents in many countries.  For people whose cultures may be middle eastern and/or who practice religions other than Christianity – such as Islam, for example – their upbringing may create views that clash with the majority, including rights enacted within countries in which they live.

I am not condoning, nor do I support any kinds of harassment or terrorism – in any forms – however what I am saying is that increased tolerance, understanding, and sensitivity toward peoples and cultures that are not the majority in particular countries must be exercised.  People who commit terrorist actions appear to believe they are actually doing a good thing.  In the case of those who died as a result of the terrorism at Charlie Hebdo, it seems that the terrorists were acting as martyrs, willing to sacrifice their own lives in seeking vengeance and retaliation (but what they likely believed was justice) for insults to Muhammad and Islam.  In their own way (that most likely view as twisted), they believed they were doing the right thing, even though it is completely against Western values in this regard.

An issue closer to home – in Cleveland, Ohio – about which I read, online, today is about a 12-year-old boy who was shot and killed by a police officer.  The boy had been holding and/or carrying what appeared to be a real gun, but was apparently a replica of a gun that sure looked real to me.  I’ve also read about situations in the past in which boys who hold guns, including toy guns that appear to be real, have been shot by police.

First, I express my condolences and sympathies for the boy and his family about his untimely and tragic death.  This is certainly an unfortunate and devastating occurrence that could have been avoided and prevented.  But, what drew me to reading this story are the many questions that I have about it.  First, why is a child holding what would appear to be a real gun?  Wasn’t he taught not to hold anything that would remotely appear to be a weapon?  Why does he want to hold it to begin with?  And, hasn’t he been taught that police officers are trained to shoot to kill in these types of situations?  This boy’s actions were like inviting suicide.

With all of the recent bad news about incidents involving police officers around the country, we must also remember and keep in mind that there are many truly good and helpful police officers who place their lives on the line every day in service to others.  Sometimes, it seems that police in some areas have resorted to using increased and unnecessary force.  Requiring that police are competent in training regarding the de-escalation of violent and potentially violent situations is necessary.  Also, police minimizing, covering up, and/or excusing situations that are clearly wrong and/or which could have been prevented or improved upon only serves to increase public distrust of the very people who are supposed to protect us.

So, that brings me back to the boy who was holding what did appear to be a real gun, but was not.  Parents must educate their children that our society has drastically changed.  In today’s generation, there was the horrific tragedy that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in which so many were killed, including children.  In my generation, I noticed the change when the violence at Columbine High School in Colorado occurred.  In a prior generation, the change may have been more noticeable as a result of the students who were killed by authorities at Kent State University in Ohio.  What I’m saying is that police don’t play – they can’t.  Police sometimes have only split seconds to decide on what actions they must take – shoot or not shoot.  And, in my understanding and observations, police typically shoot to kill.  They don’t shoot to wound or they may end up being those who are killed.

Therefore, and as tragic as it is for the young boy who was killed, and his family, children must be taught these things.  Guns and weapons – and things that look like them – are not toys.  In this day and age, people aren’t playing, especially police.  It is up to adults to educate children to act in their best interests.  Yes, this boy did a stupid thing, but it is something that could have been avoided.  Because he did not, he tragically paid for his mistake with his life.  How many more children will be killed by police for holding fake or toy guns because they have not been taught otherwise, are taking unnecessary and dangerous risks, and/or don’t care?  People have to remember that police are going to shoot first, and will shoot to kill – that is their training, otherwise they will become the one who falls.

There are many other situations of violence that have occurred in our society, especially recently, that I could address here, as well, however these are two that have captured my attention because of the manner in which they could have been prevented in the first place.  So, while there is freedom of speech, press, and arts in the West, those from other cultures who now live in Western society may have differing views.  Sadly, they are willing to sacrifice their own lives, take the lives of others, and create turmoil out of situations that they appear not to respect, tolerate, or understand.  Increased tolerance, respect, and sensitivity is needed on all sides in order to improve relations between people of differing backgrounds and cultures.

Lastly, people must not invite tragedy to occur.  The boy in Cleveland who was holding what appeared to be a real gun, but which was not real, lost his life because of his actions.  This boy was wronged by a society and culture that either did not teach him that holding what appeared to be a gun was extremely risky and dangerous, or it was not instilled in him enough that he not do such a thing.  While the boy should have been old enough to understand some consequences and risks regarding his actions, parents must also do more to educate and instill in children not to do such things that invite escalating repercussions that might involve loss of life, regardless of whether the person taking the life was a police officer.

May all who have died in these situations rest in peace, and may society learn from these situations so that they do not continue to occur.

References:

Ahmed, B. (January 8, 2015). Charlie Hebdo and the alarming evolution of terrorism.  ThinkProgress.  Retrieved on January 23, 2015 from http://thinkprogress.org/world/2015/01/08/3609528/paris-terrorism-evolution/

Cleveland boy, 12, shot and killed over fake gun (January 23, 2015).  CBS News.  Retrieved on January 23, 2015 from  http://www.cbsnews.com/news/cleveland-boy-12-shot-and-killed-by-police-over-fake-gun/

“Rejection: Just One Step Closer to Getting What you Want…or Recognizing What you Already Have” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Rejection.  Yes, that bad word.  It is part of our vocabulary, and is not a very nice word.  For some of us, it has been part of our vocabulary for much too long.  Nobody likes rejection.  It is, indeed, very painful.  Especially if one’s heart is set on something – or someone – rejection can be particularly painful, even crippling.  I can personally share, however, that the more rejection one experiences, the easier it is to take.

After having experienced much rejection (more than I like to think about) throughout the course of a number of years regarding employment, I stopped actively seeking work and returned to school.  When the school goals didn’t materialize as I had hoped, I took some time to reorganize my thoughts and set about continuing to do what I enjoy the most – being a mom, and writing. 

Having stepped out of my career, it has been all that much more difficult to gain re-entry.  And, everyone always has lots of advice, though I believe that I have tried everything that everyone has suggested.  If they say it, I’ve done it.  The thing is, one can’t just change the way in which people think.  They must be open and willing to consider flexibility and creativity in employment scheduling and responsibilities.  If employers are unable to do that, they have already rejected potential employees, by default. 

Thankfully, I have family support and am able to get by.  It is very difficult, however, for outspoken women, especially those who are a little older, to get ahead in a society that doesn’t seem to want to hear us, and would often rather put us in our place.  Certainly, there are many women who get ahead by just saying “yes,” however I need to be able to sleep at night, and if something is not correct – morally or ethically – then it is not suitable for me.  It always amazes me regarding the number of people who can say or do things that I would not consider, and they are totally okay with it.

Recently, not looking for employment, I was offered a part-time job in the area of writing education.  Admittedly, I was very excited, but didn’t get my hopes up too highly.  The per hour wage was certainly very good, however that it would have required several days out of my week to drive quite far from my home put a damper on things very quickly.  I probably would have paid just as much to gas up my vehicle as I would have earned in income.  While it would have been nice, it would have been nicer if it was closer to home.

Further, a contact of mine recently asked for some advice about job-seeking and career transitions.  While I provided advice about several different topics, I also know that everyone can always give advice and is full of advice.  It is truly what is in one’s heart and within their inner spirit that must guide them and to which they must turn to uplift them.  In seeking employment or even voluntary positions, we must be real regarding ourselves, our capabilities, and our financial means.  In times such as these, I have found that it is better to expect rejection.  One is definitely not nearly as injured in his or her self-confidence if one’s best foot is placed forward, and a rejection is given.

But even more than that, in rejection, one is getting a step closer to gaining or acquiring the position that he or she may desire.  And, if one experiences many more rejections than he or she would like to contemplate, one must always reflect on what he or she already has.  What talents and skills does one already possess?  What is one doing in their time to be creative, to network, to be open to opportunities?  Sometimes, just being at the right place at the right time is essential.  One must recognize that, as well, and be thankful for it.

One must also keep in mind that, if one is able, going back to college is a wonderful opportunity to update skills, network, meet new people, expand horizons, and just be in a different environment.  Where people are open, flexible, and creative, many opportunities abound at colleges for potential employment, internships, and activities.  Perhaps participating in or leading one activity may lead to an opportunity one was not expecting.  Or, at other times, one’s talents and skills may not be valued at all, and one must seek other opportunities for development and/or advancement.

Luckily, I am not a person who lives for money.  My priorities generally reflect more of a “quality of life” perspective, both for myself and my family.  I have learned, through the years, that it is not the amount of money one has that makes him or her happy.  One’s attitude, perspective, and quality of life that one provides to oneself and one’s family are truly the best.  Of course, money is important for survival and we all need a certain amount of it, but it need not be the ultimate end in one’s life.

Therefore, rejection – whether in career, employment, relationships, or otherwise – is definitely painful, but one must keep in mind that rejection can be a good thing.  Rejection, depending upon one’s view, can be one step closer to achieving one’s goal, to getting what one desires.  Or, in situations of much rejection, it is an opportunity for one to recognize and appreciate what he or she already has, and to capitalize on that. 

Rejection certainly can hurt one’s self-confidence – and coming from the Rejection Queen, herself – I understand it’s stunting qualities.  However, one must keep their faith and inner strength alive in believing that rejection is not always the worst thing, and that it may, in fact, open doors to other paths untaken that may be more fruitful or beneficial in the long run.

“Orchard Park Central School District (New York): Truly an Exceptional School System” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

There are schools out there that are truly outstanding and exceptional.  It is unfortunate that, all too often, those schools, school districts, and/or school systems that are truly outstanding and exceptional do not receive greater attention and recognition.  The Orchard Park Central School District in Western New York State is one such truly excellent, admirable, inspiring, outstanding, and exceptional school system.  It is located in an affluent suburb of Buffalo, New York.  And, it is a school system that is composed of six schools, including one high school, one middle school, and four elementary schools.  I will take the liberty of sharing some of the many incredibly excellent qualities of this school system.

More than one decade ago, I had the pleasure and privilege of being employed as a substitute teacher for two years within Orchard Park Central Schools, while I was completing my teacher certification requirements in secondary social studies education.  I was called upon to substitute teach nearly every day during the academic year, being offered and having taken opportunities to be a daily and short-term substitute teacher.  Most of the experience that I had in substitute teaching at Orchard Park was in high school special education as well as in middle school core subjects, though I also substituted in all subject areas throughout elementary, middle, and high schools there.  My experience substitute teaching during the two years that I was at Orchard Park were like no other that I have ever had in their excellence, whether as a substitute teacher, salaried teacher, or voluntary teacher.

What I experienced while subbing in the Orchard Park Central School District were many wonderful things.  People throughout the school system were caring, compassionate, kind, hard-working, flexible, understanding, professional individuals with high standards and expectations, integrity, values, and insightfulness.  They were well-educated, open-minded, creative, and thought outside-of-the-box.  They were not rigid, inflexible, or set in their ways.  They were people who – though their instruction, policies, and practices were already outstanding – were always finding new ways of performing better, achieving more, being the best they could be. 

People at Orchard Park, when I was there, were those who communicated and interacted well with each other.  They always wanted the best for the students.  The focus was not on themselves, not on hiding their own rare errors or human imperfections, but on being positive role models and guides for students.  They were professionals who supported each other in positive ways and raised themselves and each other up.  They were positive with each other, but also provided constructive – not condeming – criticism of and toward each other when it was necessary, in order to strengthen and improve the quality of their education and standards, not causing it to regress. 

These were people who were confident enough in themselves to know that the greater community was supportive of them, and they trusted that students’ parents understood that they always acted in the manner to best benefit the children.  Trust was mutual between school professionals and students’ parents because those school employees always exemplified the best in instruction, education, discipline, safety, care, compassion, concern, standards, policies, honesty, and professionalism.  In these ways, the mutual bond of trust and confidence between school and home was also reflected in the confidence, trust, and performance of the students – in all levels and in all areas. 

If something could be improved, administrators and teachers fairly-reviewed the situation, and enhanced instruction, education, standards, and/or policies, making things better for everyone.  Academic standards are those that are most important at Orchard Park, and certain high school teachers would sacrifice several Saturdays throughout the academic year to come to school on their own time to review with and drill students to better-prepare them for important standardized tests.  Core middle school teaching teams often met with parents in conferences to inform parents of their child’s performance and progress, as well as things that were going well, things that could be improved, and anything else that was noticeable about the child, particularly those positive and more personal qualities and characteristics. 

Teachers and administrators at Orchard Park went out of their way to make the school experience not only a professional experience, but also a personal one for everyone, most particularly the students.  In this way, students, parents, and families genuinely felt valued, important, honored, respected, and understood.  It was good to be kind, caring, compassionate, encouraging, supportive, and nurturing toward students.  That is what was sought, wanted, desired in the professionals at Orchard Park. 

Lines of communication between the school, families, and community were always open.  Compliments and criticisms were accepted, heard, and appreciated.  When an administrator or teacher heard something they did not want to hear from another about themselves, they did not lash out with concealed vengeance in any way to somehow get back at the student and/or the student’s family.  School administrators and teachers at Orchard Park were both professional enough and honorable enough to take in what was said, reflect upon it, and improve.  They did not ignore, deny, or overlook the situation, nor did they blame others – including the child – instead of perceiving their own actions and/or gaining feedback from other colleagues.  They always tried to perform in the best manner for the students.

So much openmindedness, flexibility, and creativity is present in and throughout the Orchard Park Central School District.  High School seniors were afforded opportunities to participate in “Open Campus,” a time during which they could leave campus for certain parts of the day to perform other actions or responsibilities.  A great number of clubs and extracurricular activities, including art, music, theater, sports, language, and other activities were also available to students to expand their horizons and fulfill their creative endeavors. 

More recently, the school district implemented the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program within the school system.  When I was at Orchard Park, though I did not perceive any serious issues related to peer-to-peer bullying, and though I believed the policies toward student respectfulness were excellent, there were those rare occasions when students were bullied, more particularly certain high school students who appeared different and/or did not fit in with the mainstream in some way.  The openmindedness, flexibility, and creativity in the folks at Orchard Park Central School District are what has allowed the implementation of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, already reflecting reported improvements in reducing bullying and improving peer respectfulness toward each other. 

The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, as well as sharing with the community about any sex offenders living in the district, as well as other programs, are those that place the Orchard Park Central School District on the cutting edge of progressive, exceptional school systems.  The professionalism, integrity, intelligence, compassion, and appropriate personalization of the district’s faculty and staff – as well as the support they receive from the greater community and school board – are also what place the school system in the forefront of educational systems – whether public, private or parochial. 

When one works in the Orchard Park Central School District, he or she feels and is supported, much like one would experience within their own family.  Because such professionalism, support, trust, intelligence, and confidence are prevalent within the school system among adults, these qualities and values are also purveyed to the children and students.  Also, because so many adults within the school students’ families are educated and maintain high standards and expectations, this is also what is often reflected within the students, as well.  Not only are the students generally intelligent and creative, but they are typically respectful and honorable.

It was most certainly my pleasure and privilege to have been employed as a substitute teacher within the Orchard Park Central School District more than one decade ago.  Though I applied to the school system for a salaried teaching position once I acquired my educator certification, I believe that I did not have enough of a stake, influence, or network within the community to be considered.  Orchard Park would have been my dream school system within which to teach as a full-time educator.  Though such an opportunity was not afforded to me, I will always carry the memories of the wonderful experiences that I had within this outstanding, exceptional school system.  Thank you, Orchard Park, for being the best you can be, and for always striving to do even better…for the students!

References:

Orchard Park Central School District.  January 18, 2013.  http://www.opschools.org/spotlight.cfm?&school=0 .

Orchard Park Central School District.  “Olweus” (Bullying Prevention Program.)  January 18, 2013.  http://www.opschools.org/spotlight.cfm?sp=6&start=1&end=25&school=0 .

“A Kid’s Fun Way of Decorating a Gingerbread Man!” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Gingerbread Man Cookie Decorating, December 2012

Gingerbread Man Cookie Decorating, December 2012

There are ways of decorating cookies…and then, there are ways of decorating cookies!  Each year for the past several years, my son has frosted, decorated, and candied gingerbread houses and/or gingerbread men.  Being no expert at baking these large gingerbread creations, I have purchased them from stores or either St. Nicholas or Santa Claus has left them as gifts for my son for St. Nicholas Day or Christmas. 

My Son Frosting and Decorating a Gingerbread Man Cookie, December 2012

My Son Frosting and Decorating a Gingerbread Man Cookie, December 2012

In the past, I had pretty good luck with buying gingerbread houses in which all of the pieces are fully intact.  Last year, however, I had no such luck, and we ended up decorating quite a broken-down gingerbread house!  This year, I believe that St. Nicholas must have sensed that, and brought my son a giant-sized gingerbread man cookie to decorate, instead. 

My Son Enjoying his Gingerbread Man Cookie Decorating, December 2012

My Son Enjoying his Gingerbread Man Cookie Decorating, December 2012

So, on an enjoyable vacation day before Christmas, my son frosted, decorated, and candied his giant gingerbread man.  I was so happy that the cookie remained whole and all in one piece during shipping!  Hurray!  Placing the cookie on a large plate, the candies in a bowl, and snipping the edge of the frosting pouch, my son set to work. 

My Son Taking Pride in his Gingerbread Man Cookie Decorating, December 2012

My Son Taking Pride in his Gingerbread Man Cookie Decorating, December 2012

After frosting some parts of the gingerbread man, he selected and placed the his chosen candies on the cookie.  He repeated this process a few times before completing his decorating.  And, wallah!  He decorated a wonderfully festive and delicious gingerbread cookie which we allowed some time to set up and later sample.

The Giant Gingerbread Man Cookie Decorating is Complete, December 2012

The Giant Gingerbread Man Cookie Decorating is Complete, December 2012

Once he was finished decorating, my son kindly allowed me to eat a hand of the gingerbread man, and, so far, he has already eaten the remaining three appendages of the poor guy.  Lol.  I must say that the cookie hand of the gingerbread man was very tasty and sweet, albeit somewhat hard, although that is the main reason, thankfully, for the entire cookie staying in one piece.

The Finished Product, as Displayed Prior to Consumption, December 2012

The Finished Product, as Displayed Prior to Consumption, December 2012

I would like to thank the “Create a Treat Ltd” company, located in Brampton, Ontario, Canada for making this lovely, giant gingerbread man cookie, and for including the candies and frosting, as well as for packaging it so well to prevent breakage!  St. Nicholas, Santa Claus, moms, parents, and kids throughout North America have doubtlessly enjoyed so many of your baked creations.  And, I, for one, am grateful that they have been made with such care and expertise.  The photos included within my article are a reflection that my son is grateful, too.  Merry Christmas!