Friday, December 5, 2014

Gifts and Giving: Getting Creative with Gift Wrapping

I love gift wrapping. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's the excitement of the anticipation of what's to come, or maybe it's just another thing that allows me to be creative and have fun. Sometimes the gift wrap is left plain and sometimes I embellish with ribbons, bows, homemade tags, or whatever interesting tickles my fancy.

Last year at Christmas, I added a variety of scrapbooking embellishments to my gifts from lettering to snowflakes. It's fun, and it's a good way to use up extras and leftovers from your crafting supplies or reusuables that become craft supplies.

A friend of mine is also very creative and whenever I receive a gift from her it's usually in a recycled container or wrapping, and there is always something extra attached to the package. The extra may be a dried flower, or a little jingle bell - simple little touches that make the parcel all that more special to receive.

Certain items have always presented a challenge to wrap and have required some ingenuity on the gift giver. Lately, the trend to reuse and recycle seems to have more and more people thinking about ways to cut back on paper waste.

Below is an article originally published on Helium in November 2009 to address alternative ideas for presenting holiday and other gifts.

Creative Gift Wrapping Ideas

Wrapping gifts is, for many people, a labor of love. Finding the right paper, trims and tags, and gussying up your carefully selected presents can be just as exciting as watching your friends and loved ones opening them. Keeping a ready supply of gift wrap on hand can get expensive, but there are number of creative ways to wrap gifts with materials you already have at home.
Reusable tins and canisters are great for holding a lot more than just holiday cookies and candy. Clean them carefully, dry thoroughly and then paint them with spray enamel to use in place of paper-based gift boxes. You can further decorate them by using stencils to create a design on the surface. Another way to decorate them for holding gifts is to use decoupage.
Small items such as earrings can be placed inside little origami boxes made from recycled paper. There are a variety of styles of origami boxes in different shapes from the basic square to triangles, hearts and stars. Choose one that is best suited for your gift. Large grocery bags and heavy weight magazine pages such as the ones used for perfume samples and old greeting cards are well suited for origami boxes.
Paper grocery bags can also be opened and used for wrapping gifts. Use rubber stamps, stencils or stickers to create decorative patterns suitable to the occasion to create unique wrapping paper. Turn leftover lunch sacks turned into gift bags by adding handles from ribbon or pipe cleaners and decorative trim. Alternatively, in place of handles, fold the top of the lunch sack down two to three inches against one side of the bag. Use a single-hole punch to place to holes through all layers of the paper flap one inch from the top edges and thread ribbon or yarn through the holes and tie to make a closure.
Old clothing can easily be recycled into reusable gift bags and pouches. Unused, headscarves, handkerchiefs, tea towels and table linens are also suitable for wrapping gifts. Use an envelope or simple clutch purse pattern as a guide for your fabric pouch. You can also use a paper lunch sack as a template to create a pattern for a reusable gift sack. Longer pieces of recycled fabric can be used to create unique ribbons and flowers for embellishing wrapped gifts. Create ribbon by folding a long cloth strip around fusible web and ironing.
Newspaper makes great gift wrap. It's practical and eco-friendly and, since most people have a ready supply on hand, it's convenient and cheap. For a personal touch, use the Sunday comics when wrapping gifts for kids, the fashion section for teens and the sports pages for budding athletes. Use ribbons, lace, buttons, costume jewelry or strips of paper to embellish the news wrapped gifts. Patterned stationery is another great stand in for store bought wrapping paper and is ideal for wrapping small boxes.
With a little thought and rummaging around you can find all sorts of materials around the house that are suitable for wrapping gifts. Your packages will have their own unique style and friends and family members will praise your creative ingenuity.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Not Your Grandma's Christmas Music

It's that time of year (again) where Christmas music is blasting from everywhere you turn. It's enough to drive you crazy if you're not that into it - and I am not all that into it, especially if it's muzak versions. While there are a number of very pretty songs associated with the holiday season, such as Carol of the Bells, Oh Holy Night, and so forth, some are just downright obnoxious, especially when you're hearing them over and over and over and over.

One less painful way to endure Christmas music is to listen to recordings that are strictly instrumental, that way you can have holiday music on, but tune in and out without it distracting or bothering you too much through the day. Somehow it's less grating on the psyche when there are no vocals in the music (I know, I know... don't tell the other vocalists), and the words are less likely to be stuck in your head all day (which can drive you crazy even more).

Even better than all-instrumental Christmas music, is when your holiday tunes are all about the swing! Below is an article written for Helium back in November of 2012, and if I do say so myself, I think it's one of my best. Enjoy, and keep swinging!

The best Jazz Music Recordings for Christmas

If swing is your thing, you’ll no doubt be looking for recordings of Christmas music that reflect your tender bopping sensibilities when the winter holiday period rolls around. No Jazz lover’s holiday could possibly be complete without the quintessential seasonal recordings of some of the best to ever grace the bandstand.
There are a number of holiday CD compilations that have been put together since Jazz’s resurgence in the 1980s. One of those is the recording God Rest Ye Merry Jazzmen, which features six tracks from six artists, including the incomparable tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon and the transcendent pianist McCoy Tyner. Tunes included are "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas," "I’ll Be Home For Christmas," "The Christmas Song," "Our Little Town," "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and "We Three Kings of Orient Are."
Also from the 1980s, another must-have is New Orleans-born trumpeter Wynton Marsalis’ Crescent City Christmas Card, which features the award-winning trumpeter reading The Night Before Christmas. There are 13 tracks in total on the recording, which also features performances by Todd Williams, Alvin Batiste, Joe Temperley, Wessell Anderson, Wycliffe Gordon, Marcus Roberts, Reginald Veal, Herlin Riley and Ben Riley. Kathleen Battle is a featured guest on traditional holiday favorite "Silent Night," and Jon Hendricks joined the ensemble for "Sleigh Ride."
The Nutcracker ballet is synonymous with the Christmas season; its well-known music is heard everywhere during the holidays, from television commercials to the speakers in shopping malls. No jazz lover’s holiday could possibly be complete without the Duke Ellington recording of Tchaikovsky’s famous Suite, which is available on the release Three Suites, from Columbia.
A Christmas collection of Jazz wouldn't be complete without at least one album from the father of Jazz himself, Louis Armstrong. While it's not strictly a collection of Christmas songs, Christmas Through the Years, a recording made not long before Armstrong's death, features “Pops” on The Night Before Christmas. Other options for an Armstrong Christmas include the recordings What a Wonderful Christmas, and The Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong Christmas Collection.
Last, but most certainly not least, not even Scrooge himself could resist the urge to bob his head and tap his foot while listening to An Oscar Peterson Christmas. It features fourteen fabulous tracks including "What Child Is This," "I’ll be Home For Christmas," "Christmas Waltz" and "Away in a Manger."
These recordings from some of the most significant players in jazz history are guaranteed to make the season bright with swing.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Teacher Tips: How to use Simon Says in the Classroom

Classroom management is a living entity of sorts that evolves with both the teacher and their students as the term progresses. Class rules, seating charts, character development programs, etc., are good starting points, but in the absence of established teacher-student relationships, engagement is key in maintaining a safe, healthy, and productive learning environment.

Using games such as Simon Says in the early education classroom is a simple method for re-focusing students, keeping things light, and bringing an element of fun into the learning environment. The following article was previously published in the education channel on the Helium publishing web site in November of 2009.

How to Play Simon Says

Primary school aged children love to play Simon Says and the game is a great way to hold their attention and keep them from being restless during periods where they have to sit still and wait for several minutes. But the game is useful to teachers in many other ways as well.
Almost everyone understands how to play Simon Says. The leader says "Simon says touch your nose," and the group does it. After a couple of other tasks the leader says "clap your hands." Because he or she didn't say "Simon says clap your hands" any child who clapped is now out of the game.
Simon Says in the classroom teaches children to pay attention and follow directions while having fun. They see remaining in the game as not getting tricked by the teacher into doing something. This means that the teacher leading the game has to be quick on the draw with the "Simon says do this" tasks. If there is any lag in the game it allows children to think about what you have said before they respond.
A rapid fire of Simon Says commands that are repetitive followed by one that doesn't include the words "Simon says..." is the key to keeping the game moving and tricking up crafty students who think they won't make a mistake and respond to the wrong task.
Here is an example:
Simon Says touch your nose.
Simon Says put both hands on your hips.
Simon Says put your hands on your head.
Simon Says put your hands or your hips.
Simon Says put your hands on your head
Put your hands on your hips.
When dealing with hyper kids Simon Says is an opportunity to move around a bit and get rid of some of their nervous energy before getting back to the academic lesson. The game is also a good idea for days when the weather prevents children from enjoying recess outdoors. Because the game allows children to move around you can use Simon Says as a means to low scale physical education.
Here is an example:
Simon Says reach for the sky
Simon Says touch your toes.
Simon Says stand up.
Now touch your nose.
Simon Says look to the right.
Simon Says look to the left
Simon Says point to the sky
Point to the floor.
The idea is to use Simon Says to allow your students to get a little exercise without knowing that is what they are doing. When they burn up a little energy playing the game over five or ten minutes they are more likely to sit calmly, pay attention and stay on task.
Simon Says can also be used to get children to transition from one activity to another or from working to lining up. In this instance, you are not trying to "trick" them or catch them off guard. You are getting them to respond positively to being asked to do what you want them to such as standing, pushing in their chairs and walking to the door to lineup. Of course, you can always spend a minute or two just playing the game for fun first.
Using games with active play like Simon Says with your students helps keep coming to school interesting and fun when mixed in between periods of academic learning. Kids have a hard time sitting still in their seats for long periods of time so the game also gives them an opportunity to move around a little and get the fidgets out of their system.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Family Genealogy Activities for Thanksgiving

Holidays are the one time of year where families are almost certainly guaranteed to get together as a group under one roof. Busy schedules, distance, and a variety of miscellaneous obligations that normally interfere in
the success of gatherings, are less of an issue when the entire country gets time off for food, football and all around family fun.

Thanksgiving, perhaps above all other holidays, presents an unique opportunity for both learning and teaching moments, and for the documenting of family history. The following article, originally published in November of 2011 via Helium, highlights genealogy activities families can undertake to record, celebrate and preserve their heritage.

Genealogy Activities for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a great time to engage in genealogy activities. With multiple generations of family members gathered in one location, the holiday gives younger relatives an opportunity to collect stories from older ones, as well as additional information from extended family members who are on hand especially for the occasion.
In general, compiling information on family origins begins with birth and death records. Gathering these could mean a trip to a county office, local library (dates only), or sending off for the information through the mail. When starting out though, interviewing family members is the most basic and reliable genealogy activity there is. There are a number of forms designed for gathering information that can help to organize the mounds of data that accumulates during family fact finding, such as those found at
Getting children involved in genealogy activities early helps to ensure there will continue to be family historians archiving and collecting information for generations to come. A simple genealogy activity for Thanksgiving that kids can do is to fill out Scholastic’s family tree worksheet. The free printable, available in .pdf form, allows kids to enter their own names as well as those of their parents, siblings, grandparents and great grandparents.
Collecting oral histories from older family members is a genealogy activity that provides insight into the lives of previous generations as well as specific information on individual family members. Kids can interview older family members about their childhood, educational experiences, professions, and/or the major events of their lives and look at how their relatives’ experiences are similar or different from their own. Capturing these interviews via audio or video recording is a good way to preserve them, and kids can use the footage to create their own family documentary after the holiday.
Scrapbooking is another great genealogy activity for Thanksgiving. Page layouts can encompass anything from individual family member histories to accounts of various activities from the holiday. Plan ahead by asking family members to bring copies of photos to share, or if possible, use a digital camera and photo printer to scrap memories as they are created. Ask family members to create journal entries such as “I remember,” or “when I was a kid,” that can be included in the scrapbook. Alternatively, or additionally, allow family members to create their own mini scrapbooks to take home at the end of the day.
Genealogy activities for Thanksgiving are a great opportunity for family bonding. They provide a window into the past while reinforcing the connections of the present. Involving multiple family members in the activities keeps the burden of maintaining the family’s history – a huge task—off just one person.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

How I Use The Internet

The internet has had a profound approach on nearly every aspect of our lives. What started out (for the average person) as a means for sending messages, chatting with others, and playing games, has turned into a 24 hour research source, a way to pay bills, shop, and conduct business, as well as an instant delivery service for a wide variety of direct to user content from advertising to streaming favorite television shows.

When I think about how much time I spend in front of the computer on an average day... well, I really try not to think about it. (Thank goodness for my garden!) So much technology has evolved or come into being since 2009 when I posted the article, How I Use the Internet. Back then I said I mostly used the internet for correspondence and research. Of course, that was before the boom of social media...

How I use the Internet

At the time I first ventured onto the internet I didn't know very much about it let alone the potential of what it could be used for. I had seen journalists in movies and on television accessing some kind of massive computer library of information and I assumed the internet functioned much like that.
When I first discovered the internet I did not have access to it at my home, or even my own internet ready computer, for that matter. I think I first learned about it through a friend whose husband did some kind of work. They had internet service in their home and she was always on it, usually visiting the chat rooms. It was an outlet for her because at the time she was a stay at home mom.
A short time later I started out using the internet at my mother's house and in the beginning I would visit chat rooms and occasionally look up information. There was not nearly the amount of online resources then as there are today, but it was new and fun and because I had my own screen name on my mom's AOL account I was able to receive email.
Once I started to learn how to navigate around the Internet Super Highway I also learned how to download and save documents for future reference. The best thing about it was that when you wanted to do research you could do it at any hour of the day, unlike visiting the local library. Back then it was all via dial up service using your home telephone.
When I was able to start accessing the internet from home I would spend hours on it looking up all sorts of information on how to do things. At times I would not have the budget to go out and buy books and the internet was a valuable twenty-four hour resource for learning new information from a variety of sources I would not have been able to access otherwise.
Over the years I have gotten away from visiting the chat rooms. I ventured into the sphere of online dating briefly without success and I delved into some of the early social networking sites. I visited online game rooms and did a little shopping. During the time I didn't have a car being able to shop online made a huge difference in my ability to get the things that I needed.
At one point time I spent a lot of time on email reward programs like My Points and Bonus Mail (which are now merged into one program) as well as a couple of programs that no longer exist like Freeride. Those programs made a significant impact in my getting to go out during periods when I wasn't working via the gift cards and movie passes I earned.
Today a lot of things have changed. Now I mainly use the internet for email correspondence and I still spend quite a lot of time researching information. I occasionally play games and do a little shopping and I am the organizer for a meetup group. Recently I have been spending more and more time with passive income writing sites and I am trying to carve out some time to develop my blogs. I check my email multiple times per day and just I can not imagine my life without the internet.

How to Choose the Right After School Club for Your Child

One of the things I'm proudest of is my collection of articles on education topics written to Helium titles. While I was teaching enrichment classes in New Orleans area schools post Katrina, I had the opportunity to reflect on a great many things that were good and bad about the way education is approached now as well as my own experiences as a student growing up.

Those reflections are neither here are there, but for a short time I had a blog I titled "Engaging Kids, Enriching Lives. By the time I left teaching and ended up with my first ever grown-up day job, I'd also been involved with YES, the YMCA's adult literacy program. That led to another short-lived blog, Literacy is Important.

Because the demands of "real world" (as in not artist world) life (day job, moving out of the house for yet more post Katrina .renovations, etc.) once again got in the way, when I finally got back to blog posting I decided to narrow it down and deleted the ones I wasn't as focused on (Music that Makes Me, The Writing Life...).

If you look at the dates of my posts, it's obvious that time management is still one of my greatest challenges, and life is still throwing obstacles in my path. I am choosing to look at the closing of Helium as an opportunity to breath much needed new life into the blogs I have left, and for every article that doesn't fit into those (travel, wine, art/crafting, and New Orleans) Let Me Say It Well should more than suffice.

The first education topic article to transcend here is How to Choose the Right After School Club for Your Child. In some instances, an after school (or enrichment) class will be the option instead of a club, but the how of choosing is still the same.

If you're a parent, I urge you to keep in mind that while it's great to expose children to things with a sort of Liberal Arts kind of approach, it's also great to just let them be children. If they don't show an interest in something after a reasonable amount of time, let them move on to something else.

The article:

How to Choose the right after School Club for your Child

After school clubs are a great resource for working parents as well as for students. In addition to the social aspect, clubs provide an outlet for kids to engage in everything from art and drama to chess, and clubs keep kids occupied with something constructive until parents are done with the work day.
When it becomes time to choose a club for your child you’ll want to do so with his or her specific interests and aptitudes in mind. It is also good to consider your child’s current social skills as well as their strengths and weaknesses in order to pick a club that can help them grow or address any challenges.  
A child who likes singing might enjoy being in the glee club (especially with the success of the hit show, Glee), but if he or she is already in the church choir, you might instead choose to place them in something like a poetry club that might one day help them become a song writer.
While it’s obvious that an outgoing child could benefit from being in a drama club, there are many great benefits when you choose this option for a shy child. Being a part of the drama club can help kids develop or improve their self-confidence and become more comfortable speaking in front of groups. The vocal exercises help kids to become better, more articulate speakers, and mumblers can learn how to project and be heard.
Imaginative young children in kindergarten and first grade would benefit greatly from being part of a storybook club. Those in second, third and fourth who struggle with reading, could also benefit from some type of book club, particularly one where students take turns reading out loud and engage in discussions about the books that they have read.
Parents of creative students will want to choose clubs that allow them to express themselves and grow at a particular craft such as art, writing, and photography. These types of clubs will help students become more observant of the world around them as they learn about perspective and composition.
Every child should have the benefit of being a part of a service oriented club at some point in their academic career and when young children participate in service clubs they learn about important life skills and concepts such as compassion. Service clubs are also an opportunity for children to begin to develop leadership skills.
Academic clubs such those centered around Science and Math help children with an aptitude in those areas go beyond the book and the classroom to explore fun with numbers and interesting experiments. These clubs are ideal for children who might otherwise get bored during the school day when the majority of their classmates are working on a different level.
Game clubs are not just all about fun and play. Parents may want to choose one of these for a child who is still struggling with turn taking and fair play, or for kids with quick wit who enjoy a challenge. Games offer a variety of benefits and contribute to improved critical thinking and problem solving. Clubs that include strategy games such as chess help students develop skills they can use later in life.
More and more schools are offering parents and students fantastic options for a wider variety of clubs than have ever existed in the past. This means that parents can pick and choose based on their kids’ current interests, or expose them to something completely new. The benefits of clubs is far-reaching and all parents and students should take full advantage of any after school enrichment offered.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Let me live, love and say it well in good sentences. Those are the words of Silvia Plath and the inspiration for this "new direction" blog, which for the time being at least, will become the new home of the bulk of my more than 300+ articles now residing on the soon to be nonexistent Helium web site.

Naming a new blog is no easy task. What you may think of as a clever or appropriate name for your blog is quite often not going to be available once you finally get started. I've learned the easiest way to name a new blog is think of a phrase that goes with your theme and find a way to turn it into a usable title.

After several failed attempts at naming one of my previous blogs it was through a quote from Mikhail Baryshnikov that I finally arrived at To Dance Better Than Myself. This time though, the theme wasn't as cut and dry so it was more difficult to try and come up with a name. This blog is meant to be home to my writing, yet it's not a writing blog. It's not an ezine either, or a virtual archive, 

Once the articles have all been migrated, it's most likely that subsequent posts will be primarily OpEd in nature, though perhaps I'll be inspired to continue to create new articles in some of the topics I've covered in education or general How-To.

At any rate, Crafting A New Direction, can be daunting, tedious, and even time consuming. It occasionally happens in bursts as opposed to consistent ongoing periods, as you sometimes have to put your energies in other directions. Helium shuts down for good in 6 months. If I can transfer three articles per day, I'll be done in just over 100 days. It's more likely I will push do to as many as possible and then get a few more in here and there.

For a long time Helium was seen by many as being on a level above the internet content mills, but over time it became less and less profitable for experienced writers to post new content there. Other sites have come and gone as well, but as the ease of self publishing grows perhaps more and more writers will find it easier to create their own opportunities.

With four down and well over 300 to go, it may be a while before I produce any new content, but not long ago I did a guest blog post, and I've promised to review a dating book, so you never know what might turn up in this space in the future.

Stay tuned...