Groundhog Day: What’s in the Forecast?

It’s the last day of January. And in two days we will get word about when we can expect winter to end. If Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow, it’s back to huddling under blankets. But if he doesn’t, we’ll be breaking out the bikinis and flip flops before we know it!

Forecasting is an ancient practice

Forecasting has always satisfied a deep human need. Back in 1500 BC, the Chinese Shang Dynasty passed out plum positions to those who could hone their sight and hearing to predict weather patterns. The ancient Greeks put together a list of 200 ways to forecast weather.

Today, of course, we have fancy meteorological equipment. But we still set aside a day each year to march out with elaborate fanfare a pudgy little groundhog, the great predictor of our winter fate.

Why is forecasting so important to us?

Well, it comes in handy when making some pretty important decisions. Knowing if the summer will be wet or dry helps farmers make key decisions related to their crops. Knowing if the stock market will rise or fall helps investors put their money in the best ventures. Knowing which strains of flu virus will be the most prevalent in any given year helps scientists protect against severe illness by preparing the most effective flu shots. Knowing the number of questions on any given subject on the SAT helps tutors better prepare their students to achieve high scores.

On the more frivolous side, the status of the groundhog’s shadow on February 2 helps us plan our wardrobe. And if the outcome is good, it can help us improve our state of mind.

So forecasting gives us information that helps us make better decisions. And that is a good thing. But we all know that forecasting is not an exact science. I can remember still remember April 1975 when 9.8 inches of snow fell in Chicago despite Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction of a short winter. I can also remember pulling my hair out at a sudden 500 point drop in the stock market on the heels of a sunny bull market prediction.

The reality is, and we all know it, forecasting is very imprecise. Heck, it’s often downright wrong. But forecasting satisfies our need to prepare – to make the most of the good times and to take whatever steps we can to minimize the bad. For ourselves and for our children.

So here’s hoping there’s no shadow in sight on Tuesday. Happy Groundhog’s Day!

Share your stories of Groundhog Day!

Teaching Black History

Today’s inspiration comes from the many many people and organizations across the country teaching about black history:

  • The 107 historically black colleges
  • The thousands of African-American history departments at colleges across the country
  • The hundreds of thousands of elementary and secondary school teachers who educate their students about black history
  • The filmmakers, playwrights, poets, historians, children’s books authors, and all other writers who uncover pearls of black history and weave them into mesmerizing narratives
  • The archeologists who unearth and the curators who craft displays of black artifacts
  • The business men and women who guide diversity discussions that include lessons from black history
  • The PARENTS and CAREGIVERS who talk to their children about black history
  • ALL others who incorporate their knowledge of black history into their family and community life

WOW! That is a lot of black history education going on. Here’s to all of you who are contributing your knowledge to build a bright future.

Share your favorite inspiring stories of black history.

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement and Uncle Romie

New and Fabulous

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Ekua Holmes tells the story of a black woman sharecropper in the Mississippi Delta who dared to register to vote in a time when there were often grave consequences for insisting on this right. This is a story of one woman’s bravery and deep resolve. The illustrations reflect the story with beauty and strength. Pegged for ages 9-12.

Oldie but Goodie

I don’t toot my own horn too often in this blog. But I think Black History month is an especially good time to share the story of artist Romare Bearden with children. So here you go….

Me and Uncle Romie by Yours Truly, illustrated by Jerome LaGarrigue introduces readers to internationally renowned African-American collage artist, Romare Bearden. Children learn about Bearden’s life and art through the fictional story of a boy from a small southern city who makes his first trip up north to visit his Uncle Romie in New York City. The book includes tips for children to make their own storytelling collages. I got very lucky on this one – the illustrations are gorgeous! For ages 5 and up.

Black History (Every) Month

When I was a small child, I was taught that the continent on which we live was discovered by Christopher Columbus. For a long time, I had the hardest time remembering if he was Italian or Spanish (in fact, of course, he was Italian but sailed for Spain). I remember I had a hazy image of a humongous, dark, uninhabited rocky terrain – and cold, very cold – that was just sitting there for what might have been an eternity until one day Columbus bumped up against this desolate place and CLICK! the lights came on (picture one of those closets with sensored lights that automatically come on when you open the door), cities popped up, and some years later, I was born. And so we created a holiday to celebrate good old Chris for having made all of our lives possible. In some ways, he seemed like a creator.

Of course, this is not the way it happened. Fast forward to my kids at the same age. They learned about Christopher Columbus, too. But they learned he was just one of many characters who paraded across our continent. There were First Nations who built sophisticated homes and tools and art, and who sometimes suffered – I remember my children’s great concern about the Trail of Tears. There were pilgrims and others from Europe searching for religious freedom, and blacks, some who were explorers, most who came as slaves.

My children drew pictures of those early days – not the dark boulders I had envisioned but towering green trees, gold and blue maize, bison, and people of various colors and styles. The image my children carried around was not that we owed our history to one great (European) man but that many people, many cultures got us to where we are and who we are today.

The origins of Black History Month go way back before my children’s early education. The idea began as Black History Week in February 1926, organized by Carter G. Woodson, the second black man to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard University. This was extended to a month of study in 1976.

Of course, a lot has changed even since 1976. Technological progress had brought black artists and athletes, scientists and even a President onto our screens on a regular basis.

The question is: Do we still need Black History Month?

I can’t answer this question with a definitive Yes or No. But I can say without a doubt that we need to teach our children our history as a nation. And that history needs to include the role played by African-Americans in all of our history’s many facets. Why?

There are many.

To me, the most compelling reason to study the past is to shape a better future. I’ll harken back to a past blog post about cookie-making. My daughter stubbornly set about making cookies without regard for the baking that had come before her. She was not aware that others had tried the minimalist flour/water combination that led to tasteless rocklike cookies time and time again. She was not aware that somewhere down the line, someone had added baking powder with wondrous results. And that scattered through history, some bakers hit upon recipes that resulted in cookies heavenly enough for the gods. And that many times, these results were actually preserved in writing for future generations to learn from. When she finally acknowledged that there was a lot to be gained from baking history, she was able to piggy-back on this to create her most delectable treats.

We, as a people, have the same potential to learn from past mistakes and build on past glories. Someday, I hope we will not need to set aside a month to remind us to include the black past as part of our teachings. Until then, Happy Black History Month!

Share your favorite stories from black history.

Action for Nonviolence

Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals.

–Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King preached nonviolence in the 1960s. How are his ideas inspiring action in 2016?

The Sea of Rage

Our media fills our lives with constant news of gang shootings, cop shootings, terrorist shootings and bombings. Sometimes it can feel like the whole world has taken up arms.

But it’s not true. And it’s really important to hear news of the work that’s being done to carry on Dr. King’s movement of nonviolence.

Choruses of Peace

There’s strength in numbers. I find it’s hard to raise my voice in peace when it feels sure to be drowned out by shouts of violent rage. But when I know I am joining a chorus, my spirits and my voice soar.

So here are some choirs you might want to join.

  • #Where Is The Love? After the shooting of Trayvon Martin, students in Miami started a nonviolence campaign grounded in what they call Martin Luther King’s six principles of nonviolence. They spread the love on social media with the twitter handle Where Is the Love@sharethelovemia. The coolest thing they’ve done to date is to organize a concert for peace. I also love their tweets that include quotes from Gandhi, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Dolly Parton, among others!
  • Aaliyah Stewart’s brother went to a basketball game one day in his hometown in Indiana. And he never made it back. He was gunned down at a gas station. Aaliyah was just seven years old. Seven years later, Aaliyah’s other brother and a cousin were killed in the very same week. At the age of fifteen, she has been to twelve funerals of friends and family. Her response: raise money for college scholarships for classmates to break the cycle of violence through education. She’s got a pack of fundraising tools – started a “gofundme” campaign, put together a benefit, sells #IAmThem T-shirts. Her message: Stop the Violence.
  • Nonviolence International operates on a global scale helping to nurture local nonviolent activity in the United States and around the world. You can learn more at

There are many more people, young and old, raising their voices for peace. If you are interested in getting involved, do a little Internet searching to find one that is right for you.

Do you have stories to share about action for nonviolence?

I Am Martin Luther King, Jr. and Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

New and Fabulous

I Am Martin Luther King, Jr. is a new story from Brad Melzer, illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos. It tells King’s story from his own point of view – first person narrative. And it starts from when MLK was just a little boy having experiences that any little boy might have. The result makes me as a reader feel like I’m sitting at the kitchen table having coffee with Dr. King, hearing his reminisces about his life. Very approachable. Pegged for ages 5-8.

Oldie but Goodie

Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Bryan Collier, focuses on the power of words as used by Dr. King to create change. Key details of MLK’s life give structure to snippets from his speeches that moved people to support civil rights for blacks in America. The subtext stresses the power of literacy, of speech, of the written word – a timeless message to pass on to all of our children. For ages 5 and up.

Teaching the Meaning of Martin Luther King

I was a child during the time Martin Luther King changed America. I was ten years old when he was killed. What I remember most about him in my child’s eye memory are the rhythms, the cadences of his speeches. Even though I did not understand all that he was talking about, I understood that it was urgent, important, world-changing. I knew deep inside me on a very emotional level, that he was a person for the ages. He made me feel that everything would be all right.

Even though I was so young, I remember exactly where I was when I learned he had been shot – I was at the grocery store looking through teen magazines while my father shopped. And someone came running through the store moaning and sobbing. And for a while, I felt like the world had been thrown off its center.

My older self has learned much more about the particulars of Martin Luther King’s life. His work was so profound, so broad as well as deep, that I cannot possibly say enough here to do it all justice.

Is there a way, then, to share with our children a sense of who Martin Luther King was and why his life and work are important to our lives now?

I think so.

Listening to Martin Luther King Speeches

When my children were little, we spent part of every Martin Luther King day listening to one of his speeches. Here I give thanks to the wonders of you tube. For those who are interested, here are some links:

These are links to full-length speeches. For those with shorter attention spans, you will have no trouble finding clips/highlights a couple of minutes in length.

Learning About Martin Luther King’s Life

There are plenty of video biographies that outline, in varying levels of detail, the facts of MLK’s life. Check out for videos on the history channel website.

There are also books geared toward every different age level. For small children, check out Martin’s Big Words. For older children take a look at Martin Luther King Jr. (10 Days) or take a look at something written by MLK himself.

Encouraging Your Child’s Response to Martin Luther King

At points in their lives, my children have felt compelled to create their own personal responses to what they’ve learned about Martin Luther King. They certainly are not alone in this regard. I recently ran across a video created (with help!) by a five-year-old girl who had developed a strong interest in Martin Luther King: The possibilities are endless – art projects, stories, poems, research, videos, and on and on.

Many communities have special Martin Luther King Day events. Getting out and being part of a group of people focused on Martin Luther King’s legacy is an opportunity for children of today to build emotional as well as intellectual memory of MLK’s meaning in the world today. The kind of memory that sticks.

Martin Luther King Day: A Day “On”

You may have heard this phrase. It’s an opportunity to use your day “off” to continue MLK’s work. The Corporation for National and Community Service lists some ways to volunteer: Check your local news sources for opportunities near you!

My last thought for today. There are many wonderful MLK quotes. Here are two to reflect on this holiday:

Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable…Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.

I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.

Giving Winter Warmth

This week’s theme has been about making the best of winter by jumping into outdoor fun. I have such fond memories of bundling my little ones into their enormous snowsuits, wrapping their faces in soft scarves, tucking their hands into waterproof mittens, helping them pull on knee-high boots. But what about kids whose families don’t have the financial ability to provide this gear?

Gifts of Winter Warmth

It warms my heart that many people around this great nation of ours are taking action to solve this problem. Close to home, at the Alain Locke Charter School where I chair the board, I have witnessed the work of one generous donor who gathered friends at her home for a party/clothing drive so that our students can be winter warm. A shoutout to all those who engage in similar work in cities and towns across the country.

Here’s a sampling of the good work that is being done:

Know other organizations donating winter-wear? Share here!

Winter Fun

New and Fabulous

Toys Meet Snow is a new story from Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Caldecott winner Paul O. Zelinsky. Three toys venture out into the snow one afternoon while their owner is away. This is the toys’ first time outside on a wintry day and they each muse about their own unique take on what they see. One is rather poetic, the next scientific, and the third asks a lot of questions! The illustrations are gorgeous and you and your children will enjoy talking about the different ways of looking at and responding to winter. Pegged for ages 3-7 years.

Oldie but Goodie

The Mitten is an old Ukrainian folk tale in a classic telling by Jan Brett. When a little boy goes out to play one winter day, he drops one of his new white mittens onto the soft white snow. He doesn’t immediately spot the glove. But the animals scuttering around on the frosty ground see it and decide the warm wool is a good place to huddle. What I like best about this book are the pictures that evoke just the feeling I had when I was a kid playing outside on a snowy afternoon: The sounds of the world muted by the softness of the snow, little animals scuttering across my path as I played in the winter wonderland. A good winter read sure to inspire your young children to head outdoors.

Soles for the Soul

One resolution perennially on my New Year’s list is helping the homeless. This year, I am keeping a quarters jar where I will collect stray change that I accumulate. I will then transfer amounts from there to a change box in my car so that I can always have a little something for men and women who approach my car window when I’m at a stoplight.

Gotta Have Sole

This year, I’ve been inspired by another great idea thought up and put into action by a passionate young student. Nicholas Lowinger was just a kid when he visited a homeless center and was struck by the children he met there whose shoes were worn out or who had no shoes at all. Moved to change this, he first donated his gently used shoes. But even that didn’t feel quite right. He was a teen – he knew how important cool shoes are in high school. So he set his sights higher. And he started Gotta Have Sole Foundation which over the past six years has donated 44,000 pairs of new shoes to homeless shelters in 43 states. Over this holiday season alone, Nicholas led a drive that raised enough support to provide shoes for over 1,400 kids. Every ten-dollar contribution buys a pair of new shoes.

To learn more check out Another reminder that young people are ready and able to take on the task of building a better world.

Know other organizations collecting new or gently used items? Share here!