iFriend or iFoe?

When I turned sixteen (many many years ago), I finally got my coveted phone!  It was black, the keys lit up green, and it was all mine!  Connected to the jack in my room, which my uncle installed,  it’s long black cord stretched all over my bedroom, allowing me to talk as I did homework at my desk, sat on my bed, or listened to music by the stereo. That phone and I were attached at the ear most nights from 7pm onward, much to the annoyance, I am sure of my parents.  I talked to friends, I talked to boys (from Prep of course), and then talked to my friends about what the boys said on the phone. The only time I pried my treasured black receiver away from my ear would be in the wee hours when one of my parents, awakening for one reason or another in the night, would pick up the upstairs phone and say “Sarah, hang up the phone NOW!” Some evenings, they had to do that three or four times before I finally gave in and went to sleep.

Flash forward to today, where I rarely talk on the phone for any personal reasons; perhaps I use my iPhone to set up a doctor’s appointment, to call Abigail out of school when she is sick, or to talk to my mom (Keep Calm and Call Mom…that’s always been my motto!)  More often than not, I text my family, my friends and even my dad and I would say the majority of time I spend actually talking on a phone is at my desk at work.  My landline at home has gone the way of the dinosaur, as have many of yours, I am sure, and the play phone that came with Abigail’s toy kitchen a few years ago, was a toy cell phone.

Most of you, I am sure, have guessed where I am headed with this; back when I was a teen and today, kids do spend a lot of time on the phone. The difference is in how that communication has changed in the past thirty plus years.  Recently, JANA Partners and CALSTRS sent an open letter to Apple INC, expressing concerns about iPhone and iPad use with children and teens. While they do recognize that using the devices do have some benefits, perhaps in schools and classroom settings, some of the information about extended use and higher rates of depression and suicide are quite alarming.  The letter stated that most children receive their first phone by age 10; so I have a few short years before this becomes my issue. For many of my readers, the concern is already yours, I am sure. How much tech time is too much?

In my house, it’s a half hour of iPad videos or games before bed on school nights; with internet locks on. On weekends, it might stretch to an hour. Now, she can use her iPad for learning games, for watching a movie, or for listening to music at other times, but I do try to limit the YouTube kids, Disney kids, etc to ½ hour a day.  Of course, that would not work in your houses.  But I think all of us, as parents, have to think about what would work? How do we limit screen time? What are the lasting effects of too much technology use?  

I encourage you today to take a few moments to read the Open Letter, of which the link is below and to talk to your daughter about what it says.  And if you make any headway, send me your tips before Abigail turns ten; I know I will need them!

https://thinkdifferentlyaboutkids.com/

How to Beat the Winter Blues

Cold weather, icy streets, grey snow piled up on sidewalks, slushy puddles, early sunsets – and even GROUNDHOG DAY is still a month away.  I am not certain about all of my readers, but from what I have observed here at SDA over the early days of January, it seems to me that many of our young ladies, and perhaps even some of our dedicated faculty, staff and administration are suffering from a case of the “Winter Blues.”

There’s no CURE for winter- we live in a region that experiences all four seasons and although each of them have their ups and downs, for me, no season is drearier than the time between New Year’s Day and the advent of Spring. Even snow days bring no real excitement, because I have no desire to either build a snowman or shovel snow.  For me, a perfect winter would begin with a light dusting of snow on Thanksgiving, sprinkle some beautiful flakes in purple twilight during the Advent season, gift us with a fluffy white Christmas, and then pack it in on New Year’s Eve!  Alas, since I do not live in Camelot where “winter is forbidden till December…” I, along with all of my fellow winter haters, have to suffer though these cold grey days before spring comes once again.

As an educator, and also as a parent, I am aware of the effects that weather can have on student performance and overall physical and mental health.  This is a tough time of year for many of our young ladies; sitting for midterm exams, waiting for college acceptances and financial aid awards, and just not being able to get out in the fresh air as often as they might like all add to the stress they already carry daily.  I did some reading online over the past few weeks, and found an excellent post from one Ms. Darcy Lawton, a LCSW who works in Battery Park City, NY.   This post on her site shared her six tips for beating the winter blues.  As I read it, I found myself embracing some of the ideas she put forth.

Today, I want to share the link with you and it is my hope that parents, SDA students, and even SDA alumnae find some helpful advice if any of you are struggling with the winter winds. I know I am, and I know this article helped me!

https://talktodarcy.com/blog/six-tips-beating-winter-blues

An Empowered Woman From a Galaxy Far, Far, Away…

The New Year began with a nasty bout of illness in my house. Abigail, who had the flu, curled up to watch all the Star Wars films. She wearily lifted her head from my lap to make this observation: “Leia can’t be a princess because she is a hero.”

Out of the mouths of babes…for decades society via film has demonstrated that a girl can be one (Katniss from Hunger Games) or the other ( Cinderella) but not both. However we at SDA know differently and work to emulate that mix of kindness and confidence for every young lady that passes thru the doors.

Last year, after Carrie Fisher’s death, I shared my feelings as to why she was so iconic to me as a young girl. As the anniversary of her death has just passed and her face appeared in a Star Wars film for the last time, I share again my thoughts from last January on this heroic, empowered princess…

When I was five years old, my parents took me to see Return of the Jedi  in the theater. It is the first movie I vividly remember going to see. If memory serves, they took me right after my kindergarten graduation. It was June of 1983, I was five years old and a true STAR WARS fanatic. My Halloween costume a year before had been Princess Leia; complete with the cinnamon bun hairstyle. Although the first movie came out the year I was born, I had been lucky enough, so I am told, to be taken to a re-release of it by my uncle when I was 4 years old.  My father remembers me telling my dolls “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.” I am sure my brothers and cousins have fond memories of playing Star Wars outside when we had family get togethers. Two of my cousins, lucky guys, had light sabers that really lit up!  What a galaxy George Lucas and his cast created for all of us children back then!

Last Christmas, just a year ago, I took my daughter to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Together, we then watched the other Star Wars films on DVD. Just a week ago, she and I were driving to visit family, when I learned of the death of Carrie Fisher. Not one to become visibly upset over celebrity deaths, I did, once we reached our destination, give her some toys to play with and sit quietly for more than a few minutes in sadness and contemplation. For, if Han Solo was my very first crush, then Princess Leia was for certain, my very first heroine, role model and idol.

And so she was for many young women in the years spanning 1977 until today. She was an icon for girls; a truly empowered princess. She did not lay in a glass box, waiting for a prince to wake her. She did not need to talk to birds and deer, to sing by fountains or whistle while she worked. Not Leia; she did not wait for men to fight against the Empire; she joined the Rebellion, smuggled information at risk to her own life, and fought bravely for the cause. Later films had her not just fighting, but leading the Rebellion; mastering her own strength and standing equal to all the men who fought bravely against the Empire.  Never once was she portrayed as unequal to men by the filmmakers; not even when they dressed her in that gold bikini. She was wearing that very outfit when she took down Jabba the Hut! Her dialogue was as witty as any male characters, her bravery was as well known and her legacy in both that galaxy and in ours, has been  preserved for 40 years.

As an English teacher, I often look at fictional characters and who is chosen to portray them when they are onscreen. Carrie Fisher became Princess Leia; at 19 years old, she held her own with her male cast mates, the only woman of any significance in that first film and in those that followed. To step into that spotlight and become an icon at such a young age must have been truly overwhelming, a challenge that may have seemed, at times in her life, insurmountable.  Just as her onscreen persona was, Carrie Fisher was no wilting flower, but instead a vocal force, speaking out about mental illness and the struggles she managed to overcome to be successful. She continually sent the message that strength in life is always needed, recovery is ongoing, and that support is essential if we women are to not only survive, but thrive and become all we have ever dreamed of being.

At 19, I wonder if she dreamed that fans the world over would pay tribute to her on a cold December day. I wonder if she dreamed of being an on screen heroine for girls for years to come and an outspoken and impassioned advocate for mental health awareness. Or, at 19, was she just a young girl, filled with the same excitement and love for live that fills the hearts of teenage girls today, looking forward to what is over the horizon, or perhaps even in the next galaxy.

Our young ladies at SDA may not know for sure what the future holds; however, we teach them daily that no matter what lies in store for them, they are the heroines of their own life story, women who do not wait to be rescued, but who do the rescuing. Women who do not wait for men to lead the battles against the evils of the world, but who take on the  battles themselves, ready and willing to face new challenges. We create daily a group of empowered young heroines, who will inspire change, improve the world, and become icons themselves for the next generation of young women to emulate. As I mourn the loss of my childhood heroine, I take comfort in her words from The Force Awakens. Hope is not lost today…it is found. Wherever each of us women finds inspiration to empower us to succeed, we carry it with us and touch lives forever.

Lessons from the Elves…

Last weekend, my niece, (the daughter of an SDA graduate!) was in a production of ELF Junior in Toms River, NJ. Abigail is a huge fan of ELF and so we were happy to see Ellie in the production- she did an outstanding job! Of course, after watching the musical, the movie was on a non-stop loop on the TV in my house and has been on frequently all season long.  It makes me laugh, but as with most movies, after a while I tune it out.  

And then, it struck me- some of the most important lessons of Christmas come from holiday classics that we are so used to seeing, we forget the important messages that they impart upon children for generations to come !

So indulge me if you will in some holiday cheer. At just one week before Christmas, let us review some of these classic Christmas messages to truly get into the spirit of the season!

From ELFThe best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear! & There’s room for everyone on the NICE list!

From Home AloneThis is Christmas, the season of perpetual hope!

From How The Grinch Stole Christmas Maybe…Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas is a little bit more.

From The Polar ExpressSeeing is believing, but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see. & There’s no greater gift than friendship.

From Miracle on 34th Street Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to!

From It’s a Wonderful LifeEvery time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings!

From A Christmas Carol God bless us, everyone!

And with these words of wisdom in our hearts and minds, let us enter into those final days before Christmas, looking forward to celebrating with family and friends. Remember always, the true spirit of Christmas lies within your heart.

Deck The (SDA) Halls!

December is upon us at last! For many of us, it is truly the most magical and wonderful time of year and no matter how many late nights of wrapping or afternoons of baking we have, the joy of the holiday season makes every Christmas chore seem merry and fun.  From sun up till  moonrise, all month long, I have no doubt that many of you will be as busy as Santa’s elves- with shopping, wrapping, exchanging, and all that comes with the joy of the season.

At Saint Dominic Academy this December, every so often I need to peek out my office door and make certain our young ladies are not elves themselves!  Fresh from their fall production of The Sound of Music; many of our most talented voices are singing at Tree Lightings, Holiday parties, and of course at our very own Christmas Concert  on December 10th. The Glee Club and Dominoes are busily spreading Christmas cheer, not only within SDA, but within the entire Hudson County community.

Our athletes are involved in a bit of hustle and bustle as well; basketball and indoor track have practices, games and meets that last into the wee hours, when houses are lamplit and there is frost in the air heading home.  Never growing tired, these dedicated young women are committed to their studies as well as their teams and bring pride to SDA, not only in December, but all  year long.

Our Peer Ministers are preparing for our Christmas Liturgy, Dominican Youth in Action is sponsoring a Giving Tree, French, Spanish and Asian Interest clubs are planning Christmas parties for the school, Student Council raised enough funds to buy 15 coats for children, and the Class of 2018 is hard at work on their Christmas play.  And the fun doesn’t end with the students; faculty and staff are making ornaments for their prayer partners and our Alumnae Association is hosting an Alumnae Christmas Party on December 15th.  

With all the merriment in the air, it’s not hard to see why I sometimes wonder if each of our young ladies is not just a bit magical.  And then, I remember…they are!  For the love of God is with them always, and perhaps, during this month, it shines just a tiny bit brighter and gives them the extra sparkle that I see daily!

The Hills Were Alive…AT SDA!

This past weekend, it was my pleasure to welcome parents, donors, alumnae and friends to Saint Dominic Academy’s production of The Sound of Music.  This breathtaking show, which began its journey here at SDA in June of 2017 and has continued until late Saturday evening, was full of talented and heart stopping young men and women. The ladies of Saint Dominic Academy, together with students from Saint Peter’s Prep, Hudson Catholic High School, Eastern Christian Academy and All Saints Catholic Academy as well as faculty members from Saint Dominic Academy worked tirelessly, after school, evenings and weekends, to perfect the performances that were held over the weekend.

I am certain it is a story most of our audience knew very well; a heartbroken father finding new love after the loss of a mother, a young woman searching for her place in life, and a brave family facing the Nazi takeover of Austria in the days preceding World War II. The emotions in this show are as wide ranging as the ages that were seen on the stage, from the tiniest Von Trapp child to the most decorated Nazi Officer. The cast and crew’s dedication to the performance had the power to transport viewers to Austria before it fell to Germany,  to lighten their souls with the songs “your heart wants to sing…” and to celebrate the joy that is family as we moved into December and the Christmas season.

What was interesting for me to share with our young students in the cast, some of whom were not aware, was that the story of the Von Trapp Family was a true one; the story of an empowered woman who embraced the twists and turns of her life, until it took her to where she belonged; as the wife of Captain Von Trapp and stepmother to his seven children and later, two of their own.  

Maria Von Trapp, who worked to keep her family together, both as they left Austria and then again in Switzerland and finally in Stowe, Vermont, may not have always been as cheerful and happy as our own Maria, but she did survive, thrive, and bring her family to success.  She was a leader, in a society that was falling under a dangerous regime. She was a brave and protective mother, putting the safety her stepchildren and children before her own at all times.

In short, she was the very portrait of a Saint Dominic Academy girl; empowered, spiritual, and dedicated to doing the right thing.

It was an honor for all of us at Saint Dominic Academy to tell her story and the story of her family!  My sincere thanks and love to the cast, crew, Director and supporters of The Sound of Music.

November Prayer #4

The magic of November…the ongoing prayer of Thanksgiving between each of us and God.

 

For the month of November, I encourage those who read this weekly blog to find here a prayer of Thanksgiving- reminding us that each day, not just Thanksgiving Day, is a day to celebrate all we have to be thankful for in life. Please pray with Saint Dominic Academy all November long.

 

God of light and hope,

Look upon us in love.

Fill us with the Spirit of Jesus,

So that, as Advent approaches,

Our hearts and minds become ready to welcome

With love and joy,

The Spirit of Jesus.

As we move toward December

And await The Light of The World,

May we be filled with the many blessings

You grant to us daily,

And may we look to You with Thankful hearts always.

Amen

November Prayer #3

The magic of November…the ongoing prayer of Thanksgiving between each of us and God.

 

For the month of November, I encourage those who read this weekly blog to find here a prayer of Thanksgiving- reminding us that each day, not just Thanksgiving Day, is a day to celebrate all we have to be thankful for in life. Please pray with Saint Dominic Academy all November long.

 

Lord God, as Thanksgiving approaches this week,

We ask for Your blessings on family and friends.

We ask for Your blessings on our homes, our schools, and our world.

We thank You for this time we spend together,

And we keep in our hearts all those who are not with family on Thanksgiving.

While we celebrate the joys of Thanksgiving,

We continually stay mindful of the sorrows in the world.

We pray for peace in our hearts.

We pray for peace in the world.

Help us to know always that Your love is constant

So that w may share in Your glory.

Amen