Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Christmas in the Arizonan Desert

December 18 2013, one week before St Nick slips down chimneys all over this beautiful city and here I am preparing to celebrate the festivities in the Arizonan Desert. Holidaying with the daughter and long standing friends, it is a busy but enjoyable and moving time of the year especially here in this very dear place that is close to my heart. The sun rises about 7.30am and sets about 5.30pm with vermillion and amethyst brush strokes painted across the horizon, it’s an exquisite sight with Camelback Mountain silhouetted against this beautiful backdrop.

As dawn evolves the Arizonan sun and blue skies flood the day, together with a cool desert chill morning and evening filling the atmosphere and where, surprisingly, light jackets are required even though the temperature is still 75 degrees Fahrenheit. A road runner runs here and a quail scurries there; a hummingbird hovers and darts to my left and a desert robin sits proudly high atop a saguaro surveying the festive landscape. Venturing out I enjoy observing the merriment and hustle and bustle of families preparing for their personal celebrations…fall or one day only (yes one day only) here in the US. No Boxing Day here. Though our American friends pretend to celebrate BD day, even though they do not really know what it is all about; they like to observe it for us two Brits, Mrs Teacup and daughter. Sadly, on Boxing Day the working population usually return to their corporate desks.

The Malls are frantic with families buying food, decorations, gifts, wrapping paper and ribbon. Monstrous evergreen Christmas trees are sold on street corners in the “Tree Patches” all over town and families load their car roofs and make their way home to overload such tree with sparkly decorations and lights of every shape size and colour you can imagine. Shop windows are beautifully and tastefully overdone; prices are low, or lower than usual, with bargains to be had on every corner of the Phoenix grid system where businesses hope to rake in their last sales before the New Year is rung in with Should Old Acquaintance be Forgotten. Coffee shops sell Christmas shaped cookies and pastries, snowy frothy winter lattes and cappuccinos and Christmas flavoured tea with cinnamon and seasonal spices, all very yummy and moreish. Families look festive (and silly in some cases) wearing reindeer ears or jingle bell antennae as they go about their Christmas business; even some of the cars and trucks are sparkled up for the Season of Good Will and wear “ears” or “sparkles” or “lights” of some description or another.

Every other house and garden twinkle with coloured lights of every colour of the rainbow; gardens are a glow and covered in decorations. Competition is high to see who can put the most lights up or who can do the most outrageous display; electricity bills must be high too! Neighbours outwitting neighbours in the Christmas spirit in some streets.  Cactuses, bushes, trees and plants are all elaborately adorned and flashing. The downtown trolley bus will take you on a tour of the grandest displays if you so desire. House parties are in full swing on each street corner with Cadillac’s, Hummers and Station Wagons parked kerb side and I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas blaring. Restaurants have Christmas everything; decorated ice creams and puds; napkins and table centres; waitresses and waiters are bedecked with tinsel and flashing earrings, Santa hats and festive antennae. Christmas flavoured ice teas, Christmas smelling candles; in fact everything you ever wanted can be Christmas coloured, flavoured or decorated right down to the Kleenex box , kitchen towel…..and even the loo rolls!

There are places to go and things to see; Lights at the Zoo, Luminaries at the Botanical Gardens with Chihully, Christmas Markets by the Waterfront, Christmas Craft Making Parties, the Nutcracker at the theatre, carols at the Philharmonic, Swan Lake at the ballet, Native American Storytelling and children’s theatre of some description all over town. No traditional Pantomime; they do not understand Pantomime! The Public Art is festivitied up with holly and ivy wreaths, bows and baubles. Everything that can be decorated is decorated.
Churches of every denomination are in full swing and sparkle up with crosses and stars, mangers and nativity scenes to praise, be thankful and welcome the Kings of Kings birth on the 25th. Carollers sing The Holly and the Ivy and Hark the Herald Angles in quiet corners of shopping malls with donations going to charities. Schools celebrate with parties and concerts for proud mums and dads to shed a happy tear in honour of their children’s successful year at school. Charities sell paper angels in a variety of prominent spots, in order that children less fortunate can receive a gift over the Christmas period. Soup kitchens and youth hostels serve up free meals and food bags so most do not go hungry.

Its fun, a blast, cool, awesome and certainly different and I love every minute. You cannot get much more Christmassy and outrageous than spending the Christmas Holiday Season in the Arizonan Desert alongside the Saguaros, Jumping Chollas, Cactus Wrens, Hummingbirds, Road Runners, Quails, Poinsettia’s, Cowboys and Native Americans. What a fantastic juxtaposition this whole adventure and season always is here in my heartland.

Merry Christmas and a Happy and Prosperous New Year to you all.

God Bless.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Say NO to Bullies

Do the memories and trauma's associated with bullies and bullying stay with us into our middle and old age? I believe they do. Not only was I, Mrs Teacup, a victim of bullies and bullying most of my school life but worse still I can remember the taunts, name calling, whispers and abuse like it was yesterday. And even worse than all that, is the lifelong emotional and psychological damage that can haunt a child. As an adult, teacher and trainer in early year’s education, I do not suffer bullies in my classrooms wherever I am in the world and I role model respect, kindness, fairness and tolerance.

Forty five years ago I was teased because my dad was a successful and talented artist and architect. We lived in a nice house down a country lane and he drove a Jaguar. I had a middle class accent from middle class England and I wore middle class clothes. But as a small child and teenager none of this was my fault (if there is ever any fault with anyone) and the comments and taunts were scary and hard to comprehend. Because of these outrageous individuals and ghastly comments I hated my school days, and have traumatic memories, but despite it all did well enough to gain a place at university.

The taunts and bullying were so bad I would never let my dad drive me to school; I would rather walk or get the bus. If he did insist on driving me, he had to drop me in an obscure back street far enough away not to be seen or my day and life at school would not be worth living. I would walk the last part of the journey, often alone, in order to survive the bullies and the forthcoming day in school.

It was not just me who got it in the neck, there was a few of us. One girl who had been adopted was bullied and often beaten to a pulp. I would stick up for her and then they attacked me too but I didn't care, I have never been one to hold back or be frightened to speak up. But that probably made it worse for me as I was not afraid to stand up for me, others and the poor adopted young girl. Still am not even now.

The funniest part is that these kids had no idea how they made me stronger; more determined to show them who the “daddy” was. I am a survivor, a fighter, and I come back stronger and more determined every time I am knocked back. But can you imagine where I may have ended up (and where some poor individuals do end up) when the bullies get the better of them and confidence and self-esteem is knocked. Difference is what makes the world go round and what makes us all interesting and unique, why would we tease and taunt someone cause they are different?? But we all know "difference" is an easy option for a bully.

I have encountered bullying behaviour all over the world in all cultures. Bullying and bullies do not discriminate and we could all find ourselves at some point in our lives the victim of an individual or individuals that can't resist having a go or a “pop” at us about something or another. Have the confidence to have a comeback and stick up for you in an honest mature but assertive manner. Walk away and don’t beat yourself up about their undignified behaviours. Stand tall and know you are special and have greatness within you.   

So my advice to the bullied is fight the good fight, rise up and show 'em what you've got. Don't be beaten, come back stronger than ever, fulfil your dreams, hopes and wishes. Stay true to yourself, set an exemplary example; shame the bullies. Have a mind of your own and do not succumb to such disgusting behaviour, always be the one to teach those around you the right path. Do great things for the world and, where possible, those within it.

Remember my opening paragraph that after forty five years I still remember the words, taunts and associated feelings as strong today as all those years ago, consequently, so will the little people we have the privilege of teaching in our early years settings. Be aware of, and wise to, unwanted negatives in your classrooms. Nip in the bud quickly behaviours that damage self-esteem and confidence and role model fair balanced honest and trustworthy relationships.

You will probably be shocked to know that I have witnessed bullying with a child as young as two years old, so much so that when the toddler arrived in my class her hair was falling out, she was mute and her confidence and self-esteem were at an all-time low. In her previous setting she had been pushed and poked, hair pulled and persistently bitten by one particular child. She moved to my setting and my staff team gradually built up her confidence and self-image until she was able to speak eloquently, participated with her peers and began to have fun. That precious and delightful bundle of joy grew and matured into the eminent woman she is today and who now imparts her experiences to others around the world.

So say NO to bullies, in fact sometimes it is ok to say something stronger to a bully, but best of all, role model positive ethical respectful behaviour and expose the bully as the coward that they actually are. We should all be working together to make sure all children have a safe and fun world to develop and grow in. #justsaying