What is the one thing that every person in the world needs every day? Water. (5-13 gallons of it per day, to be exact.) In the United States, we are blessed to have access to an abundance of clean water for brushing our teeth, washing our clothes, our dishes, our bodies, cooking, and, of course, drinking. But over a billion people in developing countries, such as sub-Saharan Africa, do not have access to the very think that keeps us clean, healthy, and alive.
At St. Joan of Arc School, we always strive to care for others and the environment. So, when we were asked to participate in The Water Challenge, through The Water Project, Inc., all of us joined the cause. Participants are asked to drink nothing but water in a reusable bottle for two weeks and document the milk, juice, soda, and coffee they eliminate. At the end of two weeks, each person donates the money they saved by choosing water over other drinks. The goal is for each person to raise $23. A few months after the money is returned to The Water Project, Inc., donors will receive a report of where their money went, including GPS coordinates! It turns their small sacrifice into something big and important.
The idea is similar to the kind of fasting we do in Lent. The Water Challenge offers us the chance to think about those who have less than we do and to appreciate something we often take advantage. It also enables us to avoid the waste associated with disposable water bottles. Finally, it encourages us to take better care of our bodies by avoiding caffeinated and sugary drinks.
It was a rough start for many of the students, including my second-grader Collin. They were upset that they wouldn’t be able to enjoy the juices they ordered for hot lunch or the lemonade at our Chik-fil-a fundraiser night. It was a big change for little kids, but when teachers like myself rose up to the challenge, our involvement and the reminder wristbands they wore inspired the students to stay on board.
Now the students are excited about their small sacrifice to make the world a better place. Collin even got my tea-drinking parents involved. They send us photo updates to let us know that they’re drinking their H2O! (Now that we've got them hooked, we need to convert them to reusable water bottles!)
It’s not too late for you or your organization to participate in The Water Challenge
. If you’re not a fan of tap water, you can buy a filter for your sink or a pitcher for your refrigerator. Even my gym has an awesome water fountain filter! An excellent selection of reusable water bottles can be found in many stores and on Amazon.com. Nalgene, Camelback, and Tervis make excellent leak-proof bottles and cups in a variety of sizes. I’m a big fan of the coated aluminum canteens like the 32 oz. mint green one I have by Simple Modern. My water stays cold for 24 hours!
Since we started The Water Project I have more energy and am more aware of my water usage in other settings. I’ve been thinking about those who suffer because of their limited access to potable water. I hope that the money we donate can help make their lives better. Above all, I thank God for providing my family with a safe, clean source of the one thing we need most.
January 14, 2017 12:40
By Robyn Barberry
On the first day of creation, God said, "Let there be light!"
I said the same words the other day when my kitchen lights burned out -- while I was cooking dinner. So, while I sauteed greens under the dim light projecting from above my stove, Patrick ran out to Home Depot. He returned with new LED fixtures to replace the fluorescent bulbs overhead and reinstalled a blown glass pendant light he made.
When we flipped the switch, we could not believe how bright our kitchen was. It was pitch black dark outside, but daylight streamed through our kitchen. You could do surgery in there. The intense light highlighted every flaw: clutter, spatters we missed when wiping down the stove, hard water spots in the sink, crumbs on the floor...the list kept compounding.
Without delay, we began tidying and scrubbing the kitchen. The light led us to our problem areas and lingered until it was pleased enough for us to move on to the next project. (The fact that we had visitors arriving the next day certainly added to our effort.) By the time we finished, not only did we eliminated most of the ugliness from our kitchen, but we also discovered the beauty. Like the shiny turquoise cabinets, the nick knacks, photographs, and art on the windowsill, and an array of countertop appliances that save us time and energy. The perpetual presence of the bright light in our kitchen has compelled us to be neater, more organized people because our inadequacies and indiscretions as they pertain to housekeeping are far more visible.
We've heard over and over again that God is the light of the world. He summoned light to appear and used it to guide him as he created the universe and everything and everyone within it. God invites us to see the world under his light, which is infinitely more powerful than the LEDs watching over my kitchen, so he illuminates everything. He helps us to appreciate the beauty in all that is good, to warn us where darkness lies, and to see places in and around us that can be made better with a little bit of cleaning up.
In 2017, ask yourself: How can I increase the light in my life? The answer may be as simple as changing out a few lightbulbs.
December 31, 2016 04:29
By Robyn Barberry
After Mass this morning, Collin said, "Mom, I'm really scared of 2017. 2016 was such a good year and I'm not ready to see it end."
I stopped and thought about what he said. In many ways he was right. 2016 was a great year. God blessed us with Teagan. We managed to stay afloat financially so that we had a roof over our heads and food in our bellies. We love being a part of St. Joan of Arc. And, thanks be to God, everyone we love is in good health.
I began to consider what 2017 might be like. We could suddenly lose everything if an unexpected event drained our finances. We might lose our house, go hungry and struggle to pay school tuition and other bills. There's also the uncertainty of what a new president might bring our country. Someone I love could become very sick or die. That is my worst nightmare.
I didn't know what to tell Collin because all of the sudden I was a little bit afraid of a new year. We group our life's experiences into 12 months, 365 days and label them "good" or "bad" years based on the frequency or positive or negative events. But, sometimes we need to look at each year as a kaleidoscope of events rather than a polarized passing of time. On December 31st, we should look back at everything that's happened since January 1st and think about the ways we've changed and how we got there.
"We don't know what's going to happen in 2017, but we do know that God will take care of us, no matter what happens," I said. We talked about what things we have to look forward to, like his First Communion, our summer vacation, and adventures beyond our imagination. Life will be far from perfect, even in a "good" year, but as long as we remain faithful, God will protect us -- here or in the great beyond.
December 18, 2016 10:10
By Robyn Barberry
Last Saturday, December 10th, 2016, my parents, Collin, and I visited the Irish Railroad Workers Museum on Lemmon Street in Baltimore for their Irish Christmas Celebration. Alongside the apple cider, scones, and Celtic Christmas ornament crafts, we received a tour of two tiny row houses, one of which represented an Irish family’s home during the 1860s. A family not unlike that of my Irish immigrant ancestors. And surprisingly, a family not unlike my own today. A family that could have been mine, not so long ago.
The Feeley family lived in a space the size of my living room and dining room (and my house isn't very big.) James, the head of the household, worked long, hard days as a boilermaker at the B&O railroad, while Mrs. Feeley raised the children and took in extra money by doing other people’s laundry over their hearth, hanging everything to dry in the small yard where their outhouse was.
There was no running water. Food was purchased at the Hollins Street Market, a short walk away. A winding, narrow, trepidacious staircase leads to the second floor. As I carried 5-month-old Teagan up and down the stairs, I thought for sure we'd stumble and meet a certain death. I wondered how Mrs. Feeley managed to make the trip upstairs and down carrying one of her children and laundry and water.The Feeley baby slept in a cradle in the parents’ bedroom while the older children shared a bed across the hall.
A simple ball and cup toy kept the children entertained.
The family worshiped at St. Peter’s Church, where the children attended school. (You can see it from their house. )
Not all of the children lived to adulthood due to diseases, such as cholera and typhoid fever, the latter of which was the cause of a major epidemic in Baltimore at this time. But, the Feeley family prevailed, like my own, passing along their heritage and their faith to future generations.
In 2016, I complain that my house is too small for my four children, my husband, our two cats, and myself. But, when I compared it to the size of the little house on Lemmon Street, I am amazed at how blessed we are. My husband works hard as a farmer, while I spend a considerable amount of time at home with my children. We have a spacious kitchen and an extremely efficient washer and dryer (though I STILL can't keep up with the laundry), as well as indoor plumbing. Our tap water is filtered. I have access to fresh food from all over the world at Wegman’s, but prefer to buy fruits and vegetables from my local farmer, Brad, in the growing season. Last year, I took a nasty spill down the wooden stairs to my second floor, but I survived. (I'm still apprehensive when I'm carrying something or someone.) Baby Teagan sleeps in a cradle beside my bed, while her brother shared a bed across the hall up until a few weeks ago when they got bunkbeds. The iPad is my boys' favorite toy. We are active members of our parish, St. Joan of Arc, where my son goes to school and I teach art. (We can see it from our house.) I pray every day for my children to stay healthy and live long lives. I am eternally grateful for the medical care we have available to us, particularly vaccines to prevent the kinds of diseases that took the lives of many children.
After visiting the Irish Railroad Workers Museum, I look at my household and lifestyle through new eyes. What would my great-great grandmother say if she heard me complaining that the water in the shower was too hot because someone turned on the dishwasher? How would she feel if she saw me hydrating my flu-stricken sons with a magical potion called Pedialyte so that they could make a full recovery in just a few days? At the same time, how would she feel if she saw me walking my children to church on Sunday? My ungratefulness aside, I like to think that she would be proud. Our foundations on faith, family, and heritage have been passed down through the decades and preserved our Irish Catholic identity. Though modern conveniences, medicine, and workplace situations have changed, we should always remember where we came from and thank God for getting us here.
The Irish Railroad Workers Museum is located at 920 Lemmon St. in Baltimore and is open Friday and Saturday from 11 am - 2 pm and Sunday from 1-4 pm. I'd like to extend a special thanks to Luke and Cecelia for their hospitality and education.
December 17, 2016 10:23
By Robyn Barberry
If you’re anything like me, one of the things you like most about Christmas is the music. I have it on at home, in my classroom, in my car…pretty much everywhere I go. I love to hear popular hits like “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” “Jingle Bell Rock,” and “White Christmas” (The Drifters’ version is my favorite!), but songs that focus on the true meaning of Christmas, Jesus’ birth, are my favorite. I sing “Silent Night” to my babies as they drift to sleep. I hum along to “O Holy Night” and “The First Noel” because singing is not my gift. I’d rather hear Josh Grobin and Pentatonix serenade me. But, there are three modern day religious Christmas songs that resonate with me the most. You may have never heard of them, but you should take the time to listen to them this season.
1. “Sweet Little Baby Boy” by: James Brown
We all know James Brown as the Godfather of Soul, who capitalized on the phrase “I Feel Good” with his hit of the same name. His funky vibe makes even the grouchiest sports fan stand up and groove when his voice blares through the stadium speakers. But, James Brown had a much softer side, which can be experienced when you listen to “Sweet Little Baby Boy.”
I first heard this song when Collin was a baby. As a new mom, I imagined the love that Mary must have felt for her sweet little baby boy. I had also recently experienced a resurgence of my faith and connected when James’ Brown says “He restored my mind” and “My mother told me this story…The greatest love story ever told.”
I like the soulful vibe and refrain of “Sweet Little Baby Boy” reminding me that Jesus was once like my sweet babies. It’s almost a lullaby. (From James Brown of all people!)
2. “Christmas Song” by Dave Matthews Band
Dave Matthews Band at the center of the upbeat, “Jam-band” music scene of the late 1990s and early 2000. (They’re still around and make for an excellent live music experience.) It’s a large band which features instruments beyond the normal rock realm of guitars and drums. There’s also a trumpet player, a saxophonist, a violinist, and a keyboardist. But, “Christmas Song” is a very simple masterpiece consisting of a combo of one gentle voice and two acoustic guitars.
This song stirs my emotions and invigorates my faith. It tells the story of Jesus’ entire life, reminding listeners over and over that no matter what happened, “his heart was full of love.” It’s an important message about His mission on Earth as well as His mission for us on Earth. And it started with a tiny baby.
I dare you to listen to this song without crying.
3. “Ave Maria” by Chris Cornell featuring Eleven
Yes, of course, you’ve heard this song before, but never like this. Chris Cornell was the lead singer of Soundgarden, a 1990s hard rock superpower from Seattle. Many music critics (including my brother and I) agree that he has the best voice of his era. He produces a unique and powerful sound. Every lyric he sings, he means, and there’s no greater version of that than his version of “Ave Maria.”
In this version of my absolute favorite hymn, Chris Cornell’s remarkable voice presents as an unexpected blend of mega rock star and opera singer. Rather than raging electric guitars and heavy drums, a traditional orchestra consumes the background to act as a meditative force so that you can focus your thoughts on Mary and Her incredible gift to us.
This beautiful song has stood the test of time and I was happy to locate a version that balanced both my modern and traditional tastes in music. Try it. I guarantee you’ll be surprised.
You can find all of these songs on iTunes or Google Play. I hope you enjoy them! Please let me know what you think!
December 09, 2016 04:31
By Robyn Barberry
“Could you please be our candle lighter?” the lady with pale blonde hair before the altar asked.
At first, I thought she was talking about the sixth grade boy before me, but then it was clear that she was looking right at me.
The lady, who had just introduced herself to the middle school students and teachers of St. Joan of Arc School, was Sam Kauffman who was visiting us from all the way across the country in the San Francisco Bay area. She was invited to speak to our church and our school to celebrate the first Sunday of Advent with her presentation “Four Candles.” Ms. Kauffman is an internationally known Christian singer and songwriter. Some of her music is even used in prison ministry.
Ms. Kauffman’s presentation was brilliant and beautifully structured so that even my most precocious sixth grade boys were captivated. Her voice was crystal clear as she started us off with a traditional form of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”
She told us the story of a broken organ in an Austrian at Christmas and how the music minister managed to compose “Silent Night” on the guitar, scrambling to transform the melody into an instrument that wasn’t his first choice. It was a story I had never heard, and one which spoke of the idea that hope helps us to see possibility.
As the presentation unfolded, we (I) continued to light the candles as we listened to stories of the prophets (did you know that Jesus fulfilled 44 prophecies made about Him?) and the great preparations the world made and is still making for Jesus. Ms. Kauffman told a new Nativity story about the “Little Star” who didn’t have great gifts to offer the baby Jesus, but ultimately gave us his light.
Her parting words have stuck with me most. She asked us whether we are a WAM or a WAY. WAM means “what about me?” and WAY means “what about you?” It got me thinking about my own plans for the holidays and how I need to be less selfish and more Christ-centered.
We were so honored to host Ms. Kauffman and blessed to have her share her gifts with us. I particularly liked her modern, upbeat version of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Her presentation was an excellent way to kick off the Advent season, in our church, our school, our homes, and our hearts.
Please check out Sam Kauffman’s website
. She offers many more interesting presentations and music to enrich your spirit.
November 30, 2016 03:12
By Robyn Barberry
Making the Grade
If you ask any teacher what they dislike the most about their job, I can practically guarantee you that the majority would say, “grading.” We’d rather be planning, or teaching, of course, rather than being strapped down to a gradebook, print, electronic, or otherwise.
In math and science or on multiple-choice tests, grading isn’t so bad. There’s always an answer key to act as the ultimate judge of right and wrong. But for people who teach in the humanities, like myself, it’s harder to decide who makes the grade. There is no black and white, only gray.
That’s why in Creative Writing, Drama, and Art, I’ve done three things to make grading easier:
1. I’m up front with my expectations, be it a rubric or checklist or a “Hey! Here’s the skill I’m looking for! If you show me you can do it, you get an ‘A!’”
2. I always offer second chances. Paint may not be forgiving, but I am.
3. I grade each student on personal growth. I start off looking where my students are, set small, measurable goals, and celebrate when they surpass them.
Then comes the tough part. Entering the grades into my online gradebook, PowerTeacher. Since I started teaching 10 years ago, the way we report grades has changed dramatically. I used to fill in bubbles with pencil on a dot matrix sheet at the end of the quarter. I had to write and send letters to parents when a student was slipping. Now, I easily glide through entering scores online and parents can view them right away. (The problem is I seldom sit down in front of a computer. An app would be nice!)
I’ve turned intense end-of-trimester grade entry into a positive experience by listening to music in the background and rewarding myself with a snack when I finish. I’ve also changed my attitude about the grading process by thinking about it as spending a few one-on-one moments with each student. I examine progress and choose comments reflecting that on progress reports. This is my chance to offer up a little prayer for each one of them, particularly focusing on some of the struggles I know they’re facing.
So, as the trimester wraps up for my Catholic school and college educator friends, I wish you the best of luck in getting through this daunting task. Crank up the Christmas tunes, have a cupcake waiting in the kitchen and remember that you’re offering each of your students a few minutes of your time.
November 30, 2016 02:01
By Robyn Barberry
On Oct. 17, I sustained a concussion when a metal fence collapsed on me. It brought with it a guy who was about a foot taller than me. It was a freak accident, but one that landed me in the hospital. I don’t remember much of the first week of my recovery. I slept while family members and friends took care of my children. I missed two weeks of work, which was probably the hardest part.
I don’t work an ordinary job in an ordinary place. I have the honor of being a Catholic school teacher at St. Joan of Arc in Aberdeen. My work is my second home and everyone there is family to me. While I stayed home and rested, other teachers and teachers’ assistants arranged to cover my classes so that the students were still getting their weekly does of art. They even planned on staying with me when I returned. Some of my school friends even helped me with getting Collin to and from school. One day he came home and said, “Everyone misses you mom! Especially me.”
Some teachers had their classes make cards for me. Some were funny, like the drawings of me that Lizzie and Seeley made for me. Others were beautiful, like the sweet scribbles annotated by our thoughtful pre-K teacher or the Halloween-themed card created by my student Roman, who is a cancer survivor.
One 8th grader made a tie-dye card and signed it from her entire family, with who I'm blessed to share my school and church life. Every picture and every message made me want to be back at school. Over and over again, I received messages that teachers, students, and their families were praying for me. How blessed I am to teach in a place where prayer is always welcome.
When I returned to school, I felt like an Olympian returning home for a victory parade. I was met with a receiving line of hugs, the first of whom was from my principal, one of the most caring and understanding people I've ever met. Even the big kids were glad to see me. One first grader wouldn’t let me go.
“I’ve missed you for years and years!” she shouted.
“Shh!” another girl said, “Her ears are very sensitive.” (As it turned out, our kind new librarian had talked to all the classes about my symptoms.) Even though I have a headache most of the time, I’m seldom bothered by the noises children make. In fact, the Kindergarten class sang a beautiful song for me. “It’s melt your heart,” a little girl said. It did.
“How are you feeling?” an upper school teacher asked.
“I’m getting there,” I said. (It’s my go-to response. I hate to complain, so I think it’s a nice way of saying “I’m not at my best, but I'm trying.”)
“I know you’re probably getting tired of us asking, but we do it because we love you!” she said.
I was definitely feeling the love, but I was feeling something else, too: mercy. All of these kind deeds were acts of Mercy, which is especially important as the Year of Mercy draws to a close. There will always be time to pray for the sick; to sing to them; to send cards, letters, and artwork; to help ease their transitions back to school; back to work; and to God’s kingdom.
November 02, 2016 05:17
By Robyn Barberry
We’ve all heard the saying, “Life is a Highway.” While some people might claim they want to “ride it all night long,” there are many of us frustrated by delays and accidents on our daily commutes and long adventures. Sometimes the road overwhelms us to the point where we need to sojourn to a rest stop and catch our breath.
For me, the quick moments of prayer and hour-long Mass I attend on Sundays are those well-needed breaks from the highway of my life. Being able to “pull over” and collect my thoughts and redirect myself is essential for giving me the energy to sustain the long haul.
But, what happens when I miss my exit and I drive too many long, hard miles alone? I steer off course. I am lost. My ability to handle the frustrations of my ride dwindles, and I find myself swerving into other lanes, broken down on the side of the road, or crashing. If I’m having a bad week, I stop and look to see if I skipped Mass on Sunday or haven’t been injecting my days with prayer.
The good news is that I can always find another place of respite in God’s love. And he offers free 24-hour maintenance. Just like I can pick up the phone to call AAA, I can check in with God at any time, remind myself of my blessings, and petition him for my needs.
Before too long, I’m on the road again, rejuvenated and ready to handle the obstacles ahead of me. I can roll down the window, turn up my favorite upbeat song, and relax knowing that God is my G.P.S.
September 29, 2016 10:32
By Robyn Barberry
On most Friday nights, you can find the Barberry 6 relaxing at home, watching the Orioles or playing Kerplunk. It’s too hard for us to find a place that’s fun, affordable, and accommodating for our 3 boisterous boys and newborn girl. So, when I heard that FUNdamentals, an early learning and activity center in Forest Hill, was having an Olympic-themed event the whole family could enjoy, we signed up right away.
The owner, Natalie Henry, was a classmate in my high school’s “Working with Children” program, which gave students who were considering becoming teachers and day care workers the opportunity to experience firsthand what it would be like to teach preschool-aged students about colors, numbers, letters, and social skills. I remember Natalie being a standout instructor. Everyone wanted to be in her group. She’s creative, upbeat, and burning with energy, which are some of the most important characteristics to have when working with very young children. Natalie usually runs daytime and evening classes for kids from ages 18 months to 5 years, but she’s recently added themed events for the whole family on one Friday night a month.
At 5:30 pm on 8/26, Natalie warmly greeted my two friends, myself, and our combined total of seven children at the door of FUNdamentals. The lobby area was full of bright colors and festive red, white, and blue “Olympic” decorations, including a stage where the “winners” could pose with their medals at the end. Beyond the lobby was an enormous space (bigger than my house, for sure) full of moon bounces, a train table, a ball pit, hippity-hops, and tons of balloons. The little guys ran around on the cushy mat in socks and bare feet. There was so much to do that no one got into an argument – not even my Frank and Leo.
After about half an hour, Natalie very gently sang a song to gather the children around her so she could whisper the instructions to them. She was like the Pied Piper when she led the bigger kids off to a separate, smaller area to do some coloring and a toilet-paper tube and tissue paper “Olympic torch” craft and the little guys to a circle time exercise. They sang some silly songs, including one about sticking bubble gum to various parts of their bodies (the hair had to be the worst!) and played a few games.
The grand event was the series of activities and obstacle courses Natalie set up and demonstrated. There was a balance beam, some “weight-lifting,” basketball, and several other games to keep big kids and little kids engaged in a little fun Friday night competition. Even the adults got little chalkboards to “score” gymnastics.
As the petite gold medalists (they all were, of course) left the arena, Natalie made sure they took photographs at the photo booth and brought home some prizes – glow sticks, kites, anything and everything that could make a kid feel like he or she was a winner. (Even I felt victorious for finding a great place for my family to spend a Friday night --- for a grand total of $25!
While Natalie was acting as ring master, I took the time to talk to her family, who had all come to support her in this big new venture. I learned very quickly that she has always been gifted with children and that owning a place like FUNdamentals was always her dream, but that because she had children of her own, she wasn’t sure how she could balance working at home and running a business. When this place came on the market, she took it as a sign from God that it was meant to be…but she proceeded with caution for fear of having her heart broken.
When I asked her about it, Natalie said, “I’m trying to teach my children not to pray for selfish things. It was a test for me not to ask for this business to be mine. Instead, I asked for God to be my guide, to light my path, and I would follow.”
Natalie runs FUNdamentals with the mind of a natural teacher and the heart of Christian woman. There is no doubt that God made her for this wonderful place and this wonderful place was made for her. All of us left with our spirits uplifted.
We can’t wait to visit again this Friday, September 16th, at 5 pm for Super Hero Night! It’s $10 per child or $25 per family and people of all ages are invited to join in the FUNdamentals at 2211 Commerce Drive in Forest Hill, MD 21050. Hope to see you there!
September 13, 2016 12:21
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By Robyn Barberry