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from the column…for the love of a dog

  • November 7, 2012 6:24 pm

We are animal lovers.  In fact, when animals are signing up for people, I’m pretty sure there is a waiting list to get into “The Scroggins House.”  Pets are not just animals to our family.  They are, indeed, part of our family unit.  They have stockings at Christmas, and a signature on the Christmas Cards. We plan doggie playgroup, and have established daily doggie daycare.  We take our animals to the lake, to the park, on vacation, and even to other family’s gatherings.  As I type, I’m researching how to train our newest family member to become a therapy dog, at which point I will be able to take her to school with me everyday.  I’ll admit that I’ve taken a cat on walks (on a leash, of course), and my husband has asked for extra donut holes for his dog.  Like I said, we are animal lovers, and our kids have had no choice but to follow in our paw prints.

Our daughter was greeted with Collie kisses the day she came home from the hospital, and when we brought our third baby home, that same Collie gave a few kisses, but I promise, when she looked up at us, she practically rolled her eyes.  She was so wise.  Our babies never had a fear of dogs because they learned to crawl over a sixty pound Lassie-want-to-be.  We taught them how to talk, pet, and “be sweet” to the animals. As toddlers, they knew what kind of cozy spot to make for the cat, and which kind of treat to feed the dogs after a walk.  I spent hours posing the kids with the animals in front of the Christmas tree, in the bluebonnets, on the beach, in the grass, asleep, in the backseat of the car, or decked out in Aggie Maroon.  The kids learned to search for the animals as soon as we came home—and were always greeted with exuberant barking, wagging, and wiggling.  As the kids have grown older, the animals have grown more understanding and affectionate—often choosing their rooms for nighttime snuggle.  I can’t help but snap a picture every time I see one of my kids with an arm draped over Man’s Best Friend, not even noticing their face is buried in dog hair—sometimes I promise the dog and kid are dreaming of the same thing. I know at times nonpet people look at us and think we’ve lost our minds.  And, to be fair, we might be extreme in our all inclusive pet/family dynamic.  We agree that there are definite downfalls to pet ownership.  Pets bring the outside to the inside, so it’s not unusual to find dirt, mud, leaves, branches, and the occasional sacrificial insect or small rodent in our living space (which was awesome when the kids were crawling).  The pets also have to go potty, which poses a problem when they are left inside for too long; therefore, when we make “away from the house” plans, arrangements are always considered for their potty needs.  Along the same lines, vacation plans include pet babysitting plans.  While we tend to acquire our pets as they wander into our life for free, their cost of living is not.  We cover the costs of vet visits, food, toys, and medicine.  We clean up their messes, and always consider their safety. But, because they are part of our family, it’s worth it.

Recently, my husband’s Grandmama passed away.  We anticipated the loss, but even knowing it was coming did not ease the heartache of saying goodbye.  It was a day of prayer, of holding hands and wiping tears.  It was a day of telling stories, and looking at pictures.  But mostly, it was day of family.  We ate together, sang together, and mourned together.  We spent the afternoon gathered at Grandmama’s house, just being in her presence.  My daughter spent time “riding around” with her teenage cousins—basking in the glory of being included with the teenagers.  My older son bonded with the younger cousins over electronic devices.  I’m not sure how much they actually talked, but their worlds managed peace, so I’m guessing there were fantastic digital discussions.  My youngest son spent most of the day looking for the exercise ball he knew Grandmama had kept, and explained to everyone the necessity of just such a ball (while eating candy corn—no Grandmotherly house would be complete without candy corn.)  As the day came to an end, my daughter returned to the house with a puppy in her arms.  It was a beautiful, chocolate brown lab with big blue eyes—eyes that begged for us to take her home.  We weren’t in the market for another dog; in fact, we’d just celebrated the ease of our one dog status.  I tried to say no, citing our crazy-hectic-no-good-for-a-puppy schedule, and the fact that a lab had never made our Bucket List of Future Pets.  But, as a person who believes in puppy love, and signs from above, I knew we’d just added a member to our family.  On a day of sorrow, Maggie the Aggie brought Joy into our lives, and helped mend our broken hearts–all it took was a few thousand puppy kisses as she looked at us with her head tipped to the side, seeming to tell us she understood.  The irony of training Maggie to become an Official Therapy Dog is not lost on me—and she’s just one in the long train of animals that has made our life complete.

I’d like to dedicate this article to Do-si-Do, Bonnie the first, Sambo, Tramp, Hopalong, Bonnie the second, Nicki, Gatito, Tiki, Pudding, Chelsea, Tabitha, Baby, Shiester Beau, Bogie, Storm, Ringo, Sahara, Windy, Sandy, Cleo, Louie, Chrissy, Marley, Beau, Beauty, and Maggie.  You taught us about life, love, loss, a

from the Column–What’s my Age again?

  • October 12, 2012 6:11 am

When I sat down to express what was on my mind, this isn’t exactly where I had planned on going, but this is where the words took me.  Sometimes that just happens…I guess that just means I have more words for next time.

Mark Twain wrote, “Age is an issue of mind over matter.  If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” I guess the key is to actually not mind that the matter of age is changing, and to also know that perspective is the key to controlling any matter—including age.

The topic of age arises constantly around me. “How long have you been teaching?”  “When did you get married?”  “How old are your kids?”  “What year did you graduate?”  “How long until your 40th birthday?”  As I field these questions, I find myself referencing the “grown ups” as if I don’t belong to their club—to be honest, may days I wonder if I’ve learned their secret handshake. As my friends and I pass through some bigger decade markers, we talk about “getting old”, and if we feel as “grown up” as we should.  Our discussions center around how our perspectives have changed (should we learn the secret handshake or make our own?), and it’s hard to know the perfect answer as we maneuver this tricky parenting gig. As parents, it seems like we should just know more.

Perspective is really the definition of age, isn’t it? And perhaps, perspective is really the art of knowing more. As children, every year promised new adventures and privaleges–be that double digits, sweet sixteen, or the legal age of accountability.  As we obtained each one of those milestones, the mysteries behind them seemed to fade and tarnish.  As young adults, every year brought hope that we would find those necessary experiences to finish school, add to resumes, and finally secure those first jobs. Yearly milestones began to slip into decades–decades that began to mark the time, and cause our mind to decide whether that extra time under our belt mattered.

My perspective changed when I became a Mom, and I began marking my children’s milestones in reference to my own.  Walking each of my children to their first day of school, I remembered my first day.  I remembered the worry, the excitement, and the unknown.  I didn’t have to try very hard to literally feel all those things again—a gift and a curse.  When they lose a tooth, I think of my own yellow, lacy tooth fairy pillow.  Every Christmas morning as I watch the surprise on their faces, I think of how I snuck out of my room in the middle of the night to see the treasures Santa left. When they hurt themselves, I have a vast array of memories to call upon to feel their same pain, and can always give them tips on stitches, crutches, casts, splints, and plain ace bandages. Even the smell of sunscreen in the summer takes me back to year after year of sunburns—but more than the sunburns, I think of the fun I had with my family splashing in pools or digging at the beach.   While the decades keep marking My time, I feel myself spending that time invested in those first Milestones again—but from my children’s perspective, and that time matters more to me than any time at all.

 

 

 

Flying Time-from the column

  • May 21, 2012 7:46 am

People say that time flies.  I can still feel myself rolling my eyes as a teenager listening to the older and wiser crowd as they reminisced about “when they were young,” and told me to “make the most of this time.”  Growing up, time seemed to drag by.  It took forever to finally celebrate my birthday every year.  I thought I would never make it to double digits, teenage digits, or driving digits!  Time seemed to crawl—not fly, until I became a Mother.

 

Now, time seems to be in overdrive.  I can’t seem to take pictures fast enough to capture all the moments that happen so extraordinarily every ordinary day.  After ten years of parenthood, this year we finally enrolled all three kids in school, and that definitely kicked everything up a notch.  We spent almost every night studying a wide range of academics including: letters, sight words, addition facts, multiplication facts, American History, and physical properties of matter.  We signed permission slips, admission forms, lunch account checks, reading logs, and planners.  We created a gingerbread man, a locker valentine box, and a science fair project.  We went to Tball, baseball, and softball games.   Our days were full from sunrise to sunset, and it was during those twilight hours that we were able to stop for just a minute, breathe, and slow down time.

 

I call this Phase Two of this parenthood gig.  Phase One was the baby/toddler/pre-school phase.  I remember that phase clearly, and can genuinely feel the exhaustion again when I see a new mother tackling Wal-Mart with an infant carrier and a sippy cup.   I can remember the complicated and overwhelming process of simply loading the car to get to Wal-Mart—packing the diaper bag, getting the snacks, finding and tying the shoes, and finally buckling all those seat belts only to have someone have a most necessary diaper change to reboot the entire process.  I can go back in time to Phase One in no time at all—because it feels like it wasn’t that long ago.

 

Now that we’re in the trenches of Phase Two, I can see where Phase Three will take us—the teenager, high school and graduation days.  I’m watching Veteran Moms attend Senior dinners and breakfasts, awards ceremonies, sports banquets, and other Graduation Hoopla.  I see their children making plans for College and Independence, and it makes me realize that Phase Three will be here before I can catch my breath.  As Phase Two beginners this year, we have our third Kindergarten Graduate.  He’s mastered sight words and letter sounds,  and we’re working everyday on the self-control.  I see the road ahead of him, and know he will one day be a high school graduate and have mastered chemistry and Shakespeare—that’s the plan anyway.   I look at the path his older siblings have paved, and wonder how he will tackle changing classes, standardized testing, 4H projects, and more…self-control.  On the opposite end of our spectrum, next year we will watch our oldest enter Middle School and learn the challenges of lockers, lunchrooms, and lazy lollygagging.  I know we will cringe watching her make mistakes and stumble through awkward life lessons, and because of that, I almost want the next couple years to move fast for her.   Almost.

 

I suppose now that I am part of that older and wiser crowd, I should impart the same wisdom onto my kids and tell them to “make the most of these years.”  The thing is, I know time is creeping by for them; I know they are looking to their future birthdays as the source of their Lifetime Achievements, whereas I look to those same birthdays as evidence of time flying.  As I hear the familiar Graduation Soundtrack of Pomp and Circumstance in the background this month, I look at where we’ve been, and where we’re going, and because I’m a Mother, I can’t help but will time to just stand still—just long enough for me to seize those everyday ordinary moments, to cherish the extraordinary memories.

Play Ball! …from the Column

  • April 12, 2012 6:27 am

“Take me out to the ballgame.  Take me out to the crowd.  Buy me some peanuts and cracker jacks.  I don’t care if I EVER get back…”

Those are the words to a tried a true American Pastime Theme Song.  If I were to confess, I would confess that I did not learn those words until I was an actual grown up.  I grew up in a football, not a baseball, household; so while I knew when to be “ready for some football,” “1-2-3 strikes you’re out” was a whole new ballgame for me.  Now, in saying that, I did learn the basics in high school: 3 strikes, 3 outs, 9 innings, etc., but it wasn’t until I was recruited as a Baseball Mom that I truly learned an appreciation for the intricate and finer points of The Game.

My boys are (almost) nine and six respectively, and Baseball is Our Game.  We’ve played Tball (THREE-year-old Tball), coach-pitch, machine-pitch, and most recently, kid-pitch.  We’ve been the Rangers, the Boston Red Sox, the Scallywags, and the Decatur Eagles (Blue).  I’ve bought cleats, baseball pants, helmets, bats, balls, and bases.  I’ve had lengthy discussions with many people on the correct type of cup and cup accessory for my son, and then I’ve repeated that discussion to my son.  I’m guessing that was the first of many awkward cup-related moments in our future—not something I envisioned when holding my baby boy in my arms.

After a few seasons, I learned to carry my own bag lawn chair, and sit near the dug-out to see all parts of infielding, outfielding, pitching, and batting.  I’ve watched my oldest son learn to go through his mental checklist as he strutted up to the plate. Feet.  Check. Knuckles lined up.  Check.  Bat back.  Check.  Evil Eye to the pitcher.  Check. Check.  He swings for the fences every single time.  I’m hoping strategy comes with experience.  I’ve watched my youngest son learn the CORRECT way to run around the bases, and…well, that’s as far as we have come so far.  It’s a process after all.  I’ve been recruited to keep the Books, and let me be the first to enlighten those novice baseball watchers out there, baseball bookkeeping is INTENSE.  Where did the ball go?  Was it the fielder’s choice?  Was it an error?  Was it a single? Double? Triple?  Was it the left fielder that made the play; what is his position number again?  Please make sure the line- up is ABSOLUTELY ACCURATE.  No pressure.  I did mention we play Little League, didn’t I?

But, despite the cup talks, rule memorizing, and book keeping, watching my boys learn The Game is an experience I never knew I wanted or needed, but one I can’t imagine living without.  My heart actually stops beating when I see them step up to the plate, hoping with every fiber of my body that they make contact with the ball.  My smile literally stretches from ear to ear as I watch them line up with their team after the game to high five (hand or booty, either one).  And, tears pool in my eyes when I see them leap off the bench to cheer their fellow team mate on a job excellently executed.  I’m probably not raising the next Ian Kinsler, but aren’t you impressed I know who he is?  Because of my boys, I have not only become their biggest fan, but Baseball’s biggest fan—well, one of them; I know I have some competition. 

Spring has sprung.  Opening day is hours away, and we are ready to slide into a winning season.    

“So, it’s root, root, root for the HOME team; if they don’t win it’s a shame, ‘cause it’s ONE, TWO, THREE strikes you’re out at the Old Ball Game!”

STAAR Testing Begins This Week–a few words from the Column

  • March 26, 2012 1:51 pm

Standardized tests seemed to be a right of passage for me.  I remember filling out bubble sheets in second grade, not knowing what year I was born, and copying that bit of information from the student in the next row.  Because of that, I used the wrong year for at least four years of my elementary career.  I’m sure that invalidated my scores, but I never knew about it.  No matter which state we called home, there seemed to be some version of the same.  One every year, we used a test booklet, and recorded our answer choices on the answer document.  (The phrases tend to stick with you.)  In high school, we added additional tests including the PSAT, SAT, ACT, and TASP.  Even with a college degree, my husband and I sat for standardized tests like the EXCET to ensure our professional certifications.  As I said, they seemed to be a rite of passage, and one that was part of the deal with this whole education package.  But somehow, this rite of passage has morphed into a war of performance.  Today, the bubble sheets are pre-bubbled to ensure the right birth year is recorded, and I feel certain such a mistake would result in fourth degree questioning from uniformed, badge-wearing officers of The Test.  But despite the change in perspective, standardized tests are here to stay.

 

TAKS is the most current system of assessing Texas students on their knowledge of basic knowledge and skills.  This system tests students in Reading and Math beginning in third grade, adding a writing test in fourth grade, and a science test in fifth grade.  The pattern repeats in seventh and eighth grade, culminating in an Exit Level test in high school that has held the key to The Diploma.  The new assessment, The State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, will do much of the same, with the Exit Level tests split into End of Course Exams, that averaged, will also determine Diploma eligibility.

 

This new assessment was the topic of conversation for Decatur parents during an informal informational meeting last week. Principals from various campuses outlined the changes in store for our students as the state makes the leap from TAKS to STAAR.   The most significant differences between the two testing systems were outlined as follows: increased question rigor, increased test questions, decreased allotted time to test, and increased evaluation of critical thinking skills verses basic knowledge regurgitation.  Parents examined sample questions illustrating these changes.  Those samples included testing third graders on poetry interpretation; testing fourth graders, not only on their ability to tell stories, but also their ability to write and explain a concept in detail, and, testing fifth graders on cycles, patterns, and relationships in scientific concepts.

 

Rigor.  Critical Thinking.  Analysis.  These are the buzzwords associated with this new question format.   One goal of the state is to recognize student comprehension of grade level material, thus analyzing their preparedness for the next grade level.  Parents at the meeting viewed some of the new questions as “tricky” and “meant to set up” the students.   They questioned the ability of ten-year-old children to see through the distractions and cut to the meat of the issue. As a mother of three, and a teacher of seventy-six, I tend to agree.  While I push for high expectations and critical thinking analysis, when I look at my kids I see their perspective. My third grader will be expected to understand the feeling a poem should convey to a reader, when perhaps on the same day he could be focused on carefully wrapping his tooth and placing it under his pillow for the Tooth Fairy.  Children are concrete learners, and any workshop on brain research and development will tell you that even a teenager’s brain is not completely developed until around age eighteen.  A teenager feels invincible and does not recognize the cause and effect of his actions because his brain is literally wired that way.  Education should challenge and push students to draw conclusions and to analyze data, especially in a Steve Jobs world, but their academic success should not solely rest on the assessment of those skills.

 

A second goal of this test is to assess the achievement of specific college and career readiness goals associated with each grade level.  The standard of education has changed from simple knowledge acquisition to concept application. With Google at our fingertips, no longer are we defined as intelligent based on our ability to master Trivial Pursuit.  With this new definition of education, intelligence is characterized by the ability to interpret and apply that information creatively to a variety of situations.  This change in the educational concept is causing growing pains in classrooms and schools nationwide, and I believe the mission in assessing these college and career readiness goals is in response to that change.  However, in the actual classroom trenches, teachers see the faces of real children who come in with real, but individual, stories.  College and career readiness might not be in every third grader’s or even every single high school senior’s playbook. Steve Jobs was a college dropout, as are Bill Gates, Mark Zukerman, Tom Hanks and Dustin Hoffman. They prove that the exception to the rule can redefine how the game is played.

 

Parents also questioned class size, student resources, teacher training, and classroom discipline as elements that impact student achievement and ultimately student success. The response to these concerns was disconcerting through no fault of the school district.  While Decatur has provided teacher training to increase classroom productivity in response to these new standards, our decreased state budget is out of our local hands.  Schools across the state are suffering the effects of legislation passed years ago, and changes will not be considered until the new Session bell rings.  In the meantime, schools have been asked to increase the standard of student achievement, as well as to increase the overall passing rate to 100% by 2014, accomplishing both with decreased basic resources including teachers and textbooks.  A daunting task, but one many educators have willingly accepted, despite worrisome doubts and fears.

 

Standardized tests are here to stay.  We do need a consistent baseline at which to compare our individual achievements, as well as a gauge for instruction accountability. However, they should be structured in a way that allows this right of passage to document student, teacher, and school district growth rather than student interpretation of the State’s version of rigor and critical thinking analysis.  In a time when the expectation of the workplace is collaboration, creativity, problem-solving, innovation, and technological adaptability, our standardized testing needs to showcase our dedication to academic perseverance instead of comparing, measuring, and judging our talents to a single standard of excellence.

 

 

Sales! from the Column

  • January 18, 2012 8:42 pm
Sales.  Some people love them.  Some people hate them.  I’m one of those that’s all about the love—the love of saving a buck or two here and there.  I shop on Black Friday.  I fight the crowds on December 26th.  I gravitate towards clearance racks, have been known to clip coupons, and always Google “shipping code” before buying anything online.  I rarely pay full price for “wants,” and only begrudgingly hand over my dollars for those “needs.”
Because of my sales shopping philosophy, January is a great month to browse.  Browse online.  Browse the mall.  Browse Target, especially those end caps.  Stores liquidate their seasonal inventory to make room for spring.  Amazingly, despite the possible snow days ahead, stores are thinking of warm, sunny afternoons with umbrella drinks and freshly grilled hamburgers.  While it’s hard for me to make that leap while I’m still stowing away scarves and mittens, I will see their 50% off, and raise them another 30%–making a total of 80% off in some cases.  When the kids were babies, toddlers, and pre-schoolers, I would buy their clothes a year in advance, taking advantage of that 80% reduction on winter clothes now for winter clothes the next year.  It was awesome—especially in stores like Old Navy where one can stumble upon an “extra 50% off clearance sale.”  Those were (and still are) goldmines. I’ve paid $5 for a wool winter pea coat, .97 (yes, 97 cents!) for a corduroy skirt, and $4 for a complete sweat suit. Those are just a taste of the steals I’ve found, and I’ve walked out of many stores double-fisting shopping bags more times than I can remember.  Now that the kids are a little older, it’s a more difficult to judge their sizes a year in advance, and next to impossible to judge their taste more than a month in advance, so therefore, the job of clothing them for mere pennies has become increasingly more difficult.  But, despite their fickle sizes and tastes, I still have faith in the January Good Deal, and browse in search of that thrilling less expensive purchase. In addition to general liquidation sales, there are specific items to search in January.  All home decorations, linens, electronics, and furniture are discounted, and there are usually other incentives to accompany the sale—no interest credit options, cash back bonuses, or other “limited time offers.”  This is the time to look around the house and decide if there are any simple ways to update, decorate, or accentuate.
There is one drawback to shopping in January—most bank accounts are lean due to all the Christmas shopping in December.  This fact hinders most from taking advantage of every deal, but that does not mean we can’t grab a few here and there.  And, just because Christmas falls in December doesn’t mean all the shopping has to occur then.  I have given many Christmas presents bought the day after Christmas the year before (at 75% off!)  My husband might roll his eyes when I brag about my purchase and then complain about where to store said purchase, but I’ve saved money even by spending money!  Who can argue with that?

One final note—the Big City isn’t the only place to find a steal of a deal in January.  Our local merchants are following that same inventory liquidation philosophy, and you might just find an irresistible treasure right here on our small town streets.  All you need to do is take a look around.

Shop Local!-from the Column

  • December 1, 2011 9:15 am

Every year I want to start my Christmas Shopping early, and spend the Christmas Season wrapping presents, sipping eggnog, and listening to Christmas Music.  But, every year it slowly sneaks up on me until I have a small panic attack as I frantically make out the shopping list, calculate the hours needed to shop, and realize there aren’t enough hours to make it all happen.  Next year, I promise to make my list sooner, and start shopping sooner.

But that’s next year.  This year, I have just a few short shopping days left.  I have a few strategies up my sleeve, one of which involves begging friends and family to text me if they happen to be out shopping on their own and find something that I need.  Since that is not a truly foolproof plan, I also plan to shop locally.  We have had an explosion of fun new businesses in Decatur in the last few years, and in window-shopping those new businesses, I have noticed the true resources in our established businesses.  I can shop for my teenage nieces at the cute boutiques like The Corner Store and Embellished located on and off the square.  The Prada Shops have tons of options at The Gift Shop, Magic Pony, and Radio Shack for teacher presents, co-worker presents, electronic-lover presents, babies, grandmas, and moms-to-be.  David’s Western Wear, Tractor Supply, and Hibbet’s have great options for the boys, dads, and grandads on my list.  And of course, there’s always Bealls and Wal-Mart that seem to have the basics for anyone on my list.  My plan is to hit a few stores a week and see what speaks to me.  Just three shopping weeks left!!

Not to highlight the time crunch, but it’s definitely there.  Luckily, we have Moonlight Madness this weekend.  We were out of town for Thanksgiving and missed the Lucky Seven Black Friday sales, but I rarely miss the Moonlight Madness Sale that follows the Christmas Parade in Decatur.  After some cozy parade watching with the kids, I usually score a girls shopping night out for the rest of the evening.  Not only do I grab a few good deals, but I spend the evening running into friends all over town also shopping for their loved ones.  In the cheerful shopping atmosphere, gift ideas seem to jump out at me, and I usually come home happy and content with my goodies.  It’s one of my favorite things about this Small Town Living.

So, that’s my plan:  beg friends for favors and shop local.  Between those two options and Amazon.com, I’m hoping I can finish all my shopping and still have time to relax with that egg nog (even though I don’t even really like it), a Christmas Movie, and a crackling fire—because there’s just nothing better than a Cozy Calm Christmas.

A Steve Jobs World-from the Column

  • October 30, 2011 6:38 pm

With the passing of Steve Jobs, many of us have reflected on his life, his vision, and his legacy.  He was a man that thought outside the box, challenged, and forever changed technology and communication in our world.  I mean, if you don’t have an iPhone…you don’t have an iPhone.  I’m still one of the unlucky few without one, but our family has iTouches, iPods, and iPads coming out our ears.  iTunes integrates into our day the same as breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  It’s either time for an update, or time to defrost the chicken.  When I think about that, and look at my children as they learn to maneuver this iPod world, I sometimes think that a trip back to 1986 for them would be as much of a culture shock as a trip back to 1496 would be for me.

In 1986, I was in sixth grade.  My parents finally bought a VCR after agonizing over whether or not to purchase a Beta or VHS.  We had one TV in the house, and I was the universal remote, changing the volume or channel as needed. Our phone was plugged into the wall, and we had to stand at the wall to talk because of the CORD.  We had an extra long cord that gave us the freedom to roam around the kitchen, but still, one phone—on the wall.   But, life changed with the purchase of our very first home computer, an Apple IIc and dot matrix printer. The monitor was about as big as an iPad, and the entire machine took over our family room.  We played 7 Cities of Gold, a game about conquering “The New World,” and watched the little green stick figure shuffle across the screen with a “click, click, click.”  It was life changing for many reasons.  One, we did not have a gaming system in the house.  Let me say that again for the kids reading this, there was no Nintendo, Play Station, or Leapster in the house.  If we played a game, it was on a board, with dice and other three-dimensional objects.  Two ,with the arrival of Apple IIc, I could type things I needed for school reports, correct my mistakes without correcting ribbon, and simply print the results.  I’m sure it was more life-changing for my parents on that end than for me, but I remember thinking how cool it was to watch the printer type out all the words I had written.  I had time to reflect on these kinds of things because the printing sometimes took up to thirty minutes. We had that computer, with its floppy disks, tiny screen, and loud printer through my high school years.  It saw me through many book reports, science projects, and literary essays. During all those years, we watched as Apple competed with IBM, and we watched as Steve Jobs helped make the “personal computer” not just a novelty, but a necessity.

 This year my daughter is in fifth grade.  We have a universal remote that controls the TV, the Wii, iTunes, and the DVD.  No one has to get up and walk to the television to make anything happen.  Not only that, we can pause the actual TV for dinner.  There is no missing a favorite show; we just “tape it,” a phrase she told me doesn’t make sense.  She recently picked up our house phone, and I had to explain to her that it was not broken, and the “annoying noise” was the dial tone.  As for personal computers, we have two notebook computers in the house, and my husband and I each have an additional work computer.  If it’s not on our computers, then it’s probably on one of the iPods in the house, and there isn’t a day that goes by that we don’t use those.  In her school day, she uses a notebook computer with wireless internet and printing; she participates in experiences outside of her classroom through internet streaming via YouTube, Discovery Education, or other web-based curricula.  As part of her homework routine, she practices math facts, state capitals, and grammar rules on an iPad that, yes, has an app for just about anything.  Her textbooks are in transition, and, eventually, will be entirely online, or again, on an app.  Teachers are scrambling to find funds to have one-on-one computers, iPods, or iPads for their students, to speak their language, and for everyone to be “plugged in.”

And even she is living in a different world than the one just ten years ago when she was born.  As a baby, she played with Little People and Baby Einstein.  Today, I watch in amazement as two-year-olds maneuver iPhones to play Angry Birds, watch Yo Gabba Gabba, or take pictures.  Steve Jobs’ vision changed our communication, changed our schools, and changed our childrens’ perspective.  That perspective is what will shape the next generation, a generation whose first word might just be iMom.

Irish Traditions-from the Column

  • September 19, 2011 5:38 am

My grandmother was born in Ireland.  She sailed out of Cork for the United States when she was thirteen years old, and her family settled in Columbus, Ohio.  My dad was born in Ohio, and although there are a few of us scattered around the States, most of his family still lives there.  I grew up knowing we had Irish Roots, but until very recently, I didn’t truly appreciate what that meant.

This past month, my husband and I reached a milestone:  Our Fifteenth Wedding Anniversary.  To celebrate, he surprised me with a trip to Ireland—just Us.  Because of my Irish roots, we both have always been intrigued with retracing those generational steps.  But, it was one of those things on the “someday plan”, and not something I expected at this point in our journey.  A trip like this was something we would have talked about, planned for, and worked toward.  I was stunned, surprised, excited, and then a little apprehensive.  We would be leaving the children for seven full days, and putting an entire ocean between them and us.  An ocean.  Of water.  On top of that entire ocean, our international communication would be subpar at best.  I would be inconsistently available to talk, to check in, or to blow kisses through the phone. To ease some of my concerns, I prepared a document giving grandparents notarized consent to take the kids to any emergency room available—with my youngest, I felt certain they would need it.  I packed their bags with some extra tender loving care, stashing a few love notes and tokens for them to find throughout the week.  We enlisted family to give them a fun week of activities in hopes that they would be so busy they didn’t even notice the ocean between us.  Seven days seemed like an eternity to not see them, to hug them, and to tuck them into their beds.  Plus, I worried they would have horrible manners, fight, whine, cry, or throw fits; I was certain they would probably have to be reminded to brush their teeth, hair, and when to flush; I predicted they would get annoying, loud, and even louder.  It was a lot to ask, and by the end, I was afraid we might have used up all our credits with family babysitting.  It felt strange leaving the kids behind for this adventure, something they are learning to love.  But then, this was a time to celebrate just Us, and I tried to tell myself that was an important lesson to teach them, too.  Little did I know the lessons I would learn in just one short week.

Coming from a hot, dry Texas summer, I was taken aback as I looked out the airplane window to the vast acres of rolling, green hills.  Petunias, geraniums, daisies, and chrysanthemums spilled wildly from the fields to the roadways without any necessary watering or care.  I was instantly jealous of the rain this little country seemed to hoard all to itself.  In addition, as we stepped out of the airport in our shorts and sandals, we noticed the well-prepared Irish wearing scarves, boots, and jackets.  It was like the twilight zone of August, but it wasn’t long before I was digging for my own layers to block out that crisp, rainy wind.  The climate change was a small thing compared to the driving change that would plague our trip.  As if driving on the “wrong” side of the road wasn’t enough, our Irish GPS didn’t recognize many of the places we’d hoped to go.  So, as we maneuvered the single lane, overgrown, windy roads, and roundabouts, we also frantically read the road signs or buildings to grasp an idea of our locations—that was a theme throughout the week, but one that became the source of many laughs.  A few times we did stop to ask for directions from locals, and with our mixture of Texas Twang and Irish Brogue we sometimes set off in the right general direction, sometimes not.  But no matter which direction we drove, we were surrounded by awe-inspiring natural beauty.

As we drove, we read the history of the country, stopped at forts or burial tombs built in 3,000 B.C. churches built in 1108, and castles built between 1300-1600.  We began to scoff at anything built in 1800 or later, laughing that the time period was trendy and modern.  We saw castles ruined by Thomas Cromwell, churches built by the Catholic Church, and cottages pieced together during the potato famine.  In simply seeing these buildings, we not only learned, but felt the history of this breath-taking country.

More than anything, it was the people we met that melted our hearts.  There was the sheepherder in the mountains of Killarney.  We spoke with him about his sheep, his dogs, and our little journey. At least, we think we did.  Apparently even the Irish have difficulty understanding the Irish Sheepherder. There was the young college-bound carriage driver, and his horse Paddy.  He was genuinely thankful for a barn full of hay for the winter, a beautiful sunny day in the park, and the fact that we were blessed with “two solid jobs.”  He beamed as he hoped to see us again on the streets of New York City—where he plans to intern soon.  And finally, there was the couple we met at dinner, who were “on holiday” for the weekend, taking in the sights of the country they love.  We chatted about nightlife, culture, and economics.  We learned of their friends, many of whom had left their country in search of jobs.  We learned of their concern for America’s economic state, and how closely linked our economy is to theirs, hearing in their words “When America gets a cold, we get pneumonia.”  They spoke of their family histories, and I spoke of mine.  They were eager to hear of our day in Cork-the county of my grandmother’s birth, and promised to help find more information as we hugged goodbye and exchanged emails.

The last day of our trip, we tracked down the house where my grandmother was born.  We stood outside the childhood homes of my great-great grandmother and grandfather.  We walked the isles of the church where my great-great grandparents married, and my heart was light with happiness.  Surprisingly, I didn’t cry.  My sappy heart held it together as I bathed in all the experience that had brought me to that point.

As we stepped back into the hot Texas sun, and began digging for sandals as we stripped our layers of scarves and jackets, I looked for the kids.  I couldn’t wait to hug them and tell them about Rock of Cashel, and the impact of St. Patrick’s Shamrock in the year 433.  I wanted to paint the picture of the gorgeous green pastures where sheep graze with their quick-witted herder. I had my camera ready to show them pictures where their family worshiped, had Faith to marry, and to sail for America–away from their Home.

Now, safely tucked into our Texas Home, we marvel at our Irish Roots together, gazing on our shamrocks and hoping with a bit o’ luck we will always feel this blessed.

Dueling Opinions

  • August 24, 2011 8:22 pm

As many of you know and have read, last week Wise County teachers participated in an inservice that resulted in differing opinions.  Click here to read about both sides of the issue.