Ending on an Up Note: Who’s Been Naughty?

378642753_640I felt so, well, wistful reading yesterday’s heart-warming post from YeVette, recounting her family’s tradition of reviewing their favorite holiday children’s books. Couldn’t you almost taste the cocoa and cookies?

We celebrate a different tradition at our house, wherein the 30-something sons return to the nest and begin the annual “Raising of the Mother’s Hair.” Commencing after several sips of something-definitely-not-cocoa, my fellas quickly move into “Can you top this?” mode, sharing raucous stories of “Things Mom Never Found Out About.” As far as I know, these shenanigans never resulted in suspension or arrest—as far as I know; as far as I know.  So it could have been worse.

In the spirit of solidarity with other moms forced to relive adolescent mischief, I offer this link to The Stir:  “22 Kids Who Got Detention for Doing Things You Have to Admit are Hilarious.” (Warning: A few of these are decidedly PG-13, with language and sentiments not for tender ears.)


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Enjoy your holidays, and remember Santa’s watching.

We’ll see you in 2016.


Wombat Divine

ReadingthuRsday-R2As part of my Christmas celebration, I always visit a book called Wombat Divine by Mem Fox. Mem Fox is a children’s book author. In this picture book, she uses Australian animals as the characters in her story about the production of a Nativity play.  Wombat Divine is a story of friendship and compassion as much as it is a story about a production of the Nativity.Screen shot 2010-12-08 at 1.29.13 PM

Wombat is finally old enough to participate in the Nativity; however, his delight soon turns to sorrow as each and every part in the Nativity production becomes someone else’s. Wombat wants to be the Archangel Gabriel, but alas, he is too heavy, so Bilby becomes the Archangel Gabriel. Wombat is too big to be Mary, so Numbat plays Mary’s part. As parts are assigned for the Three Kings, Joseph, the innkeeper, and the shepherds, Wombat is either too short, too sleepy, too clumsy, or too short sighted. The roles go to more of his friends.

Each time Wombat tries for a role and fails to get a part, his friends say “Don’t Lose Heart. Why don’t you try for a different part?” Finally all the parts are gone, and poor Wombat is so very sad. Of course, there is one part everyone has forgotten, the most important part, the part of Baby Jesus. Wombat is just perfect to play the part of Baby Jesus. On the night of the Nativity play, Wombat lies so very still in the manager, he may have even fallen asleep. The next day, everyone is talking about how the Nativity play is the best ever, and that Wombat was “divine” in his role. The book ends with the sentence, “And Wombat beamed.”

When Wombat beams, it always makes me happy. Wombat’s friends continue to encourage Wombat as he finds his place in the Nativity. I hope the story makes you happy as well.

christmas reading 2While I have my own copy of this wonderful uplifting story, it is possible to find several YouTube videos of folks, including Mem Fox, reading the story aloud. I encourage you to add this little story to your Christmas collection if you have one, and if you do not, I encourage you to start a children’s book collection for yourself, your children, your grandchildren, or any other children you are lucky to spend the holidays.

As for me, I am off to enjoy my Christmas book collection from my daughter’s childhood. I wish you all the Happiest of Christmas and Peace in the New Year.

K.I.S.S., Part Two


“That’s been one of my mantras—focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to make your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”—Steve Jobs

I am not going to focus on Steve Jobs or Apple Computer in this post, but I did find a great deal of profundity in his statement about simplicity. My office mate and I were talking this morning about simplicity—how when you get to the core of your discipline and the workings of it, how elegantly simple the concepts are. We also observed that  the process of making information simple is considerably more difficult and at times daunting than unloading volumes of information on our students.befuddled

In teaching psychology, I cover a theory dealing with Gestalt psychology. For clarification, Gestalt psychology breaks down the theory explaining perception. Along with Kohler and Koffka , Max Wertheimer emphasized the significance of higher order thinking skills in the context of Behaviorism. The focus of their theory was on “grouping” information to achieve a clearer understanding of the information. There are four basic principles to their theory of learning. Among these principles is the concept of “simplicity.” Who knew?

Let’s take, for example, a football game. Yes, I said a football game. You, as a coach, have lost roughly half of your games this season. Each week you scour the internet (does this sound familiar?) to find new, complex plays and offensive schemes to improve player performance. Upon presentation of this fool-proof method, you find your players dazed and confused. Really? Yes, you overlooked that they had never mastered the last set of plays. The coaches are bewildered. What’s the solution? How can we fix this? Maybe it’s the offensive line that is having the most trouble. These guys aren’t having trouble with the plays but with the basic footwork and body positions to create successful blocking. Why hadn’t they noticed the absence of the simple skills?

keep it simple signLearning fundamentals can be “game changing” for most of your players, too.  An old cliché comes to mind that goes “you can’t see the forest for the trees”. When, as an educator, you focus on learning the basics, you will find that out of the ashes rises a Phoenix!

In your game to deliver the winning discipline, are you 1st and goal, or have you been sacked three times during this possession? Make sure you are an effective quarterback. Keep it simple. Address those fundamentals. Point out the forest.

If you can bear another take on this subject, I will continue with “Part Three” after the holiday break.

Seventy Times Seven?

Building SkillsTeaching our students essential skills as we teach our “real” subjects can be challenging and, for those of us not blessed with saintly patience, exasperating. Most of my students want to be health care providers, so I focus on the skills needed to avoid killing other people. “Following directions carefully” tops the list. “Listening closely to important information” might be a corollary.

During class, I explained slowly and deliberately what would be asked on a credit-rich portion of an upcoming exam. I provided a work sheet with the exact diagrams that would be presented. I offered two alternatives for the question itself. I explained the scoring system. (I know, I know….this reeks of the dread “spoon feeding.” I’m soothing my conscience by calling it “playing fair.”)

And then I received this email on a Sunday evening, reproduced here just as I saw it—no greeting, no signature, just a query/demand: “On the pictures of the brain you said we had to identify what again? I forgot.”

What’s a mother to do?

Here’s one of the posters that decorate my classroom lab, customized with one of Captain Sparrow’s great lines:



However, before I reached full righteous fuming gear, the cosmos reminded me about my own inadequacies. I received an email from my chair nudging me to complete some annual administrative tasks…and I had to ask again how to do them. I prepared my request for Christmas leave, and once again had to pester the long-suffering and ever-gracious Keri Williams to make sure that I had done them properly. (Why, no, I had not, although I came closer than usual.)

Maybe I should go stare awhile at my own poster. Worse things could happen to me than spending a little time with Cap’n Jack.


The Thoughtful Wife

Brian picShe walked in from the store. He looked dead, but he had looked that way for years. She couldn’t tell, and she didn’t want to touch him to see. She hadn’t touched him in years. Theirs had been a quiet existence, he with his work, chair in the den, dinner on a tray, and television; and she with her needs met by tutoring, community helping agencies, and a few friends that she constantly texted. When craving to hear a voice, she had Carla, who would talk as long as needed. She told Carla that she stayed away from men since she figured that the script would always turn out the same, and she never had respected cheaters. But she did like to think that romance is possible for some, and she wanted it for her children.

There was no movement, not a snore, not a breath, not a touch of rose coloring in the cheeks, not a twitch—nothing but pale emptiness, like she had experienced for 20 years. They had been high school sweethearts and married after two years of college. He made a good living as an engineer, and she had a teaching certificate that she could fall back on if needed, but so far, she had been happy with part time jobs and enough extra income for a few pastimes.TVM-mesh-concerned-woman-article-3

She didn’t know what to do. Should she call 911, or Carla, or just go on up to bed and hope for the best? What would be the best? She wasn’t sure as she went down the hall and got under the covers, reaching for her phone to call Carla. Carla said, “Don’t you want to know?” She replied, “I’m not sure.” Carla came back, “If he needs 911 but dies, won’t you feel guilty?” She thought. “Yes.” Carla said, “Even if it’s too late for your marriage, think about, uh, think about, well, there must be something to think about.”

She felt herself drifting off to sleep after telling Carla good night. She fought it, and with barely enough resolution, went back down the hall. The chair was empty. Her pulse raced. Her breathing was short and quick. He was nowhere to be found and didn’t reply to her texts. For three days, she called his office, and Cynthia said that no one had heard from him. At this point, she went to the police but didn’t tell them the whole story. “I’m sure he’s fine. Men can do crazy things when they’ve been in a mindless routine for a long time.”

101125_0747stillaliveAfter a year, she still had heard nothing. A teaching job had opened up, so that paid the bills and gave her purpose. Carla said, “You need to get on with your life.” She would always say, “But what does that mean?” Carla didn’t know either, so they just kept discussing it.

Ella, her 22 year old daughter came in one day and said, “Mom, I’m in love.” She looked at her daughter and could see the dream. Part of her argued with it; part of her enjoyed the dream. She said, “Ella, we’re not dead yet.” Surprised, Ella, almost in a whisper, said, “Do you want me to tell dad?”



Ending on an Up Note: Enough Really Is Enough

IMG_0277I’ve been enjoying Geneen Roth’s new book, Lost and Found. Roth lost all her life savings in the Bernie Madoff scandal but eventually found that her losses were accompanied by surprising insights, including this:

“In this moment, when I began paying attention to what I did have, instead of what I didn’t, there was a constant, unavoidable display of gorgeousness everywhere, anywhere.”

As the annual holiday onslaught of catalogs and commercials conspire to persuade us that there’s always room for more, we might find joy and peace by paying attention to what we already have.

Enjoy your weekend.

Reading Is Like Breathing

ReadingthuRsday-R2My dear friend and colleague, Karen, gave me a plaque that reads “Asking Me If I Like Reading is Like Asking Me If I Like Breathing.” I was so happy my love of reading was so perfectly captured. The word “like” is used three times, so it really captures my feelings. I liked reading when I got my first Golden books for my 6th birthday. I liked reading when my dad bought me my first book at a school book fair. I continue to like reading as I visit school and public libraries as I work my way through a lifetime of mysteries.

However, to be fair, I can also remember not liking reading when I was in the reading circle in first grade. My teacher moved me up to a “better” reading group, and I guess I was not quite ready. dogbarkingWhen she asked me to figure out what the dog said, I instantly replied with my best growl and bark. The right answer was “Bow Wow.” I was moved back down to another reading group. I had the context answer right, but I did not have the letter/sound answer right. To be fair, my dog never said “Bow Wow.”

I also was not sure I liked reading as I worked my way through three degrees. The Handbook of Reading Research (pick any volume) is quite a heavy book in weight and in ideas. I did not necessarily like reading the whole thing, but I admit reading the entire tome helped me get a wide understanding of every aspect of reading, reading education, and reading difficulties. So, in the long run, I came to appreciate reading the Handbooks and tolerating the experience.

I continue to like reading, and I have based my life work on reading. In many ways, my reading is automatic just like breathing. Reading is entrenched in my leisure, in my daily routines, and in my work. fun_i_love_mystery_books_t_shirt_mousepad-p144696877568396804z8xsj_400All of my jobs have included some aspect of reading, starting with my first job at The Leaf Chronicle (a local newspaper) where I worked during college in the advertising department as a lay-out person and proofreader. My teaching jobs at public schools, community colleges, and at universities all have a literacy base. I like reading so much I sometimes take it for granted. However, each year as I need better and better glasses, I am beginning to wonder what I would do with my time if I could not read as much as I do. I am still looking for that answer, and I am thankful for my glasses. So, the analogy of breathing and reading is just perfect every day. I am grateful someone noticed.