Friday, December 30, 2011

Worried about how to get rid of that extra $16,000? Some suggestions for you.

            If I had a spare $16,000 lying around the house, I would buy….

            What would you buy? Aw, don’t give me those boring answers like “paying off bills” or “saving for retirement.” Of course that’s what you should do with a stray $16,000 you might find in an old coat pocket, but what do you wish you could do with it?

            Do you want an awesome home theater with an enormous flat-screen TV? How about a trip to some exotic locale? A new wardrobe, perhaps? Would you prefer to donate the money to your favorite charity? Or are you just itching to buy a virtual sword so you can beat your fellow players in the MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) of your choice?

            A man in China took his – supposedly – unneeded $16,000 and plunked it down on a virtual sword for the game Age of Wulin, which hasn’t actually been released in China yet. He anticipates being able to kill dragons and eliminate bad guys with one stroke of his mighty virtual sword. He’ll be invincible! At least that’s the theory. Who knows how many other people will fork over their spare change to get one of these amazing virtual weapons? Um…right.


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Signs from Jesus

            Have you ever wondered why you haven’t been chosen to receive a sign from Jesus? I have often pondered that very question. Does Jesus ignore me because I am not worthy? Have I received signs that I simply disregarded, going about my business completely oblivious to spiritual messages? Are people who see signs from Jesus a slice short of a complete loaf? These are heavy questions, requiring a considerable amount of introspection.

            It is pictures like this one that lead to my reflective moods. I do laundry nearly every day, but I have never seen a picture of Jesus form itself from the creases in a sock. Sarah Crane, of Kent, England, left her washing out on the line overnight and awoke to discover the face of Jesus staring back at her. Why her and not me, huh?

            All I can say is that right now, at this very moment, I have laundry hanging on a drying rack. You can be darn sure that I’m going to look at each piece carefully before I fold it and put it away. The next message from Jesus might just be for me.

Monday, December 26, 2011

To Post or Not to Post - Is That REALLY the Question?

While watching a recent football game, I saw a commercial for the U.S. Postal Service. I thought this was rather odd, because I can’t remember the U.S. Postal Service ever advertising before. I mean, the post office has been an American institution since the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. Why would they need to advertise?

Of course, you’ve most likely heard rumors that the postal service has been losing money lately. As a matter of fact, they’ve been losing lots and lots of money for years now. The stress has been making their employees a bit unstable, hence the popularity a while back of the term “going postal.”

So why is Benjamin Franklin’s pet project in jeopardy? Well…do you pay your bills online? Do you send emails or texts instead of writing letters? Do you even know that stamps haven’t had to be licked since 1994? There you have it – that’s why the post office has had to resort to advertising. Their customer base dwindled away as we started to use more modern methods to communicate.

Unfortunately for the postal service, it is unlikely that these ads are going to convince anyone that snail mail is better than electronic communications. Is putting a check in an envelope that travels from your post office to a truck to a different post office to a mail carrier and then finally to your electric company really safer than paying a bill directly from your checking account online? I don’t think so. I’ve been paying my bills online for years.


How about this second ad? Is receiving your mail directly from the hand of a smiling mail carrier more reliable and safer than receiving an email or text? Not in my experience. I’m not sure what my mail carrier looks like; he/she chucks my mail in a box at the end of the driveway, where anyone could take it before I get home from work. My email, however, is password protected and located on a secure server.

The U.S. Postal Service has not adapted to modern technology, and so it is becoming as relevant as the pony express. I bet Benjamin Franklin would have switched over to email right along with the rest of us. After all, the issue is not whether or not we need the postal service – it’s about how we can communicate most efficiently.

Need a laugh? Watch Conan O'Brien's new Postal Service ad:

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Morning

    Spending the day Christmas shopping. I know it's not Christmas Eve yet, but I figured I'd start early this year. I hope you enjoy reading this blog from Christmas past.      

            It made her laugh to see the television commercials where the children eagerly wake up their parents on Christmas morning. It was usually the other way around in her house, and this year was no exception. The children were nestled all snug in their beds, but she couldn’t sleep. “It’s Christmas,” whispered in her head; how could they sleep so soundly?

            She put on her robe and tiptoed down the stairs at 5 AM. She plugged in the tree lights, and stood still for a moment, hugging the Christmas magic to herself. It took her breath away to see the presents mounded under the Christmas tree, proof that Santa had already been and gone. Somehow, she never seemed to catch him filling the stockings, no matter how early she came downstairs.

            She had put the teakettle on the stove when her mother padded into the kitchen. It was always this way, she and her mother, drinking tea together on Christmas morning. It was a ritual, one she wouldn’t give up for anything. She looked forward to spending this time with her mother all year. It’s not that they didn’t spend time together at other times of the year, it’s just that this was special time, Christmas time.

She and her mother would wait until they couldn’t stand it another minute, and then they would wake up the rest of the family. The kids would bound down the stairs the minute they were properly awake. The dads would come down, bleary-eyed but happy. The last one down was always her sister, pushing at her bed-mussed hair and grumbling under her breath like a humbug.

Christmas was special, a day given to her as a gift. She treasured every moment of it, pulling it into her so that she would always have the memories to keep her company. She loved her family – each and every one precious to her – and she loved Christmas.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Words that Describe Life as We Know It

Merriam-Webster’s List of Most Looked-up Words in 2011
  1. pragmatic (meaning: practical as opposed to idealistic)
  2. ambivalence (meaning: simultaneous and contradictory attitudes or feelings toward an object, person, or action; a continual fluctuation as between one thing and its opposite)
  3. insidious (meaning: awaiting a chance to entrap; harmful but enticing; having a gradual and cumulative effect)
  4. didactic (meaning: designed or intended to teach; intended to convey instruction and information as well as pleasure and entertainment; making moral observations
  5. austerity (meaning: the quality or state of being austere which means stern and cold in appearance or manner)
  6. diversity (meaning: the condition of having or being composed of differing elements)
  7. capitalism (meaning: an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods)
  8. socialism (meaning: any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership)
  9. vitriol (meaning: a sulfate of any of various metals)
  10. apres moi le deluge (meaning: a French phrase which is literally translated to mean “after me, the deluge”)
These words tell us a lot about the human condition in the year 2011, don’t they? We try to be pragmatic about our economic woes, but Americans are definitely ambivalent about what government programs need to be cut or reduced in order to improve the situation. While Congress does nothing, the insidious decline of the American way of life continues, with corresponding disastrous effects on the rest of the world.
Didactic speeches are given by politicians, radio talk show hosts, and anyone else who can find a soap box on which to stand. Many preach austerity, but austerity measures are highly unpopular in the world today. We don’t want to cut back on spending. We don’t want to make do with less.
Perhaps the answer to our economic distress is to diversify our economy. Instead of relying on government to solve the crisis, we can invest in small businesses and try to stimulate the economy by providing a climate in which workers and businesses can thrive. With the cultural diversity in the United States, there are many people who “think outside the box.” We need them to be creative and innovative.
The United States was founded on the principles of capitalism. It was thought that anyone who worked hard could be financially successful here. Entrepreneurs found businesses that provide jobs and improve our way of life. Where would we be today without Henry Ford, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, and Bill Gates? It was the importance placed on capitalism by our founding fathers that has allowed the United States to build the number one economy in the world.
Socialism, however, relies heavily on government ownership of businesses. Many countries around the world rely solely on their governments for such things as health care, transportation, and education. The United States unhappily appears to be moving in this direction. I’ll spare you a vitriolic rant on the subject; my blood pressure doesn’t need to be any higher. I suppose I would feel better if I just said après moi le deluge and dismissed the whole topic. My children and grandchildren can clean up the mess.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Political Correctness to the Max

            When can we definitively announce that political correctness has gone too far? Right now, it’s not okay to show Winnie-the-Pooh’s friend Piglet on a tissue box in a kindergarten class lest Muslims be offended. It’s not okay to display a picture of Santa because non-Christians or the Keep-Christ-in-Christmas Christians might be offended. It’s not okay to use the word “man” when you mean “mankind” because women might be offended. Have we gone too far with political correctness yet? Apparently not.

            Toddlers at a school in North Yorkshire, England are no longer allowed to make hand gestures when singing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” These babies, who had been taught a few hand symbols to make singing this old song more fun, have been accused of making rude gestures. Apparently, the hand symbol used for “diamond” means “female private parts” in one of the many sign languages used in England. Although no children or parents involved in the school are deaf, administrators at the Sure Start center have banned the use of hand gestures with the song so as not to offend the hearing impaired.
            What can one say about this particular example of enforced political correctness? I’m rendered speechless.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Censorship and Other F***ing Bad Ideas

            So what is with people who feel the need to restrict the freedoms of others in order to “make the world a better place?” Are these politicians, parents, religious leaders, etc. truly holier than thou? Do they really know what’s right for everyone?

            Australian Senator Stephen Conroy is one of those people who knows exactly what you need to do, and he wants to use the law to make sure you do it.  The minister in charge of television and radio broadcast standards, Conroy advocates censoring the internet in Australia.  Since even communist China has been unable to completely censor the internet, I am nearly certain that Senator Conroy has taken on an impossible task. Just the possibility that he might succeed makes me angry, though, and I don’t even live in Australia!  

            It takes a lot of chutzpah for someone to stand up in public and declare that censorship is necessary. It takes a lot of something else – stupidity, perhaps – to drop the f-bomb on live TV while doing so. Yes, Senator Conroy used the f-word while answering a question during a live television press briefing. Ironic, huh?

            Perhaps Senator Conroy needs to promote good manners instead of censorship. I’m pretty sure the f-word wouldn’t slip from my lips if I were on national live television. My mother taught me better manners than that. I bet poor Senator Conroy’s mum is horribly distressed by his public rudeness. Now all of her friends think she didn’t raise her son properly. Perhaps Senator Conroy, fallible as he has proven to be, is not someone who truly knows what’s best for the rest of us. Hmm.

I wouldn’t presume to know what’s best for everyone, but I do have a suggestion. Maybe if we advocated for freedom of speech AND polite behavior, the world would be a better place. Let's make rudeness illegal! Now wait…would that be censorship? 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Anger Management Class a Bust

            Every teacher plans lessons, teaches content, gives feedback, and keeps her fingers crossed that her students will be successful. In these days when teachers are required to demonstrate results, it is a catastrophe if students don’t do their part. The teacher’s paycheck could be on the line. That’s big.

            Some teaching jobs are more difficult than others. Yes, it’s hard to motivate middle and high school students to learn, but it’s not an impossible task. However, what if your job is teaching anger management to adults who have been arrested for road rage or heat-of-the-moment assaults on another person? Now that has got to be a job from you-know-where!

            Take for example the sad case of one Mr. Philip Croft of Manchester, England. Mr. Croft has difficulty controlling his temper. This was patently obvious to the cop who pulled over Mr. Croft to give him a warning for speeding. Mr. Croft proceeded to harangue the officer with language that polite people don’t use in public. Instead of receiving a warning for speeding, Mr. Croft ended up having to pay a large fine for a public order offense.

            What makes this scenario ironic is that Mr. Croft was on his way home from a court-ordered anger management class at the time of the incident. Apparently, a fight had broken out during the class, and Mr. Croft was still angry about that when he was confronted by the officer. I’m sorry, but this has to be considered an epic fail on the teacher’s part. Sending angry students home from an anger management class is a bad idea.

            I certainly hope that the teacher’s pay isn’t based on Mr. Croft’s ability to control his temper. The probability of successfully teaching Mr. Croft anger management techniques that he will use seems slim to me. Yup, some teaching jobs are definitely harder than others.


Monday, December 12, 2011

A Southern Tradition: Mistletoe Shooting

            I grew up in Pennsylvania and moved to Georgia when I was well past my formative years. I’ve now lived in the South for 22 years, but native Georgians still consider me a carpet-bagging Yankee. I will never be a “true” Southerner. It’s obvious that there are Southern traditions that I will never understand.

            Get this – there is a tradition in Georgia of decorating your house with mistletoe at Christmas. That’s not the weird part – we did that in PA, too. No, the weird part is that instead of buying your mistletoe at a store, in Georgia you’re supposed to shoot your mistletoe out of a tall tree using a 12 gauge double barreled shotgun.

            Bill Robinson of Decatur, GA (near Atlanta) decided not to travel to the woods this year to get his annual mistletoe. There was a fine bunch of the stuff at the top of a tree practically in his backyard. He took his shotgun out, fired one shot that brought down the mistletoe, put his gun away, collected his mistletoe and prepared to take it home. Unfortunately, a skittish shopper at the North DeKalb Mall had called the police when she saw the man with the gun in the mall parking lot. Mr. Robinson was arrested, believe it or not.

            When asked if he thought he wouldn’t get in trouble for firing a shotgun on mall property, Mr. Robinson answered, “I guess I assumed that everybody knew what I was doing.” How come I had never heard about this well-known, beloved Southern tradition before now? I guess it’s a secret not passed on to Yankees….

Friday, December 9, 2011

Parents Hold Incompetent Teacher and Colleagues Hostage

            No one ever said that being a teacher is easy. Teachers these days have to be able to control disrespectful students, competently teach the curriculum so that students can pass high-stakes tests, fulfill the paperwork and meeting demands placed on them by administrators, and communicate clearly with parents. It’s a tough job, no doubt about it, and teachers are bound to have some less-than-perfect moments.

Luckily, it is still highly unusual for a group of unhappy parents to hold a principal and teachers hostage in order to get a teacher fired. Parents of young students at the Notre Dame de Caderot private school in southern France claimed that the internee teacher “lacked authority” and was “behind in instructing the curriculum.” Wow! When was the last time you heard about an incompetent teacher and his colleagues being held hostage by parents? Um…never?

The local Catholic diocese agreed to fire the internee teacher after a stand-off of 17 hours. The parents “won” this battle.  You have to wonder, though, what their children learned about handling difficult situations from this example. Did they learn that people can work through problems by talking to each other? Did they learn that sometimes compromises have to be made? Of course not. The lesson taught here was “might makes right.” If student bullying becomes a problem at the school, the parents will have no one to blame but themselves. They have clearly demonstrated to their children that it is acceptable to use force to get what you want.


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Competitive Pee-ing: A new Olympic sport?

            Did you know that it takes a man an average of 55 seconds to urinate? I didn’t know that either, and quite frankly, being a woman, I don’t care. That little factoid falls into the category of TMI for me. However, there is a company in London that finds the statistic fascinating – and profitable.

55 seconds doesn’t seem all that long to me, but apparently there are men out there who get bored staring at blank white tile while they do their business. Captive Media has designed the first urine-powered video game system to alleviate the boredom. Gamers use their personal …um…“joysticks” to aim their urine streams to the right, left, or straight in order to earn points. Players can add their scores to a leader board, thereby making the urinal game a competition. I guess winners have the right to call themselves the “Most Accurate Pee-ers” in Britain.
Currently installed in a loo in The Exhibit bar in Balham, south London, the urinal video games are enormously popular. The bar owners are happy; sales of beer are way up so gamers have the opportunity to play several times during their visit to the pub. Advertisers are happy, too. The equipment is sponsored by companies whose ads are shown on the sides of the screens during game play. If I were smart, I’d buy stock in Captive Media. That company is going to make some serious money.

Of course, it is anatomically impossible for women to compete in the urinal games. But don’t feel too bad, ladies. Captive Media is working on a solution for us. They will soon unveil a video quiz game to be placed near hand dryers in women’s restrooms. These games are supposed to alleviate the boredom of having to stand in long lines waiting to use the facilities. All I can say is that I’m quite impressed. Who said that creative thinking is a thing of the past?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Fairy Wasps and Other Tiny Topics

            “You’re kidding!”

            Alex and I looked at Chris in disbelief. We were sitting at Chili’s eating lunch, and the topic under discussion – wasps – was not particularly conducive to a relaxing meal.

            “No, I’m not kidding,” Chris continued. “There are fairy wasps that are smaller than a paramecium or an amoeba. Imagine a wasp with thousands of cells that is smaller than a one-celled organism.”

            My mind flashed back to ancient times, where I saw myself looking at pond water through a microscope.  If you can remember anything at all about middle school science class, it’s probably the first time you saw microscopic living creatures swimming around in the water from your local swimming hole.

            “That’s highly disturbing,” Alex responded.

            I nodded, totally in agreement.

            Chris looked confused. “I don’t see what’s disturbing about it.”

            Alex explained, “I don’t like the idea that there’s a wasp I can’t see.”

            “I have to agree with him,” I chimed in. “My experiences with wasps have been rather unpleasant. It’s creepy to think that there’s a wasp flying around that I can’t see.”
            “You’re both nuts,” Chris stated bluntly. “These fairy wasps are a miracle of science.” He held up his iPhone and showed us a picture of the tiny creature. It looked like a very small…wasp.

            “It’s adorable, dear.”

            Alex bit his lip to keep from laughing when Chris rolled his eyes at me.

            “You should thank me for imparting all of this interesting knowledge to you. If I hadn’t introduced you to fairy wasps, you’d still be ignorant about them.”

            Alex and I grinned. Chris really did teach us a lot of interesting science stuff.

            “Thanks, Dad,” Alex answered. Only a teenager can say “thanks” and have it mean the exact opposite. I guess it’s all in the attitude.

            Chris chose to ignore the tone. “You’re welcome.” He turned to me. “You’re welcome, too.”

            “I appreciate everything you do to keep me from wallowing in ignorance,” I replied, winking at him.

            Chris snorted.

            In truth, his interesting conversation topics are one of the things I love about him. Just don’t tell him that, please.
If you must, you can read more about fairy wasps in Discover Magazine:

Friday, December 2, 2011

Scrooge Goes Shopping

            I have a reputation for being Scrooge pre-ghosts during the Christmas season. I find Christmas to be extraordinarily stressful, and I would prefer to let it pass without notice. Cleaning, cooking, putting up a tree, and the number one stresser - shopping! make me nuts.

            Sometimes I have wondered if I’m the only person who feels that way. Wandering through crowded stores decked out in red and gold, blaring old Christmas music, and displaying signs that have festive messages such as “Have yourself a merry little holiday” definitely brings out the Grinch in me. I would rather be confronted by a poisonous cobra than to go to a mall in December.

            But you know what? I am not alone. A new study from the University of Oxford reports that the “merrier” the store, the less business it gets. People just like me, stressed out from the joys of Christmas, tend to flee festive stores without buying anything.

Nancy Puccinelli, Associate Fellow at the university’s Saïd Business School, explained the results of her research: “In the final days before Christmas many a shopper will be feeling the pressure of the holiday season – with gifts to buy and preparations to make – leading to undue stress. The extreme contrast between consumers’ negative feelings and the atmosphere in the store, be it festive decorations, Christmas music or overly enthusiastic staff, actually makes them feel worse and less willing to purchase.”

Yes! That’s exactly it! Now we have scientific proof that the stresses of preparing for Christmas make a person grumpy! So if you, like the Grinch, “hate Christmas, the whole Christmas season,” don’t worry. You have company, and lots of it. “Bah humbug!”

Monday, November 28, 2011

Sad Today

            My friend Lucy passed away this morning. Right now, my heart is too full and my brain is too dazed to make sense of the death of a second woman I loved in the span of a few weeks. I’ll be hiding in my bedroom with the covers over my head for the rest of this dreary November day.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Gloria's Black Friday

            “So did you finish your Christmas shopping yet?”

            “That’s funny, Gloria. I believe the correct question would be ‘Did you start your Christmas shopping yet?’”

            “You didn’t go shopping at midnight last night? What’s the matter with you? That’s when Black Friday started.”

            “Aw, you didn’t go shopping at midnight last night either, did you?” I know Gloria pretty well.

            “No, I didn’t,” she admitted. “But I did get up early….”

            “You always get up early.” If Gloria sleeps past 5 AM, that’s sleeping in for her. “Did you go shopping?”

            “I thought about it,” she answered. “Then I made myself a cup of tea, curled up with Vinnie and my laptop, and finished my Christmas shopping online.”

            “Smart lady. A cup of Earl Grey, a warm cat, and an unlimited number of cyber-shops sound like the perfect Black Friday shopping trip to me.”

            “Just the thought of going to Wal-Mart today gave me a panic attack.” Gloria is a middle school teacher; it takes a lot to give her a panic attack.

            “I hear you. A Wal-Mart customer in California pepper-sprayed another shopper this morning so she could get the last flat screen TV. Nuts, huh?”


            “I’m glad you’re not crazy, Gloria.”

            “I’m glad you’re not crazy, too. At least about shopping,” Gloria chuckled.

            “I love you, too, my friend. Enjoy the rest of your day.”

            “You, too. Happy Black Friday!”

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Football Made in Heaven

            Mary bent down and touched her toes and then reached for the sky, rocking gently on the balls of her feet. It had been years since she had been able to move even the slightest bit without feeling pain. Dying had been an experience she was glad she didn’t have to repeat, but now that she had left her ailing body behind, life was good again.

            She was alive, no doubt about that. She had expected angels playing harps on clouds, but the reality was different – and much better. Heaven was a place where you could pursue your own interests, meet new people, join up with family and friends who had gone on before, and never have to deal with a body that didn’t work properly. Mary, her quirky sense of humor intact, decided that she might just learn to play the harp now that arthritis wasn’t twisting her knuckles into pretzels. As for clouds, well, she’d almost mastered Formulating Clouds 101 – a totally useless skill, of course, but fun.

            She checked in on Joe every day. She regretted having to leave him behind, but she knew he was going to be OK until they were reunited. He was surrounded by friends and family, and he gratefully accepted the comfort they offered. He kept busy; it was only in those quiet moments late at night that the loneliness and sorrow overwhelmed him.  Mary held him close then, and hoped that he knew she was there.

            This morning, Joe sat at the breakfast table, sipping his second cup of coffee and reading the newspaper. He was as content as he was going to be without her sitting across from him. Mary thought for a moment, and then chuckled. She was determined to make him smile, and she knew just what to do. She opened her hands wide and “thought” a football-shaped cloud into being. Stepping back, she punted the ball right into the back of his head.

            Joe put down his coffee mug and absently reached up a hand to touch his hair. To his surprise, every hair on his head was standing straight up, Don King style. He went to the bathroom mirror, and found himself smiling at how ridiculous he looked.

            Mary laughed and pumped her arms in victory. Life – even if one of you lived in heaven and the other lived on earth – was grand.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Grandparents had to trek 5 miles in the snow to get to school? Check out this story!

We’ve all heard those stories about how our parents and our grandparents had to get up at 4 AM, milk the cows, pack baked potatoes into their pockets for lunch, and then trudge 5 miles to school through a foot of snow, uphill in both directions. Of course, I don’t really believe those stories. First of all, there is no snow on the ground for many months of the year unless you’re from an arctic region, which my parents and grandparents definitely weren’t. Second, I do believe that it runs contrary to the laws of physics for a path to be uphill in both directions. (I can also say with confidence that neither of my parents have been closer to a cow than buying a gallon of milk in the grocery store, so that whole cow-milking chore thing is obviously a tall tale.)

If my family had grown up in China, there might have been some truth to those stories about how difficult it was to get to school. In fact, if you’re from the Pili village in northwestern China, it is still a perilous trek to get to school. It takes the 80 students two days of hiking and mountain climbing to reach the school 125 miles away. On the way, they must cross 4 single-plank bridges and a 650 ft chain bridge. Wading through 4 freezing rivers is the “easy part.” Now that’s true dedication to education! I don’t want to hear any more complaining about the school bus ride, kids. You have it easy.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Talking With Your Thumbs

            My sister has two deformed thumbs. They were perfectly normal thumbs when she was a baby. As a matter of fact, they were perfectly normal until she managed to save up enough birthday, Christmas, and allowance money to purchase an Atari 2600 in 1980. That’s when her love affair with video games became an obsession and the knuckles of her thumbs locked into video controller position. Yes, she is a victim of the dread disease of the 1980’s – Atari Thumb.

            She played PacMan, Space Invaders, Circus (the one where the clown bounced up and down on a trampoline breaking balloons that floated across the top of the screen), and Asteroids for hours on end. My parents had to drag her whining and complaining body to the dining room table for dinner. They resorted to pulling the TV plug out of the electric socket when it was time for her to go to bed. She was hooked on the new technology and she has the thumbs to prove it.

            You might think that technology has come far beyond the days of thumb-controlled Atari joysticks, and in some ways you’d be right. We have iPhones in our pockets, laptop computers that fit into back packs, and small tablets that have all the computing power we might ever need. (Don’t let the term fool you – there is no paper in a tablet anymore.)

So has Atari Thumb gone the way of the floppy drive, the huge old computers that captured data on magnetic tapes, and, well, the Atari 2600? Hardly. Today’s youth suffer from the next generation of Atari Thumb. Texting thumb affects nearly half of our young people. As a matter of fact, 1 in 20 young people in England will tell you that the pain in their thumbs becomes so severe late in the day that they have to…stop texting! Now that seems like a drastic solution to me. lol

A thousand years from now, archeologists digging up our ancient bones are going to wonder why so many of us had mutant thumbs. Will they be able to figure out that we switched from talking with our voices to talking with our thumbs? I wish them luck.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Test Anxiety to the Max

            Do you suppose the United States isn’t taking high stakes testing seriously enough? Sure, American parents try to make sure their children get enough rest and eat a good breakfast so they are physically prepared for test days. Teachers teach the content to be tested as well as test-taking skills for the entire school year. State tests, graduation tests, nationally-normed tests, college entrance exams and professional certification exams are a big deal because they can determine whether or not a student goes into the next grade, graduates from high school, gets into a good college, or successfully becomes a professional educator, lawyer, or accountant. We seem to add more and more high stakes assessments for our students to pass every year.

           South Korean students take only one test during their school years. This test, taken when students are 18-years-old, is the sole determining factor in whether or not a student will earn a spot at a college. A student’s entire future hinges on the results of this one test. There are no do-overs, no second tries. This is a country that takes its high stakes testing very seriously indeed.

            In South Korea, this year’s test will be administered on Thursday. To prepare, South Korean students have studied for 16 hours a day for the majority of their 18 years. South Korean parents have spent 16 hours a day for their child’s entire 18 years (and possibly even while the child was in utero) praying that their child will pass the test. Only students who get into the best colleges are offered the best jobs. No parent wants his child to be stuck in a low status / low paying job for the rest of his life.

            The rest of South Korean society understands just how important it is for students to do well on this test. To make the ordeal as stress-free as possible, the South Korean stock market will open an hour later than normal to decrease the amount of traffic hindering students from getting to the test centers on time. Police will personally escort students who are running late. No aircraft will land or take off during the oral tests, and all cars and trucks are prohibited from using their horns. Proctors are specially trained, and are not allowed to cough, chew gum, or wear strong perfumes that might distract students. Yes, South Korea takes its testing seriously.

            In some ways, it is nice to see a society so devoted to the education of its youth. I firmly believe that education is the answer to most problems. On the other hand, the stress on the Korean 18-year-old population is overwhelming. Students who don’t get into the best colleges become convinced that the rest of their lives aren’t worth living; the suicide rate when test results are released is high. I have trouble believing that this education system is really what is best for South Korea. It’s definitely not a system that American education should strive to emulate. Do Americans need to take high stakes tests more seriously? I think not.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Eternal Love? Absolutely.

            I am an unabashed sucker for love stories. A study of the books on my Kindle would reveal that I frequently read light romances. I can occasionally be found watching the Lifetime channel on TV. I also enjoy spending afternoons with my girlfriends watching chick flicks at the theater. I must give credit where credit is due, though, and confess that my husband will cheerfully go to see a chick flick with me. I suspect he just enjoys seeing movies and that it doesn’t really matter to him what he’s seeing, but that doesn’t make his willingness to join me at the theater any less special.

            Chris and I were married in 1983. That means we’ve been married…um…28 years. We both come from a long line of people who have been married, well, forever. My parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary this past June. Chris’s parents are devoted to each other in their 53rd year together. They were role models who showed us how marriage was supposed to work, which does not mean that they never argued or had rough times. They showed us how to work through problems, and not to lose sight of the fact that, no matter what, we love each other.

As a result, I firmly believe that happily-ever-after isn’t just the ending to a fairytale. Perhaps that’s why the recent discovery of a couple of old skeletons in Italy touched my heart. The long-dead pair has held hands since they were buried some 1500 years ago. They were also positioned so that they could continue to gaze into each other’s eyes throughout eternity.
That’s the ultimate in happy endings. I could ask for nothing more.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

For Mary

He looked down at her tired and wasted body.  But he saw the fifteen year old girl he fell in love with on that playground so many years ago.  He saw the 21 year old bride walking down the aisle toward him.  He saw the 26 year old mother of three smiling as he came in the door from night school.  He saw so many more images from over the years.  He saw beauty, and grace, and sweetness, and love.

The man leaned over and kissed her. "If this beauty is a hint of the beauty of God, then this is a God I can love.  If your goodness is a hint of the goodness of God, this is a God I can love.  If our love is a hint of God's love for us, this is a God I can love.  Mary, you show me what God must be like, and I love you for it.  Be still and go with God now."

She took one last breath and was gone.  And he cried a little, not for her death but for the wonder of the life she had given him -- a 53 year love affair that never ended.

And he would keep her in his heart until it was his time to go, and the love affair would go on forever.  He smiled at the thought.

Written by Joe Scullion
Joe and Mary Scullion with grandson PJ in 1986
November 9, 2011

Monday, November 7, 2011

A Greek Lunch in Monroe, GA? Just Say No!

Eighteen of us had lunch together at a small Greek restaurant in Monroe, GA, on Saturday. Now Monroe, GA, isn’t the dusty rural farming village you might expect; it’s an hour or so northeast of Atlanta and about a half hour northwest of Athens, the home of the University of Georgia. We have internet access, and we have a brand new WalMart that just opened down the street in that old cow pasture. We don’t drive our tractors on I85 and we do own clothes that aren’t made of denim. Monroe, GA, is modern and happenin’.

No one can say that the restaurant hadn’t been warned ahead of time. Marla had made reservations a couple of weeks in advance, then had called to confirm on Thursday, AND she had reconfirmed Saturday morning. What happened wasn’t her fault, and none of us blame her. Really.
We asked for separate checks. Our waitress was a bit flustered by that, bless her heart. All I can say is that my sorority sisters – all of us are teachers – tip really well, so we don’t feel too badly about asking for separate checks.

            Whether it was the uproar about the separate checks or something else that went wrong, I don’t know, but it was an hour and a half before the food started to trickle out of the kitchen one plate at a time. It’s possible that a neighboring farm was responsible for providing chicken and gyro meat from animals that had still been alive when we ordered. It’s plausible to assume that the chef had to milk the goats before he could make feta cheese. I’m pretty sure the salads traveled to us by rowboat directly from Greece.

            The first plate arrived, and we assured Betsy that we wouldn’t be offended if she ate before our food arrived; she had ordered fish, and everyone knows that fish gets nasty when it gets cold. We watched Betsy eat. She was almost done when Linda’s plate came to the table. Linda felt uncomfortable eating in front of us, but we convinced her to eat anyway. She was only about half finished when the next plate arrived.
Now while the food service lingered well into the second hour, ladies who were pre- and post- lunch had been refilling their glasses from the pitchers of water and sweet tea on the table. The result was inevitable. There was a steady stream of ladies waiting in line for the restroom. No problem, right? Wrong. The restaurant ran out of toilet tissue. There was not a single roll of tissue in a closet, under a sink, or in a back room. There was no toilet paper anywhere in the building.

There were urgent whispers around our table. Every single woman routed through her purse in search of tissues. Packs of Kleenex were passed from hand to hand. Crisis was narrowly averted.

Finally, everyone had been served except Violet. She had had the nerve to order a hamburger, and the kitchen had run out of buns. It was obviously her fault for ordering American food in a Greek restaurant. Her plate, when it showed up long after everyone else was finished, contained a burned beef patty and a few fries. The waitress plopped a bottle of ketchup in front of her and walked away to put her feet up. It had been a rough day for her.

            Remember what I said earlier about Monroe, GA, being modern and happenin’? It’s so not true. Eat somewhere else.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Boys and their Dragons


            “Yes, PJ?”

            “Were any of our ancestors eaten by dragons?”

            “Hmm. That’s a hard one. I don’t think so.”

            “I can’t think of any either. I don’t think I know anyone who’s been eaten by a dragon.”

            “Disappointing, huh?”

            My son looked up from his Lord of the Rings book. “Really disappointing. Do you suppose dragons died out because they didn’t eat enough people?”

            “I would guess that dragons were hunted by so many handsome knights protecting fair maidens that they eventually became extinct.”

            “Yuck! Knights fought dragons to protect…you know…girls? That’s just dumb.” At ten, he couldn’t imagine a situation in which he’d want to protect…you know…a girl.

            “Of course it's dumb, son. Girls can fight their own dragons.”

            He sighed heavily, a beleaguered son forced to reason with his unreasonable mother. “I don’t think so.”

            “Why not?”

            “They just can’t, that’s why.”

            “If you say so.”

            He got up and beat a path to the living room door. “I bet moms weren’t so annoying back when there were dragons,” he muttered.

            “Did you say something?”

            He stuck his head back through the doorway. “No.”

            “OK. I think dragons are cool, too, so if you want to talk about them more, I’m here for you.”

            “Um…thanks. Will Dad be home soon?”

            “Yes. He’s probably on his way home now.”

            PJ sighed in relief and took his book out onto the front steps to wait for his dad. It seems there are times in a boy’s life when only his father will do.

FaceBook can be a marvelous source of inspiration!
PLEASE put this on your status if you know someone or are related to someone who has been eaten by dragons. Dragons are nearly unstoppable, and in case you didn't know, they can breathe fire. 93% of people won't copy and paste this, because they have already been eaten by dragons. 6% of people are sitting in the shower, armed with fire extinguishers. The remaining 1% are awesome, and will re-post this. Will you?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

High Stakes Testing Makes Students Insane

            American public school teachers often complain that their students don’t study for tests, don’t do their homework, and don’t read anything at all. I can say from first-hand experience that my students are guilty of committing these educational transgressions. As a matter of fact, I can tell you that my own sons frequently fail to put in the out-of-school time that their teachers would like to see. The only person in my classroom who learned anything from homework was me; I learned that it was less frustrating for all of us if I simply stopped assigning it. Such is the state of American education these days.
On the other side of the world, the South Korean educational system has students taking one extremely high-stakes test that determines whether or not they’ll be accepted at a college. Grades, extracurricular activities, part-time jobs, and volunteering time at a local food bank don’t count. A student’s entire future depends on the results of that one rote-memorization test.

But that educational decision has students in South Korea falling victim to “educational masochism.” That’s a euphemism for “going insane studying.” The government has decided that making its young people crazy is actually counter-productive. Their economy needs a boost from innovative ideas and creative problem solving, but the education system stomps student creativity into dust. "One-size-fits-all, government-led uniform curriculums and an education system that is locked only onto the college-entrance examination are not acceptable," President Lee Myung-bak vowed at his inauguration in 2008.

Good tutors are raking in millions of dollars a year doing after-school-hours tutoring. However, one of the educational reforms that has recently been put into place is to make it illegal for tutoring centers to be open later than 10PM. Government officials in Seoul make nightly raids on tutoring centers that operate after that time. The message to students? Stop studying and go home to bed!

South Korea views the American education system as its goal. They want their children to learn to problem-solve the way American students learn. American teachers use open-ended questions, projects, and performance assessments to teach everything from chemistry to literature analysis. It is only recently that high-stakes testing has placed an increased value on rote-memorization tasks in the classroom.  The United States would like to have the test results that the South Koreans achieve; the South Koreans would like to have the problem-solving skills that American students attain.

Perhaps the problems with both educational systems lie in the nature of high-stakes testing. Both countries need to decrease the importance of rote-memorization testing and increase the importance of learning problem-solving skills. Tests are useful for assessing a student’s mastery and for helping teachers plan lessons to cover gaps in student knowledge. They are not useful when they are the sole factor in decisions to move students to the next grade level or to offer students a spot in a college.

American politicians and educators need to take note of the South Korean point of view. Do we want our students to memorize “stuff” so they can pass a test, or do we want them to be global innovators and problem-solvers? The South Koreans have chosen the latter. What are we going to do?