Monday, June 30, 2014

The Top Five Books Everyone Needs When on a Deserted Island

It sounds good, doesn’t it?  Ah, all alone on a deserted island.  How idyllic is that?  Before you start packing those Beach Reads or the latest Nora Roberts - reality check. Go watch Cast Away with Tom Hanks and rethink that thought.
Book # 1:  You will need a good survival guide.  There are many on the market, but you need one that will prepare you for island life, deserted island life.  If you are anything like me, a city girl and a book nerd, you might be able to catch a fish or identify a coconut, but what comes after that?  Have you ever had to gut a fish or crack open a coconut? 
This is not Sea Island or Joe’s Crab Shack – you are on a deserted island, you are it – chief cook and bottle washer.
Now, I took Camping as a PE credit in college, but we never had to hunt and gather for our meals, everything was frozen in individual plastic, zippered bags, and packed in ice in our coolers.  We learned how to build a fire using two sticks and some tinder, but what is considered tinder on an island paradise? Are there even sticks on a palm-infested island?
Yup, you will need a good survival guide and all the basic accoutrements listed inside that ensure survival – a knife or a machete or both, string, flint, maybe one of those shiny blankets that keep you warm in cold weather and cool in hot weather.  Peruse the book wisely and get packing.
Book # 2 – Okay, now that you have thatched a roof, caught a crustacean, and shaved a couple of spear heads into deadly points; it might help to figure out where your island paradise is situated.  You will need an atlas, a map of some sort, maybe also a map of the constellations. It helps to get one’s bearings and figure out what might lie in store for you.  Are you in some typhoon alley?  A tsunami’s path? A pirate’s stopover?  An atlas of the earth and sky will help you decide if you should move your thatched haven to a higher, more secure spot.  You survived this far, it is best to be prepared, just in case. 
Book # 3 – A cookbook.  You’ve mastered building a fire, catching your food, protecting your domain, but just how many ways can one stomach grilled fish, boiled seaweed, and fresh coconut? It might help to have one of those fish and seafood cookbooks or a basic herb cookbook that will help you identify herbs, roots, and non-poisonous berries. Variety is the spice of life.
Book # 4 – A tome of some heft.  Ah, we finally get to the restful part of our idyllic getaway.  Without the use of electronics, you will eventually get weary of “being in the moment,” and looking at the endless panorama of sea and surf.  After a weary day of survival, you will need some form of mental entertainment. 
You don’t want to end up talking to a basketball and giving him a Christian name do you? Bring along a lengthy tome, something like the Bible, the Webster’s Dictionary or Roget’s Thesaurus, maybe the collected works of Shakespeare or a Michener novel.  You always wanted to learn Italian, German, or Chinese, so bring along a language book, any book that will take lots of your time to study. You have it to spare. Why bore Wilson the basketball with banalities when you can have a lively discussion with him on the pros and cons of Creationism versus Evolution? You two can chatter away in Italiano, count to twenty in German, discuss Chinese history in Standard Mandarin. Oh, yay.
Book # 5 – And finally, let us not forget a journal with lots of pages and pencils.  I would not recommend pens because they run out of ink easily and the ink might smudge if wet, so you will get a lot more out of a pencil.  You can always sharpen them with your knife or machete and use them until they are tiny nubs. 
I realize people do not PLAN on being cast away on a deserted island, but the next time you pack for a trip and you grab “a little something to read” while on the beach or resting in between tours of the sights,  you might reconsider which book or books make the trek with you.  Just saying.   

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Grandparent Effect

There’s the Oprah Effect, the Dr. Oz Effect, even the Coach Popovich Effect.  Everything they touch turns to gold; it’s a modern-day Midas Touch.
Grandparents do the same with the Grandparent Effect.
While parents are THE most important people in a child’s life, grandparents, good grandparents, are invested in a grandchild’s upbringing. The grandkids are their progeny; the legacy they will one day leave behind.
Grandparents know that time and messy living rooms are fleeting, but memories last forever. They know this because they lived it. While harried parents are busy worrying about the essentials, they do not have time to savor the moments.   Grandparents know that a two-year-old escapee running diaperless through the house makes for an endearing and funny memory to treasure, whereas Dada doesn’t.  Grandparents know that demanding everyone eat their broccoli is a small fight compared to those looming ahead during the teenage years.
Children need direction.  They need to be taught the difference between right and wrong, but grandparents know there are a lot more good moments to be savored than bad moments to be dwelled upon. Children need love and affection.  They need direction and instruction.  They need to know that if Mommy and Daddy are not there to protect them, then the grandparents will. 
The grandparent home is a safe place, a fun place, a learning place.  Ears are open.  Arms are welcoming.  The freezer is full of ice cream. The grandparents run guard when the grandkids need defense, but they also run offense when they need direction.

A child can only benefit from having a loving, extended family, one in which a child can rely on not only his parents but his grandparents as well.  I call it the Grandparent Effect. 

Monday, June 16, 2014


Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne’er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires a sorest need.
       - Emily Dickinson

I transferred to a public school for the last three years of high school that was not known for its victories on the football field; as a matter of fact, the only time the Mighty Bulldogs ever had a chance at winning a game was when we played the only other team in our district that sucked as badly as we did. 
After graduating from a Catholic women’s college (which had no competitive sports program at all), I worked for twelve years in a two-high-school district.  Both teams barely finished the football season with dignity. 
But then –
I transferred to a 5-A school district with the winning-est sports record in the state. Name the sport; we owned its title. Back then it had only one high school and two middle schools that fed into it.  Our football squad was bigger than most of the small towns in Texas, and our two middle school teams played each other with the ferocity of young gladiators in training.  It was one of the original Super 5-A’s.  
I was in awe.  I had never been on the winning side in sports. My trifecta had been loss, disappointment, and humiliation.  My students though were used to it, so they were apathetic.  Ho-hum.  So what?
There was no way to explain to them how proud they should be.  It is easy for the victor to walk off the field with head held high, but it takes a different kind of courage to walk away after a loss. It was then that I realized how “mighty” the Mighty Bulldogs really were.
I gave them homework (hey, I WAS a teacher after all) and asked them to watch both teams after a game.  Any game. Watch how the winners react afterward. What did they say and do? Watch the losers and what they say and do. Describe how they walked off the field. We would discuss their findings in class at a later date.

Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne’er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires a sorest need.

Sportsmanship is measured by how one reacts to the win or the loss. Did they play fair? Did they give it their all? Did they keep it on the field?  Did they respect and acknowledge the opponent and their efforts? Were they gracious to the other team and to each other? 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Only Humans Write

For years I taught secondary students who had difficulty reading on level. It killed me that they felt less of themselves because of their inability. I would test them at the beginning of the year, share my diagnosis with them, and promised them they would improve by the end of the year if they trusted me and gave me their all.

Halfway through my teaching career (all thirty-seven years of it), I added writing teacher to my résumé.  Besides a reading inventory, I required a writing sample from the students.  After careful study, I made lesson plans accordingly. Once I studied the power of writing, I realized writing ability was the real test of literacy.  Sure the students had to improve their reading, but it was in their ability to write well that demonstrated success.

Consider this:  When learning a new language, a human being first observes (watches and listens), then he/she attempts to speak or repeat the sounds.  It is then the learner associates or matches the sounds to their written symbol, thus they “read.” They continue to listen, read, and become more familiar or attempt to create oral sentences.  It is when they write a sentence that they demonstrate syntactical sophistication. They are able to take a concept and capture it onto a portable product separate from themselves that can be handed to someone else and when read miles from them or years from now will communicate his or her intentional thoughts.  

Let’s pretend I want to learn to play bridge (a totally foreign “language” to someone like me whose card sophistication maxes out at Uno). I watch and observe my husband and his family play a couple of games.  I try my hand at it (no pun intended), but fail miserably.  My family shows me how to correct my skill (or lack of it) and I try again.  I improve with each attempt until I get where I can read the game better and create my own plays. It is when I can hold my own against my husband and his parents (card sharks!) that I have learned the “language.”

But that is where the comparison ends. There is nothing else in this world similar to the skill of writing. Only humans write. We have this innate and desperate need to write. 

Starting from the cave paintings (and before that probably drawings in the dirt or sand), humans have had a need to communicate with pictures or words or both. We have “writings” that are thousands of years old – bones, rocks, pictographs, cuneiforms, tablets, bamboo slats, knotted cords, stone slabs,  leather and paper scripts. From these we developed the alphabets and other writing forms we use today.

We are the only creatures on earth who can communicate with writing.  We have studied how almost all living things on earth communicate with each other, but none can create text like we can. It demonstrates our intelligence.

To write well, the author must know what he wants to say and know how to say it best, but it is not as easy as it sounds. It demonstrates the highest of his intelligence – he must envision what he wants to communicate, choose the morphology, order its syntactical structure, and decide on the appropriate cultural nuance(s). By reading someone’s writing, the reader can ascertain the author’s facility with vocabulary, ability to decide on the length of sentence necessary to capture tone and mood, and his/her sophistication to communicate appropriately toward his/her audience.

(PS: This is applicable to any form or genre of writing, be it fiction or non-fiction, poetry or lyrics.)

I kept my promise to the students in my class; they improved their reading skills, but it was in their writing that I was able to ascertain true success. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Green Truck

I get in my car and adjust the seat and the rear view mirror.  I start the car, buckle in, and back out onto the lane that runs for a quarter mile out onto the highway. I come to a complete stop and look both ways onto the five lane highway, two lanes going north, two going south and a middle lane for turning across traffic.
Far, far to my left I spot traffic zooming toward me, to my right one lone, apple green truck is heading my way.  Since I am turning left, I zip out onto the highway and land on the middle lane as if it was third base and I am considering stealing home. I check both mirrors and decide the green truck is far behind me and on the outside lane. I can ease out into the inside lane and we should both be fine. As soon as I venture out, he speeds up and honks at me with such anger I startle and grip the steering wheel.   
He passes me, obviously doing more than the 60 mph speed limit.  I follow behind, hoping he gets a speeding ticket.  He never slows down, not even when the speed limit drops to fifty.
I tootle to a stop at the red light, right behind the Green Truck.  All that fuss and we both got to the light at the same time.  All I can see of him is a skinny blonde head with a short buzz cut. The light turns and we both get onto the expressway. Now that he can pick up speed to seventy five, he does fifty. I turn on my blinkers and shoot out to the left lane.  Suddenly he zips in front of me and blocks my path, once again doing under the speed limit.  The traffic on our right is going faster than we are, so I zip back and so does he.
He is taunting me on purpose and I don’t want to play his game. I ease up on the gas and follow him.  He soon gets tired of me and zooms away, creating several car lengths between us. Maybe he will leave me alone now.  
As my exit approaches, I start my blinker and the truck slows down and overshoots the exit and jumps over the curb to get off with me. He slows down as we approach the green light, but as soon as it turns yellow he flies through and I sit at the red. Good, maybe now it will create some distance between us and I can finally rid of this road bully.
The bright Green Truck is half a block ahead of me as the light changes and I follow for a while, but I turn into the post office to leave some mail at the drive through mail box.  By the time I get back onto the street there is no sign of the Apple Green truck.  
I wonder why he was in such a hurry. Was he late for work? A hospital emergency? Maybe he was just living out some Fast and Furious fantasy? Maybe harassing gray-haired old women makes him feel more macho? Was he offended that a family sedan dared to show up his cool, souped up, late model truck?
I reach the grocery store, find a nice parking space near the entrance, and turn off the ignition. I reach for my recyclable tote bags and check my hair in the rear view mirror. As I open the car door, I hear a familiar rumble. An apple green truck sputters to a stop in the next row of cars across from me.  Out jumps a skinny, young man with a buzz cut.
How did we end up at the grocery store at the same time after I made a pit stop at the post office and he was tearing up the streets? I followed all the traffic rules and the speed limits, and I know he didn’t.
He is too busy reading a list of some sort in his hand and does not recognize me without my car as we both walk into the store together.  He grumbles about something on his list.  That is when I notice it is a traffic ticket. 
I give him a sweet grandmotherly smile as I pull a cart from its queue and race around him and into the store to do my weekly shopping. I leave him in my smoke.