It's The End of the World As We Know It....


It's the last day of the 2011 - 2012 school year!  That means in less than 2 hours, I will have a fifth grader and an eighth grader - woot!!!  One more year, I will no longer be an elementary school mom.  One more year, and I will become a high school mom.

Something about today makes me feel as though this is the end of the world as we know it.  Both of my kids keep growing up, gaining faith in themselves as they expand their world.  Both kids now have the run of the neighborhood and the surrounding areas on their bikes; they can bike to the library, to Target, to the swimming pool, and to the bike shop.  Both kids want to learn how to cook more meals, so we already started on menus.
My daughter knows how to solder, and has two or three projects just waiting for her to have the time.  My son loves paintball - luckily the field is close by.  And both kids love science - can you say homemade liquid nitrogen?

The most exciting part of the summer, though, is called Camp Terry.  My son, Terry, decided to run a week long summer camp for a neighborhood boy (a six-year old friend of the family).  Terry planned out activities to do every day, including a field trip, and even offered to watch this kid overnight.  When my daughter, Rachel, asked what she could do, Terry offered to hire her as a camp assistant.   So everyone is now happy and looking forward to having the best week of the summer. :-)

As for me, I need to balance writing, programming, and spending time having fun with my kids.  I love doing science experiments, doing large art projects, and exploring areas of Georgia.  Mostly, though, I just like hanging out and discussing life, liberty, and the universe.

I hope you have a wonderful summer, wherever you are.

Haiku - Mimicry

Tornadoes, earthquakes,
Fire storms, Nature apes mankind,
Destruction, death, war.

I Want You to Want Me...

"Remember to take care of yourself.  As a mother, you need to be first in order to be there for your children.  It's like they say on airplanes; always put your oxygen mask on first, then help your children get theirs on." 

This piece of parenting advice is found everywhere these days - and I don't disagree with it.  In reality, mothers typically put their own needs dead last on their priority list.  And one of the biggest needs the women leave unfulfilled is the need for physical contact.

By physical contact, I am not referring only to sex.  I mean the daily touches that help cement the emotional bond between you and your partner.  Holding hands, a quick back rub,  even a gentle touch as your partner walks past - all of these let you know that you are wanted, needed, and loved.  And, for all the people out there who do enjoy sex, the daily touches turn into a kind of foreplay.

So don't be afraid of PDAs* - they help everyone feel more physically connected and emotionally satisfied.

* public displays of affection


Cobb County School District Budget

Warning:  This is a rant.

Yesterday, the Cobb County School Board passes the budget for the 2012 - 2013 school year, and to be quite honest the entire budget process rests upon the belief that we should NEVER raise the property taxes in the county.

Why?

What is so wrong with paying a little more money to provide for better education?  Are we so greedy and self-centered that we begrudge the school district a mere $50 more per household?  Is the future of our society too "distant" for us to at least attempt to plan for it?

Children are our future.  Period.  End of discussion. Cats and dogs, while wonderful pets, cannot maintain society after we are too old to work.  Flowers and perfectly cut green lawns are really only decorations.  HDTVs will eventually break down.  Computers and the Internet provide a modicum of companionship, but no face-to-face, hand-holding comfort.

But in our greed and arrogance, we refuse to acknowledge that children need help, need money to get a decent education so that they, the children, have a chance at a decent future as well.

I live in East Cobb, where people have money.  To compensate for the lack of funds from the school district, the parents in most of the local elementary school form school foundations.  These foundations not only raise money for the school, but several of them have professional grant writers as parents.  These parents write grants, thereby securing even more funds for the local schools to use.

But what about the rest of the entire county?  Why should East Cobb students have such a monetary advantage?

Our Founding Fathers did not fight the British to avoid paying taxes.  They understood that we need to pay taxes to maintain a healthy, growing society.  They simply wanted a say in what money was collected, and where that money was spent.

Where did that bit of common sense go?

Short Story: The Visitor

Mama laid a fancy, white table cloth out on the dining room table.  I ain’t never seed such a thing before, and I wanted to touch it, to see if it felt as soft as it looked.  But Mama yelled stop, said she didn’t want no one to touch it and get it dirty.  So I just stared a hole in it as Mama went back in the kitchen to cook.

Onions, garlic, beans - smells came out of Mama’s kitchen that made my mouth water.  I stopped staring at the table cloth and went into the kitchen.  Mama told me to peel some carrots, cause if I wanted a taste I had to help.  So I peel every carrot that Mama wanted, and she gave me some food to taste.

Then I follow Mama upstairs, watching her as she gets all gussied up.  I never saw Mama looking so pretty, I tell her.  Mama smiles at me, and tells me to get a pretty dress on, too.  I do, and Mama braids my hair.  I feel like a princess.  I ask Mama why we getting so pretty. Mama says that Death is fixing to visit, so we need to look nice and have a good dinner on the table.

The doorbell rings.  Mama rushes downstairs.  I follow her, not sure if I wanna meet Death.  A man walks in the living room.  He is a giant, with long black hair on his head pulled back in a pony tail and short black hair around his mouth.  Mama tells me not to be shy and shake the man’s hand.  His hand swallows mine, and I almost forget to say hello when I see his eyes.  They are a bright blue, and stand out from his brown face. He asks me how I am.  I say fine, but I ask him if all deaths are as big as him.  Mama tells me to hush, but Death throws his head back and laughs at my question.  He says that he is only a little Death, but I think he is a giant Death.

We go to the dining room table.  Mama shows Death to Daddy’s seat, then goes into the kitchen to serve the food.  I follow Mama, and help.  We sit down, and Mama bows her head.  But Death stops her, and asks her if we really want to ask the Lord for help this meal.  Mama says no, and starts eating.  I never saw Mama not pray before eating, so it takes me a minute to get a biscuit and pass them to Death.  Mama and Death talk about the weather while we eat.  They talk about the local baseball team, and other stuff that I don’t understand.

When dinner’s over, Mama asks me to clean off the table.  Then Mama leads Death upstairs.  I don’t know why Mama took him there, only family goes upstairs.  But then I look at the table.  Nothing spilled during dinner, and I don’t want to spill anything as I clean it  off.  I carefully pick up the plates.  I hear noises from upstairs, but I don’t listen because I want to keep the table cloth clean.  I get the plates in the kitchen, then the water glasses, forks, knives, and spoons.  I take the napkins off, and put them in the basket to get washed.  Finally, I take the serving plates and bread basket off.  I feel so proud of myself - the table cloth looks perfect!  Then I spot some crumbs, and I rush over to brush them off.

Mama and Death are still upstairs, making strange noises, so I decide to wash the dishes.  I get a stool, take out the drying rack, and get the water as hot as it gets.  Mama says we need a new hot water heater, but I don’t think I want water to be any more hotter.  I wash the plates, glasses, and start on the forks when I hear Mama and Death come downstairs.  I run out of the kitchen, soapy water dripping from my hands.

Mama, I call, I am washing the dishes all by myself.  But Mama’s not wearing her pretty dress, she’s wearing her nightgown.  Death smiles at me, and tells me I’m a good girl.  He tells me to take good care of Mama.  I tell him I always take good care of Mama, we care for each other.  Death nods, yes you do, he agrees with me.  Then Mama opens the door.  Death looks at Mama and says he’ll get it done right away.

Death leaves.  I ask Mama if I should get a plate ready for Daddy.  She laughs.  Daddy’s not coming home, Mama tells me.  Daddy’s never coming home again.

Book Review: "Dragon Flight" by Jessica Day George

Dragon Flight (Dragon Slippers, #2)Dragon Flight by Jessica Day George
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Jessica Day George delivers another breath-taking book in the second book of the Dragon Slippers series, "Dragon Flight". We begin the book with Creel working in her own dress shop, but unhappy with how life is now going. Suddenly, a dragon attacks the city, and Creel (as well as everyone else) learns that a nation far away has been training a dragon army.

Questions arise. How did this happen? Where did all the dragons come from? Is there a second set of slippers?

The plot twists and turns kept me on the edge of my seat the entire story. If you like fantasy worlds and/or dragons, I highly recommend this entire series.

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Promulgation of Plastic Pollution

On May 9th, biology letters published an article entitled "Increased oceanic microplastic debris enhances oviposition for an endemic pelagic insect".  Translated to regular English, this means that very small bits of plastic pollution have increased the ability of ocean water striders to lay more eggs in the north east Pacific.

What does this mean to us land dwellers?  First, we need a little more explanation as to what is happening. 


The largest collection of pollution, known as the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch", lays just north of  Hawaii, extending across the ocean in an area called the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre (NPSG), shown in red on the map.  The actions of ocean current and eddies aggregate solid pollutants here regularly.  As an aside, while this is the largest collection in the Pacific, other garbage patches exist due to ocean eddies and other currents.  

Before the 1970s, the floating substrata of this region mostly consisted of wood, pumice, and seashells.  Now,  plastic reigns as the largest inhabitant to the floating substrata.  

The North Pacific Subtropical Gyre
The levels of microplastic (less that 5mm in size) pollution has grown over 100% in the past 40 years.  That's two orders of magnitude.

The plastic is not dumped into the ocean that size; the sun and wave action breaks up most floating pieces of plastic to microplastic size.  In the end, one plastic 20oz. bottle may transform into tens or hundreds of microplastic pieces.

Oceanic water striders, officially named Halobates sericeus, always lived here.  They eat plankton and are eaten by larger animals, such as turtles, birds, and fish.  But these insects need a hard surface on which to lay their eggs (oviposition).  In the past, the lack of available surface space naturally limited their population. Now, though, scientists found a "positive association" between the number of eggs, juvenile, and adult H. sericeus and the level of microplastic debris.
I believe that messing around with your own food chain is cause for trouble - and messing around we are.  On top of this pollution, we've fished several species of fish either to extinction or near extinction.  And we tend to want the big fish to eat.  So we've effectively created a situation where the smaller fish have more food to eat and less predators eating them.

But will the changes in the ocean stop here?  How will the larger population of water striders and potentially smaller fish effect the balance in the ocean environment?  What other animals will start to use the plastic pollution to create new floating communities?  Have we just accidentally created a new biome in the ocean through inadvertent pollution?


Wordless Wednesday - Fire!!

Truck Burning on I-75 this Past Weekend
The Story Behind the Photo:

Last Sunday, my family and I went out to test drive the new Toyota Sienna (I want one!!!).  Afterwards, we grabbed a nice lunch at a local Colombian restaurant and started to drive home.  A huge black cloud of smoke billowed nearby, so we decided to investigate.

We found this burning truck on the side of the interstate, with a man in an orange shirt watching the truck burn, cell phone in hand.  The fire consumed the passenger compartment of the truck, and began working its way down the adjoining hill.

I immediately called 9-1-1, and as the 9-1-1 operator thanked me for the call, the fire truck rolled up.  A firefighter (in the left side of the photo) calmly grabbed a host, walked up, and proceeded to put out the fire on the hill before dousing the truck fire.  It took him less than 60 seconds.

This post is dedicated to the Cobb County Fire Department.  Thank you for once again doing your job, and doing it with style.

If At First You Don't Succeed, Try, Try Again!

First found in "The Teacher's Manual" by American educator Thomas H. Palmer, the proverb "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again." remains good advice in all stages of life.  But while we adults know this proverb and can apply it at our discretion, children need to be taught to keep trying.  The question is, how?

I know of two ways in which adults unintentionally discourage trying:

  1. Praising kids for being smart.  As counter-intuitive as this seems, if you want a child to perform well in school (the first place for her to shine), praise your child for all the effort she puts into her work, but do not praise her for her intelligence.  Children figure out on their own how intelligent they are in the scheme of things.  No child needs to be told, "You're smart." But every child needs to be encourage to keep trying.  Otherwise when a child is presented with a assignment that feels hard, she quits without really trying.  The internal feeling is, "Well, if I'm not smart enough to do this, then why even try."   
  2. Not letting kids be imperfect.  For all you Alanis Morrisette fans out there, remember the song, "Perfect"?  The song starts with "Sometimes is never enough/If you're flawless, then you'll win my love" and end with "We'll always love you just the way you are/If you're perfect".  Alana wrote this because she felt the pressure to never make mistakes - a pressure that parents sometimes put on their children (hopefully unknowingly).  For example, if you have a child going through speech therapy, a good speech therapist impresses upon the parents' not to correct their child's speech at home.  Why?  Because the child needs to be able to practice without censure.  Of if your child is learning to write, most teachers want parents not to correct any writing that child does at home.  Learning to write is a multi-stage process, and children need to practice each stage without constantly getting their work corrected.
As for how to encourage trying, I suggest you tell your kid that he has a super power - the ability to keep trying until he gets something right.  Then praise him for trying and let him do his best without jumping in to make everything perfect.

Golden Rules for Saying "No"

Child's View of the word "No"
Children test out their boundaries and rules as a normal part of growing up.  Enforcing the boundaries and rules, while occasionally stressful, leads children to feel safe and protected.  One of the common ways a parent administers the boundaries and rules of their family is use the simple word, "no".   But the aftermath of that statement ranges from a simple pout to full blown temper tantrums.

How you handle the reaction to a "no" varies from a toddler (who you hopefully distract) to a teenager (who you expect to put on his big boy pants and deal).  But there are two golden rules for saying "no" itself:

  1. Only say "no" if you mean it.  - This boils down to the fact that a parent needs to be thoughtful about each and every "no".  It is amazingly easy to use either "yes" or "no" as a default answer, but default answers lead to situations where you either say "yes" or "no" when the other answer is the more appropriate answer.  This leads to breaking rule #2...
  2. Never back down from a "no". - Kids learn quickly whether a parent can be whined (or pestered or begged)  out of a "no" answer.  So if you say "no", you have to stick to your guns, especially with young children (who tend to test this more).  
These rules actually help set up and enforce one of an important parent boundaries.  I call it:  "The Mommy said No, Do Not Ask Again  or There Will Be Consequences." boundary.  

Okay, there is a third rule that applies, but this one applies to every parenting situation - the United Parental Front (or UPF). But that's a different post.


7 Most Common Mistakes in Email

I remember when email went from a fun pastime for geeks and nerds to an invaluable tool in businesses to a necessity of life.  Suddenly, paper memo and letters turned into rapidly sent electrons as the speed of communication rose exponentially. But with the advent of email also came the inevitable mistakes. After talking with several people, I compiled the list of the seven most common mistakes seen in email:
  1. Misspelled Words: In a day and age where every text editor and email program offers reasonable spell checking capabilities, nothing in an email should be spelled incorrectly. Misspelled words tell the recipient, "Hey, you're not important enough for me to use spell check."
  2. Grammatical Errors:  While most people can get away with a dangling participle, mismatched plurality of words, mismatched verb tense between sentences, and misuse of commas irk most people, and send the message that the writer is either a recent immigrant or ignorant of basic grammar.  
  3. Inappropriate Word Choice:  Word choice effects the tone of an email, which leaves room for plenty of misinterpretation.  Emails need to be tailored to the audience, including any attempts at humor or levity.  I heard several stories about hurt feelings and miscommunication stemming from poor word choice.
  4. Inappropriate use of the cc: or bcc: Fields:  In the days before email, people used carbon copies to ensure that everyone got the exact same copy of a letter or other document.  The idea of needing additional recipients to a message transferred from paper to email - hence, the cc: field.  Additionally, the bcc: field (blind carbon copy) sends a message to anyone listed there, but that person's name is left out of the email header.  Proper email etiquette is to include anyone mentioned in an email in the cc: field, unless that person is in the to: field.  As for using the bcc: field, I almost never use that field because I personally do not trust people who consistently bcc: other people on emails.  But for situation where you need to document what happened with your manager or other authority, bcc works quite well.
  5. Changing font, font size, or text color:   Fonts need to be readable at a reasonable distance.  I know that this sounds like a "no duh" type of statement, but I have received a number of emails where I need to either squint and more closer because the text is so small or move back because the text is so large.  Or, the text is colored something other than black on white.  Seriously, I hate white on blue, pink on tan, and every other color combination - none of them are as easy to read.  
  6. Missing Information/No attachments:  Occasionally forgetting to attach a file or include important information, such as the date and time of an event, is understandable.  But do this too much and it leaves the impression of incompetence.
  7. Signatures:  "Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards, for you are crunchy and taste good with ketchup."  I love this signature and chuckle a bit when I read it, but this particular signature is inappropriate on business emails unless you happen to be a fantasy author.  Likewise, I really do not need all of the contact information and disclaimers from a business in personal email.   Matching signatures with intent sends the message, "You are important enough for me to attach the proper signature".

Trust - It's Not Just for Breakfast Anymore

East Cobb Park
East Cobb Park - a place to run around and play
For those of you new to my blog, I avidly read and follow the Free Range Kids blog by Lenore Skenazy.  I raise my kids to be free range, roaming our neighborhood and a few surrounding neighborhoods in an effort to help them learn to be self-reliable.  I rail against the fear mongering as propagated through the supposed news media, as every single little potential incident gets blow up and reported as though it was happening it your own backyard.  I rail against the stupidity of school systems which all but ban a child either arriving at school alone or leaving school alone.  After all, what might happen if a child walks home alone or with a friend??  

But today, I want to ask the question - what happened to our trust in society?  What happened to trusting your neighbors, to other humans?

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, I rode my bike or walked to school.  I had friends to talk to sometimes; I had time to think and enjoy nature at other times.  I learned that I was okay by myself, and that I didn't need someone else around for me to be okay.  I met neighbors, both old and young.  I felt like part of a community.

Fast forward to today, and see how much the world has changed.  Moms and dads schedule playdates for their kids, who have no other way of meeting friends.  Some moms even refuse to schedule a playdate if the dad is the only parent present at the other house.  A woman called 9-1-1 to report a man who talked to her daughter.  Yes, the man's only "crime" was speaking to a little girl outside.  (The man was looking for his lost puppy.)  Another woman called 9-1-1 because a van was slowly following the school bus in her neighborhood.  The reason behind this act completely eluded me, since any vehicles following a school bus in a neighborhood drive slowly, or risk hitting a child.  But then I learned the van was driven by a Hispanic man.

What are we really so afraid of?

In Sweden, mothers frequently leave their occupied strollers outside a store if a baby is sleeping or resting happily.  When asked why, the common response is "Why not?  Everyone watches out for babies." The same is true for toddlers, preschoolers, little kids, big kids, and even teens.

So why can't we Americans learn to trust our neighbors, our community, as much as Europeans?

If we trust our neighbors, then our kids can play outside without parents worrying about nebulous danger.  If our kids play outside, they get exercise, get practice making friends, learn how to navigate their own corner of the world, and - most importantly - learn to rely on themselves.  We help our children grow into responsible adults.

But only if we are willing to put down the mantle of fear, and retake the mantle of trust.

Book Review: "Ghost Story" by Jim Butcher

Ghost Story (The Dresden Files,  #13)Ghost Story by Jim Butcher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow! Just when I wonder if Jim Butcher has written himself into a corner, "Ghost Story" pops out of thin air and suddenly I feel more hooked to the Dresden series then ever before.

At the end of the last Dresden book, Harry Dresden is fatally shot by a mysterious assassin. This novel begins with Harry going to a way station for souls or spirits, where he gets a chance to return to Chicago to investigate his own shooting. Returning as a ghost, Harry realizes that some bad stuff is currently going down, which he must deal with during his investigation.

Mr. Butcher pulls together threads from the entire series again in this particular novel. Details that I had not even realized were left unfinished get mentioned/explained here. In the end, Mr. Butcher created a way to write more Dresden novels without making the plot feel contrived.

Now, I want Dresden #14.

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