Archive for the ‘School’ Category

Procrastination is Making Me Wait

Wednesday, January 22, 2014
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There’s a saying that couples who have been together for a long period of time start to look like each other.procrastination

I don’t think my husband and I have taken on similar physical characteristics, but I do fear we are becoming more alike.

When we got married, people constantly reminded us about how different we are. I’m high strung and feel guilty if I’m not doing something productive. My husband isn’t and doesn’t.

I worry about deadlines and returning phone calls. My husband doesn’t believe in unnecessary stress and knows how to prioritize what is truly important. Needless to say, I’ve sometimes accused him procrastinating.

But lately, I’ve noticed that I’ve started waiting until the last minute to do things. I never did anything well in advance, but I never put things off either. That’s seems to be changing.

Recently, I had a report for work due on Friday, and at 3:00 on that Friday afternoon, I finally started the paperwork. At 3:05 I got an email telling me that the deadline had been extended until Tuesday. Instead of finishing the report, I started working on something else. I didn’t actually complete the report until, you got it, Tuesday afternoon.

Such  behavior defies my innate philosophy about the need to plan for unforeseen circumstances. I’ve tried to teach this to my children, but they have adopted their father’s philosophy of, whenever possible, putting off until tomorrow what you don’t want to do today.

Last month my children should have realized the wisdom of my advice when the unforeseen did happen. I had been hounding my son to finish his science fair project, but he was dragging his feet. With the science fair scheduled for Monday, on Saturday morning I told Shepherd that we would spend the afternoon organizing the data so he could put together charts and his display. With that said, I took the dog for a walk, slipped on ice, shattered my wrist and spent two nights in the hospital.

On Sunday, I had only been out of surgery about an hour when I received a phone call asking if I was up to helping Shepherd with the data. With less than 24 hours before the project was due and literally nothing done, I told him to come by. With laptop in tow, he did, and we put together the charts. For the rest of the day and well into the evening, I got updates about the project. Around midnight, I even received a text with a photo of the display board.

When I got home, very little was said about the project, but I was pretty sure my daughter had assisted with some of the artwork. I was also sure she would take note of the pitfalls of waiting until the last minute. That’s why I was surprised when Kendall didn’t take my advice to work on her social studies fair project during Christmas break. Instead she, like her brother, chose to wait until the weekend before the project was due.

I grumbled, but since the project was her responsibility, there wasn’t much I could do. Besides, Kendall is at that age when she takes great pleasure in testing her mother.

She made that quite clear as she finally cleaned off the coffee table in the family room, dragged out the blank cardboard display board and dramatically opened it on the table. Then, Kendall looked at me and gestured at the table. “It’s procrastination station,” she said. “It worked for Shepherd and it will work for me.”

I wasn’t at all pleased that the kids had actually named the spot where they work on last-minute projects, but my husband seemed to be. He actually grinned when I told him.

I’ll never know for sure, but I’m pretty sure he thinks the children actually inherited that trait from him.

There may be something to that theory, and investigating the existence of a procrastination gene might make a good science fair project.

I’d suggest that to my kids so they could get a jump start on next year, but something tells me that’s just not going to happen.

School’s Out for (Some Of) Summer?

Friday, August 9, 2013
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Today is the first day of school for Kanawha County and I, for one, am JUST. NOT. READY!

Back to School Circa 2011-2012

Back to School Circa 2011-2012

Sorry. Didn’t mean to yell, but- IT’S SUMMERTIME!

I don’t even think my kids are as ill-prepared as I am. Although, they did sleep until noon yesterday; maybe that’s an indication they’re not totally ready for the school year. (Probably, because IT IS STILL THE MIDDLE OF SUMMER!)

I have not even sorted all of their clothes into a “fits/doesn’t fit” pile since THEY SHOULD STILL BE WEARING BATHING SUITS AND FLIP FLOPS for a couple of more weeks and THIS IS NOT THE TIME TO THINK ABOUT NEW TENNIS SHOES AND JEANS!

The clock ran out on us before I had the chance to dip-dye my daughter’s hair pink on the ends; before I had the chance to implement a “prepare for school” study regimen; before we even had the chance to get to the beach, or Ikea, or a major league baseball game!

School board: I NEED MORE TIME!

I have always been, and will always be, a summer person. I love the heat, the long days, and the chance to slow down a bit. Usually, though, as August draws to a close, even this die-hard hot weather girl is ready for brisk mornings, sweaters, college football, and a more structured routine. Now that school is starting early, I’m all confused: up is down and black is white. I’m telling you, this year’s school calendar is hindering my ability to flow naturally from season to season.

Of course, when the calendar came out in December and the early start was announced, rumors flew that the change was a way to prepare teachers, kids, and parents for a move to year-round schools. Kanawha County has not been on a year-round schedule except for four of its schools, but in 2011, then WV School Superintendent Jorea Marple went on record advocating a year-round schedule for all counties. As of now, no permanent change has been announced and, actually, the vote to start school early was a fairly close one: 3-2 in favor of starting at a time that would allow the semester to end before the Christmas break.

Personally, up until now, I have been cautiously optimistic about a year-round schedule. When I lived in California in the 90s, the vast majority of public schools were year-round (or, on a “balanced schedule”). Of course, I was all of 21, so I really didn’t care what the little hooligans did all year, or when they did it as long as it didn’t affect my tan. But, when I became a parent, I could see the potential benefits of a year-round schedule: better knowledge retention and a more consistent routine. Also, I understand that so many kids in West Virginia count on school breakfasts and lunches for better nutrition. When more than half of our state’s kids are living in poverty, it seems sort of a no-brainer to keep them in school and well-fed.

So, I was surprised to find myself whining and complaining so much as today drew near. I had considered myself pretty open-minded and flexible about the schedule, but- man- you should have heard me grumbling through haircuts, back-to-school shopping and the inevitable South Hills traffic snarl. I didn’t realize cutting summer short by just a couple of weeks would get me in such a funk. Are my concerns mostly just selfish annoyances? Am I hanging onto an outdated ideal of what summertime is supposed to be for kids? After all, giving kids a “break” wasn’t the original intention behind summer break- it was more about getting them to bale hay, right?

What do you think, Readers? If you have kids in Kanawha County Schools, are you as flummoxed as I am? Do you think this is a lead-up to a balanced schedule? And, if so, how do you feel about year-round schools? I want to know what you think!

In the interim, I’ll be at the pool, or raking leaves, or whatever it is I’m supposed to be doing in this transitional season.

Make-Up Test

Monday, July 8, 2013
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Katy Brown isn’t cool. Maybe Katie Holmes is.

The second Ava turned 10, she asked if she could wear makeup.  No.  Could she have a cell phone?  No.  Could she open a Facebook account? No.  Could she sit in the front seat of the car?  No.

No. No. No.

It seems as though the knowledge of being a “double-digit age”, which she will be for the rest of her adult life, has sparked an interest in all things grown up.  It’s hard enough to keep appropriate shoes on her feet now that she’s into a lady’s size 8.  That’s right. She can wear my shoes, and she wears them well.  A little too well, I might add.

“Can I wear dressy shoes now?”   No.   “But I have to shop in women’s shoe stores,” she argued.  Where they sell flats, I countered.

But as I try to slow life down (since I can’t shrink her feet), I remember how I used to spend my playtime as a child.  I wore my mother’s high heels around the house, sashaying like Daisy Duke; I tried on her lipstick just to blot it on Kleenex; I hosed myself down with perfume like it was a can of air freshener.  It wasn’t.

I wanted to be like her.  I wanted to act like her.  I wanted to dress like her.   And she let me.  And we both looked ridiculous.

Perhaps it was their advanced age, but my parents treated me like an adult from day one.  They didn’t play with me — they talked to me.  They didn’t buy toys — they bought clothes.  They didn’t plan family trips — they arranged historic tours.  They didn’t order tickets to the circus — they watched evening dramas.  I knew more about Falcon Crest than the Justice League.

When I turned 14, my mother took me to the cosmetics counter at Stone & Thomas and had the sales consultant tackle my eighth grade face.  I left with a bag of expensive products, from full coverage foundation and powder to a saturated lipstick.

“You need some color,” my mother announced, filling in her lips with British Redcoat.  “You’re fair, so you can look washed out if you aren’t careful.”

I went to school the following Monday wearing the Estee Lauder palette. Within five minutes of homeroom, I was wiping smudged mascara off my pale cheeks.  “IT’S KATHRYN CLOWN!” one boy shouted.  (I heard he’s in prison now…).

I went to the bathroom and cleaned my face with stiff, brown paper towels and were fanned into an accordion pattern from being jammed in the machine.  I wouldn’t need blush for a week as my face was raw from scrubbing. But other girls were wearing makeup, too — blue eye shadow being the toy of choice.  After that, I stuck to powder to cover up the blemishes from oil-based foundation and some frosted pink gloss.  Then, I moved onto hair products that would keep my 80’s helmet head secured in case of a Cat-4 hurricane.

Now that I’m 40, I can wear British Redcoat with confidence, as long as my Starbucks-stained teeth don’t ruin the look. But a tweenage girl?  No ma’am.  When the time is right, the girls and I will plan a mother-daughter weekend at the Easton Mall in Columbus to learn the tricks of the trade.  I like makeup artist Bobbi Brown’s philosophy of teenage beauty, which is to accentuate rather than recreate.  She teaches young women the proper way to take care of their skin, how to cover up problem areas and play up their best features.  Colors are subtle and natural looking, and they’re virtually error-proof for the untrained hand.  For now, Ava’s cosmetic bag will contain Chapstick and suncreen. To pass the time, she can read about makeup in Brown’s book, “Beauty Rules”, which covers a lot of the topics left out of the popular manual, “The Care and Keeping of You”.

And that reminds me:  The American Girl store at Easton opened on June 22nd. Ava can take her doll to the spa and salon for a “day of magic”.  I’ll be happy to pay for that makeover.

The nearest Bobbi Brown counter is located at Nordstrom in Columbus, Ohio.  For the eager tween, there are minimalist products such as Yogi Bare lip balm and artistry workshops. 

This is an opinion piece. No discounts, freebies or samples were accepted (or offered!).


Enough Said

Monday, July 1, 2013
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School daze.

I may have learned more about life in sixth grade than any other age, stage or phase.  It was an awkward time fueled by being in the same building with the same people since kindergarten. We were growing up and growing irritable, with each other and with our limited surroundings. It was easy to go from the most popular girl in class to the least. To say the least.

Toward the end of the school year, students were treated to a class bowling trip. On the day of the event, the class was rambunctious — goofing off and talking out of turn. Our teacher warned us to calm down or else. The class continued cutting up and as promised, our trip was canceled. Those of us who had parents slated to drive students were told to go to the office to tell them we weren’t going.

I was first in line to call my mother from the secretary’s desk.  What happened? My mom inquired. “Oh, a couple of guys got us in trouble.  Probably Mike and Steve.”

The kids behind me gasped.  “Awwwww!” one of them taunted.  Little did I know, the culprits weren’t Mike and Steve.  I had assumed the class clowns were responsible for ruining our day.  I was wrong.  I was so very wrong. 

The kids beat me to the classroom to tell Mike and Steve what I had said.  The two were furious.  Everyone in the class looked shocked that I would do such a thing.  There was a blend of “That’s cold, Kate!” and “You’re so stupid!” chants and rants.  Girls in the class scowled in disappointment and disbelief. The teacher reclaimed control of the excitement.

“Enough!” she shouted.  “This is exactly why we’re not going.  You can’t control your mouths.”

I became lunchroom poison within the hour.  When I asked my friend to sit with me, assuming the flair up had died down, she turned her back.  I moved on to another girlfriend.  “You just don’t get it,” this friend spat. “You had no right to blame them. It’s unfair.”

I sat by myself that day and the day after. For a week, the usual crowd ignored me. They whispered to each other, rolled their eyes, pointed fingers and laughed at jokes that couldn’t possibly have been that funny.

I apologized to Mike and Steve. They rejected my apology. I apologized to my closest friend. She rejected my apology. I called former friend after former friend on the telephone and asked them to forgive me. They hung up.

I was miserable.

When the field trip was rescheduled, our teacher asked whom we wanted to ride with us to the bowling alley. She called my name, and I looked around the classroom at boys and girls who wouldn’t make eye contact. They doodled in their notebooks, picked at their fingers, shook their heads to warn me in advance. I announced four familiar names. They protested.

I begged my friends not to be mad, but each time I tried to engage them in conversation to hear my side — to hear my regret — they told me off. I made a mistake and I’d have to suffer the consequences of being an outcast.

The teacher called my mother to fill her in on what was going on. That night, my mom asked why I would blame people for something they didn’t do. I explained that I simply guessed, in a private conversation, which was overheard and then spread throughout the class.

“Did you say you were sorry?” Mom asked.

“Yes. Many times.”

“And are you sorry?” she questioned.


“And they still won’t accept it?” she continued.


“Then that’s their burden,” she said.  “Staying mad is hard work.”

On the day of the field trip, three girls that I didn’t usually spend time with climbed into my mother’s Dodge Minivan. I asked if they wanted to ride with someone else. I was prepared for them to jump out the window.

“No. Why?” one girl asked.

Because of what I said about Mike and Steve…

“That’s between you, Mike and Steve,” the girl replied.

But everyone despises me, I told her.

“They’ll get over it.”

And they did. It was a long haul until June, but I was slowly accepted by my classmates once the sting wore off. I learned a valuable lesson, though: Adversity is allowed in our lives for a reason. We don’t grow from perfection. The damaging situation should be our discipline, not the power of other people. I don’t agree that we should break down and beg others to let us back in their lives or their good graces.  I also don’t believe self-pity is an appropriate use of our time or tears, and I don’t think we should consider ourselves victims in situations that we created. But, I do believe that we should shut up and learn from the silence. There’s something to be said for keeping our mouths closed. Stop begging. Stop explaining. Stop arguing. Stop debating. Stop insisting. Stop proving. Stop campaigning. Stop trying.

Just stop. Let people distance themselves if that’s what they want to do, or feel they need or have to do. If friends bolt, then let them go. If they want to harbor resentment, whether the reason directly involves them or not, then accept that the relationship is over. Maybe it’s for the best.

We moved on to junior high, where I met kids from different elementary schools, and it launched what would become the best years of my young adult life. What happened in sixth grade would be forgotten. However, I still remember the feeling of being wrong, particularly when my own children apologize for something they’ve done. And I take their word for it.


Blogger’s note: Identities have been changed for privacy. Mike and Steve are my husband and brother-in-law. I hope they don’t mind me using their names.

Somebody’s Watching Me

Monday, May 20, 2013
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[You probably expected to read a story from Katy Brown today, but instead this is someone who has assumed her identity to take over her normal Monday post on this blog.  As described below, I am not the only one who has assumed her identity lately.  Heck, I’m not even a woman, but as Katy found out, identity theft is a big problem.]

My friend Katy recently posted a picture on Facebook of the bottom of her Kroger receipt.  Her intent was to show the portion of the receipt that tells how much money she saved with their sale prices.  However, at the very top of the picture, her Facebook friends could also glimpse that she had accumulated over 700 points towards gasoline discounts.  [Kroger gives you 10 cents off per gallon for every 100 points.]

Two days later, when she went to fill up her car, she discovered that she had no gas discount to use—her points were gone!  She posted to her Facebook friends that she had been robbed of her points, and wondered what she should do?  After all, it wasn’t like her purse had been stolen—these were merely shopping points.  Does one file a police report over stolen shopper points?  However, her friends encouraged her to at least contact Kroger about the situation.

She called the 800 number on the back of her Kroger card and talked to the recovery specialist/loss hotline representative, who was able to tell her the exact time the points were redeemed and at which gas station.  He also confirmed that the person typed in her home phone number as an alternative ID, rather than scanning the barcode on her card.  [Just like some other shopper loyalty programs do, Kroger provides this option of entering your phone number in case you happened to forget your card.]  He set her up with a new card and reloaded the points that were stolen, but left off the phone number option, which means that now the actual card must always be used when getting gas or groceries.

While her points were restored, her confidence in humanity was not.  Could it be that one of her Facebook friends did this to her?  She thought she had taken precautions to allow her Facebook account to only be seen by her friends.  She also was careful to only befriend people she really knew, instead of accepting friend requests from strangers.  To make matters worse, she had an unlisted phone number, so how did this thief know it?  As her busy mind worried about these things, she begins to wonder if someone is stalking her (if you know Katy, you can imagine how that might happen).

I’ve tried to reassure her that no one is stalking her.  However, there are lessons here from which all of us can learn.  Identity theft is a growing problem, and Facebook’s popularity is attracting more and more ne’er-do-wells.  We may never know the whole story, but my guess is that it wasn’t one of Katy’s friends—however, it might have been someone who is friends with one of her friends.

When she posted that grocery receipt and inadvertently revealed her 700-some gas points, several of her friends posted comments underneath the picture.   When they did so, it went out to their friends as “John Doe commented on Katy Brown’s picture”–allowing someone who isn’t a friend of Katy’s to notice the potential for a discount of 70 cents per gallon.  This thief also knew that even without her Kroger card, a phone number provides access at the gas pumps.

Although she has an unlisted phone number, the Internet provides ample opportunity to research people.  Her phone number has also appeared in business listings (not surprising for a stay-at-home mom and free-lance writer), the parents’ directory for the elementary school her children attend, and potentially other places.  Perhaps all the thief had to do was to find a friend that he had in common with Katy and ask that person.  Or then again, maybe the thief called the Daily Mail and asked for her number (some of the best hackers are experts at ruses such as this, which they refer to as “social engineering”).

The bottom line is that some people will steal anything—even gas discounts.  When using Facebook (or the Internet in general), one should always be skeptical, suspicious, and cynical.  There are more and more bad guys out there all the time, so take precautions.  Be discreet in what you post, don’t be promiscuous when accepting friend requests, and lock down your privacy settings.  Educate yourself on computer security issues.  Finally, always be thinking defensively!

Although it was only gas discount points, it is still troubling to be a victim of any type of identity theft—even if it is merely hijacking the Mommyhood Blog for the day!

[Actually, Katy allowed her friend David Kurtz to write this week’s story.  David writes his own blog at]

Lordy, lordy! Look who’s…

Monday, May 13, 2013
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The beginning of May is a tremendously stressful time for my husband.  It begins with my birthday on the seventh and it ends with Mother’s Day weekend.  Two behemoth holidays (yes, Katy Day counts in my bizarre world) mean that Mike stands at the greeting card racks, suffering in search of someone else’s thoughts to sign his name to.

And as I read the wit and wisdom of Scooter the Squirrel, I began to ponder four decades.  FORTY.  I’m now at the age I most associate with my mother’s life.  An era of maturity and maternity.  Yes, at this moment in time, she was holding a newborn. This was headline news in 1973.

But then as I think about the decades that have passed, I also think of the labels that have passed with them.  For the first phase, I was someone’s child.  For the next, I was someone’s student.  Then, in my twenties, I became someone’s employee.  As that chapter evolved, I became someone’s wife, and then someone’s mother.  That role changed a little as I became someone’s caregiver.

Now that I’m forty, it feels like the “f” word stands for “free.”

I guess I won’t be 100% free until I’m retired in a paid-off house with college-educated children.  But for some reason, forty feels different.  I don’t feel older or wiser…but I do feel more secure. I feel like I can finally say “NO!” to things that made be feel obligated along the way.

As a child, I felt a duty to obey.  I felt a duty to perform well on assignments and tests, because I was being graded by teachers.  I felt a duty to land a scholarship to ease the financial burden of higher education that turned a retirement portfolio into a college fund.  I felt a duty to show up at work by 7:30 a.m. and stay until 7:30 p.m., to prove my value to a company.  I then felt a duty to work at least part-time to help diminish expenses that rested squarely on my husband’s shoulders.  I felt a duty to take on every volunteer post and special event to prove my dedication to two daughters and their school.  I felt a duty to care for aging, ailing relatives who had loved me when I wasn’t capable of taking care of myself, either. I felt that duty three times.

But now, I’m entering a phase that seems to have a clearer calendar.  I feel as though I have some control again, even if  “life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans” (according to John Lennon).

Until the day I die, I’ll be a loyal wife and mother.  I hope to remain a writer in some way or another.  I’m certain I’ll always be a pet owner (because these nine animals seem to be in perfect health). I want to “be” these things. But I’m hopeful that this new decade — my forties by any other name — will be about strengthening a relationship.  I hope this is the stretch in which I realize a sense of duty to become a great friend…to myself.

Rules for an Unstructured Summer

Monday, May 6, 2013
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Dear Daughters,

You’ve never heard of George Carlin, but you may remember the sound of his voice.  If you recall the lazy afternoons watching Thomas the Train, then the cry of “cinders and ashes!” is familiar.  However, you’re not old enough to listen to Carlin talk about anything else.  I’m not sure adults are ever old enough to listen to his descriptions of things.

But, the comedian had an interesting perspective on the topic of parenting.  Carlin believed that kids ought to be kids.  He had no tolerance (and I mean zero tolerance) for children who were busier and more scheduled than their parents.  In a stand-up routine that you’ll never watch, Carlin asked the audience why kids don’t grab sticks to dig holes anymore.  He asked why they don’t go into the woods to … entertain themselves.  Your father (minus the profanity-laced rant) agrees. Kids need to be do-less for a while. There’s nothing wrong with taking a break. That’s what it’s there for. Since recess is defined as “a temporary withdrawal from the usual work or activity,” your parents, under the guidance of George Carlin, are issuing:


  1. Sandals are mandatory.  Barefoot is optional.
  2.  Stay up late and sleep in later.
  3. Ponytails are necessary. Hair dryers, curling irons, ridiculously oversized bows and headbands will be packed away.
  4. You will have chores.  Swimsuits need to be rinsed of salt and chlorine, and beach towels need to washed in hot water.
  5. Tennis is a sport for kids and canines. The dogs love to play fetch and catch with yellow Penn balls. This is to wear out the dogs and the daughters.
  6. You ate cold lunches all year, so now you’ll eat cold dinners.  A tomato sandwich is the best meal on earth if you use crusty white bread, sea salt and a little mayo. The kitchen is closed.
  7. Read books so we can compare them to the movie versions (e.g. “Diary of a Wimpy Kid”).
  8. If the sun is shining, you will be swimming. SPF 50 from nose to toes.
  9. Learn all the words to One Direction songs.  There will be a quiz on June 16 at the KFC YUM! Center in Louisville, Kentucky.
  10. Take care of your shorts and tee shirts.  We’re sorry to remind you that school starts again on August 9.

So, sweet children of mine, it’s time for you to sign off the computer and unplug for a while.  Grab those flip-flops and go outside where you can find a stick to dig a hole.  Breathe in some fresh air as you run in the yard.  But in the words of George Carlin, stay out of the #*@! street.

With love,


Nobody does that anymore.

Monday, April 29, 2013
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Birthday parties for adults? Don’t say it.

The older I get, the more apparent it is that I live in a time warp.  This may be amusing to readers (and spouses), but it’s particularly confusing (and frustrating) for children.  Modern children.

You see, I’m finding that I do things that aren’t done anymore.  I expect to see things that are no longer performed. I anticipate reactions that are no longer felt.  I judge people because certain rituals aren’t respected.

And now, those people are judging me.

What am I talking about?  Let’s take death for example.  As I was deciding between cherry wood and silver steel caskets, a vault with a 66-year warranty and one guaranteed for 100 (as if I’d ever know), I began to ponder the type of church service we should have for my aunt. Based on the drive to and from Greenbrier County, I chose to hold everything in one day:  visitation, funeral, burial.

“Whatever happened to double visitations? One from 2-4 pm, and another from 6-8 pm?” I asked the director.

“Oh, it still happens on occasion,” he explained. “But most people don’t do that anymore.”


“And some families now choose to bury their loved one first, then go on to a place for the memorial, and then greet everyone at a reception.”

Who does that? I asked.

“The Presbyterians,” he replied.

Right. I knew that. I am a Presbyterian. (Note to husband: This is the type of service I want: Bury me, remember me, and have a round of drinks on me.)

Last week, I was glazing a “sympathy ham” for a colleague who had lost her mother. A friend asked if that was a good idea.  Why not? Isn’t that funeral etiquette? Send a ham?

“What if they don’t like ham?” she asked.  “What if they’re vegetarians? What if they’re allergic to that nut glaze you’re pouring all over it?”

I began to panic.  “What do I do now? Send a fruit plate?”

“That’s why nobody does it anymore!”

So, let us move out of the chapel.  I recently walked down Capitol Street and passed at least 15 women dressed in business attire…to a point.  Not one of them wore hose.  I knew it was becoming popular to kick off the sheers in August…but in April?

I met the same girlfriend for lunch.  “Do women not wear hose anymore?  Not even under a skirt?  In 50 degree weather?”

My friend waved me off.  “Nobody does that anymore.”

Not even in cold weather?  Not even to support a shifting backside?  Not even at 50?  I meant years of age in addition to temperature.


Now that I’ve criticized all of the grown-ups, let’s focus our attention on high school students. As you can imagine, I’m unprepared for class.

A. Reports are now submitted via the internet and run through a plagiarism website to receive a score before submitting to the teacher.

B. Research is most often conducted via apps on cell phones.

C. Most desks or tables have “drops” to plug in laptops for note taking.  If too much text appears on the screen (not a chalkboard), students take pictures of the information with those phones.

D. Kids don’t call each other on the telephone anymore. They text or tweet.

E. Most textbooks are purchased in electronic version, downloaded onto a device such as an iPad, and highlighted with a neon yellow cursor.

F. Tickets are a thing of the past. Kids get electronic confirmations that they have seats to events, which they present on their phones at the door.

Now this is something I have experienced.  When I purchased “tickets” to see the Eagles in concert, I was told that I would need to show my credit card at the door, which would be swiped for admittance into the show.  As if this puts my mind at ease.

So, while my daughters are adapting to and functioning in a changing world, I’m going to stay at home with their father and watch old movies. We should be able to rent some good ones from RedBox at Kroger. You know…because nobody does that anymore.

The Genius of Mr. Hoff

Wednesday, April 24, 2013
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As a fifth grader, I thought my teacher, Mr. Hoff, was a very odd man.

He was balding and middle-aged, but he walked with the gait of a gawky teenager who hadn’t quite yet adjusted to his new body. Instead of drinking coffee, he carried a thermos full of milk that he kept with him at all times. He wore a funny-looking, fuzzy, fur hat, and he would often break into song during the middle of class.

Mr. Hoff was the best teacher I ever had.

With an unorthodox approach to education and a genuine understanding of what kids really need, Mr. Hoff didn’t teach to the test and often didn’t even teach from a book. Instead, he taught from his heart and for his students.

We learned the parts of speech, how to solve complicated math problems and how fossils were formed. More importantly, we learned that education could actually be fun and exciting.

Thirty-five years later, I still remember.

On the first day of school after summer vacation, my classmates and I quickly discovered that Mr. Hoff wasn’t like any other teacher we’d ever known. He didn’t take a lot of time going over the classroom rules or carefully assigning us seats. Instead, he drank milk and talked about his passion for history. When he stopped talking, he told us to put away everything but a pencil and paper. He then instructed us to write everything we knew about history. Everything.

Since I’d spent much of my summer reading biographies from the public library, I was sure I’d ace the first test of fifth grade. Long after the other students had turned in their papers, I was still writing, and I handed in my essay with great pride. I anticipated an excellent grade and praise from Mr. Hoff. Instead, I got nothing. The papers were never graded and eventually forgotten.

As the school year wore on, Mr. Hoff continued to surprise and delight our class.

Instead of spending his free time with the other teachers, he chose to spend time with us and engage in conversation about our lives.

If we were restless, he rarely told us to quiet down or pay attention. Instead, he would take us outside for an unscheduled recess or to the gym to play dodgeball.

Like most of my classmates, Mr. Hoff preferred to be outside rather than in his classroom. He taught us geography by taking us into the schoolyard and pointing out the  peaks of the Cascade Mountains. He taught us geology by taking us spelunking. We learned how engines worked by peering inside the hood of Mr. Hoff’s car and by visiting vocational classes at the local high school next door.

When weather or other forces kept us inside, Mr. Hoff kept us interested in grammar by playing games. He kept us interested in history by telling stories. He told lots and lots of stories.

But Mr. Hoff didn’t just entertain us, he expected us to learn. Unlike other teachers who scheduled tests, Mr. Hoff gave pop quizzes about anything and everything. We never knew when we’d have one or what the topic would be, so we paid attention.

The school year sped by, and the last week of school arrived too soon. During one of those final days of fifth grade, Mr. Hoff once again told us to put everything away but a  pencil and paper and to write down everything we knew about history. Everything.

This time, I wasn’t the only one who wrote, and wrote and wrote. The classroom was silent except for the scratching of pencils, the turning of paper and the occasional whir of the pencil sharpener. When the bell rang, Mr. Hoff collected our papers.

The next day, he handed them back along with the essays we’d each written on the first day of school.

“I encourage you,” he said, “to read both and tell me what you learned this year.”

The classroom erupted in noise. Everyone was talking and laughing about how little we’d known only nine months earlier.  When Mr. Hoff asked for comments, everyone put a hand up.

Everyone had learned something.

Before the final bell rang, Mr. Hoff told us, “Education and life have a lot in common. They aren’t about how much you already know but about how much you continue to learn.”

Now, as a 46 year-old mother of two, I still think Mr. Hoff  was a very odd man, but I know that he was an absolutely brilliant teacher.

House of the rising son (or daughter)

Monday, April 22, 2013
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As a teenager, my parents didn’t give me much advice.  They told me what to do plenty of times, but it was rare for them to let me deal with problems alone. My mother was a guiding force in a stern way, which is why I remember the one phrase she did share with me when I repeated something I had heard in class.

“Be careful whom you let inside your head.”

I’ve been thinking about that (inside my head) a lot lately. When abstinence speech controversies at area high schools began to swirl, I began to stew.  Our children have enough emotionally draining material to sift through in this stage of life. It’s my opinion that we don’t need one more mouth, on either side, becoming unhinged at the jaw.

I can still see my mother sitting at the kitchen table in a cloud of Viceroy smoke.  In her metaphorical way, she was trying to tell me to be selective when it comes to people and politics; people and philosophy; and people and perspectives. She was warning me to think carefully about whom and what I allow to influence my behaviors and beliefs. Values she fought hard to form.

In email exchanges with friends and fellow parents, I edited my mother’s quote to reflect how I feel about the sex education debate.

“Be careful whom you let inside your house.”

When someone, anyone, tells my daughter that her mother will hate her if she’s promiscuous, then he or she has invaded my house.

When someone, anyone, threatens to derail my daughter’s scholastic opportunities and goals, then he or she has invaded my house.

When someone, anyone, informs my daughter that she’s a sinner for x, y, or z, then he or she has invaded my house.

When someone, anyone, hands out birth control on the sidewalk or in a parking lot — even if my daughter waves it off or accepts it without comment – then he or she has invaded my house.

And he or she isn’t welcome here.  This is my domain as a mother, and I’m fiercely protective of it. There are a select few topics that I believe have no part in our children’s public education because it’s an invasion of the house. I’m not screaming in support of one side or the other of any debate.  You won’t find my views in this blog, aside from my frustration with the lack of discretion in this world.  Restraint is a lost art. Modesty is something we don’t witness anymore.  Not in our behaviors and not in our communication.

Should we have uncomfortable conversations with our children? Absolutely.  Are there parents who let their kids figure out these delicate yet serious issues on their own? Of course.  Should someone step in to help those young men and women who feel they can’t “go home” for guidance or support?  Yes.  But there’s a limit to everything.  There should be an internal boundary that reminds outsiders of how far they can go with other people’s kids.

It should come as no surprise that I am every bit as stern as my own mother.  At times, I hated her for it.  Sitting here today, I wish I could thank her. She guarded our house.  She taught me to be careful with whom I let inside my head…and ultimately, inside my heart.

So with this call for modesty and discretion, I also ask for a return to the principles of basic etiquette. We need to memorize the rules of gracious behavior and practice them religiously. No one should ever pay a visit to someone’s home without calling ahead. Not only may it be inconvenient, but it’s downright rude.