Friday, September 30, 2005

The Importance of Appropriate Birthday Party Themes

My granddaughter, Sweet Stuff, takes birthdays seriously. Last year when she heard that my birthday was approaching, she immediately told her mom, my Stinkeroo, that they needed to give me a princess birthday party. Which they, OF COURSE, did. Which, OF COURSE, absolutely thrilled me. Complete with a crown, feather boas, a princess cake and princess hats for everyone. For my last birthday she insisted on getting me a baby doll for a gift. When her mother tried to steer her toward something else, she insisted that Grandma Carol really wanted that baby doll. She was right. I love it and will treasure it always. Then this year she planned a Spiderman birthday party for her PawPaw. My son, Scalawag, turns 27 next week. Once again, our resident social planner is hard at work. For him, there will be a Power Rangers party since "boys like Power Rangers." Sometimes when I look at Sweet Stuff and Sunshine - or even think about them, I am overwhelmed by the power of the love I feel for them. Two little girls who have so many people who adore them and would do everything possible to protect and nurture them. At Scalawag's birthday party next week, there will be six adults and two children with Power Rangers hats, Power Ranger plates and napkins, and a Power Ranger birthday cake. Sweet Stuff will sit back and smile her sweet smile as we all laugh and talk together - secure in the knowledge that she orchestrated the party.

A Poem for my Father

I actually posted this last week - for about five minutes - but then deleted it because I wasn't sure I wanted to put it in my blog. It's a poem, and poems are personal. I mentioned to my children a couple months ago that after moving last year I had only recently located my notebook of poetry. I had written poems for each of them many years ago and when I found my notebook, I emailed their poems to them. Both of them had the same reaction: "I didn't know you wrote poetry!" The operative word is "wrote". Past tense. All of my poems are at least 10 years old. My sister, Joan, posted a poem in her blog, and that made me feel that if she could post hers, then I could post mine. She gave me the courage. Her poem is about our father. The one I'm sharing here is about him, too. After going through every poem in my poetry notebook (which isn't a tremendous undertaking since there are only eleven of them), I didn't see a single one that I'm completely comfortable in sharing. But the others are all either too depressing, too personal, or just plain too strange to post. However, I'll share the one about my father, Charles. It's a stream of consciousness, freeform poem. I wrote it almost thirteen years ago.

To Daddy
Are you up there, Daddy?
Sitting up in heaven
Watching us here on earth?
Laughing at us, wondering about us,
Or crying?
Life is such a crazy hodgepodge
Happiness - sadness - exhilaration - depression
All put together
Are you there? Seeing . . . and caring?

I miss you
I miss telling you about my victories and defeats
You always were interested
And wanted to know more.

Where are you?
I don't understand death
I remember dreaming about you several years ago
In my dream, we were at the Flea Market
I heard your voice, your laugh
I saw your face - you were alive
I want that dream again

Mother told me that when she was nine years old
And her father died
She prayed that she would dream of him
Because she knew then, and only then, she could see him.
I'm so much older than nine now
Yet I still want to dream of you
I want to experience again the peace of your unconditional love.

I remember one day I visited you - I was a parent myself then
I had the flu, and you tucked a blanket around me
Set me in front of the fire and cared for me
One brief evening so many years ago
And yet I remember - with longing.

Maybe you were the only person who was completely on my side
No judgments. No expectations. Just acceptace - and love.

When I was a little girl
You were the one I wanted to comfort me when I was hurt or sad
I was special. I was Cabbie.

You were the one who told us stories
Of growing up with four brothers
Your adventures skinny-dipping in the Yellow River
Your near-miss in the lightning storm with Uncle James.

We children would crowd around you
In your little office behind the house
"Tell us more," we'd plead,
And you'd oblige.

One Friday in 1986, you were visiting us
And we were at the Grand ol' Opry laughing together
The next Friday we were gathered around your grave.
Life changes forever too quickly
No time for a final "I love you"
Or a smile, or a good-bye.

I want to drive up in your driveway again
And see you waiting for me
"There's my Cabbie," you'd say
And I would be a little girl once more
Safe, protected . . . in the arms of fatherly love.

(written in February 1993)

Patricia Polacco

I have a favorite children's author, and it's Patricia Polacco. Without even having to think about it, I can name my three favorite Patricia Polacco books: Thunder Cake, Thank You, Mr. Falker, Pink and Say. Make that four! I can't leave out The Keeping Quilt. Okay -five! Chicken Sunday is a fabulous Polacco book, too. Once maybe 12 years ago my mother visited my classroom of second graders and read Chicken Sunday to my class. Funny how one remembers a small detail like that from so long ago. I can't read Pink and Say out loud to my classes because I can't get through it without crying. It's a Civil War story, and it is probably one of the few stories that children talked about long after we read it at school. On the playground one day as I walked around, several girls came up and held my hands as we walked. The one on the outside said, "I'm holding the hand of the hand of the hand that's holding Ms. Shaw's hand." If you read Pink and Say you'll know what she was referring to. She was making a text to self connection (That's teacher terminology). It means she GOT a particular point of the story. She understood it well enough to translate it into her own experience.
Thunder Cake contains a recipe for a chocolate cake that contains TOMATO PASTE (yes, that's right - tomato paste)...and it's delicious! Over the years my classes have made it many times. One year I had a child in my class who was fascinated by the weather. I think he was traumatized a couple years earlier when the entire school had to sit in protective positions in the hallway for over an hour during a tornado warning. He handled his fear by learning as much as possible about weather. Whenever I wanted to know the weather forecast, I just asked Billy (name changed to offset the remotest possibility of identification) -- and he always could tell me what the high and low temps would be and whether there was any rain forecast for the upcoming weekend. I remember he particularly enjoyed Thunder Cake since it dealt with how one family handled an approaching thunderstorm.

Patricia Polacco spoke at a conference I attended a few years ago, and brought the real keeping quilt - the one the book is based on. Often at conferences, the attendees must sit through boring speeches. That wasn't the case for Patricia Polacco's speech. I hated for her to stop talking. I wished she would keep on telling us more. Her story is incredible and tender. Thank you, Mr. Falker is based on her own story as a struggling reader. Hearing her tell the story in person was a touching and memorable experience.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Being Prepared

My sister, Janice, sent our family group an email today about preparing for an emergency. Here is what the email contained:

During the Rita evacuation, many coastal residents headed inland without food, water or extra gas, thinking they could buy what they needed on the road. They were wrong. Everyone should have a "grab-and-go" backpack with water bottles, medicines, cash or traveler's checks, and other necessities, along with a three-day supply of food.
Maps, planned-in-advance escape routes and destinations, and an extra 5 gallons of gas can also come in handy. Those in hurricane, tornado and earthquake zones have the most obvious need, but the next terrorist attack could be anywhere.

Now that is something to think about. Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, I recall reading about how everyone should have a gas mask. I immediately got on eBay and bought myself a gas mask. I THINK I know where it is. It makes sense at the time, although it is sad to think of having to have such things on hand. I already have a backpack and everything except for the 3-day supply of food - but a box of granola bars and dried fruit would take care of that. I'm not likely to be directly affected by a hurricane, but tornados and earthquakes are a definite threat around here. And of course there are no safe areas in regard to terrorism.

I recall about 10 or 12 years ago - maybe more - there was a big hoopla in the press about the New Madrid seismic zone and how someone had predicted that THE BIG ONE would occur that year. We had drills with the kids at school, and everyone was just waiting for the big earthquake to happen. It didn't. It still hasn't. I did a websearch for "emergency preparedness", and the results were interesting. There are entire businesses and websites devoted solely to selling provisions for emergencies.

Home Girl

I've been looking online to see houses that are available in my area. This afternoon after work, I drove around the area for an hour or so just looking at what's available near my school. It comes down to how far I'm willing to travel to live in the house I want. Well, on second thought, that's wrong. It comes down to the fact that there's no way I can afford what I really want, and so it then comes down to how far I'm willing to travel to get to one I'd love that I can afford. I don't really want to go through moving again anytime soon, but if I find what I really, truly, honestly, without-a-doubt want and can afford, I'd be willing to move again. In the past eight years I've moved six times. After the third time, I swore I'd NEVER move again...and look what happened...another three moves.

This could lead to a discussion of the value of moving. It's incredible how much JUNK and unnecessary "things" accumulate over time. Moving is great in forcing a person to get rid of excess. I keep waiting for the IRS to audit my tax return because of all my contributions to Goodwill over the past eight years.

I'll look at more houses this weekend, and I'll keep it all updated here.

Click 'n Bank

For someone who has used a computer for many years, I have only in the past few months started banking on the computer. Why did I wait so long? It's wonderful, and it only took me about 30 minutes to learn how to do everything I need to do. No more having keep a register. I can check my account online anytime and see what checks have cleared and what my balance is. I can transfer money from one account to another. The best part, though, is paying bills online. It takes literally minutes - maybe 5 or 10 - to pay all my bills each month. No envelopes, no stamps, no trips to the post office, no writing checks by hand. I open the bill, make a few clicks on the computer, and then shred the bill. It helps me not spend money I don't have because I can see the actual balance whenever I want. It works out so much better for me than keeping a handwritten register.

Not much point in this post - except to express how great it is to be sitting here at the end of September and able to spend about 10 minutes on the computer -- and all the bills are paid and done. YEA!!!

Miz Berlin Walks

I was talking with a fifth grade teacher today, and she was working on an author study of Jane Yolen. She mentioned a book by Yolen that I hadn't read before - Miz Berlin Walks. She loaned me her copy, and I read it immediately. Only took a few minutes since it's a children's picture book. Different books produce different reactions. This book made me want to get outside and walk for an hour or two.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The Biggest Loser

Last night I watched The Biggest Loser on TV. I think it's a great show, and it inspires me to work at being healthy. There are parts that are cheesy, but maybe that makes it a little more human. I like it. The show has one serious flaw, though. The creators of the show copied other reality shows and decided to stick with the same old strategy of having one contestant voted off each week. Yawn...Couldn't they have come up with something different? I wish they had been more creative and come up with something that would allow everyone to stay until the end. I'd like to watch everyone as they work through the process of changing their bad habits. The show's method of voting out people has nothing to do with who actually lost the most weight. Like most other reality shows, it has to do with politics and personality. Nick was the person voted out last night. In his "Where is he now?" interview at the end of the show, he said The Biggest Loser was the worst experience of his life, and he refuses to weigh himself anymore. He deserves to feel resentful. The guy lost the most weight and still got shipped out. So it's not really The Biggest Loser. It's The Most Popular Loser. It's interesting doing a websearch of the show title. There are lots of blogs devoted to the show, you can shop for products like those seen on The Biggest Loser, the trainers on the show have their websites where they'll be glad to sell you their diets, and of course there are the official show webpages. Guess the show is not the biggest loser cause it's making lots of money.

Monday, September 26, 2005

A political post - Cindy Sheehan

I read today about Cindy Sheehan being arrested for not following the guidelines for protesting outside the White House. No one denies that she had the right to protest this war. Her son supported what the United States is doing in Iraq strongly enough to risk his life to fight there - and he did indeed lose his life in Iraq. Now his mother is using his death as her platform to give hope, aid and comfort to the enemy that killed him. I watched a few minutes of the TV coverage of the anti-war gathering this past weekend. I wonder how many other young men have already died and will die because of the invigoration and encouragement the insurgents must surely feel when they see the anti-war protestors. The anti-war protestors are short-sighted in their world view. They want world peace, but aren't able to stomach the difficult and heartbreaking work necessary to achieve it. The citizens of our country should support the president and the war until the war is over. Then they can protest and do what they need to do to make sure it doesn't happen again. We are in a war, though, and each protest gives more fuel to the enemy -- and causes more death to our soldiers and innocent Iraqi citizens. Each protest give more fuel to the barbarians who will take a knife and slowly saw off the head of someone who disagrees with them. Each protest gives hope to the leader of the insurgents who said that he makes no distinction between soldiers and citizens of the United States. All of us are targets of his hate. To me, Cindy Sheehan is trampling on her son's memory, causing the deaths of more U.S. soldiers and betraying the very country that gives her the right to protest.

Listening to George Strait

A friend of mine told me that George Strait's new song, She Let Herself Go sounded like it was about me. She wouldn't tell me anything else about it, and so I bought the CD (George Strait, Somewhere Down In Texas) and listened to the song. It put me in a completely happy mood. Here are the lyrics:

He wondered how she'd take it when he said goodbye.

Thought she might do some cryin': lose some sleep at night.
But he had no idea, when he hit the road,
That without him in her life, she'd let herself go.
Let herself go on a singles cruise,
To Vegas once, then to Honolulu.
Let herself go to New York City:
A week at the Spa; came back knocked-out pretty.
When he said he didn't love her no more,
She let herself go.

She poured her heart an' soul into their three-bedroom ranch.
Spent her days raisin' babies, ironin' his pants.
Came home one day from the grocery store and found his note,
And without him there to stop her, she let herself go.
Let herself go on her first blind-date:
Had the time of her life with some friends at the lake.
Let herself go, buy a brand new car,
Drove down to the beach he always said was too far.
Sand sure felt good between her toes:
She let herself go on a singles cruise,
To Vegas once, then to Honolulu.
Let herself go to New York City:
A week at the Spa; came back knocked-out pretty.
When he said he didn't love her no more,
She let herself go.
To Vegas once: Honolulu, New York City.
Came back knocked-out pretty.

Another great song on that CD is By The Light of a Burning Bridge. Here are those lyrics:

Oh, I've been stumblin' through the darkness,

Tryin' to feel the ground beneath my feet.
Afraid of movin' much in any direction:
Stuck where the past and the future meet.
But I fin'lly got my first good look:
A little fire was all it took.
An' as the flames grew brighter,
I saw everything that I'd missed.
Once you get your courage up,
You light a match an' your eyes adjust:
It's amazing what a man can see,
By the light of a burnin' bridge.

An' there were things I saw that I'm not proud of.
Things that I'd do diff'rent now from then.
But when I really make myself get honest,
It's over and I can't go back again.
'Cause I fin'lly got my first good look:
A little fire was all it took.
An' as the flames grew brighter,
I saw everything that I'd missed.
Once you get your courage up,
You light a match an' your eyes adjust:
It's amazing what a man can see,
By the light of a burnin' bridge.

It sure is hard to let go and to leave the past behind,
But there ain't no other way that you can find some peace of mind.
When I fin'lly got my first good look:
A little fire was all it took.
An' as the flames grew brighter,
I saw everything that I'd missed.
Once you get your courage up,
You light a match an' your eyes adjust:
It's amazing what a man can see,
By the light of a burnin' bridge.
It's amazing what a man can see,
By the light of a burnin' bridge.

And so that's my contribution to the sharing of music for the day. Great songs, aren't they?

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Your Best Life Now

Recently for my birthday I received an audio CD of Joel Osteen's book Your Best Life Now. It consists of five CDs. On the trip to Georgia on Friday, I started listening to the first CD when I reached the far side of Monteagle and could no longer pick up Nashville radio stations. When I got to my mother's, the second CD had just started. So it will take a L-O-N-G time to listen to all of them. The CDs are good, and I enjoyed listening to them although Joel's voice is very quiet and controlled - too calming, and it was difficult at times to keep my attention on the CD. My mind kept going off on tangents. One tangent: He pronounces the word similar "sim-U-lar" - and it is uncanny how often that word is in the book! My tangent continued. . . maybe since Osteen's church is in Texas -- and George W. Bush is from Texas and has gotten a lot of flack for pronouncing nuclear "nu-cu-lar" -- that maybe that kind of pronunciation is a part of being a Texan. I told Mother about the CD set, and asked if she knew of Joel Osteen, and of course she knew a lot about him and liked him. She mentioned that he preaches a type of "prosperity" gospel. As I listened to the CD on the way home, I thought about what she had said. He's nothing like some of the preachers on TV who seem to flaunt their wealth with extravagant clothes and jewelry and flashy sets for their TV shows. THEIR prosperity gospels have mostly to do with their own prosperity. Osteen, however, seems down to earth, and his message is Biblically-based. I'll write more about his book as I listen to more of it. The part that made an impression me during my drive home today was the power of words - the words we say to others and also the words we say to ourselves. He talked about how important it is for parents to speak supportive and loving words to their children. Equally important, though, is speaking supportive and loving words to ourselves. We ARE usually our own worst critics, and that's what I thought about as I sped along I-24 towards Nashville.

Home-made Yogurt

I wrote earlier about reading the book French Women Don't Get Fat. One of the suggestions that the author writes about is making your own yogurt. I'm probably too open to suggestion, but since I like yogurt and also the idea of making my own yogurt, I bought a yogurt maker. I've made two batches now. The first one was really good. The second batch I left in the maker too long, and the consistency wasn't as good as I'd hoped. Each time I made it with skim milk, and added some nonfat milk powder to it so it would be smoother. After it was finished, I added about a tablespoon of sugarfree preserves (usually peach or apricot) to each cup, and it's just as good, in my opinion, as store-bought. It stays well in the refrigerator for about two weeks. I take a cup to school each day for an end-of-school snack - which helps me not crave something to eat as soon as I get home. So I think it's helping me stick to more sensible eating.

Having it all together

I drove home from my mother's today, and I passed a large Winnebago pulling a trailer. On the back of the Winnebago was a banner with these words: "We may not have it all together, but together, we have it all." That's the kind of relationship I want. Don't you just love that attitude?

Saturday, September 24, 2005

91 days till Christmas

Tomorrow's the 25th of September - just three months till Christmas. Let's see -- September has 30 days, October has 31 days and November 30 that makes 91 days till Christmas. If my math is wrong, please don't tell me. It's not important.

Larisa and Joey tease me about my fixation on numbers. I'm always telling them things like "Two weeks from today I'll be in Alaska," or "Your birthday is only four months from today," etc. I like to think in terms of how many days, months, or years away certain events are or were. And in thinking of the future, it gives me a goal range. For example, when I noticed tomorrow's date, I immediately thought of 3 months till Christmas -- and then I thought of what goals I'd like to make for those three months. So that's where my thoughts are now -- what do I want to accomplish in the next three months.

First is my residence. I like where I live, but I don't really love it. I bought a townhouse after my divorce last year. I thought that I didn't want the bother and expense of maintaining a yard and I didn't want anything big. I miss having a separate house -- and since there are two units in my building, I feel that one side of my house is missing -- no windows on the side that's connected to the other unit. To me, it feels like something is missing. Although I have a screened-in back porch, it faces west, and it isn't comfortable to sit out there. In the evenings when I'd like to sit outside, the sun is glaring in my eyes and it's hot. The only view is the backs of other townhouses, and there's a street that ends right at my porch. The porch is high enough that the fence doesn't offer any privacy when I'm on the porch. Not very relaxing. So, one of my goals - not for the next 91 days, but for sometime in the next year or two - is to start looking for somewhere else to live. I'm okay where I am, but it's not home to me. Seeing my cousin Jane's house today made me realize the kind of place I want to live -- something country, a little rustic looking, with lots of room for entertaining, and lots of comfortable outdoor space. So I'm going to start looking and seeing what's available in my area.

Another goal is to get back involved with my friends. The past couple years have been rather stressful, and I haven't taken the time and effort to maintain my friendships. So that's my second goal. I'll get involved again in group activities and in church activities - not only for my social benefit but my spiritual benefit as well. It's easy to withdraw and stay inside myself. Getting out and being with other people gives me the opportunity to see beyond my own situation and issues. Another thing Joey and Larisa used to tease me by saying I only went to church for the social aspect of it. There WERE enough social benefits in terms of friendships and activities to make their accusation partly true.

That makes two rather large goals for the next three months - at least goals to get started. Other goals? I don't know at this point. I'll be thinking about it, though, and when I decide on them, I'll post them here.

French Women and Weigh Down Workshop

I've been reading lately about different diets. Actually, what I've been reading hasn't been about "diets" but about ways of life related to eating. One book, French Women Don't Get Fat fascinated me.

My niece, Brannon, who is currently traveling in France says that French women don't get fat because they all smoke nonstop. The author of the book, though, says that French women don't get fat because they don't have all the hang-ups we American women have about food. They eat whatever they want to eat, but they eat in moderation. They don't feel compelled to eat everything on their plate, and they'd rather throw away food than to eat something beyond what's needed to take care of their hunger. And essentially, the Weigh Down Workshop is based on the same idea. Food is there for our enjoyment, and even the Bible tells us that there are no foods that are off-limits. We just have to get to know our bodies and not eat until we're physically hungry -- and stop eating when that hunger is satisfied. The author goes on to write about how so much of our hunger is emotional hunger rather than physical hunger, and how we can satisfy that emotional hunger through a relationship with God instead of with Food. Whatever your religious beliefs, it makes sense to work to separate emotional hunger from physical hunger -- and only use food to feed the physical hunger.

A Visit Home

I'm in Georgia visiting my mother this weekend. This afternoon we attended a party celebrating the wedding of Jared and Lim. Jared is the son of my first cousin, Jane, and her husband, Warren. There was a big crowd, fantastic barbecue and great fellowship. I got to visit briefly with my Aunt Rowena. However, the really impressive thing was their house. I fell in love with their house. Such a gorgeous, open, log home -- furnished so beautifully. Maybe some day I'll build myself one similar to it. One of the things I enjoyed was walking through Jane's house and seeing photos of people I dearly loved -- my Mama Baird and my Uncle Tom and Jane's older brother, Jack -- and pictures of Jane when she was a little girl and we all called her Jane Ann. I loved seeing the photos of Uncle Tom and Aunt Rowena when they were young. It was an enjoyable day of visiting family and celebrating a young marriage.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Selecting a Name

As part of my job as a reading specialist, I am starting a school literary magazine. This week we've had a school-wide contest to name it. The names submitted by the children (kindergarten through fifth grade) have been good, crazy, random, and funny. Our school mascot is the hawk. So I've gotten submissions for Hawk Talk, The Hawk, etc. A couple of non-student suggestions have been "The Hawk Eye" and "The Hawk Squawk" - both of which I like. However, the name has to come from one of the children. Tomorrow morning is the deadline for entries. So by tomorrow the name will be decided.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Book Recommendation: AIRMAIL TO THE MOON

Another feature of THE MEDIAN SIB is book recommendations. I read lots of children's literature, and I read lots of professional literature - especially on reading, for teachers. I will share some books that I feel are particularly noteworthy. Some of the best books ever written are children's books. AIRMAIL TO THE MOON by Tom Birdseye is one of my favorites.
It offers humor that children and parents will appreciate, and it offers great examples of figurative language that teachers will love. I have frequently used this book for mini-lessons on figurative language with all grades.

Talking to Your Children

As part of my job, I spend a lot of time working with parents about how to help their children read, how to make reading and learning more enjoyable for their children. I've also started my own consulting firm, CS Learning Consultants. (Note: If you want to learn more, visit our website at CSLC has two branches. The first is tutoring - working with children on specific academic goals. The second branch is consulting - working with families to make their home a positive learning environment for their children. There is one thing that parents can do - regardless of the age of their children - that will make a positive lifelong impact. And that thing is TALKING! Talk to your children about their day at school. Tell them about your day. Ask questions that require more than one-word answers. Here are some suggestions: Tell me about the funniest thing that happened today. Tell me about a question you answered in class. Describe how you felt at the beginning of the day? Did you feel differently by the time school was out? It is quite amazing how much more children learn and how much more they enjoy learning when they have authentic conversations about it.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

An Introduction

This is me - a photo taken in August 2004. I'm a Reading Specialist, and I love my job. I've loved reading since my first grade teacher, Mrs. Landrum, would put star stickers on our foreheads when we read well at school. I remember running out to the playground for recess proudly wearing my sticker! My children used to tease me that when I was reading a book, they could ask me anything, and my answer would be "yes" because I was so far into my reading that I didn't hear anything else. And they were mostly right about that. There are few things as enjoyable as getting lost in a wonderful story.

I am blessed with my family: my daughter and her husband are the parents of my two granddaughters, who are the absolute loves of my life. My son and his wife round out my wonderful immediate family. I am blessed with such wonderful children. I will write about the rest of my family - my mother and my six siblings - at a later date.

First Post

My first post in my blog. I selected the title, "The Median Sib," because I'm the middle of seven children. I have two older sisters and two younger sisters, along with one older brother and one younger brother. The title "The Middle Child" was already taken.

The purpose of this blog is to write about my family, my job, my friends, and my interactions and thoughts about them all.