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Archive for the ‘Opinion Page’ Category

On Iconic Locations

For this week’s challenge, we want you to snap a photo of something that is iconic to you. It can be a local pizza joint in your town that is unlike any other and conjures up memories of home whenever you’re away. It can be a photograph of a religious statue that’s been handed down from generations in your family that symbolizes your beliefs. Or it can even be a picture of your favorite pair of shoes that you wear nearly every day and has come to personify your personal style.

For me, the most reminiscent experiences happen when I drive through a town I used to live in. I grew up in Brooklyn Park, MN until the age of 8. Driving on 694 now brings back a lot of memories. Little sparks of places I went and things that I did. I also marvel at how things have changed through the years and there are some places I don’t even recognize. I recently went to a surprise birthday party for my cousin in Big Lake, MN. Some of her friends lived in, or had lived in, Brooklyn Park. We talked about places I remembered: Dairy Queen, Circus Circus, Rax for roast beef sandwiches and Dunkin’ Donuts across from the old Village North Shopping Center. Some of those places still exist, I was told, but sadly are no longer safe to visit because of gang activity. It’s sad and scary to hear that murders take place in my old stomping grounds.

I also recently visited Pewaukee, WI again. The city that stole my heart to WI for good. I drove by my old house, as I often do, and it had changed so much. Where there was once empty lots and fields, there was a house, new schools, more playgrounds. The structure of the house had changed as well, stealing that comfortable memory of “home.” I drive past the lake front and the beach, which have changed quite a bit over the years, and the old Village Park – which looked quite the same. James and I got stopped by a train downtown, crossing the tracks that my dad had crossed with an extra “toot toot” one summer when railroad engineers were on strike, forcing him to leave his office for the rails once again. All of these things are endearing to me, to show my kids where I made so many memories so long ago.

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Cochrane, Alberta, a place I rarely get to visit, holds, in its short time as my home, as many amazing memories and growing pains. With its picturesque mountains and scenes; cold, flowing river; and western theme, Cochrane has changed the most of all.

All of these places are iconic to me because the sights, sounds and smells of the towns I grew up in are vessels for my childhood memories and important to the person I’ve become.

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On Holiday Photos

What does a group holiday picture say about the members of a family? It is fun to look back at pictures. None of them are perfect and all of them are entertaining. Pictures, for me, are a visual container for memories. The first, and only, time we had professional family pictures done was in October of 2008. Natalie was about a year and a half; Taylor was about 8. Riley and I were sweating when we were done. And, we have never tried that again. We have done family portraits at home when we can use lots of threats encouragement to ensure better compliance.

Today, after the Easter egg hunt, after candy had been consumed, after handsome and beautiful clothes were adorned, we took a picture of the kids. Together. At one time. It was fun looking at the product and assessing personalities based on the best shot.

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Taylor – the olders and most compliant; smiles and looks at the camera through all takes; looks pretty happy and relaxed, and photogenic as usual.

Natalie – the independent oldest girl; tries to strike model-esque poses; looks spunky and sweet, and proud of her new toy from the Easter bunny.

James – the third child; makes hero poses or stands timidly, unsure what else to do; looks like he is wondering how long this will take.

Liberty – the baby girl; continues munching on her apple while standing where she was placed; looks like she is thinking about her apple, or her brother’s hat, oblivious to what everyone else is doing, or why they are all standing by the wall.

The dad (not pictured) – quickly and efficiently lines up kids, tries to get their attention toward the camera; looks like he is wondering what the mom was thinking.

The mom (not pictured) – the harried photographer with grand ideas for what this amazing picture should look like with her adorable kids; quickly snaps a few shots as dad lines up kids and removes dogs; looks at the final picture of those adorable kids in a frantic, poorly-framed shot and loves them just the same.

Happy Easter from our family to yours!

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On Calming Jars

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Pinterest is a veritable playground of ideas. If you like to do crafts with your kids, or even if you don’t, Pinterest has every idea imaginable. I know a lot of people that spend literally hours browsing ideas on Pinterest. It’s one obsession I haven’t bowed to yet. Facebook – yes; Blogging – obviously. But Pinterest – not yet.

Occasionally one of my friends posts, or pins, an idea that looks neat. That would be cool to do someday with the kids, I think to myself. And then I do nothing.

One idea recently rang out with Love & Logic. Someone posted instructions for making a Calming Jar. Mostly I was curious about how they put calm in a jar. I read on to see that the instructions laid out plans to put glitter, glitter glue and water in a mason jar.

The idea is that when kids are in bedroom time to calm down, they shake the jar and as the glitter calms to the bottom of the jar, so does the child come down.

I wasn’t sure it would work for that purpose but I got to test it out almost as soon as we screwed the last cover on the jar.

The sparkly Calming Jar is not a magical potion, but it worked well to redirect and promote thinking time. The glitter takes less than 30 seconds to settle. But it’s pretty so I reminded the perpetrator that some children like to give the jar another shake or two if they are not feeling calm yet.

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IMG_0918You’re given a plot of land and have the financial resources to do what you please. What is the plan?

The WordPress Daily Writing Challenge has me excited again. I’m not sure with four kids, a full time job and 2 hours of commuting how I would even possibly keep up with a daily writing prompt, but I do tuck away some of the prompts for later use. This one spoke to me right away. So many possibilities!

We are planning on putting our house on the market soon and moving closer to jobs and school. I have found a small parcel of wooded land that I am interested in and it is in a perfect location, so my mind immediately settled on building a house. But, I think my dreams can fly higher than that. I mean, the financial resources to do what I please? Let’s go!

I struggled long and hard with the decision of where to send Natalie to school for kindergarten. I think in my heart I wished that I could homeschool her because only I know truly how she learns, how smart she is, and what she is capable of. And I believe that children have a hunger for knowledge that burns brightly until the sameness, fairness and standardization of public education stifles that flame.

And, so, I would build a school on this land. A school that looks nothing like a school. It would be a school that looks more like a children’s museum, with bright, inviting colors and windows. There wouldn’t be any classrooms with tiny chairs or desks all facing the same direction. When you walk into the building, you would see a reception area and a large, plush auditorium with amazing acoustics (I feel so bad for student performers in school auditoriums because no matter how well they sing or play, it tends to sound… weird). We would call this room the Assembly Hall. Maybe we would name it after a benefactor or a famous orator. We would meet here every morning for announcements, the Pledge of Allegiance and an energizer or a speech or a preview of the day. There would be themes or units presented here in multi-media formats by a variety of teachers or older students. This would center the students for what they would work on for the day.

The students would then meet with their homeroom groups and set goals for the week for their own learning based on common core standards and the learning theme. At first, much of this would be provided for students by the teachers, but as the students were able to demonstrate independence, they would set their own goals for the week. Goals would include work flow goals as well as learning goals, guided and approved by the teacher. Based on a passport of standards that the student needed to demonstrate for a given theme, the students would form groups and determine how they would demonstrate their knowledge. They would complete the equivalent of a KWL chart – scribing what they Know, what they Want to learn and eventually what they Learned, or something cool like that.

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There wouldn’t be “classes” where students move to another subject because of a bell. They would direct their own learning based on their interests. Want students to learn about condensation? Have them design an experiment to demonstrate condensation and write replicatable instructions that another student could follow. Want students to measure length? Have them determine which brand of hot dog matches which brand of bun best for a family picnic. Want students to determine volume? Have them determine how many bottles of ketchup to purchase for said family picnic dependent on how much ketchup the average person uses on a hot dog.This would be a technology-rich environment where a common theme would be “if Google can answer it, it doesn’t belong on an assessment.” Tests as we know them would become a thing of the past. Homework would be family discussions, research or data gathering for a project the students have deemed important.

Since I have the land and financial resources I need, there would be a large green house in conjunction with our school. Students would learn the nutritional value of vegetables and fruits and make a case for growing certain produce in our green house. They would need to be able to provide evidence of the nutritional value and necessary growing environment of their vegetable of choice. Each year there would be a presentation and vote on which produce would be grown in the green house. And science projects to determine how to create the appropriate growing environment for the produce chosen by the people. We could learn principles and concepts of advertising and government as well as science concepts of planting and growing seeds. We could learn about health and wellness to see which vegetables provide the most benefits and which produce students would be willing to try. Students could create menus and recipes for meals that students would actually eat incorporating these different fruits and vegetables. Math would be important in determining the area for the gardens and how many plants to plant based on the menu and needs of the population. Biological concepts in planting and identifying seeds and plants as well as seedling and weed identification would play a big role. Students would need to understand how weeds can affect a garden and why it is important to provide the plants with sunlight, water, and soil nutrients. Mathematically, students could graph plant yield by journaling the different types of conditions provided to each section of the greenhouse.

Students could determine what types of movement would benefit cardiovascular health and increase the “fun factor” to encourage movement and fitness. The students would drive what types of fitness programs were available from volleyball to wall climbing to swimming or running or yoga.

And, since we have a lot of available land, there could be prairie land, forest land and a pond ecosystem to study. There would also be animals present; woodland creatures, pond denizen, and farm fodder to raise and study. I would incorporate community farmers to teach students about creating cheese from milk or breaking in a horse or pest control methods. Students would determine what methods have the least health and environmental impact, yet produce the biggest yield.

Students interested in the arts could create advertisements, visual aids and media to support lessons. Or dramatic productions demonstrating voice and production, incorporating math concepts in set and costume design.

Learning would be aimed and capturing a child’s inherent desire to learn along with their desire to maintain control and produce relevant products. Parents, teachers and community members would be involved in the process as well as the production. Students could demonstrate their knowledge to people in that field of development. Students could take aim at real community problems and present ideas to solve these problems.

There might be mini lectures throughout the day based on student inquiry on certain topics or teacher-directed learning. Emphasis would be placed on collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and problem-solving. Instead of report cards, students would demonstrate what they know by publicly presenting projects, products, outcomes, successes and failures to interested parents or community members. Parent-teacher conferences would become a thing of the past as parents would be involved in their students’ learning outcomes from inception to presentation, fostering and encouraging their children to learn an dush their boundaries to new learning outcomes.

My teachers would need different resources than teachers today. First of all, they would need a lot of collaboration and brag time. Collaboration to determine which standards were going to be covered by whom for which unit. Brag time to tell other teachers about the creative, student-directed ways in which students were determining their own course for learning. My teachers would need the time and desire to continue to explore their own course of knowledge. They would need to create ways to demonstrate what students know.

The environment would be ever changing and engaging and inviting to students. It would be technology rich and based on experiencing learning rather than passively accepting, memorizing and spewing facts. My school would foster inventors and leaders and inventors; life-long learners and innovators; mathematicians, scientists, authors, historians, gymnasts, artists, musicians, teachers, and creators. Would you send your child to a school like this?

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On Blog Titles

IMG_0132Blog titles are interesting. I know there are probably stories or inspirations behind every Blog’s title. On a regular basis, I like to read personal blogs. I enjoy behind the willows, all I want to say, faint starlite, and Life with Three Boys!. There are other blogs that I also enjoy reading occasionally as well, but these four I know well.

As for my blog title, my oldest daughter was the inspiration for the title of my blog. When I started blogging, the purpose was to share my thoughts and ideas with an audience who couldn’t visibly judge my ideas as dumb or ridiculous. I also enjoy writing and sometimes, the process of formulating my ideas into a blog post helps me think through a problem or solution as well as get it off my chest. I have had some amazingly loyal blog readers across the world, who have not judged, but encouraged me to write; even when I have take 3 month vacations from my blog.

Thinking of a title to encompass the ideals in the above paragraph wasn’t easy. At the time, Natalie was into describing things in terms of size. Things were as BIG AS THE UNIVERSE or as small as a dot. At night, when I tucked her in, she would tell me, “Mama, I love you BIG MUCH.” That meant a lot. She loved me as big as the universe. And that, my friends, is very big.

She warmed my heart with her ability to unconditionally love me as big as the universe. I wanted to think and learn and share with that vastness. So, I adopted her grammatically incorrect parlance for enormous, vast, large, and all-encompassing. Think. Big. Much. And, a blog title was born.

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On The Get-Up-And-Go

ImageI really like having four kids. I would have even had more, call me crazy. I always had visions of family soccer games or family softball games filling up the whole field with just our family. If my kids each have four kids when they get married, I will still have a chance – 4 x 4 = 16 + 10 adults = 26 people. When I am an old grandmother, I will be able to fill the softball field.

Each addition to our family has brought more depth, more challenges and more joy. Taylor came with my marriage to Riley. We have had a special bond since he was two years old. I got to practice being a mom without (sole) the responsibility of totally screwing him up. Natalie brought us a lot of joy. The first girl, the first baby for me, Taylor’s first sister. When we found out we were having James, I knew he was a boy right from the beginning. We had decided to name him after his to grandfathers and this brought a lot of pride to the family. Liberty’s addition to our family was a little unexpected, but welcomed. She has always been feisty, independent and has kept up with the rest of us very well.

You might have read lately that she hates being outside. Aside from that, though, I am really enjoying what I refer to as the “get-up-and-go.” All of the kids are potty trained, they can dress themselves with little or no help, they can walk, feed themselves and talk. I have been waiting for this for 5 years. Because, lets face it, even with more children, you can’t fill up a softball field with crawlers and droolers.

Our weekends lately have been a lot of fun. We have been able to do so much. This past weekend, for instance, we got up on Saturday, got dressed, brought the garbage to the dump and headed to Eau Claire. The kids and I visited Nana and Papa and played while Riley got a few things done at work. The kids can play at Nana and Papa’s house with a variety of interests. I got a workout done on the Eliptical and when Riley got back, he and I took Liberty and ran a couple of errands while the older two took turns playing video games with Nana. When we got home some of us took a nice, lengthy nap. The kids played with toys, had dinner and watched a movie. Sunday, we got up and headed over to a local hotel and took a swim. We were able to stay at the pool for over an hour, really getting our money’s worth, before going home for a snack and some shopping. Again the kids took out toys and played by themselves while Riley and I took turns running errands and getting housework done.

That afternoon, I took James and Natalie skating, sledding and to play at the park for almost 2 hours. Natalie and James can entertain themselves and climb up the hill after sledding on their own. They can explore the park and discover what is different about the playground in the winter. When we came home, they could take off their winter clothes independently. And, while I wouldn’t trade their baby and toddler years for anything, I love the “get-up-and-go.”

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I read a book recently that talked about the speed at which things moving our Society right now. Here are the comparisons:

100 mph The company
90 mph Civil society including NGOs
60 mph The American family
30 mph Unions
25 mph Government bureaucracies and regulatory agencies
10 mph The American School System
5 mph international/intergovernmental agencies
3 mph political structures in developed countries*

See how fast “the company” is moving? Technology – a competitive market – makes it possible to do surgeries without slicing someone’s abdomen open; to complete complex surgeries and less and less time; to speed up the healing process; to use imaging techniques that allow us to see inside the body in ways we’ve never done before.

Just in the cell phone market, think about how things have changed. In 2008 I had a big heavy cell phone that called people. Period. It really didn’t even fit in my pocket. Now, I surf the net, email, and compose blog posts. I watch movies, set reminders, use Facebook, and play solitaire. I text, Skype, check the weather and actually call people. On. My. Phone.

See how fast the government moves?

Now, politics aside, should we really let a turtle be in charge of a cheetah?

*ShiftEd: A Call to Action for Transforming K-12 Education, Houle & Cobb

This post was adapted based on a WordPress Writing Prompt: The Right to Health. I have written about political beliefs before and, in order to keep this from being a heavy, heady post, I adapted the prompt to focus specifically on government control of healthcare instead of addressing the prompt itself. I did tuck that prompt away in my memory bank and may revisit it at some point…

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