Nov 27, 2009

Post-GobbleFest Power Shopping

After yesterday's gobble-fest, there is more of me to love today. Fortunately, my weight doesn't fluctuate more than a few pounds since we adopted an exuberant dog who walks me a mile every morning, and another mile in the evening. I like walking this dog because it keeps me healthy, active, and it's free. I don't have to pay gym fees, and I doubt they'd let Kona in, anyway.

I often talk about being a smart consumer, but there are occasions where saving money just doesn't make sense. Not for everyone. Today, Black Friday, with temps hovering around freezing, the reports are coming in about those who camped out in front of Best Buy and other stores, in order to get in on some bargains. Electronics made in China, no doubt.

Me, I'll sleep in my warm bed, thanks.

Power shoppers regard the "discomfort" of lines, ill-mannered crowds, and freezing temps as part of the sport. Like deer hunters waiting in the tree stand, and having to gut the thing after the kill, it's "all part of the fun." The victory is what matters, whatever the cost.

I weigh the sanity of participating in Power Shopping with my need to save a few bucks. Aside from how much money I'll "save," won't I save even more by not shopping? Do I need more stuff? Is it worth a good night's sleep to acquire it at half off? Is the money better spent paying full price and being well-rested and congenial the next day?

Yeah, it is, at least for me.

Choose wisely and choose well. I'm rolling over for another snooze...

How will you choose to wisely spend your time and money today?

Nov 23, 2009

Cancer is Big Business

The USA Mitchell Cancer Institute has been open about a year in Mobile, AL. There is an article in this morning's paper about how successful it has been, and how patient visits are expected to top 40,000 next year.

What irony. Success is defined as many sick people.

Or, I suppose, in the eyes of the bean counters, if they're going to go someplace, at least they're coming to you. There's a lot of hype in the last 40 years about "finding a cure" for cancer. Forty years. No results. Just hype. Every October pink ribbons abound for "awareness" of women's breasts. Hello, you think men haven't already noticed? Please.

I read a book a dozen years ago called Why We Will Never Win the War on AIDS. One reason is the same for which we'll never win the "War on Cancer." There is too much money to be made in treating and politicizing it. No money is to be made if a cure is found.

You won't find me running in Relay for Life. You won't find me sporting pink ribbons. You might, however, find me praying for and crying over those I've lost to Cancer. Or taking my elderly friends to the bank, the grocery store, radiation appointments, and so on.

Substance over style. No hype. No money. Just quietly meeting the needs of the sick and infirm.

Whose needs will you meet in a practical way today?

Nov 22, 2009

Interview Question: Your Weakness?

Although I've not interviewed for a full-time teaching position per se, job interviews are job interviews. Some of the questions, from stories I've heard, are identical and as equally nerve-wracking as for non-teaching jobs.

The one I hate most is, "Tell me about your greatest weakness." My problem is, I don't focus on my weaknesses. I focus on the things I can do with excellence.

Some good advice is to answer the question using the phrase, "My growth areas are..." We all have areas in which we can grow, if doing so is an effective use of our time. I cannot hit the high notes when I sing, sometimes. Should I work on that, or is my energy better spent using the gifts and talents I have?

As a guest teacher in hundreds of classrooms, I can tell you what my weaknesses would be in the position of full time teacher. If a principal ever asks me the weakness question, I'm ready. Here's my answer:

"I missed those teacher's in-services on time-travel, mind reading, and human cloning. It's unfortunate, because I know that those skills would make me much more effective in my job. However, until I have the opportunity to make them up, I operate as effectively as I can within the boundaries that I can only be in one place at a time, I cannot read minds, and there is only one of me."

Come to think of it, those skills would make me a more effective parent, too. Good thing there's no interview required for that.

What can you do with excellence within your boundaries today?

Nov 21, 2009

Judge Not...

It's always amusing to me when supposed adults, who don't want to be told what to do, use the verse "Judge not, lest ye be judged" as their justification to disregard others. They're really saying that anything goes. If no one can judge another, then you can't judge me, and whatever I want to do is fine.

Toddlers don't like to be told "no." They want to do what they want to do, and woe be to the parent or teacher who instructs them in the boundaries of appropriate behavior. If a toddler had the vocabulary to do so, he would tell his mommy to "judge not..."

Do you see the problem here?

Fact is, there ARE boundaries on acceptable behavior in our world, and toddlers had better learn about them before they go to school. What teacher is going to let Johnny write with crayons on the wall or jump off his desk, merely because he tells her to "judge not?" Why do we have laws such as murder being a capital offense if we are not to "judge" others?

Why? Because the verse "Judge not lest ye be judged" is not advising the disregard of right and wrong. Read the verse after that and you'll see "With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you again." It's saying don't be a hypocrite! If you tell me that it is wrong to lie, you better not lie.

We are expected, as adults, to judge, to discern right and wrong, and to instruct our children on the boundaries of acceptable behavior. It's not wrong to tell your toddler "no." You're not going to damage their precious self-esteem. You'll instead do the world a favor by instilling in him "other-esteem," the regard for the rights of others.

We'll all be happy.

What boundaries will you set for your children today?

Nov 17, 2009

Teaching Ain't What It Used to Be

I have a friend who is a very enthusiastic 4th grade teacher. She loves to teach. She loves the kids. She is full of energy. She is positive, encouraging, and just a blessing everywhere she goes. Parents request that their child be in her class, because she has such a good reputation.

She is rethinking her career path.

How can someone so excellent rethink something she does so well? Because teaching isn't what it used to be. One thousand teachers a day quit teaching. NCLB has mandated so much record keeping and reporting, there are so many special-needs kids in her class, class sizes have grown because of budget cuts, that she really doesn't get to teach much any more. She spends more time in "redirecting" kids with disruptive behavior than teaching the "normal" students who are there to learn.

Let me get this straight. The teachers don't get to teach. The bureaucrats in the state and national capitals sure aren't in the trenches teaching. It's a cinch they've never tried to teach sugared-up first graders how to subtract. They're passing more and more requirements that strangle the school schedules, leaving no money or time for electives like Social Studies, computer, music, or art. They've removed the element of joy from the profession. Sounds like a recipe for burn-out.

Don't wonder why your child comes home complaining that their teacher is "mean." She had to "redirect" all day, every day, 180 days a year. Don't wonder why Johnny has 3 hours of homework to do in the evening. Classroom time was taken up by the disruptive students, who needed to be "redirected" time and time again.

When teaching was teaching, a lot of teachers were excellent. But behavior management and documentation are not subjects you are taught in Teacher College.

It's about time Teacher Colleges started teaching reality instead of theory, don't you think? Maybe then there would be fewer pie-eyed graduates with visions of making a difference in a child's life. If they raised the bar on admissions, it would reduce the glut of teachers looking for work. If they gave them more student teaching and less theory, these would-be teachers can see for themselves what it's like in the trenches.

Only the truly committed would stay in the program. It would reduce the turnover of teachers leaving the profession in 5 years or less. If there were fewer teachers graduating, the schools would have to pay more to attract the best teachers.

The teaching profession would be valued more if the Teacher Colleges themselves valued excellence over money.

If only, if only.

Nov 13, 2009

To Video Game, or Not To Video Game?

One of the financial literacy examples in our home is the distinction between needs & wants. This identification doesn't deter the kids from wanting video games, however. Once in a while I let the kids buy a game with their own hard-earned money.

It seems like not much time has passed before I see them on the computer, at gamefaqs, looking up cheat codes or "walk-throughs," which is turn-by-turn directions to navigate through each level.

I asked them who they suppose writes the walk-throughs. They hadn't thought about it. I asked them to suppose that the walk-throughs were written by the same guy who wrote the game. He would know all the secret codes, cheats, and passages, wouldn't he? But why would anyone write the game AND write the gamefaqs?

Follow the money.

Yeah. Think about two possibilities.

First scenario. You buy a game, work it out yourself, and it takes you forever to figure out the secret passages. You spend months or possibly years trying to beat the game. Whew!

Second scenario. You go to gamefaqs, look up the walk through and/or cheat codes, and beat the game inside of a week. It's not fun any more, because you've already beaten it. Then you beg your mom for a new game.

Which option makes more money for the game writers?


What "game" are you going to work out for yourself today, preventing extravagant spending at the same time?

Nov 11, 2009

Teens and Parents - a Delicate Balance

Ever since the dawn of man, teens have been embarrassed by their parents. Parents are the un-coolest people who ever walked the face of the earth (unless your name is Aimee, Kelly, or Jack Osbourne, maybe) and no teen wants to be seen with his parents more than absolutely necessary.

This is age-appropriate behavior. If you saw a teenager still clinging to his mommy, you'd really think he had problems. The trick is to get your teen to want to stay in touch with you. You need to know what's going on in his/her life, for safety's sake, but you don't want them tethered to you for ever.

Such a delicate balance.

One mom I know uses a "advise but don't check" method of parenting. She tells her daughter that she can only see PG-13 and below rated movies, but mom doesn't check the ticket stubs to see which movie the daughter saw. The daughter knows what's expected of her. The mom allows her to make her own decisions. Consequences only occur if she gets "caught."

That can work with movies, but as an overall philosophy of parenting, I'm not sure I like that. My parenting is more relationship based. You can't wake up one day and start this with a teenager, however. You have to have started from wee-small.

It goes like this: My children love me, and because we have a good relationship, they don't want to disappoint me. I love them and they know it. They have expectations of me and I have expectations of them. If they go beyond the sensible boundaries I have set, they see the hurt in my face.

I don't yell or throw things - I express my disappointment, that I expected better than that out of them. Their own conscience hurts them more than my yelling.

One of the best things we have are cell phones with unlimited texting. My daughter would rather die than to be seen talking to her mother on the phone. But a quick, quiet text letting me know where she is, she's ok, what time she's coming home - how cool is that? She could be texting Lady Gaga for all her friends know.

My teens are my "friends" on Facebook, but I never "like" or comment (publicly) on anything they post. I am training them to present a good image. I speak to them if there is anything presenting an image contrary to the one they want to present. ("The next time you have a job interview, they're going to see this. Are you sure it's part of your brand?")

Whether in person or electronically, it's important to keep up with them. Start when they're small, build a relationship of love and trust, and let them keep in contact their way. Add the electronics only when they're ready and when the relationship is already established. Those lines of communication allow you to coach and guide them from adolescence to adulthood, in a language they understand.

What language are you using to talk to teens today?

Nov 10, 2009

Hurricanes & Hunkerin' Down

When Jim Cantore visits your town, look out! He's the hotshot from the Weather Channel who wants to be where the action is.

This late in the season, no one was prepared for a hurricane. So when Ida roared up to a Category 2 and headed for Mobile, hurried preparations were made. Ok, we didn't board up, but we checked water, batteries, radio, and counted 52 cards in the deck for our nonelectric entertainment.

I said special prayers of thanks that the temperature was cool enough that we wouldn't have to endure sleepless nights in unbearable heat & humidity, as we did in previous post-hurricane power outages.

Hurricane Ida made landfall two hours ago. she was downgraded to a tropical storm, and J.D. Crowe said "Jim Cantore [was] downgraded to Arrogant Guy Hanging Out on the Beach."

Even though the storm didn't turn out to be much of a storm, we as a family are counting the bonus time as a great opportunity to do things together: bake cookies, play scrabble, and catch up on reruns of "Touched By an Angel."

Yeah, we'll have to make up these school days. They'll whack a day or two off Thanksgiving or Christmas break. But it's so worth it to have a "surprise" day off. I can hardly wait to get going.

Those little pauses give an unexpected opportunity to reflect & reconnect.

What opportunities will you use to reflect, and with whom will you reconnect today?

Nov 9, 2009

Moms: The Original Multitaskers

When we were kids, we used to beat Mom at chess pretty regularly. When we were adults, she told us why. The kid was playing chess. Mom was compiling her grocery list, her dinner menu, her laundry schedule, etc etc.

Multitasking is a myth.

You cannot really focus on more than one thing at a time. Computers have parallel processors. You have one brain. If it looks like you're doing two things at once, you're really only focused on one of them. The real question is, how good are you at switching back & forth between tasks, and how many nanoseconds are lost in the switch? Young brains, some studies say, are better at switching, and so it appears that they are better at multitasking. I say it depends on the individual. I know young men who cannot switch focus to save their lives. If the house were on fire, they'd burn to death before they could take their eyes off the video game du jour. I know plenty of middle aged moms who are experts at it.

What mom doesn't juggle a multitude of pins?

Look at the hats we wear: personal valet, chef, maid, housekeeper, taxi driver, nurse, tutor, coach, cheerleader, household administrator ... There aren't enough hours in the day to do all that unless we overlap. Now we have spreadsheets, PDAs and other electronics to help us juggle our ever growing schedule. We quiz our times tables in the car on the way to school. We pick up fast food and eat on our way to sports practice.

In Home Ec class (now known as Family & Consumer Science) in high school, our teacher called it dovetailing. It's performing two essential activities simultaneously. For instance, while your cookies are in the oven, you start wiping the counters. It's an efficient use of time.

The problem, then, lies in "the moment." I've arrived at destinations barely aware that I drove there. I wasn't focused on my driving at all.


I saw a six-car pileup on the highway yesterday. I wonder how many of them were multitaskers. Today I'm going to be more aware of the present. I may even beat my son at chess.

On what are you going to focus today?

Nov 7, 2009

Splenda, Story Problems, and Stupidity

When money is your god, there is never enough.

I read in the paper today where the Splenda plant in McIntosh, Alabama is "ahead of schedule" in closing. Is this supposed to be good news? Pre-tax profits were $185,000,000. Most of the 120 workers are laid off. Production will continue in Singapore.

Ok, so somewhere in Singapore, people are working and children are being fed. I'm happy for them. But it still doesn't make sense to the ones in Alabama. They did all the right things and lost their jobs. It only makes sense to those who worship money. All they can think of is more, more, more.

When I teach math to first graders, I explain that story problems often have "clue words" that tell you if you are to add or subtract. If the story talks about how you have something, and then you get MORE, you are to add. If the question is comparative, how many MORE do you have than your friend, then you subtract.

How would you explain this confusing story problem? Adding profits equals fewer jobs equals more hungry children, whose bellies won't be filled by Singapore Splenda. Fewer jobs equals more family stress, breakdown of families, neighborhoods, societies.

The gap between the rich and poor grows ever wider. Welcome to Brazil II.

What can you do to help feed those hungry babies today?

Nov 5, 2009

Good New Days

I'm not sure how my mind segues from one topic to another, but I was reminded today of candy I used to eat when I was a kid: Black Cow. I wondered if products we loved in our youth will be once again available to us in Heaven, not that I'm in a hurry to get there.

Then I wondered what was so great about them, other than that they reminded me of childhood. People always talk about "The Good Old Days" when they were carefree and had no worries.

I don't remember mine being so good, and I had plenty of worries.

I was bullied in the nice, Catholic school to which my parents made huge sacrifices to send my siblings and me. The teachers liked me, but the kids were awful.

I was worried about grades. A's were acceptable. B's were not.

I had to walk to the convent for guitar lessons, and as a tiny 4th grader, that guitar was awfully heavy. I could not ride a bike and carry the guitar, so I walked on guitar lesson days.

I don't remember going hungry particularly, but we did have a large family, and Sister Angela (God rest her soul) used to give me Holy cards as a reward if I'd gain a pound.

That was many years ago, and I don't remember it generally being a happy, joyous time.

Today I have confidence I didn't have then. I have a much better self-image. I have knowledge and wisdom. I am focused on doing for others, instead of me me me. That, my friends, is the hallmark of maturity, whether age 8 or 80.

Being happy with oneself and one's life, and having hope for the future trumps sitting around complaining how much better the olden days were, and that you can't buy black cows. Eat a Milkdud. Same candy, different shape. Whatever.

What's better about your present life?

Nov 3, 2009

Playing With People's Lives

Something is going on in Ukraine.

Supposedly 70 people have died of swine flu. Now it seems the number is closer to 1500, and the symptoms mimic pneumonic plage. Is it a bioweapon unleashed? By whom? Cui bono? (For whose enrichment?)

I'm not trusting the official party line about the 70 who were tagged "heart attack" or other causes, and I'm not trusting the "aerosol inhaler" version of the swine flu vaccine. The last thing we need is a hefty dose of toxic droplets floating around the air.

Heaven help us.

Pneumonic plague occurs when Y. pestis infects the lungs. This type of plague can spread from person to person through the air. Transmission can take place if someone breathes in aerosolized bacteria, which could happen in a bioterrorist attack. Pneumonic plague is also spread by breathing in Y. pestis suspended in respiratory droplets from a person (or animal) with pneumonic plague. Becoming infected in this way usually requires direct and close contact with the ill person or animal.

Pneumonic plague may also occur if a person with bubonic or septicemic plague is untreated and the bacteria spread to the lungs.

Nov 2, 2009

Dogs & Babies - The Litmus Test

If you ever want to make some change in your family, work, or community, take the litmus test of dogs and babies to help you decide if it makes sense.

Should we set the clocks ahead an hour in the spring, and back again in the fall? Litmus answer: No. Dogs and babies are on their own schedule, and just because you want to snooze for an extra hour in October, your dog and/or baby will not let you. He or she will be raring to go at the usual time. This policy of time change makes no sense. Several states acknowledge this fact. My state, unfortunately, does not.

Should we tax families to death so that a single wage earner cannot sustain even a lower-middle-class lifestyle? Again, litmus test answer: no. Babies should be with someone who loves them. Who loves them more than their mamas? Dogs want you home. They're not interested in waiting all day for life to begin.

Should we decorate a Christmas tree? Sure! Babies love the bright lights, and dogs... well, never mind.

Everything I need to know I learned from my dogs and babies.

What did you learn today?