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Where Is Excellence?

Earlier this month, I posted a video of the most honest “commencement” speech young graduates of today should be required to hear. Almost every day this week, I’ve talked with at least one person (most of whom were educators) who expressed his or her deep concern about the current state of education and learning in our country.Scholarship-clip-art-300x264In my state, there’s been an ongoing discussion about Common Core and the state Board of Education has been re-evaluating. Earlier this week, it appeared they’d be adopting another curriculum. However, decision-makers have ruled against the recommendations of a review committee and the process is dividing educators and reviewers. Continue Reading →

The Shocking Lure of Celebrity

Usually, I take less than minimal interest in the ways congressmen or women choose to decorate their DC offices. It’s mostly trivial to me. However, when a congressman decides to go with the Downton Abbey motif (at a cost of $40,000), that piques my curiosity (and causes me to question his wisdom). The unfortunate revelations surrounding U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL) have gradually surfaced, leading to his resignation announcement today.

FROM:  http://tiny.cc/6o0nvx

FROM: http://tiny.cc/6o0nvx

Schock made a pretty big impression in the nation’s capital. He recently was described this way by Politico:  The guy might just be America’s most photogenic congressman. The Men’s Health cover (above) dates from June 2011. The congressman rose quickly through the ranks and enjoyed wide margins of victory in his most recent elections. Continue Reading →

Doomed To Repeat

Apparently, there are several people who have observed some variation of the quote:  those who refuse to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Among those to whom this concept is attributed are Edmund Burke and George Santayana.HistoryBookHistory

As a child, history didn’t make it to my Top 3 list. I’ve come to believe that was because my teachers weren’t especially jazzed about it either. It was simply like Latin to them … a dead language, but part of the core curriculum they were required to teach. Later on, when I had a history professor in college who clearly loved history – it was embedded in his DNA, I think – his love was so contagious, every one of his students found they loved it too.

In the years since that history class, I’ve learned just how much I love history. However, one of the things that disappoints me is The History Channel. So often I’ll sit down to view a program I thought I’d enjoy, but much of what is presented is a fantastical approach to history! Conjecture is okay in its place (if you have some reasonable basis for conjecture) but I’m bothered when people naturally think if something has aired on The History Channel, it’s completely factual. Viewers are hoodwinked into believing what’s presented on some programs, without ever knowing it’s not based in fact! Continue Reading →

Stop! In The Name of the Law!

jerry brownAs I compose this post, I feel it’s necessary to say I’m not intentionally picking on Governor Jerry Brown. It may seem so to some readers who read yesterday’s post, but honestly, the things that go on in California are so removed from my life as to be superficial … though not inconsequential, since the wacky legislation passed on the coasts often migrates over time to the middle of the country.

Still, I’ve been hearing so much about recent pieces of legislation (besides the Yes means Yes law) over the last couple days … statements repeatedly prefaced by Governor Jerry Brown of California just signed into law … He has been a very busy man!! Maybe it’s just a handful of the bills he’s signed, but from the news reports, it seems like he’s been doing nothing from 9 to 5 but fixing his John Hancock to legislation! Continue Reading →

What It Was Like To Be Free

We’ve all heard them, the jokes that begin with Two men go into a bar …image

For my mom and me today, it was not a joke and went something like this … Two women walk into a Social Security office in suburban St. Louis … no drinks, but a truckload of bureaucracy. I’ll back up a minute to explain.

My dear mother is legally blind as well as hearing-impaired. (She handles these challenges without complaint.) She needs regular blood tests to avoid future episodes of DVT, so she’s a familiar face at the nearby hospital. But the last couple times at her appointment sign-in, they’ve been adamant she needs to have her records changed (Medicare) to conform with the name on her birth certificate. (She’s been called by her middle name all her life.)

Hence, the trip to the Social Security office. Paperwork had to be completed and filed, executive orders had to be approved. There was no blood required, but we brought ours … just in case. The required paperwork had already been mailed to her. I filled it out. Then she needed to bring the paperwork, plus suitable ID to the SS office in order to process the necessary name correction. Should be simple, right?

If you think that, you would be wrong. Continue Reading →

I Will Not Comply!

button_census_1970Back in 1970, I was newly married with my Beloved in his last semester of college and I took a job as a census enumerator for the Decennial US Census. My assignment included multiple rural areas in Arkansas and a few small town/suburban areas.

In completing my assignment, I learned a great deal about life in parts of the county vastly different from the city of St. Louis where I’d spent most of my life prior to my marriage. Some of the things I learned were surprising. For instance, many of the rural folks whose homes I visited had yet to experience the pleasure of indoor plumbing.

One lovely woman eagerly invited me into her kitchen where a single spigot was ensconced on a pedestal in the middle of the room. This was her running water (only cold, no hot) and she was absolutely tickled to have that faucet and share her good fortune with me!

At another location, I arrived (in my car) at an address and as I surveyed my surroundings, I noted a man waving frantically at me from his open-door outhouse. When he saw me acknowledge his wave back, he briefly shut the door, completed his business and exited the outhouse. With great eagerness, he hurried my way. (No, I didn’t shake his hand.)

Needless to say, the two or three months I worked as an enumerator were memorable and enlightening! When I’m researching online census records as I work through my genealogy, I’m often reminded of those adventures. In addition to the amusing experiences mentioned above, there were also poignant occasions like the day I knocked on the door of a grieving dad who had just returned from the funeral for his seven-year-old daughter. He sobbed and though I told him I’d return another day, he urged me to complete the questions that day. Continue Reading →

Picked Clean . . . Again

What more can I or do I need to say?

limerick, taxes, April 15, Uncle Sam, poetry, poem, light verse

Poem: Tax Lament

I Yam What I Yam!

poetrycoverContinuing to mark National Poetry Month with today’s post, I decided to address poetry specifically before eventually posting today’s poem. My new friend and fellow-blogger over at themaskedrabbitsblog posed a terrific question in her comment on my post from two days ago. (She also gave me a superb compliment − “I love your poems” − which of course is even more endearing!) I’m reproducing her comment below for your convenience in reading.

First of all, Bunny, it’s not a silly question and I appreciate your candor. (For readers who haven’t checked out Bunny’s blog, I love it! On the About page, Bunny describes herself as someone with “… a soft heart and a scratchy exterior.” Such refreshing honesty! That vulnerability runs through her posts and is conveyed via a warm and lively writing style.)

Where do I start with Bunny’s question? I begin with the exact time when I first learned to write (kindergarten? first grade?). The potential to communicate and choose particular words for the most precise meaning came to me early. Once I could move from verbal to written communication, I knew I’d tapped into POWER! There was a sense, a self-evident sense, that I am a writer. (“I think, therefore I am.” from my namesake, René Descartes.) In those elementary school years, I was already writing poetry, but I didn’t (at that time) consider myself a poet, just a writer.

By the time I reached high school, I had begun my first novel. I was a junior or senior when I participated with ten or twelve classmates in a Creative Writing class. It was an unusual class for the time because we weren’t required to stay in the classroom. As long as we were working on our writing assignments, the teacher gave us freedom to write wherever we chose. I continued working on my novel and other class assignments.

I took an extended hiatus from writing after high school, a period that lasted until after my children came along. I didn’t stop creating and there was always something to be written or edited, but mostly, I read, devouring stacks of books. When I nursed a baby, I’d hold the child with one arm and a book in my free hand. When the children were at T-ball, I’d sit in the bleachers reading a book. Many of the classics I hadn’t read during childhood were enjoyed while I was attending an event but free to remove myself mentally and concentrate on reading.

As the children grew, my longing to recapture my avocation resurfaced. At that point, I had ceased calling myself a writer; it was a hobby, a favorite pastime. This was mid-70s and through the 80s, a time when production and success established one’s bona fides. For a writer, production and success meant circulating multiple pieces to multiple publishers and actually being published. I could claim neither … so I accepted the conventional judgment, believing and admitting I wasn’t a writer.

But I knew in my heart I was.

Over the years, I did achieve publication in fiction, non-fiction and poetry. I earned income doing free-lance work on assignment, submitting over-the-transom pieces from time to time, and I continued to work on personal projects. (There’s a concept from the dark ages! I’m not even sure writers make “over-the-transom” submissions any more!)

Turning a corner, in 2010 my younger daughter urged me to begin a blog (yes, this one). Previously, I’d avoided blogs with the excuse, “I want to r-e-a-l-l-y write, not just blog.” So my early efforts on this blog were half-hearted at best.

My daughter knows I’m a writer, just as I knew, but my production track record suffered hit and miss. At the time, I was mostly writing poetry and distraction came in a variety of ways. Further, only a few pieces of my poetry were deemed (by me) worthy of publication. I still didn’t think of myself as a poet.

Younger daughter and I often talk writing. (She’s talented and knows so much more than me!) We were talking poetry one day and I related to her my pleasure at having some focused writing time. I admitted a sense of inadequacy as a writer, because no matter how much poetry energized me, I told her, I’m not a poet! Without a moment’s hesitation, my daughter replied, “What are you talking about? I’ve always known you were a poet!”

Her words stunned me. Immediately, I recognized the truth of her statement, this daughter who somehow understands me better than I understand myself.

I am a poet! I AM A POET! I’d never have made that assertion a year ago. Yes, I’ve written plenty of poetry but rarely considered it worthy. (In truth, I have produced my share of drivel.) Still, I know with certainty that I’m maturing as a writer and poet. Even a subjective assessment tells me I’m a better poet today than I was a year ago … and certainly better than ten years ago. I’m comfortable today in asserting I am a poet.

Probably the most significant thing I’ve learned (only in the last year) is transparency, being open to invite others in, allowing others access to my poetry. That’s a huge step for me because I’ve spent my life wanting to be a home run hitter! Yet I’m forced to acknowledge the majority of my poems fall short. In a move that surprises even me, I’m posting poems I never intended to share!

Which brings me to this post’s poem, written in free verse with occasional rhyme. I was never able to craft this poem as I’d hoped. The nugget was there but it lacked … what?! Some quality I’m still trying to figure out!

Nevertheless, the poem addresses Bunny’s question. We set self-imposed limits on our art, including a reluctance to own the name poet. Have you been published? Is that the sine qua non for a writer? A poet? Who established that rule? Furthermore, why should we accept the rule as definitive?

Legacy, poet, poetry, poem, free verse

Poem: Legacy

A book from 2011 was titled Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow. While there’s little money in writing poetry, the first half of that title is an excellent guideline. Do you love writing poetry? Do it then. Develop your craft, strive to become the best you can be at it. Don’t concern yourself with labels. Eventually, someone will look at you and exclaim, “You’re a poet!” You can smile back and nod, “Yes, I am.”

An insistent little voice in your head will add:  “See? How could you ever have doubted?”

Un_President’s Day

washingtonIf you went to the Post Office today and were greeted by a shuttered window, you learned the hard way today is officially celebrated as Washington’s Birthday thanks to the 1968 adoption of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, first effective in 1971. This act essentially standardized federal holidays to conform to Monday-only status (enabling three-day weekends).

The day is generally known and recognized by many states as Presidents’ Day. (When you search Wikipedia for the term Presidents’ Day, you’re redirected to the Washington’s Birthday entry.) Some states deem this day a dual holiday, celebrating the births of both Washington and Lincoln. The crazy thing is neither man’s birthday falls on this day, the 17th! Washington’s birthdate is February 22nd, while Lincoln’s is February 12th.

Here in my home state of Arkansas, in addition to its George Washington birthday status, the day is also set aside to commemorate Daisy Gatson Bates, a civil rights activist involved in the 1957 Little Rock integration efforts at Central High School.lincoln_sketch

Ah, now maybe I didn’t sleep well last night … I don’t know but I’m feeling cranky. My tendency is to think this “day” being set aside is another irritating symptom of weightier issues.

Certainly, as a federal holiday, lots of people enjoy this paid day off and they do so … on the taxpayer’s dime. Those of us who don’t have paid days away from jobs might have a hard time justifying our compulsory generosity. (I recall the US carrying some $17 trillion in debt. How much does each federal holiday cost us?)

Yes, I’m aware this Presidents’ Day is just intended as an observance which means I’m free to commemorate the actual birthdays if I choose and as I see fit. And yes, I understand the Congress − in its creation of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act − was simply trying to introduce some efficiency and uniformity into government operations.

ASIDE:  Did I actually write that? Using the words Congress and efficiency in the same sentence? Did anyone else trip over that sentence?

But ignore the costs of “shutting down government” (wasn’t that considered an objectionable thing just last fall?) for this or other federal holidays! Who among us believes that making a holiday for all Presidents … or even some Presidents truly honors them all? In my view, designating one day to honor all dilutes the honor they are due! It’s akin to deciding as a family to incorporate all birthdays into one celebration … yuck! Nobody feels special or appreciated then!

I also have something of a bone to pick with my own state. While I have nothing against honoring Daisy Gatson Bates, I’m bewildered that the date chosen to honor her coincides with Washington’s birthday. There are designated days for memorializing other Arkansas notables, but this one − coupled as it is with our first President’s birthday − puzzles me as a combination. Did the legislators simply pull a date out of a hat?

(If you happen to know the background for this choice, dating from 2001 I think, please let me know!)

I have already acknowledged Abraham Lincoln on this blog here. When our first President’s birthday actually occurs, I expect I’ll have a post about him as well. But my natural contrariness causes me to reject this day, this so-called Presidents’ Day for many reasons beyond what I’ve already mentioned.

As an example of how the silliness of Presidents’ Day has proliferated, today’s local news teased its opening by declaring:  It’s Presidents’ Day! And the day wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the Clinton House Museum!

Indeed, I must rush along now! I think the place is only open until 5 p.m.

… Oops! They closed at 4:30 p.m. Maybe next year?

Stop Calling Me!

Small-WOMAN-YELLING-PHONE420X70-300x336Fair warning:  this post will be a major peeve-blog, a rant, an all-out hissy fit! I am MAD!

If you think this might possibly offend your reading pleasure today, I urge you to take some time away and return when suitably prepared to participate in my full-bore detonation.

Okay, if you’re still reading, let’s begin.

It was a day like many others. I had worked my way through email, online news, and other assorted tasks. I think I was enjoying the remaining half of a second cup of coffee when the land line phone rang. Of course, I looked first at the caller id and though the number didn’t look familiar, I foolishly answered the call.

“Hello,” said the perky voice, “this is Rachel from card services calling about your credit card …” yada, yada, yada. Now Rachel and her friend Heather are familiar voices on the          other end of my phone line … all too familiar!!! Of course, I listened long enough to hear the “Press 9 to be removed.” That I immediately did.

credit_card2-001Then I went upstairs to get the last of my Christmas decorations put away. I was removing the wreaths that had been hung outside the dormer windows. In the midst of that task (it was maybe an hour after the first call), my cell phone rang. This time, the caller id said “Unknown” and yet again, I foolishly answered it! And … you guessed it, another Robocall from Rachel!

This time, I decided to press through and I talked with a fellow (Enrique, I think he said) who assured me if I actually understood why he was calling, I would be oh, so very glad to talk with him! (Because he believed in all of the other Rachel-Robocalls I’d received, nobody had thoroughly explained. Right!) So, in addition to insisting on my removal (REMOVAL!) from this call list, I clearly informed him:

(1) I don’t have credit card debt … not $3,000 … not $300 … not even $30! I pay every credit card balance − in full − every single month!
(2) I am registered with every DO NOT CALL list I can find and it is against the law to call me!
(3) So once more, with feeling this time, remove me from your &#)@% list!

I’m pretty sure Rachel’s going to be calling me back.

DoNotCallRegistry-Logo.svgApparently, there are scores of other people similarly annoyed by Rachel and her minions! But what exactly is being done to stop this harassment?

Ha! All of our numbers are on the government’s so-called “do not call” list, and we update them regularly! I’ve been on this registry since it was first announced. Over the last couple years, every time I receive a Robocall, I’ve gone to the website and filed a complaint. Has it made any difference? Pshaw! What do you think?

Cynicism has definitely set in. I can just envision how that government program began. A couple bureaucrats sitting in a back room complain about fielding complaints from Americans who are sick and tired of telemarketers. Some are even complaining they’ve had to get new phone numbers just to keep the telemarketers at bay!

So one bureaucrat says to the others, “Hey, we could put up a website! Get people to sign up.”

Other guy says, “Great idea! They might even get the impression signing up will stop the calls.”

Third guy hops on the bandwagon, “Yeah, it’ll be easy. A website proves we’ve taken measures to fix the problem and if the calls don’t stop, people should understand. I mean, we’re not miracle-workers.”

First guy comes back, saying, “Dude, people love cruising the web! It’ll be great! If they like their phone numbers, now they can keep ’em. Period!”

All three bureaucrats raise their hands in a group high five! Second guy mimics Jim Carrey (with exaggerated lower jaw jutting outward) and says, “Oh, yeah, we have a winner!”

And the rest of us are saps for having expected this farce to carry the effective force of the federal government. (Can you feel my cynicism growing?) I guess I’m not the only one who’s disgusted with the farcical do-not-call registry. Columnist James Lileks describes its usefulness as something akin to using a piece of paper for a “shield against a rocket-propelled grenade.” Too true.

Last year, I decided to just let the guy on the other end talk and try to convince me I needed his great offer. He began by claiming he could access my accounts. That’s when my blood pressure started to rise. I asked him how he could access my accounts since I’d never given him permission to do so! I asked him which credit card information he was accessing − without my permission. He hemmed and hawed and every time he tried to proceed, I’d interrupt him with the same question:  why are you accessing my information when I’ve never given you permission to do so???!

Of course, my intent was to keep him on the phone until he answered my question. What right do any of these “card services” have to access sensitive data without permission? Eventually, this man got angry and said, “You’re wasting my time, you bitch!” He then hung up. I don’t like confrontational calls − and I certainly don’t appreciate being called ugly names, but I felt justified in repeating my pertinent question until I received a response. In the end, I didn’t receive one, but perhaps … I don’t know. I was going to say, maybe he’ll take my name off his list, but that’s probably more than I can hope for.

Not long after that hateful call, my son-in-law let his two year old daughter handle what looked to be (on the caller id) a Robocall. (It was.) She babbled and baby-talked for about ninety seconds and given her short attention span, eventually got bored and concluded, “I love you.” Then she walked away.

I think she handled the call better than I would have done. But I’m starting to worry that they may have believed her “I love you.” Now they’re calling me back hoping for a little more love.

Grrrr! It’s not going to happen!

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