Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Well, There Goes Another One

Earlier this week, the New York Post published an article that kind of spoiled a long running story in the DC Comics universe. Yeah, I'm going there. Putting on my geek hat. The spoiler that the Post spoiled? The latest character to serve as Batman's protege, Robin, would die in this week's issue of Batman, Incorporated.

I haven't read the issue yet, so I don't know the extreme details of the current Robin's demise. I know it has something to do with him dying a heroic death, which is a long way from where the character began when he was introduced to the world several years ago.

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Writer Grant Morrison brought Damian Wayne into the Batman family when he first started writing the Batman title in 2006. Damian, as it turns out, is the biological son of Bruce Wayne and Talia al Ghul. Talia, you may know from being recently portrayed by Marion Cotillard in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises. Since he was raised in secret, far away from his heroic father, he grew up in the care of the League of Assassins. He spent his formidable years learning how to kill without remorse. Thus, he had a lot to atone for once he decided to be a part of Batman's life.

Damian didn't don Robin's tights right away. He needed to prove himself. And over the years, he's done that. Comic book fans have come to (mostly) enjoy reading Damian's story as he's learned to follow his father's rules. He's had some trouble with the "no killing" policy that's posted on the wall of the Batcave. But, overall, he's grown a lot and has found a great deal of redemption.

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This isn't the first time DC Comics has killed off Batman's sidekick. In 1989, at the conclusion of a Batman storyline "A Death in the Family," the Joker beat Robin to death with a crowbar. At the time, Robin was a street kid named Jason Todd. Fans didn't like Jason so much. In fact, DC decided to let the fans decide whether or not Robin would survive the beating. Fans were willing to dial into a 900-number. In the end, the votes were tallied and the populous gave the thumbs down. Robin would die, all because the majority didn't like him.

Jason Todd, as it turns out, got better. Due to some somewhat creative storytelling, he came back to life and now runs around as a vigilante calling himself the Red Hood. Could the same thing happen with Damian? From what I understand, he was killed by a clone of himself. If there's one clone, there could be others, right? Then there are the mythical Lazarus Pits, which are under the control of Damian's mother, Talia. What's a Lazarus Pit? It's this thing that has regenerative powers that can bring the dead to life. Pretty convenient plot twist in a comic book world.

So we have another Robin dead. Rumor has it, this death is gonna stick. For a long time, Jason Todd's "death" took a huge toll on Batman. For a while, he vowed not to take on another Robin. That was until a kid named Timothy Drake deduced Batman's secret identity and took it upon himself to convince the Dark Knight that he was better off with a Robin by his side. Drake could see that Batman was darker and less in control of himself without his sidekick around. It took a while for Bruce to warm up to the kid, but eventually, Tim made for a brilliant Robin.

How much harder will the Batman take Robin's death now that the kid behind the mask is his own flesh and blood? Will he decide to take another Robin under his wing? It seems like a pretty dangerous job to apply for. I mean, sure, you get to hang out with Batman every day. But, you have to wear a bright red and yellow costume. Batman can hide in the shadows wearing all black. Meanwhile, you're like a bright neon sign that screams SHOOT AT ME! I'M AN EASY TARGET! Any kids out there really want to volunteer?
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For the record, the job has been an equal opportunity position in the past. In 2011, DC rebooted its universe, so some of the previous continuity has been wiped out. But it should be noted that there have been two female Robins. One, Carrie Kelly, is a Robin that never really existed in the regular continuity. She's a character that showed up in Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns. The second girl to be called Robin was Stephanie Brown. She actually existed in the DC universe, that is until she was erased from existence by the ginormous reboot. She also served as Batgirl for an all too short period of time.

So Batman has a job opening. The question is, how quickly will he want to fill it? I can't imagine there will be a vacancy for very long. After all, one of the popular Batman series' just happens to be titled Batman and Robin. Not much of a title without the Robin. So, I have a feeling we haven't seen the last kid wearing an R over his (or her) heart.

Better Living Through Science

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Last week I was going to post this, but I got interrupted by a bunch of rude kids who made me get mean one day. Things are a bit calmer this week. 

I'm pretty sure I enjoyed 1st grade when I was going through it as a child. But I certainly don't remember participating in some of the activities that the kids I now work with get to do.

A few weeks back, the teacher was instructing her students on an area of math that tends to give children a difficult time: fractions. Let's be honest, it gives a lot of adults a difficult time, too. As a part of that, she let the class make pizzas. Once the pizzas were finished and cooked, they were cut into four equal slices. They then answered questions about fourths and halves. Most importantly, they got to eat pizza.

Then, just last week, the children got to make ice cream. You may be asking, how is that educational? The kids had been studying matter and mixtures and causing physical changes. So the kids had to mix their ingredients and turn the mixture from a liquid into a solid.

So they each got sandwich bags. Then they got half & half, sugar and vanilla extract. They sealed the bags and shook like crazy. Then they got gallon Ziploc bags filled with ice and some salt. They sealed the smaller bag inside the large and, again, shook like crazy. This caused the liquid mixture to solidify to become ice cream.

One kid decided he didn't want his. So I got to eat it. Science never tasted so good.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

How to Make Bronchitis Fun

So your general practitioner has diagnosed you with bronchitis. And now you're sitting at home thinking, "This is just no fun!" as you hack into your sleeve or a handkerchief. But why look at this temporary disease as no fun? Instead of engaging in a pessimistic attitude about your bronchitis, find ways of making it fun.

How does one make a respiratory illness fun? Well, it's tricky, but I believe it can be done. The first thing you need to determine is what kind of bronchitis you're afflicted with. If it's acute bronchitis, it can be pretty contagious. Depending on your moral compass, you may decide you don't want to be around people, thereby avoiding a situation in which you spread your version of the virus. If you have no moral compass, by all means, take a trip out in public. On the other hand, if it's adorable bronchitis, you have nothing to worry about when it comes to passing on your germs. Chances are, someone will start coughing, but it won't be because of you!

Now that you've figured out the nature of your disease, it's time to decide what you can do with all your free time. Are you the type who worries about what strangers may think of you? Do you worry that you may cause someone to become ill? Then this blog post may not be for you. You may find yourself in a joyless existence for the next 2 to 4 weeks while your bronchitis runs its course or your antibiotics fight the infections. For you, I would suggest hitting up the Redbox on the way home from the pharmacy and settle in for a chick flick marathon.

Everyone else, I invite you to get creative and, more importantly, adventurous! My first suggestion really depends on your proximity to a city. In my experience, most small towns don't normally come with buildings equipped with elevators. Do you see where I'm going with this? That's right, find an elevator. The first thing you want to do is find a popular building that has an elevator. You definitely want an elevator that's going to have a lot of people in the car with you at one time. It's probably best to go with this activity in the morning, as people are arriving for work, or in the late afternoon, as the ants go marching back home. Have you chosen your elevator? Good. Make your way to the back of the car and just wait. Once the elevator is full, just start letting your coughs go. Please, be sure to cough into your sleeve or a tissue. To not cover your mouth would just be rude. At the same time, people will still react to your coughs, and their reactions will often be humorous. Every now and then, you'll come across that one in a million person who will see if you're okay and offer you a lozenge of some kind. This will probably restore your fragile faith in humanity for one more day. Mostly, the people on the elevator will panic and try to claw their way out like rats trapped in a maze. Just think about that for the rest of the day and you have a ready made laugh.

The next activity involves a kitchen, a hot stove, a tea kettle and, you guessed it, tea. Chances are, with the bronchitis, you've been coughing quite a bit. This can cause a great deal of irritation to your throat. A warm beverage, like tea, can be very soothing to a sore throat, and may even help to relieve some of the coughing you've been doing. First, do you have a tea kettle ready to go? Good. Next, fill the kettle with water. Put it on the stove to boil. You'll want to be sure to place the kettle on the correct eye. It's got to be the one that's turned on and is heating up. Next, turn away from the kettle. Whatever you do, don't look at it and certainly don't watch it. It will never boil that way. If possible, leave the room. The kettle will scream at you when the water has come to a boil. It's amazing what technology can do these days. It may seem like forever, but as long as you're not looking, the water will come to a boil. Get your favorite mug out of the cabinet and place a tea bag inside the mug. Next, pour the boiling water into the cup and allow the tea to steep. Depending on your personal preferences, you may want to add lemon or honey or milk or sugar. I've heard some people do these things. I don't know, I really don't like hot tea.

Might I also suggest watching this helpful YouTube video. I caution you, however, not to watch too often. When you have bronchitis, laughter can only serve to worsen your cough more often than not. In which case, you may need to make more tea.

I didn't even know Jesus was a reporter. Awesome.

Ladies and gentlemen, those are only a few very fun suggestions that should give you something to do when you're suffering from bronchitis. If you have other suggestions, please share them in the comments below. I'm sure all the sick people of the world will appreciate your helpful ideas and hints.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Question of the Week: Holding On

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Are you holding on to something that you need to let go of?

I don't think so. I have a tendency to look at holding on to things the same way I look at worrying. There's really no point. Life is too short to dwell on things that happened in the past. The most evident thing that I think most people would admit to holding on to would be a grudge. That's the most pointless waste of energy there is. I'm not saying we should forget what someone may have done to wrong us in the past, but if you dwell on it you're only hurting yourself. Chances are, that person that you've decided to begrudge has moved on and probably won't even remember what they did. So all we do by holding grudges is let hate and mistrust fester in our own hearts. Pointless. I'm sure there are lots of other negative things that people hold on to as the years pass by. I won't say that I don't over-think or even obsess over things in the moment, but once the moment is gone, I'm ready to let it go.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Monarch

Once upon a time, there was a kingdom without an heir to the throne. It isn't that the king didn't have a son who would have been fully capable of ascending to the throne. It's that the king's son escaped that fate long ago, leaving the king no one to whom he could pass on his crown.

Prince Damien ran away from home at the age of 17. In truth, he had envisioned getting out of his father's palace long before that time, but it just wasn't possible. He needed to wait until he was fast enough to truly escape the palace guard. He knew the king would be relentless in his hunt for the boy. But Damien had no desire to live under his father's roof anymore. Much less, his father's iron fist.

King Christoph was a ruthless tyrant. He had spent the better part of his monarchy expanding the kingdom in the most brutal and bloodiest ways possible. His subjects were downtrodden and oppressed. He desired only power. The well-being of his people never once entered his mind. And as hard as he was on the populace, he was even harder on his only son.

Damien remembered being forced to make impossible choices, all because his father wanted to shape him into a future king. Christoph wanted Damien to be a monarch exactly like he had been. Once, when Damien was only 12, he refused to put a thief to death. For that rebellious decision, he had been thrown into the castle dungeons, chained to a wall for a month.

When he finally left the palace under the cover of darkness, he didn't feel that he was sacrificing a posh lifestyle. He was escaping his own version of slavery. He was escaping a torturous existence at the hands of his own father.

Since his escape, he had been living in a hidden cabin outside of his father's kingdom. Only one person knew his whereabouts. The only adviser that he could trust in his youth, Andrin, had been the one to find this hidden sanctuary. He visited the prince from time to time, always sure to do so without suspicion from the king or his men.

"You need to come back, Damien," Andrin said after he was greeted by the prince on his last visit.

"Why? So I can be tortured and killed by my tyrant father?"

Andrin sighed, "No, so you can dethrone him. The kingdom needs a benevolent ruler, someone who will meet the people's needs."

"What makes you think I'm that person, Andrin?" Damien doubted his abilities. "Why can't you just inspire a coup?"

"The kingdom does not need to trade one tyrant for another, and that's just what we would get with a military coup. You have a claim to the throne. Take your rightful place."

Damien wanted no part of the monarchy. He had built a life for himself. It wasn't much, but it was his. He very much enjoyed his solitude. Going back would mean a fight. Going back would mean learning to become a leader from scratch. All he knew about leading people was what he had seen in his king, and he knew that was all wrong.

"You won't be alone, Prince Damien," Andrin said. "There are hundreds of men and women who are ready to go to war for you. They've been very secretive, but they're very passionate about ending your father's reign."

Damien could not respond. He walked outside his cabin and took a seat on a bench. Andrin followed soon after. "Think about it, prince. You could be a great king."

He watched as his old friend mounted his horse and rode away. How could he possibly return to that life that he left behind so long ago? How could he become a monarch in a kingdom that had been oppressed for so many years?

The prince walked back into his cabin and surveyed his surroundings. This is the place he had known since beginning his new life. Above the fireplace hung his sword, the only item he kept to remind him of his old life. He ran a hand along the blade. Then, with purpose and determination, he pulled it off the wall. Damien turned to leave his cabin, knowing this would be the last time he ever saw the place.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Adventure Days: The Cascades

Earlier this week, my supervisor expressed some concern for my well being. Don't worry, she doesn't think I'm on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Nothing as serious as that. But she does feel that I'm getting stressed out.

I'm the kind of person who desperately tries not to let things get to me. I don't like showing, externally, that something bothers me. It's not that I don't do my share of complaining. I have occasion to vent when talking with friends. But that doesn't happen too often. Because I don't like to complain. Complaining is a lot like worrying. And I just think that worrying is a waste of time.

That doesn't mean I'm not repressing the stress that could be building up. I repress like it's my job. I know that's not healthy, but it's what I do. Then I attempt to relieve stress once I get home. I've been exercising a lot more lately, and I think that's helped quite a bit. But I guess it hasn't stopped a full caseload from taking its toll on me.

As a Day Treatment Counselor, I'm only allowed to have six clients at one time. I know that doesn't sound like a lot, but you'd be amazed at how quickly the work with six different kids can pile up. It certainly helps when several of them are in the same classrooms. But you still need to juggle schedules throughout the school day, arrange for therapy sessions with each of them, make sure family contacts are happening smoothly and regularly and still be able to tame the mountain of daily paperwork that comes along with each of the students.

That's where the hard part comes in. The paperwork. There are daily notes, weekly notes, family session notes, assessments, reviews, service plans, etc. Ladies and gentlemen, I'm falling behind. I'm usually really good about keeping up with all the things I have to write for my job. After all, I do love to write. But, lately, I've had a hard time staying focused whenever I sit down at my laptop to type up even the simplest of notes.

So last night, as I was folding clothes at the second job, I decided I'd treat myself to an activity that would get me away from real life for a little while. I decided I'd go for a hike.

Not too far away is a place known as The Cascades. It's a hiking trail that leads to some pretty spectacular waterfalls at the end. Spoiler alert: it's not Niagara Falls, but for a little place that's not too far from home, it's very nice. It's a place I've been once or twice before, but it was a long time ago. My last visit to the falls may have been about 12 years ago, back when I was still a junior at Bluefield College.

I waited for afternoon to arrive. That gave the rainy weather a little time to clear out. By the time I got in my car and started driving, the skies were becoming a little bluer and a lot sunnier. I made pretty good time getting there and then discovered that there's a three dollar fee to park your car at the bottom of the trail. I was so not prepared for that.

Angrily, I turned around and headed back into Pembroke, the nearby town that boasts The Cascades as an attraction. Thankfully, there was an ATM at the convenience store. Annoyingly, it was not my bank's ATM. That meant I had to get out a minimum of $20, pay a fee for using that ATM, and await a fee from my bank as punishment for using another bank's ATM. So, what I thought would be a free hike ended up costing me $9. Things didn't seem to be starting well.

I got back to the park, paid my fee, then started my hike. It didn't take long to forget about my frustration with the inconvenience of paying to park. It was kind of gorgeous. Don't believe me? Here are some pictures...



I expected to run into more people than I did. There seemed to be a lot of cars in the parking lot, but not many people on the trail. I did, however, run into someone I know. In a random, small world kind of incident, I bumped into a guy from the small group Bible study that I joined last month. He was with a couple of his friends, so I walked with them for a while before moving on alone.

The hike did what I was hoping it would. It acted as a great stress reliever and I got to take in some beautiful views. Now I'm just hoping that it helped me to unwind enough to be able to focus on the work I need to catch up on throughout this weekend. See, a lot of that paperwork was due yesterday.

I'm thinking I may need more of these spontaneous, adventurous Saturdays. And I'm open to suggestions. If you have a fun or stress-relieving activity that is cheap and not too far away from the New River Valley, let me know about it.

Friday, February 22, 2013

My 2013 Oscar Predictions

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Each year around this time, I like to challenge myself. I like to challenge others, too, but I'm pretty sure I'm watching the Oscars alone this time. So the challenge is really just to see how many winners I can correctly predict. The awards air on Sunday night, so be sure to come back then to see how I did with my picks...

Best Short Film (Live Action): Curfew - No reason in particular. I haven't seen any of these short films.
Best Short Film (Animated): Maggie Simpson in "The Longest Daycare" - It's got Maggie Simpson. How do you not vote for that? I'm changing my vote here. I forgot that I watched Paperman a few weeks ago and thought it was great. That's what I'm pulling for.
Best Visual Effects: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - There were giant eagles, man.
Best Sound Mixing: Les Miserables - They sang on set! That's gotta pose a challenge to the sound mixologists.
Best Sound Editing: Django Unchained - Okay, I'll be honest, I don't even know the difference between the mixing and the editing. But you're all doing a wonderful job.
Best Cinematography: Life of Pi - I didn't see it, but the trailer looked stunning.
Best Film Editing: Argo - No real reason for this one either.
Best Production Design: Les Miserables
Best Makeup & Hairstyling: Les Miserables - It might be that I have to pick this movie every time I see it nominated. Not sure yet...
Best Documentary (Short): Open Heart - Again, I didn't see any of these. Just a wild guess.
Best Documentary: The Invisible War - I can only assume that this is about soldiers who have been issued cloaks of invisibility, making it the most awesome documentary of all time.
Best Original Score: Skyfall
Best Original Song: "Skyfall" from Skyfall - It's Adele. She wins everything she's ever nominated for. And, how 'bout that... picked something other than Les Miserables.
Best Costume Design: Les Miserables - And we're back.
Best Adapted Screenplay: Silver Linings Playbook - I've heard good things.
Best Original Screenplay: Django Unchained
Best Foreign Film: No, Chile - I just like that the entire title of this film is a two letter word.
Best Animated Feature Film: Brave - Epic.
Best Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables - If she does not win this category, I may stop watching movies altogether. Her performance of "I Dreamed a Dream" alone was worth the price of admission for that movie.
Best Supporting Actor: Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
Best Actress: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook - She got the Golden Globe and the SAG Award for the role. I think she's got this one too.
Best Actor: Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables
Best Director: Ang Lee, Life of Pi
Best Picture: Argo - Honestly, I'd like to see it go to Les Mis, but the most logical choice is Argo.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

We Dreamed Dreamses, Precious

Kids, I would love to tell you that I have plenty of things to say and write about on the blog tonight. But, the simple truth is, I don't. I'm not sure what it is with me today. Every time I've sat in front of my computer to write anything, I've come up blank. Doesn't matter if it's about notes for work or reviews of the kids I'm working with or this very blog. My brain feels kind of fried. I think I'm going to have to take some time for myself on Saturday and do something that is outside the norm. I may need to seriously disconnect for the day. Anyway, all that is to say that I'm not really writing anything tonight. Instead, I leave you with this video that I saw this afternoon. It's a guy singing a cover of "I Dreamed a Dream" from Les Miserables as... wait for it... Gollum from Lord of the Rings. Yeah, it's pretty brilliant.


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Change of Plans

Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages, the blog post that I had originally planned to post today is being preempted. Today's post was going to be about the first grade class that I observe and the awesome activities that their teacher provides for them. Specifically, I was going to mention how she let them make their own pizzas to help them learn about fractions and ice cream to help them learn about mixtures and liquids and solids. It was going to be all about how she tries to make science and math fun for her students.

But after today, I'm reminded that she and so many other teachers out there deserve more than a blurb on a barely read blog in appreciation for what they do. What happened today? I'm glad you asked.

Before I begin, I'd like you to do me a favor. I want you to clear your mind of any preconceived notions that you may have about little children all being perfectly innocent little angels. If you could spend just 15 minutes with this woman's first grade class, you would realize how false that notion is. It's a nice fantasy, but it's just unrealistic.

First, you should know that this first grade class isn't a very large one. For most of the year, she's had 17 students. Recently, one moved away, so she's down to an even 16. To say that these 16 children are a handful would be a severe understatement. I, myself, have not spent a great number of years observing children of this age in the classroom. However, early in my career, I did work closely with teenagers and middle school students. I have never witnessed poorer attitudes or as much disrespectful behaviors as I have seen this year coming from these 6- and 7-year-olds.

Today was the straw that broke the camel's back. For a moment, I thought this teacher in question was going to walk out and quit on the spot. I had left her classroom for just a few moments in order to check on some clients across the hall in the 2nd grade class. While I was in there, one of the 2nd graders complained to their teacher that the 1st graders across the hall were being too loud. Soon after, I heard a door slam. In walked the 1st grade teacher, near tears, venting to her fellow educator. She took a moment in an attempt to compose herself, then went back to her classroom, slamming her door a second time.

Honestly, I wasn't sure how to react. Specifically, my job description is to deal only with the children that are assigned to my caseload. But I've come to think of these teachers that I work with as friends. So I wasn't about to sit back and do nothing while a classroom full of children continued to completely disrespect and belittle their teacher. The moral obligation I felt to take some kind of action was a lot stronger than any contractual obligation I may have which tells me to ignore the kids that I'm not paid to work with.

I didn't know what I was about to do. But I crossed the hallway and entered back into the 1st grade classroom. Now, wouldn't you think that witnessing your teacher slamming her own door twice might cause you to change the way you're behaving? What about seeing her sit at her desk at the back of the room without uttering a word to the class? What about seeing her break into tears? It would affect me. And I don't have a soul. But it did nothing to these 1st graders. As I walked into the classroom, they were loudly talking to each other, some were out of their seats, moving from place to place without a care in the world.

I crossed the room and looked to the teacher. I don't know what I was looking for. Maybe a cue or some kind of non-verbal permission to unleash hell. I'm not sure that I got that permission from anyone, but I unleashed anyway.

A couple days ago, the teacher got me to prove how loudly I can whistle. At the time, it was just to get the kids' attention during recess, letting them know it was time to put the basketballs away and line up to go to lunch. My whistles are, indeed, loud. And that was in a gym. In a smaller space, like, say, a classroom, the volume seems to increase dramatically. The whistle was enough to startle each child into silence. But I didn't stop there.

"I want every one of you to shut your mouths, right now!" I yelled. I was loud. I was kind of scary. I definitely had on my angry eyes. "The first person I hear say a single word will flip their card! You have work to do, get busy!"

Little did I know, they didn't even really know what they were supposed to be doing. They were out of control before their teacher could even finish telling them what their assignment was. She later let me know that as soon as she had them get to their seats and began passing out the materials for the project, they were running around, talking and yelling and acting as if she wasn't even there giving them instructions.

For five minutes, the only sounds that could be heard in that classroom were the sounds of papers being cut by scissors. "Do you hear what it sounds like in here right now?" I asked the students. "This is how it should sound all day every day. The way you act is incredibly disrespectful to your teacher. And I know you know what 'disrespectful' means, because that's the way most of you have been acting all year. When she tells you to do something, you do it."

It stayed quiet until they went to PE. Well, mostly. One little girl spoke. I made her flip her card. Not that she cared. This is one of those children who gets in trouble all the time. She's one of those kids who has a parent that doesn't seem to care about anything the kid is involved in. Since the parent isn't involved in the kid's life, the kid doesn't care if she does well or does poorly on the average school day. There are no such things as consequences in most of these kids' lives.

I cannot wrap my head around the way these children act. When I was their age, I was terrified of getting in trouble. Not because I was afraid of consequences when I got home. It's not like I grew up in a house where I was beaten severely for stepping out of line. My fear was in disappointing my teachers and my parents. More and more, these days, it seems that kids don't care about that kind of thing. They're raised to question authority, not respect it. Too often, the parents of these children are lazy and ineffective. If a teacher sends a negative note home that by chance is actually read by a parent, they're somehow able to turn it on the teacher. It's the teacher's fault that their precious little angel isn't doing well or is getting in trouble. It can't be because of anything he or she actually did. It can't be because that person is failing as a parent.

I still love my job. I love feeling like I'm actually doing something to make a difference in one or two lives. What I do as a counselor is still so much better than anything I've ever done in my professional life. Working with the kids I work with is incredibly frustrating and incredibly rewarding all at once. But there are days like today that make me question whether or not I want to have children of my own.

I don't question that choice because I would doubt my abilities as a father. I don't question it because I would doubt the love that I would have for my children, or for the amazing blessings that I would see them as. No, the question comes when it's time to send those children to school. Would I want my own children sitting in a classroom each and every day, being influenced by kids like the ones I saw today? Would I want my children to be influenced by the children of parents are are lazy and ineffective and self absorbed and self entitled? As hard as it is to predict how children will behave when you control their environment, it's impossible to see how they'll turn out when surrounded by so many other personalities for 7 hours a day.

They're not all horrible, I know. After I yelled and gave my speech, I received this from a little girl in the class.
She gave one to her teacher, as well. Which is good. Because the teacher is the one who deserved the apology. And she didn't just deserve it from one of her students. But that's what she got. One apology out of 16 that should have readily apologized. The sad thing is, most of them don't even know the meaning of the phrase, "I'm sorry." To them, sorry is just something they say because it's what an adult wants to hear. If they actually mean it when they say it, most likely it's because they're sorry they got caught.

If you're a parent who actually gives a crap about their kid and the people who educate them every single day, take a little time to thank them. Bake them some cookies. Write them a thank you note. I've noticed in the past year that being a teacher is a mostly thankless job. It can be very discouraging for these women and men to go to work every day believing that the parents of their students don't care about the job they do. I'm sure it wouldn't take much to actually make them smile every now and then. The school systems in this country certainly don't pay them enough, but keep in mind, they didn't get into the education game to become rich. We should be shouting from rooftops, thanking the teachers who helped to shape us into the people we've become; thanking the teachers who are shaping our children into the people that they will one day become.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Coming Soon: 33

Fair Carp Dimers, my birthday is a mere two weeks away. That means, in two weeks, I will transform from a youthful 32-year-old into a ripe, old 33-year-old.

Okay, probably not ripe. Or old, really. I can honestly say I feel a lot better about my life this year than I did at this time last year. It's nice to be able to say that, especially considering the toll that the aging process takes on the body.

But, I will be aging. That means there may be a need for some kind of celebration. This will all be happening on a Wednesday, so the celebration won't be huge. But there's got to be something, right? It's a birthday. There's no reason not to celebrate. After all, it's a lot better than the alternative. And in case you're not picking up the implication, the lack of a birthday would mean I was dead. And I'm not dead yet.

I'm thinking about a dinner with friends somewhere nearby. Maybe some kind of fun activity could be involved. There's no Chuck E. Cheese nearby. At least, not close enough to make sense for a mid-week dinner. So I'm looking for suggestions. I suppose that two weeks isn't a lot of time to really make major plans. But, like I said, it's a Wednesday, so big plans aren't really in the cards. School night and all. Feel free to post your suggestions in the comments below.

Also, if you happen to live outside the area of southwest Virginia and can't make it to my impromptu birthday party, I will accept generous donations to the "feed the blogger" fund in your absence.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Question of the Week: Regret

What would you regret not fully doing, being or having in your life?

I don't like to look back in my life and think that I've had regrets about anything. I'm sure there are things that I would do differently if I had the chance to do them again, but I can't honestly say that I'm unhappy with the way things have turned out thus far. From where I stand, it's nice to look back and think about the good and the bad. Each little event that took me from one place to another have led me to become the man I am right now in the place I am right now with the people I have in my life right now. I wouldn't trade any of it for a thing.

That being said, I think I would regret chances not taken. In ten or twenty years, I don't want to look back and realize that an opportunity arose in my life that I chose to ignore. I don't want to play "what if?" when I sit down to compile my life story. So I guess I'll just have to keep a close watch for those opportunities and jump on them when they come along.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Ticket

The following is based on actual events.

I drive home from school the same way, each and every day. It's a routine. I know when to slow down. I know when to speed up. I know when to adjust my driving perceptions based on weather conditions and the drivers around me. I know the route like the back of my hand.

One day, in the not too distant past, I was making that drive home. I was moving along with the flow of traffic and, honestly, not really paying attention to my speedometer. Suddenly I noticed the flash of blue lights closing in on my rear.

"Aw, crap!" Only I didn't say crap. This is the last thing I need right now, I thought, I cannot afford a ticket!

My immediate reaction was to slow down. I didn't slam on my brakes, I just took my foot off the gas and let the laws of physics take their course. Several nearby drivers did the same thing. I kept an eye in the rear-view mirror, just to see what the sheriff's deputy would do next. I won't pull over unless he gets right up on my bumper.

I stayed where I was in the right lane, not speeding up, not slowing any more than I already had. As he got closer, I thought for sure that he had singled me out. And then it happened...

He whipped around me to get into the left lane. He sped up and took down the driver two cars ahead of me. I cannot remember the last time I was so vocal in my thanks to God for His blessings. At the same time, I couldn't feel my arms.

I had to have been speeding. Nothing reckless, but probably about 10 over the speed limit. And I'm sure, if I had pulled over at the instant that I saw his lights flashing behind me, I would have received a ticket for speeding. But he decided he had bigger fish to fry that day. For some reason, God chose me to be on the receiving end of a miraculous event, and I am extremely grateful for it.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

A Day in the Life of a Chair

Via
My life is not as easy as one would think. I'm sure most people look at me and assume I have it made. I spend most of the day just hanging out. Standing still. Not doing much at all. Thus is the life of an inanimate object.

We chairs are a proud furnishing. There are so many of us, and we're all so different. You may as well try and find two snowflakes with a similar design. Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration. After all, my life is spent in a classroom with 22 others that are nearly identical to me. After a few years, however, it's expected that we've developed marks and blemishes that make us each distinctive.

Yes, I ended up in a classroom. As a young chair on the assembly line, I dreamed of becoming a throne, perhaps a comfy desk chair. But I was made too small. All chairs have the same basic design: four legs, a seat, a back. If we're lucky, we get arms, as well. I was not so lucky. My seat and back are hard plastic and my legs are metal. I was made for one thing, and one thing only. Children.

My day begins the same way every morning. I'm upside down, my seat resting upon a desk. By the way, you'd think that chairs and desks got along famously. Truth is, we never speak. Desks are pretty stuck up. They think they're so much better than chairs, just because they have storage capacity. If only they knew, I have a cousin with a book rack under his seat.

Anyway, I don't enjoy being upside down. But that's how I spend my nights. On the plus side, it's quiet, which is a far cry from what the days bring inside the classroom. The child assigned to me arrives and pulls me off the desk. And he's not exactly gentle about it. It's a good thing I'm extremely sturdy. If someone threw him around with the same brute force that he uses with me, his fragile legs would have broken dozens of times. But I don't complain. I know that's just how these children are.

It isn't long after he arrives that he sits in me. I do have a small bit of job satisfaction. I like knowing that I can provide a place for someone to sit from time to time. And, thankfully, the teacher in this classroom likes to keep her students active. So I get plenty of breaks throughout the day.

That's not to say it isn't tiring, holding up a child throughout the day. No one ever asks if my legs get tired. Not that I'd be able to take a seat myself. It would just be nice to have the offer made. The end of the day sees me thrown back onto the desk. Again, I'm placed upside down. Again, it's not a gentle movement.

Some days are better than others. God help me on Taco Tuesdays. The kid that's assigned to me this year does not digest his Mexican food in a pleasant manner. But I take that punishment without saying a thing. It's certainly less fun than the days when the teacher throws some kind of party for the students. I have to say, my best day, was when the children were allowed to make blanket forts. I was draped in a Star Wars blanket. For a moment, I felt just like that old throne I dreamed I'd be. The moment was gone all too quickly, but I'll cherish the memory for the rest of my life.

I realize that you people see us as things. We're property. But try to treat us with a little respect, huh? I mean, we do provide a service without complaining even a little bit. I know it's easy to take your frustrations out on us. I've heard horror stories about the way some guy named Bobby Knight has treated my kin. If I could move, I'd shudder just thinking about his actions. Please, be kind to your four-footed friends. If you're not, believe me, we have ways of getting you back. You may be leaning back ever so slightly and we may just decide to shift the center of gravity a little too much. Accidents happen, people. Accidents do happen.

Friday, February 15, 2013

That Time I Got Beat Up By a Girl

Via
I'm a sarcastic individual. If you only know me through this blog, I would hope that my sarcasm comes through in my writing. But I know it's difficult to convey tone through the written word. Anyone who knows me in real life can pick up on my sarcasm easily. One of my best friends has even told me that my sarcasm will get me punched in the face someday.

Little does he know, it kind of already happened. It's not something I like to think about. And it's probably the sole reason why I keep a lid on the sarcasm until I've really gotten to know people. I've got to be friends, or at least comfortable acquaintances, with someone before letting my smart mouth off the leash. They need to understand how my sense of humor works and know that I never say anything with the intention of hurting feelings. Sure, it still happens sometimes, but I don't mean for it to.

Like I said, the sarcasm has already resulted in a punch to the face. I was in 5th grade. Back in those days, I was a chubby kid. Mom probably would've called me "husky." But it was pre-anorexia, so I wasn't small. I hadn't yet discovered that if you let out a smart remark or insult, you better be willing to deal with the consequences. Or be fast enough to run away from your pursuer. I was neither of those things.

I'll admit, what I said was mean. But, again, this is before I learned how to filter myself. I was just a kid and I came up with a witty comeback for something that had been said to me. I couldn't not say what was on my mind, right?

We started coming back in from recess on that fateful afternoon. Our teacher, Miss Barlow, had rearranged our desks while we were outside. She now had us sitting in new groups, which placed me next to the Amazon girl, Stephanie. I don't think she was really an Amazon, but may have been held back at some point. She was about a foot taller than me. I really don't know anything about her. Could be that she just hit a growth spurt earlier than all the other kids in our grade.

Around that time, Stephen King's It had been made into a television mini-series. Being the person I am, for some reason, I must have quoted it more than a couple times. Stephanie, upon seeing that she would be sitting next to me, said, "Great, I'm sitting next to It."

This is where I get mean. Please note that I'm confessing to being a real jerk here and that, as an adult, I would not say something this hurtful to someone. Stephanie had a bit of an acne problem. And, I'm assuming, she was pretty sensitive about it. Because, without missing a beat, I said, "Great, I'm sitting next to zit." I mean, it rhymed. She started it by calling me "It." Why shouldn't I say it? Because you're about to get the crap beat out of you, that's why.

I never saw anyone cross a classroom that quickly before. You know how some guys will joke that when they get in a fight, there will be two hits, "I hit you, you hit the floor." That's basically what happened. Her fist made contact and I was down. I may have foolishly tried to take out her legs in a halfhearted effort at fighting back. That was a mistake. She then kicked me while I was down.

So I still use humor as a defense mechanism these days. But I certainly don't use the sarcasm as a comeback unless I'm using it with someone I know won't rip me a new one. Stephanie got sent home early that day. I'm pretty sure she got a couple days off school for that too. We weren't close after that. Not that we were ever close before.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Poem for Valentine's Day

Roses are red. Or yellow. Or pink. Or white. I think I saw an orange one once, but it might have been fake. Anyway...

Violets are blue. Wait, no they aren't. Violets are purple. But nothing rhymes with purple. I read somewhere that nothing rhymes with silver or orange either. Anyway...

Sugar is sweet. But, actually, saccharine is sweeter. Did you know that the artificial sweetener is actually 500 times sweeter than sugar? Maybe we should be comparing the sweet people in our lives to saccharine. Or even aspartame (180 times sweeter than sugar). Anyway...

Sorry, I kind of lost track of what this poem was supposed to be about. But it's not as if I have a Valentine to be poetic for. So, happy Valentine's Day!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Giving Up Again

Believe it or not, Ash Wednesday kind of snuck up on me this year. I didn't even realize that yesterday was Mardi Gras until late yesterday evening. In years past, I've spent time prior to Lent thinking about something to give up for 40 days. This year I didn't pay attention to the calendar and am completely unprepared.

Last night, I read an article that had been posted by a couple new Facebook friends. It discusses the meaning behind the season of Lent and the purpose of making a sacrifice. Feel free to click over to Relevant magazine to read for yourself.

So today is Ash Wednesday and, as of this morning, I still had not determined anything to give up. I feel like I'm arriving late to this particular party. So I spent most of the day trying to come up with something.

Last year I gave up fast food for Lent. It seems cheap to do that again. Also, it wouldn't be a great sacrifice this time around. Thanks to the attempt at eating healthier over the last few months, my instances of hitting the drive-thru have been fewer and farther between.

I could stop being sarcastic. Then again, no I couldn't. That whole humor-as-a-defense-mechanism thing sort of turns the sarcasm into a reflexive response. Just telling people I'm giving up sarcasm for Lent would come off as sarcastic.

On the news this morning, they shared a list of the most popular things that people give up. Some of these include meat, chocolate, alcohol, Facebook, swearing and sodas.

I could do without meat. But since I'm not exactly a vegetable's biggest fan, it would just about mean giving up food altogether. I don't like chocolate, so that's no sacrifice. I only drink on the rarest of occasions, so giving up alcohol would be pointless. I could definitely live without Facebook, but I use it to publicize the blog, so I'd be way too tempted to use it for personal purposes as well.

Back in college, I gave up sodas. Looking back, I have no idea how I did it. I'm so addicted to caffeine, I just don't know how I'd make it through the first few days. Which is probably exactly why I should choose that. Giving up something for Lent isn't meant to be an easy thing. It's not a sacrifice if it doesn't cost something, if it doesn't cause us to lean on God to help us through it. But it may be too late to start that one since I had a soda at lunch today.

Are you giving anything up for Lent? Does it feel like a real sacrifice?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Hallmark's Heartstrings

I'm usually very okay with a decent Hallmark commercial. I believe greeting cards serve a very great purpose because there are a lot of us who seem to be unable to come up with the right thing to say for the right occasions. But there's something about one of Hallmark's latest commercials that just... well, frankly, it scares the crap out of me. I'm gonna embed the ad below. Watch it, then stay tuned for my thoughts. And try to figure out the creepy part, it shouldn't be too hard.
Okay, did you catch that? Most of the commercial is just fine. It's almost sweet. You've got all these people who are looking for some kind of affirmation that a simple card can easily provide. But then there's the woman at the 18-second mark. She gets out of the car and as the car is driving away, she's following along quickly, desperately, clinging to the door while saying, "Tell me you'll never let me go."

Uh... Does this woman strike anyone else as a crazy stalker? It's not just the fact that she's hanging on to the car for dear life as her significant other is trying to make a quick getaway. It's the look in her eyes, as well. I'm no expert, but I'm pretty sure she's got the crazy eyes.

From the look of things, she just got out of the back of a cab. So it isn't the boyfriend who's pulling away. It's the astute cab driver who recognizes the insanity that just exited his vehicle. The dude in the back seat needs to be sure to tip that cabbie extra. Meanwhile, he needs to get home, make sure his door is locked about seven times, then run to the kitchen to make sure there isn't a rabbit boiling on the stove. It happens.

But the rest of the commercial? So heartwarming. Especially the kid dressed as a super-hero. Adorable. They just should have eliminated the lady who's late for her commitment hearing.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Question of the Week: Teach

If you had to teach something, what would you teach?
 
I think it's obvious. I would teach others how to be awesome. I have so much experience and practical knowledge. In fact, it would almost be a crime not to share that awesomeness with others. Also history. I've always found history fascinating. I'm of the belief that we can't truly know who we are in the present without learning who we were in the past. I'm not talking about a past lives kind of thing. I mean societies, cultures, families that shape our individual lives.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Illuminate

Via
His power seemed harmless enough at first. No one knew his real name. Even he didn't know his real name. The accident that caused his amazing transformation also caused him to forget whatever life he had known before. The media came to know him as Illuminate.

It has been rumored that the man who became Illuminate was working in a nuclear power plant and was exposed to some strange form of radiation. It's also been rumored that he was a test subject in a secret government laboratory somewhere. The stories all vary, but the fact remains, he was an ordinary man who suddenly had extraordinary abilities.

The most obvious of these abilities was his ability to glow. Wherever he was present, darkness could not exist. And it wasn't a power that he could turn off. His skin always shone brightly. When he first appeared in public, there was speculation that he could be emitting some kind of radiation himself. But that fear was dispelled by the guys in the hazmat suits with Geiger counters.

Whatever powers his luminescent skin also gives him the ability to fly. It wasn't long before the public discovered that Illuminate had other powers. These powers made him a little more dangerous in the people's eyes.

Illuminate reportedly stopped a mugger who had been attacking a young woman in Philadelphia. In his anger, Illuminate's skin grew so bright that it temporarily blinded both the attacker and his victim. The super powered man grabbed the mugger by the arms to pull him away from the woman. Doctors later reported that the criminal suffered from second degree burns on his arms which looked remarkably like hand prints.

Some people were grateful that the world now had a real super hero. Others were afraid. Those who feared Illuminate included some of the country's top government officials. While it was easy to agree that Illuminate was only trying to help, many people wondered what would happen if his powers continued to increase in intensity. Many asked what would happen if he was no longer able to control himself or his abilities.

Illuminate knew of the people's fears. He may not have known anything of his life before gaining his powers, but he had to believe had was a good man. He only wanted to help those who were unable to help themselves. But not at the cost of their comfort or safety. So he made a decision.

After only a few months in the public eye, Illuminate handed himself over to authorities. He asked them to keep him in a safe place. Not for his own safety, but for the safety of the world at large. He knew he was somehow able to manifest a seemingly endless supply of energy. Thus, he voluntarily became a human power plant, providing free energy to most of the eastern seaboard.

No one in the media has had access to the mysterious Illuminate. It can only be speculated that he is being treated well in a secret facility as he continues to give of himself to keep the lights on.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

AFI 43 - Midnight Cowboy

Midnight Cowboy
1969
Directed by John Schlesinger
Netflix sleeve: To earn cash as a freelance sex stud and work toward his dream of becoming a kept man, hayseed hustler Joe Buck heads to New York City, where an improbable friendship blossoms when he meets seedy con man Ratso Rizzo.

I'm gonna go ahead and say this one won't make my personal top 100. Not that it was a horrible movie. Joe seems like a naive kind of guy and Ratso kind of preys on that at first. From there it gets a little depressing. I don't think this will be a movie that I'll watch repeatedly over the coming years. In fact, this may be the only time in my life that I watch it. And I'm okay with that.

Friday, February 08, 2013

The Days Are Long

I've had a lot of days off lately. Most of these days away from school have not been by choice. While I haven't complained about the time off from work, I do have a complaint about the way I've spent that time.

Wednesday was a day off. Not due to weather or any other crazy school closing reasons. I took the day off by choice. The company I work for occasionally offers to give its counselors a free day, provided they turn in all of their paperwork by a certain deadline. So I get paid day off for doing my job. Not bad.

But there's so much I could have done with my day Wednesday. There's some current paperwork that I've fallen behind on. I certainly could have worked on that. I've got books that I've been wanting to read. I could have picked those up. And, of course, there are all those ideas I've got in my head about being a writer. I could have strung together some words that day.

As it was, the most productive thing I did all day was clean out my car. Believe me, it was needed. I still had things in the backseat that had been sitting there since Christmas. I don't know whether to laugh or cry at that particular style of apathy.

I did work that night. We did inventory at the store. Which meant I was counting clothes until midnight. That translated into not much sleep Wednesday night.

Today I made up for it. I woke up at my normal time, ready to get ready for school. Then the news came that the county had once again canceled due to dangerous driving conditions. It's getting to the point where I can say, "School's canceled? Must be Friday..."

Once I knew I didn't have to get up, I went right back to sleep. I didn't open my eyes again until after 10:30. I can't remember the last time I slept that late. And I absolutely hate sleeping in like that. I feel like I've wasted the day.

Eventually I went over to the gym, so it's not as if I just sat in my room all day. But still, did I get caught up on any paperwork? Nope. Did I go grocery shopping, despite the fact that I need to do that? Nope. Did I hit up the post office to see if my final W-2 had arrived? Of course not.

Does this mean that I'm incredibly lazy? I really hope not. I don't mean to be. I feel like I should want to do more with my time on days like these, though.

Ladies and gentlemen of the internet, how do you fight laziness?

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Erynn's Challenge, Part Two

Stop! Before you go any further, you're gonna want to go back and read Part One of Erynn's Challenge. Oh, and my apologies to Erynn. She pointed out that her original challenge gave me the name Traylor, not Taylor. Oops... Also, I'm sorry about this taking so long to get around to part two. There will be a part three. And I promise I won't wait another four months to deliver it. Anyway, without further ado, Part Two...

Name: Taylor Steele
Location: Route 66
Object: Magic 8-Ball
Emotion: Nostalgia

Taylor awoke to the sight of sunlight streaming through the living room curtains. She could barely open her eyes. They hurt; dry and burning from the overproduction of tears as she drifted off to sleep the previous night.

She didn't feel like moving. She was curled into a ball under a quilt on the couch and she had a mind to remain that way all day. But the call of nature was too strong.

Taylor cast aside the blanket and slowly stood. Her body ached as she stretched out for the first time in hours. She silently reminded herself that most of her actions would be forced for a while. Even walking upstairs to use the bathroom.

That was her first step to making it through her day. Moving like a zombie, she took the stairs one by one. With each footfall, she felt that she won a small victory. After what felt like an hour, she made it to her bathroom. It was the one that connected to her bedroom, the room she couldn't bring herself to sleep in.

Once she had used the bathroom, she stood at the sink and stared at the wreck of a woman in the mirror. She couldn't help but laugh at herself a little. Her eyes were red and puffy. Her hair was all over the place. She bent down and splashed water into her face, hoping it would miraculously wash away the emotion that was still so evident. When she looked back in the mirror, she was disappointed to find it hadn't worked.

Taylor moved back into the hallway, pulling her hair back into a ponytail as she walked. She had no idea what she should do next, but figured breakfast was as good an idea as any. At the top of the stairs, she glanced over at the office. She had the nagging feeling that she was forgetting something, but she shrugged it off and descended the stairs.

When she reached the fridge, she stared blankly at the many plastic containers filled with leftovers provided by friends and family. With no thought of what makes for an appropriate breakfast, she reached for a pan of lasagna and cut out a piece from the corner.

She watched the lasagna rotate as the microwave heated it up. Even this small thing served to remind her of Mason. But this time, instead of bursting into tears, she smiled. Mason always hated the edge pieces. It didn't matter if it was lasagna or brownies. He didn't like how the sides and corners got crisp and crunchy. Taylor loved it.

The microwave beeped loudly. She pulled out the plate and devoured the hot lasagna as if she had not eaten in days. She was certain she had eaten at some point, but it had been a long few days.

Taylor set her plate and fork in the sink and slowly moved toward the living room. She resumed her comfortable position on the couch and began absentmindedly flipping through the channels. She was in a complete daze. She watched the television without actually seeing what was on. The sound of her phone ringing caused her to jump.

She reached for her cell and saw that it was Leslie. Taylor rolled her eyes, but was still touched when she thought about her friend checking up on her. "I thought I said I'd call you," she said as she answered the phone.

"I know," said Leslie, "but I worry."

"Well, you don't need to. I'm fine," Taylor said, "relatively speaking."

There was a moment of silence before Leslie spoke again. "Did you see what's on the flash drive yet?"

"Ugh!" shouted Taylor. "I knew I was forgetting something!" Keeping the phone to her ear, she made her way back up the stairs. "Wait, how did you know about it?" she asked as she climbed.

"Please! Rob can't keep a secret to save his life. Especially from me."

"Do you  know what's on it?"

"Not really," said Leslie, "Rob could only guess. He thinks it's a video. Some kind of message from Mason left for you. That's why I really called. If it's a video of Mason, I'm worried about your reaction."

"Why? You think it's a bad message?" asked Taylor.

"Not at all. You just never know how seeing and hearing him might affect you."

Taylor almost told her of the effect that watching her wedding video had on her the night before. But she held back. She wasn't sure why she had a hard time letting her best friend know she was allowing herself to have real emotions. She did, however, know that she did not want to appear needy. She wanted to deal with the beginning of this new life on her own.

"Really, Les, I'll be fine," Taylor said as she powered up the laptop. "I'll call you later to let you know Mason's message from beyond the grave." She flinched as she said the words. She had been attempting humor, but regretted it immediately.

"Funny," Leslie said. Her words dripped with sarcasm.

"Seriously, though, don't worry so much. We'll talk later."

Leslie sighed on the other end of the line. "Okay. Talk to you soon."

Taylor hung up the phone and set it down on the desk, right next to where the flash drive lay. She reached for the drive and plugged it into the computer. While she waited for the folder to open automatically, she put her head in her hands.

She wasn't ready to cry again. But Leslie was right when she said there was no way of knowing how watching this thing would affect her. After all, seeing him in his tux and hearing him say, "I do," had caused her to lose control of her emotions until she lost consciousness.

Taylor looked back at the screen and took a deep breath before clicking on the only file on the drive. It was labeled For Taylor. It was password protected. Taylor smirked at the thought that Mason couldn't trust Rob not to snoop. She sat back and stared for a moment at the blinking cursor inside the little box on the screen. Her smirk grew into a smile as she typed the word Paradise, then clicked OK.

It wasn't an uncommon word for a password. Anyone could have figured it out if they had bothered to dig a little bit. But no one ever did. For Taylor and Mason, Paradise was a reminder of their first date. But it wasn't the first date that all their friends knew about. This was the first date that happened before their first date.

Taylor had been looking forward to a night alone at the theater. The Paradise was showing a marathon of 80s movies all weekend and tonight they were showing The Goonies. As a kid, it was one of her favorite movies. She was pretty sure that she had watched the old VHS copy so many times that it eventually wore the tape out. Taylor never got tired of hearing how Sloth loved Chunk. As fate would have it, alone was not the way she would be spending her night.

"I know you, don't I?" said the guy sitting in the row in front of her.

Taylor squinted, trying to make out his features in the very dim light before the movie started. "I don't think so. I'm pretty good with faces," she said.

"Yeah, I do. You're Leslie's friend," he said as he stood up.

Now she was a little scared. Did she have a stalker? Who was this guy and why was he now standing up to talk to her?

"Sorry," he said, as if he realized he was giving off a creepy vibe, "I'm Mason. Rob's roommate? Rob is Leslie's..."

"...Boyfriend," Taylor finished his sentence for him, "Yeah, I remember now. Leslie's mentioned you a couple times. Aren't we supposed to meet next weekend at some awkward get together that she's arranging?"

"Yeah, I think so," said Mason. He pointed to the empty seat beside her, "Do you mind?"

"By all means," she said. He is kind of cute, she thought. Why not get to know him a little before officially meeting him? He hopped over the back of his seat and into her row, spilling some of his popcorn in her lap in the process. "Seriously?" she said, a little annoyed. Great first impression, dude.

Before taking his seat he looked down at her. "I am so sorry, I really didn't think..." he cut himself off. Taylor just looked up at him, clearly irritated. She brushed the popcorn off her lap and onto the floor. "I'm really, really sorry. It's just that, when I get nervous I get kind of fidgety and tend to do stupid, spontaneous things without thinking."

"I guess it's all right," she said. "It could have been worse. You could have spilled your drink on me."

"I was saving that for after the movie," Mason said, flashing the smile that Taylor would soon fall completely in love with. She couldn't help but laugh, and it was as if the popcorn incident never happened.

They watched the movie together. There was no hand holding, no arm around her shoulder. They just sat together watching a movie they both loved, occasionally whispering some profound insight about a deleted scene they had read about somewhere or talking about where certain actors are now. After the credits finished rolling, they both stood.

"Thanks for not actually pouring your Coke on me," said Taylor as she put on her jacket.

"I was happy to not do it," said Mason as he stretched his legs. "Let me walk you to your car."

Taylor nodded and walked beside him as they left the theater. He held the door for her as she exited the building, giving him a couple bonus points in her eyes. They walked slowly down the sidewalk making their way to her car. It was as if neither of them wanted the walk to end. She looked over at him. "Aren't you cold?" she asked, watching her breath float away with each word that escaped her lips.

Mason just shook his head, "Nah, it's not so bad out here." She would later find out that he had been lying. He just didn't want her to know that he was freezing.

"How should we deal with Leslie's not so subtle set up next week?" asked Mason while Taylor fumbled for her keys.

"Well, I say we fake it," she said, unlocking her car door, "Pretend like we've never met. I think it could be fun to just keep tonight between us." They stared into each others eyes for a long moment, sharing an attraction for one another that was almost instantaneous.

"I like that," Mason said. She was nervous. It was a feeling she had not felt around a guy in a long time. Part of her wanted him to kiss her, but she wasn't sure if she was ready for that. She could tell he was nervous too.

"So, I guess I'll see you next week," she said, then sank into her car.

"I can't wait," Mason said. He closed the door for her, then he stood at the curb until she drove out of sight.

Taylor shook herself from her memory as the image of her husband appeared on the computer screen. She took a deep breath and clicked play.

"Hey, beautiful," Mason said in a hushed voice. She recognized the room behind him as the same room in which she now sat. It was dark in the office, the only light came form the glow of the screen in front of Mason.

He must have snuck in here while I slept one night, she thought. Mason continued, "I knew you'd have no trouble figuring out the password. "And I knew Rob would have no clue. I'm sure he's tried at some point. I love that our first date is still a secret between us."

"Mason?" Taylor heard her own voice in the background.

"I'm in the office, hun!" he called back over his shoulder.

"Is everything okay?" It felt weird hearing herself in the distance.

Mason winked into the camera and said, "Yeah, I just can't sleep. Playing the Sims 'til I get sleepy again."

There was no response. "You must be asleep again. Sorry about that little fib. I could sleep just fine if I wanted to. But I want to get this done while I still look the way I want you to remember me."

"Okay," Mason started again, taking his own deep breath, "I don't know how much time I have. Tonight, I mean. I know we still have a few months together, and I hope they're wonderful. I just mean that you could wake up again and get nosy. I love your inquisitive nature, but I need you out of the loop for a while.

"First, I want you to know just how much I love you. I loved you the night we met, I just didn't have the nerve to admit it right away. Each moment that's passed since that night has only made me love you more. Cheesy enough? Good."

Taylor smiled but wiped a few fresh tears from her cheeks. "Hey, if I just made you cry, I'm sorry. But I do hope you're letting yourself cry. I know you're gonna try to be strong for me and our families over the next few months, because that's who you are. But you're allowed to be sad. I'm pretty awesome. That's a lot to deal with not having around anymore.

"You know the bucket list we made together? From my perspective it was just yesterday. There are plenty of things on there that we'll be able to do before I'm gone." Mason was right. They crossed a lot of events off his list before he passed away. "But I know for sure that there's one thing we won't be able to do: the road trip."

Taylor thought about the list. She had known when they made it that the road trip would be unlikely. Not that she wouldn't have loved to drive across the country with the love of her life. It was just difficult with his declining health and the fact that she still had to teach throughout that time.

"I want you to take that trip," Mason said. "If Dr. Trapp is right, I'll be gone around the time school lets out. That gives you plenty of time to make a long drive. Take Leslie with you. Have fun. Enjoy the life that you have in front of you. Don't make a plan. Just go.

"Actually, you don't even have to plan. I've done that part for you. The first thing you need to do is get into our safe deposit box. Hopefully you haven't needed to get in there before now. I assume you'll drop the death certificate in the box at some point, but I hope Rob is on the ball and gives the flash drive to you before you've gotten around to it. You're next step is in that box."

On the screen Mason stifled a yawn. "I better get back to bed before you start to miss me too much. Good night, sweetheart. I love you forever."

Taylor watched her husband blow her a digital kiss and reach to end the recording. She blinked a few times, then grabbed her cell phone. Finding Leslie's number, she hit send and waited for her best friend to pick up.

"We need to go to the bank."

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Fun with Fruits and Vegetables

Each day in the first grade class I observe, the teacher sets aside time for her students to get their "wiggles" out. This is a part of their morning routine, just before she begins teaching the various subjects that first graders focus on.

The "wiggle" time generally involves a YouTube video that inspires the kids to dance and move around. In my opinion, some are better than others. Some are downright annoying. The videos, not the kids. Okay, sometimes the kids, too. Anyway, the video below is definitely in the annoying category.

Before you watch, I sincerely apologize for sharing my suffering. But you really need to watch the video to understand my rant afterward.

Are you still with me? I know that was brutal. And I do apologize to Dr. Jean for the fact that I have such a low opinion of this particular video. I'm sure she's a lovely person with the purest of intentions.

I'm not even sure what it is about the video that gets under my skin so. Is it Dr. Jean's singing voice? Is it her dancing? Is it that it sounds like they're playing the song on the tiny Casio keyboard we had when I was a kid? Is it that I'm not a big fan of vegetables in general?

Maybe it's because the song gets stuck in my head every time I stroll through the produce section at the store. And I mean every time. I see an ear of corn, I'm humming this song. I eat a banana, I'm humming this song. I see guacamole on the menu at the Mexican place, I'm humming this song.

Having watched this video so many times, I've gotten kind of nit-picky about it. For one thing, she's lip-synching the thing. At 0:40 when she sings about shucking the corn, her mouth clearly says peel at the first shuck. Come on, Dr. Jean! If Beyoncé can shake her booty all over the 50 yard line at the Superdome and sing "Crazy in Love" at the same time, you can certainly raise and lower your arms while singing about shucking corn. Rookie move, Doc.

And then there's the mango verse. At 1:18 she instructs the children to do the tango. I'm sorry, but if you're a "real" doctor, then you should know that it takes two to tango. I think it's wrong to teach our future generations that it's okay to tango alone. And by watching Dr. Jean tango by herself, they're learning just that. Also, she totally just said doo doo.

I also have a problem with "forming" the rounded fruits and vegetables. She puts her arms straight up in the air. That works great with the banana or the carrot. But an orange? I don't think so. What kind of crazy oranges are you eating, lady?

Finally, what are we supposed to do to the bunny in the carrot verse? There's no real word there... "____ the bunny...?" Dr. Jean, are you censoring yourself? If so, that's not cool. I don't like where dirty minds could take that unnecessary censorship. Kimmel would have a field day with you, ma'am.

I complain about the video because I'm a cynical grown-up who can't find joy and magic in doing a dance inspired by fruits and veggies. But apparently this Dr. Jean is kind of a big deal. If you'd like to learn more about her and her career, feel free to surf on over to her website at DrJean.org.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

The Single Guy and the Release

Warning: This blog post discusses some borderline potty talk. Reader discretion is advised.
Via
For a while, the Single Guy has toyed with the idea of getting back into church. Well, it didn't take him long to find one that he was comfortable with. In fact, his first Sunday back in the swing of things, he found a place that he feels sure he'll be able to call home. At least for as long as he's living in this area, anyway.

Part of getting involved with a church is finding a group of people that he can get involved with. This means he had to sign up for and join a small group Bible study. Over the years, the Single Guy has come to enjoy these small groups much more than he ever liked attending a Sunday School class before Big Church every week. Small groups meet in people's homes. They're warmer, more inviting, cozier.

Thursday of last week, the Single Guy found himself in one of those warm, inviting and cozy homes. He's decided to participate in a group that will be reading through the entire Bible in a year. Of course, this is something he has attempted in the past. For some reason, he's never been able to get much farther than Exodus. This means he's probably read through Genesis about a dozen times. This time, he hopes it's different. By joining up with a group that's doing the same thing, his hope is that they'll all encourage each other to keep up the pace.

The first group meeting consisted of passing along information from the leaders to the group members. The Single Guy sat quietly, as he usually does in situations involving new people. Suddenly it hit him. He had to get to the bathroom.

But this was a new place. He'd never been here before, much less used the bathroom. And this wasn't exactly a good time for him to raise his hand and ask for directions to the bathroom. The group leader was talking. She was sure to be sharing some important information about how things would be run in the group over the course of the next few months. There was probably something mentioned about not interrupting, but the Single Guy couldn't possibly know that. He was absolutely not paying attention.

Instead, he was focused on keeping himself together. Folks, it wasn't that the Single Guy had to do anything as simple as get to the restroom to pee. No, he could hold that for a while if necessary. And it was necessary. The problem at the moment was one of a more intestinal matter. Without trying to sound completely indelicate, he really needed to fart.

By this point in the evening, the Single Guy was using every ounce of his strength to clench. Here he was in a room full of people he had just met and he was praying for the strength not to break wind, which he knew would alienate them immediately. He was afraid to move, even slightly. His face had to have been turning blood red as he held back a perfectly natural bodily function.

He was in pain. Aside from that, he was torn. Three options lay before him.

One, he could interrupt the leader and ask for the bathroom. In his mind, this was a non-option. The Single Guy would stand up and say, "I'm sorry, but where's your bathroom?" The leader, of course, would then politely point the way or explain how to get there. In a one-bedroom duplex, it couldn't have been far away. But then comes the thought that everyone out in the living room obviously knows what he's doing in there. The Single Guy shook that idea out of his head.

Two, he could keep trying with all his might to hold the gas in. Again, he was in a great deal of pain. Most people have probably experienced this pain. Gas that gets pent up inside our bodies tends to be painful, especially when it cannot be released. But he wasn't really thinking about the pain. If he could manage to get past the pain and fight back the urge to let go, things might shift around on the inside. And then his gut would make a horrendous noise. It would be that loud noise that everyone would hear, and they would know, he's gotta fart. The quiet laughter would begin. The snickers under people's breath would grow louder and the Single Guy would be forced to leave the home, running off into the night. He could play the noise off as a stomach growl, as if he was hungry. But there's a difference in the noise of hunger and the sound of shifting gas. Anyone in that room with half a brain would know he was lying. "He can't be hungry," they would say, "I saw him eat no less than three cookies just minutes ago!"

Three, he could just let it go. As much as he hated the first two options, this third one was even less appealing. He was sitting on a hard folding chair. This meant that, at best, any fart would be a loud fart. But even if the Single Guy could disguise the noise, what would he be able to do about the smell? Everyone would know the general area from which the odor had come. They would look upon the Single Guy with disgust. He would be excommunicated from the group. It would be just another church with whom his bridges had been burned.

The pain was growing more intense by the second. And it seemed the information being given to the group members would never end. At that moment, the Single Guy did the only thing he knew he could safely do. He prayed silently. And when the urge became too great, he dared to risk the release of gas. There was no sound. There was no noticeable odor. He received no looks from the people next to him. No one had noticed. In his mind, the Single Guy rejoiced. He had just been a part of a spectacular miracle.

The rest of the evening went on without a hitch. The Single Guy felt as if an enormous weight had been lifted from his shoulders. The pain was gone. He could move around again without fear of something improper slipping out.

He learned a valuable lesson that night. Never eat or drink anything for two hours before meeting new people. The food may be delicious, but is it really worth the risk?

Monday, February 04, 2013

Question of the Week: Tracking Time

Via
Which activities make you lose track of time?

Anything that I'm enjoying will easily make me lose track of time. I could be lost in a good book. I could be deep in conversation with a friend. I could even be playing Farmville or something equally mindless and time consuming. The only times that I'm really not in danger of losing track of time is if I'm doing something I don't want to do and I keep checking the time every three minutes.

Disclaimer: I don't actually play Farmville. I'm more of a SimCity kind of guy.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Immunity

Charlie stared up at the ceiling, blinking rapidly, praying that no one noticed the fact that he completely tripped over his own two feet. Oz, his roommate and best friend for years entered his field of vision. He looked down at his friend, laughing and shaking his head while reaching out with a hand to help him stand back up.

"So, what'd she do this time? Smile at you? Laugh at your joke?" Oz asked as Charlie regained his footing.

"She said hi," Charlie said, brushing off the back of his pants. "Normally, the hi would have been okay. But we made eye contact was too much."

"Dude, she's just a girl."

"No, she's not just a girl," said Charlie, but he knew Oz was right. Alyson was just a girl. Just an incredibly beautiful, incredibly talented, incredibly intelligent girl who had barely spoken three words to Charlie in the four months since they met. "I think something's wrong with me."

"There's a lot wrong with you," Oz said, receiving a look that could kill, "but we don't have time to go into all that right now. We are late for class."

Charlie bent down to pick up the books he had dropped. "Seriously, why do I have so much trouble acting like a human being whenever Alyson's around?"

"That's the million dollar question, my friend."

"I mean, we're in the same program. That should give us plenty to talk about," Charlie said, his voice becoming whiny.

"I'm gonna cut you off," Oz said. "You don't date. You never really have. And there's nothing wrong with that. But your lack of experience means you haven't built up an immunity to the opposite sex. So now, whenever you're around a girl you find particularly attractive, it's like Clark Kent with kryptonite. You fall apart."

"How do I build an immunity then?" Charlie asked.

Oz sighed, "I don't know. I'm making this up as I go along... OW!" Charlie smacked him in the back of the head. "It sounded good, though. Maybe I can spin this into a decent research project."

"I will not be the subject of a research project."

"Not you, specifically," Oz said, "but there have to be people like you out there. Guys who just don't know how to talk to women. I could gather the data, determine what you guys are all doing wrong, and figure out a way to help you get a date."

"I know how to get a date," Charlie said, acting somewhat offended at the insinuation that he was incapable of asking a girl out. "I just freeze up whenever presented with the opportunity, that's all."

"Well, here's your chance Casanova. Alyson McGee, 3 o'clock." Oz hastily walked away from where Charlie was standing.

Charlie turned to face Alyson as she approached him. "I think you have my Family Dynamics text," she said with a smile.

He looked at the books in his hands. Sure enough, he had two copies of the Family Dynamics textbook. He handed Alyson her copy and attempted to say something clever, but was only successful at making some sort of incoherent noise that couldn't possibly be mistaken for a known language.

Alyson laughed a little and said, "Thanks, Charlie."

As she turned to walk away, Oz walked up behind his friend. He clapped him on the back. "How 'bout that! She knows your name! And, hey, you almost said a real word to her. I'd say that immunity thing is coming right along."