Thursday, December 28, 2006

Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘em

(Me and Granny Juju smoking our candy grits.)

Can you believe that they still make candy cigarettes? When I was a kid every convenience store had candy cigarettes, but back then I could go in the store as an elementary student and buy my parents’ smokes for them: “A pack of Marlboro and Merit 100’s, please.” We didn’t have car seats or bicycle helmets either. I would go out and play in the woods all day and only come back for lunch and supper. It was a different time.

For Christmas this year my wife found candy cigarettes at a flea market. Don’t be fooled. They were not old ones. They are still manufactured and sold in the United States. A simple Google search for “candy cigarettes” will find you ample places to still purchase them. She gave them to the adults just for fun. Crazy.

The Great Gift Exchange

It appears the stomach flu ran rampant through the Christmas season. It happened to Larry at Simple Thoughts and it happened to us. One of the kids got it right before Christmas and by the end everyone had it except my brother-in-law. It was not fun, but only lasted about 24 hours or so. Made for a very memorable Christmas, but I have to say that the flu wasn’t my favorite gift exchange.

Seems in our family someone is always sick at Christmas. If we stayed home every time someone came down with something our family would never have Christmas, so it’s become a kind of tradition for us. We don’t usually share it so widely, but what do you do?

Other than that, we had a great Christmas – a great Christmas. I spent a lot of time with family and enjoyed the time a lot. Nothing like watching others, especially the children, open the presents they really wanted for Christmas.

Last Harry Potter Book Announced

At long last, and with much chagrin, the title of the last book in the Harry Potter series has been released. As is obvious in the title, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, we should anticipate much death in the sorcerer’s world.

I have read all of the books and they are one of my favorite children’s literature series of books. I label them children’s literature as the intended audience is 9-12 year olds. To think that the book is childish or immature would be a mistake. Just so you know, there are plenty of us Christians out there who love the books.

The fifth movie, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is due out in July 2007.

Pre-order the book from Borders
Official Harry Potter site

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

My Possible Bag

The side-slung book bag is very popular on the college campus. Also known as a messenger bag or book bag, it is a satchel that actually dates back to the mid 1800’s. In those days, the mountain man carried a possible bag, in which he carried everything that he could possibly need for the day: black powder, powder measurer, flint and steel, lead balls and patch, a patch knife, and a skinning knife, among other things.

I carry my own book bag now. I use it when I have a light day at the university or just to hold my stuff when I am out and about. It is the latter that I am taking the heat. My friends, if you could call them that, love to make fun of my satchel. Yes, I do use it to carry my wallet, keys, cell phone, iPod, current book I am reading, and my writing journal. Any writer worth his or her salt carries something on which to write down ideas. You can see where this is going. These buddies of mine have developed several names for my book bag:
  1. European Male Handbag
  2. Purse
  3. Man Purse
  4. Murse

They are bastards one and all, but I expected it when I bought it. Actually, I saw the satchel at Target and thought it was pretty cool looking. Most people think it is an old Austrian or German military bag. Actually, it’s very manly -- as manly as a thing like that can look. I was admiring it when my wife spouted off that it was a man purse. I promptly put it back and walked away. I was done with it. After some thought, I went back and bought it a few days later. It’s very handy as a school bag. I’ve seen several other guys on campus carrying that very bag, and other bags similar to it. It gets no looks on campus. Off campus is another story. I carry it because it is practical and utilitarian and now I carry it to make a point. Metro? Maybe. Weird? Considering the region, probably so. I prefer to think of it as artsy and eccentric.

Monday, December 18, 2006

For Those About to Game, Wii Salute You!

We had my wife’s family Christmas this weekend and it was the best Christmas we’ve had in years. The kids were so excited they could not sleep and were up for good at 4:30 a.m. When the kids get up, everyone gets up and Christmas begins. So we were unwrapping presents at the crack of God on Saturday morning.

Ms. Claus brought a special together gift for my daughter and I – the gift to give this season and wii happened to be lucky enough to get a Nintendo Wii with three games. Forget about the extra controllers, those are very hard to come by. I suppose everyone keeps throwing theirs through the TV.

Rumor has it that Ms. Claus was home sick one weekend. As soon as the daughter and I left the house to go out and about, Ms. Claus to Best Buy, where one of Jack’s elvish operatives gave Ms. Claus a tip that a shipment was coming in. The line was already long by the time she got there. More than 100 tickets were given out and Ms. Claus just got one with only five left. So she endured the line for an hour and a half to get us the gift of the season and she spent money we didn’t really have. Merry Christmas to us.

Ms. Claus, realizing that this was my only week off by myself, saw fit to give this gift to us at the early Christmas party – kind thing that she is.

So we’ve been playing Wii Sports, Billy and Mandy, The Legend of Zelda, Twilight Princess and Red Steel. Well, I’ve been playing Zelda and Red Steel. Wii Sports is amazingly fun and the innovative wiimote and chuck are amazingly response and intuitive. It is an experience that must be felt and not just demonstrated.

I see why this is such a hot gaming system. It is better than I thought it would be and I am really enjoying it, thanks to that wonderful Ms. Claus.

Woo-Wii, This is Some Kind of Fun

I am not much of a gamer. My first game system was an Atari back in the day, but I haven’t had once since. When I saw the Wii commercials on TV, I really thought that is what I wanted, and as you know Ms. Claus gave one to the family for Christmas. I am having a great time playing with my family. We have had more fun jumping and swing and running around with the included game, Wii Sports.

Even my anti-technology spouse has enjoyed Wii Sports. She is especially good at tennis. My daughter rocks at bowling. I was hoping my bowling skills would improve over my live performances, but no such luck. I manage to throw gutter balls in both real life and in game world. I do pretty well at the boxing game, however.

Some of these games are hard. That is, they are hard for the novice gamer. For the 12-year-old kid, or the 30-year-old technogeek, they may not prove very challenging. I find myself getting stumped as to what to do next. It’s usually a hidden door or something like that, but I’m not savvy enough to get that. So it’s off to the cheat sites to find out what to do. My enjoyment comes not from the exploration or the discovery, but rather I just like to run around and blow crap up and shoot at things. That is a pleasant enough distraction from real life for me and a nice stress-relief. I get a bit frustrated when I can’t figure things out. So much for that, I’ll give you some screen shots of a couple of the games I have:

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is the game to buy this season. It is highly acclaimed and makes complete use of the intuitive wii controller. I had to buy a guide to go with it and I am also looking at cheats online. I am stuck on this one too. I have worked my way through things, but I am not sure what to do next. I need to get the slingshot and destroy the monkey, but I'm not sure how to do that. Expert gamers are laughing at my stupidity. So far, I have really enjoyed this game.

Red Steel is a first person shooter with a Japanese setting. Being a martial artist and one who studies Iaido (the art of the samurai sword) this is my thing. Some critics have not liked this as much as they thought. They felt it was just another average first person shooter. Seeing how I am not a big gamer, I don't have much to compare it to. I am really enjoying it. I love how I can point the wiimote and the crosshairs follow it. When I move the wiimote toward the TV, I can zoom in on what I'm shooting. Very cool. I haven't yet earned the samurai sword. I am still stuck on the first mission. I can't figure out what to do next. I have to go to the bosses secret office, but I can't figure out where that is.

One of the drawbacks to Nintendo's Wii is the ability to throw the wiimote right through the television. It's been done and Nintendo has issued a recall of the iimote straps. The units distributed in December already have the new cord. As you can see below, the strap on the right is the older strap and it has been known to snap. The cord on the right is the improved strap. Mine was purchased before Thanksgiving so it has the older strap. So far, we have not gotten so over-excited as to let go of the thing to begin with. So our safety cord has not been tested. I'll request a replacement just to be sure.

(NOTE TO MY FRIENDS: I would love to have a game day over at the house sometime if any of you are interested. I'm hoping to be able to find a couple more controllers between now and next week. Let me know if you are interested.)

Friday, December 15, 2006

Christmas Traditions

Christmas is a crazy time in the House of Jack. We purchase Christmas gifts all year long, put up our Christmas tree sometime between the week of Thanksgiving, and it is an all-out affair once December arrives. We have tons of parties and events to attend. We can get plumb tuckered out around here. This year we skipped one party and the weather stomped on another. We purchased all of our gifts online, so it’s been pretty quiet except for finals week. (I’ll talk more about finals when I am finished on Thursday.)

The gift exchanges with the family start on Friday, the weekend before Christmas. We go to my brother-in-law’s home for Christmas with that side of the family. We just recently moved it from the parents-in-law home to his and it has been working out well for everyone. The adults don’t exchange gifts at that party anymore. We decided a few years ago to just buy for the kids and that is just fine with us. Sometimes I have my wife open a gift early because I just can’t wait for Christmas, but for the most part it centers around the kids. When the gifts are open the adults play with the kids.

After that party we head to the party with our friends from college, which is always a fun time. Two years ago we decided not to buy presents for one another, choosing instead to donate the money we would have spent to the Heifer Project. Last year we purchased several animals to be distributed nationally and internationally. We are doing the same thing this year.

On Christmas Eve, we head to Grandma’s house for Christmas with that side of my family. This is more of a dress up party with lots and lots of food, which I would prefer to do without. We exchange presents with Grandma. Then we head to Branson for Christmas with my family – my parents, my sister and her family, the grandmothers, and the multitude of cousins.

I get pretty excited about Christmas. That has always been the major holiday in my family. Birthdays and anniversaries are fine, but they are not the extravaganza, not even close. My family goes all out on Christmas. Many people buy their children toys throughout the year. Not so with us. My daughter gets presents on Christmas and her birthday. That’s pretty much it. We don’t buy her toys when we go to stores. The heap of presents on Christmas can be a bit overwhelming. It’s not about the money or the number of presents. It’s about the excitement, magic and fellowship of the time. It’s about the giving and the fun of watching someone open something exciting. We enjoy the time and it is something that everyone, children and adults, look forward to. I make no apologies for it.

Some family have traditions where they open gifts on Christmas Eve, and then send the kids to bed. That’s a fine way to do it I suppose, but that’s not our way. We put out cookies and milk, read some Christmas stories, and send the kids to bed. Then sometime thereafter Santa comes – some presents wrapped and some just sitting open under the tree. We have a habit of getting up early, the crack of God actually. As soon as the kids are up, usually between 5:30 and 6 a.m. then everyone gets up. That’s the rule in this family. We wake up any stragglers and then head downstairs for the magic and the rip-and-tear. We have two trees: one for the kids and one for the adults. Early morning is for the young ones. We just help them open their gifts, take pictures and make a big thing out of it.

After they have successfully opened their presents, we leave them to play with their new toys and the grown-ups go into the other room and we open ours. After the damage is done, then we start on breakfast, which is usually a feast in buffet-style. No big buffet this year, thankfully, but there is more about that over on FAT JACK – skinny whinny.

By mid-morning all of the cousins come over and we spend the day with one another – talking, laughing, and enjoying being home. It’s really a beautiful and exciting tradition and it makes Christmas last a long time.

A few years ago, the Ozarks was the victim of a long overdue snowy Christmas, yielding up to 14 inches in Branson. It took me four hours to drive from Springfield to my parents’ house. We got snowed in and my sister couldn’t come down from Oklahoma because of all the snow. While that year fell short because they weren’t there, it did have a silver lining. We actually had another family party on Christmas Eve that we had traveled to since before I was born. The year of this big snow, we were able to put the brakes on that long travel and spend more time at home. That year we added another tradition: a Christmas movie.

Come early evening, we pack into cars and head to the movie theatre. Who knew that movie theatres were open on Christmas? We just always assumed they were closed. Now every year we anticipate which movie we will all go to. This year I think it will be Night At The Museum. Anyone who is tired can stay back at the house and can rest, nap or read.

I am just beside myself with anticipation. I feel like a kid, a very big kid.

No More Teachers' Dirty Looks

My finals are finally finished and I am a happy man. I am ready to enjoy my Christmas break. Make no mistake. I have plenty of things to do over my break and I hope rest can be squeezed in there somewhere. You will notice that my blog posts have increased since my last final yesterday. MSU has finals on Saturdays, something I have to get used to. There are a lot of things I still have to get used to now that I’m back in college. One of which is the hypocrisy of professors and another is the myth of personal responsibility.

One of my professors called me stupid during one of my finals. Didn’t care for that, but I’m sure he thought he was being funny. The class gasped when he said it, so if it were a joke, then I don’t think anyone got it. I’ve also had an instructor stand outside our classroom while we filled out his performance evaluations. They were handed to him unsealed and he delivered them to wherever they go. I suspected something was up when he stood outside the classroom so I lied on my evaluation.

At the college level there is a systemic belief in student responsibility. The student is expected to behave like an adult and take responsibility for his or her actions. This includes acting ethically and morally. I’ve heard many professors complain about the irresponsibility and apathetic attitudes of today’s college youth. I can relate to their chagrin in that it seems that people do not respect their own education. However, the thing that is not talked about, the myth that exists, is that this responsibility is one sided. College professors have academic freedom, which allows them to behave in any manner that suits them, including being unethical, immoral and irresponsible. So long as the behaviors do not engage in discrimination, then they are free to do as they wish.

Those that complain are many times labeled as dissenters and troublemakers. I’ve seen it happen first hand when I was a field supervisor for practicum students. I have seen trouble makers and those mislabeled as troublemakers. Students have the responsibility to turn in work by the deadline; however, instructors have no obligation to turn back work in any timely manner. In fact, they don’t have to turn it back to you at all. I have an instructor who has only turned back two items during the entire semester. We received no feedback on our work or notes on how to improve. There was no way to dispute the grade. Professors have no obligation or responsibility to treat students with respect; however students are mandated to demonstrate respect. Some professors have an “attitude” grade built into the class.

I’ve actually had a professor tell me one thing and then grade me poorly on following his recommendations. In fact, I met with him during his assigned time, showed him my work, took notes during the meeting, followed his recommendations and received a zero on that portion of the project. When I met with this instructor about this, he complained that he gets this all the time and that he’s just going to quit meeting with students to keep this from happening. That is true. There have been students who have complained about this to him throughout the year and he tells them all that he never said such a thing and that it is their fault. Not usually true, because he has announced changes in class just to change his mind again (up to six times on one due date, which is verified in my notes). We’ve witnessed him doing it time and time again, but we say little. If he is tenured, in your department, and friends with the other professors, then you are simply hurting yourself. So we say little. We eat the zero and move along.

Professors wonder why students show no respect. That is due to many factors, one of which is the attitude of those who are supposed to be experts in their fields. Just like parenting, when we sow the seeds of poor instruction and irresponsibility, we will yield the same crop. I have admitted when I am wrong. I can admit that to students. My ego is not so fragile as to think that I am perfect. I have admitted wrongness to my daughter as well. I expect high quality, educated and dedicated instructors to follow those same ideals. A lofty goal, I know and one that will not be seen. But inside, I hold them to that anyway. More importantly, I hold myself to those same lofty goals.

If you are wondering, I did not raise any of these concerns to anyone. I care more about my education than being right. Sometimes, in the face of adversity, one has to ask the question: "Do I want to be right, or do I want to be happy?" Many times right does not make one happy. I choose my education and happiness over trying to chance a college professor's mind.

Leland's AIDS Quilt

My cousin Leland died of AIDS in 1996. His quilt was one of several AIDS Quilts on display at Missouri State University this week. He lived in Springfield and worked at KSPR 33 for many years. While at MSU to see the quilt, I met someone there who knew him for many years. In fact, she knew many of the Springfield people who had died of AIDS.

Leland was a very soft spirit – giving and gracious. People always say things like that about folks who have passed away. In this case, it was very true. He loved cats (having many of them) and he was very accepting of other people. He had his habits too. You never waited for Leland to arrive before you started a party. You would wait and wait. That guy, God love him, could never get anywhere on time. He was the lolling gaggingist thing ever was. He was lovable just the same. I’ve never seen his quilt before, but I’m glad I finally did.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Rilly Sabbit, Kix are for Trids

Elementary educators, good ones at least, don’t just depend on the school library to encourage reading. That teacher will also have his or her own personal library of children’s literature available in the classroom for the students. The students can access the classroom library during free reading, and the teacher can use it for reading aloud and for other curriculum needs. The standard rule that my professors use is that every elementary teacher should have around 200 personal books for the classroom library.

I have started amassing my own collection for my future classroom. Thank God for Scholastic in that I can purchase books cheaper than I could at Barnes and Noble or I recently purchased a book from then by Shel Silverstein. Most people have heard of Uncle Shelly. He was a famous writer of children’s poetry among other things and his books have been treasured for years. His latest book, Runny Babbit, was published posthumously in 2005.

Runny Babbit, is a book of spoonerism poetry and it is hysterical. My daughter and I have enjoyed sitting down and reading this together. She just cackles at the crazy lines and delights in switching them back and reading them correctly. It truly is a billy sook. Here is one of the poems about Runny Babbit who is sick with chicken pox.

I just can't tell you how much fun my daughter and I have had reading these to each other, laughing and then reconstructing them. This was going to be a Christmas present to her, but when I got it, I just couldn't wait to read them to her. I'm going to take it to my parents' house for Christmas and read it to the kids.

Runny’s Bight Toots
By Shel Silverstein

Runny put on bow snoots
‘Cause it was cold outside,
But then he pouldn’t cull them off
No tratter how he mied.
He halled for celp – his buddies came
To hend a lelping hand.
Now Runny is the very tallest
Lunny in the band.

(click here to hear my daughter read this poem.)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Queen Mother of Dirty Words

My young’in came home the other day and asked what the f-word was. She’s in first grade mind you and doesn’t hear that at home. I didn’t tell her what it was, but I wish now that I had because she went out elsewhere to seek out the information, and that my friends, is a bad habit for us to set up. I didn’t get upset with her or anything. I just told her that it was a bad word and we don’t say it. But I didn’t tell her what it was.

So she went to school and asked one of her friends, who is also in the first grade. He was more than willing to tell drop the f-bomb on her. Don’t know where he heard it, but it’s in his vocabulary and now it’s in hers. Too bad really. I was hoping to keep her a bit more innocent for a while longer but the world has thwarted my efforts.

After we had our first talk, she sought out the info from a schoolmate, then promptly came home and announced to me that she knew the word. That is, we were in the kitchen and she just said the word and then clasped her hands to her mouth. So we had our talk about the f-bomb and then we watched A Christmas Story. She noticed that we couldn’t wash her mouth out with soap because we don’t have bars of soap. We use liquid. Clever little bugger she is.

Before bed she asked me what the b-word was. I got this one right. I told her what it was and then we discussed how those words are swear words. I figured she might as well learn it from me than from her friends at school. At least that way we have open communication. Some would call that hedonistic liberalism at it's worst, but they are misguided puritans. I want to be able to talk to my child.

Ralphie: Oooh fuuudge!

Ralphie as an adult: Only I didn't say "Fudge." I said the word, the big one, the queen-mother of dirty words, the "F-dash-dash-dash" word!

Dad: What did you say?

Ralphie: Uh, um...

Dad: That's... what I thought you said. Get in the car. Go on!

Ralphie as an adult: It was all over - I was dead. What would it be? The guillotine? Hanging? The chair? The rack? The Chinese water torture? Hmmph. Mere child's play compared to what surely awaited me.

[after getting home]

Mother: All right. Now, are you ready to tell me where you heard that word?

Ralphie as an adult: Now, I had heard that word at least ten times a day from my old man. He worked in profanity the way other artists might work in oils or clay. It was his true medium – a master. But, I chickened out and said the first name that came to mind.

Ralphie: Schwartz! [his friend from school]

(from A Christmas Story)

Gender Bias in the Classroom?

I completed my student practicum in an upper elementary grade classroom in a school here in the Ozarks. I enjoyed the experience, the students and my cooperating teacher. I am troubled though. Not with the teacher or with the students, but I am troubled about some things that I observe in the classroom and wonder if those issues are systemic, or just circumstantial to this group of students.

I passed out many papers and I observed the student’s grades on those papers. I noticed that in general terms, the girls seemed to be very successful making A’s and B’s. In general, the boys seemed to be doing far worse, making D’s and F’s. Now I want to be clear that I am not making stereotyped statement about all girls or all boys. I am, however, speaking in generalities and noticing some trends that affect students.

That leads me to my question: Is this a systemic problem found in many schools across the district, county, state and nation? Or is this, perhaps, a circumstantial event in which many of the boys who happened to be placed in this classroom also have poor academic performance? I have heard tell that the national trend has crossed over and that girls across the nation are now outperforming boys academically. The old gender bias has fallen by the way side and it is now boys who are struggling to keep up.

Maybe that word “struggle” is a key factor? Maybe it has to do with the girls in fifth grade are maturing and thus able to achieve a higher academic level than the boys most of which have not started to mature? I wonder if there is a socio-economic reason or perhaps it’s as simple as boys are engaging in many sports-related extracurricular activities and are having a hard time balancing it all? There could be other factors contributing that I have not yet considered. I have not done any research yet, as I am too stretched with school and my practicum and teaching karate.

Should we consider moving toward schools or classroom segregated by gender? Would that hinder or help the students? I’ve also heard there are studies on that issue as well, but I haven’t had time to research that either. If you have a perspective on this, let me know. I’d like to hear it. If you have a link to some research, then that will be even better.

I smell a Master’s Thesis in the works.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Christmas Newsletter 2006

I have been putting out an annual Christmas Newsletter for 11 years now. It's something that my family enjoys and looks forward to. This year, I am distributing it in electronic format to all of those who can access it in such a way. Embrace technology, say I. I will send hard copies to some of the older generation who do not access the internet, but otherwise, this is it.

Merry Christmas
Happy Holiday
Seasons Greetings
Merry Kwanza
Happy Hanukkah

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

9/11 Commission Report -- Graphic Novel

The 9/11 Commission released its report in December 2005 and it was so large and complex that no one was reading it. So they turned to comic book veterans Sid Jacobson (artist) and Ernie Colón (editor). Knowing that we have lessons to learn, these two have rewritten the Commissions report in graphic novel form to make it more accessible to the general public.

It has received good reviews from reputable sources such as the Library Journal. The users of rated it 4.5 stars out of 5 (38 reviews). My wife bought it and she is currently reading it. Not that any government report is entirely interesting, but as an American who is concerned about our welfare as a Nation, I am going to read it over Christmas break and keep this copy for my classroom when I am a teacher.

Never before has the government worked to make something so accessible to the public. If they go to the trouble and expense, then I will go to the trouble to read it and learn. I encourage you to buy your own copy and read it. It’s not that long. The book is available in both hardback and paperback versions.

(Actual pages from the graphic novel.)

From the Library Journal:
“Beginning with a time line of the morning of the attacks, they move on to a history of al Qaeda and its previous attacks against the United States. They also detail U.S. counterterrorism activities in the years before the attacks; missed opportunities to prevent the attacks; and the many recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, ending with the commission's December 2005 report card on the government's implementation of those recommendations. Jacobson and Colon avoid sensationalism and editorializing; the captions are adapted or directly quoted from the report itself (though much dialog is seemingly invented to illustrate certain points). A larger format would have made the sometimes small text more readable. The artwork is well done, and its depiction (with some blood) of the destruction and the doomed victims can be chilling. Simultaneously released in hardcover and paperback, this important and worthy effort belongs in all libraries.”

From Stan Lee:
"Never before have I seen a non-fiction book as beautifully and compellingly written and illustrated as The 9/11 Report, A Graphic Adaptation. I cannot recommend it too highly. It will surely set the standard for all future works of contemporary history, graphic or otherwise, and should be required reading in every home, school and library."