Tag Archives: education

Courageous girl inspires gratitude

The news media is abuzz about Malala Yousafzai, one of the contenders for the Nobel Peace Prize (to be announced tomorrow morning).

I had never heard of her until I saw her earlier this week on The Daily Show. It’s probably a testimony to our times (and perhaps to my self-centeredness) that I get some of my news from the Comedy Channel (but in my defense, I get enough of my news elsewhere that I actually get all of Jon Stewart’s jokes).

Just in case you’re as oblivious as I was, Yousafzai is a 16-year-old Pakistani girl who was shot — in the face — by the Taliban for speaking up about the importance of education for girls. Her memoir, ” I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up For Education and Was Shot by the Taliban” came out this week. Sixteen! A memoir! She’s a blogger, too.

“I wanted to speak up for my rights,” she said this week on the BBC. “And also I didn’t want my future to be just sitting in a room and be imprisoned in my four walls and just cooking and giving birth to children. I didn’t want to see my life in that way.

All the talk about Yousafzai got me thinking about my own education, infinitely easier for me to attain. Without school, I might never have learned to read (I love to read!). I would never have experienced the joy of expression in writing (oh, the horror that would be). I wouldn’t be able to add, subtract, multiply and do simply accounting (my husband would have had to find a new CFO for his insurance business). Without that class in basic keyboarding long ago, I might never have been introduced to Microsoft Word, Excel, Quark XPress and QuickBooks, all programs that have opened doors to creativity and ordered thinking.

Like Yousafzai, I had supportive parents. I remember telling my father I wanted to be president one day, and he didn’t scoff at my aspirations (he teased, but he didn’t scoff). I really believed I could be president.

I doubt, however, that I ever would had the guts to advocate for an education facing the point of a gun, and certainly not at age 15. Thank goodness for the women (and men) who made my education possible. Even if she doesn’t get the Peace Prize and despite my late coming to her party, Yousafzai has earned her notoriety. Good for her.


Learning is the beginning of wealth

Three things I learned today:

1.There are two locations with the address of 214 20th St. North in Birmingham, Ala. The first one the Garmin brought us to was a domicile, not a trendy lunch spot. The Brick & Tin, it turns out, is located in downtown Birmingham, and the purveyors believe “people should know where their food comes from.” We enjoyed both delicious soups of the day: Butternut squash and cauliflower. And I just love a place that serves couscous. Today’s seasonal side was a tasty couscous with roasted squash.

Rustic bouquet by Denise Bann of Green Finch Floral Design2. Brides love rustic arrangements, according to Denise Bann of Green Finch Floral Design in the Nashville area. Before leaving her fine hospitality this morning, she sent us on our way with this cute bouquet to brighten our hotel room tonight. What is “rustic” in flowers? “Tightly packed, fully arranged blooms that are lush, and arranged in a more textured, compact way,” as quoted from an Ashworth Community blog. “Hold on to those mason jars, but instead of having a few stems idly leaning against the side, they will be arranged in abundance.”

If you love this bouquet, pin it on Pinterest and talk up my friend Denise.

3. It’s the season of “yes” at Victoria’s Secret. After racing to a local mall at 8:45 p.m. tonight during the Bears game on Monday Night Football (!) only to find I’d forgotten my coupons (double !!), the Victoria’s Secret associate told me I could return tomorrow and use the coupons even though they expire today. Hey, the coupons are for free underwear! Whew.

Lesson 1 in your presidential election primer: Watch Romney tonight

“Do your duty, and leave the rest to heaven.”

~ Pierre Corneille

I invoke this quote from Pierre Corneille, a French playwright, to compel you to believe it is your duty to watch Mitt Romney’s nomination acceptance speech tonight at the Republican National Convention.

If it was already on your evening schedule, this post is not for you.

But if you didn’t even know the Republicans were meeting this week, or you didn’t know Romney was speaking tonight or you don’t know who Mitt Romney is, please reconsider your decision to watch “Project Runway” or enjoy Thirsty Thursday specials at the local watering hole. (I will, however, permit you to tape Heidi Klum & company — that’s what I’m doing — or watch Romney while imbibing — I might be doing that, too.)

Mitt Romney is the Republicans’ candidate for president. A six-word resumé for him would be this: High-powered businessman, former governor, multi-millionaire, Mormon. The back story: Romney, who battled it out in the most exciting Republican primary elections in ages, is running against Democrat Barack Obama, who is attempting to secure a second term as president. The election is in 67 short days on Nov. 6.

I completely understand why you think your vote doesn’t matter or why you might believe all politicians are greedy and deceitful or why politics is more boring than watching paint dry.

But I think voting is a privilege and a duty of being an American, and if you’re going to vote, you really ought to be informed. A lot of other campaigns may be boring and not worth watching (such as the one for village clerk or state representative), but determining who the man who becomes president of the United States is important.

Who is in charge might not make any difference in the country’s direction, but I’m with Corneille: Do your duty, and leave the rest to heaven.

I am not here promoting either candidate, only that a citizen’s minimum effort in electing a president should include:

  1. Watching Romney’s speech.
  2. Watching Obama’s speech next Thursday.
  3. Watching at least part of one presidential debate.
  4. Voting on Nov. 6.

This is not too much to ask in return for the American infrastructure and freedoms you enjoy every day.

To conclude today’s lesson, I will invoke another Corneille quote:

“All evils are equal when they are extreme.”

~ Pierre Corneille

Failure is not an end … but fear of failure can end things

Thirty years ago, I was learning to drive.

Aug. 2, 1982

Dear Diary,

After our trip to California, I had to start behind-the-wheel right away. The first day I went, I was dressed in loose Chic jeans, an old shirt of Mom’s and my hair wasn’t curled or anything — it was straight and in barrettes. I didn’t look good at all and you’ll never guess who I had the unfortune of having it with: [name deleted to protect the innocent — for the purposes of this blog post, we’ll call him Reeve], Mr. Perfect — almost tall, beautiful hair, a super athlete and rich.

I couldn’t even drive.

The next day, I curled my hair and looked halfway decent but of course I couldn’t make any conversation, I was just so nervous.

Anyone else remember Chic jeans? Misfortune, anyone? Right around that time, I bought some skin-tight Gloria Vanderbilt jeans — those were a lot more fashionable. At least in Wadena.

Mr. Polloch, the instructor tried making conversation with us while we were driving but I couldn’t talk and drive at the same time. Reeve could though. Just from listening I learned that Reeve went to France by himself and visited an old friend. That French people smell. French movies are very expensive, and that he went on a bike trip while he was there. I learned that he has a cabin on Pine Lake, eats Cheerios for breakfast and has a huge boat. Lots more, too, but some I don’t remember and some is trivial.

Like “Cheerios for breakfast” isn’t trivial?

One Friday, I had to take a test. I was so nervous I couldn’t eat breakfast. I passed though, with an 81. Reeve got a 92 or 94 (he can even drive!).

Some lessons need to be learned over and over again. For me, it’s not driving I need to learn (while my Beloved thinks I drive like an old lady, I will point out the only real accident in which I’ve been involved was caused by someone else –Dad, I’m not counting the garage door).

No, the lesson I can’t seem to get through my head is that learning oftentimes means not knowing what to do and sometimes means failing.

“Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”

~ Theodore Roosevelt

It’s a serious character defect that I fear failure so much it paralyzes me.

I’ve spent the past week formatting my memoir for publication, and I’ve learned more about Microsoft Word and e-publications than I have time (or you’d have interest) to recount. I’ve spent weeks (months? some might say years?) fidgeting in my seat and dragging my feet and (and other metaphors for procrastinating), thinking I could figure out self-publishing by reading about it.

Nope, it requires experiential learning. Just like learning to drive.

Colorful distraction

Every year about this time, I have to force myself to walk past the school supplies displays that dot the Big Box stores I frequent.

This year, I succumbed to the undeniably colorful lure of a new box of crayons.

I bought a box for my 8-year-old nephew.

Not only did the box have such delights as mauvelous and wild strawberry, it had a bonus: A free invitation to Crayola’s StoryStudio which promised to convert photo portraits into cartoon characters.

The project kept my nephew occupied for about five minutes, which isn’t bad for a toy you can’t plug in, but it seems you get what you pay for. The free StoryStudio didn’t really turn a photo into a cartoon — it offered a catalog of attributes (eyes, eyebrows, mouths, chins) to puzzle together into a character that looks sort of like you.

I’ve always said I had cartoon-like eyes. Here’s the proof.

This is what I got in the Haunted House storyline — me, about to be nabbed by a scary alien. Not to give away the ending to the coloring book, but the alien turned out to be a not-so-scary friend in costume at a Halloween party.

Do not ask me what the yellow green vapor is. It wasn’t identified in the story. That’s probably the scariest part.

Life’s biggest questions

Author Andrew Delbanco appeared on National Public Radio’s Diane Rehm show this morning, and I found the conversation to be interesting, especially in light of the fact that I’m stepmother to a high school senior who is pondering his next move.

Delbanco wrote “College: What It Was, Is and Should Be.”

The interview covered a lot of ground but here’s the best nugget. When Rehm asked “Why are the classics still important?” Delbanco listed a bunch questions the classics answer, and I loved his list because I think people wrestle with these questions every day:

“Because what one discovers by the study of the humanities — literature, history — is that with all the differences among cultures and all the differences in how we live now and how we lived 100 or 200 years ago, there are certain persistent human questions,” Delbanco said:

  • How do I live an honorable life?
  • How do I choose between conflicting loyalties?
  • What’s the best way to come to terms with my mortality?
  • What do I owe to my children, what do they owe to me?

“These are questions that have been debated and discussed by wise human beings for millennia and we short change our young people by closing them off from that conversation.”

“Conflicting loyalties” and “what do I owe to my children” — especially tough ones for us in middle age.

How do you answer those questions? And, if you’re college educated, how is that education helping you answer them?

My nephew beat me to publication

With seasonal poetry, a fish story and a description of a trip to Epcot, “All About Me” is filled with great reading. All of it written and illustrated by my 12-year-old nephew, Drew.

He’s an author, and I’m lucky enough to be a recipient of a copy of his book.

In a stroke of teacher genius that impresses the aspiring author in me rather than makes me yearn for the good ol’ days, the students in my nephew’s class each created a book over the course of the past school year and had it published.

Any books I created back in the day were made with construction paper and yarn. His is full-color and perfect bound.

In the stylized words of my 17-year-old stepson when he sees something he likes: “Vera nahhhhce.”

Here’s a poetic, punctuation-free excerpt:

A climb up a tree

Well classmates I’ll tell you

Life for me hasn’t been an easy climb up a tree

I’ve had weak branches

And broken ones too

And pine needles in my face


But all this time I’ve been climbing on up

And grabbing tighter

And climbing faster

And sometimes my hands were full of sap

And there wasn’t an end

So classmates just hang on

We’re almost there

I’m still going classmates

Don’t stop now

For I’m still climbing

Life hasn’t been an easy tree climb

Grandpa’s role in an engineering showpiece

Before my maternal grandfather was a traveling salesman for the Curtis Publishing Co., he was among thousands of men who worked on the Fort Peck Dam in northeast Montana.

When President Franklin Roosevelt authorized the Fort Peck Dam project through the Public Works Administration in the midst of the Great Depression in 1933, the prospect of paying work probably appealed to men from all over the region, including my grandfather who was just turning 20 at the time in western North Dakota.

Exactly how my grandfather got from North Dakota to Fort Peck is unclear, but my mother guesses he hopped a freight train. “He was a hobo,” she says. He read and understood hobo language which was graffiti designed back then by travelers who attempted to share warnings and tips with their fellow transients. Hobo signs were typically drawn onto utility poles, railroad trestle abutments, outcropping rocks, billboards or even on houses when referring to those who lived inside.

Mother doesn’t know what role her father filled on the dam project, but she guesses he was a construction worker of some sort. What I know of him, I would guess he might be excellent at leaning on a “slow” sign and telling stories to the workers around him. Of course, I got to know my grandfather when he was in his 60s, so I can’t imagine him as a 20-year-old with a spring in his step; mother guesses he might have pushed around wheelbarrows of cement.

A bulldozer is being lowered into the tunnel control shaft at the Fort Peck Dam construction site. In the background, dredges can be seen pumping material into the dam. (Ellis Photo May 30, 1935)

The dam was necessary to control flooding of the Missouri River. Thanks to a little noodling around on Google where I found an entry in Wikipedia and the Fort Peck Dam website, I learned a number of facts about this engineering masterpiece. At its peak, more than 10,000 workers — including my grandfather — were employed to build the dam, named for a 19th-century trading post. It was completed in 1940, began generating electricity in 1943 and today is one of six dams in the Pick-Sloan Plan.

Over 21,000 feet long and 250 feet high, Fort Peck Dam is the largest hydraulically filled dam in the United States and creates Fort Peck Lake, a mammoth man-made body of water with more shoreline than California’s coastline.

The dam represented a foundation for my grandfather. My grandparents agreed to marry when they could save up $100. My grandmother was earning $1 a day as a waitress in Stanley, N.D., and my grandfather was laboring for the PWA. They accomplished their goal and married on June 12, 1937.

My grandfather at 71 when he attended my high school graduation

Perhaps it is easy to point to such a monumental structure as a legacy of a man’s work. Fort Peck Dam stands today, and thanks to the wonders of the internet, you can see what’s it’s like there; check out the Fort Peck Dam Cam here. Yet, my grandfather’s legacy includes other, less tangible reminders of his presence on this earth. Though my grandfather made one of his marks with the result of back-breaking work, he held education in high regard. He had four children, one of whom served his country in the Vietnam War, and eight grandchildren. Seven of those grandchildren have earned bachelor’s degrees; four of them (so far) have earned master’s degrees (my grandfather’s youngest grandson, my cousin, is working diligently on becoming an attorney); and one of them is a pharmacist, which means technically she can be addressed as “Doctor” though she’s too down to earth to demand that.

Isn’t it interesting that a tramp became patriarch of such a well-educated tribe.

I hope the college admissions rep likes a good mystery

Boy, I’m glad I don’t work in a university admissions department.

Marketing anything to a 17-year-old boy is hard enough without having to market an institution of higher learning to a 17-year-old boy and his parents at the same time.

My Beloved and I visited one of those institutions of higher learning with my 17-year-old stepson today. He’s a junior in high school, and it’s time to get serious about what he wants to do when he grows up.

We extracted the bare minimum of information from him (long distance no less because, remember, he lives two states away with his mother) and determined a small, private university in a non-urban setting with degrees in business, environmental science or history might be appropriate.

Today’s campus visit included a tour, chapel service, lunch and a meeting with a financial aid representative.

At lunch, when Caswell went off to check out the offering of buffalo wings, I leaned over to my Beloved and said, “Well, do you think he likes it?”

He shrugged and looked exasperated. “I don’t know.”

Later, when we had Caswell trapped in the car, he said, “It was like the low leagues.”

Huh? Low leagues? “Do you mean minor leagues?”

“Yeah, minor leagues. And lunch tasted like crap.”

Hmm. Well, we can cross this option off the list and I’m not entirely sure why. But lunch didn’t impress him.

I’m a firm believer in gut feelings, so I support Caswell’s decision. But here’s the hard news for the admissions department: I watched him complete his  campus visit survey (a requirement in order to get a free T-shirt). Everything was rated as “good” or “excellent.”

Somebody in the admissions department doesn’t know enough to ask what prospective students think of lunch.

Parents: Is YOUR lesson plan ready?

School is back in session around Minnesota Transplant’s house, so kids must be soaking up lessons in the three Rs: Reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic.

Oh, wait a minute. Scratch that. Not writing. Illinois schools are cutting back on writing tests and teaching cursive writing in elementary schools, according to today’s Daily Herald.

Apparently, the elimination of cursive writing lessons stirs controversy across the nation. National Public Radio’s Diane Rehm recently devoted a whole hour to the subject of “Handwriting in the Digital Age.”

I wrote an entire manuscript on computer, and honestly, I think better while typing than while writing. Proponents of cursive writing point out how signatures should be written in cursive. “How will you endorse a check?” they wail.

Huh? What’s a check? I use a debit card almost everywhere I go, and pretty soon, Americans will be using their cell phones to pay for all the junk they buy (just you wait — it’s coming).

Personally, I like cursive writing, but I don’t think it must be part of a third grade teacher’s lesson plan. Teachers can only squeeze so much into the school day, and parents are responsible for teaching what they think is important, including reading and ‘rithmetic. If you are one of those people who complains about high taxes and about what’s not being taught in today’s classrooms, you’re a big, fat hypocrite.

High on the list of subjects that ought to be taught at home are sex education, money management and religion, all matters that carry a moral component incumbent on the parents to impart. Lessons on these subjects should be woven into conversation and activities on a weekly, if not daily basis.

Depending on what’s important to them, parents might consider including other subjects into their home lesson plans:

  • Manners.
  • Nutrition and fitness.
  • Gardening.
  • Housecleaning, laundry and cooking.
  • Relationship issues (how to get along, how to share, how to disagree).
  • Politics.
  • Hunting and/or responsible fire arms handling.
  • Swimming.
  • Sewing.
  • Driving and car maintenance.

Kids might learn a little bit about some of these things in school, but they will live more fulfilling lives if they learn at least the basics about all of these things at home. If cursive handwriting is important to you, weave lessons about it into your daily interactions:

  • Encourage a child to add items to the running grocery list on the kitchen white board.
  • Have children write notes inside birthday cards to parents, siblings and grandparents.
  • When a child begs for something, tell him to make an argument for it in writing. Imagine how much less wheedling you’d have to listen to when you demand “Write down five reasons why you think you should have a sleep-over this weekend” or “Write down the top three reasons you should get your ears pierced.”
  • Hand-write the annual missive to Santa.
  • Give a lockable diary to your child (and respect the kid’s privacy). I kept a diary for five years from eighth grade to 12th grade, and I believe that regular writing is part of the reason I’m a writer now.
  • Teach kids to write thank-you notes. (At this point, I’d settle for thank-you text messages, but a written thank-you note is a thing of beauty.)
  • At a certain age, time outs can be spent writing, a la Bart Simpson. “I’m sorry I pinched my brother” written 10 times might get the point across.