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From Slates to SmartBoards

Back in the dark ages of education (even before I went to school), students had individual slates they were supposed to bring to school every day to write on. I’ve seen them in living museums. I really don’t think I get the concept. (Yes, I know – you use chalk to make marks on the black slate then use a cloth to remove them.)

Including the wooden border, they appear to be about the dimensions of a laptop. While I can appreciate the need to be mobile, I don’t understand how you would really be able to practice penmanship or do more than a couple of math problems at a time. I guess that’s why the rich kids got to use pen and paper.

Which, sadly, is where things stood when I went to school. (Pen and paper, not slates) There was a large blackboard at the front (sometimes they were green). We used pencils for math, and pens for the other stuff. I even had a teacher who made us practice penmanship and diagram sentences, although I heard that she was the only ogre left in the profession.

I have been helping a family get ready for school this year. I cannot believe the changes. Calculators are now allowed in all grades. I am so jealous. I had to calculate logarithms by hand (I can’t even spell it now). I’m not really sure what the point to it was. I’m told that previous generations with slide rules had it easier than we did. I don’t know. I saw one once and was traumatized.

One of the requirements for the lower grades now is ear buds. Since my kids just graduated, and I had never seen that on a list, I was confused. I have seen several memos about not using them in class.

Turns out that much of the instruction on computers is oral for the younger kids. The earbuds allow them to concentrate better. Probably cuts down on talking too. I can see this as a teacher’s dream: a room full of kids learning and no noise.

It makes me think of the language lab we had in college. The system for teaching was computerized, but there was no way to listen individually. Sometimes it sounded like the UN. More often it was like trying to study in Grand Central Station.

Most people tried to be considerate, but there are always a few who really don’t get it. I can’t ever think of studying Russian there without remembering the person learning Arabic. Maybe the guy on the tape was just really loud.

The libraries have turned into media centers. According to Merriam-Webster the definition of library is “a place in which literary, musical, artistic, or reference materials (as books, manuscripts, recordings, or films) are kept for use but not for sale”.

A Media Center is a place where media is kept. (There is no official definition.) Apparently it is a media center because it now has computers. The books, magazines, newspapers, videos and audio tapes are still there. The computers are obviously technological snobs. Library was good enough for all the other media.

Students are now requested to bring supplies for the teachers too: sanitizers, tissues, band aids (?), pens, pencils. Obviously the teachers didn’t ask for the supplies. There are no requests for Valium, aspirin, or parent-teacher negotiation trainers.

One thing obviously has not changed in many years. The team mascot is the Dreadnoughts. The first time I heard it, I wondered where my education had gone wrong. I thought it was a ship. Silly me.

Who knew? They really do have a battleship as their team mascot. The dreadnought (fear nothing) was the predominant battleship of the early 20th century. It was armed with all heavy caliber guns and used steam turbine propulsion.

Nothing makes me think of 21st century high school football like steam turbine propulsion. I wonder what all those Eagles, Tigers, and Panthers think of it. I imagine it would be hard to drum up too much fear of a team when you don’t know what it is.

 

 
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Posted by on August 30, 2014 in Humor, School

 

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Doggy Doggerel

They’re not all about dogs, but I couldn’t resist the title.

 

There once was a dog named Jerome,

Who chewed up the neighbor’s best gnome.

The neighbor was mad

Jerome was so bad,

He now chews his gnomes up in Nome.

 

An aardvark was feeling some stress,

That his love life’d become such a mess.

He’s been dating a twin,

But the trouble he’s in –

He bought the twin’s twin a new dress.

 

Gorillas love termites, you know.

The teens thought they’d put on a show.

They sat by the hill

Being ever so still

While their rivals’ envy did grow.

 

My pet armadillo named Rusty

Noticed he’d become rather musty.

He went out for some air,

Rolled in sand while out there;

Now Rusty is dusty not musty.

 

Have you been to the animal fair?

My friend the platypus took me there.

He poisoned a child,

Was sick on a ride,

Got kicked out when he pummeled that bear.

 

The sloth was so late for his date,

The girl thought she just didn’t rate.

She cried for a while.

Then with a smile,

She went out and found her true mate.

 

And now you know why I never claimed to be a poet.

 
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Posted by on August 25, 2014 in Animals, Humor, Poetry

 

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En Garde, Pumpkin

Just so no one gets the wrong idea, I love fall. It’s always been my favorite time of year. The heat has finally gone away, the weather is beautiful, and it’s football season. I try to ignore the fact that the reason the leaves turn all those pretty colors is because the tree has to get rid of them to get ready for winter.

However, autumn’s starting to forget its place in the grand scheme of things. Summer is the season before fall. Half of the summer should not be taken over by autumn activities. Let’s face it – fall is the time we get ready for winter (at least those of us who spend many months preparing for snow, driving in snow, and cleaning up from snow).

We have already lost the battle of school supplies. As soon as July 4 is over, we start getting advertisements for school supplies. We just got our first year-round school here, so best-case scenario is that they are starting seven weeks early.

The weird thing about school supplies is that they go on sale in many places as soon as the advertisements start. I guess it might be because no one is going to buy extra pens and pencils a month and a half early unless they are cheap.

The really good stuff (like the expensive calculators) don’t go on sale until a couple of weeks before school actually starts. And if the class has special requirements for supplies, they don’t let you know until a week before classes (if you’re lucky).

So if you want to make sure that your child gets their favorite folder and notebooks, you need to shop by the early part of August (we only had one tiger folder left last week and mega dogs with only a few cats).

On the other hand, with calculators and specialty goods, it’s usually early September. And first-time shoppers are at a huge disadvantage with the specialty goods. Parents with connections (or older children) have already snatched up the good stuff by the time the rest of the parents even hear about what you need,

But the specific trigger for this rant is an advertisement I heard on the radio earlier this week. Tim Horton’s was advertising its new pumpkin latte as a fall drink you can enjoy now. Apparently they are trying to get a jump on Starbuck’s, who is going to start serving their fall drinks next week.

I really don’t understand the appeal of a fall coffee drink in August. It’s been in the 80’s all week with the worst humidity we’ve seen this summer. Shouldn’t people still be drinking frosty mugs of root beer or real beer or something?

If you’re addicted to coffee, isn’t there some sort of summer flavor? I’m not a coffee drinker, but thinking about it, maybe there isn’t. Raspberry and lemon, two favorites with iced tea, just sound revolting when you put them with coffee. Hmmmm, maybe that’s the answer: iced pumpkin coffee. The worst of both worlds.

As you may have guessed, I don’t like pumpkin. It’s a gourd. A nutritious gourd, but a gourd none the less. All squash are gourds. But most of them know their place. The winter varieties show themselves in the fall and get cooked into all kinds of yummy dishes. We won’t talk about summer squash.

But pumpkin needs to be in pies, and coffee creamers, and cream cheeses. They are developing a pumpkin Oreo. It will have some vanilla-type cookies (good thing – chocolate cookies would be a travesty). I’m sure I just haven’t looked hard enough for pumpkin-flavored potato chips.

We’ll know the end has come when they start selling winter coats in August. I remember trying on a winter coat in July one year when I was little. It was going to be a birthday present. I was so miserably hot trying it on, I didn’t care what it looked like. I’m guessing the marketing people discovered that talking about snow storms in August was just pushing things a little too far.

I know it’s a losing battle. Last week I saw a tree down the road changing colors. Today I noticed that my magnolia is blossoming again. How can we keep things straight when Mother Nature is so confused about what season it is?

 
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Posted by on August 22, 2014 in Autumn, Humor

 

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Calliope, Calliope, Wherefore Art Thou?

A few years ago, I realized that I had not seen a calliope in a very long time. In fact, my kids don’t even know what it is. How can it be that hundreds of thousands of Americans don’t know what a calliope is? Next thing I know, someone will say they don’t know what a harpsichord does.

When I was little, my dad worked for a large company that had an annual picnic at a nearby lake. It was a big deal – games, food, beer tent (Dad’s favorite). And a calliope.

I looked up the definition of calliope. It is a musical instrument that produces sound by sending steam or compressed air through large whistles. It also said that calliopes are very loud; some small ones are audible for miles. There is no way to vary tone or loudness. The only variables are the timing and duration of the notes. Don’t see any popularity issues there. Sounds like a lot of the kids who come through the store.

Calliopes must be tuned often to create quality sound (probably an oxymoron). The pitch is affected by the temperature of the steam, so tuning is almost worthless anyway. They decided to just tell people that those off-pitch notes were just a part of the instrument’s charms. It’s a good thing that rationalization has never caught on for singing.

Interesting note: The calliope was patented by Joshua Stoddard on October 9, 1855. (Start planning your anniversary celebrations now!) He planned for it to replace the bells at church. I don’t know what type of church Mr. Stoddard attended, but I can’t imagine waking up to the sound of a calliope playing two miles away. Or listening to it chime every hour. I’m thinking the people would have sent Joshua from his home in Worcester, MA, to somewhere on the open prairie.

Apparently a calliope can either be played by hand or mechanically. I read that calliopes began using music rolls starting in the 1900’s. The ones I saw always had human players. I wonder if the musicians were just pretending to play. How disillusioning.

The real reason for the demise of the calliope seems to have been the replacement of steam power by things that didn’t get into our lungs and try to kill us. No steam, nothing to drive the music. I think it was a conspiracy by the same people who don’t want Harleys driving through their subdivisions at 3a.

The only calliope-maker in the world right now lives in Peru, Indiana. So it appears that the instrument will not be making a comeback any time soon. It’s probably just as well. Who needs another type of loud discordant music floating around?

 

 

 
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Posted by on August 17, 2014 in Humor, Music

 

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Of Chickens and Kazoos

My husband and I started going to a new church in a small town (village actually) not far from here. It’s a stereotypical small town with a main street full of small shops and extremely nice people. The church itself is 175 years old.

Like many small towns around here, they have a street fair-type thing over the summer. Ours was this past Friday and Saturday. Being the new deacon (yes, it’s true – I’m ordained), I wanted to show I’m a team player.

Gotta be sure to research before making a commitment like that.

Friday was good. I was at the information booth handing out goodies (various noise-makers) and answering any questions people had. The section we were in was beautiful. A little valley next to the river.

Very bucolic. Until we got to the last act on the entertainment schedule. They introduced themselves as a band from a local school district. My expectations weren’t extremely high; just some very generic covers of popular music.

On the positive side, the instrumentals were very good. As was one of the male singers. Unfortunately there were four singers (two male, two female). Who were very loud. And did not enunciate. And did not hit one correct note in some of the songs.

Then they did the unforgivable. I have always been a fan of Eric Clapton. I think some of the work he did with Cream is amazing. The band tried to play Sunshine of Your Love (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pwDo0JUeKqM). I don’t know how the instrumentals sounded. They couldn’t be heard over the tortured-banshee singing of the girls. You would not have had to be a fan of 60’s rock to have felt my pain.

The big event for the church came the next morning. The famous chicken barbecue. It was pretty amazing. They build a massive production grill on the front lawn and barbecue halves of 500 chickens in an assembly-line type of thing.

But first the parade. The church is known for the chicken dinner so the float had to be something chicken-esque, right? OK. It’s a flatbed trailer, covered with bales of hay. Church members sit on the hay wearing chicken hats (felt, chicken-shaped) playing kazoos.

Yes, you read that correctly. Anyone who says we take ourselves too seriously needs to come to the parade. We rode around town playing Take Me Out to the Ballgame, When the Saints Come Marching In, and other crowd favorites. We each had a three-foot chicken cut-out (very nicely decorated) that we could make dance along.

When they told me about this, I wasn’t even sure what a kazoo was. I think I may have played one on a boat that used to go up and down the Detroit River when I was little. I could not seem to get the hang of humming the tune into the thing to get the song to come out. It probably had something to do with laughing too hard to get my mouth properly around the kazoo.

I think we might have been the most popular thing in the parade if Paws hadn’t shown up. Paws is the mascot for the Detroit Tigers. Admittedly, Paws is extremely cute. He doesn’t have one of those creepy, over-sized heads. He actually looks like a friendly tiger on two feet. I may be the only chicken who can say she was hugged by a tiger.

We had to give the chickens back at the end, but got to keep the kazoos. Mine is sitting on the table right now. I certainly don’t want to play it, but it seems wasteful to throw it away after only using it once. Maybe I’ll leave it at the church for next year. It’s probably safe from theft.

The barbecue was a bit of a let-down after that. It was very successful, and the chicken was delicious. But I had to go back to being an adult.

A couple of the men told me I needed to learn how to flip the chickens on the barbecue. They have huge racks that probably hold 20 chicken halves. They put a second rack on top and flip it over to cook the other side.

I got on one side and one of the guys got on the other. When we went to flip, my side opened (of course) and I lost a chicken. They told me I had to try again next year. I need to check the budget to make sure there’s insurance to cover loss of chickens.

The next big event is the cookie walk at the beginning of December. Apparently this church is known for food. It’s a huge sale – kind of a build-your-own cookie selection. They had 8 long tables full of cookies to choose from last year.

At least they don’t dress up like elves.

 
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Posted by on August 10, 2014 in Humor, Summer Activities

 

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Lamb Chop to Lamb Chomp

Back in the dark ages when we had to watch TV in large wooden boxes, there was a ventriloquist named Shari Lewis. She had a children’s show featuring hand puppets. Besides Shari, the stars were Hush Puppy, Charlie Horse, and the “star” Lamb Chop.

Lamb Chop was basically a white sock with closed felt eyes and a pink nose. And a lot of attitude. She always had a retort for Shari. I was afraid that Shari might have her revenge in 1996 with Shari’s Passover Surprise. I hoped that Lamb Chop was not the surprise, as in the Seder dinner. Fortunately Shari was just teaching Lamb Chop about Passover.

Shari died a couple of years later and apparently Lamb Chop has fallen on hard times. I found her (and many of her clones) in bins at the store. It seems that Lamb Chop has become a chew toy for dogs. Her name isn’t on the box, but I’d know her anywhere.

To add insult to injury, Lamb Chop and her fellow sheep come in three sizes and multiple colors. I’m thinking that someone is finally getting revenge for being annoyed by Lamb Chop for years during his childhood. Or in an advanced case of sibling rivalry, getting even with a sister for years of torment by destroying a TV idol.

I wouldn’t normally be looking at the dog toys except they did a major renovation of the pet area. They didn’t add any space, but they moved things around so the toys are on the main aisle. And apparently pet toys are a big business.

Our cats have the basic set of 50+ variations on mice and birds that they can carry around. Most of them were accumulated during the lifetimes of the previous cat residents.

I looked for a new scratching post. Apparently cats only scratch on kitty condos these days. If you want something that is strictly for scratching, the material is no longer carpet on a pole. It’s something that looks like cardboard that lies flat on the floor. I’m not sure how to train the cats to scratch down rather than up. (I think it’s some kind of cat spin to call a scratching post a toy. Everyone knows they’re for sharpening the weapons.)

Snoops’ favorite game with my husband involves a hole in the cat tree. He puts all the toys away in the bottom section which is a box with a hole in it. She watches then pulls them all back out again. It’s cheaper than buying more toys. And neater.

It appears that dog toys are less durable. They seem to fall mainly in the categories of chew and fetch.

There is an appallingly large variety of things for a dog to gnaw on. A stuffed version of any animal that you can think of can be thrown to the dog. The one exception is the absence of cat chew toys. I imagine that’s to keep the cat lobby from shutting down the company. Or using the corporate boardroom as a litterbox.

Also gone are the days of throwing Fido a bone from the dinner steak. I couldn’t find any of the rawhide chews we used to sell. However, there is a large variety of rubber/plastic “bones” for the health of the dogs’ teeth. And you can get gluten-free bones to clean the dogs’ teeth and give extra calcium to puppies.

Gluten-free is only the tip of the iceberg in the pet food industry. Dog food proudly announces that it has taken the grains out of the food. Cat food announces that it has added grasses to its products. Cheese, eggs, all types of “people” food can now be part of your furry friend’s dinner. (Of course, you don’t want to share these items from the table. Their version is more pure than ours.)

There are so many organic food choices they have taken over a whole aisle in both the cat and dog sections. I’m not sure I really understand the concept of organic pet food. Do they only use free-range chickens? Only use cows that have fed on pesticide-free grass?

I think we may have gone over the edge with the new dog food I discovered. It needs to be kept in a refrigerator at the store and at home. Some of it looks like kibble. But there is a selection of things that look like tubes of sausage. It seems that you break it up and feed it to the dog. And it costs more than the sausage in the meat department.

In spite of the over-abundance for dogs and cats in the newly refurbished department, there is still one glaring absence. I could not find a single thing for Lord Nelson, the hedgehog. I can’t believe they couldn’t find room for a single exercise ball or wheel. Guess we have to stick with the wax worm treats.

Perhaps if I look hard enough, I can find him a mini Lamb Chop.

 
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Posted by on August 7, 2014 in Humor, Pets

 

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It’s the American Way

There’s a form of punishment called Chinese Water Torture. The basic idea was to drip water onto the person’s forehead until they were driven to confess.

For some reason, that came to mind when I was thinking about Tuesday’s election.

We don’t live in a large metropolitan area, so our candidates are not the ones taking out expensive ads on local TV stations. It’s probably just as well. After the last 2+ year Presidential election cycle, I’ve learned to tune out any ad that starts with people talking in “significant tones”.

Of course, that means that I don’t watch the gubernatorial ads either. I wonder what happened to that silly idea about people interviewing candidates and presenting their views on various issues?

A candidate came around door-to-door meeting voters a couple of weeks ago. It’s happened once or twice before. Having lived in the city for many years, it’s a little disconcerting to see a well-dressed stranger pull up. I always check for religious tracts.

It has to be a little scary for the candidate too. We live in a politically conservative area. I think that means everyone has a gun. On the other hand, most people are so impressed by the effort that they give the guy a chance. Or at least remember his name.

We’ve had a lot of candidates with fuzzy agendas and vague promises. I think this might be the first year we’ve have a proposal that’s fuzzy and vague. Not that the language is written in such a way as to get people confused. Rather, no one understands what the proposal will do. Including the candidates.

We can’t find anyone who will own up to writing the creature. All that seems to be coming out of it is that it will be good for business. Probably small business. May do something for the people too. Impacts the current tax situation somehow.

It was at this point that I intended to make a humorous comparison about how much easier it would be to live in Great Britain because I have heard that the election campaign season is limited to the two months prior to the election.

However, it seems that this is one of those cases where a little information is a dangerous thing. I had neglected to take into account how many political parties there are in Great Britain. The first clue probably should have been the number of countries in that small space.

The second clue might have been that England has been around for a very long time. Political parties seem to be like any other belonging. The longer you’re around, the more stuff you have in your attic.

Beginning with the basics. There are five major parties contesting elections. Definitions courtesy of Wikipedia. Without reference I knew about the Conservatives (center-right), Labour (center-left, and misspelled according to my computer), and the Liberal Democrats (center-left). There are also the UK Independence Party (right wing) and the British National Party (far right).

The Green Party is apparently more united and doesn’t have what we Americans would call a primary. Or they may not have more than one person interested in running. Their members are too smart.

So, right off the bat, we have the potential for multiple candidates for five parties. I have no idea how many different positions are contested in each election but for their sake, I hope it’s fewer than the federal and state Senate and Congressional districts I deal with. (Besides the President and locals).

In the last election, there were 18 other parties getting votes. They run the gamut from the National Front on the far right (think fascism) to the far left Socialist Alternative (Trotskyist) and Communist Party of Britain (Marxist). I liked the name of the Pirate Party, but was disappointed to discover that they promote reform on copyright and privacy laws (oh, that kind of pirate). But my absolute favorite/favourite is The Official Monster Raving Loony Party. It promotes parties and makes fun of the other parties. I think I could have a political future there if I ever move.

I can imagine living in London or some other major city. You would be getting the major parties everywhere, the minor parties on select stations and areas, and the fringe parties on flyers and posters where they have a following.

If you lived on the west side of England near the Irish Sea, you might be able to hear ads for the Northern Irish parties as well. In the north, you have Scottish parties and in the southwest, you have Welsh parties.

Not only would you be hearing from candidates you couldn’t vote for, you’d have trouble understanding them. (Well, that part may not be so different.) Even for two months, that would be annoying. With the general election to follow.

Maybe our system isn’t so bad. (Yeah, right.)

 
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Posted by on August 3, 2014 in Humor, Politics

 

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