Wednesday, September 30, 2009

It's a bird! It's a plane!

Nah... it's just my dad.

Eleven years ago, my dad had a heart attack while weeding in the small lake that served as the "backyard" of the house where he and my mom live. It was the first time I have ever seen him vulnerable, hooked up to tubes, wearing an unflattering gown in a dreary hospital room.

At first it was a shock to me. Even in my 30's I still truly believed that my father was invincible. But as I saw him struggle and subsequently recover, he became a stronger figure in my eyes than ever before.

That's when I got him the Superman doll.

It was a cheesy plush figure about 18 inches tall that said a variety of "Superman-ish" sayings when you punched it in the chest. It was silly, I know, but I wanted him to know how much I looked up to him as my hero, my "Superman" - even in the shadows of illness.

I still try to remind him of his star status every once in awhile, whether it be a greeting card with a blazing "S" on the front or most recently, a silver "S" keychain that he promised to put on his golf bag for good luck.

There is not a blog long enough to list all the reasons why my father is what he is to me. For one thing, I can count on him for anything. If he says he'll do something, he will. If I had a nickel for every time he dropped everything to come to my aid - from science fair projects in grade school, to a tearful college freshman dropout needing a ride home, to a multitude of home improvement and fix-it projects today... well, let's just say I'd be a rich woman.

He's also the smartest man I know - and if he doesn't know the answer, by God he'll find it out. In fact, he's so smart that occasionally I will fall victim to his dry sense of humor. Case in point:

Dad: "You know how birds fly in a 'V'?"
Me: "Yes, of course."
Dad: "Ever notice that one side of the 'V' is longer than the other?"
Me: "Yes, I guess I have."
Dad: "Know why?"
Me: (thinking of the complicated physics lesson I'm probably about to learn) "No."
Dad: "Cuz there's more birds on that side."

He's also incredibly talented - in many ways, but the most impressive is his woodworking. Again, the list is too long to name all the amazing pieces he has created: a playhouse for me when I was growing up, a wooden toy chest for my son (that can convert to a coffee table when he goes to college), grandfather clocks, a Noah's Ark complete with two of every animal (except the rabbits - there are three - since as he put it "the suckers multiply"), and not to mention the scale model replica of a Habitat for Humanity house he just spent over 300 hours constructing.

But the quality that has impressed me the most over the years - possibly because it is a quality I don't necessarily possess - is his quiet strength. I'm not sure that my dad has an enemy in this world, though I think he's intimidated many. I know he makes many a car dealer squirm as he sits there in silence, slowly removing his pad of paper and mechanical pencil from his pocket and quietly writing his best offer. It's quite a sight.

My father is a man of few words, and we don't have the deep conversations that my mother and I share. But he serves the role in my life as the quiet patriarch... the faithful rock... the Man of Steel (even though I know he has his Kryptonite).

I once dated a rather ostentatious guy who seemed to think he had to relate to me every wonderful thing he did. At one point I flat out told him, "There are great people who know they're great and have to tell everyone (that would be you...), and there are those who are great just because they are."

That would be my dad. He doesn't need to say it. He IS it.

My mom and dad have been married for more than 50 years. After my divorce, I kiddingly told them it was their fault for setting the bar so high. And perhaps my father has done just that - set the bar so high that no man will ever quite measure up.

Disclaimer here: Just so I don't get too much flack from my mother, yes, I know he does have his faults. And I know she had to be the "bad guy" when my siblings and I were growing up - I see that now that I have children more than I ever had before. And yes, my mother is my hero as well - in a completely different way that I will save for another time. But I know if my dad reads this blog, he will be embarrassed, so I'm writing it while they are on vacation and hopefully without internet access.

We all need "Supermans" in our lives. For some of us, it's our spouse, a sibling or a best friend. For others, it's a teacher or business associate. No matter who it is, think about who your hero is in your life, and why. Take a moment to reflect on all the qualities that make he or she that way in your eyes, and how you can emulate those qualities to make yourself a better person.

And while you're at it, let that person know that they are your "Superman". They may not be faster than a speeding bullet or able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, but they do have extraordinary powers that make them deserve that "S" you bestow upon them.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Do you live up to your name?

Have you ever looked up the meaning of your name? And if so, does it apply to you and who you are?

Another inspiring message this week from Pastor Miller at Redeemer Lutheran Church. The topic of his sermon was "What does a name do?" The crux of it was that only God lives up to his name, but we as Christians should all do our best to live up to ours. Evidently, Pastor Miller's name, Ronald, means "Advisor, Ruler". How completely apropos for this messenger of God's Word.

I've always known my name - Amy - means "beloved". I'm not sure if I live up to this - it definitely depends on who you ask - but as far as my parents are concerned, I am truly beloved in their eyes.

When I was searching for a name for my new baby 12 years ago, I did want it to have significance. I chose "Brendan" not only because of the Irish origin, but also because I liked its meaning - "brave". Who doesn't wish bravery for their firstborn son? It also means "prince", of which he sometimes thinks he is, and "raven" - ironically, his favorite Edgar Allen Poe poem.

Of course, as I research it further now, the name can also mean "stinky hair", which, after a sweaty soccer game, is entirely true as well.

My other son's name - Logan - isn't quite as pertinent. A Gaelic name, it means "little hollow" or "small cove". Considering this kid tipped the scales at over 10 pounds at birth, I don't think that definition does him justice. But he is definitely his own person - his own little hollow in this world. So perhaps it is fitting.

My point here is - have you ever looked up the origin of your name and its true meaning? Were you named based on the definition, and if so, do you live up to it? Take a moment to see.

Your name and origin

And if it's Calvin ("little bald one"), Kade ("round and lumpy"), or Cassandra ("inflaming men with love")... I'm sure your parents just liked the name and neglected to look up the meaning.

Unless, of course, it fits.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Fun Words to Say

Here's a little lighthearted locution for your weekend - a list of the Top 25 Fun Words to Say as compiled by me and (both very reputable sources I'm sure).

Read them... spell them... try to pronounce them. Come on, what else do you have going on this weekend?


25. spelunker
24. lackadaisical
23. zucchini
22. rapscallion
21. supercilious
20. gibberish
19. platypus
18. crustacean
17. loquacious
16. Stromboli
15. superfluous
14. vehicular
13. Mesopotamia
12. gargantuan
11. Zamboni
10. oligarchy
9. scrumptious
8. orangutan
7. discombobulate
6. paraphernalia
5. conundrum
4. cantankerous
3. flabbergasting
2. Titicaca
1. onomatopoeia

My own personal favorite?

Ubiquitous. It means "existing or being everywhere at the same time". Like God. Or a soccer mom.

Just remember to choose your words carefully, no matter how simple or how complex. A great quote from Mark Twain reads, “The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.”

How utterly perspicacious.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

In the Hot Seat

Interviews make me want to throw up.

I'm fine the day before - even the day of - but those moments while I'm driving and sitting in my car waiting to be thrust into that chair with the light bulb shining in my face...

OK, they're not that bad. But yeah... bleh.

I had a textbook interview today. Conference room, closed door, panel of five individuals firing questions right and left. They were all very personable and professional, but by the end of it, I was exhausted. The hour I spent in that room took more out of me because it was about me - and I was the one doing the selling.

Interestingly enough, my friend called me last night to help me review my interviewing skills. At first I kind of poo-poo'd him - I mean, I've been down this road more than once. I know all the standard questions and answers, right? What are your strengths? Your weaknesses? What qualities can you bring to this position? Where do you want to be five years from now?

But the more he quizzed me, the more I thought, "Wow. I've never really verbalized these answers in awhile - at least since I've turned 40." As I pondered them even more later that night, it occurred to me that we should all ask these questions of ourselves, at least every decade or so.

For example, my strengths now are a bit different - and I hope a bit stronger - than my strengths of 10 years ago. My weaknesses have ironically stayed pretty much the same. The only difference is that now I am keenly aware of them and acknowledge their place in my life as well as what I can do to offset them, whether it be looking for someone whose strength is my weakness or learning to overcome it myself.

Have you ever asked yourself, "What do I bring to this position?" I'm not talking about a sales or management job. I'm speaking of your life position - as a mother, a father, a husband, a wife, a friend, a sibling, a mentor. What is it about you that makes you good at what you do? Answer it! You may be surprised.

And how many people think of where they picture themselves five years from now? Really - the clock is ticking. What are your short-term goals, and what could you be doing now to get yourself there? Ask any hunter - you can't target what you can't see. Inquiring minds like yours want to know. What are you here for and what are your intentions?

Regardless of the outcome of this interview today, I was certainly enlightened by the people I met and the information they asked of me. And if nothing else, I answered some tough questions that gave me some insight into who I am and where I want to be.

Now that's worth sitting in the hot seat.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Writer seeks muse...

I tell my son that the stupid people aren't those who need help; it's those who neglect to ask for it.

So I'm asking for it.

Here's the deal. I'm trying to get my writing gig off the ground. I think I've been pretty smart about it so far. After being unexpectedly downsized, within a week I had a website up, business phone, email and a PO Box, an appointment for small business counseling, business cards, business checking, networking meetings, and an appointment with the Chamber of Commerce. I was "on it" enough to realize that I had to walk before I ran, and wanted to make sure I had all the "back-end" business stuff out of the way before the clients started beating down my door.

Hmmmmm... sure is quiet in here.

I went to a very eye-opening meeting last week where I had to give a five-minute presentation on what I do. I was completely unprepared, and as I nervously said my piece, I found that it was very hard to describe what I do - or what it is I WANT to do. THAT is my challenge this week. So I'm going to practice here, then ask for help.

If you look at my website, the first line of my bio is "Everyone and everything has a story to tell." I truly believe this is true, and that sentence pretty much encompasses what I want to do.

I want to tell people's story. Because you all have one.

While writing for a local magazine in town, I truly loved doing feature articles educating people on a little known place, tooting someone's horn about a new business or community service, or educating people about a financial topic or wellness issue.

When I worked for an agency, my most favorite piece I wrote was about an orthopedic company and the people whose lives were utterly transformed because of the practice owners' technology, talents and compassion. These were people who went to work every day just like you and me (OK, well, not me...), but were accomplishing extraordinary things, right under our noses.

I want to help. I want to educate. I want to spread the word. From a non-profit doing miraculous things with zero budget to a doctor making six figures but spending his vacations helping out in third world countries - these are stories that beg to be told - and all the seemingly "everyday" stories in between.

On a smaller scale, I enjoy telling people's stories in their resumes. I'm amazed at how much more I can put into a work history by talking to the person versus asking them to write down "what they did". I've even penned a few online dating profiles for some friends who were at a loss as to how to describe themselves. That's just good fun.

Let's face it - there's nothing wrong with tooting your own horn, but especially if you're not the one tooting it. So I guess what I'm saying is - let me be the horn. Let me sing your praises. Let me help you get more funding, more business, more exposure. I'm good at what I do, and if you're good at what you do, that's a win/win for both of us right there.

So what am I asking? Advice. Suggestions. What to do next. Is this a feasible leap I'm taking or am I chasing an elusive dream in a shaky economy? Is there a market out there for a writer like me? Or... as I am thinking... do I have to convince people that they NEED someone like me?

I feel a little stupid right now... but that also makes me feel like I am doing the right thing. It's hard to ask for help, especially when you feel like you should know what you are doing. But if I've learned nothing on my 42 years on this planet, it's that everyone has something to contribute, and sometimes you just gotta shut up and listen.

So I'm listening... and hoping the quiet doesn't go on much longer.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Sometimes you have to leave Peoria in order to appreciate it

Sometimes it takes someone from the outside to make you appreciate what you see every day.

A good friend of mine from high school is visiting family and friends here in Peoria this weekend. It's been about four years since he's graced us with his presence, and about 25 years since he ran screaming from the city, vowing never to come back again.

For the past year or so, he and I have exchanged barbs back and forth about our cities. He's now settled in Tucson, which I picture as a vast wasteland of brown, dead things. He remembers Peoria as a bitterly cold, frozen tundra. Last winter, when we were experiencing below-zero wind chills, he sent me photos of him on the golf course, mowing the lawn (which I didn't even realize they had in Tucson), and sporting shorts in the middle of January. During our mild summer, I made it known that you could sit out in the sun in the middle of the day and not even break a sweat.

As his visit drew closer, I sensed he was looking forward to coming back to, as he put it, "where it all began". He mentioned the familiarity of the "Midwest smell", and started listing off the eateries he wanted to experience again: Avanti's...Schooner's...Agatucci's...

When I woke up this morning and looked outside, a low, dense fog covered the field near my house, blanketing the flocks of geese that had settled there. I wondered what my friend must have thought when he arose to the cool, fall air and the rolling mist. Turns out, he went for a run in Detweiller Park and I'm sure was as transfixed by the sight as I was.

There are many reasons to appreciate Peoria, and the Midwest. Sometimes I think we need to be reminded of them. I hope my friend enjoys his visit here, and that he takes fond memories with him back West. Because sometimes... you can go home again.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

"Raising kids is like being pecked to death by a duck"

That saying hangs in my kitchen.

Hopefully my children don't take offense. But it is sometimes true.

Never in a million years did I think this parenting gig would be so hard. When you're pregnant, all the focus is on you and your little bundle to be. "Oh!!!! Babies are so wonderful!!!!" "Oh!!!! Cherish every moment!!!!" "Oh!!!! They grow up so fast!!!"

Then you pop the kid out, and *POOF* - all those people VANISH. I secretly think they're hiding in my bushes whispering, "He-he... sucker."

Just for the record - I love my kids more than life itself. But they challenge me in ways I never knew possible. For instance, I pride myself on listening to that inner voice of mine - that gut feeling. Usually, when I'm about to make a decision, my gut knows it... my head just has to get on board. Parenting? Sometimes the only feeling in my gut is nausea. I don't have a clue what to do.

Take this little incident today. My son, who I'm sure has a higher IQ than I do and can last impressively long in a verbal war, announced that he no longer wanted to attend the school he is at, and if I would not remove him from said school he was going to flunk out on his own. He iced this cake by refusing to do his math homework for the day.

Many of you might have ideas as to what I should have done, but since you weren't here at 5:00 this evening, I'll tell you what I did.

I made him sit in a chair in the middle of the kitchen while I helped my other son with his homework. After that, I opened my laptop and addressed an email to his math teacher. I turned the computer toward him and said, "If you're not going to do your math homework, it's your responsibility to email your math teacher to let him know and to give him your reason."

Undeterred, he did just that. Ten minutes later, a very confused math teacher called my house and I privately told him the story. I hung up the phone and started making dinner. My son, curious, finally asked, "What did he say?" to which I merely replied, "He said you'll have to face the consequences," and turned back to cooking.

I said nothing else for thirty minutes.

My son sat eating in silence, then said, without looking up, "Fine. I'll do the math."

I didn't respond. There was nothing else to say.

This is just one of many challenges that I face - and we all face - daily with our children. And though I don't know if I handled this correctly or not, the one thing I did was remain calm. Please note that this is not always the case. But for some reason, his ludicrous announcement made me realize that he was almost begging me to be the quiet voice of reason - to help him renege on his decision without losing face.

And though right now I do feel like I've been pecked to death by a duck, I think that seeing the benefits of me staying calm will maybe make the next incident (and there will be one) like water off a duck's back.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Petelle has the perspicacity that Peoria pines for...

For all of you Peorians who are interested in the pending high school closing, check out an insightful, candid and well-written post from District 150 Board member Laura Petelle.

She is a shining example of how communication between the Board and the public should be handled. Whether you agree with her or not, her willingness to explain and share the information process is refreshing.

Laura Petelle's District 150 Blog

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Charter Oak School a diamond in District 150's rough

There's a lot to complain about these days in District 150.

But as I referenced in a previous blog, parents need to become more involved in their child's school in order for it to succeed.

Charter Oak Primary School teachers, staff and parents have seen the fruits of their labors and definitely have something to cheer about these days.

The 2009 ISAT scores were recently released. The ISAT (Illinois Standards Achievement Test) measures individual student achievement relative to the Illinois Learning Standards and is administered yearly to students in grades three through eight. The results give parents, teachers, and schools one measure of student learning and school performance to determine their AYP, or Adequate Yearly Progress.

This year, Charter Oak ranked second only to Washington Gifted Middle School in Math and Reading ISAT scores, with a 91.2% Reading score (up 5.7% from 2008) and a 97.6% Math score (up 3.2% from 2008).

One must note that the makeup of Charter Oak students is quite diverse. According to the District Dashboard, 46.1% of Charter Oak students are "economically disadvantaged", compared to 14.5% at Washington Gifted and 29.7% at its closest "rival" in testing, Kellar Primary School.

This is a HUGE coup for Charter Oak, and a true testament to the leadership of Principal John Wetterauer and his dedicated teachers and staff. The children at Charter Oak are from all races, all walks of life, and all socio-economic backgrounds. The fact that they have come together to make such a statement in a fledgling school district is a success beyond measure.

Charter Oak School is definitely a diamond in the rough. In addition to its outstanding teaching and administrative staff, it has an incredibly involved PTO (Parent Teacher Organization), which I have seen firsthand make a true difference in my eight years there. These parents - and the countless volunteer parents who may not necessarily be on the board but serve their school in various ways - have made huge strides in improving the educational opportunities of these students.

Laptops and projectors for 2nd-4th grade - all part of the Smart Board system they are working toward. A new computer lab. A new playground. A computerized Accelerated Reading (AR) program and incentives. Classroom supplies for teachers. The list grows and is attended to by this group of people who have made the decision to be a driving force in their child's school.

I have seen firsthand that involved parents CAN make a difference. Teachers who care CAN make a difference. An administration that puts the child FIRST can make a difference.

Let Charter Oak Primary School be a positive example for what the whole of District 150 should - and can - be.

Click on the link below to see District 150's Adequate Yearly Progress standards chart from 2003 - 2009:

AYP Progress Chart

Friday, September 11, 2009

Wiser words....

I just read the Facebook status of my brother, Chris. He never ceases to amaze me with his thoughts and insight. Here it is:

"There are those that say 'Remember September 11th, 2001.' I respectfully suggest we remember September 12th, 2001. Remember the day when you were over the initial shock and were filled with a range of emotions from anger to pride. Remember the day when you knew that this country's true strength was not its economy or its military power, but the power of its people. Remember the day when we all said 'Never again!'"

Wise words and good advice.

Where were you eight years ago today?

It is impossible for me to blog about anything else but today, the 8th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks that changed our country forever.

How can you not remember where you were the exact moment you got word as to what had happened?

I was standing outside my oldest son's preschool room holding my 1-1/2 month old when a parent mentioned that a "small" plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. It wasn't until I got in my car and turned on the radio that the actual horror of what was happening began to unfold.

My husband at the time was attending an Army Conference in New Orleans with a number of high-ranking Army officials, and after hearing about plane upon plane I remember fearing that city might be a target as well. My brother, a lawyer, worked in Manhattan, and I was unable to get ahold of him until late that night. Luckily, he was in a courthouse in Philadelphia at the time.

The whole day was surreal - not knowing where to go or what to do, I went to my mom and dad's house. I remember my mom opening the door and hugging me. Later that day, I went for a walk with my son, and the skies were eerily quiet. The evening was spent huddled with friends; no one wanted to be alone.

Eight years ago today lives ended. Lives changed. This country changed. Do you remember?

I will never forget.

We should never forget.

Click on the link below to see a moving tribute to those who lost their lives or lost loved ones on September 11, 2001.

September 11 Tribute Video

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

How to have a good divorce

Today would have been my 14th wedding anniversary.

Like 50% of the married couples out there, we didn't make it.

He and I married in 1995 after dating for six years and living together for two. We were settled in our lives and figured that marriage was the logical next step. After two years of “wedded bliss” we had our first child, and three weeks later moved to a military base for 10 months while he attended an Army command school. I finished up my maternity leave and telecommuted, hiring a nanny to help care for my newborn son.

Ten months later, we moved to Chicago and I became a full-time, stay-at-home mom. I enjoyed the role to an extent but missed working terribly, but could not find a job that would equal what I would end up paying for a commute and childcare in the big city.

My husband, unhappy with his position as well, moved us back home to Peoria in 2000 and took a job in Springfield, commuting each night. Our second son was born in 2001, and from there it became a blur of unhappiness for us both. Jobs with odd schedules, busy lives, raising small kids coupled with our own miscommunication unraveled our marriage beyond repair. We were husband and wife turned father and mother, reduced to mere roommates. We divorced in 2004.

But the story actually begins rather than ends there.

After we made the difficult decision, we entered what is termed as “divorce counseling”. Not unlike the marriage counseling we had dabbled in over the years, divorce counseling focused on the fact that we had made the decision, and the best ways to go about it – financially, emotionally, and most importantly, how to tell the children, then ages 2 and 6. As gut-wrenching as this was overall, it was accepted as positively as it could have possibly been.

The day after we told our oldest son (which was one of the toughest conversations we have ever had to have), we all went out for lunch together then went shopping for furniture for daddy’s new apartment. The kids were actually excited to be a part of planning his new place, though I know that they still probably had no idea what the whole “divorce” situation meant. They toured apartments with dad, and picked out their own bedding and decorations for their rooms. I made each of them blankets for their beds at dad’s, and made sure there were photos of them with their father in their rooms at my house.

We were told that because the kids were so young, that they would be more accepting of the change in routine and more resilient to the effects. We were lucky – for the most part that was true. Though there were some tears that first couple of weekends away from mom (mostly from mom!), they adjusted like troupers, and my ex took over the challenges of caring for two boys on his own for three or four days at a time; fixing lunches, doing laundry, and getting them to their appropriate activities. I picked up freelance work to fill my weekends without them, and we settled into our divorced lifestyles.

We both knew that it wasn’t going to be easy - no one wants to "be divorced". We both knew that our children would suffer some ill effects, but in the long run it was the best decision for our family, and it was not entered into lightly. Most of all, we both loved our boys and wanted to make situation as minimally invasive to their normal lives as possible.

It started slowly... phone calls and emails back and forth between my ex and I, tweaking schedules and visitation. We share an online calendar, so he knows when all the school functions are and I can see changes to his work schedule. I add local events that are going on during the weekends for ideas of things to do. We are a united front at their school and sporting events, parent/teacher conferences and other extracurricular activities. He took over as den leader for our oldest’s Cub Scout troop, and I stepped up my volunteering at their schools.

As they got older and discipline issues emerged, we discussed them with each other, knowing that we didn’t want to fall into the trap of “mom’s rules” vs. “dad’s rules”. Even though we disagreed in marriage, our concurrence on child rearing issues was a team effort.

I’ll never forget sitting together at one of our son’s baseball games a few summers ago. We were laughing hysterically about something our younger son had done earlier that week when someone commented, “You know, you guys get along better than most married couples.” And it hit me – we were friends.

Since then, my ex-husband and I have formed a unique relationship that we both seem to be comfortable with. We talk frequently throughout the week about the kids’ activities and our own schedules, and even get together for dinner occasionally as a family when he is in town on his weekends with the kids. We’ve gone to Starved Rock, Six Flags, and even Disney World – primarily because neither of us wants to miss the experience our kids will have at these places – and secondly because we honestly enjoy each other’s company. And though traveling out of town with your ex-spouse can be uncomfortable at times, it is made up for in being able to see our children enjoy these once-in-a-lifetime opportunities together. And our kids see that their parents CAN get along and CAN be friends.

I'll add a disclaimer here. Every divorce is different. Some have circumstances that preclude them from even possibly having a civil relationship - that I do understand. However, there are many that are in situations that can be changed for the better if they simply put their own personal emotions aside for the well-being of their children. That is something that is fixable... workable... changeable.

Some may wonder why my ex and I don’t just get back together, and that I can’t really put into words. Did we make mistakes? Hell, yes. Do we have regrets? Until the day we die. But I can say that we are better people, better parents and better friends the way we are now, and I wouldn't change that for the world. And though we've each dated over the past few years, neither of us has gone down that marriage road yet again. But I am hoping if and when that happens that we will be able to handle it with the maturity and foresight that we handled the divorce.

And though I say I do it for my children, I think I do it for myself as well.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Weigh in on Obama's "Back to School" speech

I struggled with whether or not to post this. But after reading it, I chose to share it in case it may change a few minds out there.

Here is the link to the prepared remarks of President Obama tomorrow as he addresses our nation's children.

President Obama's Back to School Speech

The fact that this event is even taking place has caused a great amount of controversy. I urge you to put your political beliefs aside for 10 minutes to read his speech and comment below.

I will say one thing - and I may get slammed for it - but no matter what you think if this man's politics, I bet there are a lot of children out there who will remember this speech as a possible turning point in their lives, from a man who has showed them that "anything is possible".

Again, POLITICAL OPINION ASIDE, the President of the United States is speaking directly to the kids who will one day run this country, and encouraging them to stay in school, to believe in themselves, and to strive to become the best they can be.

As children who have witnessed an enormous amount of historic change in their short lifetimes, who better to hear this from than the President of the United States... whoever it may be.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Read this and be amazed.

I'm not a holy roller by any means, but I do enjoy my Pastor's sermons at my church. Today was no exception. His question to his congregation today was, "Does anything amaze you anymore?"

With Labor Day upon us, that got me thinking. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, tomorrow's holiday is a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.

Think of all the amazing feats that encompasses.

Just last night I was reading my son a book entitled "Sky Boys", which described in kid-friendly detail the enormous amount of work it took to build the Empire State Building back in 1931. Three thousand men, seven million man hours, one year and 45 days. The building was built in record time, they say, because each man working on the job knew that if he didn't do his best, there were hundreds of jobless men waiting to take his spot. Amazing.

As the anniversary of 9/11 approaches, we remember those who lost their lives, and the extraordinary stories of heroism we may never know. Firefighters. Police Officers. A band of brothers who risk their lives nearly every day to keep our cities safe. Doctors and nurses performing "miracles" - saving lives yet having to experience death all too often.

And of course, let's not forget the men and women in the Armed Forces that are defending and improving our country every day. What is most amazing to me is that these are ordinary people - some of whom have witnessed horrors and atrocities that none of us could even imagine. Yet they go on, and continue their commitment to the U.S. of A.

The same goes for anyone in a service industry - I'm amazed that our mail lady makes it around the mounds of snow drifts that accumulate in our court every winter. I'm amazed at the construction workers who take an enormous amount of heat for their dangerous job of trying to improve Peoria's roads. I'm amazed at the teachers I spoke of the other day - who shape our children's education and who will be "that teacher" that some child remembers as an influential part of their lives 20, 30 or 40 years from now.

But let's focus in a little more. It's easy to "be amazed" at the bigger picture. But along with amazement comes appreciation, and there are some pretty amazing things happening right in front of your nose.

Look at your kids. Really look at them. I was studying my son sitting next to me in church today and marveling at the discrepancy between his long, sinewy legs and his ginormous feet. The gentleman who always sits a few rows back from us commented to me at the end of the service, "I think they both grow a few inches every week!" I look at my oldest son - on the verge of becoming a teen - and am struck by how his baby face is still perfectly visible - to me, anyway. Was it really 12 years ago??!!

I am constantly amazed that I am a parent - and a grownup. It seems like just yesterday I was playing dress up on our front porch, riding my bike or playing in the playhouse my dad built. Now I'm in charge, and I look around in somewhat sad amazement at how the world is changed. Gone are the days when you can let your kids take off with their friends only to return when the street lights go on. Today's kid is hooked up and wired in - be it a cell phone, PS2, Gameboy, XBox, Wii, computer, or what my friend refers to as "the idiot box", or TV.

But what amazes me in a good way is that if you turn all that noise off and take out a board game, or a basketball, or a bin full of Legos, your kids will be just as engrossed as they would be playing "Need for Speed".

Finally, I am amazed that we live in a world with so many opinions, so many discrepancies, so many rights and wrongs, yet we are all still here. We have not imploded in on ourselves. That to me says we are to some extent aware of what we have, and if not amazed, at least somewhat thankful.

So as you party, picnic or just put your feet up this Labor Day, take a moment to recognize and appreciate those for whom the day is celebrated. Then go one step further... and find something in your life that is truly amazing. You'll be glad you did.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Ghandi speaks to parents of District 150

District 150 is a train wreck.

There. I said it.

The Peoria school system has been awash in more controversy, budget woes, personality conflict and parental uprising than probably ever in its history. While I'm not going to list all the issues here, the end result is that parents are scooping up their children and running away like District 150 is the white paneled van that's been circling their cul-de-sac.

I've read SO many comments and written a few of my own to Board Members, reporters, and the like. The one thing I have noticed is that while I can appreciate the community expressing their displeasure with what is happening to the school system, there is more that they (we) can do.

Like... help our kids.
Like... get involved.
Like... give your teachers a hand.
Like... make it more about education than monetization.

That's where Ghandi comes in. You know that famous quote, "Be the change you want to see in the world"?

Yeah, he's talking to you.

The District is an entity that has big problems. That's a given. We can express our outrage all we want, but let's not forget the little people, shall we?

These kids are for the most part impervious to the District's woes. All they know is they're going to school to learn. And while the teachers are experiencing their own struggles and controversy, their bottom line is helping our children succeed in this world. That's why they became teachers in the first place.

So here's what you can do. Be the change. Be the change in YOUR school. Turn the focus down from the grand scheme that is District 150 and look to see what YOU can do to help YOUR child's corner of the world. I guarantee any assistance you offer will not be turned away.

Many people - especially the working parents - will say, "I don't have time". There are countless opportunities for you to make a difference that don't involve a lot of time on your part. For instance, did you know that most or all of the supplies used to outfit your child's classroom came directly out of that teacher's pocket? One teacher I spoke to said she spends - easily - between $1,000 to $2,000 of HER OWN MONEY each year to make her room exciting and stimulating for her students. You can help just by asking for a list of supplies that your child's teacher may need on a regular basis - it may be anything from flash cards to paper towels to plastic baggies.

And for those of you that think teachers have a sweet schedule working 9 to 3 with summers off... how do you think those lesson plans get written? Those homework papers graded? Those little decodable books stapled together? Ask your child's teacher if you can give her a hand grading papers, compiling books or helping out in the classroom every so often.

And, OK, here's the BEST bonus.

Your kid will think you're really cool.

And so will his friends.

I volunteered as a "Picture Person" for a few years, which entailed going into the classroom once a month for about 45 minutes, talking about an artist, then doing a project based in the style of that artist. I know nothing about art, so it was a true learning experience for me. But what I got out of it more than anything was 26 eager kids who would stop me in the dropoff line in the morning to say, "Ms. Kennard! When are you doing Picture Person again?"

That's making a difference in 45 MINUTES A MONTH.

It doesn't matter whether your child is in primary, middle, or high school. I promise that your efforts - no matter how big or how small - will not only improve your school (thus improving District 150 just a little bit...) it will also show your child that you care, and that you are involved in his or her life (even if your kids are at that age where they don't think they want you to be).

So if you have time to complain to your neighbor, comment on that story or write a letter to that board member, you have the time to drive over to your child's school and ask, "What can I do to help?"

If every parent would ask that question and take that time, I bet we'd all be amazed at our power - as parents - to be the change we want to see in District 150.