Saturday, January 12, 2013

American Patriotism

Here's a link to the article about the Lexington, South Carolina high school teacher who was placed on administrative leave for stomping on the American flag while teaching his students about the power we give to symbols.  The community is up-in-arms and the district spokesperson called the teacher's actions "unprofessional and inconsistent with professional standards."  Since Lexington is close to Fort Jackson, there are questions about the wisdom of employing a teacher in a military community who is so obviously unpatriotic (Of course he's unpatriotic and a hater of all-things-American, who else would STOMP on the American flag?  #sarcasm).

Yet, one of his former students said, "No, I do not think this teacher's actions were unpatriotic. I had this teacher for this class in the past and he taught the same lesson. His point was to show that a symbol does not have any value outside of what it represents, rather the concept is what matters. He is actually quite patriotic and wanted students to value an ideal rather than an object[...]"

Upon reading this article (and after posting it to my facebook wall with some smart ass wisecrack), I was immediately brought back to General Myer Elementary School in Ft. Huachuca, Arizona.  One of the highlights of my year back in those days was the annual Book Fair.  At Myer, they set it up in the cafeteria and laid the books out on the lunch tables. (This part always bothered me.  How could they set all of those brand new, crisp, wonderful-smelling books on tables that just hours earlier hosted culinary atrocities like spaghetti made with a sauce reminiscent of ketchup, foul stewed tomatoes, and carboard-tasting--sometimes expired--milk?  Yech....)

Despite my distaste for this particular location (the cafeteria was also laden with the stench of gym classes filled with 4th & 5th graders tottering on the brink of puberty), I still loved the Book Fair.  In fact, if my parents would have let me, I would have endured the pain of going back to the school cafeteria every night that week just to peruse the endless possibilities.  In my fifth grade year, my mom finally let me wander the tables by myself.  I was so excited to get away from the agonizing monotony of looking at the books for kids my sister's age for hours while she made up her mind that I practically ran to the teenage area.   That year I got plenty of time to look at every book.  And it was that year, when I came across The Cat Ate My Gymsuit.

When I first picked this book up and read the first few lines of the  back cover, I quickly put it back down again.  The protagonist, Marcy, "despairs of ever being thin."  I was in the fifth grade and I wasn't quite sure what "despair" meant.  And because there was NO way I wanted to read yet another book centered around a narrator who is trying to gain weight---there were plenty of those around back in the 70s---when I was really wishing that I could suffer from that problem myself.  I wasn't chubby (yet), but I could feel myself moving in that direction and I certainly couldn't relate to all of those characters who actually wanted to get bigger.  So I moved onto another table.  And then it hit me:  the girl on the front of the book didn't look skinny and it said that she "despaired of ever being thin."  Maybe that meant the opposite.

5th Grade Christmas Morning--Caught between Childhood and Adolescence
So I went back. This time I  read the book description fully, and then promptly added it to my stack of "must-buys."  The basic premise:  a young, overweight girl struggling with the pressures of being a buffoon in gym class (as well as a pariah in the general junior high population) finds acceptance in an English class taught by an unorthodox teacher.  I don't remember what other books I got that night, but I do remember immediately rushing over to the little kid's area and showing it to my mom.  I don't think she seemed very interested in my amazing acquisition--she was trying to get my sister to find something (anything!) she might like to read so she distractedly murmured something like "mmm...that sounds good."

And it was good.  I had found a narrator with whom I could relate:  a non-athlete who felt good about her prowess in English class.  It sounded just like me!  I tore through that book.  But it wasn't just a story about Marcy's intellectual and emotional transformation under the tutelage of a provocative teacher; it was also about the teacher, herself, who ends up getting fired for her refusal to pledge allegiance to the flag.  When Ms. Finney takes the termination to court, the kids--especially the misfits like Marcy-- rally around her and speak on her behalf.  They understand that she's not unpatriotic or attempting to corrupt them.  After months in her classroom, they "get" her  and they understand that the act of saying, or not saying the pledge as the case may be, does not define her as a person.

Yet, many of the parents are ready to burn Ms. Finney at the proverbial stake.  They see her behavior as a sign of  liberal non-conformity that will lead their precious children down the path of anarchy into a hellish bastion of dope-smoking and flag-burning, a place where there is no chance of turning into successful, functional adults.  Of course, these parents were being ridiculous because Ms. Finney did a lot more good than bad.  She wins her court fight, but she leaves the school anyway because she feels that she cannot truly be successful in a community where there is so much negative perception.  In the end, Marcy and her peers get a very valuable lesson about the consequences of making prejudicial decisions without the benefit of insightful thought.

It was also a valuable lesson for me.  I have to admit that as a 10-year old daughter of a Marine, one who grew up on military bases and knew the words to the Marine Corps hymn before the age of 5,  I was initially appalled at Ms. Finney's refusal to say the pledge.  But, like the characters in the book, I realized that one action cannot be valued as the complete truth.  We cannot make judgements about a person's character or worth based on single actions---particularly when those actions are symbolic.

For more than three years of my childhood, I saw this statue every time we drove through the gates of Quantico, Virginia.  I know what that statue symbolizes and I know how it makes me feel when I look at it.  Both of my grandfathers served in WWII, my father spent 20 years in the Corps, and I served five years in the Army.  I believe in this country and I believe in what the flag represents.  But it's just that---a representation.  And the moment we stop realizing that we have to look deeper and further at what we see, what appears to be truth, we fail the men in this statue who made the sacrifices to raise the flag over Iwo Jima.

Those Marines, along with all American soldiers, fought for all of us to be free thinkers--for America to be a place where differences are not only tolerated, but valued, a place where individuality is honored.  Here, unlike in Hitler's Germany, we don't have to be a specific race, have a specific hair or eye color, or brand symbols to show our allegiance to a political party (no matter how much we abhor it.)  In America, we are smarter than that.  We know that wearing a star to show our Jewishness, or sporting a military high and tight, doesn't say anything about how we feel inside or who we are as human beings.

There are many people all over this country who salute the flag, who sing the national anthem at the top of their lungs, and enthusiastically put their hands over their hearts during the pledge that act selfishly in every other aspect of their lives.  They cut people off in traffic, they say bad things about neighbors they don't even know, they hoard items during Black Friday Sales less no one else get their "goodies." They act like their rights come first because they don't truly believe in community.   Are these people bigger patriots than the fictional Ms. Finney because they say the pledge?  Are these people bigger patriots than Scott Compton just because they would never dream of desecrating the American flag?  Are these people bigger patriots than someone who chooses to devote his/her life to teaching youngsters how to think for themselves so that our country continues to flourish in the 21st century?  I don't think so.

I learned that lesson way back in fifth grade when I realized that it didn't matter that the book fair was held in the nasty, smelly cafeteria/gym.  I learned way back then, that just because something looks (or smells) bad, doesn't mean it doesn't have value.  If I had stayed away, I would have missed out on so many treasures.

 I think it's time we do the same thing with Scott Compton's teaching tool.  We all need to go beyond our initial revulsion at the action and look further into his point---Stomping on a symbol does not hurt anyone.  True patriotism cannot be found in the flag itself.  It is found in what we do every day--what actions as individuals, as communities, and as a country we take to ensure that the totalitarianism and absolutism that forced our forefathers from Europe in the 1600s and caused the Holocaust never happens again.  True American patriotism is making sure that our country remains the home of the brave and the land of the free.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Ideas for Kids' Team Snacks

It was our turn for snack for Zack's basketball team.  On the spur of the moment, I came up with the idea of taking Cuties and turning them into little basketballs.  Here's a picture:

We just took a Sharpie and made lines on the oranges so that they looked like basketballs.  Clever & Simple.

When it's our turn for snack, I try to make our contribution meet the following criteria:
1) Semi-Healthy (at least one piece of fruit)
2) Fun for the kids
3) Inexpensive

Here our some past treats.  The first picture is from one of Ripken's baseball games about three years ago(before I came up with the idea that snacks needed to have some nutritional value!)
 I made the cupcakes and used some white icing.  And then, Tom used a small bottle of cake decorating gel to draw the baseball stitches.
 For this snack last year, I took plain pieces of paper, wrapped them around juice boxes, and drew the lines with crayon.  The bags behind them were leftover party favor bags that I stuck Astros napkins in (we live in Houston and Ripken was on the Astros).  I also included bananas, granola bars, and foil-wrapped, sports-themed chocolates.  (You can find bags of these for 99 cents at Party City).
These snack bags weren't for a team treat, but it's basically the same idea.  Tom was taking the boys to an Astros game and I made up snack bags that included goodies and healthy snacks with some leftover Astros napkins.  I made labels for the water bottles that had their names and stickers.  Although Tom still ended up buying some drinks for the boys at the game, we saved a lot of money doing some pre-made snacks!

Friday, January 4, 2013

2012: It All Started With Pinterest

Well...most of it started with Pinterest, anyway.

In December 2011, some of my students told me about this new-ish website called Pinterest that they absolutely loved.  "Don't do it, Ms. Davis, " warned one of them, "It's a time-sucker.  You'll spend all of your time on it and won't get anything done."  Needless to say, her admonition only piqued my interest further.  At that time, I didn't know any of my friends who were on it so I found one of my daughter's friends and begged her to send me an invite.

OHHH...what joy I found looking at all of the brightly colored photos.  I was instantly in love.  However, it was Christmas, so I pinned a few things, made some neat cookies and vowed to get back to the website after the new year.

                                                            My First Pinterest Project

Meanwhile, my husband and I were planning a series of house renovations to make our home work better for our aging family.  When we bought our house in 2007, we had 2 teenage daughters and 3 toddler boys, so we took the five bedrooms and split them in the way that made sense:  1 bedroom for us, 1 for each of the girls, and then 1 for the boys to sleep and 1 for them to play.  This made sense for a long time until Kristyn, my oldest daughter moved out (her room became a guestroom), and the boys outgrew both the playing and sleeping arrangements.  What I mean by this is:  legos, books, arts & crafts and boys' clothing were constantly strewn all over the house giving me the fits and causing lots of yelling and crying.

In addition to my growing frustration with the boys' messes, our youngest daughter was getting ready to graduate and we needed to make space for visiting relatives.  So we came up with a plan that would give us more sleeping room for visitors while still allowing us to make the most of our space on a daily basis.

When I think back, it doesn't seem like it was going to be much work. And it might not have been.  But that tricky little website Pinterest got in my head (and thereby in my husband's) and the next thing we knew...we had an all-out year of room make-overs, renovations, and reorganizations.

Disclaimer:  Some of my ideas were copied directly from pins I saw on Pinterest, while others were variations of ideas from fellow pinners.  During the time that we were doing all of the work, it was like my creative juices were on fire; the more I pinned, the more I did.  And the more I did, the more I came up with my own ideas.

Here's a photoblog of our home improvements in 2012:

First, we changed the guest room into an office.


Then we made the closet for the guest room into a craft room:
This is where I scrapbook, wrap gifts, paint my Christmas village, frame pictures, etc.
(And the best part is, I can make a mess and then just shut the door so no one can see!)

 After the craft room was finished, we went to work on changing the boys' bedroom into a Game Room.  Here's what we started with:
It's a little hard to tell, but basically there was just enough room for three beds and a dresser pushed up against the wall.  Here's what it looks like now:

We transformed the closet in this room into a game closet that works as a storage area for our games and as well as a place for lego-building and storing:

Next, we went to work on the boys' playroom which now had to function as a playroom and a bedroom.  Here's what it looked like before:
Basically, it was a desk area surrounded by various toy boxes around the room.  It was always a mess!  Here's what it looks like now:

The boys' clothes are all contained in their dressers (except for their dress clothes, which we keep in our closet) and their toys are all in their closet so that they can make a mess if they want and I can just shut the door (notice a theme here?).

After getting the boys' areas finished, we really needed to work on the outdoor area, which was totally unusable.  I have tried for hours to find a picture of our original patio, but I can't find one.  Suffice it to say that it was a 10 X 10 block of concrete onto which we couldn't even fit our patio table without knocking the chairs off the sides into the grass.  Here's a picture of what it looked like when we first moved in:

Here's what it looks like now (and yes, my husband poured every inch of concrete himself):
The concrete covers the entire length of the back of the house.  We have a tv in the covered area and a patio table on the outside of the screened in areas.  (By the way, the covered area is the product of two JC Penney outdoor canopies zipped together and anchored to the patio.)

 Next, we needed some major reorganization to our mess.When we moved the desk from the library into the office, we decided that we needed a window seat in the library so that we could lie down and read. Here's what Tom came up with:

Tom made this bench to fit in between the two bookcases perfectly.  Underneath the cushions, the bench opens for storage.  We have magazines and all of our Christmas books in the bench.

Next, I got on a major kick where I just felt like I wanted everything to look neat and organized. (This is most definitely the fault of fellow pinners who made me feel inadequate in my organizing skills.)  Here's some of the highlights of what I did:

This is my makeup drawer.  I used various jewelry boxes and a Sephora perfume sampler for the dividers.  I am happy to say that I did this last Spring and it still looks like this 8 months later!

I put together a travel bag that would hold all of our supplies so I wouldn't have to repack the necessities every time we go somewhere as a family.  This travel bag (purchased at Ross for around $10) holds both first aid and toiletries for my husband, me, and the three boys.  I do not unpack it or take away from it; I just replace used items when necessary.


 I took all of the medicine in a tub in our closet and put it in an over the door shoe hanger so we could actually find what we need quickly and easily.  This was absolutely one of the best improvements of the year.  Nothing is worse than searching for medicine when you have a screaming kid.

You might have noticed that I put shoe hangers in the game room closet, also.  I actually have them all over the house.  I got the idea from a picture on Pinterest where the pinner stored her cleaners in them.  I thought it was such a great idea that I did it, too:

I liked this idea so much that I went on a shoe-hanging spree!  In addition to the lego bag and the medicine holder, I put them in my craft closet and the back of the office door for holding all types of arts and craft supplies as well as wrapping paper, tissue, and bows.

Since we are talking about the laundry room right now, I might as well mention that  we renovated this, too.  The yellow color is new, but most importantly, we put a laundry chute in the boys' bathroom closet so they would stop throwing their clothes all over the place.  Here's the entry-way for the chute:

 And here's where it empties:

I have to admit that the boys still throw their clothes on the floor sometimes.  However, the mess is a lot more manageable than what it was before.

In addition to implementing the organizing ideas on Pinterest, I tried several lot of the home decor crafts and improvements.

First, I loved the idea of putting shelves in smaller bathroom areas, so my husband put one in the master bath toilet room:

 And in the guest bath:
The vase with the painted sticks is also a Pinterest idea.  I mod-podged a cheap vase with acrylic paint and spray-painted some sticks I found in the yard to give the shelf  some pizazz.

I also like the idea of using baskets for shelves so I did this to our master bath more recently:

I also used some crafty pins to get ideas for seasonal decor:

 I painted leaves on canvas for a little touch of Autumn in the master bath (this was before the baskets).
 I spray-painted a leftover pumpkin and made it into a snowman head for the boys' bathroom.
 I took an empty frame and added some scrapbook stuff for an old Autumn picture of the girls.

 An Easter Vase I fashioned after a Halloween Pin.

I took several different pieces of the boys' artwork and put it together in one frame for a summer picture for their bathroom.

I mod-podged a large Family Christmas Photo to a piece of canvas for the fireplace.

I also used some ideas to make gifts for people.

First, for Father's Day, a picture collage of the boys put into a frame with three slots:

Then, a Thank You Gift for my mom:


                                          The Boys' Picture Made Into a Coffee Mug.

And then, end-of-the-year gifts for the teachers:

Our Final Project took place in early December after our youngest daughter moved across the country and right before Tom's parents arrived for a holiday visit.  (And when I say right before, I mean their plane was landing and Tom was finishing laying the last of the flooring!)

Our new guest room:

This is the armoire in the guest room.  It still holds a tv, but I put old family albums along with the boys' keepsake boxes so that when our parents (or the girls) come to visit, they can look at old pictures and reminisce.

Although this blog doesn't show everything we did, it's a pretty good summary.  And although this was a year-long, sustained, joint-effort, we still have a lot more to do....

Next Up:  The Garage!