Count the flags!

FlagWe had an interesting discussion about celebrating America’s Independence Day, and the  ways to celebrate are as diverse as the country itself. Most of the towns around here offer some sort of fireworks, usually preceded by live music, and people bring lawn chairs and visit for a while. When our kids were kids, we usually visited the one in the town where we lived. Currently, we live out in the country, so we don’t usually bother.

Hubby wants to watch a movie, preferably Independence Day Resurgence(Bluray+DVD+Digital HD). We loved the original ID4 movie, but somehow we missed seeing the sequel. Despite its mediocre reviews, I imagine that we’ll be looking for that one in a couple of days.

In my work as an adjunct instructor, I work with students from lots of differing situations, but some of the most interesting are immigrants to our country. Many of them are just so appreciative for the opportunities that Americans have. I remember one gentleman, originally from Romania, who came over a couple of decades back, beginning with nothing but some work ethic. At first he made his living doing odd jobs. He worked his way into owning his own construction business, and he and his wife raised their family through hard work and savvy real estate deals. At our college, he was working on his HVAC (that’s heating and air-conditioning) certification, as he wanted to open an HVAC business so he could scale back doing difficult construction work as he aged. Being a very smart business man, he said that in the south making money on repairing air conditioning was a sure thing! One day at the end of our class, he spend probably half an hour, telling all of us about what a wonderful country we were living in, because he could never do all that he was doing in the economically and socially constricted country of his birth. It was quite refreshing. Sometimes, caught up in the polarized morass of modern media, Americans forget just how wonderful our country is, and how it differs from others.

When I mentioned that it can be difficult teaching young children about our country, one  mother of youngsters mentioned that when they are driving in the car, her kids count flags. Regardless of the destination, they look for the red, white, and blue symbol of our great country. That, too, is a great way to begin celebrating the good ol’ US of A.

Happy American Independence Day, y’all.

Hollar— and great customer service

hollar-pic.jpeg
Mostly, I intend to write about writing, but real life does get in the way of that, and this post is about the fabulous customer service I got from an online “dollar store” known as Hollar.com. When I ordered from them for the first time, I got several items to try, and a puzzle to share with my family, who are (just like mom) big fans of Star Wars. Let me be perfectly honest— the price for the 100 piece puzzle was $1. But, when the group effort was finished, one piece was missing. Hubby laughed at me and had some disparaging remarks about my being cheap enough to order a $1 puzzle. He is right about me being cheap, however.

Slightly annoyed, I whipped out my iPad, took a picture of the 99 piece puzzle, posted it as a comment on the Hollar Facebook page. Within a few minutes, I had a couple of responses from concerned folks at Hollar. They asked for the order number, and when I replied via FB messenger with it, they assured me that I would get a new puzzle. I was expecting (maybe) a credit on my next order, but they said the item was in stock and would soon be on its way. Kudos, right?

A few days later, I got the box, which was bigger than expected and heavier, too. Curious, I opened the box and there was another boxed Star Wars puzzle. Below it, heavily cushioned, was a very nicely framed Star Wars puzzle, with a missing piece, along with a personal note explaining that they, too, didn’t like missing pieces. Hubby, who had brought the box from the post office couldn’t stop laughing, and I was so pleased with the item that I immediately hung it.

Nowadays, people love to say that almost all companies have “customer no service” rather than treating people right. Obviously, Hollar.com has a different philosophy, as well as a great sense of humor. Needless to say, I will be visiting the site again, because such great customer service deserves a second chance.

Go check out Hollar.com. Really!

“Current Events Day”

coachWhen my kids were kids, I often assisted with homework, but I made a tactical error and told them I’d actually do any thing we determined to be “busy work.” (At the time, I still believed in the integrity of most educators.) My daughter had a couple of coach/ social studies teachers in high school who would set aside one day a week for “current events” which basically meant the students were to bring in a news story and read it to the class. There were absolutely no criteria assigned, nor was there any grade. Since the teacher was just using this instead of doing any work himself, this qualified as a mom task, and I decided to use the weirdest items I could find.

As it is has been a while since my kids were in school, I no longer read so much weird news, but sometimes a headline just grabs my attention. So, I just read a news story which would have made the cut for current events day at JHS. What do y’all think of this one? Call 911!

Wes Moss’s “Starting from Scratch”

Wes Moss ScratchI’ve listened to Wes Moss for years now. He’s the host of “Money Matters” on a local radio station, and he seems to be an approachable, common-sense guy. That tone serves him well when he writes, too. Previously, I reviewed his book on “You Can Retire Sooner Than You Think (Business Books),” and it is an excellent book on preparing for retirement. This is an earlier book, but the approach is similar in certain ways.

In this book on entrepreneurship, Moss discusses the best ways to begin a business, and he uses the acronym HUNT to explain the qualities and techniques used by successful business start ups. The H stands for “harness what you have” and the U stands for “underestimate obstacles.” Each of the sections of the book are grouped around a letter, so some of the stories illustrate the H, then some illustrate the U (but also rely on the H, of course.) Later stories deal with N “Notice your network” and finally T for “Take the first step.” Again, each of these is illustrated by several stories (21 or 22 in all, depending on when edition you read.)

The analysis of how to begin and nurture a business is just as common-sense as other Wes Moss’s writings, and the stories of each entrepreneur are short enough to allow quick reading, but in depth enough to realize that these people did what many want to do but can’t quite see the way forward. And, as the stats for success vs. failure in small business are a bit daunting, the stories are inspirational.

If you have ever wondered if you could begin a business, then this book should be a very welcome read. I quite enjoyed it, although I have many irons in the employment fire and no desire to begin yet another venture.

Middle School Mentality

Since the video of bus monitor Karen Klein was posted on YouTube, there has been much written about the incident, but not much written about the mentality of the students who tormented her. If you haven’t seen the video or read any of the news stories associated with it, a brief summary of the incident is in order. In a video shot by a fellow student, a group of boys are heard calling an older female bus monitor fat, discussing what it would be like to stab her, and saying that her family would want to commit suicide because of their association with her. Klein does dissolve into tears, but never strikes back at her juvenile tormenters.

As a former teacher, and one who spent years working with students in the middle grades, I sadly state that this video is not so shocking to me. First, I will state that although I was sometimes the target of some taunts, my position as a teacher gave me more authority, and so I never dealt with anything so horrible. But, that said, parents and the public must understand the “middle school mentality” does include more than a bit of viciousness. More than once, I have described middle school students as being similar to a pack of rabid dogs. Individually, they are usually okay, but when grouped together, it is not uncommon to get some really bad chemistry. If there is an age where homeschooling is more appropriate, I believe it is the middle grades. When kids lose their need to impress adults, but before they become accountable, there is a danger zone, and grades 5-9 tend to be the rough ones, for the students as well as for the teacher and staff members.

My own children suffered bullying at that age; in fact, I was blessed to have a husband with a high enough position in the community that he could literally call up the superintendent of schools and ask him to personally intervene in a bad situation that was causing our daughter to go through emotional turmoil.

I have little doubt that the parents of those students in the video do not have to endure constant profanity and threats at home. Actually, I would imagine that the parents were probably shocked at the video of Klein being tormented. While the parents are partially responsible, the students are of an age to take responsibility for their actions. However, putting such students with so little control together, and giving those in authority no real power to keep the students in line, is the real problem.

If these students were in a homeschool, being responsible to one or two adults, and entrusted with assisting younger students, they simply would not get into a situation where they would have nothing better to do than torment others. Anyone who had read Lord of the Flies knows that it is not a new problem.

I’m sorry for Karen Klein, but not shocked. She has stated that if she had retaliated, she would have been fired. If any aspect of this incident is shocking, it is that society doesn’t realize what goes on when middle school mentality is allowed to run amok.

If It Bleeds, It Leads

One of my sisters is a journalism major, and when discussing television news, she often laughs and says, “Oh, if it bleeds, it leads!”

Television is such a visual medium that, by its very nature, can’t objectively report news. As a journalism major, who has dabbled in the field but seldom actually made a living in it, my sister once told me that she records the evening local news, two hours per day, each week, and reviews it in an hour or two on Saturday morning. She’s right, of course, the stories and film clips are recycled so often that there are only enough actual new items to fill a two-hour per week broadcast. My sister’s method makes for much more balanced coverage of the “news” since she is not bombarded by the same stories over and over. Just like viewing a commercial for a candy bar three times an hour can lead to a trip to the store for chocolate, seeing the same news clip once an hour for three days can make a natural disaster into Armageddon.

Worse, there are many news stories which ought to lead, but recently, the most visual (and loud, of course) stories were the “lead” items.

Charlie Sheen, with broken teeth and loud expressions of ego-centric rage, was the lead story for a few days. Important? Too those with only a few portions of gray matter still functioning, perhaps.

The New York City bus crash? A human tragedy, to be sure, but it was leading because it was bleeding. No doubt the driver was tired and dozed off. It probably happens every day, somewhere, but because there were many folks on the bus, it was visually stunning, so it became a lead story.

Japan’s earthquake aftermath should be a “lead” story. But, the constant emphasis on the “nuclear” disaster is a bit misleading, if you’ll pardon the pun. There is not going to be a Chernobyl situation in Japan, because the nuclear reactors there were built to withstand most problems, and the containment devices are working fairly well, given the trying circumstances of the earthquake and tsunami. If Japan had used coal or oil to generate electricity, there would have been problems with that as well. The microscope of television news is making the problem(s) associated with radiation appear much, much worse than they actually are. Right now, the Japanese need clean water, food, and shelter; and hopefully, Americans will do what they usually do, and provide aid to a nation in need.

There is much good going on in the world, but it doesn’t bleed, therefore it does not lead. For example, legislatures across this country are attempting to deal with illegal immigration by enacting laws which attempt to verify citizenship (and therefore harass non-citizens) and those actions are misguided. Most of us “Americans” came from somewhere else and became Americans. On my way to work, I pass by a church which has a huge sign out front, touting “Free Classes in English and Citizenship.” That church, with its parking lot filled with cars of those who want to become citizens, is doing more to help the immigration problem by helping assimilate immigrants than all of the legislatures combined. But the efforts of these kind Christians won’t make the news, because doing good is not a lead story.

By Pamela/Pilar Posted in news