Thursday, May 29, 2014

Do You Know the Look?

Last week I wrote about some training a Registered Dietitian presented at my full-time job. For those of you who have followed this blog for a while, you know that I work more than one job. In fact I work three. When referring to each job, I try to avoid saying, “My second job.” This is because I do not prioritize any job as more important than another by assigning it an arbitrary number.

Let me share with you about my job as a school bus driver. I am not just a school bus driver, but a substitute school bus driver. Consider that fact for a moment. Remember back to your days in school. Remember two important facts. First, the class always took advantage of the substitute teacher. Second, students were always livelier on the bus than they were in the class room.

Now consider the fact again: I am a substitute bus driver.

Thankfully, most of the students I have encountered are very well mannered. However, I have had to speak to the students on occasion.

Allow me to also interject that if you combine all the years my daughters have graced this planet, I have well over 50 years of parenting experience, and that is notable for a 25 year old guy like me.

Consequently, I have mastered the look and growl of a father. It is a skill passed to me from my father, who received it from his father, and so on.

When students are misbehaving, I will pull the bus over and park safely. Then I will unbuckle my seat belt, get out of my seat, stand and turn to face the students. I give them the look, and then growl softly, “Ladies and Gentleman” and a quiet hush spreads across the entire bus.

Normally, I don’t need to get that drastic. In fact, normally, the students are quite helpful. I once had a route that had changed since the directions and a young lady assured me she would help me through the changes. I told her she had to be up to the task, because I didn’t want to get lost. She gave me her assurance that she would be with me every step of the way, and then she told me to turn right; I did. Another student said, “This is my stop,” so I let that student off at a corner.

As I pulled away from the stop, the entire bus called out my recently appointed navigator’s name. She looked up from her phone, startled, and stammered, “oh, you were supposed to turn back there.”

I started to give her the look, but the look on her face stopped me. She looked at me with a mixture of horror over making a mistake and that nervous laughter that comes along with it. It is a look I have seen my daughters use quite often, and it always makes me laugh. Apparently, it is not only Father’s who pass down looks to their sons, but Mother’s pass down looks to their daughters too.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Did You Have Squash for Dinner?

Beloved works hard to make sure we have a plan for meals in our house. I am so thankful for all her hard work and creativity in that regard. Unfortunately, five nights a week I am at work, in a home for ten individuals who score a little lower on an IQ test than you or I do. Since we are so regulated, the wonderful State of New York insists that we have a Registered Dietitian (RD), who plans out the meals in this house, and that is a good thing, most of the time.

She makes sure peoples diets are well-balanced with the right amount of nutrients. She makes sure everyone is getting the right amount of calories, for some people need to lose weight, and some need to gain. She also adjusts the recipes so that we can cook tasty hot meals that can feed 20 people.

Unfortunately, there are some drawbacks to having a well regulated menu and a Registered Dietitian to enforce it. The RD at work comes along once a month to observe a meal. She wants to make sure that the food is prepared right, cut in the right size pieces - for those who have trouble chewing and the right quantities are served.

And that is where the problems begin: at those meal observations.

She is a very precise woman and once scolded a staff person for serving too much spaghetti. “A serving of spaghetti is 23 strings, 23 pieces of spaghetti; I think there are too many on that plate.”

I not only like to eat, but I am of Italian descent. I do not count strings of spaghetti, I mound it on the plate until it looks like enough. Therefore, I was thankful I was not the person who served too much pasta, and I was not asked to count out 23 strings. Additionally, If I had counted them, once I got past ten strings, I would have had to take off my shoes and socks. I am sure that really would have riled our dear RD.

She was once doing a training at a staff meeting on the proper size to cut food, as well as the proper consistencies, to reduce choking hazards. Not only did she talk, but we had to demonstrate that we understood what she was saying.

When it was my turn, she placed a few large cubes of cooked sweet potatoes on the cutting board in front of me. You know the oh-so-soft, melt-in-your-mouth, exploding with sweet-goodness orange potatoes? Well, that is what she gave me to cube into the proper size. I looked at her like she was nuts. She looked at me like she really expected me to cube these things into 1/4 inch pieces.

So I shrugged, took the large French chef knife, you know the one they always use in horror movies, and with the flat of the blade, squashed the potatoes flat.

Now it was her turn to look at me like I was nuts, “I’ve never seen it done quite like that.” I don’t think she appreciated that I turned her sweet potatoes into squash.

I think I must have passed the training, since they still let me cook and handle sharp knives.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Cure for All Educational Woes

As I have been reading other people’s blogs, I have noticed that inviting a guest author to appear on another blog, to quote my daughters, is a thing. Not wanting to be left without a guest author on my blog, I have searched for one, and finally found someone willing to do a guest post.

Middlest, also known as Hannah, just finished her Advanced Placement Test for English Composition and her instructor assigned her to write a satirical essay. When she finished, she had Eldest, Kaleigh, who is an English Major, proof read it; which she did. Then she read it out loud to the entire family. In between belly-aching laughs and wiping tears from our eyes, I knew I had found my guest author. Even better, she couldn’t say ‘no’. Well, she could have, but I am her father.

Here is what she wrote:

Countless people have tried, and tried again, to find the solution to all education woes. I mean, let’s face it, you can walk into any high school around the country, and you’ll see the same problems and the same bleary-eyed, sleep-deprived, over-stressed, slightly-depressed teenagers. All high schools are, in essence, exactly the same, and in every one of these high schools, lurks every Education Administrator’s worst nightmare: students who are failing. These nightmares tarnish the reputation of Education Administrators around the world, and so they work feverishly, night and day, in their offices, far removed from an actual school environment, in an attempt to make sure that these nightmares cease to exist.

And they think they’ve found the solution. They’ve proposed a new schedule, in which classes will be longer, and everyday certain periods will rotate out, so that each student can take more classes. The new schedule even has a solution for all the students who are going to be stressed out over their increased course load: every student is required to have a lunch. It’s mandatory free time. It’s actually quite brilliant when you think about it. In fact, when asked if they approved of the new schedule, 100% of those asked agreed. It should be noted that students, teachers, and parents were not included in this survey; they were not even consulted, but those Education Administrators, with all of their doctorates and superior knowledge, would know better than the lowly students, many of whom are failing anyway, and as such, their ability to form logical and coherent opinions is in question. So, it’s good they did not consult students and teachers who have to use the schedule every day, as they may not be well learned in the workings of student’s minds and learning patterns.

The only way to make sure that the under-educated children, who are falling behind in classes catch up, is to give them more time in class per day and give them more classes per day. This way, they can spend even more time learning in an environment that’s moving far too quickly. If you didn’t understand 45 minutes worth of trigonometry, then you are definitely going to understand 60 minutes worth of it. It’s brilliant. Give them more class time, so that when they don’t understand something, the teacher can continue teaching; the class rotates out tomorrow anyway, so students don’t even have class. By the time they come back in two days, they will have forgotten all about whatever it was that was confusing them. You can’t beat that logic.

However, if classes are longer, and there are more classes, but the school day is not getting any longer, then where is all of this extra time coming from? Well, there are going to be 11 less days of class instruction than there were with the previous schedule, and I can’t think of anything more beneficial to the students. Students will now be forced to learn this material in the comfort of their own home, at their own pace. Students can move through it as slowly, or as quickly, as they like.  Some may choose to not move through it at all. They won’t know it for the final, and they may even fail the final, but they’ll be fine, because at least they all got to have a lunch period every day.  Also, having fewer class days will eliminate stress, because students have less material to cover in class. Instead, they will be learning about it at home, without a teacher’s help, and they will learn it mere days before a final exam, so it will still be fresh in their minds when they sit for the test. Really, we should just get rid of all teachers and their distracting explanations, and just cram the entire year into one night of studying before an exam.

This new schedule will vastly improve the quality of our nation’s nightmares. Children will have an increased workload and more class time per day, but less class time overall, so they don’t get too stressed out about their new workload. This new schedule, although it may sound confusing, will actually eliminate the number of students who are confused by giving them more time to think through the problems by themselves on days when they do not have class. It will also ensure that students have less instruction time, so that they can work at their own pace, at home, free from the distractions of teachers.  But most importantly of all, every child will have a lunch period.  

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mother's Day, Birthdays, and Shopping

The last week has been packed full of activity: Advanced Placement tests for the two youngest, along with their synchronized swimming show; Eldest had her week of final exams; Beloved has been in the midst of important meetings at work. To put a cap on either side of the busy week, last weekend Beloved and Littlest celebrated their birthday (yes, they share the same birthday, but not birth date!), and, of course,here in the states, this weekend we are celebrating Mother’s Day.

I must confess, any occasion for a party is a wonderful thing. However, Birthdays and Mother’s Day mean one very unfortunate thing: shopping. I dislike, I loathe shopping. I don’t like the crowds, nor do I like standing around in a line. I am always amazed at how hundreds of people manage to pilot hulking metal ships on wheels in concert with each other, up and down and across narrow strips of pavement, allowing each person to safely reach his or her destination. 
Yet, these same people, who can manage that complicated dance in the ebb and flow of traffic, somehow lose all sense when they arrive at the store or mall. They walk in large, slow, ponderous, herds--obstructing the flow of traffic. They stop in the middle of walkways for no apparent reason. Instead of keeping to the right, they find great pleasure in walking to the left.
Not only are my fellow shoppers an irritant, often the stores themselves are frustrating. I have often found myself breezing through a store, picking up a few essential items, ecstatic that the store is relatively empty, and I am making good time. That is, until I reach the check-out lines. Or should I say, check-out line. Inside this massive warehouse, that has been turned into a place to shop for socks, batteries, and dill pickles, there is only one cashier working, and the store is empty because every customer inside the large concrete box is standing in line waiting to pay.
As I watch the seconds slip by, and the minutes melt away, I start to fuss internally a little. Soon that fussing turns to fretting and boils over into a quiet fury. I am so frustrated, as I stand there with my menial purchases, I want to yell at the top of my lungs, “Hey Mr. Big Box Mart, Don’t You want My Money?”.
When I shop for Beloved, it only adds to my agitation; for I must confess, that I have not always given her gifts that were amazing. In fact, I am so relieved at holiday time when she picks out her own clothes for me to give to her--it relieves so much pressure. 
For the past few weeks, these concerns fermented in the dark corners of my mind. Then, as I was perusing Twitter and Facebook, I ran across an article from the Associated Press regarding 5 possible features for a new phone that might be offered by Amazon. I realized that, while this was extremely speculative, it may offer a solution to my shopping problem: I could get my wife a new phone.
The first feature mentioned in the article is 3D shopping, which is just like real shopping, except you can’t stop at the pretzel place to buy a warm, aromatic pretzel; or you can't stop at the cookie stand to enjoy a warm, gooey, chocolate chip cookie; nor can you stop at the coffee shop to get a jolt of caffeine to keep up the marathon shopping. Frankly, that stinks.
The next possible feature is enhanced games. I guess I might be old, but what's wrong with the good old games we have now? If we are honest, games are a waste of time. If I am going to waste time, I am going to do that on Facebook or Twitter. I must profess, I do have solitaire on my phone as a survival tool. In case I am ever lost in the wilderness, or stranded on some uncharted tropical island, I will simply launch solitaire, and soon, someone will be looking over my shoulder to tell me to play the nine of hearts on the ten of clubs. 
Seamless grocery shopping is another possible feature touted in the article. The author suggests that one will simply be able to walk into their pantry, wave their phone around, and magically, Amazon will send them groceries to replace the items a customer is running low on. I mentioned I hate shopping; however, I love eating, and so grocery shopping is a wonderful time that my wife and I get to spend together. We explore the aisles for delicacies and delights to share with our three daughters. It is a wonderful experience. I have to add, that we shop at Wegmans, which is known for taking the mundane experience of shopping and turning it into an experience to be celebrated.
Feature number four is free-streaming video. I have a television, thank you.
Lastly, the author mentions that competitive pricing would be something offered in Amazon’s new phone. This basically means if you want more features, you have to pay more money. This is hardly an innovation.
After reading the article, I decided I would not be buying an Amazon phone for Beloved. Despite the fact that she loves shopping, and this phone would seem to augment the shopping experience, she loves to do two things more than shopping. Those would be talking and texting, and this article doesn’t indicate that this new phone can do either.