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Friday, September 29, 2006

ASD? This describes me to a T

Getting started is partly stalling, stalling by way of reading and listening to music, which energizes me and also makes me restless. Feeling guilty about not writing…But once something is really under way, I don't want to do anything else. I don't go out, much of the time I forget to eat, I sleep very little. It's a very undisciplined way of working and makes me not very prolific. But I'm too interested in many other things.

Writing requires huge amounts of solitude. What I've done to soften the harshness of that choice is that I don't write all the time. I like to go out—which includes traveling; I can't write when I travel. I like to talk. I like to listen. I like to look and to watch. Maybe I have an Attention Surplus Disorder. The easiest thing in the world for me is to pay attention.
Susan Sontag

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Behind the KWF storytelling project

The latest of edition of KnowledgeNews, the newsletter of the KnowledgeWorks Foundation has an article about what some of us storytellers have learned through covering the small schools transformation. Check it out.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

SPJ — In Motion

If you missed the SPJ National Convention in Chicago, you can still capture some of the energy and information by checking out video from several programs. Here's a list of the programs available:

• To Blog or Not to Blog?
• The Skills — and Flexibility — You Need to Work Across Media
• How Far Out of the Sunshine is Your State?
• Dealing Head-on with News Industry Issues
• News Councils as a Tool for Building Public Trust
• FOIA 40 Years Later
• What It Takes to Work Abroad

Monday, September 25, 2006

Hot off the presses!

Got my October issue of Continental magazine in the mail today with my profile of David Gilbert. It's not yet available online, but I'll post a link when it's available. Everybody say, "Woo Hoo!"

Federal Shield Law update

Everyone's jumping on the Federal Shield Law bandwagon.

There's this, this, this, this and this.

The San Fran Chonicle editorial reported: "One of the measures of a healthy democracy is the ability of journalists to do their job without government interference." So why are we supporting legislative action to define certain aspects of our job?

Reporters are going to jail. The case of the two Chronicle reporters is the most compelling case yet of those who can be protected by a federal shield law. Neither one of these gentlemen is prepared to reveal their sources even if jail is imposed on them. We're not exposing sources, we're punishing reporters.

Handing the government control over when and how those sources are revealed is a recipe for disaster. This BALCO case makes a mockery of democracy. The Founding Fathers must be rolling over in their graves.

My date with Faulkner: June 3, 1997

With my book in hand, I was anxious to find a spot to soak up the literary atmosphere wafting all around the French Quarter. Didn’t take long to find a wrought-iron bench in Jackson Park, mostly in the sun but with plenty of magnolia trees nearby in case the Louisiana sun became too much.

It wasn’t. This was an unseasonably cool June as locals everywhere were quick to tell us. Temperatures in the low 80s and lower than expected humidity. No sir, not your typical New Orleans June. Now don't get spoiled.

I tossed the small plastic bag from my purchase into a nearby trash can, slipped the sales slip (its carbon twin tucked safely back in the bookstore) into the back of the book and then opened to the one story I remembered of William Faulkner from high school.

When Miss Emily Grierson died, our whole town went to her funeral: the men through a sort of respectful affection for a fallen monument, the women mostly out of curiosity to see the inside of her house, which no one save an old man-servant—a combined gardener and cook—had seen in at least ten years.

As I began to read “ A Rose for Emily” in my newly acquired, “Selected Short Stories of William Faulkner” I remembered how my infatuation with southern fiction was cemented with those early short stories from 11th grade American lit.

The cherished eccentrics, the smell of decay and honeysuckle, the crinkle of taffeta gowns, the closeness of long, humid days and longer nights and the smooth slow debutante dialect.

I was reminded of this as I listened to this morning's Writer’s Almanac. Today is the birthday of William Faulkner. He often spoke about the short story being the most difficult form of writing after poetry. I’ve been working on a short story, though I’m not sure I’ll ever do anything with it other than file it in an electronic folder. But I’m intrigued and stymied by the process. There is no room for wasted words in the short story. But I feel as if I must try, mostly because I have something to say.

The aim of every artist is to arrest motion, which is life, by artificial means and hold it fixed so that a hundred years later, when a stranger looks at it, it moves again since it is life. — William Faulkner

Saturday, September 23, 2006

All football, all the time

At this time of year, weekends are dominated by one thing — football. Friday night is for high school football games, Saturday morning are flag football games, Saturday afternoon are rec tackle games followed by the college games on TV and Sundays are for, sadly, the Browns.

There’s really no fighting the football fanaticism in my house, so I might as well join them. On Thursday, Ryan’s eighth-grade practice ended a little early and he and his teammates were encouraged to stay to watch the freshmen play. Of course Ryan wouldn’t miss that and watched rapturously as he casually tossed a football up and down in front of his face. He pretended not to see me as I tried to flag him toward the car.

Michael has a Nerf football that he carries with him everywhere, though I won’t let him take it to school. He even sleeps with the darned thing. As I write, he is dressed in his flag team gear (he’s the Chicago Bears) and is talking to himself and throwing the ball and catching it and — most remarkable of all — he can even tackle himself. Danny and I laugh that he is a legend in his own mind. "Touchdown! Mi-chael Ho-oke!"

On Thursday night, all 70 pounds of Patrick earned defensive player of the week on his tackle rec team most notably for a sideline pop at last Saturday's game that could be heard in the stands. I have no idea what went through that kids mind while he was in pursuit.

Ryan is passing on sleeping in this morning to be ball boy for the JV game and then he’ll trot down the street from the high school to the middle school (in the rain it appears) to catch his brother’s game.

Since the Rockets were away (though Ryan went to the game), we decided to go to a movie last night and mix up the usual fall weekend routine. What did we see? Invincible, the story about Philadelphia Eagle Vince Papale.

Time to run because my team is clamoring for some eggs, bacon and toast.

Friday, September 22, 2006

This is no "eat your peas environmentalism"

One of the beautiful things about the Web is that I can watch City Club Friday Forums even when I can’t make the luncheon live.

That was the case today with Richard Louv’s Cleveland visit. Thanks to the generous partnership and technical prowess of the folks at the University of Akron, I was able to view his speech on Web cast.

Louv is author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.

I caught his speech on the radio at first as I was driving home from Normandy Elementary (Michael had a mishap at lunch with the syrup and needed fresh shorts and sweatshirt, but that’s worthy of a whole other post). Louv, who is a columnist for the San Diego Union-Tribune, spoke poignantly about his childhood spent pulling out survey stakes in the woods behind his suburban Kansas City home.

But he also talked about what keeps so many children out of the woods today: their parents’ fear. Only he took that belief one step further saying, “I’m a journalist and I hold my own profession accountable” for the hysteria surrounding abductions. Evidence has proven that most abduction occurs by family members or people with whom a family has had contact.

We have been conditioned to think there’s a pervert lurking behind every cluster of trees or every patch of tall grass. This raises the importance of parents taking kids in nature, something that also provides the same benefits of improved cognitive functioning, attention span and health (including reduction in stress) for kids and parents. “This is not a bitter pill,” says Louv.

Bay Village and Avon Lake recently collaborated on a wonderful park about 500 feet from my home. It's comprised of a walking path, large water-filled retention basin, woods and open fields (mostly for soccer). That's it. You've got to watch out for geese poop when jogging on the path, but otherwise it's a slice of heaven. This summer Mikey discovered that tiny frogs live in the tall grass just along the edge of the pond. And when you walk close to the shore you can see scores of them leaping into the water for safety. Unfortunately, since school has started, we haven't taken a walk. It's time to move that up on the list of important things to do with the kids.

But there are other things that stymie our kids from playing outside. Here are a few examples Louv shared.

Our litigious society has led to things such as signs on a Broward County Florida playground that read “No running” or neighborhood associations that sue homeowners over construction of a basketball hoop or tree fort. My former boss's kids made the local news a few years ago because their tree fort upset their Solon neighborhood. “One community association recently banned chalk drawing,” he says. He implored the attorneys in the audience (of which I'm sure there were many) to help change this.

Repeatedly we are told — and our children are told — that changing the world is too late, it’s over. “Naturally they don’t want to suit up for the game,” he says. That’s the message that the media has beat into them.

Louv recalls a recent instance in which a local high school biology teacher asked him to speak to a group of students. He was tired after having traveled and didn’t think the kids would care much. But since his book was written about kids, he was somewhat guilted into going. Instead of the expected 20 kids, he spoke to 200.

“I talked to them about the connection between their health and nature. And that because of global warming we are being forced to think differently about things like agriculture, architecture and urban design and energy sources. There are all kinds of new careers that don’t even have names yet.”

He had their attention and when Louv asked the biology teacher what it was about his talk that kept their interest, the biology teacher replied, “You said something hopeful about the environment. They never hear that.”

Louv ended his speech talking about the young people. “What generation of young people hasn’t wanted to build a new civilization? This is a great opportunity. Everything must change.”

The messiness of free speech

Check out Bob Cox writing the first in a series on American values last Sunday in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. (Disclosure: I am a member of Media Bloggers Association.)

Nowhere is free speech messier than in the blogosphere, where self-published authors -- some writing anonymously or pseudonymously -- have pushed the bounds of taste, ethics and the First Amendment. My organization, the Media Bloggers Association, has attorneys who defend the free speech rights of bloggers, and I have to admit that we rarely take on a case in which the blogger has not grossly offended someone's sensibilities.

Therein lies (Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell) Holmes' caveat about the "experimental" nature of our Constitution. It is the constant struggle of our democracy to balance free speech with direct and immediate threats to the general welfare. I would hope that if we shared Holmes with the world, those who hold a jaundiced view of America might come to see that although our nation is imperfect, our permitting the expression of unpopular ideas is the best hope for arriving at understanding and, through that understanding, peace.

Holmes' dissent is here.

He writes: "But as against dangers peculiar to war, as against others, the principle of the right to free speech is always the same."

Here's his bit on marketplace of ideas:

But when men have realized that time has upset many fighting faiths, they may come to believe even more than they believe the very foundations of their own conduct that the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas-that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out. That at any rate is the theory of our Constitution. It is an experiment, as all life is an experiment. Every year if not every day we have to wager our salvation upon some prophecy based upon imperfect knowledge. While that experiment is part of our system I think that we should be eternally vigilant against attempts to check the expression of opinions that we loathe and believe to be fraught with death, unless they so imminently threaten immediate interference with the lawful and pressing purposes of the law that an immediate check is required to save the country.

And so the courts have already interpreted the limitations of free speech in a time of imminent danger. Yet another reason we don't need a Federal Shield Law to grant that exception to reporters. Certainly nowhere in this interpretation are reporters singled out as an exception. The First Amendment is for everyone. Reporters get no special privilege under its protection.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Federal shield law is not about individual journalists

UPDATES: There's this from Jill and the some dissent here.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. — The First Amendment, ratified Dec. 15, 1791

Congress shall make no law…and yet legions of journalists and their employers are lining up to support approval of a Federal Shield Law. The First Amendment applies to everyone and does not single out members of the press. The moment we start to define who is and who is not a journalist is the moment we’ve begun to erode the First Amendment.

I’ve thought long and hard about this issue because the organization to which I belong and for which I work is one of the vocal proponents of such a law. I’ve heard the excuse that if we (meaning journalists) don’t set the definition, the government will do it for us. I don’t buy that argument. I believe it’s a bad time now and journalism is hard, but isn’t it supposed to hard? Are we supposed to be able to conduct investigations easily? I don’t think so. We work for the nuggets we get and police and prosecutors do the same.

The bill before the Senate Judiciary Committee will not protect the people in whose name we champion its cause. Judith Miller’s stories involved national security and that’s one reason the government can use to compel testimony. An Administration, particularly this Administration, can shout “National Security” at the top of their lungs only to later learn through the courts that their claim was invalid. "Right now that (national security) exception is so big you could drive a truck through it," said Debbie Berman, of the Chicago law firm of Jenner and Block. No matter, the damage to reporting is already done.

Josh Wolf is an independent journalist and blogger and vocal anarchist out in San Francisco. The U.S. District Court has already ruled that he doesn’t fit the definition of journalist under a shield law even though the reason he will likely head back to jail is because he shot video footage of a protest run amok and sold that footage to a local TV station (hence he was acting as a journalist).

Vanessa Leggett spent half a year in jail in 2003 because she would not turn over notes to a grand jury about a murder she was researching for a book project. At the time every major news organization came to her defense. But she would not be covered under the federal shield law because she was not a published journalist.

Journalism is changing and evolving rapidly and any attempts to define who is and who is not a journalist could prove more damaging and limiting than we can foresee right now. Leaving that definition up to court interpretation is a slippery slope toward licensing of journalists.

It was once infamously observed on the front page of the PD that you don’t need any special skills to blog. Guess what? You don’t need any special skills to be a journalist either. It helps to be curious and resourceful, to be able to connect thoughts and write coherently. But those are skills you’re either born with or you can nurture through doing. We don’t need to master canons of law or be able to perform surgery on two hours of sleep in order to get an alphabet soup of initials after our byline.

So why are we so ready to accept the legislation of one aspect of our jobs?

Journalism feels threatened today by changing conditions, be that at the hands of citizen journalists or the justice department subpoenas. Legislating our job is never going to improve those conditions.

This proposed federal shield law is more about protecting traditional journalism organizations and institutions than it is about protecting individual journalists. And that is the biggest travesty of all. It’s about big business protecting its toosh, not about any reporter facing jail time.

Continued support of this bill is perpetuating the illusion that we have some special privilege that the rest of America does not. That’s not what is written into the First Amendment.

The "stanky" debate on education

Just once don't you wish politicians weren't such a massive disappointment? We need leaders who can inspire greatness. Instead, we're handed the same old crap and no fresh ideas from the recycling bin of Ohio leadership. Makes you want to burn your voter registration in protest of the great mediocrity that comprises Ohio politics. We need a moratorium on leaders over age 55. You were given your chance to lead this state and you persistently blew it in a huge way. Now do the honorable thing and step aside and let the younger folks take a stab. Lord knows we can't sink any further. Or can we...

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Parlor blogging

I composed this last night but was unable to post because blogger was down:

I'm sitting in burgundy wingback chair in parlor of The Victoria Inn here in Anniston, Ala. I'm here and not in my room because the free wireless in my room is apparently too far from the router in the main Victorian building. Kind of a nice atmosphere in here, rich oak paneling and trim, tiny fireplaces in each room, hunter green oriental carpet with tiny rose pattern, plenty of chintz china and glass and crystal lighting.

The mellow sounds of the piano playing soft jazz in the next room create a perfect backdrop for a relaxing evening. All I need is a glass of cabernet and a cozy fire to complete the scene. Suppose the fire isn't likely when it's 78 degrees out.

All in all it's been a lovely and productive day here in Anniston. Met some terrific journalism grad students working hard as they explore community journalism. Among the stories they are working on -- The Clay Bowl, how the biggest football rivalry impacts the people of two towns; how funding levels affect an area in which 75 percent of the fire department are comprised of volunteers; and the state of children's health care in Alabama. Good stuff all around. Love the high school football stories. We’re in the heart of Hoover High School country, subject of the MTV series Two-A-Days.

Saw the venue today for the narrative writing conference sponsored by SPJ, University of Alabama, The Anniston Star and the Knight Foundation. It will be held Feb. 6-8 and the working title is, "They Call Us Storytellers." The site is a terrific Spanish Mission-style facility that used to be home to Fort McClellan, which has a fascinating history that dates back to the Civil War.

There are still plenty of signs of military life around here -- retired vets and the sprawling 44,000-acre campus that used to be one of the foremost combat training facilities. Hikers have been known to find bullet casings and other remnants of combat training amid the long-leaf pines and towering oak trees so prevalent here. Anniston itself was built during Reconstruction thanks to the money of an iron master and industrialist and the leadership of a Confederate general.

Sampled a little local cuisine tonight in the form of shrimp and grits – Yum!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


I'm stuck, captive in Cleveland Hopkins Airport. Shouldn’t there at least be free wireless as compensation for having my 6:30 flight to Atlanta cancelled? I mean I woke up at 4 a.m. to make sure I had enough time to park, check in and make my way through security. I was on target to get to my gate just in time for final boarding call.

Instead, I’m sitting just this side of security in Concourse B sipping my grande Starbucks coffee since I’ve got the time to kill to finish before boarding. Managed to keep my tension in check as the man in front of me in security poked along and the woman behind me pushed me forward. It’s a ridiculous scene, legions of businesspeople emptying laptops, removing shoes and jackets and belts. Perhaps somewhere some advanced life form is looking at us with complete wonder.

“They make everything so hard, even the most routine.”

Guess I’ll suck up the $3.95 for two hours of wireless so I can at least read my morning papers.

Cleveland poet on Writer’s Almanac
George Bilgere, arguably one of Cleveland’s best poets, is featured today on The Writer’s Almanac. Garrison Keillor reads his poem, “Aria.” Keillor will read two other poems this week: “Once Again I Fail to Read an Important Novel” on Sept. 22 and “Haywire,” the title of his newest book, on Sept. 26. You can catch Bilgere in person at 7 p.m. Monday at Joseph-Beth Booksellers at Legacy Village.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Coolness is...

...seeing your name on an email with Rick Bragg. I'm off to The Teaching Newspaper in Alabama tomorrow to talk a little SPJ, narrative writing and who knows what else. Sadly, I'm missing Ryan's football game tomorrow afternoon, but he tells me all will be forgiven if I come home with a Bama hat.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Importance of critical thinking

From today's LA Times comes this op-ed from an LA public school teacher. His point? Education is more effective and long-lasting when children learn critical thinking skills.

If we can get beyond the notion of schools as testing factories, then teachers will have the freedom to strive for a higher standard of excellence. Part of that higher standard would include the teaching of critical thinking. How does a teacher do that? By creating an academic environment in which students can sift through the mass of facts being hurled at them and begin to perceive pathways of interconnectedness.


Once students start seeing how and why seemingly disparate topics are related, and more important, once they start looking for and making those connections, then the teacher will have performed that special kind of classroom alchemy — turning passive receivers of knowledge into active participants in the learning process.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Conservative Republican and moderate Christian

"If, in the divine plan, there were sure answers to questions of public policy, God seldom gave them to me. If God gave the answers to anyone, a lot must have been lost in translation, for on "religious issues" — abortion, stem cell research, public display of religion and the like — people who worship God are on opposing sides. If there is a Christian agenda for politics, what should it be? I, for one, cannot be certain.

Then one might ask, what does faith bring to politics if not an agenda? For me, it brings a struggle to do God's will that always falls short of the goal. It leavens the competing self-interests of politics with the yeast of the Love Commandment, but it seldom fulfills the Love Commandment. It makes us better participants in politics, but not the custodians of God's politics."

From "Faith and Politics: How the "Moral Values" Debate Divides America and How to Move Forward Together" by John C. Danforth, former Republican Senator and U.N. Ambassador and Episcopalian priest. Listen here for interview on American Public Media's Speaking of Faith.

Monday, September 11, 2006

The newspaper editor's lament...

With the daily financial pressures and arrows pointed his way, the exit is always a temptation. “Look, this is not what I went into newspapers to do,” he says in a long e-mail discussing the business challenges. “I’m a reporter at heart. I still regard my quality time as the time I spend with reporters and editors, and with stories. (Every time I send someone off to a new reporting assignment, there’s a little voice in my head that says, ‘Take me with you!’)” (Bold is mine.)

From Joe Hagan's piece The United States of America vs. Bill Keller in this month's New York Magazine.

Because words are so hard to come by today

For the Falling Man

I see you again and again
tumbling out of the sky,
in your slate-grey suit and pressed white shirt.
At first I thought you were debris
from the explosion, maybe gray plaster wall
or fuselage but then I realized
that people were leaping.
I know who you are, I know
there's more to you than just this image
on the news, this ragdoll plummeting—
I know you were someone's lover, husband,
daddy. Last night you read stories
to your children, tucked them in, then curled into sleep
next to your wife. Perhaps there was small
sleepy talk of the future. Then,
before your morning coffee had cooled
you'd come to this; a choice between fire
or falling.
How feeble these words, billowing
in this aftermath, how ineffectual
this utterance of sorrow. We can see plainly
it's hopeless, even as the words trail from our mouths
—but we can't help ourselves—how I wish
we could trade them for something
that could really have caught you.
— Annie Farnsworth, Bodies of Water, Bodies of Light

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Thank you

Thank you, RZ, for your supportive call tonight. It was most appreciated -- and needed. Part of how I work through questions and challenges in my life is to write about them. Helps me to see them outside of my head and in the light of reason. That poses problems sometimes for people who would rather I keep my feelings to myself. Well, I've never been very good at self-censorship, so I guess that leaves me in a bit of a pickle. I'm driven by the need to get answers to questions even where there are no answers. Suppose I can be a bit like a pitbull in that regard. And I've been repeatedly told that my expectations of others are too high. Hence, when I am let down the resulting turmoil is extreme. Not sure how to change that part of myself. And so I write.

Faith is important to me and feeling disconnected from it affects every aspect of my life. My recent posts were about me and my feelings toward an institution that is hopelessly flawed and human (like so many other institutions) and my own personal flaws in being able to overcome those feelings. Sadly that larger and more important point is lost as people read only what they want. They read about their church being under attack instead of a fellow parishioner in a state of crisis who is trying to work things out in her own head and doing a fabulously horrendous job of it. I can't change how you interpret my thoughts or what you think of my logic, but I do encourage those who disagree with me and find fault in my thinking to leave comments. This is a two-way form of communication and you never know what kinds of good discussions can result.

RZ, I'm only sorry that your comments weren't able to be shared here with others. Thank you for sharing them with me. Perhaps we'll see you on Sunday.

Friday, September 08, 2006

What this blog is

It's come to my attention on this Friday afternoon that my entry about my attitude toward the church has caused quite a ruckus. Let me say to all of those who read here:

1) This is my tiny space about MY feelings and observations about the world. Period. Not anyone elses, only mine. If you disagree with me, that's perfectly fine. Feel free to leave a comment.

2) My entry was obviously misread. It was about my own anger and frustration at MYSELF for not being able to forgive and move on. I was writing about my internal dialogue with myself and realizing how far I have to go to overcome my great disappointment. Have you ever had a conversation in your head? That's what this was, only in writing. If you were offended, then I failed to make my point adequately. I apologize for a rushed entry written in the heat of emotion.

3) Clearly, plenty of people have had a much different experience than I. I'm happy for them -- indeed I'm overjoyed for them. I only wish it were so for me. May you always be so confident and blessed in your faith.

4) I feel bereft when I am there and I don't like feeling that way. So my decision to try somewhere else where I can reconnect with my faith without all the baggage I've never been able to sufficiently process is the only way I know back to the church. And I have to find a way because that missing piece leaves me feeling hollow. Surely you can understand a person in a crisis of faith?

5) Please recognize that people have different experiences. We are not all so blessed to feel that sense of community. What's worse is that we were part of it for a while, and now are on the outside. I'm not sure how much of that is self-inflicted. I'm sure a good part of it is. Maybe the better question for all is to ask: What are we doing as individual members of the parish to make everyone feel that sense of community? Are we doing all we can? Or have we written certain people off as unworthy of the effort?

September 8, 2006

Virgo August 23 - September 22
For Friday, September 8 -You're at the halfway point on a very special journey today, but you're in for a surprise. At a certain point, you may suddenly wonder whether or not you should turn around and head back the way you came or keep on going. After all, equal effort is required -- and equal reward is promised. There's no wrong decision to make, but keep in mind that the road ahead is full of mystery. And that's inherently a lot more fun than a road you know like the back of your hand.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

"We're preparing your kids for high school."

Seems utterly unbelievable to me that my little man (at five-ten he's not so little anymore) is going off to high school next year. Last night was eighth-grade open house and the chatter was all about preparing them for high school. Among the changes seen so far this year over last:

• Kids received a syllabus for each of the core classes
• Language arts is no longer language arts; it's English
• Homework level has been upped (although the loss of academic support time this year could also account for increased homework load)
• We're into full-fledge foreign language courses now
• With the exception of SSR (sustained silent reading) Reading is being done at home while classroom time is used for hands-on, discussion, projects, etc.
• There's an emphasis on effective note-taking (thank God!)
• All classes emphasize writing (Woo Hoo!)
• Kids are required to track their grades (resulting in no interim surprises)
• Textbooks are available online (There is a God!)

Among my notes jotted down were the following:
English is focused on literature, writing, spelling and grammar. "When we get to grammar, they'll hate it, but they'll learn it."

Science uses FIVE different textbooks this year. "I like our students to do hands-on work and know that science is evolving."

Math will go through eight textbooks this year! The teachers have a Web site to help students — and parents!

Writing is very important part of Social Studies in preparation for high school. They will be learning how to write five-paragraph essays. "Students will be able to take a stance and defend it."

Social Studies and English work closely together -- this is the year of the Washington, D.C., field trip so there's an emphasis on American History and current events. Science and math work together with physical science and mathematical models.

Computer applications takes kids through word, excel, access, power point and movie maker using real-world applications. For the culminating project, kids will be asked to create a company, design a logo, create a brochure, keep records of profits and inventory and videotape a commercial. Very cool!

Espanol is heavy on language versus culture this first year. And there will be 15 minutes of tarea (homework) every night. "Aprender es vivir -- Learning is living."

I never knew this, but apparently the recommended homework load is 10 minutes per grade level per night. So in eighth grade students should have no more than 80 minutes of homework per night. All teachers advise that if it's taking longer to let them know and seek out extra help.

Thankfully, all teachers provided phone numbers (with voicemail) and e-mail and indicated a preference for how they like to communicate.

I like this curriculum because it plays to Ryan's strengths -- namely writing and real-world applications/relevance. We'll keep our fingers crossed for a good year.

Redhorse is Behind the URL

Jason Haas, aka Redhorse is the latest Behind the URL on BFD.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

My attitude toward "the church"

I’m a lousy Catholic.

Two of my kids are celebrating three sacraments this year and I’ve got MAJOR attitude about the institution known as the Roman Catholic Church. Oh how I wish I felt otherwise. Would certainly make encouraging my kids in the sacramental preparation a whole lot easier.

If I thought I had my negative feelings under control, I was sorely mistaken. Just returned from enrolling my children in PSR (known as Parish School of Religion) formerly CCD. The moment I pulled into the church parking lot, Chip, my old friend, appeared on my shoulder.

My whole body tensed and I began silently muttering all the distasteful things about “the church.” First of all I was pissed off about the cost of PSR. Last year it was only $90 for three children; this year is was $190 for three children. No letter of explanation for the $100 increase. Could you imagine the gas company raising rates by $100 without explanation?

I was preparing for the response: “It was in the church bulletin,” which I would then read to mean: “If you and your family would care to attend church regularly, you’d be in the loop with such information.”

Recess at the day school was in session as I walked into the administration building and a couple of kids bumped into me, clearly oblivious to my presence. “The Catholic Schools are known for order and discipline. Puh-leeze,” I think to myself. “There’s another bill of goods I was sold in 1998.

When I walk into the office no one is present. “He-llo-oh?” I say, with a note of impatience.

A woman appears, apologizing for not having heard the door. I tell her I have a PSR registration (nevermind that it’s horribly late and last night was the parent meeting, which I did not attend).

“Can you tell me why the cost of PSR went up $100 for three children this year?” I ask, again with irritability in my tone.

She cannot and suggests I talk to Judy in the upstairs office.

So I march upstairs to see Judy, who is your typical church office worker with a very pleasant disposition and engaging smile. But I am not to be deterred. I’m irritated and I’d like her and everyone else within hearing distance to know this.

She tells me that I should talk with the head of PSR, a woman I know quite well. When I ask, she tells me that the parish had under-funded PSR for the past eight years! D’oh! The Catholic Church misappropriating money is almost a cliché. I think (but fortunately have the restraint not to express) that perhaps part of the problem is the diocesan CFO was using the weekly collection as his personal savings account.

The director gives me the breakdown on costs ($5 per class for teachers, textbooks) and then tells me that the cost breaks down to $2 and some change per week, much less than most folks pay for babysitting, only they get the Lord, too.

I’m still irritated.

“You need to let parents know the reason for such a jump in tuition,” I say.

Remarkable, she says with wide eyes, I’m the only parent to have complained. I’m shocked and I realize as I’m walking back to my car that I’ve got to get past my anger at “the church,” specifically my church.

I feel let down, cheated and fooled by the experience of the day school. Never once did anyone bother to ask why we were pulling our children from that bastion of academic mediocrity. Had they bothered, I’d have been glad to share the story. But apparently, we weren’t valued enough.

And that has me pissed off at “the church.”

I vented in a parish survey last summer. Apparently, my wording was strong enough to get the attention of the development director, who asked to meet with me. I did and told her I’d be glad to do more than complain, that I’d be willing to take action to make things better.

But I was told our pastor didn’t want to hear people’s complaints, he wanted to focus on making things better. That’s fine and dandy, but you’ve got people who can’t get past certain things because they’ve never been sufficiently aired.

And so we fester in our indignation and we find ourselves pulling farther and farther away from “the church” and we point to all its mistakes as evidence of our righteousness. “See! See! I told you they are bunch of buffoons who don’t know their head from a hole in the ground.”

But the only person it hurts is me. Because I can’t sit there on Sundays and feel any sense of peace or contentment in my faith. I’m filled with all the negative feelings about “the church” that have nothing — and yet everything — to do with my faith. “Hypocrites!” I think to myself and my anger overwhelms me nearly to tears.

I used to be so confident in my faith, but my distrust of the motives and inner workings of "the church" has rocked my faith. I know there are people from my church who occasionally read this blog. I hope for your sake that things are better there. Not everyone is treated equal in the eyes of “the church” and I find that clashes with my notions of what it means to be Catholic.

I called my friend to tell her that I'm afraid I won't be able to raise my boys with the same Catholic goodness that my parents raised me. She said maybe it's more important that we just raise good kids. Maybe...

She suggested we try another church, ironically closer than our current parish. It doesn’t have a PSR program, so we still have to engage with this church.

But we’re going to give it a try. Maybe that’s the answer to reconnecting with “the church.” Sacramental years have always been very nurturing spiritually for me. Maybe I’m just feeling badly for myself because that sense of spirituality is missing from my life right now.

I miss it and at this point I'm willing to go elsewhere to find it.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Marketing yourself as a freelancer audio available

I met some very cool people and learned some amazing things at the SPJ Convention. One of the coolest tips came courtesy of Jamie Cole, senior editor of Progressive Farmer magazine in Birmingham, Ala. During our Freelancing for Beginners session he gave a number of tips for researching markets, including reading blogs, forum sections and letters pages to learn more about readers. I would add that the magazine’s media kit is ripe with reader demographics that can help in crafting an on-target pitch.

Cole got my attention when he talked about how one enterprising freelancer created a customized Web page, complete with relevant clips just for him. That way he wasn't expected to sift through clips that had nothing to do with rural lifestyle issues.

But the session that was a treasure trove of great information was Marketing Yourself as a Freelancer. Thanks to a wonderful Los Angeles freelancer named T.J. Sullivan, I’m sharing the audio of this program.

It’s about an hour, but I hope you’ll take the time to listen. Among the many great ideas from panelists John Ettorre, Stephenie Overman and Sally Lehrman are the following:

• Think about your bio as your sales pitch.
• Write a mission statement that addresses who you are, what you do and who you wish to sell to.
• Think of your writing career in terms of brand. What is your brand?
• Have an active Web presence (Web site, blog, etc.) to help bring editors and readers to you.
• Allocate time for marketing; plan to spend a third of your time researching queries, having lunch with editors and researching markets.
• Take part in writer groups and your writing community. All three panelists are active SPJ members in addition to other writerly groups.
• Enter awards competition to help build your visibility.
• Find a mentor and be a mentor.
• Build a community around your work.
• Reach out to people for whom you want to write.
• Get paid what you’re worth.
• Don't give away all your rights.

A byproduct of this convention was the realization that I’ve got to be thinking more multimedia about my work. I was delighted to read this column by none other than SPJ’s New England Pro Chapter President, Emily Sweeney.

She provides seven tips for becoming a “multimedia superhero.”

So here’s my next purchase after I get my site live.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Spinning gold on deadline

Cause it's been a long week after another long week and I'm tired, I thought I'd leave you this weekend with a terrific piece of narrative journalism.

Tom Hallman Jr. is a Pulitzer Prize-winning feature writer from The Oregonian. He also headed up SPJ's traveling Narrative Writing Workshop this year. I heard him tell the background of this story at the Vegas convention last year. He was assigned to cover a local college graduation, a rather routine story. The PR office was pushing the story of some professor who was receiving some honor.

Tom pushed for something more interesting. He asked if there were any interesting students in the graduating class. He was handed Juan Morales, a 38-year-old former migrant worker from Mexico. Tom spun gold with this story — and he did it on deadline.

Enjoy the holiday weekend!