First day of school #29…a little snakey

Last night, I couldn’t sleep because I was anxious and excited about the first day of school. This was my 29th first day of school. I’m not teaching this year, but none-the-less, I love the hustle and bustle the first day brings. I don’t worry (as much) about what I am going to wear on the first day of school, who is going to talk to me (some days less is more), or where I am going to eat lunch (probably at my desk). I will admit, I miss shopping for a backpack, Trapper Keeper (do they even make those things anymore?), and a lunchbox. I loved getting all my supplies organized and ready back when I was a student. There is something special about the smell of a clean building and new textbooks. I love the first day of classes on a college campus because there is a wind of change blowing through peoples’ lives when they arrive on campus. Some feel the breeze and others haven’t even noticed yet. Students arrive optimistic and eager to fulfill a dream or craft their passion. For some it’s their first attempt at college. For others, it is an attempt to get it right…this time. Hope permeates through the campus on the first day of class. That’s why I love my profession.

When I woke up this morning, my first thought was the weather-rain was inevitable. I thought about students trying to juggle a schedule, backpack, and an umbrella while finding their class on this dreary, wet day. Those that know me well know I am not a big logo polo-wearing gal. I have never been uniform (in more ways than one) but on a day where students have lots of questions and are looking for assistance…the polo was the thing to wear. So, I took the casual polo, capri pant, and sandals look….tactic to look approachable for students. Luckily, we got the first batch of early bird 8:00 AM students to class before the skies opened up.

This morning, as I walked out the door to leave the house, I thought to myself “Stacy, today really isn’t a day for sandals.” It looked like it was going to pour buckets of rain…and well, it did. But more importantly, I was dressed, matched, my toddler was dressed and ready, bags were packed, we were on time…forget turning back to find a pair of matching shoes in my closet on this Monday morning. Press onward! Later in the morning after students were settled in class, I found myself sitting at my desk, cussing myself for not changing shoes before I left the house. My feet were damp and cold. The boss man came into my office to touch base on some projects. I saw him glancing at the floor near my desk…then I saw the look in his eyes. It wasn’t the excitement of the first day of class!  “There is a what in my office?” There was a snake stuck in the sticky bug trap by my desk! I have been told it is everything from a Copperhead to a Midland Water snake. Frankly, it’s a snake!!!!!!!!!!!!! Other than the fact that one variety could kill me…they are all equal grossness. As an office suite, we squealed, we near vomited, and we “disposed” of the snake. The office suite has that creepy crawly feeling. Needless to say, it was not the first day of class I expected.

A new variety of student

As my grandmother used to say… “write that in your book”  and that I did. This goes down in my book as they worst first day of school in 29 years. As a student, I have had bad hair days, wardrobe malfunctions, teachers I didn’t want, and bad seat assignments on the first day of school. As a teacher, I have had pesky students, a student who had a seizure, and students who were in the wrong class on the first day. But today, this tops the list of worst day of first days!

A snake, really? Is this an omen? I even checked the Chinese calendar…it’s the year of the dragoon! A cruel joke?  Was it planted? And sandals… I wore sandals! It could have been crawling around by my toes. What if there are more? Did this snake have friends? Are they hiding in my files? Let’s just say, my feet were propped up on a clear plastic container most of the day. My mind played tricks on me, too. Electrical cords now look like snakes, the carpet pattern…snakes. I feel surrounded! Will I ever be able to wear sandals again? I am scared to see what the rest of this semester brings!

Today my spoon is full hope that no more slimy creatures are hanging out in my office and that all of the students had a great (snake-free) first day.

Hello… a Call from Communication Memory Lane

Communication makes the world go round. From smoke signals to pigeons to Morse Code, we as humans have always found a way to communicate. Perhaps the most famous (although a little thing called Apple has given him a run for his money) invention for communication was in 1876 by a fellow name Bell who created the telephone. His innovation created the platform that has undergone a radical transformation in the last 136 years.

Each phase of my life coincides with stories about telephones. Since I was a small child, I have always loved human interest news shows like 20/20. For most of my childhood, I envisioned myself being the next Barbara Walters (hmmm…maybe I can be Barbara Walters of the blog world). I recall one episode about technology and how one day we would be able to see the people we talk to while on the phone. I imagined a giant TV screen that had a numerical key pad and a giant phone connected by a cord. I remember thinking what happens if people call and you aren’t dressed or your hair isn’t fixed…. I guess I never thought you could just ignore the call (now there is a button to do just that). Being able to actually hear someone’s voice and see them on the phone simultaneously seemed space aged to a girl who just started dialing the numerical prefix to phone numbers when the last  four digits would no longer suffice.

My next memory of phone technology occurs in my preteen years. I recall getting the “answering machine” at our house. I remember jumping out of the car and running in the house from the garage to see who had left a “detailed message” after the beep. Although I was embarrassed at the time, I can now chuckle about a group of boys that use to leave long, ridiculous messages on the machine (gosh, wish I would have kept those). I also remember my grandmother would leave a message and at the end of her message she would say “maw” as if she was signing her name to a letter or we didn’t know who she was.

During my teenage years, I experienced what I thought were communication luxuries like calling waiting and caller ID. In hindsight, these were really just efforts for my parents to spy on me and have a fighting chance of having a few minutes on the phone. While I was in high school, my parents purchased their first cell phone. It was in a black bag and came with a detachable antenna you put on the roof of your car. It was for emergencies only. Minutes were pricey and precious. Occasionally, I would get to carry the “bag” phone in my car. Even if I didn’t make a call, it felt so cool to carry that bag out of the house and stick that antenna on my Ford Probe. There is a reason, you no longer see bag phones or Ford Probes and for that I am thankful.

In college, personal cell phones still weren’t popular. I know it is hard for current college students to believe, but I managed to make it to class on time and have an active social life without a cell phone to call or text my friends. Toward the end of college, car phones were becoming increasingly popular. And finally the true mobile phone started hitting the scene. My last year of college, I bought a cell phone plan because it was cheaper than paying for a landline. Heck half the time I didn’t even take it out of my house.

During my early professional years, I found myself a newlywed with a husband in Iraq. I was able to forward our home phone to my cell phone so I could reduce the possibility of missing his phone call. He was among some of the first men and women to be deployed, so calls home were rare because communication systems weren’t established (luckily, this got better further into the war). Since I was carrying my cell phone with me, I noticed I had stopped wearing a watch. After all, I didn’t’ need it because my cell phone always told me the time. I also starting texting during this time period. I will be honest, at first my text included words like “yes” “no” and “k”. After my department started making fun of me for my short messages and got me a texting for dummies book for my Boss’s Day, I stepped up my game.  Now, I have an unlimited texting plan and I can text all sorts of abbreviations, videos, pictures, and sometimes even short dissertations.

In my thirties, I find that “telephone” communication is more important than ever. Somewhere between carrying that bag phone and present time- a revolution occurred in my life. My phone is practically a family member. When my toddler discovers it in the house, he automatically brings it to me as if I should be missing it. My phone tells me where to be, it reminds me of tasks and appointments, informs me of what’s around me, keeps me up-to-date on the weather, notifies me about how much money is in my bank account, shows me how to get places, plays my favorite tunes, keeps track of my exercise, takes pictures and videos of precious moments, serves as a calculator, houses my addresses book, provides games to my child, and serves as an alarm clock. I am actually typing my blog from my cell phone as I wait on a meeting to start. And…as that 20/20 show shared back in the late 80s/early 90s, my phone now allows me to see the person I am talking to. I never imagined 20 something years ago, when watching that show, that I could be anywhere in the world and would be able to read a story with my toddler, sing songs, and say our prayers together. My son, will never know a world where he can’t see the person on the other end of the phone.

I wonder one day what my phone will look like? Will my iPhone seem like the size of a shoe box compared to the phone I carry when I am 100 years old? What will my phone do for me then? Check my blood pressure? Cook for me? The possibilities are endless and I can’t wait to see and embrace what communication technology the future holds.

Today my spoon is full of cool communication memories.

My Boo!

Last week I celebrated a two-year old’s birthday, this week I celebrate the birthday of an 18-year-old. My littlest cousin who we call Boo Boo (Thanks to my son) is turning the BIG 1-8! With this rite of passage, the 18th birthday brings many “rights”… most of which aren’t that great for your mind or body. For example, you can drink in some countries (not the USA), buy tobacco products, purchase a firearm, get tattoos, pierce various parts of your body, and consent to what you want to “consent” to.  You can join the military, get married, buy a house, play the lottery, sign contracts, get a full-time job, and be tried in a court of law as an adult. Unfortunately, some may chose to do all of this simultaneously. Probably the most meaningful “right” you earn as an 18-year-old is your right to vote. Taking a short commercial break for a feminist rant….ALWAYS vote! Boo Boo…many women marched and fought hard for this right. Some women around the world dream of the day their voice is heard and recognized. Not all are on an equal playing field yet…but your voice helps move progress forward.  So always, always rock the vote!

Now back to being 18. I don’t recall much about turning 18. I didn’t get a tattoo, smoke a pack of cigarettes, buy a lottery ticket, etc. The best I remember, it was a pretty uneventful birthday. For some, the ripe age of 18 is a milestone or represents a time in their teenage life that makes them want to stay forever young. I never thought at the time that 18 would be my prime age, but some do. And for those…of course there is a song. Bryan Adams has a song “18 til I Die.” Goes something like this

Can’t live forever that’s wishful thinkin’
Who ever said that must of bin’ drinkin’
Don’t wanna grow up I don’t see why
I couldn’t care less if time flies by

18 til I die – gonna be 18 til I die
it sure feels good to be alive
someday I’ll be 18 goin’ on 55! – 18 til I die

I really can’t imagine being 18 until I die. I would love to have my 18-year-old body…until I die, but I hated the teenage years. The knowledge gained as an adult…with an 18-year-old body is indeed a deadly combination. So for everything there is a season. Even though you gained some extra “rights” by turning 18, it is still lumped in with “teenager” years. However, looking back it was more of a monumental year than I realized. It was the year I shifted from being a “high schooler” to a “college student.” It didn’t’ seem that big of a deal at the time…but hindsight is 20/20 and that year some of the decisions I made set the course for my life (which has been a fabulous voyage thus far).

Our Boo Boo is starting 18 off right; she has earned the recognition of a Governor’s Scholar and is receiving top honors at a one the finest State Universities (Go TOPS!). Boo Boo as you set off on this journey of turning 18, you are stepping into the world of college…the place where you carve out who you are, as well as, how and what you contribute to this world. Yes, there will be days you will miss your mommy…but you will live and come to adore the bond you share as adults. You will miss your family…but there will come a time when you will be glad to get away from them after you spend a weekend at home visiting with them. Heck, some days I would like to pack up and live in a dorm! Watch out…I might visit!

Speaking of home…”home” will never be home again. You will share a tiny dorm space, but it will be “home.” You are now charged with making yourself a home in this world as you chart your course. You will have roommates you hate, roommates you love, and roommates you don’t even recall that much about. You will meet new people and they will influence your life in many ways. Some will detract from your life and bring you more trouble than they are worth. You will say goodbye to old friends, hello to new friends, and eventually hello again to some of your old friends. Ultimately, you are responsible for your own life and who you let in it…or keep in it. You will have the opportunity to travel abroad and see this big world and experience it for yourself. You’ll experience love and heartache. You will be humbled and disappointed by adults. You will meet mentors who ignite your passion for a cause. You will learn how to push yourself. You will learn the value of a dollar and the joys and pain of balancing life and work. You will try crazy things. You will succeed. You will fail. You will grow. And ultimately, you too will be glad you aren’t 18 til you die.

As you turn 18, enjoy what this chapter in life has to offer, but do not let it comprise the opportunities and dreams the next chapters have to offer…for they get sweeter with time. Don’t miss the current chapter or the next chapter, by living in past chapters. And above all, enjoy being 18 while it last.  Happy birthday, my love…Boo Boo.

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Today my spoon is full of birthday wishes for one special gal!

Pomp and what is the circumstance?

Tis the season of graduation…caps, tassels, gowns, speeches-all in full effect. Working in higher education, I always find myself at an emotional crossroads this time of year.  I am elated for those that have accomplished their goals. I am excited for what the next step has in store for each of them. Yet, I am saddened for those that did not make it to the point of graduating.

High School Graduation 1996. That’s me on the right. My dreams for the future were as big as my hair! The caution cone in the picture is a bit symbolic don’t ya think?

This month I have attended three graduations…two ceremonies for my cousins’ graduating from high school; plus, I attended the graduation of the institution where I work. There is nothing I love more than seeing everyone dressed in their regalia and students’ faces beaming with a sense of accomplishment and empowerment. Hopes, dreams, and excitement fill the air. I get a kick out of the bedazzled mortar boards that say “class of 2012” or “hi mom.”  I get chills each semester when I hear the thunderous applause and the shouts from the audience from proud parents, grandparents, and friends. At my institution’s graduation, the thing I love most is hearing a tiny voice interrupt the graduation service saying “that’s my mommy” or “yeahhh daddy” as their parent walks across the stage to get their diploma.  What a lesson that parent has taught their child!

No matter if it is a high school or college graduation, each individual has persevered, beat the odds, and overcome barriers to get to that point. Some had more to overcome than others, but when the tassel is turned, the honor is the same.

To avoid a statistical war, my next few points will be estimates based on a variety of data sources and experience. About 75% of students who start high school in Kentucky finish. Sounds good at first, right? Well, what about the other 25%?  The figure for students in college who persist and graduate on time is grimmer. My point is not to debate about what statistic is correct. My point is to say….when I hear the pomp and circumstance played at graduation, I think about what was the circumstance that prevented the ones who were suppose to be there-from being there.

Where was the dream diverted, lost, or postponed?  How and why did they make it to a certain point, but didn’t make it through? What could have been done differently? Was there a point in the pipeline where they were misunderstand, misdirected, overlooked, or under challenged? Was the pipeline the problem-too constricting, not the right flow, rusty pipes, etc?

For those that didn’t make it to their graduation I can’t help but wonder how much more difficult life might be because they didn’t receive the empowerment that education provides. I know folks who make an honest living and are terrific providers for their family who do not have a high school diploma and I know folks that have a high school diploma, but not a college degree who are helping make the world go round. So this blog is not to say that a diploma/degree ensures happiness, wealth, or an easy road. But the reality is more and more jobs are requiring more and more skills that require furthering one’s training and education. Therefore, my mind goes to how could the education systems have helped more students through?

Don’t get me wrong, I love celebrating graduation. But the real reason I get up and come to work every day is for that percentage that didn’t make it to the ceremony. Whether it be sharing a smile, offering advice, connecting a student to a resource, helping the insurmountable seem mountable, explaining the education bureaucracy, etc. my work focuses on getting students to the special milestone of graduation.  My business is increasing the number that I see walk across that stage to accept their credential.

Today my spoon is full of hope and perseverance for those that just might not yet see it in themselves. As well as, a spoonful of thankfulness for folks who have mentored and encouraged me while helping me find my way through the education systems.