30 November, 2011

Good Gift Hunting

Santa is clearly on his way, and the dust - or the ribbon perhaps - is beginning to fly. Holy charge card, shoppers! Everything is flying - including the pepper spray at one Black Friday event. There is something fundamentally wrong with this story.

We need to change the script, but it will be increasingly difficult over the next few weeks to find those quiet moments where one has opportunity to reflect on the meaning of Christmas and the spirit of giving. One element of that meaning for me is the love which often goes into finding the perfect gift. Some of our compatriots, however, evidently get their warm glow from pepper spray rather than from their hearts. Sigh. It's not what I wish for you. Fill your heart with love and find a way to share it - even if the gift is simply telling someone about it.

My family studiously avoids shopping on Black Friday, but let's face it - sometimes it is easy to shop for me, sometimes it isn't. Black Friday, however, is no solution. To help, I have occasionally shared hints, and it was in that spirit that I wrote one of my daughters last year to offer a suggestion.

For years I had searched for a particular surgical tool that was used in performing transorbital lobotomies. Frontal lobotomies had been around for a while but were complicated and expensive treatments for mental illness.

A physician named Freeman invented a procedure that was brief and inexpensive because the frontal lobes were accessed by going over the eyeball and up through the relatively thin bone of the top of the eye socket (the orbit). It came to be known as the "Ice Pick" lobotomy because the initial tool was, in fact, an ice pick and because the instruments he then had crafted still resembled one. Freeman performed nearly 2500 of these lobotomies in 23 states from the 1930s to the 1950s.

No. I'm not planning on opening a clinic. It just that in my teaching I spend some time on this topic to emphasize the horror of psychosurgery, and it's always nice to have visual aids - to bring the point home, so to speak. It's why I have a phrenology skull and a zoëtrope among other items in my historical collection.

I looked everywhere for antique and vintage surgical tools. No luck. Not even close. I tried Hollywood prop shops, thinking that since I had seen them in movies, I might find one there. No luck. The daughter I wrote with my suggestion is a physician, and I thought she might have access to sources that I did not. Evidently she had no luck either after replicating each of my efforts.

Then my daughter did what I did not. She posted this on Etsy's Alchemy space where buyers could post requests for custom items.

Metalsmith Project - Replica Leucotome or Orbitoclast

I am looking for someone to make a replica of either a leucotome or an orbitoclast, the antique medical instrument used by Dr. Walter Freeman in transorbital lobotomies.

My father is a professor of psychology who teaches the history of psychology and psychiatry. His dearest wish for Christmas is to have one of these surgical instruments to show his students. I have utterly failed at locating an original/antique, so I'm now hoping to present him with a true-size replica.

Imagine my surprise when last Christmas morning I opened a gift from my daughter that contained just such a leucotome. She told me the gentleman who made it had made a number of metal instruments over the years and was familiar with this item, having seen it in a nearby museum. The version with which I was presented is the last Freeman model - a sturdier instrument used by him after an earlier version broke off in someone's skull.

Anyway - back to Christmas giving. It's such a wonderful feeling to give or to receive that perfect gift - although giving is my preference. For me, it comes from the thought and effort behind the gift, not the gift itself. The gift just symbolizes it. Love does that; it's a genuine wonder. When it happens, you are simply filled with the joy and the spirit that is so remarkable at this time of year.

I hope your Christmas overflows with joy and love this year. Mine will - and not solely because some one gave me the perfect present. After all, it's in the giving where we find the greatest gift. Such delicious irony.

29 November, 2011

Sunshine Superman


Sorry - it's not a post about Donovan, although that's not a bad idea. This post concerns a blogging award I was given a few days ago - the Sunshine Award - thanks to Joy of Catharsis. who writes a wonderful blog and is herself the epitome of sunshine.

So, here are the rules for accepting this award:

       1. Thank the person who gave this award and write a post about it.
       2. Answer the following questions below.
       3. Pass the award to as many as a dozen inspiring bloggers,
            link to their, and let them know you gave them the award.

Here are the questions and my answers.

       Favorite color: Blue - always has been, and it's unlikely to change
       Favorite animal: Domesticated - big dogs. Wild - lions and whales
       Favorite number: 3
       Favorite drink: Not an easy choice because it depends on the time of
       day, location, presence of others or food. Could be a big bold dry red
       wine, a flavor-filled dark beer, an iced sweet tea, a Coca Cola, or a
       glass of cool water
       Facebook or Twitter: Facebook
       Your passion: Life
       Giving or Receiving Gifts: Giving, absolutely
       Favorite day: The current one
       Favorite flowers: Red Roses, Calla Lily, Wisteria, Daisy, Aster

And now to spread the sunshine - just not at this time! Those I would nominate today have all just received this award. In the near future, I'm certain there will be some blogs that I discover and want to tell you about. I'll give them this award and let you know about it.

28 November, 2011

{this moment} 28

A Monday ritual. A single image - no words - capturing a moment from the past. A simple moment along my life's Journey - but one over which I wish to linger and savor each treasured aspect of the memories it evokes. If you are moved or intrigued by my {this moment}, please leave a comment. On Thursday in a companion ritual called {this memory}, I'll share the story of this moment.

{this moment}
Copyright © 2011 Thomas G. Brown

{this moment} is a ritual copied and adapted from cath's wonderful blog ~just my thoughts. She, in turn, borrowed it from Pamanner's Blog. Check out their blogs, and if you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your {this moment} in the comments for each of us to find and see.

27 November, 2011

Ten Years, Two Words

There was a man who was fed up with modern society, and decided to become a Monk. He checked out a number of monasteries and chose one he liked. The only reservation he had was that he was required to take a vow of silence. He could only say two words every ten years.

He took the vow and began his first ten years of service without saying a word. At the end of ten long years, he was brought before the abbot of the monastery and asked what two words he would like to say.

His response was "FOOD BAD."

And that was it - for a second long ten years - until he was once again allowed to say another two words. After twenty years he was brought before the abbot of the monastery and asked what two words he would like to say.

His response was "BED HARD."

And that was it - for a third long ten years - until he was once again allowed to say another two words. After thirty years he was brought before the abbot of the monastery and asked what two words he would like to say.

His response was "I QUIT."

The abbot answered back, "You might as well. You've done nothing but complain since you got here."
Author Unknown   

25 November, 2011

The Conifer Strikes Back

Today I offer my annual post honoring Tree Day, and today is Tree Day - at least a Tree Day of sorts anyway. Let me explain.

In July 1985, we moved into our current home after nearly nine months of arduous construction - although I still had all ten fingers. We had a large party at Christmas for the faculty I led at the time. Given there were to be many first time guests, our tree was, of course, a huge deal, and we had selected a beautiful one from a seasonal lot in town.

Within a week, however, you could hear the needles dropping. Dink. Dink. Plink. I resolved then that Christmas of 1986 would be different. We were heading into the wilds to cut a fresh tree, one that we could put up early and leave up for a while without fear of incineration.

That's easy in Central New York. Most would call this area "Upstate"- unless you're from New York City, and in that case, anything north of 263rd Street qualifies as Upstate. After all, if your uncle had been sent "up the river" to Sing Sing prison, he went to Ossining. Way way upstate. In fact, a full 20 miles north of Yonkers. But ... I digress. The point is there are farms selling Christmas trees everywhere in our area. No shortage whatsoever.

We decided our Tree Day would be on Black Friday since we avoided those crazed masses anyway. We selected a farm somewhat at random, but it was over the river even though not quite through the woods. Children bundled (ages 3 and 5 then). Check. Wife gloved, coated, and scarved (younger then). Check. Uncle with station wagon (less cranky then). Check. Saw (sharper then). Check. Tape measure (newer then). Check. And we're off.

We parked and began the hike - about a quarter mile uphill. That was easy enough, but it doesn't include the 15-20 miles we walked around and among the trees as my wife looked for the Perfect Tree. She finally located a beautiful blue spruce - tall and full. I proceeded to saw it down, but that's when I learned that because we were "early" (i.e., before the official season opening), I would have to lug that monster back down the hill. I was sure glad to have an uncle with me, but the tree was having its revenge! I should add that this 12 foot beauty cost only $20, and I can't imagine what it would have set us back on a tree lot in town.

That became the pattern for the next few years until my brother-in-law plus family decided to join us. Then a couple of years later my sister-in-law's sister jumped on board with her family. Now we were six adults (seven, depending on my uncle's mood) and seven offspring. Even the occasional dog or two.

We had a tradition emerging. Tree Day would be the day after Thanksgiving each year. We would get an early jump on the cutting, return to our respective homes to get, at minimum, the trees in their stands, and then reassemble at one of the three homes for food and drink and a viewing of White Christmas - which at some point became Christmas Vacation.

The tradition has fallen on hard times. My sister-in-law's sister has divorced, and her children became adults. She is no longer part of the tradition. My sister-in-law has purchased an artificial tree. Scheduling has become harder too now that the children are all adults with jobs and their own commitments or in-laws.

But Tree Day lives on. The Browns began it, and the Browns continue it although for health reasons I generally wait for their return with the tree. My wife and daughter (with boyfriend) will proceed to cut our tree this year - the 26th Brown outing. As always, it will be large - about 12 feet tall and full, and fully decorated it gives the White House tree a run for its money. Speaking of money, we still pay under $30 for a huge tree.

And ... Saturday will be Tree Day with the rest of the extended family. We'll gather and eat and drink and watch Christmas Vacation. The date is now arbitrary, but we still take the time to enjoy each other's love and usually reminisce a bit about Tree Days Past. When the decorations come down and when both this tree and this Christmas are just another memory, it is that love and the sharing in each other's Journey that will remain. After all, this is what is most important. Isn't it?

24 November, 2011

Thanks Are Given

There is much in life easily taken for granted, and it's not difficult to overlook the bounty I have been given. Today is a good day to count blessings. They are many - not the least of which is that I am alive, no small miracle having survived several illnesses that many do not. What follows is my traditional Thanksgiving post. It's a continuing affirmation for me as well as a reminder of the many things for which I should be thankful.

I am thankful for the wonders of human inspiration -
music and lighthouses, art and literature, swings and laughter.

I am thankful for the everyday beauty of nature -
the seasons, the azure sky, the starry night, the boundless oceans,
the warmth of the sun on my face,
the sounds of birds, the caress of a breeze.

I am thankful for the blessings of friendship -
old friends embraced anew
and newer friends willing to nourish my aging soul.

I am thankful for the comfort of family -
a loving wife and two wonderful daughters,
a mother, a brother, an extended family of cousins and others -
all of whom love me as much as I love them.

I am thankful for the opportunity to work -
in spite of physical challenges.
Blessed with a sound mind and an excellent education,
I discovered my calling in a world of ideas rather than manual labor.

I am thankful for the warmth of my home -
a peaceful haven, a shelter from all manner of storm.

I am thankful for the food on my table -
especially so when that involves
cheese or olives or bread.

And wine.


23 November, 2011

{this memory} 27

I'll keep this brief since a few of you think you need to get in line today for Friday's shopping.

In the image you see my wife and two daughters walking - perhaps skipping - down our driveway in September of 1986. Although we had been in this home for 15 months, we had not yet landscaped. It's quite obvious; the weeds are taller than my girls.

It's the first day of school which explains the number card on my older daughter. She is about to catch the bus for the first time and head off to kindergarten. She is excited to go - hence the happy feet. Looks like younger sister is happy too.

I can look back on many happy memories, and what happier memories can there be than of watching two beautiful young girls grow into beautiful accomplished women? I am a fortunate man, and I am thankful for the incredible bounty that has come my way.

22 November, 2011

222 Years Later

By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor, and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be, that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks:
    - for His kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation;
    - for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of His Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war;
    - for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed;
    - for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted;
    - for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge;
    - and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He hath been pleased to confer upon us;

and also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions:
    - to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually;
    - to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed;
    - to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord;
    - to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us;
    - and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

21 November, 2011

{this moment} 27

A Monday ritual. A single image - no words - capturing a moment from the past. A simple moment along my life's Journey - but one over which I wish to linger and savor each treasured aspect of the memories it evokes. If you are moved or intrigued by my {this moment}, please leave a comment. On Thursday in a companion ritual called {this memory}, I'll share the story of this moment.

{this moment}
Copyright © 2011 Thomas G. Brown

{this moment} is a ritual copied and adapted from cath's wonderful blog ~just my thoughts. She, in turn, borrowed it from Pamanner's Blog. Check out their blogs, and if you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your {this moment} in the comments for each of us to find and see.

20 November, 2011

Locked Out

woman was at work when she learned that her daughter was very sick with a fever. She left work and stopped by the pharmacy for some medication. Returning to her car, she realized her keys were locked in the car.

She didn't know what to do, so she called home and told the baby sitter what had happened. The baby sitter told her that the fever was getting worse and said, "You might find a coat hanger and use that to open the door."

The woman looked around and found an old rusty coat hanger that had been thrown down on the ground, possibly by someone else who had locked their keys in their car. Then she looked at the hanger and said, "I don't know how to use this."

So she bowed her head and asked God to send her some help. Within five minutes an old rusty car pulled up with a dirty, greasy, bearded man who was wearing an old biker skull rag on his head. The woman thought, "This is what you sent to help me?" But she was desperate, so she was also very thankful.

The man got out of his car and asked her if he could help. She said, "Yes, my daughter is very sick. I stopped to get her some medication, and I locked my keys in my car. I must get home to her. Please, can you use this hanger to unlock my car?"

He said, "Sure." He walked over to the car, and immediately the car was opened. She hugged the man and through her tears she said, "Thank you so much! You are a very nice man."

The man replied, "Lady, I am not a nice man. I just got out of prison today. I was in prison for car theft and have only been out for about an hour."

The woman hugged the man again and with sobbing tears cried out loud, "Oh, Thank you God! You even sent me a Professional!"
Author Unknown   

18 November, 2011

Pump Up The Volume

A good blogging friend recently challenged us to come up the one song that really gets you going when you need it - your personal Pep Song. Rocky always had a great one, but I had trouble doing this. I narrowed it to two possibilities and responded with that, but it's too narrow for me. I scanned my iTunes files (over 6000 songs) and found well over a dozen that all served to put me, as she wrote, "in a positive and 'watch-out-world-I'm-so-ready-for-you' mood"

One thing that did occur to me as I scanned those songs was music's inherent ability to control my mood. It didn't matter what mood or emotion I wanted to dial up - I easily could find an artist or a series of songs that woud get me there.

But back to my Pep Song. Er, Songs. It was a struggle; I had sixteen. I chopped four by restricting artists to only one song in my list and chopped three more because they just didn't quite measure up to the others from the perspective of "pump-me-up-ability" - not that I don't love the songs though.

Here are my top nine and in roughly this order, but the order could easily be different tomorrow.

1. John Fogerty - Centerfield

2. The Eagles - Life in the Fast Lane

3. Fleetwood Mac - Don't Stop

4. Dire Straits - Walk of Life

5. Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band - Old Time Rock and Roll

6. The Rolling Stones - Start Me Up

7. The Doobie Brothers - China Road

8. Shania Twain - Rock This Country

9. Huey Lewis and the News - Heart of Rock and Roll
(takes about a minute to get rockin')

The three that almost made it are: Lynyrd Skynyrd - Sweet Home Alabama; Crosby, Stills, and Nash - Love the One You're With; and The Who - Who Are You.

And the doubles I arbitrarily chopped: Fleetwood Mac - Go Your Own Way; Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band - Rock and Roll Never Forgets; The Rolling Stones - Satisfaction; and The Eagles - Take It Easy.

Don't mess with me - I'm pumped, world.

17 November, 2011

{this memory} 26

Yes, it is - it is exactly what you think. You could call it a two-holer, although duplex would be more accurate. Call it what you will - a privy, an outhouse, the necessary, the dunny, thunderbox, biffy, kybo, can, john, throne - whatever makes you most comfortable.

These are behind my paternal grandmother's home in Naylor, Missouri. Her third husband (not my grandfather) was a blacksmith, and today the home is Clutterʼs Blacksmith Shop Museum. It was a working shop up into the late 1950s, but several years after my grandmother died it was dedicated by relatives as a museum to be held in trust. The original forge, still operable, is a brick forge with a side draft masonry chimney and has a variable speed electric draft fan. You can more about my visits there in {This Memory} 11.

I can remember using these outhouses as a young boy in the 1950s and, I think (not sure), during my last visit to my grandmother in 1976. The large shed beside them in the photo was a later addition. There was running water in the house, but not much - just at the kitchen sink and for a shower in the basement under the sink. Not a lot of plumbing. I also remember that we didn't use the outhouse at night; that's what the chamber pots were for. Ah, the good old days.

I took this photo in 2005 when my wife and I were driving around America. Okay, let's be honest - I was driving. She, therefore, had to go where I wanted, and I wanted her to see some of my boyhood haunts, to see what made the man. I'm happy to say she has fully recovered.

I am a fortunate man. I can look back on many happy memories, and as odd as it might seem, this is actually one of them. If nothing else, it fosters an appreciation for what one has in life.

16 November, 2011

50 First Drafts

The is the time of semester when the hallways and offices are filled with advice. Course scheduling for the spring semester is upon us, and our students are asking us questions to confirm they will be enrolled in the courses they need to achieve their goals or too often, sadly, the goals of their parents. They're also asking their peers what courses to avoid or, more likely, what professors to avoid.

It's an interesting time, especially for our newest students - mostly freshmen. We are a few weeks past the point of no return when they can no longer withdraw from a class to avoid an anticipated "F." They are worried about how they are doing and frequently uneasy about the challenges ahead. So often I hear a student remark, "but I have never received a 'C.'" Or a "D." Or whatever. "It's terrible." They are being intellectually challenged and perhaps genuinely so for the first time.

I am thinking of one student with whom I spent some time last week. He was concerned with the high cost of college and the work load, and he was very anxious about whether he would get the high grades expected of him, grades that would make the investment worthwhile.

Searching my own experiences, I tried to find a story which would help ease some of those concerns and remembered a story I had read nearly two decades ago. I told him about a time when Henry Kissinger, the former Secretary of State, was a professor at Harvard and had asked an assistant to prepare an analysis on some incident that had occurred in the Viet Nam War.

This assistant worked night and day for a week and had the document delivered to Dr. Kissinger’s desk only to receive it back within an hour. Attached to the report was a note asking that it be redone.

The assistant dutifully redid it and supposedly slept a total of only nine hours for a week. The document again went to Dr. Kissinger’s desk, and an hour later it was returned with a note from Dr. Kissinger asserting that he expected better and asking that the work be done again.

And so the assistant went back to the drawing board once more. Another week of intense work. Then the assistant asked if he might present it personally to Dr. Kissinger. When he came face to face with Kissinger, he said, “Dr. Kissinger, I’ve spent another sleepless week. This is the best I can do.” The professor said, “In that case, now I’ll read it.”

I told the student not to worry about the grades. Just do the best that he could - that was all that mattered. And if he did his best, his parents would be proud of him, and so would I.

I hope he and all our students remember this is what is really important. It's not about the grades; it's about what you learn. Just do your best. Give it 100%. Everything else will follow, and it will all be worth the investment.

15 November, 2011


This poem was written by my elder daughter when she was a high school student and then reworked a bit a few years later when her grandmother passed away. Today she is a physician and a Fellow in Pediatric Hematology/Oncology and has been home visting the past few days. I thought I'd share some of her work to honor her and honor that she will become a mother in the new year - my first grandchild.

Wings in the Wind

in the beginning,
                           we are all caterpillars
we are cushioned resilience
                           in our tiny bodies
but we are glory-seekers
                           wildly wishing for winds that can offer
a ride away
                           because away, we can rise
raise ourselves to peer at the light
                           as butterflies, beautiful, proud, and fragile
the wings that flutter and
                           lift us to our dreams
are sheerly simple
                           more delicate than an ancient rose
they are not unbreakable
                           they are not infallible
we can fall to the ground
                          or worse,
they tear and we find
                          that we are sweeping across the sky
grazing the scorcher-sun
                          brushing the sharp branches
at the mercy
                          of the wind
then at last we come to know
                          that butterflies may turn to
angels, all around us
                          holding our hands, shining
because there is beauty
                          inside us all
and still others finally find
                          their way home
higher than the sun
                          above us all
they touch the sky and cross its bounds
                          and there they watch us
through the tiny tears in heaven
                          we call stars

By Amy Elizabeth Brown   

14 November, 2011

{this moment} 26

A Monday ritual. A single image - no words - capturing a moment from the past. A simple, special moment over which I wish to linger as I savor each treasured aspect. If you are moved by my {this moment} too, please leave a comment below. On Thursday in another ritual called {this memory}, I'll share the story behind this moment.
{this moment}
Copyright © 2011 Thomas G. Brown

{this moment} is a ritual copied and adapted from cath's wonderful blog ~just my thoughts. She, in turn, borrowed it from Pamanner's Blog. Check out their blogs, and if you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your {this moment} in the comments for all to find and see.

13 November, 2011

Mistaken Identity

man was being tailgated by a stressed out woman on a busy boulevard when suddenly the light turned yellow just in front of him. He did the right thing and stopped - even though he could have beaten the red light by accelerating through the intersection.

The tailgating woman hit the roof and the horn, screaming in frustration as she missed her chance to get through the intersection.

She was still in mid-rant when she heard a tap on her window, and she looked up into the face of a very serious police officer. The officer ordered her to exit her car with her hands up. He took her to the police station where she was searched, finger printed, photographed, and placed in a holding cell.

After several hours, a policeman approached the cell and opened the door. She was escorted back to the booking desk where the arresting officer was waiting with her personal effects.

He said, "I'm very sorry for this mistake. You see, I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn, flipping off the guy in front of you, and cussing a blue streak at him. I noticed the 'Choose Life' license plate, the 'What Would Jesus Do?' bumper sticker, the 'Follow Me to Sunday School' bumper sticker, and the chrome-plated Christian fish emblem on the trunk."

"So naturally, I assumed you had stolen the car."
Author Unknown   

11 November, 2011

Fun Learning for First Graders

Today I offer a guest post from Michael Baum.    TGB

When I was young, I used to love reading a feature in Reader’s Digest magazine called "The Most Unforgettable Character I’ve Ever Met." Some of these “characters” were famous, others were not, but I always enjoyed learning about them.

Over the years, I’ve met a few unforgettable characters of my own—ordinary people who impressed me with their meaningful contributions. One of these people is Kelli Pearson—or Miss Kelli, as I knew her when I began volunteering over nine years ago as a homework tutor in an exciting afterschool program at a community learning center in my hometown.

At the time, Kelli was the director of the K-5 program at the center. I watched as she taught and engaged kids, introducing them to the fun of learning. She also had a knack for handling difficult situations, making the environment a welcoming and safe place for children. I was impressed not just by her ability to teach kids, but to reach kids.

Now that reach extends farther than ever before. Earlier this year, Kelli launched www.SmartFirstGraders.com, a web site devoted to making learning fun for kids. While plenty of teachers find exciting ideas here, Kelli’s main goal is to give parents ideas for helping their kids learn.

Since kids have a way of resisting being taught by mom or dad, the web site’s learning activities feel more like play than work. Who would have thought that playing card games, making bubbles, going on scavenger hunts and baking cookies could be used to teach math and science? But it works, and kids love it. I know because I have used some of Ms. Kelli’s ideas with my young grandson.

Success in first grade sets the stage for young kids to develop into good students, and what better way to do this than by making learning fun. With the help Kelli offers on www.SmartFirstGraders.com, parents can help their first graders reach this goal.

From articles on fine motor skills to tips on how to deal with bullies and mean kids at school, from cool science experiments to lists of classic books for first graders, www.SmartFirstGraders.com is a valuable resource for parents and teachers on math, science, reading, child development, and more.

I am happy to call Kelli both colleague and friend. She taught me how to reach kids on their level, and this has made me a better tutor. If you have a first grader and want to give your child a learning boost while you and your child have a great time together, check out this site. You can say you heard about it from Mike B!

10 November, 2011

{this memory} 25

Ah, my Antonia! Well, not really mine, but this is Antonia Ciarfella at her home in Milan.

We call her Tonia.

In October of 1994, I was in Italy delivering an invited address on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the dedication of the Abbey of San Clemente a Casauria as an Italian National Monument. I was the Honorary President of the Center for Casaurian Studies, and we were in Torre de' Passeri. Our hosts had arranged for Tonia to be my interpreter.

We all fell in love with her - my wife and daughters included, and we invited her to come live with us for the fall semester of 1995 and attend the college. My daughters gained an older sister, and I gained an Italian daughter. Today, of course, she is married with her own young son, Valerio.

My wife and I still reminisce about the wonderful times we had together, and we continue to be amazed at how much flour could be scattered about the kitchen as Tonia made gnocchi. Yum. I also remember that my beautiful Italian daughter would prepare an espresso for me each night after dinner. That stopped when she left. :(

We are still in touch every so often and miss her as we do all of our friends in Italy. Aspetto giá il nuovo ritorno.

I am a fortunate man. I can look back on so many happy memories.

09 November, 2011

Scar Trek

On occasion I think about scars. We all have them - at least in the figurative sense. Some might say in that case I'm talking about 'baggage,' but for many of us, they really are scars - which are, in some sense, 'heavier.' You can 'unpack' your baggage which is a great metaphor for learning from your misfortunes, and baggage is easily left by the door, stored in a closet, or lost by your airline. Scars aren't.

Scars are more permanent. This is not to say, however, they are disfiguring. That determination is purely in the eye of the owner of the scar, and I am the owner of mine. I will be the one to decide if they are beautiful or only merely gorgeous. I refuse to delegate that responsibility. I refuse to give someone else the power to label me and then treat me according to their label's expectations.

          There are twenty-four scars on my body.
          Each one tells a story.
          No one asks to see them.
          No one knows they are there.
          But, there are twenty-four scars on my body.

There is a very literal truth in that stanza. There really are two dozen scars from various medical instruments scattered around my body. Some are quite minor, some not so minor. Some are quite faded and some not so faded. On a typical day, however, only one of the two dozen lies unhidden by clothing. So people are generally unaware of them - at least until a few years ago when I began writing and discussing that medical history, the one I described as "remarkable" in a previous post (See Missing Extremities).

The passage of time and support from family and friends have taught me to be proud of them. They are badges, not baggage. A scar is, after all, evidence of healing, and only we survivors have scars.

          And there are more stories on the inside.

This is also literally true, but it's accurate in that figurative sense as well. The experiences - both good and bad - of our life's Journeys leave marks. I'm still learning to see each of those as beautiful, but that's a life long process. I'm pretty happy with my progress.

My wish for you is that you learn to see the positives inherent in your own scars but also that when you notice the scars of others, you see only their beauty. That would be a good thing.

07 November, 2011

{this moment} 25

A Monday ritual. A single image - no words - capturing a moment from the past. A simple, special moment over which I wish to linger as I savor each treasured aspect. If you are moved by my {this moment} too, please leave a comment below. On Thursday in another ritual called {this memory}, I'll share the story behind this moment.
{this moment}
Copyright © 2011 Thomas G. Brown

{this moment} is a ritual copied and adapted from cath's wonderful blog ~just my thoughts. She, in turn, borrowed it from Pamanner's Blog. Check out their blogs, and if you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your {this moment} in the comments for all to find and see.

06 November, 2011

My First Confession

priest was being honored at his retirement dinner after 25 years in the parish. A leading local politician and member of the congregation was chosen to make the presentation and give a little speech at the dinner.

He was delayed, however, and the priest decided to say his own few words while they waited. "I got my first impression of the parish from the first confession I heard here. I thought I had been assigned to a terrible place.

"The very first person who entered my confessional told me he had stolen a television set and when questioned by the police, he was able to lie his way out of it. He had stolen money from his parents, embezzled from his employer, had an affair with his boss's wife, taken illegal drugs, and gave VD to his sister. I was appalled.

"But as the days went on I learned that my people were not all like that, and I had, indeed, come to a fine parish - full of good and loving people."

Just as the priest finished his talk, the politician arrived full of apologies at being late. He immediately began to make the presentation. "I'll never forget the first day our Parish Priest arrived," said the politician. "In fact, I had the honor of being the first person to go to him for confession."
Author Unknown   

03 November, 2011

{this memory} 24

It's 1987. And it's Halloween. Twenty-four years ago. What a difference a quarter-century can make! In this Moment, we find my wife and my two daughters getting ready for Trick-or-Treat.

The younger daughter is costumed as a Disney mouse - not sure which one. She always loved Mickey, and it was a sad day in Charlottesville when she lost her Mickey t-shirt. It was a favorite she had purchased at Disney World a few years earlier. She slept in that oversized Mickey shirt so many nights it was getting threadbare. We were in C'ville in 1997 when my older daughter was visiting the campus as she college shopped, but when we left the hotel, the younger daughter left the shirt hanging on the back of the bathroom door. Tragic.

The older daughter is costumed as She-Ra, Princess of Power - another childhood favorite. It appears she is pouting, but no one can remember why. She did decide to go to the University of Virginia. Not tragic. She loved it.

I am a fortunate man. I can look back on countless happy memories.