ADVICE FOR BABY BLOGGERS

I’ve gained a slew of new followers recently. If I can, I check out all the my followers. I go look at their websites, if there is one … or even a profile. It’s because I’m trying to get a handle on who’s who, figure out what made them click the “Follow” button.

Sometimes it’s easy. It’s a fellow photographer or writer. Maybe we’ve had a passing encounter via his or her website. Or they have an interest in what I write about, are my generation, love the same movies or share a passion for history. Or the same taste in books.

Quite a few are probably spammers hoping to gain entry to my site. I can block them from commenting, but I can’t block them from following. Anyone can follow whoever they want. I wish it were otherwise.

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A bunch of them are from countries whose language I don’t speak, often whose alphabet I can’t read. I think some of them are photographers and come for the pictures, but I can’t always tell for sure.

And then there are the baby bloggers. Not merely new to blogging, but … well … children. Teenagers as young as 12 or 13 years old. Girls who aspire to a career in fashion (why in the world do they follow me? I’m the most unfashionable person I know!) and some who want to be writers or photographers. Many who aren’t sure what they want, but have discovered blogging. They follow me, hoping I’ll follow in return and help them build a following of their own. I get that.

If blogging had been an option when I was that age, I’d have been doing it. For a creative kid, blogging is a godsend. So much better than a diary, which was my best option.

It’s hard to get a blog off the ground. There are weeks, months — even years — before it begins to come together. So when these kids ask me if I’ll follow them or imply as much, I’ll at least give their site a read, a “like,” a comment and maybe some encouragement. I’m already following more blogs than I have time to read. I’m loathe to add more, though now and then I do add one anyway.

Some of these baby bloggers are surprisingly good. Their observations are astute and sensitive, their photographs show a fine eye for composition. Others — not so much. Some need to learn the rudiments of composition and basics like focusing, cropping. Many more need to learn the difference between writing and texting.

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For all you youngsters who want to be writers, I would like to offer you some unsolicited advice:

  • Use real words, not internet abbreviations or hacker slang
  • Check your spelling
  • Write sentences and paragraphs
  • Leave some white space on the page. All text and graphics makes me claustrophobic
  • Punctuation is not optional. Discover how exciting commas and periods can be
  • Do not end every sentence with one or more exclamation points!!! Really, just don’t!!! If you do that all the time, it makes you sound hysterical!!!
  • Use emoticons sparingly :-)
  • Contractions require apostrophes. It’s don’t, not dont, can’t, not cant.

If you want adults to read your posts — anyone older than your texting pals — you will have to write in a way older folks can understand. It’s not just the words you use.

It’s also subject matter. I’m mildly interested in what’s going on with your generation,  but makeup and gossip don’t hold much appeal for me. If you are going to write about things that only interest your high school friends, your only followers will be the kids who attend your school. Maybe that’s enough for you. But if you want a wider audience, find topics that interest a broader audience.

Most importantly, make sure that you write in a real language, not text-speak. Please.

THE KOREAN WORD FOR BUTTERFLY – JAMES ZERNDT – ENTER TO GET A FREE COPY!

“Americans. They think everybody is snowflake. Only one snowflake. Only one you. But in Korea we think like snowball. Everybody snowball.” Yun-ji packed an imaginary snowball in her hands, then lifted it, palms up, as if offering Billie a present. “You see? Snowball.”

Both of them looked at Yun-ji’s hands holding nothing.

“Snowball,” Yun-ji repeated, then looked at Billie, at her unhappy mouth, at her face that looked like it had been bleached, and she pictured that soldier sitting in the tank, listening to head phones, maybe reading a Rolling Stone magazine, then the call coming in over the radio, the hurried attempts to think of an excuse, some reason why he didn’t see two fourteen-year-old girls walking down a deserted country road in South Korea.

“Never mind,” Yun-ji said and dropped her hands.

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There are a lot of levels to this book. It’s a book about cultures and differences, but it’s also a book about the similarities that underlay human societies. In the end, our humanity trumps our differences and enables us to reach out to those who seem at first unreachable.

It’s about women and men, their relationships, their failure to communicate. The endless misunderstandings arising from these failed efforts — or failed lack of effort. It’s also about the assumptions we make based on appearance and how terribly wrong are the deductions we make based on what we think we see. And how we use bad information to make our choices.  And finally, the pain that results from choices — even when the choices are the best available.

The story takes place in South Korea. Billie, a young American woman, is in the country to teach English to grade school children. She has come there with her friend, lover and partner and shortly realizes she is pregnant. It’s as wrong a time in her life to have a baby as there possibly could be and probably the worst possible place she could be — far away from her home and isolated by distance and culture. The story is told in the first person by Billie as well as two other first person narrators, both south Korean.  Yun-ji is a young woman approximately the same age as Billie who also becomes pregnant and a man named Moon who is divorced and suffering through a painful separation from his son.

All the characters deal with problems springing from damaged relationships and miscommunication, misunderstanding, problems with parenting, pregnancy and abortion. Despite cultural differences, in the end the pain is very personal — and remarkable similar — for each.  There are no simple, happy answers.

It’s well-written and held my interest from start to finish. Whether or not the book will resonate for you may depend on your age and stage in life’s journey. For me,  it was a trip back in time to the bad old days before Roe Vs. Wade made abortion a viable choice. Of course, one of the issues made very clear in the book is that the legality of abortion doesn’t make it less of a gut-wrenching, life-altering decision. Anyone who thinks abortion is the easy way out should read this. Whatever else it is, it’s not easy.

It’s a good book. Strongly written, presenting highly controversial issues in a deeply human context.

The Korean Word for Butterfly is available in paper back and Kindle.

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THE ULTIMATE DARWINIAN CHALLENGE — JOHN DIXON’S PHOENIX ISLAND

Phoenix Island by John Dixon

Gallery, Threshold, Pocket Books

Publication Date – January 21, 2014

The story that inspired CBS TV’s Intelligence. Phoenix Island was supposed to be a boot camp for troubled children. Carl Freeman, at 16, is a boxing champion. He’s also about to be sentenced by a judge … prison? It’s not his first time in front of the bench. He isn’t even sure how many times he’s been here before, but always for the same thing — defending someone from bullies. It gets him in trouble every time, but this time, it’s worse. No slap on the wrist. He’s going to a “terminal facility,” the toughest boot camp of them all: Phoenix Island. It’s a two-year sentence — or a life sentence. Sometimes, there’s a thin line between the two. When Carl realized Phoenix Island is actually a mercenary training camp designed to change orphans — kids with no attachments to the “outside world” — into deadly, conscienceless super soldiers, he decides to do whatever it takes to save the people he loves even at the cost of his own life.

PhoenixIsland

The popular TV show Intelligence is based on this book. Since I’d never heard of or seen the show, I wasn’t swayed one way or the other. This is not the kind of book I usually read. Too much violence, too much intensity. Life is intense and I prefer my reading relaxing. But, I was intrigued and decided to give this one a go and I’m glad I did — mostly.

The book is much better than I expected. It just kept getting better from the beginning to the end, picking up speed and adding layers to the characters and the story. There are a lot of deaths and plenty of violence leading up to said deaths. And it’s not just  physical violence. There is systematic torture, emotional and psychological abuse, starvation and bullying of the most horrible kind. You name it, it’s here. The audience for this book is supposed to young adults. Is this what we are giving our kids to read? Yikes.

There’s no sex at all, nor any rough language, but there is sufficient graphic violence for a dozen books. If I had read this when I was 16 , it would have given me nightmares for years. Parents and teachers might want to consider whether or not every kid is emotionally equipped to process graphic violence before recommending this book. I wouldn’t let my kid watch Pop-Eye cartoons because they were ugly and violent.

For those who can handle the imagery and still get a night’s sleep, it’s a gripping story. And a surprising one. Just when you think you know what is going to happen next, don’t stop reading. Something else will happen, something you probably didn’t see coming.

One of the most interesting aspects of the book — maybe its best part — is the presentation of evil as not entirely black versus white, but many shades of gray. That a person having the same character and personality might be worthy of kingship in one generation, but be incarcerated as a criminal in the next. That the same talents can be applied for good or evil, depending on circumstance, timing and luck. Good and evil are not absolutes, but are born (at least in part) from the popular attitudes of society at a given time and place.

If the general cruelty, ugliness and brutality of the story doesn’t bother you, you’re in for a good read. Taut and tense, the book starts off a bit slow and gathers momentum. Meet the giant spiders, the vicious pigs (human and four-legged), the bullies, the torturer, the power-mad-evil-genius, the baby assassins and don’t forget the hammerhead sharks. You may find your stomach heaving, but you won’t be bored.

The book is available in Kindle, hardcover and as an Audible.com download beginning tomorrow, January 21, 2014

THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS – OR – A VISIT FROM ST. NICHOLAS

By Clement Clarke Moore

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar plums danc’d in their heads.

1864

1864

And Mama in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap —
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.

1883

1883

Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters, and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow,
Gave the luster of mid-day to objects below;
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.

1886

1886

More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and call’d them by name:
“Now! Dasher, now! Dancer, now! Prancer and Vixen,
“On! Comet, on! Cupid, on! Donder and Blitzen;
“To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall!
“Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!”

1896

1896

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys — and St. Nicholas too:
And then in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.

As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound:
He was dress’d all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnish’d with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys was flung on his back,
And he look’d like a peddler just opening his pack.

1898

1898

His eyes — how they twinkled! His dimples: how merry,
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry;
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face, and a little round belly
That shook when he laugh’d, like a bowl full of jelly:
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laugh’d when I saw him in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And fill’d all the stockings; then turn’d with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.

1901

1901

He sprung to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew, like the down of a thistle:
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight —
Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

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A SPECIAL NIGHT

THE NOT-SO-HALCYON DAYS OF YORE – PURE TRASH, BETTE A. STEVENS

There are so many television shows and movies, not to mention sappy posts on Facebook and other social media sites about “the good old days” … kind of makes me a trifle queasy. As someone who grew up in those good old days, I can attest to their not being all that great. There were good things about them, but it was by no means all roses.

Good is a relative term, after all. If you were white, Christian and middle class … preferably male and not (for example) a woman with professional ambitions … the world was something resembling your oyster. A family could live on one salary. If you were “regular folk” and didn’t stand out in any particular way, life could be gentle and sweet.

The thing is, an awful lot of people aren’t and weren’t people who could blend in. If you were poor, anything but white or Christian, or a woman who wanted to be more than a mother and homemaker, the world was a far rougher place.

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Pure Trash: The Story: Shawn Daniels in a Poor Boy’s Adventure: 1950s Rural New England is set in rural New England in the mid 1950s. It’s a sharp reminder how brutal our society could be to those deemed different or inferior. Not only was bullying common, it wasn’t considered wrong. I remember how badly the poor kids in my class were treated when I was going through elementary school. How the teachers took every opportunity to humiliate kids whose clothing was tattered and whose shoes were worn. I remember feeling awful for those little girls and boys. Not merely bullied by their classmates (who oddly, didn’t much notice the differences until the teachers pointed them out), but tormented by those who were supposed to care for and protect them. Bad enough for me and the handful of Jewish kids as Christmas rolled around. For them, it was the wrong time of year all year round.

In this short story, Shawn and Willie Daniels set off one Saturday in search of whatever they can find that they can turn into money. One man’s trash can be a poor child’s treasure. Bottles that people throw away could be collected and turned into ice cream and soda pop. Shawn is excited. It’s going to be a terrific day. Until the real world intrudes and Shawn is sharply and painfully reminded that he’s different … and not in a good way.

The story is about bullying, but more important, it’s about being different and being judged without compassion, without understanding or love.

It’s a very fast read. Only 21 pages, the story flies by. I was left wanting more. I want to know how the boys grow up. I want them to become CEOs of big corporations so they can thumb their noses at their whole miserable society. An excellent short story leaving plenty of room for thought.

Though set in 1955, the story is entirely relevant today. Despite much-touted progress, we still judge each other harshly based on appearance and assumptions. Everything changes … but maybe not so much.

For lots more information about the book and its author, stop by the authors’ website: 4 Writers and Readers. Pure Trash is available on Kindle and as a paperback from Amazon.

FOR THE CHILDREN – BOSTON CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL FUNDRAISER

for the childrenBoston Children’s Hospital relies on donations to continue the critical task of healing sick kids. Your help is greatly needed and appreciated.

In return for your kindness, I’ll send you a copy of “For the Children XIII,” my latest booklet of inspiring stories, poetry, recipes, humor and illustrations.

Kindly send your donation of $20.00 (or whatever you can afford) payable to BOSTON CHILDRENS HOSPITAL to:

Jordan Rich
WBZ Radio
1170 Soldiers Field Rd.
Boston, Ma. 02134

I’m proud to once again be associated with Boston Children’s Hospital…Until Every Child is Well.
Have a great holiday season and thank you for your generosity and kindness. Your donation means a lot!

Peace,
JR
Jordan Rich
WBZ

 

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DAILY PROMPT: PLAYTIME!

Jump!

Three kids, a hot summer day, and a pool. They are going to make quite a splash! It’s playtime! Hey kids … Any room for grandma?

EVIL DREAMS

There is a herd of elephants in my living room. Sometimes there are so many elephants lolling about that there is hardly enough room for me to settle down, have a cup of tea and watch the Red Sox on a warm summer evening.

They are the elephants of my childhood. Snidely grinning elephants. Scary elephants. One pachyderm carries a belt. I know he’s going to beat me. Others smile sweetly. I don’t to trust those smiles. These are not real. The smiles are camouflage to hide an evil so deep it makes my blood turn watery.

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For most of my life I had a recurring nightmare. I would be sitting in the middle of some particularly bucolic setting, a field, meadow or alongside babbling brook. The day would be perfect. Blue sky, puffy clouds and sunshine. I was happy. Content to sit and watch the birds, bunnies or butterflies. In the midst of this bucolic setting, the cute little creatures would transform into flying or crawling little monsters that would swarm over me. I’d wake up screaming, drenched in sweat.

The monsters were never the same twice. Sometimes they looked like spiders or snakes; other times, they resembled nothing in the real world. Perhaps they could have emerged from the primordial ooze or a sleazy horror movie.

Always there were many monsters attacking simultaneously. Escape was impossible and in any case, I was paralyzed with terror unable to run, barely able to scream. Only waking ended the attack. But not the fear. The fear stuck around.

The dream sometimes went away for a few months, but inevitably returned. And so it continued for more than forty years. Finally — a lifetime later — all the little monsters came together and formed a face. My father.

My eyes snapped open. I was fully awake and understood.

I never had the dream again.

ON A FIRST DAY WHEN I WAS SO SMALL …

My father drops me off and just leaves me there in front of the huge brick building. Me, little me, standing on the wide sidewalk, autumn leaves swirling around my ankles. I’ve arrived but I have no idea what I’m supposed to do next. I’m starting kindergarten. I am four years old. Some strange calendar thing means I’m the youngest kid in the class. And the smallest. All the other kids are bigger, taller, bulkier. I will always be the shortest or second shortest until size places ends in 6th grade.

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I wait, looking — hoping — for help. Eventually someone collects me, asking me my name, herding me towards a group of little kids, some of whom are crying, all of whom look lost. If any parent stuck around to watch over us, I never saw them. 1951 was not a year for coddling kids. When the time to leave the nest came, mama birds gave a push and out you fell, tiny wings flailing.

Kindergarten was in a huge room on the ground floor. They didn’t want us little kids getting run over by bigger ones. Or getting lost in the hallway. The ceilings are miles above us, 16 feet or more. Standard on very old schools. The windows go to the ceiling so Miss O’Rourke has to use a hook on a long wooden pole to open or close them. I wonder why they don’t have normal windows like at home. Ours open by turning a crank.

The teacher is ancient and wrinkly. Blue eyes behind steel-framed glasses and frizzy grey hair. She dresses funny. She is tall, talks loud and slow. Does she think I’m stupid? Everyone in my family talks loud, but no one talks slow.

Now it’s nap time. We are supposed to put our blankets on the floor and go to sleep, but I don’t nap. I haven’t taken a nap ever or at least none I can remember. Anyway, I don’t have a blanket. My mother didn’t know I was supposed to bring one. I also don’t have a shoe box for my crayons. All the other kids have them. I wish I had one because I feel weird being the only one without a blanket and no shoe box.

Well it is not great, but here is one of the c...

Worse, I don’t have crayons. I wish I had some because the ones in the big box for everyone to use are broken, the colors no one likes. My mother didn’t know I was supposed to bring crayons. She’s busy.

I got a new sister a few months ago. She  cries all the time and mommy didn’t have time to come to school and find out all this stuff all the other kids mothers know.

So I sit in a chair and wait, being very quiet, while every one is napping. I don’t think they are really asleep, but everyone goes and lays down on the floor on a blanket and pretends. It gives Mrs. O’Rourke time to write stuff in her book.

It’s a long day and I have almost a mile to walk home. My mother doesn’t drive and anyway, she doesn’t worry about me. She knows I’ll find my way. It’s just that the walk home is all uphill. I’m tired. Why do I have to do this? I could have stayed home and played with my own toys.

By the time I know the answer, I’ll be 19, graduating from college. When I know the answer, it still won’t make sense. School — including most of college — will be where I sit around doing things slowly so other kids can catch up with me. Or — for math — where I sit in a haze and have no idea what’s going on, so lost I don’t even know what questions to ask. But who needs that stuff anyhow?

I’m going to be a writer. Unless the cowboy thing works out.

IT DOESN’T ADD UP …

I always say I’m the queen of typos, but lately, I’ve been noticing the problem isn’t typos. Entire words and pieces of words go missing while extraneous words and word fragments that should vanish hang around. Word bombs lurking in my text.

I’ve always had a problem with numbers. I was bad at math but since I have a high IQ, the assumption was I didn’t try hard enough. I can’t remember how many report cards I got saying I wasn’t making an effort. Underachiever is a label that has haunted me.

To a degree it was true. I didn’t have to try particularly hard at some stuff. I read very well. I was a natural researcher and historian. I always talked a blue streak. I wrote stories. I was 10 when I learned touch typing. I type quickly, but the number of mistakes I make can equal the number of words on the page. Inaccurate doesn’t begin to describe it.

I did well things that came naturally. Everything else didn’t come at all. It didn’t matter how hard I tried. Physics was meaningless. Trig was random numbers. If I could remember what I was supposed to do with numbers, the odds were no better than 50-50 I’d come up with the right answer. We did not have calculators, but even if we had, it wouldn’t have guaranteed I’d get the right answer. I also can’t key numbers with any accuracy.

Today, when I commented on a friend’s blog, in a fewer than 10-word sentence, I omitted one word and mis-wrote another. I thought the missing word, but failed to type it. Missing in action. By the time I saw the problems, it was too late to correct them. I’ve been doing that a lot and I finally started searching to see if there was a name for the problem, other than creeping senility.

Dyscalculia. A learning disability with which both my son and granddaughter have been diagnosed.

How did I miss this? How come I never connected the missing dots? I have had all these symptoms for my entire life. It never crossed my mind, or anyone else’s, that there might be an actual problem. Lately it’s gotten worse and I attributed it to getting older and more forgetful. But age tends to exaggerate symptoms of this type. It’s both comforting and frustrating to realize I’ve spent my life successfully functioning despite the problem. As have millions of people because the world doesn’t adjust to your problems. You’ve got to work with what you’ve got because … well … what choice do you have?

When I was growing up, kids with dyslexia and/or dyscalculia were assumed to be stupid, lazy or both, I’ve been called many things, but never stupid. So I was told loudly and often I was lazy. Eventually I came to believe it. It never occurred to anyone that maybe I really couldn’t make sense of numbers. It wasn’t that I didn’t like them. They didn’t like me. Sometimes, it felt personal.

Because I was good with words and concepts, I wrote very well. I didn’t spell very well, but I learned to look things up and if I wasn’t sure how to spell a word, I used a different word. I rewrote whole pages to avoid having to use a word I couldn’t spell. Sometimes, I still do. I don’t trust the spell checker to know what I meant.

Lately, I find my finger typing words that start with the same letter as the word I meant to write, but which are otherwise entirely different. When eventually I see the error, I’m totally baffled how my brain can be thinking one thing and my fingers typing something entirely different

A short post … like this one … can take me hours to proofread and when I’m done, there will still be wrong words, missing words, missing pieces of words, words in the wrong order or wrong form (e.g. gerund instead of past tense). I just don’t see the errors.

If you have a child in school who is doing poorly but is bright and should be doing better, before you assume that he or she needs only to work harder, take a look at dyscalculia and dyslexia websites. They have diagnostic tools for all ages and stages. Not every child or adult has every symptom, nor are all symptoms present at all times. Intermittent memory loss is common. You may know how to solve an equation today, but not recall how to do it tomorrow. Gone from your memory without a trace.

Check out: The Dyscalculia Forum and Dycalculia.org. Meanwhile, here’s some basic stuff to help you decide if you want to search further.

From The Dyscalculia Forum:

The Basic Facts

Dyscalculia is a specific learning disability in mathematics. Dyscalculia is a word you use to describe when people have significant problems with numbers – but still have a normal or above normal IQ. It seems that no dyscalculic has problems with math alone, but also struggle with problems being able to learn to tell time, left/right orientation, rules in games and much more. See the list of symptoms. Also, there are more types of dyscalculia, and all types demand specific learning methods aimed at the specific problem.

How Common Is Dyscalculia?

According to UK studies done by Gross-Tsur, Manor and Shalev in 1996, 6.5% are dyscalculic. According to studies done by Lewis, Hitch and Walker in 1994, 1.3% are dyscalculic while 2.3% are dyscalculic AND dyslexic – that means that according to this study 3.6% of the World’s population are dyscalculic.

That gives a total of between 3.6 and 6.5% of the World’s population. And again: That means, according to these two studies, that between 216.000.000 (two hundred and sixteen million) and 390.000.000 (three hundred and ninety million) people are dyscalculic – if we say that there are 600.000.000.000 (six billion) people in the world. No international study has been done on how common it is.

Symptoms In Brief 

Normal or accelerated language acquisition: verbal, reading, writing. Poetic ability. Good visual memory for the printed word. Good in areas of science until higher math is required and creative arts.

Mistaken recollection of names. Poor name/face retrieval. Substitute names beginning with same letter.

Difficulty with the abstract concepts of time and direction. Inability to recall schedules, and sequences of past or future events. Unable to keep track of time. May be chronically late.
Inconsistent results in addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Poor mental math ability. Poor with money and credit. Cannot do financial planning or budgeting.

When writing, reading and recalling numbers, these common mistakes are made: number additions, substitutions, transpositions, omissions, and reversals.

Inability to grasp/remember math concepts, rules, formulas, sequence, basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division facts. Poor long-term concept mastery. May be able to do math one day, but draw a blank the next..

May be unable to comprehend or “picture” mechanical processes. Lack “big picture/ whole picture” thinking.
Poor memory for the “layout” of things. Gets lost or disoriented easily. May have a poor sense of direction, lose things often, and seem absent-minded.

May have difficulty grasping concepts of formal music education. Difficulty sight-reading music, learning fingering to play an instrument, etc.

May have poor athletic coördination, difficulty keeping up with rapidly changing physical directions as in aerobic, dance, and exercise classes. Difficulty remembering dance step sequences.

Difficulty keeping score or remembering how to keep score in games, like bowling, etc. Often loses track of whose turn it is during games. Limited strategic ability.

NOSTALGIA: 15 CREDITS OR SOMEWHAT FEWER

My 6th Grade class.

In sixth grade. Still wondering what I’m doing there. Probably so were most of the other kids.

I’ve arrived. School has begun, if you could really call it school. I’m the youngest kid in the class, only four, but somehow, here I am anyhow. I’m certainly the smallest. All the others kids are way bigger than me. I don’t know it yet, but I will always be either the shortest or next to the shortest kid in every class for the next six years. After that, they stop measuring.

P.S. 35 is tiny but to me it looks gigantic. Monstrous. Many years later, I will come back here and see this school as the miniature it is, but not yet. Even the stairs are half the height of normal stairs. I don’t know about stairs. Kindergarten is on the ground floor. Always. They don’t want us little kids getting run over by bigger ones. Or lost in the hallways.

The windows go all the way to the ceiling. Very tall. To open or close them, Miss O’Rourke uses a long hook on a pole. I wonder why they don’t have normal windows like at home. Our windows open by turning a crank. Anyone can open them. Even me.PS350001

Teacher is pretty old. She’s got frizzy grey hair and glasses. She dresses funny. She talks loud and slow. Does she think I’m stupid? Everyone in my family talks loud, but no one talks slow.

Now it’s nap time. We are supposed to put our blankets on the floor and go to sleep, but I don’t nap. I haven’t taken a nap ever or at least none I can remember. Anyway, I don’t have a blanket. My mother didn’t know I was supposed to bring one. I also don’t have a shoe box for my crayons. All the other kids have them. I wish I had one because I feel weird being the only one without a blanket and no shoe box.

Worse, I don’t have crayons. I wish I had some because the ones in the big box in the classroom for everyone to use are broken, the colors no one likes. My mother didn’t know I was supposed to bring crayons either. She’s busy. I just got a new sister who cries all the time and mommy didn’t have time to come to school and find out all this stuff all the other kids mothers know.

So I sit in a chair and wait, being very quiet, while every one is napping. I don’t think they are really asleep, but everyone goes and lays down on the floor on a blanket and pretends. It gives Mrs. O’Rourke time to write stuff in her book.

It’s a long day and I have almost a mile to walk home. My mother doesn’t drive and anyway, she doesn’t worry about me. She knows I’ll find my way. It’s just that the walk home is all uphill. I’m tired. Why do I have to do this? I could have stayed home and played with my own toys.

By the time I know the answer, I will be 19 and graduating from college. Even after I know the answer, I don’t understand the question. I read so much on my own — that’s where I really learn everything.  School will forever be where I sit around doing everything slowly so other kids can catch up with me.

Except for math. And French. But who needs that stuff anyhow? I’m going to be a writer. Unless the ballerina thing works out.

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FOR THE PROMPTLESS – LAPSUS LINGUAE AND BIG MISTER MALAPROP

Once upon a time when me and the whole world were a good deal younger, my father had a business partner. I don’t remember his name, but he was a big, bluff Russian who used to come over the house, visit, and make gallons of cabbage soup. He must have thought there were a lot more of us than there were because my mother couldn’t figure out how to store so much soup, even though we had a full size standing deep freezer in the basement and a huge fridge in the kitchen. He and my father would go into the kitchen and produce these gallons of soup. We all had to eat it for weeks until we were sure we were turning into little cabbages.

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Bob (or whatever his name was) was accident prone and an enthusiastic teller of stories, most of them about his own misadventures.

“So I was at the beach, at Coney Island” he says, almost shouting because he never said anything except very loud. “Very sunny. Blue sky. A nice day to take my mother to the beach, let her relax in the sun by the water. She is just settling down with her chair. And she asks me if I’ll set up the umbrella for her. I mean, she didn’t have to ask. I always do it, but she always asks anyway, like if she doesn’t ask I won’t do it. I took her to Coney Island, what did she think, I’m going to leave her to cook in the sun?”

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We all nodded dutifully. Because he was my father’s partner and we were kids, so what else was there to do?

“It’s a big umbrella. With stripes. Red and yellow. I got it myself, on sale. Umbrellas are expensive and this was a good sturdy one and I paid bupkas for it. If you ever need an umbrella …” and he paused to remember what he was going to say. “Anyway, this was one of the good ones, with a heavy pole so it would stay put.”

We nodded some more. Our job. To nod. Look very interested.

“I opened the umbrella and had to find the right place to put it because, you know, if it’s in the wrong place, the shade isn’t going to be where you want it. So I walked around a bit until I found just the right place. Then I took the pole and a jammed it into the sand as hard as I could and it went pretty deep. Seemed good and solid.”

We were still nodding. I must have been — maybe 10? — and had been taught to be polite, no matter what, to grown-ups. We did not call adults by their first name. I think my teeth would have cracked if I had tried or my tongue would have stuck to the roof of my mouth.

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“What with everything looking okay and my mother settling down in her chair with a book, she looked happy. So I figured it would be a good time to get something to eat and I told her I would go get us some hot dogs — and something to drink. She said that was good, tell them to leave the mustard off because — she’s always reminding me but I know, I know — she doesn’t like mustard.

I walked all the way over to Nathan’s — that’s a pretty long walk, all the way to the end of the boardwalk — because they have the best hot dogs” at which I was nodding with real enthusiasm because Nathan’s really does have the best hot dogs, “And I love those beef fries. I got five, two for her — with no mustard — and the other three for me because I was hungry,” and he paused to pat his large belly, “And I started walking back. I could see where to go because of the umbrella’s stripes. I could see it all the way from the boardwalk.”

Nod, nod, nod.Nathans at Coney Island

“The weather suddenly was changing … some clouds were coming in from the ocean. It was getting a windy — a bit — and this was happening all of a sudden while I had gone to get the dogs. Funny how the weather changes so fast along the water, you know? So now, I’m almost there. Up comes  a big puff of wind and that umbrella pulls right up out of the sand and flies at me and whacks me over the head. Boom. I thought my whole head was going to come off.

I dropped all the food and fell right over. Like a rock I fell and just lay there. My whole brain was like scrambled eggs. They had to come and take me to the hospital. I was completely compost for TWO DAYS! Two days! Completely compost!”

Be careful of flying umbrellas at the beach. They will turn you into compost. That’s not good, especially when your hands are full of hotdogs.

MAKE THEM PLAY STICKBALL

As we head into Major League Baseball’s post season — and the Red Sox are in it (yay) — Garry is obsessively glued to the television. And football is starting, so there is an unrelenting stream of sports playing on the big TV in the living room. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The sportscasters were talking about somebody getting stuck with an error because he couldn’t catch a ball on a bad bounce and how hard it is to catch them when they take an unpredictable bounce.

Which got me to thinking about stickball. These guys are paid gazillions to play professional baseball. They have parks with groundskeepers, bases, uniforms, baseballs and even bats! How would they do without all that fancy stuff, huh? We didn’t have any of that. No siree.

Spalding Hi-Bounce BallWe had old broomsticks and pink rubber Spalding balls. Seriously, even our broomsticks were worn out. If it was any good, your mother was using it and it had a broom attached. You try to take that broomstick and she’ll beat you with it. And the ball? Half the time, they weren’t even balls anymore. They were lumps of old pink rubber that had sometime in the past been balls.

So, assuming you actually hit it (dubious), you had no way to predict where it would go. All the bounces were bad. Those things were crazy. Since the bases were “the red car over there” and “the big maple tree in front of Bobby’s house” and everyone agreed the manhole cover was home because it was more or less in the middle of the road … while third was the drainage grate over the sewer … that left us wide open for serious disputes about fair versus foul. The team who was most vigorous in pursuit of fairness or foulness got the call, especially since we were our own umpires.

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Photo credit: mattweberphotos.com

If those expensive athletes had to play stickball, how well do you think they’d do, huh? I’d just like to see one single game of major leaguers playing stickball with an old broomstick and that pink rubber ball bouncing all over the place.

They would learn humility in a hurry. So I say — make them play stickball!! Oh, and make A-Rod the ump. That’ll show’em.