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Testing, Budgets, Movies, and Free Days – Oh My!

Since the late 1990’s when the current testing craze first started to dig its heel into the throat of K-12 public school education, I have been an advocate for testing as a means of holding educators and students accountable for learning in the classroom.  I still am, but with growing reservations.  Originally, State Testing was intended as an accountability tool to measure student academic growth and improve classroom instruction; however, regrettably, I have watched it morph into a teacher eating, time wasting monster.  It, along with its local test counterparts (STAR, NWEA, and other commercially designed software programs aimed at remediation, student tracking, and general test taking prep), has become an accountability system of excessiveness void of accountability for the chaos and harm it is causing in the classroom.  I still believe K-12 education needs accountability, but not at the expense of the learning environment and profession it was created to protect and improve.

State Testing, Oh My!

  1. State testing was never intended to cut or waste instructional time! Countless instructional hours are replaced each school year not only by testing but by overboard remediation, test prep, and classroom filler time such as movies and free days.  It is hard to blame school administrators and teachers for short changing instruction in favor of test prep when their careers are judged by marginal black and white data that has little regard for real world data.   Beginning in April, sometimes earlier, and extending to the end of the school year, teachers are busy prepping/remediating kids for the BIG TESTS.  During these months, kids spend classroom time doing little to nothing in class other than prepping for the upcoming state tests, watching movies, and enjoying free days.  What is the use in teaching anything new once test season arrives seems to be a widespread teacher mindset.  As a result, there is very little new material taught the second half of the school year, especially the last quarter.  It could effectively be argued the last two months of the school year are instructionally a waste of time;
  2. State testing was never intended to chase good teachers out of the profession by adding stress, stress, and more stress! Why would any sane young person want to be a grade school teacher or a core subject area teacher in high school?  In today’s test happy, under the microscope world of education, I would strongly consider a non-tested area if I were a young teacher beginning my career.  All teaching can be stressful, but the same money is made for a non-tested area as for a tested area, so taking the less stressful, less scrutinized option makes the most sense; and
  3. State testing was never intended to dehumanize children and teachers. However, data is “black and white.”  It does not consider the gray areas, such as home life, that often have more impact on student success and growth than what the teacher does in the classroom.  I encourage anyone who has never walked in the shoes of a teacher to talk to one or many and hear this all too true side of the testing story.  Humans tend to be much more complicated than the data gathered to represent them.

Testing Budgets, Oh My!

  1. Nationwide, 1.7 billion dollars is spent each year on accountability testing in public schools. Mississippi alone spends over 10 million dollars annually on K-12 standardized assessments.  That does not include the dollars individual school districts spend on assessments such as STAR, NWEA, and ACT;
  2. State testing means Mississippi education dollars are padding the pockets of big testing companies while Mississippi teachers remain the lowest paid teachers in the nation; and
  3. State testing means many school districts, especially larger districts, are forced to hire extra administrative help to handle the volume and logistics of testing. Much of this extra work also falls on the shoulders of counselors and teachers who are already stretched to the maximum limit for time.

Movies and Free Days, Oh My!

  1. State Testing means classroom instruction in many schools basically comes to a stop in April and May as teachers prep and cram for the end of month and early May tests. In addition to the prep time, classroom movies and free days with no instructional purpose are widespread in the days before and after the state assessments;
  2. State Testing means as much as 25% of a school’s Instructional time is wasted on testing each year; and
  3. State Testing means over the course of a K-12 school career, students lose as much as 2.5 years of classroom instruction due to standardized testing and wasted classroom time. No wonder the United States ranks 14th in the world in education behind South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Finland, United Kingdom, Canada, Netherlands, Ireland, Poland, Denmark, Germany, and Russia.

Questions all Mississippians need to ask about State Testing?

  1. Is state testing good for kids? Over the years, the testing model has changed frequently, so how effective it is measuring student growth and instructional strengths and weaknesses depends largely on who is asked – teachers or test makers.  Are students better off testing or would they be better served staying in the classroom and receiving the instruction they are currently missing is the question that needs to be seriously studied?
  2. Is state testing good for teachers? The stress of state testing, poor pay, wide spread disrespect for the teaching profession, and lack of or poor administrative support are four major reasons teachers leave the profession and highly intelligent young people choose other professions over a teaching career.  How long can public schools survive the growing teacher shortage is a serious question that needs to be addressed and soon!
  3. Is state testing worth the loss of instructional time? As a grandparent and former educator, the loss/waste of instructional time is my greatest concern with present testing practices.  As a grandparent it concerns me when I talk to my grandchildren about their school day and discover instructional time is being used to review for the state tests.  As a former educator, I understand there may be a need to review the week before the test but shutting down class for a month prior to the test is, in my opinion, bordering on education malpractice.  Also, it concerns me greatly when my grandchildren tell me they have spent a week watching movies and having free time in class!  I am sorry if I step on some teachers’ toes, but that is wrong and unacceptable!  Using class instructional time excessively to prep for state tests as well as waste class time showing movies or allowing classroom free days because teachers feel it is useless to teach anything new during test season is harmful to kids.  Some teachers will argue movies can be educational, and in small teacher guided increments, I might agree, but there is little educational merit in showing whole movies in class or giving students a free day in class for the sake of keeping students entertained and out of the teacher’s hair.  Such practices are babysitting and should be monitored closely and stopped immediately; and
  4. Do state tests hold anyone accountable other than teachers? Under the present accountability model, all accountability lies on the shoulders of teachers and to a small extent the students. For a system to be truly accountable, it must hold all shareholders equally accountable including educators, students, parents, and state and local government.  I bet the state legislature could find adequate funds for public schools if they were held to the same accountability fire as teachers.

    What is the bottom line for State Testing in Mississippi?

  1. State testing has led to wasting significant classroom instructional time that is negatively impacting the education of children;
  2. During the last quarter of the school year, state testing turns the school house into a house of remediation that instructionally short changes all but the lowest functioning students; and
  3. I believe state testing has helped bring about needed improvements and accountability in Mississippi public schools, but I have also come to believe it may be doing kids more harm than good, especially when the loss of instructional time is thrown into the equation. Today’s students may be short in their knowledge of geography, but they can engage in movie trivia with confidence and take a test with the best.

I am deeply saddened and disappointed to say accountability testing in Mississippi may have reached a plateau surrounded by shear drops of rocky hazardous canyons with no bottom in sight and no bridge sturdy enough to cross to the other side.  In the quest for continued improvement, good intentions have pushed public schools to the edge.  Mississippi has grown from a state education system with little accountability to a system so deep in accountability, it has lost sight of what is most important – TEACHING KIDS or DATA COLLECTION?  All too often, too much of a good thing can result in diminished returns, and that is the case, as I see it, for testing in K-12 public schools.  The current state of standardized testing has become too much of a good thing.  Testing has become a good idea gone bad!  As a direct or indirect result of state testing, classroom instruction has been abused.  Schools have traded instruction for data that is compromised by the demise of classroom instruction resulting from an overabundance of data collection.  Some testing is reasonable and needed, some loss of instructional time due to testing is to be expected, but the monster that the present system has become is unacceptable and hurting kids.

Can it be fixed?  Can a device that has morphed into an almost exclusive tool for ranking and calling out teachers be saved?  Is it possible to find a solution that would be more fiscally responsible, learning friendly, less accountability biased, and less stressful?  Is it possible to have an accountability system that doesn’t bring teachers to their knees and public schools to a standstill and maybe to the brink of extinction?  YES, it can be fixed, and it should be fixed.  Like any organization, schools need accountability, but if the accountability model jeopardizes the organization through disenfranchisement of its core practitioners (teachers) and practice (instruction), changes must be made to right the ship before it is capsized, and irrevocable damage is done.

JL

©Jack Linton, May 14, 2018

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Our First Cruise:  Seven Days to the Bahamas

One of the things my wife and I said we would do when we retired was go on a cruise.  We finally accomplished that goal in April when we joined another couple on a seven-day cruise out of New Orleans to the Bahamas.  Our biggest fear was my wife would get sick during the trip from the motion of the boat, and I would end up pushing her around the ship in a wheelchair as I have on two occasions at Disney World.  The first time was after she rode the Tower of Terror, which with her vertigo issues was dumb on my part for letting her ride.  I always wondered why Disney has so many wheelchairs available at their top thrill rides; now I know.  However, not willing to settle for dumb, on our next trip, I convinced her motion sickness was all in her head and she could ride Thunder Mountain.  That elevated me to the stupidity level, and for the second time I had to wheel her across Disney in search of a cool place to throw up and lay down for a spell.  So, when it came to a cruise, she wisely tuned me out, and visited her doctor for help.  I have no idea what kind of chemical wonder drug is on the patch he gave her to stick behind her ear, but it worked!  Even during a few wobbly moments when the boat rocked a little more than usual, she held her lunch and we had a wheelchairless fantastic time.

I was amazed at the organization of such a huge operation.  For a ship with 3,900 passengers and over 1,500 crew, I couldn’t believe how smoothly everything worked from boarding, to room service, to activities, to getting everyone off the boat in an orderly and time efficient manner when the cruise was over.  When it came to customer relations, I can think of several local businesses that would do well to take the cruise and study how customers should be treated, especially if return business is expected.  The only thing that was slightly disconcerting at times was the language barrier that existed when trying to communicate with ship staff.  Most of the ship personnel we encountered were Indian with a few Germans, Swedes, and Italians thrown in for good measure.  Sometimes their less than perfect English and our Southern drawl and language bias ears conflicted.  That didn’t happen often and when it did, the ship employee slowed down and listened more intently and patiently to our question.  When dealing with the customer, they never lost sight of their commitment to provide a smooth and enjoyable experience.  They were extremely friendly and helpful.  They did not exhibit an attitude they were doing us a favor to wait on us like so many local store employees often do.  The employees on the Carnival Dream acted like they enjoyed their jobs and were genuinely appreciative we had chosen their ship for our vacation.  Some of our home town businesses could learn a lot from them.

Food!  I had always heard there was plenty to eat on a cruise, and I was not disappointed in the quantity.  Italian, Mongolian, Asian, Pizza, Guy Fieri Burgers, salads, deserts, and ice cream were available throughout the day, and at night there was fine dining in the ship’s more elegant restaurants.  Overall, the fine dining experience was excellent with a waiter who called you by name while serving your table each evening.  The restaurant food was excellent, but I would strongly advise against the lasagna.  The Indian chef did not have a clue how to prepare lasagna, but he more than made up for that disaster with the prime rib and steamed mussels he prepared the last night of the cruise.  However, my favorite food on the cruise was the soft serve ice cream!  I stopped for a cone of soft serve vanilla or strawberry every time I passed a machine, which was frequently.  I don’t know where my wife can find one of those machines, but after this cruise, it is number one on my Christmas list.

Shore excursions are a big part of a cruise, and we took full advantage of our time off the boat.  Our first stop was Key West where we opted out of a paid excursion and chose to tour the town on our own.  The weather was in the 80s but otherwise perfect.  We had no idea where we were going when we left the ship, but after following the wives through countless tee-shirt, trinkets, and beach bag shops, we found a guitar store where my good friend and I were allowed by our wives to browse for a solid five minutes.  From there we toured Earnest Hemingway’s house, and ended the afternoon with key-lime pie at a little joint off the beaten path.  After the pie, we continued our leisurely stroll through the streets of Key West.  We were in no hurry until we realized we were in danger of missing our ship’s departure time.  We made it, but we were close to becoming Key West residents.  The ship was scheduled to depart at 4:30 p.m.; we made it back to the ship at 4:20 p.m.  In our minds, the only thing that mattered was we made it, but from the rolling eyes of the ship crew members who hurriedly ushered us aboard, I am not so sure, they felt the same way.

The second stop was at Freeport in the Bahamas where we were introduced to driving on the wrong side of the road by a very lively 75-year-old bus driver.  Freeport was one of the saddest places I have ever visited.  As we rode to Paradise Cove, our destination for the day, I was struck by the poverty of the area.  Most of the homes were run down if not completely crumbling.  Weathered blue tarps ripped into threads by the wind and rain covered many homes, a reminder of the destruction tropical storms and hurricanes brought to the little island of 40,000 people.  However, listening to the bus driver, you would have thought he lived in paradise.  He did not shy from talking about the poor conditions, yet he spoke with pride and hope for his island home.  At one point, he pointed out his home as we drove by, which was humble, but a castle compared to his neighbors.    He dropped us off at the cove where we spent the day relaxing on a small beach and snorkeling in crystal clear blue-green water.  What struck me most about Freeport was how appreciative the bus driver and the adults and teens who operated the Blue Lagoon facilities were that we had chosen to spend our time and money with them.  Not once, did I see a frown in Freeport.

The third stop was Nassau where we took a ferry to Blue Lagoon Island.  Like Paradise Cove in Freeport, the water was crystal clear and changed from blues to greens throughout the day depending on the light reflecting on the water.  We relaxed on the beach and tubed in the shallow water and enjoyed a buffet lunch as part of the excursion package.  A major attraction of the lagoon was swimming with the dolphins (an extra charge, which we did not choose to pay).  With the assistance of guides, paying customers were treated to an afternoon of swimming and playing with the beautiful and amazingly intelligent animals.  If I go back, I will spend the extra money to swim with those beautiful creatures.  The people I watched in the water with them were having too much fun for me not to give it a try.  Swimming with the dolphins in the Blue Lagoon is now on my bucket list.

As much fun as we had on the ship and the shore excursions, I must admit, the ship itself reminded me of a prison.  A very relaxing and beautiful prison but confining nevertheless.  For me, it will never replace a cross country camping trip in my travel trailer.  I enjoy open spaces, and there is little of that on a cruise ship.  However, I enjoyed the food, the live entertainment, the shore excursions, the company of good friends, and the soft serve ice cream enough to go again at the first opportunity.  However, the biggest reason I will continue to take cruises is my wife.  Not once during the trip did I have to push her in a wheelchair!  By itself, that made for a very enjoyable trip and gives me the motivation to return to the high seas as soon as possible to continue my adventures on a floating luxury shopping mall.

JL

©Jack Linton, May 4, 2018

First Love

“I remember my first love,” the man said, closed his eyes and sighed deeply.  “She was as sweet as dew at first light.  I have never met another like her.”  He knelt before the altar and worshiped First Love.

For most people, first love is a careless delicious surplus of sugary puffs of nostalgia.  They swoon in memories of white lace, tender moonlight strolls, skin as soft as silk floating on feather down, and a touch so smooth and delicate it speaks of a refreshing summer lemonade or a delicate red wine with floral undertones.  Over time, first love has a way of growing into a whimsical dream-like longing that paints it as more than a simple charity of nature.  For many, it morphs into a cosmic life event colored by all that is innocent, sweet, and righteous in the world – a lavish desert and entitlement of youth.

If man could negotiate time and the universe in a single breath and look upon the original blueprints for his existence, he would find first love was a gift, a charity, orchestrated by gods with nothing better to do.  They were spirits with no motive other than creating a smile and a warm place in the heart, who, to this day, toast one another with each first kiss of starry eyed first loves.  We should also toast first love and fall in love over and over with the honey scented nostalgia that cloaks it.  Yet, unlike those candied memories, we must take care not to place our first love on a wistful pedestal like a trophy.

First love is not an altar to kneel before.  It is not a stuffed panda, or fine wine to share openly as a prize, but a keepsake to fold into your wallet for safe keeping for fear it might sour with overexposure.  Like a mother’s womb, it is not intended as a warm cubby hole to hibernate forever.  Its sole purpose is to prepare for what is to come – to open eyes to the truth that two are better than one.  First love is training wheels on your first bicycle; the first cross you bear; the first callous on your heart.

Sweet as cherry blossoms in spring as it may be, nuzzling the fuzz on that first peach is meant as a personal curio to be placed on a sheltered shelf out of the way when done.  After all, it is charity, a gift, not intended for flaunting.  Unfortunately, human nature does not always allow first love to be treated as such; it will not permit it to be dignified by fading softly until vanquished respectfully and honestly.  No, we dig up the bones, cover them with wisps of Camelot and roses, regurgitate a surreal fleeting experience that never was as we wish to remember it.

Those first palpable pricks of the heart linger in a shadowy recess of the brain reserved for what might have been, what never was, and what we wish, want, and believe to be.  Its memory is the byproduct of an underdeveloped flap of grey tissue that utilizes spotting sparks of corkscrewed energy spitting from a humping brain stem to fabricate superficial intrigue and horny syrupy sweetness for a fleeting delusional moment in our lives.  We hold to that moment with a fondness reserved for high school pranks and fetching our own switch for Mama to tan our backside.  Those good old days and memories we sweeten with saccharin.

That most people are indebted to a name they only speak in moral seriousness is without question.  That they are ensnared deep within a constantly gentrifying lair of sugarcoated indulgence of half-truths is also without question.  In the name of first love, they allow themselves to be imprisoned by plain prose exuding romantic mediocrity blinded by sunlight caught in crystal windows.   Their reason is intermittently waxed incomprehensible; they are blinded or at least enveloped by a fantasy shrouded in essentialist qualities of love – a fantasy inseparable from reality.

A charity of nature designed to unlock hearts and open souls to the beauty of the human bond, first love should be smiled upon and thought of tenderly for its intended good.  It should not be allowed to fester into a gauzy distraction or a model holding all future love accountable.  It was never intended to be idolized or placed on a pedestal that might bring the adoration of future love into question, nor was it ever intended as a gauge for future romantic relationships.  First love is a foyer to a greater room; it is simply the beginning of the grandest adventure of all – love.  It is practice for the real thing to come; it was never intended as a prototype of the real game.

JL

©Jack Linton, February 9, 2018

Henny Chicken’s Escort Service:  A Story with a Moral

Henny Chicken left her job after working nineteen years for KFC corporate.  She had thought of leaving many times, but each time she was about to pull the plug, she moved up the pecking order, and edged a little closer to the proverbial wire ceiling.  It was different this time though!  She had endured her tail feathers being stroked for the last time, and hush promotions to ease her squawking no longer mattered.  Just once, she would like to move up the corporate ladder for what happened from the neck up, rather than the neck down.  The paper promotions resulted in slight improvement, but in some ways set her up for even more harassment.  The bosses looked at her as willing to do whatever to get a promotion, and the rest of the employees looked at her as a chicken lipped Jezebel sleeping her way to the top.  She loved her job, and did not want to leave, but what else could a hen do?  Being treated and thought of as less than a chicken stuck in her craw, and made her miserable.  All she wanted was to work and live in a place where a chick could cross the road and not have her motives or gender questioned.

The cutesy office breast and leg jokes grew old even if breasts were the foundation for the company and her pension.  She simply could not take being considered a piece of meat any longer.   Scratching out a living for chicken feed instead of living off her fluffy corporate paycheck would be difficult, but for a new life, she knew she was up to the challenge.  Besides, she couldn’t wait to see the company struggle without her; after all, the rooster may crow but the hen delivers the goods.  KFC would be a chicken with its head cut off without her.  So, Henny built up her nest egg, and flew the coop to set out on her own.

The first morning after leaving her job was the best.  She slept until noon, dressed like a stinking sloppy crow, and relaxed all day on her balcony.  Wrapped in the warmth of sunshine and her new life, she couldn’t believe how free and renewed she felt.  It was an incredible feeling!  No roosters interested more in what was under her feathers than what was between her ears; no obligatory seductive cackles to massage rooster egos; and no constant greasing the skillet to keep peace!  The only time her tail feathers were ruffled was when she scratched.  What more could she ask for; her new life was simply heaven.

Unfortunately, outside her modest coop, the same was not true.  To her surprise, the outside world was more twisted than the corporate world.  She could not walk past a street corner without hearing a breast, thigh, or leg joke.  Unlike the office, on the street there was no pretentious cutesiness, it was strictly hard core, and there was no promotion if she was offended, which of course she was.  At least the roosters at work engaged in a certain amount of quality control, and treated her to her beak like a real chicken.  All the cock-a-doodle-doos she met now were interested in was tenderness, juiciness, and flavor as if she was a USDA commodity.   Bottom line, they were only interested in the amount of usable lean meat on her carcass.  The cool cat raccoons and possums were the worst of the lot.

Her social life also suffered.  Engaging in hen parties with friends from her old job was not fun anymore since she was no longer privy to the latest greatest gossip from around the feeding and water troughs and had little to share.   Even the chick flicks she at first attended twice a week left her feeling violated and used since they were nothing more than a banty rooster on a June bug story.  She also found going to the Cock of the Walk with her girl-hens for cocktails was no longer as much fun.  She had nothing in common with her old friends, and new friends were as hard to find as hen teeth.  The only bright side was she no longer had to put up with the cock and bull of the workplace.

One morning, after a less than fun night out, Henny woke and went for a long walk.  She had to admit that her new life had turned out to be egg on her face, she was still miserable, and KFC was doing wonderfully without her, which left her with little to do but brood.  After a while, she noticed a possum and armadillo following her.  From the look in their eyes there was little doubt they thought she looked finger licking good, so Henny picked up her pace.  She walked around the block several times hoping to lose them, but with each lap they gained ground until they were virtually parting her back feathers with their breaths.  But, she was not hatched yesterday; she knew exactly what to do.  She crossed the street.  Not thinking, the possum and armadillo followed her, and were immediately flattened by a Sanderson Farms chicken truck, proving once again that unlike a chicken some creatures indeed cannot cross the road.

Roadkill always made her feel safe and at ease, but there was also a slight tinge of sadness.  She couldn’t imagine living a life confined to one side of the road.  Being so cooped up would have driven her crazy.  At that moment a light clicked on in her head.  There was no time draining incubation period; the most marvelous idea of her life merely hatched!  It was a made from scratch idea that would allow her to finally come home to roost.  Instead of being subjected to constant poppycock as she was in her old job, she would rule the roost.  She might have to wing it at first, but the more she thought about it, the better she liked her idea.

Two years later, Henny was the talk of Egg Street.  She not only manipulated her idea into a multibillion dollar enterprise, but she bought KFC and opened a line of fleece and feather lined lingerie as well.  However, the kingpin of her financial kingdom remained embedded in that one brilliant roadkill inspired idea known to investors as HES and globally as Henny’s Escort Service for Potential Road Kill Victims.  For the first time in the history of the world, raccoons, possums, and armadillos could travel anywhere they chose safely.  Henny’s only stipulation other than getting paid was raccoons, possums, and armadillos had to swear off ruffling tail feathers, breast and thigh jokes, and other obnoxious behavior toward hens.  As for, boastful strutting harassing roosters, the business world followed Henny’s lead and stripped them of their management positions and relegated them to assist at diaper changing stations in public restrooms.  As for Henny, she slept until noon every day, dressed like a stinking sloppy crow, and relaxed all day on her penthouse balcony reading, For Whom the Chicken Crows, which of course she wrote.

Moral of the Story:

With a cool head and imagination, it is possible to make chicken salad out of chicken poop.

JL

©Jack Linton, January 6, 2018

 

My Top Five Christmas Movies

This Christmas season, I have watched a top twelve Christmas movie list on television, and read at least two other Christmas movie lists online.  There are probably a hundred or more Christmas movies to choose from when making such a list, but if you look closely, most of the lists contain the same twenty to twenty-five movies.  Usually, the only difference between list A, B, or C is how those 20+ movies are ranked.  However, my Christmas movie list is different in two ways: (1) it only lists the top five Christmas movies of all time, and (2) it is based entirely on my preferences and opinion.  If you agree with my top five movies, fantastic, and if not, it’s too cold to go jump in a lake, so instead, go watch your favorite movies and forget mine.  Here are my top five movies beginning with number five:

#5        How the Grinch Stole Christmas:

The story is about a green creepy/goofy looking monster who hates everybody including himself.  He sets out to steal Whoville’s Christmas, thinking by doing so, he will take their joy from them.  Of course, he is wrong.  His only salvation is Cindy Lou Who, who manages to thaw his cold heart and bring happiness to his dismal life.  As a child, I enjoyed the thirty-minute animated television special that aired at Christmas every year, but when Jim Carrey brought the Grinch to life on the big screen, I was amazed all over again.  The movie version with its occasional naughty innuendoes was made as much for adults as kids, and it succeeded on both fronts.  Jim Carrey’s over-the-top performance was fun to watch, and the visuals were stunning.  Simply put, the movie looked, acted, and felt like a holiday classic.  It did not disappoint.

#4        Elf:

I am not a big Will Ferrell fan, but his role as Buddy in Elf was exceptional.  I am not saying exceptional in an Academy Award sense, but extraordinarily fun and entertaining for kids and adults alike.   As a human raised by elves at the North Pole, the role of Buddy fit Ferrell like a glove.  His trademark off-the-cuff antics, which are sometimes hilarious, but often just miss the mark, were perfect for his role as a lovable human-elf in search of his identity.  His innocent childlike behavior in a world of Christmas commercialization was funny, charming, and magical.  Elf is a holiday classic that should be on everyone’s watch list.

#3        A Christmas Story:

One of my all-time favorite holiday movies is A Christmas Story!  The story, set in the 1940’s, centers around Ralphie and his quest for a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas.  Throughout the story, everyone he turns to for help to get the gun, even Santa Claus, tells him, “You’ll shoot your eye out.”  Based on a story by Jean Shepherd, the movie is a trip back in time before X-box, PlayStation, Star Wars, and cell phones.  It was a time when kids played outside, and watched Westerns on television where the good guys and buy guys fought for supremacy with six-guns and lever-action rifles instead of laser swords.  In A Christmas Story, Ralphie faces school bullies, learns the horrible truth about secret decoder rings, has his mouth washed out with soap for saying bad words he learned from his father, and through it all, never loses sight of his perfect Christmas gift.  This movie is a slice of life from a bygone era, but it contains everything that makes Christmas special – family, memories, and the spirit of being served Chinese duck for Christmas dinner.  The kids may not fully appreciate the significance of playing outside or getting “double dog dared,” but this is a Christmas movie the whole family should watch together.

#2        The Polar Express:

The number two movie on my Christmas Holiday list, The Polar Express, certainly deserves the honor.  The movie stars Tom Hanks and is filmed in “performance-action animation,” which results in a breathtaking movie spectacle.  Hanks and the visual beauty of the film are reasons enough to see it, but I simply love the story!  The story is about a young boy who is beginning to doubt there is a Santa Claus, and on Christmas Eve catches a mysterious train, The Polar Express, to the North Pole.  On the train, he meets other children like him, a sometimes-cranky conductor (Tom Hanks, who also plays several other roles in the movie), and a hobo.  One of the most visually impressive scenes in the movie (there are many) is the singing waiters.  The first time I saw the movie at home, I stopped the video at least three times to watch that scene again and again; it is simply amazing.  Although Santa Claus appears in the movie, the movie is not about Santa.  The Polar Express is about bravery, friendship, and the spirit of Christmas!  It is a classic that should be shared yearly as a family tradition.

#1        It’s a Wonderful Life:

The Christmas movie that tops almost everyone’s list is It’s a Wonderful Life starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed.  It is the perfect Christmas masterpiece for the holidays.  The story is about an ambitious young man who sacrifices his dreams to ensure the dreams of others.  Continually hounded by miserly Mr. Potter, George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) fights for the right of his neighbors to live a good life, and not struggle in the squalor of Potter’s tenant houses.  Unfortunately, life does not always treat even the best people fairly, and after a disastrous incident, George wishes he had never been born.  With the help of a guardian angel, George learns how his life has impacted the lives of people he loves, and they are not complete without him nor is he complete without them.  It’s a Wonderful Life has sacrifice, redemption, salvation, friendship, angels, and triumph over evil.  It is the root for the good guy, boo the bad guy, feel good movie of all time regardless of the season in which it is watched.  It is the movie that shows us how to get our wings.  It’s a Wonderful life is the epitome of the Christmas spirit; therefore, it is my number one Christmas movie of all time!

Whether you have a Christmas list of your own, or use one someone else has put together, the bottom line is grab someone you love or want to make friends with, and pop your favorite Christmas movie in the DVD and share the Christmas spirit.  I double dog dare you!

Merry Christmas,

JL

©Jack Linton, December 22, 2017

The Trip of a Lifetime:  Wall Drug and Badlands National Park

Our second stop on Our Trip of a Lifetime was Wall, South Dakota where we planned to visit Wall Drug Store, Badlands National Park, and The Minuteman Missile National Historic Site.  Although we enjoyed the travel and camping up to this point, we were excited to finally be getting into the meat of our destinations.  Prior to the trip, everyone we talked to about places to visit along Interstate 90 in South Dakota recommended Wall Drug Store and Badlands National Park as neat places to visit although a few people voiced some reservations about the Badlands.  To my surprise, very few people had heard of the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, so it became of special interest to our group.

The first of the three we visited was Wall Drug Store.  When we were within about a hundred miles of Wall, South Dakota, we began to see billboards marketing the drug store with such phrases as “As seen on the Today Show,” “As featured in the New York Times,” and “Get your free ice water at Wall Drugs.”  Our anticipation grew!  The drug store began in 1931, and over the years, it expanded to seventy-six thousand square feet of shopping area.  Picturing a traditional old-time drug store setting with a soda fountain counter and a plethora of novelty items to explore, I couldn’t wait to see the place.  Boy was I in for a surprise!

There may have been a time when Wall Drug Store was a traditional old-time drug store complete with sassafras root beer, penny candy, and homemade ice cream, but those days were long gone by the time of my visit.  Basically, I found a string of shops filled with overpriced clothing and trinkets made in China.  The place was what we call a strip mall back home.  The one redeeming factor was the walls and corners of the shops were decorated with unique displays and antiques ranging from a stuffed grizzly bear to a cowboy fortune telling machine.  The wives loved the place, but other than getting free ice water, I say stop at this mini shopping mall disguised as a drug store if you must, but if you really want to see the good stuff, drive out to The Badlands National Park and the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site.  If you like nature and history that is so real it will awe you and maybe even scare you, these two places should not be missed.

I am probably being too hard on Wall Drug, but it was simply too commercial for me.  It reminded me of Disney without the Disney magic (again maybe too harsh) – little more than a highly marketed tourist trap.  However, our visit to The Badlands National Park made everything good once again.  I found the Badlands simply breathtaking!  One thing I have discovered about national parks is that each is unique, and unique certainly describes The Badlands National Park.

Located in Interior, South Dakota, a short drive south of the town of Wall, The Badlands National Park is not to be missed.  Rugged, dry, desolate – its striped layers of brown, pink, yellow, and red rock tell stories of millions of years.  Once a prehistoric seabed, the wind worn spires allow you to look back in time when brontotheres (a rhinoceros type animal) and sabretooth tigers roamed the earth.  Set in direct contrast to the South Dakota plains surrounding it, the area may be called the Badlands, but its beauty speaks otherwise.  The Badlands of South Dakota are a tribute to the forces of nature and its resulting beauty.  The Park is a MUST SEE!  Walk the trails, many of them boarded and easy to walk, climb the towering rock formations (be careful), and take time to simply look and imagine this place a million years ago.  There is no “made in China” here.  This is pure America!

From the Badlands, we journeyed a couple of miles up the road to the Minuteman Missile Historic Site.  What we found there was one of the most fascinating adventures anyone in our group has ever experienced.  The tour of the once top secret underground command center, the center from which the fate of the world sometimes lay in the hands of twenty-year-old kids (trained young men, but kids nevertheless), was eye opening, frightening, and one of the most remarkable tours I have seen.

 

Next Blog:  The Trip of a Lifetime:  The Minuteman Missile National Historic Site.

JL

 

©Jack Linton, July 20, 2017

Facebook is People Being People

Sometimes people get upset and bent out of shape over posts on Facebook – sometimes for good reasons, and sometimes for reasons not so good.  There are times when you laugh with people on Facebook and times when you want to wring their necks.  If you choose to be a part of social media, you will experience both.  Why?  It is simple.  Facebook is people being people, and if you can’t accept that, you have no business being on Facebook.

At the end of the day, there is one given with social media – people will post just about anything for just about any reason.  That means the odds are excellent you can find something to offend you if you look hard enough, or you are in the right frame of mind to be offended.  There are offenses to meet every taste on Facebook from really rotten truly offensive stuff to petty, silly, downright ridiculous stuff.  At times, people even get their panties in a wad over innocent things that were never intended to offend anyone, but what is sad is when the offended person refuses to let it go regardless how many apologies are forth coming.

Please, let me repeat!  Facebook is people being people, and if you can’t accept that, you have no business being on Facebook.  People post for a variety of reasons, and other than holding a stinky rotten cheese stick to their head, there is little anyone can do about it.  If a person owns a computer, tablet, or smart phone, with a Facebook app, they can post whatever they please.  If it offends, you can laugh it off, you can ignore it, you can lash out, you can hold a grudge, you can act like a blooming idiot and make a fool of yourself, you can offend them back, you can dig up dirty laundry you know about the offender and post it, or you can unfriend the offender, but that is about all you can do.  As of now, offending someone – intentionally or unintentionally – is not punishable by prison time or the death chamber, so move on – let it go, especially if the offending person offers an apology.  Remember, Facebook is people being people, so accept it, or go do something more constructive with your time like read a book.

People being People on Facebook:

  1. People who post to witness and share their religious status;
  2. People who post because they are lonely and seek human contact;
  3. People who post to be funny or humorous (at least they try);
  4. People who post to share something that makes them happy or excited;
  5. People who post to affirm their existence;
  6. People who post to share a political or social view or rant;
  7. People who post because they are on Facebook and don’t want to be perceived as lurking in the background;
  8. People who post to provoke a rise out of people or get their goat;
  9. People who post to Facebook as a family scrap book;
  10. People who post because it is easier to post to Facebook than actually talk to people;
  11. People who post because they like noise of any kind in their lives;
  12. People who post because they don’t have a life;
  13. People who post because deep down they really like people and like being around them;
  14. People who post on Facebook because they have a short attention span and cannot read or write anything beyond a handful of sentences;
  15. People who post because Facebook is the only family they have;
  16. People who post to share their pity party;
  17. People who post to keep up with friends;
  18. People who post because it gives them a sense of being somebody;
  19. People who post to simply inform; and
  20. People who post because they can.

Facebook is people being people!

JL

©Jack Linton, April 27, 2017