Life is But One Long Canoe Ride

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Meet the man who has floated my boat for over 32 years. Today is his birthday and he is celebrating with a snowy day, the Super Bowl, a chili and chicken quesadilla dinner with a chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream chaser. Canoeing is in his blood and he is never happier than when he’s taking the Current River at full speed, though sometimes he’ll settle for a placid local lake as is pictured above.

Camping is also in his blood and so it was a pleasure to see him honored last night by the Boy Scouts in our region for his contributions to our son’s troop. My husband served that troop as camping coordinator throughout our son’s tenure, taking the troop spelunking and camping and canoeing every month of the year for upwards of 5 years. (Someday I will regale you with tales of the girls-weekends-out my daughter and I enjoyed during those halcyon scouting years.)

My husband stayed on with the troop long after our son achieved Eagle, mentoring the new young dads in the ways of orienteering and water safety and schooling them in the secrets of tasty camp cooking. So it is fitting that he be recognized for his efforts, though he and I would both assert that tremendous parental involvement and support made all the difference for all the kids all of that time.

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This honor is well deserved and meaningful, but what really makes his day is hearing the scouts themselves or their parents tell stories of the great fun they had and how much they now enjoy the memories of crawling through a dark, muddy cave on their backs, cooking cherry cobbler in a dutch oven over an open fire, or flipping a canoe full of gear and living to tell about it.

Someone once asked me—before we had kids—if my husband had gone very far in scouting. I said, “Well, he became a park ranger; how much further can you go?” But now I know just how much further you can go: you can pay that scouting experience forward and far into the future simply by sharing it with others.

Boy Loves Dog Loves Boy

Here is how this works. Our son helped us select, name, and train our fourth Brittany, Phoebe. One night not so long ago, she fell asleep on the couch waiting for him to come home, her head resting on the coffee table next to his photograph. Alas, the genius of dogs.

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Phoebe awaits the arrival of her buddy.

One Teacher, Thousands of Minds

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When I was in junior high at my parish grade school, St. Peter’s, I walked home on warm-weather days with my good friend from up the block, Andrea. We chatted about mundane events of the day, caught up on vital social matters, and made plans for the next sleepover. About halfway home, we’d hit Edgevale Road, a side street that sliced through the grid of our neighborhood at an angle.

At that point, our conversation would turn to English class, and, more specifically, the short story we were reading in our literature anthology. We’d discuss the piece, kick around some ideas raised in the critical thinking questions which appeared at the end of each story, and try to decide which question we were going to select for our one-page responses.

Why would adolescents just let out of school talk voluntarily and excitedly about homework? Because they had an inspiring teacher like Mrs. Shirley Renaud, the 7th and 8th grade English teacher. Mrs. Renaud created a classroom environment like no other we had ever experienced: she allowed us to choose which critical thinking question to answer, she expected us to generate thoughtful and complete responses supported by evidence from the story, she highly valued originality in our ideas, she had us read our responses aloud in class so we could consider and discuss perspectives different from our own, and she gave us immediate feedback in class and later in writing when she collected our responses.

A recent photo of Mrs. Renaud and me with my brother Mark.

A recent photo of Mrs. Renaud and me with my brother Mark.

This was the first time an adult had really paid much attention to what we thought about anything. She clearly respected our views as long as we could support them. And did we ever notice! We stepped up to the challenges she issued, took pride in our work, and strove to exceed her expectations, all the while developing confidence in ourselves and our ideas and a healthy respect for the ideas of others. She also taught us to plumb the depths of the literature we read, mining the language for clues about the story, the plot, the characters, and the images the author had presented. Her approach made us want to come back to class the next day to find out what everyone else had to say.

Those learning experiences in junior high forever changed how I operated in school and in life. I didn’t realize it until much later, but I took with me to high school, college, and graduate school the lessons Mrs. Renaud taught us about critical thinking, audience, multiple perspectives, feedback, critique, collaboration, discussion, originality, insight, evidence, support, and writing.

These lessons eventually informed my own teaching and powerfully influenced my interest in helping other teachers foster the same teaching and learning strategies in college classrooms through the Writing Across the Curriculum program I directed.

Most of my schoolmates didn’t end up in the field of education, but given their extraordinary successes in all kinds of industries and endeavors, it would appear that the early cultivation of critical thinking and communications skills more than paid off—in school, in work, and in life.

Such is the power of a single teacher on upwards of 1,000 minds over the years. And that conservative estimate doesn’t take into account her indirect impact on my students and the hundreds of instructors I trained. In faculty workshops, I would invite instructors to share the story of a previous writing experience and connect it to their path to teaching. I would then trace my own teaching and writing life back to Mrs. Renaud.

In 1972, we were just kids, after all, focused on navigating the complex whirl of the school cafeteria and negotiating terms for the next slumber party. Mrs. Renaud masterfully saw to it that our brain development far and away surpassed what our social psyches would have ever permitted. And for this, I thank her from the bottom of my heart.

And now for the obvious question: who was your Mrs. Renaud?

Comfort and Joy

About the joy…

When I was growing up, my dad put the magic in our Christmas. Every year, he hunted down items on our list with great tenacity and stayed up all night assembling complicated toys in service of us having the best Christmas ever. He would troop us to a city park where an enormous manger scene with live animals was created on a baseball infield temporarily converted to a cave, making quite an impression on wide-eyed children. We would take evening drives through the Plaza to see the lights. If it was enchanting and joyful, he located it and shared it with us. No one enjoyed giving to others more than my dad. He was a lover of joy.

He was also intrigued by how things work and, to that end, spent many hours tinkering and creating and inventing because he had that kind of mind. He always marveled at what others would create whether it was art or simply a well-designed utility.

A few years ago, my husband surprised me with an IPad for Christmas. This is a photo of me on Christmas Day showing it to my dad—he was 80. I believe it captures the utter joy he felt at seeing an invention that pushed the envelope and illustrates his tremendous capacity to be awed.

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And here is the comfort part…

When reading a favorite blog this holiday season, Privilege, I shared this family memory in response to Lisa’s post about family gift-giving traditions:

Our gift-giving traditions never revolved around a single item; each person had their own gifting signature, if you will. Which is how my siblings and I, in adulthood, came to treasure my dad’s gigantic gift bag of emergency-preparedness accoutrements every year. Oh, he’d give us all money, of course, but he’d also spend hours combing hardware stores to put together just the right mix of things each of us might need in case of a car breakdown on a single lane highway in the wilderness during a 10-day blizzard or a flat-out nuclear holocaust. Think Harrison Ford in Mosquito Coast. For all of our private eye-rolling, what do you suppose we missed most last Christmas, our first without him? Yep, the flashlights and blankets and jumper cables and cans of windshield de-icer.  ;)

Wishing you all much comfort and great joy this holiday season!

When Cows Go Rogue Instead of Home

Nothing I could add would increase your enjoyment of this video. Sometimes, this is just how things roll here in Flat Rock Creek.

For the record, I grocery shop a couple of blocks from this site at a store called—wait for it—the Hen House.

 

 

Give Us a Call When You Get to Town

This is a letter to the editor of the Kansas City Star written by a San Francisco Giants fan. So glad he came to KC and I wish he had come to see Game 7 rather than 6, but it sounds like he still really thoroughly enjoyed his time out at the K!

Royals treatment

I am a San Franciscan and a Giants fan who attended game six of the World Series in Kansas City.

Let me just say that never in my life have I enjoyed being so terribly outnumbered and, by evening’s end, absolutely clubbed into submission.

From the moment I hit the parking lot at Kauffman Stadium in my Giants gear, folks made a point to walk over, introduce themselves, welcome us to Kansas City and wish us good luck. People offered to buy us beer and brats.

Most mind-bending was the woman who apologized for the lopsided score.

My wife and our friends spent the better part of our flight home marveling at the generosity and warmth of the Royals fans and wondering whether we’d dropped into a parallel universe.

At some point, I recall announcing to my wife that I was prepared to move to Kansas City as soon as possible.

They refer to your part of the country as “flyover states.” Folks should make a point to actually drop in to Kansas City for a heaping helping of an America most people only dream about.

John Pritzker

San Francisco

KC Star

http://www.kansascity.com/opinion/letters-to-the-editor

In this same issue, I read the obituary of the dad of a grade school chum of mine. It mentions that he was a successful pharmaceutical salesman who turned down many opportunities for career advancement because he didn’t want to take his family away from Kansas City.  My own late father made similar decisions during his lifetime. I guess the secret is out…now you know why they and the rest of us chose to stay here.

Oh, about the title of this piece: I heard my dad say that about a million times in phone conversations with far flung family, friends, and customers. And trust me, he meant every word. ; )