A Fantastic Friday Salute to Teachers

A new school year is about to begin. Here are 10 ways to show kindness to the teachers who will be part of our kids' lives for the next 9 months.The teacher in our town went back to work this past Monday. So this Fantastic Friday features ten reasons to be kind to educators in the next few weeks and months.

My teacher friends and former co-workers in our school district went back to work yesterday. Speaking from 25 years of personal experience, here are 10 reasons to be kind to teachers for the next few days and weeks.

10.  Contrary to popular opinion, most teachers didn’t sit around the pool eating bon bons all summer. Most teachers spent much of the summer going to school to hone their skills. They even turned in assignments, sat at the other end of the red pencil, and received grades.

9.   During summer school classes, teachers wore flip flops. At home they went barefoot. And now they have to shove their feet into teacher shoes. Remember those teacher shoes? Not a pretty sight.

8.   The first few days back to school, before the kids return, are packed with meetings about exciting topics such as Proper Procedures for Cleaning Up Bodily Fluids (I’m not making this up) and the latest No Child Left Behind government regulations. The powers that be grant these topics higher priority than things allowing teachers preparation time in the classroom.

7.   Teachers know those meetings will eat away their preparation time, so they’ve already donated several unpaid days to get their classrooms ready, plan lessons, and prepare materials. And because of budget cuts, they often pay for materials out of their own pockets.

6.   At some of those meetings before the kids come, teachers learn about newly assigned duties that take away their scheduled planning time and in some cases much of their lunch hour.

5.   Once the students return, teaches spend much of their lunch hour doing one of the following: running home to let the dog out, eating at their desk while preparing for afternoon classes, or supervising students.

4.   You know how hard it is for your kids to adjust to the school schedule every fall? It’s that hard for teachers, too, because they’re big kids at heart. That’s why they’re teachers.

3.  Teachers would rather help kids succeed than mark assignments with red pencil and fill out report cards. But their job description requires they do both.

2.   Teachers spend all day supervising 25–30 people who are crowded together reading and doing paperwork in a small space without privacy cubicles. Can you think of businesses that ask adults to work in conditions like that?

1.   Your child’s teacher cares about your boy or girl. A lot. Your child’s teacher cares about every student. But teachers know they can’t give students everything they need. Teachers know that no matter how hard they works, at some point they will fail students. They will obsess over every failure and try to do better the next day, knowing they will fail again. But they keeps trying because they believes kids are worth their best effort. And if you tell teachers they’re doing a good job, they’ll remember your kindness and pass it on to a child. Because that’s what teachers do.

What would you add to the list? Leave a comment!


Wonderfully Made Family Camp Fundraiser Sweet Success

The Wonderfully Made Family Camp Fundraiser was a sweet success. See for yourself!Saturday evening was sweet evening for all who attended the Wonderfully Made Family Camp fundraiser in West Des Moines. Not only was over $2000 raised (how sweet is that?) to get us closer to our goal of $15000* to cover expenses for the 30+ families registered to attend, but those in attendance enjoyed a sweet evening of fellowship, music, and dessert. But don’t take my word for it. Observe it yourself!

The Wonderfully Made Family Camp Fundraiser was a sweet success. See for yourself!

Sweet spring nosegays on a chilly, blustery evening.

The Wonderfully Made Family Camp Fundraiser was a sweet success. See for yourself!Sweet desserts up for bid in both the silent auction and the noisy one. (See top photo)

The Wonderfully Made Family Camp Fundraiser was a sweet success. See for yourself!A sweet picnic meal in keeping with the evening’s camp theme.

The Wonderfully Made Family Camp Fundraiser was a sweet success. See for yourself!A sweet chocolate fountain compliments of Chocolaterie Stam.

And sweet music performed by the Harwoods, a family familiar with the challenges and joys of special needs. They drove from Milwaukee, Wisconsin for the fundraiser because they have experienced special needs family camps and know the worth of such camps.

The Wonderfully Made Family Camp Fundraiser was a sweet success. See for yourself!The Wonderfully Made Family Camp Fundraiser was a sweet success. See for yourself!The Wonderfully Made Family Camp Fundraiser was a sweet success. See for yourself!The Wonderfully Made Family Camp Fundraiser was a sweet success. See for yourself!The Wonderfully Made Family Camp Fundraiser was a sweet success. See for yourself!You can watch and listen to the Harwoods at their website. Be assured, it is worth your time.

*Sweet and successful thought the evening was, more donations are needed to meet our goal of $15000. If that goal is exceeded, extra funds will go toward the purchase of a portable lift so every child can enjoy Hidden Acres wonderful pool. Learn more about how to give at the Hidden Acres donation page. As much as donations, we need people to serve as one-to-one volunteers with the children and in other capacities at the camp. Volunteers need to apply, pass a background check, and attend the training that will be held from 9:00 AM–3:00 PM on Friday, June 10 before camp opens at 4:00 that day. Volunteer application forms can be downloaded here. The deadline for submitting applications is May 15, 2016.

If you have any questions, leave a comment or send an email.

Good-bye, Pat Conroy

The death of Pat Conroy led to reflection about the beauty of his writing and its impact on the lives of his readers.Pat Conroy, one of my favorite authors, died a little more than a week ago. I’ve been sad ever since. Conroy wrote about the South Carolina coastland like a man head over heels in love. His affection for the ocean and the marshlands where he grew up made readers fall in love with shrimp fishing and boating and southern living. He brought places and people alive with his lush descriptions. He painted word pictures of sunsets vivid and beautiful and vivid enough to make readers cry when the sun slipped behind the horizon.

His stories of abusive, military, larger-than-life fathers and eccentric, brilliant mothers made me cringe as their lives of wild abandon damaged the children in their care. Reading or listening to his novels, all of them biographical, felt like sinking into a frightening and joyful world.

My two favorite books were not his novels, but his memoirs. In My Reading Life, he paid tribute to his mother who nurtured in him a love of reading and of words. A 2011 Gravel Road post details the power and influence the book holds. The audio version is particularly enthralling.

Conroy’s memoir and final book, The Death of Santini, is another favorite. It’s a hard book to read or listen to because Conroy is very frank about his difficult childhood and the devastating affect it had on him and his siblings. Perhaps it resonated deeply with me because I listened to it while writing Does My Child Have PTSD? Truly, he could have been my book’s poster child.

But the memoir was about more than a difficult childhood. It was also about facing demons and transforming pain into stories of grace, forgiveness, and beauty. The memoir was about imperfect and reckless lives that are both cautionary and triumph tales.

Thank you, Pat Conroy, for blessing our lives with your stories and your written words. May they live long and touch hearts for generations to come.

Broccoli Obama and Presidential Trivia All Over Again

The Presidents' Day trivia I shared with kids was nothing compared to the presidential tidbits of knowledge they shared with me! For those of you who keep track the answer is yes. Yes, I posted on the Friday following Presidents’ Day a year ago. But because this week marked Barak Obama’s final year as president, the following post from the archives is the only possible choice for today. Plus, the memory of leading this lesson with kids at our church still makes me snort through my nose when I think about it. Here’s hoping it makes you snort, too.

Last Sunday, I created a lesson for an evening activity for kids at our church. The task unleashed my latent school teacher. By the time the kids arrived, I was armed and dangerous. I had a plethora of Presidents’ Day trivia about Washington and Lincoln as well as coloring sheets, and word searches. Little did I know how much the children would add to that great body of knowledge.

The first group of kids were first through third graders who knew Monday was Presidents’ Day. They thought the holiday had something to do with birthdays, but needed some pretty broad hints before they landed on George and Abe.

“But they’re both dead,” one child announced. “When is our real president’s birthday?”

“Oh yeah,” a girl chimed in. “He has a funny name. It’s hard to remember.” The entire group agreed with her. They hemmed and hawed, trying to remember the real president’s name.

“His name reminds me of that one vegetable.” She thought for a moment, and her face lit up. “Broccoli!” she exclaimed. “His name sounds like broccoli.”

“Oh yeah!” everyone chorused. “Broccoli Obama!”


The next group of kids were four and five-year-olds. Amazingly, they named Broccoli Barack Obama without batting an eye.

When asked what the president does, one little boy answered confidently. “He rides around in a car and kills bad guys.”

“No,” another boy disagreed. “President Obama is a good leader.”

Unfortunately, good leadership didn’t have the same allure as a sound bite about riding around in a car killing bad guys. Most of the kids bought into the car theory and stuck with it, even while they colored pictures of Abe Lincoln’s log cabin and the young George Washington working as a surveyor.

“See this?” A sandy-haired boy pointed to some orange lines he’d drawn on the log cabin’s doorway. “That’s a booby trap so bad guys can’t get in.”

“See this?” A little blond guy pointed to George’s surveying equipment. “That bottom part turns into the gun for killing bad guys.”


The final group were fourth and fifth graders. They breezed through the President’s Day trivia, and were surprised to hear that George and Martha never lived there. They even knew the first White House burned down and had to be rebuilt.

“Yeah,” a serious boy said. “That kind of thing still happens. My mom told me that some tourists ran a train into the Octagon, too.”

I thought for a moment. “Do you mean Pentagon?”

“Yeah! That’s it. The Pentagon!”

The boy beside him added to the confusion. “And some other tourists ran a plane into a tall building in New York City.”

“The Twin Towers,” I explained. “They were terrorists, not tourists. That happened in 2001.”

“2001?” The Octagon tourist reporter did some figuring in his head. “That was two years before I was born.”

The boy beside him pointed at the coloring pictures. “Can we do those?” They colored industriously, sure as only children can be, that their parents and their country’s president, Broccoli Obama, will kill the bad guys and keep them safe from tourists attacking the Octagon.


Photo Source: markuso at www.freedigitalphotos.net

A Fantastic Friday Iowa Who

The politicians & media moguls wasted no time leaving our state after the Iowa caucuses. I'm feeling like a homecoming queen the day after graduation.Only one Gravel Road post cuts the mustard for the Fantastic Friday after the Iowa Caucuses. Here it is, as timely and true as it was eight years ago when it made it’s debut appearance on this blog.

Iowa Who?

I feel like a high school homecoming queen the day after graduation. Washed up, dated and insignificant. It’s like I don’t matter anymore. Don’t get me wrong. I was never a homecoming queen. But today, the morning after the Iowa caucuses, I have a great deal of empathy for all of them.

For the last couple of months, the citizens of our state were popular. Our phones rang nonstop. Everyone wanted our opinions on everything. Famous people called us daily – former presidents, senators, congressmen, family and friends of the wannabe movers and shakers of our country. Our mailboxes were stuffed with glossy flyers and Christmas cards from total strangers.  Radio talk show hosts begged us to call in. Our state, not Idaho or Ohio but IOWA, was mentioned on the national news every night for weeks. Even out here on our icy gravel road, a few potential suitors braved tromped through the snow and rang my doorbell. We were important. We really mattered. The nation worshipped at the feet of little old Iowa.

Today I’ve gotten one phone call. It was my Minnesota sister. “Iowa who?” she kept saying. “Iowa who? I hear New Hampshire is the place to be.” She gets so miffed when I get all the attention. But she made a valid point.

Though my state’s present tumble from the national throne has thrown me into the depths of despair, I’m reaching out to the people of New Hampshire. They need to know that popularity is fleeting in our political system.  It’s pretty heady stuff for innocent country folk. It can kinda turn heads, all the attention from important people with their fancy hair, great dental work and tailored suits with matching shoes.

Don’t fall for it, New Hampshire. No matter how pretty the candidates are, don’t dispense your political favors to every John, Mike or Hilary who sashays through the state. Come January 9, those sweet-talking, love ‘em and leave ‘em politicians will drop you like hot potatoes and move on.

I don’t want you to get hurt like we Iowans did. It’s not worth it. Stay home. Turn off the TV. Throw away your mail. Bar the door. Save yourselves for the general election. It’s the only way you’ll be able to live with yourselves tomorrow.

Three last words: New Hampshire who?

Gracie Allen for President this Fantastic Friday

This post from November of 2008 makes me wish this was 1940 and Gracie Allen was running for president again. She'd have my vote. How about yours?Our small state is swarming with presidential candidates, and not one of them appeals to me. On this Fantastic Friday this post from November of 2008 makes me wish this was 1940 and Gracie Allen was running for president again. She’d have my vote. How about yours?

Gracie Allen, a comedianne from the 1920s through the 1950s, may be old news to you, but she’s a continual current event at our house. Her oddball humor always appealed to me, so in the early 1990s, I brought the movie Damsel in Distress, starring Gracie and her husband George Burns, for a good laugh with the fam.

By the end of the first musical number, our four-year-old daughter began a love affair with Gracie that endures to this day. In fact, Anne became a bit of a Gracie Allen expert when she studied the actress and dressed like her on the evening the fourth grade students shared their findings with the public. To this day, Anne drops Gracie tidbits, gleaned from Gracie and George’s autobiographies and memoirs, into conversation.

“George and Gracie adopted two children.”
“George says Gracie was the brains in comedy team.”
“Gracie was the love of George’s life.”

Right before the recent presidential election, NPR ran a story about Gracie Allen’s 1940 run for the White House as the Surprise Party’s candidate. The piece had barely begun when Hiram came in the room. “Shh…,” I said when he started to speak. “Listen to this.”

We couldn’t wipe the silly grins off our faces while we listened. The announcer explained how the campaign began as a publicity stunt on the Burns and Allen radio show, but took on a life of its own. Gracie even did a whistlestop campaign from California to Omaha, Nebraska where the Surprise Party Convention was held. The article included audio clips of some of G & G’s routines and Gracie’s campaign speeches. Pretty funny stuff.

As soon as the piece ended, I emailed Anne about the program. She’s pretty busy at college these days, so I don’t know if she’s had time to hear it yet. If you’d like to listen in, click on this link and prepare to chuckle. The story is guaranteed to alleviate any lingering post-election stress.

In light of today’s topic, there’s only one way to end this blog. “Say goodnight, Gracie.”

“Goodnight, Gracie.”