December 30, 2014

It's Been a Good Year.

Words won't do this year justice. Well maybe just a few. . .
















December 23, 2014

Discovering Dargatz #115 - Not Your Typical Love Story

The story of meeting the love of my life is anything but traditional. It all started with a random instant message. A few online chats later led to meeting up for a Brewers game over summer. Though nerves engulfed me, I was lucky enough to get a second chance with a double concert weekend. After disappointing her with literally no knowledge of any Journey songs and a stale personality, it was years later before I discovered she needed the encouragement (and convincing) of a co-worker to even show up for the second half of our concert weekend. After dinner with my sister and brother-in-law and a Clapton concert, it was evident things weren't clicking. Though future conversations were few and far between, they still continued. A few meet-ups over the years, including a wild house party and a trip to the movies, eventually led to a rekindling. The timing was right. Recently removed from our own relationships, I had broken out of my shell and was much more similar to the person I was today. Hours and hours of instant messenger chats led to us getting together, reconnecting, and realizing that we were meant for each other, awkward history and all.

December 22, 2014

DD #114 - 104th & Bluemound

Living across the street from work with some good friends was one of the best times of my life. The memories go on and on. Swedish Fish fights. Our Greek landlords and their epic parties. Movie tournaments. Car and sledding accidents. Walks to Milio's and I Can't Believe It's Yogurt. Fish tank adventures. Drives to Fudd's or B-Dubs. Video game battles that occasionally involved VHS tosses and torn t-shirts. Zoo parties. Adopting and saving Ozzie. Wrestling pay per views. The green chair. Figuring out a chore schedule and witnessing each roommate's own interpretation of said schedule. The computer room. Police showdowns next door. The Zoo flag. Regardless of the memory, what is most lasting is the bond I shared with two of my best friends. Through trials and tribulations, like girl issues, zoo drama, washing machine fiascos, and the general complaints that come with living in close proximity to others, we worked it all out and each enjoyed our time together. Though our time had come for each of us to go our separate ways, those years together really helped strengthen our friendships together and gave us memories that will last a lifetime. I will always love 104th and Bluemound.

December 21, 2014

Picture Book Preview

Here's a little story inspired by one of my students. A very early draft, so please let me know what you think.  Thanks for reading!


Jacob was glued to the window. Even after his teacher called him over, he was a tree rooted in the ground, mesmerized by the falling flakes of snow.
His teacher approached him and noticed a single tear rolling down his cheek.
“Jacob, what’s wrong?” Mr. Adams asked.
Jacob sighed. “This weekend is my last weekend here and my dad said it doesn’t snow at my new house,” he said.
“It’s OK buddy,” Mr. Adams said, “Think of all the new things you’ll be able to enjoy. Remember, you’re moving right near the ocean.”
“I’d rather think of all the things I could do here,” Jacob said as he walked away.
Like the falling morning snow, an idea fell into the head of Mr. Adams.
As the class was at lunch, Mr. Adams was busy at work.
As soon as lunch was over, the children headed to the recess doors, where they were met with a huge sign.
Outside, Mr. Adams was waiting with sleds, snowballs, and a smile.
Besides a few breaks for snacks and drinks, the class spent that snowy afternoon sledding up and down the hills, making forts and tunnels, and creating snow students.
As the afternoon came to an end and the time to came to pack up and head home, Jacob came over to Mr. Adams.
“Thanks Mr. Adams!” Jacob said. “I’m going to miss the snow and all of my friends. And I am going to miss you too!”
“Not as much as we are going to miss you!” Mr. Adams said.
After school that day, while Mr. Adams was reminiscing about the day, he had a new idea. He contacted Jacob’s new school.
Jacob spent his weekend heading to his warmer and unfamiliar home. Driving in the car hour after hour was exhausting. As day turned into night, he dozed off dreaming of the winter fun he had with his friends.
When he awoke, he noticed some significant changes. The snow was gone. He could feel the warmth of the sun’s rays seeping in through the car windows. He saw people in attire he only wore in summer. As his family headed to their new home, he smelled the fresh, crisp air and could taste the warm, salty water. He knew it was only a matter of time before he felt the gritty sand.
On Monday morning, Jacob woke up for his first day at his new school. When he arrived, the nerves had built up and he was worried that he would not like his new school and his new class. Those feelings melted away when he entered his new room to find pictures of his old classmates in their winter gear waiting for him at his desk.
“How do you get these?” he asked his new teacher, Ms. Brooke.
She replied, “Mr. Adams e-mailed them so you would always be able to have winter fun with your friends. He also had an idea he thought you’d enjoy.”
“What is it? “ Jacob asked.
“You’ll find out soon enough,” Ms. Brooke said.
The day progressed and Jacob became familiar with his new school. Parts of him still wished he could be back in the snow with his other class.
His wish came true.
Ms. Brooke handed out a book of letters and pictures that his former classmates created for him as a going-away gift. But before she gave the book to Jacob, she instructed all the kids to get a piece of paper and crumble it up into pieces. She looked at Jacob and said, “This is from Mr. Adams.”
“WELCOME TO WINTERPALOOZA!” she yelled, as she led the class in throwing the pieces up in the air and creating a virtual snowstorm.

The whole class was excited to have their first snowfall. Especially Jacob. 

December 18, 2014

DD #113 - A Day to Forget

I was elated! I had a successful interview and the job was mine if I wanted it. All I had to do was job shadow an employee. It was sports marketing.  The chance to work with professional sports organizations was at my fingertips. I walked in confidently. I walked out wounded. I was blindsided that my chance to work with sports teams was really a door-to-door sales job pitching coupon books with some proceeds supporting a wheelchair basketball team. I made it through half a day walking through suburban neighborhoods enduring rejection after rejection before giving up and going home. Sadly, I had already made plans to "celebrate" my new career opportunity with some friends and drinks that chilly October evening. Though I was in no mood to celebrate, I knew a night out was what I needed.  Sadly, the jerk who busted out my windows needed practically everything out of my car besides the steering column. Without the ability to turn on the heat and with frigid air chilling our bones until we got home, I knew baseball watching could cheer me up. That is, until Aaron Boone hit a walkoff homerun for the hated Yankees. This was definitely a day to forget.

December 9, 2014

DD #112 -Three Pound Burrito

I should have known something was up when the waiter gave me an interesting look. Honestly I thought the dish's name was simply a way of describing it as large. When I read "three pound burrito," I wasn't expecting an enormous plate with nearly fifty ounces of meat, cheese, and vegetables to be brought to me.  After realizing the error of my ordering skills, I figured I would eat about half and save some for a future meal.  However, two-thirds of the way through and being thoroughly satisfied, I knew this opportunity might never come again. So, with encouragement from my better half and no real sense of shame, I went for it. Bite after pain-staking bite, I completed the mission. I was a bit worried about what might come of this feat of eating strength. I'm not sure what was more impressive: finishing up a gigantic burrito or literally feeling no ill effects afterwards. My stomach's resistance to destruction led my wife to think I might have a profitable future in competitive eating. While that is quite compelling, I think I will stick to normal eating routines, though my definition of normal might be a bit different than the norm.

December 8, 2014

DD #111 - After School

Once I realized teaching was what I was meant to do, I knew I could benefit from experience in the school setting. Not willing to give up my zoo job, I successfully obtained a job with the Wisconsin Youth Company working at After School, a daycare setting in schools throughout Waukesha County. During college, I volunteered at the Madison affiliate if this company as part of a class requirement. My After School career began at Poplar Creek Elementary where I switched off with the younger kids and older ones. As I was expected to plan and implement activities, I got the taste of lesson planning. I loved my time at Poplar Creek, but was excited for my new position in the second half of the year. My boss asked me to be the lead floater, meaning I would be a substitute at any of the schools. I remember waking up pre-5AM to open up Cushing Elementary. I miss the circular-shaped Glen Park. I recollect the mirror images of the elementary schools in Wales and Dousman.  I thoroughly enjoyed working with the students and staff at After School and am grateful for the experience that helped me on the road to teaching.

December 4, 2014

Dadventures #5 - Go Time

When we found out our due date was the last day of spring break, we were hoping the baby would come early. It would have been nice to be able to enjoy that first week at home as a family without using up personal days from work. However, the schedule of an incoming baby doesn't always jive with the wishes of the parents Spring break came and went without any signs of a baby. Since the due date had technically passed, I returned to the classroom and my wife checked in with her doctor. By lunchtime on my first day back, I got the call that we would be heading to the hospital that afternoon for induction. My first day back was really like a half-day, but for me and my emotional roller coaster, it felt like a half-minute. Anxiety. Excitement. Patience. Queasiness. I felt it all as I headed home ignoring posted speed limits. Once home, my wife and I gathered supplies and headed to my home away from home for the next few days. It didn't take long. Within hours after induction, my wife and I were parents to a beautiful girl. It was well worth the wait.

December 3, 2014

Discovering Dargatz#110 - Another Day, Another @$$h&!e

There was uncertainty when my father was in the hospital. With my sister having developmental disabilities, my family stepped up to support her. Though she's independent in her daily life activities, she needs support and supervision to be successful. Unfortunately, routine and habits are at the core of her behaviors, and any disruptions to her expectations can cause behavioral eruptions that include tantrums, threats, and every curse word in the book. When it was decided that my dad would stay with me to recover after leaving the hospital, our hand was forced and we needed to  make decisions about Kery's immediate and distant future. We worked out a coverage schedule that included different family members coming and staying with her.  Whether it was my older sister, my uncle, my wife, or myself, each and every day when Kery would come home from work, someone was there. Most of the time, we cleaned, watched TV, and hung out as Kery did her daily rituals as if no one was even there. One night, she opened the door, looked at me and muttered, "Another day, another @$$h&!e."  I didn't take it personally. It was Kery's special little way of showing her appreciation.

December 2, 2014

DD #109 - Sledding Fun???

I remember specifically telling my buddies it was a stupid idea.  I'm surprised I  remembered anything at all. In our early twenties, some friends and I wanted to re-live our childhood one snowy evening and headed to Curry Park for some  sledding. We had to stop and buy some sleds. Because of our frugal nature, we purchased cheap plastic ones. Of course, after arriving at our downhill destination and seeing how we got what we paid for, we wanted to up the ante. We noticed a family that had an inflatable tube they weren't using, so we borrowed it.  The fun ended almost as quickly as it began. I successfully went over a man-made ramp, but wanted more.  With encouragement of my friends and the propensity to cave into peer pressure, I went for it a second time.  This time, I sprinted towards the ramp, flopping down on the tube mere feet from the ramp. My friends still are amazed at the supposed heights I reached. Unfortunately, my landing isn't as strong as my flying and I landed face first, knocking myself out, pushing back a tooth, and breaking my collarbone. Bloodied and confused, they took me to the hospital. 

December 1, 2014

Discovering Dargatz #108 - Every Penny Counts

"It all adds up" was the usual response I received from my dad when we were out and about collecting cans. My family wasn't in it for the environment. We did it to turn in for money. but the can collecting history of my family does commonly enter conversations I have had. While being pushed in a stroller, I assisted in can collecting at the 1982 World Series, which my beloved Brewers lost to the Cardinals in seven games. After camping out and spectating the Great Circus Parade in downtown Milwaukee, I scoured the streets, trash bag in hand, to find that precious aluminum. Heck, seeing a can while roaming the streets of Wauwatosa on our regular walks, my father and I would be guilty of picking up otherwise considered aluminum roadkill. We also had an unlimited supply of cans right in our basement. In a somewhat humorous and at times embarrassing end-of-the world soda stockpile, I drank can after can in my childhood (and notched cavity after cavity), just to collect it, turn it in for cash, and most likely, purchase more sugar water. Can collecting continues into my adulthood, though I restrict it to the cans I have purchased.

November 25, 2014

DD #107 - The Finger

Despite some pretty serious clumsiness, I have managed to avoid major injury, for the most part. However, if one body part has endured damaged, it would be my hands, with my cranium narrowly coming in second. Though I never really cared for the expression "knowing something like the back of my hand," the scars and deformations in my paws would be easily recognizable in a hand line-up. I have jammed, sprained, broken, lacerated, and pinched my fingers on more occasions than I could jot down, though I will try in this entry. I've slammed my hand in a car door. I've cut it numerous times in various fruit and vegetable peeling and slicing mishaps. My pinkie has been stuck in another football players helmet in a poor tackle attempt. Different parts of my hand have been burned in propane incidents changing tanks at the zoo. My thumb was sliced open mimicking an over the fence catch at a little league game. Many blisters have been endured. They've developed from carelessness during home improvement issues, overdoing it at youth group bowl-a-thons, and the simple negligence of not wearing gloves while gardening. I guess I will never make it as a hand model.

November 24, 2014

DD#106 - Nicknames

I have had the pleasure (and agony) of many nicknames in my time. Since a spacing error on a 2nd grade paper plate turkey project led to the name Pe Terd, I have tried to adapt a new nickname. Though this lasted for a while, I have had the opportunity for others.  One rule of nicknames is that you can't create your own, something I learned when I tried to use Maxi as my nickname, since my initials are PAD.  This was a gross and adolescent attempt at a new name. For a while in college, I was Donkey because a worker at the desk I supervised told me that I reminded her of the donkey character from Shrek. In my baseball career, usually my last name was how I was referred to.  I even tried to get Dargatz used as  an expletive. If I banged my knee, it would be "Dargatz that hurt!"  or "God Dargatz!" While it never lasted as a curse word, my last name has been my primary nickname, along with Peter D. However, in the classroom, I do allow the students to refer to me as Mr. Donut, only after they bring me a donut.

November 21, 2014

DD #105 - Bachelor Party Bush

Bachelor parties are traditional get-togethers thrown to symbolize one last night of freedom for a groom-to-be. While no two parties are identical, there are usually similar themes: drinking, adult entertainment, and poor decisions.  I am proud to say the party in my honor fulfilled these three criteria, given you substitute adult entertainment with Brewers baseball. After enjoying some beers and the company of friends at the ballgame, we headed downtown to enjoy more beverages and enjoy the company. With plenty to drink and the jokes and conversation going wonderfully, I was having an awesome time. However, things took a quick and unexpected turn when a certain nameless friend asked which shot he could buy me to celebrate. Foolishly, I requested anything but McGillicuddy's or Goldschlager. He, wanting to apparently punish me, brought back two each of those vile liquids. While a fully coherent person might have either refused the drinks or at least taken them responsibly, I, in my less than coherent state, wanted to get this particular imbibing over with as soon as possible.  So, I took all four shots back-to-back-to-back-to-back. Let's just say a nearby bush was my next best friend and the end to an otherwise amazing evening.

November 19, 2014

DD # 104 - Fantasy Football Fiasco

Fantasy football attracts millions of football fans each season. As commissioner of my own league, I wanted a league that was less stress and more fun. Unfortunately, with my attempt to lighten the mood in my league, the more serious fantasy players have had major issues with the way I run my league. Most "regular" leagues have points awarded for "regular" categories, like touchdowns and yards. My league awards points for just about everything. In fact, if you had a player catch or throw a two-point conversion or get a safety, you'd almost be guaranteed to win that week. Another unique aspect of my league that drew moans and groans from traditional  players is that I have categories that take away points, such as interceptions and missed field goals. Also, much to the cries of the traditionalists, I include specific defensive players and categories like forced fumbles and tackles. While more traditional leagues end up with weekly scores like 40-29, or 34-26, my league often has weeks where teams get in excess of 200 points. While my league's wackiness is defined every season, without question, someone complains about the absurdity of my league. . . just the way I like it. 

November 18, 2014

DD #103 - The Ceremonial Candy Collecting

Halloween has always been my favorite holiday. As a child, many bright memories about this dark holiday revolve around trick or treating. Those Sunday afternoons, my sister and I and usually Uncle Johnny scoured the neighborhood for the best treats. The years that trick-or-treating Sunday fell on a Packers bye game were especially enjoyable. Each trip, our route was the same. We started with our own house before getting a religious pamphlet from our neighbor. We trekked down 107th towards Fisher Parkway before following the creek all the way down to church and then criss-crossing all the way back home. Every year had similar moments. The houses with the "take one" only  bowls stayed the same. The house with the sign bashing the holiday was skipped. We got peanuts from the same family.  We made sure to hit the house that gave pencils and pennies. Overall, the best thing that stayed the same was the ceremonial sorting of the goodies at the end of our candy collection. We were excited to sort our favorites and dismiss ones we didn't like.  Uncle Johnny was always happy to take away our rejects. I look forward to re-living this experience with my own family.

November 17, 2014

DD #102 - @$$hole the Fish

In the apartment I shared with two friends post-college graduation, something was missing. We needed something to serve as a focal point of our establishment. All three of us being zoo employees, the logical answer was something we all could add our own personality to: an aquarium. We enjoyed shopping for fish and aquarium accessories and suffered through some trials and tribulations. We had high water acidity that delayed our ability to add fish. We had an unsuccessful attempt at including aquatic frogs. Even our prize possession, the bala sharks, didn't last as long as we hoped. Through everything, one fish survived. Even before he grew into the largest fish in the tank, he was a bully, chasing others, hoarding food, and being a terror in the tank. We named him Asshole. He had a long life, but the behavior he exhibited and ruckus he caused led to his demise. While his final moments were not witnessed, we theorize our cat's pawing at the glass spooked him enough to jump out of the tank and get batted around, suffering an excruciating death before being lost (and eventually found) under our recliner, the Green Monster. I guess he got what he deserved.

November 13, 2014

DD #101 - Christian Disciple?

I attended Lutheran grade school and high school and attended church weekly, but I don't think I'd consider myself a model for fellow young Christians to admire. My 8th grade teacher, Mrs. Irish, disagreed. I had self-control issues in school. I was loud, occasionally obnoxious, and just plain rude at times, yet these transgressions tended to fly under the radar because I wasn't the loudest, most obnoxious, or rudest.  In fact, I was a "middle of the road" kid.  My core group of friends was geekier and more of the responsible, rule-followers of my class. So, on one Sunday morning, when Mrs. Irish pulled my dad to the side to talk, I expected to be in trouble. I didn't realize the details of that conversation until the following Wednesday, which happened to be the last day of school and our school awards presentation. I was used to getting the perfect attendance certificate, but never in a million years was I expecting the Christian Discipleship Award. I was shocked when I got the award, as were some of my friends.  But shock turned into joy when I saw my father at the end of the presentation, invited to see me get awarded.

November 12, 2014

Discovering Dargatz #100 - South Side Glide

My sister was into running and I was into spending time with her so naturally, I accepted her invitation to participate in my first five-kilometer race, the South Side Glide. She was a competitive runner and I was just a kid, so I wasn't too shocked when she told me she'd meet me at the finish line. I was just hoping I would be able to finish. Initially, I had trouble controlling my pace and went too fast too soon. This forced me to slow down my pace to a brisk walk in the later stages of the race. When an elderly man and his dog passed me, I knew I couldn't get beat by this couple. I increased speed and barreled towards the finish line, successfully completing my first 5K race, just seconds after the old man and his dog. That disappointment was quickly erased as a race representative took my information and told me I would get an awards at the post-race presentation.  I was totally pumped and expected to win first place for the kid's division. Unfortunately, my wish didn't come true and I was awarded 3rd in the 18-and-under division. Still, not too shabby for a first-timer.

November 11, 2014

DD #99 - Open Swim

During my childhood summers, Monday nights meant open swim. Being a poor swimmer and having anxiety issues with water, this might be something I would avoid.  Yet, week after week, I gravitated towards going to the Tosa West pool to "swim" with my cousins, uncle, and the neighborhood scamps. Every week followed the same routine. I stayed on the shallow end or near the edge in the deeper end and rarely did I venture into the diving area. We tended to team up and try to defeat Uncle Johnny and despite our best efforts, he would always claim victory and pronounce that his undefeated streak was alive and well. We would look to impress any girls that were around with our wit and wisdom while beginning to show off our testosterone in one-upping each other for the attention of the opposite sex. We usually ended up leaving without impressing any females, getting into squabbles with other hordes of competing males, and vowing to come back better than ever the next week. I didn't enjoy the swimming and usually had to psych myself up to even get into the pool, but peer pressure and the joy of friends has unbelievable power.

November 10, 2014

DD #98 - A Lesson Learned

I have always loved history, so I was excited to learn and teach about Wisconsin's history in our Social Studies curriculum of 4th grade. As I begun my teaching, I realized how little I even knew about crucial times in my home state's history. For example, my first year, I condensed the Fur Trade Era into a one half hour lesson based on a one-page article that generalized the whole era and had no specifics about Wisconsin. Six years later, not only was I proud of my six-week unit, I was holding a rendezvous, conducting river races, and dressing up as a voyageur at our field trip to the Buckskinner's encampment. This one day lesson turned into arguably my most favorite and most thorough unit. My love for my state grew as I learned more about it. I can only hope my excitement inspired my students to learn more. I am so excited to share my knowledge and experiences with my children. More importantly, I can't wait to experience the great things this state has to offer with them. I wasn't expecting that one, boring lesson would transform the way I learned, the way I taught, and the way I lived.

November 6, 2014

DD #97 - Italian Encounter

I had no idea. I was oblivious to the opportunity that I had. I probably wasted time while I was there and missed opportunities I will never get back. Despite all of this, spending a week in Italy while in high school was one of the best experiences of my life. I served as a bodyguard at the Spanish Steps. I sang at St. Peter's Basilica. We toured the Colosseum. I met an Italian TV star and her dog. I served as a wingman for my friend's budding romantic relationship. We got lost far from the hotel and miraculously, made it back to our hotel unscathed. Many memories from this trip will last forever. Throwing coins at the Trevi Fountain. Finding out I enjoy American lasagna way more than the Italian version. Surviving Italian traffic and watching our bus driver take on on a death-defying adventure through the streets of Rome. The beauty of this experience was that I enjoyed amazing deals for the flight and lodging because our tour guide also taught Latin at our school, was Italian and had incredible connections with the airlines and many others in Italy. Maybe someday, I will experience the allure of Italy again.

November 5, 2014

DD #96 - Struck By a Star

I am not sure what motivated me to try out for the lead role in the grade-school musical, but I remember being excited about getting it and more excited about seeing my classmates' reaction when I started singing at the audition. I don't think they expected it. I'm not sure I did. Looking back, I don't really remember too much about the actual performance. I played Reuben, a shepherd boy, and I had lots of solo lines and songs. The night performance was not stressful at all due to the fact that our morning school performance was marred by absences and fill-ins. I remember being excited to perform and proud of what I accomplished. I still hum my big solo to myself. . . ."I'm not trying to be a big shot, I'm not trying to be something I'm not, but I've got to be what I believe inside of my heart. I'm just a shepherd boy, struck by a star." This was truly the beginning of my musical career and the confidence boost I needed to try new things and focus more on what I wanted to do rather than conform to what I thought others expected me to do.

November 3, 2014

Discovering Dargatz #95 - Mad Love

I remember sitting in the back of the car nervously visualizing the night ahead of me.  Erika and I had liked each other since 7th grade and I finally got the nerve to ask her out close to 8th grade graduation. We decided to go to the movies. Being under sixteen, her father drove us to the theater. In my infinite wisdom, I assumed the Chris Farley movie, Tommy Boy, would be at this theater. When we realized it was at one on the other side of the freeway, it was too late to go there as our driver had already left. Being under 18, our options were limited as the majority of the movies were animated G movies or Rated R flicks. In fact, there really was only one option, a movie called Mad Love. I wasn't too thrilled about the way my plan was going awry.  This didn't change as we sat through a very disturbing movie about how infatuation with another person can turn you crazy. Not the most ideal setting for my first official date and probably one of the reasons our relationship didn't blossom. This was a foreshadowing of my lovelife as I grew up.

October 30, 2014

DD #94- Groin Kick & the Oil Slick

Some summers at the zoo were spent supervising the admission gates. I spent time staffing the gates, making change, getting cash pickups, putting up and taking down the flags, handling customer complaints, splitting cars, and doing other assorted duties needed to help the zoo. I wasn't the only supervisor and on busy days, both of us worked together. Though my relationship with Jeannine started off as a one-way crush, we  grew quite close and become close friends. Verbal aggravation and insults was a key element in my communication with my acquaintances. Jeannine usually chimed right in and we often had lots of fun one-upping each other. One day, this verbal exchange got physical. While I don't remember the insult I hurled her way, I do regret where I was when I said it. I stood behind her as I teased her and she jokingly kicked back, not knowing the strength of her kick and the proximity of my groin to her foot. I fell limp and writhed for a few moments in one of the environmentally-friendly oil slicks that pooled between each of the drive-in gates. While the insults between us didn't end there, I definitely kept a safer distance.

October 29, 2014

Discovering Dargatz #93 - It's In the Blood

Many childhood memories revolve around professional wrestling. Attending house shows with my family. Witnessing the breakup of the Mega Powers and the birth of Austin 3:16. Creating my own wrestling matches on the top bunk in my bedroom. Playing with my Ultimate Warrior wrestling buddy and my countless action figures. Parading down my hallway to my CD of entrance music. Attempting to stay up late Saturday night to watch a show and then hurrying home from church that very next morning to get a glimpse of the end of another show. Reading  magazines and renting videos from Blockbuster. Collecting cards and creating my own championship belt. Starting a fan club in grade school. Professional wrestling is in the blood.  It's a break from reality and an entertaining way to spend time with others. I loved it growing up, but took a break while in high school. My enjoyment resumed in college and then dipped a bit after graduation before coming into its own as an adult. I enjoy it more than ever and look forward to enjoying it with my own family. You can take the person out of wrestling, but you can never take the wrestling out of a person.

October 28, 2014

Discovering Dargatz #92 - #1 $2.52

Fall and winter days at the zoo usually meant a good deal of sitting around, debating where to go for lunch, and the morning trip to Burger King to get Roger his breakfast.  Roger was one of my supervisors at the zoo. He was an ornery divorcee who masked his emotions with a gruff demeanor. Often he got in trouble for being a bit rude with his comments towards women and his issues with work efficiency, but when it was all said and done, he did care about his employees. He enjoyed exchanging verbal barbs with his staff, complaining about his boys, and planning his eventual retirement. He even went out of his way to have a staff member get him his Burger King breakfast just about every morning. He had his order memorized to the exact cent.  Value meal number 1 - $2.52.  He often gave the exact amount, and demanded change back if he didn't. It took a while for him to break down his abrasive walls and open up, but when he did, he showed a tender fatherly side that was very appreciated and enjoyable. I hope he looks down at us and enjoys what we've become.

October 27, 2014

Discovering Dargatz #91 - Los Perdedors de Inquizitors

Growing up, I was a professional wrestling fan. My buddy, Josh, and I enjoy talking about the wrestling gimmicks and the gossip and enjoy making predictions about what direction the storylines should go. We joke about how we could create even better storylines and wrestling entertainment than the stuff we watch together. We also came up with a tag team: Los Perdedors de Inquizitors. Purely as a joke, we created this team of lovable losers who find every possible way to lose a match but win over the hearts of the fans. We would wear awkward masks, butcher the moves of other wrestlers, and do everything in our power to lose each match in a way more unique and surprising than every other match before it. Whenever  we get together, conversation ends up being diverted to this fictional duo and other ways we could incorporate silliness and humor into their shtick. Every year, when we are preparing to attend our annual excursion to an independent event called Blizzard Brawl, we pretend that this is the night the Inquizitors make their long-awaited debut. While the Inquizitors may never actually step foot in the ring, we have had quite an imaginary career already.

October 26, 2014

It's the Little Things

I just returned home from a very busy and exhausting weekend at a writing conference. Busy and exhausting in a very good way!  I meat some incredible writers, illustrators, and editors, and received a boost of energy and enthusiasm about my goals and future as a writer. I was reminded of the battle of risks vs. rewards. and that it all starts with one little step. With that in mind, memories of a previous entry occupied my brain and gave me hope and inspiration. Now it is up to me to take the risk!

In life, we often are caught up in situations that provide stresses and anxieties instead of comfort and relief. We often get so worried about the future and haunted by the past that we forget to enjoy the present. All too often, our minds are focused on the big picture. . .the overall goal. . . .the end game.  This takes us away from the little things. The things that make the world go round.  the things that really matter.

 Over the last few days, I have been able to witness many "little things" and they have made a huge difference.

 Three "little" words.  After a year of battling the structure needed for a classroom, one little friend dropped his guard and uttered, "I need help."  Those "little words"  showed tremendous growth.

 Two "little" "Charlie Brown" trees.  On a nature walk in a preserve adjacent to our block, my family noticed a few tiny, nearly barren evergreens, reminiscent of the tree made famous in the Peanuts Christmas special.  One tiny tree.  Many fantastic memories.

 One "little" hummingbird.  On that same walk, stopping in silence to admire a minuscule bird most would completely neglect to see. Observing a beautiful creature in its habitat is wonderful medicine.

 One "little" worm for many, little babies. We were able to see a mother robin capture and gobble up an earthworm right in our own driveway. A delightful treat for growing fledglings and a reminder of the majesty of life.

 Many "little" giggles. Spending an evening cracking up at the things my daughter does.  From her attempts at conversation to her excitement and blissful expression with every new discovery, each "little" giggle makes a gigantic love grow even larger.

 Four or five "little" steps, with many more to come.  My daughter is learning to walk.  As my wife and I watched, she took her first steps. Though it was only a handful of steps before she plopped down clumsily, got back up again, and repeated for what seemed like hours, the happiness that exuded from her face as she realized her accomplishment was immeasurable.

 What started as a few steps is just the beginning of a life's journey.  I hope that I can help her on her journey by focusing on the "little" things and letting life be something I love and enjoy, one "little" step at a  time.

October 21, 2014

DD #90- Was that Dargatz?

I didn't have a great deal of success my first and only year of high school football. I broke my pinkie. I got squashed in the "Tunnel of Love." There was a very unsuccessful attempt to make me an offensive lineman. Our team had a very loud, and often vulgar coach who liked to run us, run us, and run us some more. He didn't take well to mistakes and absolutely hated anything less than 100% effort. I was in a tough situation.  I wasn't quite big enough to be a lineman or linebacker but lacked the quickness to be a receiver or safety. I ended up being a tight-end/running back hybrid called a wingback and a drop corner, or weak side cornerback. My number was called for two whole offensive plays that year, both runs away from me where all I did was block. My shining moment was on the defensive side of the ball. I distinctly remember making a pretty impressive and aggressive tackle on the sidelines right in front of my coaches. As I got up and headed back to the defensive huddle, I remember the shocked voice of my coach asking, "Was that Dargatz?"  Yes it was!

October 20, 2014

Discovering Dargatz #89 - The Beginning Was the End

As a baseball player, who knew that my best high school game would be the first one. My coach was very excited to see what I could do after a few sparkling defensive plays at third base and a team-leading five RBI that inaugural game my freshman year. I remember being jacked for my first official game and getting a bit of an inflated ego after my exceptional performance. Baseball can be a game where confidence matters.  Overconfidence can lead to carelessness and a loss of focus, which in turns lead to errors, miscues, and shattered confidence. I definitely had issues with this after my memorable opening day performance. The remainder of that year, I struggled physical, but had more problems mentally. My confidence took quite a hit and I never rebounded. I relied on my baseball skills and took for granted the art of preparation and focus. Without my head being in the game, only super-exceptional talent would save me.  Though I was adequate player, I couldn't get by or pure athleticism alone.  After one game I had five RBI and  a huge ego. After the season, I had a grand total of 6 RBI and a completely empty confidence.

October 18, 2014

DD #88 - Forget Oil. . . Water and Peter Don't Mix

Water and I just don't get along. Before you get any ideas, I shower regularly and enjoy a good thunderstorm and waterslide, so that isn't the issue. I don't consider myself hydrophobic, but am certainly hydro-uncomfortable. Throw me in deep water, and I'll flail with terrible precision to backstroke my way to safety, but try to get me to tread water and you will surely fail. I can't say when and how water and I parted ways, but apparently, I was a wreck at youth swim classes. I haven't recovered. I barely passed swimming class in high school and tend to wade and relax when given recreational water opportunities as an adult. Swimming is just the start. I went fishing once. I caught a fish by having the poor thing swim its eye right into my hook. I carefully disconnected it from the hook, released it, and watched it flop for a few seconds before perishing. On one of my few kayaking adventures, I focused so much on not capsizing that I ignored the upcoming raging rocky rapids that pummeled me and the low-hanging branch that clotheslined me. Maybe this is the reason I am so enthralled with terrestrial hiking. 

October 16, 2014

DD #87 - I'm history

History geekdom runs in my family. My father received a degree in history and had aspirations of teaching it. As a child, I read a good deal of non-fiction, primarily historical pieces about sports. I have always enjoyed geology, which is basically a scientific look at the history of the Earth. I even spend a good deal of  free time watching historical documentaries on the Civil War, Presidents, and professional wrestling. Something about the past motivates me about my own future. However, history never became such an entertaining and  professional part of who I am until I taught the history of Wisconsin, an integral part of the 4th grade curriculum. Native Americans. Fur Trade. Immigration. Statehood. I loved it all. I read book after book, watched show after show, and ventured out to fur trade and civil war encampments to experience the past. When my wife bought me a membership to the Wisconsin Historical Society as an anniversary gift, I knew it was official: I was and still am a  history geek. Even though I now teach kindergarten and am not immersed in teaching the history of my beloved state, I can't stop looking and learning about its amazing history.

October 15, 2014

DD #86 - Example Pete

Choosing to go back to graduate school to get my teaching degree was a huge step. Choosing to do it at Cardinal Stritch was an expensive one. Looking back on those two years, I remember enjoying the process and the people and knowing I made the right decision. While I only spent technically three semesters and a student teaching class there, I think my time there molded me just as much as my time in Madison did. While I grew socially in Madison, I grew more professionally at Stritch. My first ever class was early Monday morning and connected me with three other teachers-to-be that I stayed friends with after becoming a teacher. Mondays were my big class day.  I had about a three-hour layover between classes so rather than heading home just to head right back, I hung out in the library and sat on the sofas, chatted with peers, and occasionally did some homework. My peers teased me and called me "Example Pete" because my work was occasionally shown off in class. I took it with pride and a bit of arrogance, but I also gained so much excitement for when I could use this work in the classroom.

October 14, 2014

Discovering Dargatz #85 - The Hard Truth about Softball

When my competitive baseball career was over, I still had the edge to play organized sports. With recreational softball leagues anywhere and everywhere, this was a natural outlet for my competitive juices. It began with Wednesday night league in Thiensville.  It morphed into Mondays at the Coach House Grille in Big Bend. Sunday night co-ed leagues in Bay View ventured onto the schedule soon thereafter.  Through her work, my wife joined a team that played in the county parks. Our softball extravaganza culminated with my wife and I coaching softball for Special Olympics. At one point, four nights a week were tied up with some sort of softball.  While we love the game, we felt a bit overloaded and were happy to reduce our softball obligations. We had a good run though.  Our co-ed league was a staple in the championship game.  My men's league had it's moments in summer, though fall ball is where we tended to put it all together. Jill's team was low on talent, but high on enthusiasm. Our Special Olympic team even won the gold medal at the state games in the summer of 2012. Softball will always be a part of who we are.
Gold Medal Champion North Suburban Special Olympic Sluggers

October 13, 2014

DV #5 - Go Time

When we found out our due date was the last day of spring break, we were hoping the baby would come early. It would have been nice to be able to enjoy that first week at home as a family without using up personal days from work. However, the schedule of an incoming baby doesn't always jive with the wishes of the parents Spring break came and went without any signs of a baby. Since the due date had technically passed, I returned to the classroom and my wife checked in with her doctor. By lunchtime on my first day back, I got the call that we would be heading to the hospital that afternoon for induction. My first day back was really like a half-day, but for me and my emotional roller coaster, it felt like a half-minute. Anxiety. Excitement. Patience. Queasiness. I felt it all as I headed home ignoring posted speed limits. Once home, my wife and I gathered supplies and headed to my home away from home for the next few days. It didn't take long. Within hours after induction, my wife and I were parents to a beautiful girl. It was well worth the wait.

October 12, 2014

A New Perspective

When I started coaching Special Olympics a handful of years ago, I had no idea just what I was getting into and how much this amazing organization would alter my life. I have made many, many friends and have been motivated and inspired to be a better person because of all the love and passion inherent in the athletes, their families, their coaches, and their fans.

When I became legal guardian of my sister with special needs, one of my goals was to get her involved in Special Olympics. I felt the social aspect and the activity-based structure would be something she would enjoy. It took many discussions, battles, and emotional ups and downs, but finally, she agreed to take me up on my offer and she began earlier this year in bowling. 

At practice, she slowly became ingratiated into the weekly routine, saw more and more people she knew, and seemed to get more and more excited for each passing week. Watching her roll with the punches (gutter balls) and celebrate victories (strikes and spares) allowed me to reflect on her progress and growth over the last few years.

At the first tournament, it all came full circle. The tension. The angst. The joy. I rode an emotional roller coaster for her as she competed. Whether she knocked down pins or not, I was on the edge of the seat with every frame. I've been on the coaching side of things and been proud of the athlete, but this feeling was different. 

This pride was certainly evident as my sister finished up her final game and headed to awards. Seeing so many athletes ahead of her light up as their names were announced and they received their award made me a bit nervous thinking about how my sister would react, knowing full well she didn't win first place and moreover, knowing she knew it too. Putting those fears aside, I watched the elation in her eyes as she heard her name, walked up to the front of the crowd, and received her award. Then, as we left the tournament and she listed all the people that she looked forward to showing her first award, I knew she was hooked.

Taking in the sights and sounds from this new perspective made me even more proud to be associated with Special Olympics. Watching the athletes express such emotion and celebrate each other was inspiring. Just as the Special Olympics oath states, "Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me brave in the attempt." I saw everyone win today, but witnessing it all unfold in front of me made me feel like the biggest winner of them all.

October 10, 2014

DD #84- Childhood Staycations

Children get excited reminiscing about their childhood vacations. Whether it was a trip to Disneyland or Disneyworld or an excursion across the country to see family, people love to talk about the exciting and exotic places they traveled as a youngster. Growing up primarily in a  single-parent home with a sister who needed lots of extra support, our vacationing options were limited. Rather than take longer vacations, we took weekend excursions or day-long to tropical places like Chicago and Green Bay. We tended to switch destinations every year. On Chicago years, we would take the Amtrak down early morning and let my Pop navigate us to places like Navy Pier, Michigan Avenue, and museums. Green Bay weekends usually involved Bay Beach Amusement Park and Wildlife Sanctuary, the Green Bay Packer Hall of Fame, and the National Railroad Museum. Regardless of the trip, Uncle Johnny hopped along on occasion which led to extra mayhem and humorous chaos, as well as definite stops at a local buffet. My sister and I usually argued, Pop tended to get lost at least once, and we all ate too much.  I may have missed out on "traditional" vacations, but I didn't miss out on the memories.

October 9, 2014

Classroom Zoo #18 - I Call My Students Names. . . . and they LOVE it!

 Any kindergartner from classroom zoos past and present know the roles and responsibilities of the brainiac. They also know what it takes to be a knucklehead and goofball. Many aim to avoid being labeled a stinkeroonie. It is not uncommon for me to give nicknames to specific children. When I used a student as an example for what glaciers did to the landscape as they advanced southward, he became Mr. Tree. I had one student coined Mad Dog. He would only respond to me if I barked after calling on him. Reversing their first names, such as Sixela or Liagiba was common. Many names originated from my either inability of lack of interest in pronouncing their last names, including Mr. Casa, Mac Attack, and Newburst. The list goes on and on. With each passing year, I  have forgotten more nicknames that I've handed out to previous students and when I see those students in their later years, the nickname usually comes back into my memory before their actual name does. Of course, roles can be reversed. I have lovingly been termed Mr. Doughnuts, Dr. Dargatz, and even the occasional Mr. PotatoHead. Names come and go, but memories leave lasting impact.

October 8, 2014

Dadventures #4 -The Race

Speed has long been gone in my life. The agility and quickness I harnessed as a youth have slowly deteriorated as I have aged. My sausage race victories were few and far between, though with at least one victory as each wiener, I did accomplish the racing sausage quintuple crown. I am not a fan of NASCAR, Indy, or any other racing. Speed in general ranks low on my list of priorities. However, one race will always have a piece of my heart. The race to the baby! When I happily announced my impending fatherhood to my fellow teachers, a fellow teacher had the same message to share. Interestingly enough, our future offspring even shared the same due date. From that point on, the race was on. Though my wife hates this, I did read that as a male, I was "psychologically pregnant." That being said, my fellow parent-to be and I exchanged milestones throughout the entire process and jokingly chided each other as we both raced all the way to the finish line. In the end, I lost the race by a few hours, but my daughter has a beautiful birthday buddy. In the end, we were both winners.

October 7, 2014

DD # 83 - To Tell the Truth

Growing up without luxuries like air conditioning and cable television, I was somewhat overwhelmed when I was inundated with TV viewing options my freshman year at college. On hot summer days, I yearned to spend time at my cousin's house to enjoy cool temperatures and seemingly unlimited entertainment options. When I graduated college and my dad entered the world of retirement, it took him one day at home on a muggy day to sign up for air conditioning.  It took him a few years to get cable hooked up, but seeing how the introduction of cable changed my life, I now understand his reservations. I spent an unhealthy amount of time doing less than desirable tings in college.  Now, before one jumps to explicit conclusions,  my unhealthy habits involved greasy cheese sticks from Ed's Express and lots and lots of television consumption. I was enamored with the choices and found just about anything more enjoyable than studying and adapting to college life. I spent entire afternoons watching To Tell the Truth re-runs from the 70's on the Game Show Network. Maybe this addiction wasn't the sole reason for my unimpressive 2.2 freshman year GPA, but it certainly was an important factor.

October 6, 2014

Classroom Zoo #17 - Teaching to Write or Writing to Teach? That is the Question.

There will always be a special place in my heart for authors of poetry and short stories. Growing up with Jack Prelutzky and Shel Silverstein, I was enamored with the wordplay and creativity that writing offered. I moved on to the works of Edgar Allan Poe in my middle childhood before reading (and attempting to comprehend)  Shakespeare in my high school English Honors course and taking a class dedicated to the tales of Hans Christian Anderson. Then, after getting back into the classroom as the teacher, I reverted back to my original authors of choice and used Prelutzky and Silverstein's humorous and unique look at poetry as an inspiration for my teaching and ultimately, my own writing. Throw in my author study of Roald Dahl and a fascination with the works of Gary Paulsen and you've got, in my opinion, an all star list of literary geniuses. Though I look today to find literature that is motivating, engaging, and fascinating, I am always reminded of the first book I remember loving and the book that led to my regular trips to the library: Martin Hanford's Where's Waldo? I can't wait to share that love with my very own little reader.

October 5, 2014

Dadventures #3 - Baby Shower Lockout

I am not sure if people look back at their baby shower as a sign of their parenting future, but if the happenings of our first baby shower is any indication of ours, hang on tight. The event was beautiful. Though the weather was chilly, we toughed it out to host family and friends at a park in my wife's hometown. The food was cooked. The tables were set. Different games and activities were hung up on the wall for the guests to enjoy, the amount of blue tape needed to keep them there was leaning towards ridiculous. The actual shower went swell. Plenty to eat and drink. Generous gifts. Good times with people near and dear to us. Then, it was time to load the car. While we were just about to finish packing up presents like Tetris game pieces in the backs of our vehicles, my mother-in-law, wife, and I went to make one final run when we realized we were locked out. With dropping temperatures and rising tension, I had to do something. I found a loose window lock and shimmy my way in. At the time, it was chaos. Now, it's just a piece of cake.

October 4, 2014

The Night Santa Gave Me Cookies

I received an undeserved and unexpected present today from an unlikely source, but I'll take it nonetheless.

My family enjoys pizza, sometimes too much. We have our favorites, but tend to frequent the local establishments that are running the best deal at any particular time. This includes today's pizza pick: a well-known pizza joint (who I shall keep anonymous) who I have had a standing history of less than desirable service. From waiting for my order for extended minutes of time after it was expected to be done to waiting to be served even though behind the counter, a small army of workers always seems to be on the clock.

As I walked in today to the chime that alerts the staff of a customer's arrival, a portly gentlemen in a big red jacket and a long flowing snow-colored beard, glared back at me with a look of frustration in his eyes. After he returned his glare to the disheveled teenage cashier, it was apparent he was not pleased with the service he was receiving. I was able to decipher that he had received the wrong food and was now being asked to wait for his new (and original order) to be cooked. Though he was clearly annoyed by this disruption to his plans, he was quite calm yet forceful in the way he was discussing his distaste for the inconvenience this mistake had caused him. 

In what seemed like a peace offering, another staff member handed him an over-sized dessert cookie, which he quickly refused, announcing his issues with diabetes. Having their idea of a truce being thwarted, they politely asked him to step aside so they could handle my order. My transaction went smoothly and as I was turning to leave, the cashier asked me if I wanted the cookie my fellow pizza patron had just turned rejected. Being a cookie enthusiast, I hopped at the opportunity until the cashier than attempted to ring me up for this unordered treat. 

Instantly, the initial gentlemen's face got about as red as his coat as he jumped in and demanded to know why they were trying to charge me for an item they had just tried to offer him for free. Before anyone of the obviously confused and nervous staff could respond, he reversed his original decision and demanded his dessert pizza. When they gave it to him, he immediately turned and gave it to me.

So, though the old story states that children are to leave milk and cookies by the fireplace for Santa, I can now say that Santa has given me a cookie.  I guess I have been really nice this year.

October 3, 2014

DD # 82 - Friendship

Friendship was an odd name for the first cat in my life as she was not the friendliest of felines. She wasn't mean, but was only outgoing with a few choice people. Her black and white pattern and glaring green eyes will always have a special place in my heart. I had a nightly ritual with her. Before being tucked in, my father would retrieve her and place her in my bed before I could sleep. Often she stayed at my side and would nip me in the cheek when I turned in bed in a way she did not approve of. She was territorial for an indoor cat.  She had loud hissing matches when another neighborhood cat was in view of our front window, where she spent a good amount of time staring down the robins that inhabited the crabapple tree. She tolerated my pet rats and even laid down with them, under my supervision of course. I remember coming home from a shopping trip and seeing her lifeless body under the dining room table. It was my first animal loss. I was devastated. The special bond I had with her helped be become the animal lover I am today.

October 1, 2014

Picture Book Preview - Train Chasing

One of my more sappy stories in my opinion, but one that evokes a lot of memories for me. I hope it does the same for you.  
By Peter Dargatz
The loud blast of the train’s horn in the distance broke the silence and reminded him of the times he had with his father.
They used to sprint down their street to catch a glimpse of the train hurling down the nearby rails. They would count the cars and enjoy the sights and sounds of the train cars.
They played catch in their yard, pretending to be major leaguers.
They took nature walks, listening to the croaks of bullfrogs and the songs of birds.
They spend as much time together as they could. They shared everything, but things changed, as they inevitably do.
Time with his father lost its allure. It became a chore.
Rather than chasing trains together, the son tried to chase his father away.
The son ignored his father. Hanging out with your father just wasn’t cool. He was chasing him away.
The son lied to his father. Telling the truth might make his father ask questions. He was chasing him away.
The son disrespected his father. He built himself up by tearing his father down. He was chasing him away.
But through all the rejection, all the defiance, all the hurt, his father stayed.
Now, as his father lay in a hospital bed, with death knocking on the door, the son has regrets.
As he neared his father’s bed with tears down his cheeks, he whispered an apology and made a promise.  A promise to live his life full of love. A promise to live like his father.
His father opened his eyes, smiled, and whispered words that changed the son forever.
“Listen closely, son. You hear that train. Chase it. Chase after your dreams. Chase after your adventures. Remember to enjoy the chase.”

The son kept those words in his heart and is reminded of them every time he takes his own son down to the tracks to chase the next train.