March 31, 2014

Hiking Journal #1 - Hartland Segment

Who uses their personal day to go to Opening Day, sees a rather seasonal forecast, and sells his tickets to spend a day on the trails??? This guy. Those who know me have noticed that hiking has become a passion of mine in recent years, especially with my interest in the Ice Age Trail, a beautiful 1,000 mile trail exclusive to Wisconsin and filled with remnants and reminders of the last Ice Age. I joined the chapter that represents my local area and am working on hiking each of the segments in my area before branching out and eventually hike the whole thing. Besides a special First Day Hike on the 1st of January, today was my first day out on the trails.  I'll keep you posted as continue my hiking journeys.

Today's trek was a muddy one as I battled the winter thaw. I was able to hike the Hartland segment (both ways) for 15.14 miles in just under 4 hours with a quick stop in downtown Hartland for brunch in the park. The hike started following along the Bark River and taking a tour of the city parks before intersecting downtown and traveling right behind the library. The trail opened up into new housing developments and more march areas, highlighted by a special Ice Age March park with An Aldo Leopold outlook. Aldo Leopold was a naturalist I learned about with my students in my 4th grade days.  Though the animal sightings were slim pickings today compared to what the signage states appears in summer, I was entertained with a variety of ducks, geese, a pair or sandhill cranes, and chirping chipmunks and red squirrels.  After meandering through an "unblazed" and affluent Delafield subdivision, I finished off with a few mile scamp through woodlands and forests before reaching the end of the segment near I-94 in Delafield.  ("Unblazed" refers to portions of the trail where connecting routes through neighborhoods and county roads lack the signature yellow "blazes" or sign markers to help guide you.)

Looking forward to the next step in my journey, especially since my baby girl will most likely be with me. :)

March 27, 2014

CZ #11 - The Innocence of Ignorance

The world might just be a much better place if we were all kindergartners. Their life experience, or inexperiences, offer up valuable entertainment each and every day. When they try to be funny, it usually doesn't work out.  I have heard more terrible and nonsense knock knock jokes and anecdotes in the last year than  can count. But the kids like to share them , so I have mastered the fake laugh just for them. That being said, I thin kindergarteners are some of the funniest people in the world, especially when they aren't trying to be. One such moment that still gets me chuckling is the time I walked into a corner of the room and saw one of my little ladies lying on her back with her legs up towards the ceiling. When I asked her what she was doing, she responded in the most "duh" voice imaginable, "I'm having a baby." Kids also have argued  vehemently that all cats are girls and all dogs are boys. I have heard them mispronounce and misinterpret so many things, yet I am often too busy trying to hold back for my hysterics to correct them. Their "innocence of ignorance" truly inspires.

DD # 27 - Bowling Blunders

208. My highest score. Nothing exciting,  but an admirable achievement, considered it was accomplished at the ripe old age of nine. In over two decades since that fateful day, I can't recall breaking the 200 pin barrier. However, I do recall many bowling memories. Whipping the lightest ball I could find down the lane in a meager attempt to smash pins and impress friends and females. Reversing that silliness and grabbing the heaviest ball possible to once again impress my friends and garner attention from the opposite sex. Failed attempts in both regards, but worthy attempts nonetheless. Overnight bowl-a-thons through my grade school's youth group where I drank countless ounces of soda, ate slices of pizza until I felt sick, and played game after game until the blisters set in. Trips to Bowlero with my cousins and uncle where the simple goal was to beat our alpha male uncle while at the same avoiding embarrassment of him whipping off his shirt and twirling it around with every strike and spare. Though my  bowling days have decreased significantly as I've aged, I can't help but wonder if I'll ever match 208 or at least impress a friend or female while trying.

March 26, 2014

DD # 26 - Never Missed a Day. . ..almost

I was always excited for the end of year school awards ceremony where I consistently picked up my Perfect Attendance certificate. I NEVER missed school.  Not sure if it was because of my love for learning, my super immune system, or lack of cable television.  Either way, I went to school.  Even chicken pox  was smart enough to come over winter break. This all changed one morning in 5th grade. For a time in those formative years, I slept on the floor in my living room (again. . .not sure why) instead of the bunk bed in my room.  My dad would usually wake me up before leaving for work.  I'd get ready and then walk to school. That fateful day, I awoke in the living room as my dad came home for a mid-morning break from a client visit.  Luckily for me, he didn't see me wrapped in the pile of blankets on the frontroom floor. While he was in a different room, I snuck into my room, waited it out until he left, and then rushed to school, entering my classroom about 10:30.  I never did miss a day of grade school, at least not a full one.

March 25, 2014

DD # 25 - First and Last

A classic behavior seen in young children marks the beginning of the boy chase girl phase of adolescence.  Whether it is physical or verbal annoyance, harassing the opposite gender usually means one is interested in the individual he or she is harassing.  This must have been true in my case as I went out of my way to try and look up the skirt of a classmate in 3rd grade.  She did not react positively to my advances, reporting the incident and earning me my first ever pink slip, a note sent home by the teacher informing parents of poor behaviors and requiring a parental signature. Never having this happen and fearful of the potential consequences it might bring, I played it smart and forged my dad's signature, forgetting he was a southpaw. After turning it in the following morning, I never looked back.  Well, at least until later that day when I was sent to the office to talk to the principal and receive my first and only green slip, or demerit.  It was a slip saved for major offenses.  I don't remember what my consequence even was, but I definitely never got a pink or green slip again.

March 24, 2014

Discovering Dargatz #24 - Imaginary Athleticism

From tennis against the side of my childhood home to basketball games in the backyard, countless hours of my youth were spent in sports.  Oddly enough, many of these many hours involved me playing against my imagination. I grew up an athlete, but never the most talented. I had coordinated skill, but was never the superstar.  I was never the last picked, but never the first either. I starved for that moment where the spotlight was on me, not the prototypical star athlete from my childhood teams.  I would play these games as my mind increased the tension and excitement until I came out on top. I would celebrate wildly, probably leaving my neighbors wondering what was wrong with me. These showdowns lasted summer afternoons and winter evenings. My imagination never let me lose, although I did have to recreate scenarios to make sure I would get the glory and be credited with the victory. Many "extra" free throws and three pointers were taken. Plenty of tennis strokes were smacked against the brick wall. Numerous pitches were wailed against the garage in hopes of getting that last crucial strike. While those games may have never really occurred, their memory lives on.

March 23, 2014

DD #23 - Worm Collection

On rainy days, worms escape the soggy underground to avoid drowning.  Many are unable to find the grassy ground in the streets and driveways that cover the earth and are left to dehydrate and die helpless on the concrete. If only I had better understood these facts at an earlier age.  Seeing this as a child, I came up with a master plan one day to save the worms. One rainy afternoon, I scoured my neighborhood looking to save every worm I could find.  I filled up two of my sand buckets with water and went to the curblines, picking up every worm I could find, and held them in my buckets until the rain stopped and I could return them to their homes. After probably an hour and two buckets full of worms, I placed the buckets on the side of my house.  A befuddled father came home to ask me what I was doing with dead worms in a bucket. After revealing my intentions, I was sad to find out that I killed them all by drowning them, epically failing in my worm-saving attempts. My worm rescue career ended with a watery mass grave down at the creek.

DD #22 - NBCT

The everyday activities of a teacher often revolves around acronyms.  I've been through IEP's, CAT meetings, the WSRA, PBIS trainings, RTI lectures, and SOS activities.  However, the most strenuous and stressful acronym that comes to mind is my NBPTS experience, which led to me becoming an official NBCT. In other words, my training to becoming a National Board certified Teacher.  After countless hours of writing and revising, a pair of weekend retreats, after school progress meetings, casual conversations with cohorts, literally thousands of dollars spent, and never ending organizing, waking up the day the results were posted was excruciatingly exciting. I knew I would be in Madison that day and I wasn't sure if I wanted to ruin that day by checking my results and seeing the inevitable, and expected, failing scores.  A hope was that the score was close enough to only have to re-do one portfolio or  a few tests. When I woke up that morning just past seven and decided to check my phone while still in bed. I was elated when I read the words, "Congratulations! You are a National Board Certified Teacher." Over a year of hard work had all been worth it for that moment.

March 22, 2014

DD #21 - Man's Best Friend

The best things in life are often the things that are taken for granted. Two of the most important things I often overlook are snuggling right next to me all the time. Nugget and Brewzer. My dogs love me without fail. If my lesson bombed or I feel sick, it takes nothing more than a snuggle with one of my "pupperonis" to get back on track. Sure, they can be obnoxious, bark incessantly, and act crazy on the arrival of pretty much any person, but no matter what, they are loving and faithful.  Dogs might "just" be pets, but I think people can certainly learn from them. They obey and forgive without question. They protect and entertain. They keep you warm and keep you busy. They're ready to go for a walk when you are, but just as open to an evening of lounging. Above it all, they are there to make you happy because believe it or not, you make them happy. And all it takes is a little attention, some belly rubs, and maybe an occasional pig's ear. If people were more like dogs, what would this world be?  Pretty simple if you ask me. . . . better.

March 21, 2014

Discovering Dargatz #20 - SEGA!!!!

My Atari 2600 was one of the most exciting things I played with for the short time I had it as a youngster. I thought I was so cool playing Pitfall and Pong in my room on my older sisters' barely functioning console. It was a special treat to visit my cousins and spent time on their original Nintendo.  I remember classics like Mike Tyson's Punchout, Jackal, Burger Time, and the terrible yet addicting Friday the 13th. Soon after the 2600's death blow, I started collecting money in two envelopes: one for a new bike and one for a Sega Genesis. As my yearning for video games grew stronger and stronger, more money was funneled into the video game envelope.  I had an arrangement with my Pop that I could get the system when I had half the money. It took a lot of yard work around the neighborhood, but I get the money and got my Genesis. It even came with a game: Sonic 2. I must have collected a million rings. Sonic Spinball was a pleaser. NBA Jam was a favorite. NHLPA 94 and Madden 93 were classics. Aladdin was an addiction. I miss my Sega for sure.

DD #19 - Stick Races

Living down the street from the creek led to many adventures: catching frogs, collecting railroad spikes, graffiti hunting, and train watching. However, one activity that seems to have passed the test of time is garbage races, though the adult and responsible side of me has evolved this into stick races.  With the creek having two waterfalls, the concept is simple. Search for and choose the perfect stick throw it right at the crest of the first waterfall and cheer it on until it passes over the second waterfall. Using a scientific mind to calculate gravity, angles, and currents is helpful, but the dumb luck of avoiding getting caught in the undertow or snagged by a different pieces of debris was the ultimate guide to a successful race. I remember epic battles involving my uncle and cousins. I remember passing this tradition on to my own nieces and nephews, while adding new wrinkles: a stopping stick and a safe zone. Such a basic activity really brings back memories of how fun it was to be a carefree and curious kid. I look forward to taking my own children to the creek, picking out that perfect stick, and creating even more memories.

March 20, 2014

DD #18 - State Parks

Labor Day weekend was always the unofficial end of summer and one last weekend of freedom before the rigors and routines of school took over. In my family, it always meant a trip to a state park. We'd play keep away in the shallow waters of Lake Michigan, explore along the beach, walk through various trails, and jump and tumble on the sand dunes. It was wonderful to enjoy some fun in the sun with my family. It wasn't until later in life that I realized that these weekends were the start of my fascination with the state parks and natural wonders Wisconsin has to offer. My wife and I started exploring them once we got married. Now, one factor that determines where we spend our precious family time is the state parks we can access . We have always discussed road-tripping parks further away and hope to one day turn those discussions into realities. Some people may think having a baby may slow down their extracurricular activities and in many cases, this is true. For our family, having our daughter has only inspired us to do MORE in learning about and enjoying the beautiful treasures nature offers up to us.

March 19, 2014

CZ #10 - A REAL Surprising Shower

I was honored when a baby shower was thrown for my family by my kindergarteners and their families. The event was wonderful. The children played a game where we matched baby pictures to students.  We also estimated and measured my wife's baby belly with toilet paper. Since we had ducked out on math stations early, I was glad we still practiced crucial math skills of estimation and measurement. We enjoyed delicious cake and the students received a gift bag of their own. My wife and were gifted a baby quilt with animal squares and a special square showing the students' names. The class was excited to throw the party and despite my best acting, the surprise had been blown. I can honestly say I didn't know of any of the plans until that morning when  a question and a comment was thrown my way as students entered the room. A student first inquired when Mrs. Dargatz was arriving. Though that may have got me thinking, it wasn't until the follow up comment that I knew something special was coming. A second student informed me that her mom took off of work so she could some to school to shower with me.

CZ #9 - Classroom Zoo

Whenever I mention to people, especially those not in the education profession, I get some unusual looks when I tell them that I call my classroom the classroom zoo. It's not because I consider my students wild animals (although some days I need to remind myself of this). They are not caged and allowed to hoot and holler like animals confined for our entertainment and education. That being said, we are a very active classroom and sometimes that requires being a bit louder than one night normally expect. My classroom zoo theme is based on my belief that every child is unique and distinct from their peers. Imagine going to a zoo and seeing the same exact animal in every exhibit. How uneventful would that be? I love visiting the zoo to see the wonderful variety in creatures. Their differences make them fascinating to me. So too is my view of every student I am blessed to work with each day. Their uniqueness makes every day an adventure. My classroom is a collection of special talents, skills, and personalities that truly makes it an excellent place to visit and learn. I love my zoo and I know my students do too.

March 18, 2014

DD # 17 -Centerfield Puddle

Little League baseball is a rite of passage for many children. I remember being extremely excited from graduating from YMCA T-ball to my first ever baseball team, the Pistons in Tosa League. This excitement led me to getting my uniform hours before the game and visualizing how I would perform. Unfortunately, for my first ever game, my visualizations did not turn into reality, although the result is definitely unforgettable. When coach sent me to centerfield, I could not wait for the first ball sent my way.  I was also ready to take my first hacks at the dish. To be honest, I can't even remember if I got a ball in the field or how I swung the bat that day. I do remember coming in from the field, preparing to tell my coach and teammates to be wary of the puddle in centerfield.  My seven year old understanding didn't quite realize they would be able to figure out that on this bright, sunny, and DRY day, there was no puddle and that I didn't fall in any water, but instead let the nerves of my first game get the best of me. What a way to start a baseball career!

March 17, 2014

Dadventure #1 - True Love

The Princess Bride is one of my favorite movies and it emphasizes the importance of "true love." There are many things that I love. I obviously love my much, much better half. Without her, I can honestly say I'd be lost. I love my family. We may put the fun in dysfunction, but I wouldn't be who I am without them. I love the outdoors. Watching wildlife and taking hikes is something I could do every day if time allowed. I love sports. I love watching them, playing them, and talking about them. I love professional wrestling. Since I was a boy, I've been a fan and that passion continue into my adult years. I love writing. This creative outlet lets me say and do things I normally wouldn't have the courage to do. However, with all these "loves," I didn't realize what love really was until my daughter was born. Holding her in my arms for the first time confirmed my purpose. Watching her grow has put everything else into perspective and made the love I have for my wife and family that much stronger. She is my world and I can't wait to experiences all of our adventures together.

CZ #8 -Kindergarten Confusion

When I was told by my principal that I was being moved to kindergarten, I was pumped. This was something I had always been interested in.  A day later, when he frantically stopped by my room and told me that the district found a licensing issue, I was very distraught.  Apparently. a typo sent in paperwork that went from my graduate school to the state licensing offices indicated I was in a different licensure range than what I really was.   While at Cardinal Stritch, I had to choose between and PreK-6th grade license or a 1-9 license. With the 1-9 license, I needed a minor. Since my Consumer Science degree from Madison didn't correlate to a minor and I wasn't too interested in middle school, the Birth-6th  license was the one I pursued. I graduated from Stritch, filed my license paperwork, and was hired quickly, so I didn't really pay all that much detail to the license sent to me by the state. Seven years later, that lack of detail almost bit me in the behind as I almost lost my kindergarten opportunity. Luckily, with a few phone calls and e-mails, the issue was corrected and my kindergarten adventure could begin.

DD #16 - Breese Terrace

People come into your life for reasons you sometimes do not understand. I truly believe my senior year roommates were brought into my life to make me a better person. I met Jeff at a bible study my sophomore year and instantly made a connection that led to nights watching hockey and sipping Smirnoff's, a spring break retreat to Panama City Beach, and hearty discussions about beer. Mike was extremely intelligent, super competitive, and at times, stubborn, so discussing sports, especially fantasy sports was always intense. Byrne definitely came into my life for comic relief. He lets you call him by his last name, has a contagious chuckle, and even allows a dropkick every once in a while. I really couldn't have asked for a better person to share a room with in my final year of college. In our three bedroom apartment, the four of us had adventures of making fun of our housemates, setting up multiple TV's for important viewing nights, instant messaging each other even when while in the same room to express our discontent for internal situations, enduring epic kooshball battles, winning a rec league floor hockey league, and of course, relieving ourselves on our neighbor's house.

March 16, 2014

CZ #7 - Don't You Forget About Me!

Students are at the heart of a teachers world. Teachers discover what makes them tick and work to help them tick the right way. Certain students leave a lasting memory. One such individual will always hold a special place in my heart, and not just because of his mop of carrot-colored hair. He had some rough edges. He enjoyed cussing, was easily frustrated, and was as organized as a paper factory in a tornado. But through it all, he worked, he struggled, and most importantly, he grew. He grew into a more independent learner and opened up socially. One of his goals was to avoid cursing and exploding when upset. Upon realizing an assignment was missing, he yelled, "OH MY FREAKING GOD. . .wait. . .OH MY FREAKING GOSH. . .wait. . .OH MY GOSH." That audible transition proved he was making positive growth. His disorganization also caused him to forget items when transitioning into our neighboring class for math groups.  Almost daily, after leaving my room, he would saunter back to retrieve something. When realizing the teacher had continues to teach without him, he would exclaim without fail, " DON'T YOU FORGET ABOUT ME!"  Don't worry, I never will.

One Size Fits All Education

Every child reaching their fullest potential is a dream of parents and teachers alike. However, children are not the same and fair is not always equal. What works for one child might actually be detrimental to another, even if implemented the same way. Teachers and parents doing the same thing each and every day to each and every child under their care would be a dream. And it would be a dream, because that is not reality. Figuring out what works best for each child is ongoing and ever-changing. Together, parents and teachers play vital roles in developing students and children into leaders for the next generation. It shouldn't be a power struggle or a competition. Parents need to parent and teachers need to teach if we want students to learn how to be successful individuals. Clear and consistent communication is crucial. Parents, teachers, and children need to understand their expectations. Likewise, everyone needs to know that all are adhering to them. children will care to learn when adults learn to care.

Now, if the decision-makers in charge of molding the direction of our educational system would focus more on the crucial parent-teacher relationship rather than assessment scores, then maybe THIS dream could become a reality.

March 14, 2014

CZ #6 - Just Because You Can Doesn't Mean You Should

Teacher jargon is common.  Many expressions are stated daily and become so much of a habit, they almost lose their meaning.  In Kindergarten, "sit criss cross applesauce" and "give me five" are prime examples.  In 4th grade, "clean up, chairs up, line up" and "don't be sorry, behave" were everyday phrases.  Regardless of the age level, one statement I have practically trademarked is "just because you can doesn't mean you should." I have seen so many students do so many random and crazy things, from cartwheels on the carpet to stuffing large amounts of fruit snacks in a mouth.  Maybe to impress others, maybe because they are impulsive, or maybe because they just like driving me nuts. Not a day goes by where I don't say it or want to say it.  Even though I expect to express this message routinely, I am still boggled at the responses children give to me when I find them in interesting and compromising situations. Attempting to figure out how some of them tick is a bewildering and seemingly impossible experience. So I guess I should avoid even trying, because as I would tell myself, "just because I can, doesn't mean I should. "

DD # 15 - GPA - Oh No!

High school was a breeze. I achieved a 3.897 grade point average with minimal effort. I'm not being arrogant as I feel this "achievement" was due more to the standards put forth by my private school education rather than my intellectual superiority. I didn't really have to work terribly hard to "achieve." Not being pushed academically came back to haunt me in my first semester of college. My confidence and bank account took a hit due to an overestimation of my abilities. Being in high school mode, I did next to nothing and expected to succeed just as I had previously. I wish I could blame my addiction to cable television, an amenity I didn't have until college, but sadly, I was to blame for my subpar academic performance. One semester into college, I was rocking a 2.3 GPA. Though my focus increased and I earned 7 consecutive semesters of 3.5+ GPA's to finish my college career with a 3.3, the damage was done. I was forced to settle for a degree I didn't really intend to use. Eventually, this led to thousands of dollars in graduate school credits that I'll be paying off until my own kids are in college.

DD #14 - Closing Time

My high school job was at Cousin's Subs. I worked there from the summer after my freshman year to the summer before college.  Starting off as a sandwichmaker and being forced to clock out at 7:00 to abide by Wisconsin's child labor laws, I worked my way to cashier and was offered an assistant manager position by the son of of one of the founders for a Cousin's in Madison. I decided my fast food career was over and didn'ty take the offer.  I remember the short shift schedule of cleaning bathrooms, emptying garbages, picking through the garbage to save the brown plastic trays, and preparing the bread for the next day's baking session.  I remember the closing schedule of manning the grill, cleaning the grill and fry station, emptying the sandwich station, and sweeping and mopping the lobby. Cashiering involved assisting customers, taking phone orders, cleaning the soup station, and dishwashing. No matter the position, I remember having fun, meeting interesting people and customers, and rocking out in the backroom.  Like clockwork, while locking up at 9:30pm, Semisonic's "Closing Time" hit the airwaves.  Whenever I hear that song, I smell onions  and remember the good times had at Cousin's.

March 13, 2014

DD #13 - Procrastinating Priorities

The quote underneath my high school senior photo read, "I'd love to become a procrastinator, but I don't think I could fit it into my schedule."  This quote fits me perfectly. I am a high-energy individual with his mind on a million things at once. I don't mean to wait until the last minute with certain things, but I do prioritize things. Certain things are low on that list of priorities. We remodeled our kitchen a few years back.  That project was a summer of blood, sweat, and tears. Now, almost three years later, the trim isn't quite done. And, to be honest, I couldn't care less. It's not a priority. People are always telling me they are amazed at how much energy I have, especially after a  day of working with five year olds. Apparently my mental exhaustion doesn't quite correlate with my physical propensity to move from one thing to another without seeming to take a breath in between each activity. The fact is, I love being busy and have way too many interests to stay stagnant. I don't mean to procrastinate with things. It's just that life is too short to worry about things that aren't a priority.
                                                      Some priorities take precedence.

March 12, 2014

Spring Starts When . . .

Whether you feel it's the return of warmer, brighter mornings, the longer days, or the emergence of buds on trees and plants breaking through the once frozen soil, the start of spring is an excellent time of year. Different people have different viewpoints on when this time of year begins. Scientists consider the beginning the vernal equinox. Teachers consider it when snow pants and boots can officially be brought home for good. Many others even correlate the start of this season with Easter. Baseball fans always consider opening day the start of spring and the gateway to summer. However, one moment stands out above these events and for many people, especially dog owners, that moment is the official start of spring. The snow is melting, the sun is shining, and the dog poo is emerging. After months of being buried by snowfall after snowfall and getting caked into the snow banks by ice and frost, the weather finally warms enough to allow piles and piles of excrement to be excavated. To me, forget the flowers, ignore the equinox, and pass on baseball, it is the thawed dog poo collection that officially signifies the end of winter and the start of spring.
 Here is one of the beasts guilty of "starting spring" in my world.  You can thank him later. :)

CZ # 5 - Hook 'em Hores

Teachers often cannot name any of their own children a name of a student who ran them ragged. I definitely have names on my "NO NAME" list. One such individual had a cocky attitude and a defiant aura that made him not only a class favorite and leader among the boys and cuteness the girls were drawn to.  He signed everything with his name and $. Classy, I know. However, his trademark was leaving the expression of his favorite collegiate football team, the University of Texas Longhorns, on everything he turned on.  However, and I am not sure if it was a spelling issue or some sort of hearing problem, but he wrote "Hook 'em Hores" instead of the actual slogan, "Hook 'em Horns." Whether it was his constant disrespect, perpetual laziness, or that smirk, I never did have the heart to inform of this egregious and comical misuse of the saying.  I figured he'd learn someday without my help. Sweet justice did occur a few years later when the awkwardness of adolescence had most definitely knocked him down a  few pegs.  I am not sure if he was still was a Texas fan by then.

March 11, 2014

DD # 12 - Turtle Talk

My wife jokingly refers to my cable access show of the future where I discuss turtles as "Turtle Talk." While the idea is comical, my history with them makes this idea quite plausible.  Donk, Dunk, Dink, Doink, Mojo, Fred, and Winston have all experienced turtle life with me.  Whether bought at a pet store, given as a wedding gift, rescued from a tourist trap in the Dells, or found in the street, they've all had epic adventures. From the lost turtle in my apartment to the beheading incident, each day was an adventure. There were turtle races in my classroom, emotional releases, filter foul-ups, and "tail-less" traumas. While my tank evolved from a simple 10-gallon pet store model to a 100 gallon tank found online and recovered from a trailer park, the care-taking and cleanup was ritualistic and time-consuming. Transferring them from the house to classroom was always risky. Seeing that phase of my life come to an end was still bittersweet.  Whether they were given to a student, donated to a pet store, released into the wild, or sent to turtle heaven, they each were special to me and will give me memories to share for years to come

March 10, 2014

DD #11 - 1:55:57

I've never been a superstar athlete, but I've been able to play competitively on basketball, football, and baseball teams since I was able to hold a bat and dribble a ball.  However, with Father Time bearing down on me, it was harder to keep up in more competitive activities, so I turned to more recreational forms of competition. While this was less demanding, I needed an outlet to release my need to compete. I chose to compete against myself. I'd been telling my students ignore what others are doing and focus on how you can improve yourself every day.  I figured I should put my advice into practice so I registered for a mini-marathon. For six months, I trained, alternating between running longer distances and/or alternating speeds. When the day of the marathon came, 50 degree weather and torrential downpours would not stop me from reaching my goal, a goal that changed from merely finishing the 13.1 mile trek to finishing in under two hours. Though the race was quite a challenge, the pride and exhilaration of reaching the goal was amazing.  Plus, the cookie handed out at the finish line was undoubtedly the tastiest cookie I have ever eaten!

March 9, 2014

CZ #4 - Ignorance Makes Everything Easier

My first year as a teacher was easy. I came into that year full of excitement, enthusiasm, and  ignorance. It's hard to know what to do when you don't know what you're doing.  As an initial educator, I created, borrowed, and improvised fun and interactive lessons. My students adored me! Our class played a lot of games and many freedoms.  I even had Friday lunches where the kids ordered food from restaurants and my father graciously delivered the food right to my school. Everything seemed to come easy. Then, of course, reality sank in as I started to prepare for my second year and I realized just how much I had to do.  My initial year was so smooth and successful partly due to the fact that I had no idea what I was doing and was just learning the ins and outs of classroom discipline, assessment, and accountability. As I gained experience with each of these areas, I realized just how much I didn't know and just how much I didn't do my first year. So, to me the first year of teaching was definitely the easiest. Being a lifelong learner and always looking to improve makes that statement possible.

DD # 10 - Pe Terd

 As is tradition in elementary classrooms, holidays bring about a time to create an obligatory arts and craft project.  With turkey day quickly approaching, we were given the option of turning  paper plate and paper strips of varying colors into a Native American headdress or a turkey.  I chose the latter and made a rainbow feathered turkey. In my haste to identify this accomplishment with my name, a spacing error was made that haunted me for much of my elementary career.  At that point, I was labeling my work with my first name and last initial:  Peter D.  However, when placing letters on my turkey, I left too much room between the first "e" and "t" while and failed to leave enough gap between the "r" and "D."  In essence, I made the fatal faux pas of turning a basic name into two words associated with second grade bathroom humor.  Having this nickname forced me into geekily attempting to create my own nickname in high school. In very poor taste, I chose Maxi, because of my P.A.D. initials.  As self-created nicknames often do, this one never really stuck, fortunate for me.  However, being nicknamed Donkey in college wasn't much better.

March 8, 2014

One of my favorite trees (yes I said trees) from the Ice Age Trail.  Click below to get a taste of the hiking adventures I'll be enjoying this summer.

Ice Age Trail Slideshow

Baking vs. Cooking

During lunch at school, I found myself in the middle of a very lively debate about what was preferred: baking or cooking. I listened eagerly as both sides voiced their opinions, explaining with detail the benefits and drawbacks of each of these fundamental food options. It was at this point, that I realized two things. First off, I realized I'm even more na├»ve to the culinary arts than previously accepted. I had always assumed baking and cooking were interchangeable terms. The glares shot my way after I voiced that misunderstanding still haunt my soul. You see, the kitchen and I don't always get along, but it is not due to lack of effort. I've created culinary concoctions that no man has ever dared to consume. Ask my wife about my pasta sandwich, definitely not my proudest moment. A second realization dealt with a decision that trumps baking versus cooking in my own life.  That is the decision to eat in or carry out. I have much more experience in this type of eating expedition, but yet, I still struggle with both options. Having a child does make that decision easier than in my former life, but the battle still rages on.

March 7, 2014

DD #9 - Grandpa's Popcorn

Childhood Saturday mornings were spent visiting my grandfather at either his house or assisted living residence.  At his house, I  played in my father's childhood bedroom or spent time around the apple tree doing assorted yard work.  I also worked to avoid Patches, the feline that hated everyone other than my grandpa.  When at the assisted living residence, watching baseball was the essential activity of choice, though the Cubs game took priority over the Brewers due to my grandpa's affinity with Harry Caray.  Regardless of where these visits took place, grandpa's famous popcorn was always on the menu. Normally, I enjoyed popcorn.  However, his popcorn was different. It was more than a snack. It was a meal. Grandpa was very conservative in his political and fiscal opinions, but very liberal with his butter usage.  His popcorn, which he shared in an actual cup, was very reminiscent of a beverage. Each kernel was saturated, yet there was still a puddle of butter on the bottom.  Worst thing was that no was never an option.  You were eating the popcorn and you were getting seconds.  If my arteries are blocked with butter at the time of my death, I know who to blame.

DD #8 - Big Screen Banter

Growing up in a cable-less, computer-less household, I may hold movies in a higher regard than the average person. Whether it was on my own or with my friends, watching movies from my home's extensive library or taking a trip to Blockbuster was a regular occurrence.  That being said, though the variety of movie options available to us was seemingly endless, movies selected came from a small, yet important collection of movies we watched repeatedly.  Movies were more than entertainment. They were a representation of my own personality. Not a conversation went on where my friends and I didn't reference a movie scene or quote one of our favorite lines. As I matured and married, the importance of these movie memories didn't not change.  Actually, it might have been enhanced as I shared some of my favorites with my wife while learning more about movies that shaped her into who she had become. Our love is more than movies, but the movies we love connects us and the lines and moments from these flicks is a staple in our daily lives. One thing I know for sure is that movies don't make me who I am, but they certainly help.

March 6, 2014

Thanks for reading! Here's your first assignment. . . .

Despite being a newbie to the blogging world, I am extremely excited to share all of the wacky, unique, and sometimes heart-wrenching events that have made me the person I am today. I'm also going to start adding pictures and other stuff to help you learn more about the man behind the keyboard. Please do what I tell me students to do all the time: be a thinker, not a stinker.  By that, I mean, contact me, share my blog with your friends, your families, and your enemies, and enjoy the ride.

I've got lots to share, including tidbits of stories I one day hope to publish and a ton more of my 200-word adventures about the classroom, my upbringing, and my ongoing trek deeper into fatherhood. 

I am having a blast writing and hoping you're having some fun reading.

CZ #3 - Put the 2 Ball in the A Hole

As a teacher, there have been incidents where something I've said or done made me feel like I would be sent to the principal's office. My worst fear is cursing in front of the kids.  I did let a damn slip out once.  Luckily, it was only a whisper and the child who heard it said his mom said much worse all the time. There was the inadvertent curse.   I said, "Shhhhhhhhhhhhhh. It needs to be much quieter."  Instantly, my students connected the shhhh with the it. Not good. I was searching online for a bowling alley where a fundraiser for our school was taking place and found a different type of entertainment instead. I alerted our district tech staff immediately.  I once told a child who was being a goofball in line to take a seat and he did, all through recess and lunch, missing his lunch and alarming his parents. My most memorable mishap was a 4th grade math lesson where I was teaching a billiards game using reflective mirrors (the balls and pockets were labeled with numbers and letters) and I told the kids the goal was to put the 2 ball in the A hole. Yep.

DD # 7 - Grandma

Time and time again, people say that their grandmother was the sweetest lady they had ever known. I fall into that category.  For years, she graciously spoiled me with delicious treats and provided me with magazines and activities that inspired my love of reading.  She also hooked me to word searches, beginning a lifelong love of vocabulary and word games. I think of her often and miss her dearly. Fortunately, the sea of positive memories swallows up the bitter taste in my mouth that has lingered since her passing. That night, it was known her time on this earth was coming to an abrupt end. Unfortunately, those final moments showcased a side of her I had never known and wish I had never experienced. The dementia she suffered from morphed her into a foul-mouthed version of the lady I grew up admiring.  I remember hearing her curse at her nurses.  I remember the angry and dark look in her eyes that made her unrecognizable. I remember seeing this personality change shift back into the grandma I knew and loved when I went to her side and said my goodbyes while she grabbed my hand and let go for the last time.

March 5, 2014

CZ # 2 - Torrid Teaching Affair

I knew something was up when on a Monday morning, the teacher who worked in the room adjacent to mine was waiting for me in the office demanding we have a sit-down with the principal. Little did I know that she received some rather interesting e-mails that weekend that painted us both in a very controversial light. Being a recent newlywed, I was quite shocked to find out that that previous Friday, I  divorced my wife and spent the entire day "getting close" to my educational cohort.  Well, at least that was the rumor spread by one of my little angels. Now, my teacher friend and I did spend that Friday together, but the most excitement we had  involved inquiry circles around non-fiction texts, not  much of an aphrodisiac. Of course, this rumor spread like a Californian wildfire through the grade level and  before we knew what hit us, parents demanded an explanation. Our associate principal was more than happy to respond to concerned parents with concerns and sternly rebuke the rumor and discuss the evils of gossip with both of our classes. I struggled to keep myself from laughing that whole day. They don't teach you about this in college.

March 4, 2014

Classroom Zoo # 1 - A Male Kindergarten Teacher?

This is usually one of the first responses I get when others find out what I do for a living. Heck, it was one of the first things I googled when I knew I was moving to kindergarten. I didn't really know what to expect. Could I do it? Should I do it?  How will parents react to this less-than-traditional setting? While most responses have been positive, it is always "fun" to have my ability to teach questioned simply because my gender. Apparently, because I lack the maternal instincts of a female, I am inherently putting the students in my classroom at a disadvantage. And despite not having the maternal instincts some feel all kindergarten teachers need to have, I feel strongly I do possess certain traits that children need: firmness, flexibility, energy, and a willingness to show my imperfections and have fun with my shortcomings. Plus, my clumsy self has yet to step or fall on any of my little friends, at least not yet. I love being able to work with the children, help them grow academically, and see them thrive socially. I encourage anyone to come to my classroom and see for themselves, my door is never closed.

March 3, 2014

DD #6 - Boredom Breeds Creativity

Creativity was never something my family lacked. Growing up, many days were spent playing with my cousins.  Football, basketball, and exploring were the norm.  However, those "regular" activities often led to boredom.  We spiced it up with some creative activities. Ever heard of handball?  We made our own basement version which involved whipping a soft, foam like ball towards each other's goal with a quick scoop of the palm.   Games were very exciting and competitive until an errant ball hit something it wasn't intending to, drawing the wrath of an aunt or uncle.  Occasionally, pitch black pillow fights were held.  Of course, there was often a shortage of pillows, so couch cushions worked as well.  If we felt especially courageous, a  round of table tennis paddle pool quenched our competitive thirst.  Nothing means crazy competition  until you use a paddle to try and sink pool balls into pockets. Not all of our creative games were held indoors.  In the outside world, we probably drew criticism and garnered some strange looks from neighbors during garbage races at the creek, net basketball in the driveway, and baseball croquet around the lawn. It's amazing what happens when boredom, creativity, and a few boys unite.

March 2, 2014

DD # 5 - Home Sweet Home

I grew up in a neat, orderly, and luxurious Victorian-style bungalow with amenities abounding. . . .and then I woke up.  In reality, my cozy house was cluttered, dusty and engulfed with a stale stench.  No air conditioning, no cable, and no regular cleaning schedule. Yet, when it came to where my friends and I would meet to chill, play video games, and discuss girls, it was that less than extravagant three bedroom ranch on 107th and Garfield.  Maybe it was the laid back parenting of my father.  Maybe it was the unlimited frozen pizzas and soft drinks readily available just in case of the apocalypse.  Either way, it was the meeting place of my crew through the high school and college years. Though we never drank alcohol, used drugs, or miraculously connected with a member of the opposite sex there, this was a very memorable place for me and some of the closest friends I have ever had.  My house was never known for amazing amenities or tidiness and order. But what happened under that roof during the most formative years of my life left me with wonderful memories I wouldn't exchange for the finest mansion in the world.

Discovering Dargatz #4 - Lopsided Billiards

I was fortunate to have a billiards table in my basement.  I spent many hours playing pool with friends, practicing trick shots, and foolishly playing a "air hockey table-inspired" game involving billiards balls and  table tennis rackets. Sounds great, right?  I may failed to mention that the table had some issues. Whether it was an unbalanced basement floor or the fact that this table was older than dirt and not kept in pristine condition, this table was lopsided and the playing surface was uneven, which made it an interesting to attempt playing an actual game of pool.  Through years of practicing geometric angles and perfecting the slope of this abomination of a table, I mastered the game and was a very successful "lopsided" pool player.  If only I could find a bar or tavern with a lopsided table.  I would be quite the lopsided pool shark.  Now, I know I shouldn't use this table as an excuse for my abysmal performance with normal, well-kept tables, but I am going to anyway. Playing the odd and ridiculous angles of my lopsided table are ingrained in my being and I cannot change my style of play. I am forever a lopsided player.

Discovering Dargatz # 3 - Roman Celebrity

While on my high school trip to Rome, Italy, one evening was dedicated to roaming the streets surrounding Piazza Novana and enjoying the local culture. Besides dining at an amazing eatery where I learned that Italian lasagna is much different than American lasagna and window shopping at some high fashion boutiques, I ran into a dog.  Actually, it jumped into me as I took a break on a bench. The dog's presumed owner, a beautiful blond woman dressed in a long black jacket despite the warm temperature and sunglasses long after the sun's departure, was extremely apologetic. While I sat there enjoying the dog's company, it was interesting seeing an inordinate number of people snapping pictures, though I didn't realize why until later.  I was able to snap my own photo of the canine before we parted. Only when I returned to the hotel to open up the complimentary magazine in my room did I realize my brush with greatness that evening.  On the page dedicated to Roman pop culture, that beautiful blond and her dog reappeared.  Apparently, she was a popular soap opera personality in Italy. I would've gotten a picture of her too if I would have known that.

Discovering Dargatz # 2 - Rat Cannibalism

When thinking of traditional Christmas gift for a young boy, one might think of a truck, a video game, or a new football. However, my sister thought of something unexpected, something downright unusual. I named them Boris and Morris, and they were the two lab rats my sister experimented with in a college science course.  Rather than see her "experiments" ended, she saved them from certain death and gifted them to her younger, much geekier brother one fateful Christmas Eve. I accepted them graciously, especially with the brand new cage and other supplies that came with these white-haired, red beady eyed creatures. However, that initial excitement turned into extreme terror when I awoke to a  gruesome scene Christmas morning.  Apparently, these two rats were separated during her semester of coursework.  Not so much in my cage.   I learned quickly that rats are extremely territorial.  A new tidbit learned that  morn was that rats not only fight to death, but the "winner" often eats the loser. Morris won.  (Actually, I had no idea, but I liked the name Morris better.)  He lived six more years, surpassing the expected life expectancy of a rat.  Maybe his rat cannibalism gave him rat superpowers.

Discovering Dargatz #1 - The Interview That Changed It All

Six months out of college with no job leads in sight, I found myself in an interview with a life insurance company. Set up through my father's financial advisor, I was happy to have the opportunity, but had no specific interest in selling life insurance for a career. The interview involved a traditional-style conversation and a computerized "happiness" assessment. After a successful chat with my interviewer, I was off to the computer. On the test, scores above 110 showed this job would be one I would enjoy. A score less than 110 meant this job might not be for me. As if coming into this interview not knowing what I really wanted to do with my life wasn't confusing enough, I managed to score exactly 110. This was the best thing that could have happened. After conferring with my interviewer, I let down my guard and spoke from the heart about my true aspirations. Though this outpouring of  thoughts eliminated me from employment as a insurance agent, I gained much more that day. Perspective. I knew where I was headed. Within weeks, I was enrolled in graduate school and on my way to being exactly what I was meant to be.

And Away We Go . . .

From my kindergarten classroom to the nearest nature trail, from my days as a racing sausage to the antique malls and railroad museums I frequented growing up, I have many stories to tell. Some I have told a million times, some I have adapted into children's books, and some I have tried to forget. Yet through it all, each story has helped shape who I am now and who I strive to become.

To help you navigate through this blog, please note that my stories will be broken into three general categories as described below. . .

  • Discovering Dargatz (DD) - Stories from my birth through becoming a father that provide knowledge (ad/or blame) about why I am who I am.
  • DADventures (DV) - Stories about my ever-changing evolution as a father and my adventures with my daughter
  • Randomness - My general musings about my interests and life in general :)