August 29, 2014

Discovering Dargatz #67 - A Cap for Steve

What was a videotaped book report came to be a talking point for a core group of grade school friends for years to come.  A Cap for Steve, by Morley Callaghan is a simple short story right out of the traditional basal text common to elementary schools. This story revolved around a boy's baseball cap and life lessons he learns involving the cap. Through some assignment in grade school, we were expected to make a videotaped book report.  This allowed us all to practice out acting skills. Since I was the clown of the group, it made sense to have me play the female character. We spent our videotaping day at my friend Steve's house, who coincidentally played the character of Steve. Dressed up in a lovely flowered dress, I was the ridicule of the neighbors, getting cat calls from the girls across the street. I had some unfortunate voice mishaps and wonderful lines such as, "please sit at the davenport." Jon, Steve, Ed and I each played an important role in this production. Though the acting may not have been Oscar-worthy and the editing very elementary, the book report was a success and has entertained us for many years.

DD # 66 - Interview Times Two

My information and qualifications were sent to district after district. After a few anxious weeks, I was fortunate enough to get an interview. Though I can only chalk up my first interview experience for a 6th grade English position in Cedarburg  as an "experiment," it proved beneficial as it was followed by three interviews over a two-day period. I was confident my interview for a position at Dixon Elementary would go well as it was in the district I student taught in and some of the interview team already knew me. It did, but not nearly as well as the  interview for a long-term sub first grade position at Woodside Elementary. This interview was sixty minutes, broken into halves. Thirty minutes was a mock parent open night followed by a rapid fire question and answer. Walking out pleased, disappointment took over when I heard that the position was filled. A reversal of fortune led to a full-time 4th grade position opening up in its stead. Having to re-interview the very next day with many of the same people, I felt my second attempt fell flat. Flat or not, I got the call later that night. I was officially a teacher!

August 28, 2014

Let's View the Zoo

Before 25 kindergarten friends join me next week, I thought you might be interested in seeing the classroom zoo before my new friends do some inevitable "redecorating." Seriously, the room will soon be covered with their amazing work, but here is the calm before the storm.  Enjoy!

Corner 1 - View from the door
Corner 2 -View from my desk - Who needs learning targets when you have Dargatz Targetz? :)
Corner 3- View from Guided Groups Table
Corner 4 - View from Creative Corner

Guided Groups Table - Notice the Ultimate Warrior on the far right :)
Writer's Wall - Soon to be plastered with student work
Mathlete Wall with championship belt for the Math Champ of the Week
Library - Hard to see, but the table is painted with famous characters from children's literature
Carpet time 
Who wants to play? Plenty of housekeeping, blocks, and legos.  I do need to work on my wardrobe , the rack on the top left has some pirate costumes, one sportscoat, and about a dozen tutus.  I will be adding more fun clothing soon.

August 27, 2014

DD #65 - CPR

Our victory celebration ended abruptly.  In the field directly next to the one our Special Olympics softball team had just secured a hard-fought victory, someone needed help. My instincts were to get my wife, a nurse, to assist. I helped out with crowd control as she courageously performed CPR on the fallen athlete. Once the EMT's arrived, they took over and though they did briefly bring back the man, God had chosen to take him home that day. While that sight is forever etched in my heart, so too is an amazing story told to me by this athlete's coach at the briefing we attended the following week. She mentioned that this athlete had always looked to her for guidance.  The night of the incident, she mentioned that she had a dream where this athlete was walking down a hallway and opening up different doors before finally coming upon one in particular. When she asked him what he needed, he opened that door, looked back to her, said thank you, and stated that he was ready to go through. I was moved by her story, inspired by the courage of my wife, and thankful for my new perspective on life.

August 26, 2014

Classroom Zoo #15 - Box of Chocolates

The kindergarten classroom is the ultimate box of chocolates. You really never know what you're going to get. In the later grades, there is a seemingly endless amount of information available on the qualities of each student: their strengths, their weaknesses, their families, their quirks, and of course, their assessment scores. This information is used by teaching professionals to make the mix that will make each child successful. This doesn't necessarily happen at the kindergarten level. They come into the school with a clean slate. Little is known. All is experienced. For kindergarten teachers, these personality, academic, and social discoveries can make the first weeks very interesting to say the least. Imagine cooking up a stew with a ton of unknown ingredients. Will it taste horrible? Will it make me or others sick? Only time will tell. 

Wait. . .what am I saying???  They aren't like a box of chocolates at all. You do know what you're going to get. You're going to get tired. You're going to get confused. You're going to get frustrated. But most of all, you're going to get blessed with an amazing group of new friends that you are honored to work with every day.

August 25, 2014

DD #64 - MC Hammer & Beverly Cleary - A Match Made in Heaven

Sometimes, you make up ridiculous fibs to get out of something you thought might lead to ridicule. In grade school, I was the master of this. Telling people I ate cheese popcorn for breakfast when I was quite irresponsible about personal hygiene, including brushing my teeth.  Wearing my shoes on the wrong feet and when caught, describing how they felt better that way. Another dealt with a fifth grade audio book report. I had selected the book Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary. I did not make this choice based on the other wonderful stories of this famous children's author but instead picked this book because it was a book of letters and looked like it would be easier to read.  I was all about the easy way out at this stage. Because I rushed my way through the story and knew just enough to make it seem like I read the book, I knew I had to add something memorable. I decided on adding some background music. What better way to represent this story then the sounds of MC Hammer's Pray blasting through the cassette player. No silly lie or cute story could get me out of that poor decision.

August 22, 2014

Discovering Dargatz #63 - Git R Done Sausage

Working at a major league ballpark certainly allowed for unique experiences and occasional perks, like food deals, such as the Trevor dog, giveaways like autographed balls and bobbleheads as work incentives, and a free bag of peanuts after every Sunday game. While others can get numb to seeing major leaguers milling around every game, the fan side of my personality comes out  when I am so close to what was my dream profession growing up. This feeling also comes to me when the occasional celebrity makes an appearance. They might be there as a fan when they're in town for their own act. They might be throwing out the first pitch. They might be part of some promotional event. No matter the reason, when a celebrity stops by the ballpark, it is always fun to be a part of the excitement. One special appearance was when I was preparing for a sausage race. I was walking out the doors to the service level when I hear from behind me, "Git R Done Sausage." I glanced behind me and see (in an obstructed sausage view) Larry the Cable Guy. Fan or not, I still feel pretty cool that we had the encounter.

August 21, 2014

DD #62 - The Gold Medal

It was yet another close game.  I had confidence in my team but simultaneously was second-guessing decisions made earlier in the game.  Was I aggressive enough?  Was I over aggressive?  Did I make smart switches? Then. . .while mulling over every last detail and scenario, it happened. We won. The gold medal was ours.  I was relieved, excited, and more than anything else, proud of what we had accomplished together.

It was a cloudy, wet Saturday afternoon in La Crosse and the North Suburban Sluggers had battled through a choppy season filled with rain delays and cancelled practices. The Sluggers had faced and beaten many foes on their way to the softball championship game. We got an early lead and worked to hold off our opponents while praying that mother nature held off as well.  As each inning continues, the weather looked darker and more threatening.  But, we could only control what we could control so we pressed forward.  As each inning passed, the excitement grew as the nerves increased. When game ended, we held a paper thin one run lead as the skies blackened. The impending storm couldn't darken our exhilaration that came as we finished with the victory.

August 20, 2014

Discovering Dargatz #61 - The Ad That Changed My Life

I spent one summer being an assistant coach on a little league team of elementary-aged boys, some of which I had as students.  While I enjoyed the aspect of coaching, the politics and aura of that situation didn't feel right, so I pursued other opportunities. Looking through the local newspaper, a ritual on trips to the in-laws, I came across an ad requesting a softball coach for Special Olympics. I mulled it over and decided to respond.  After meeting with the agency director and chatting at Brown Deer High School while observing some athletes at a soccer practice, I decided to give coaching a shot.  This was definitely one of the best decisions I've ever made. I am happy to be more than just a softball coach now. I also now am blessed to work with athletes in snowshoeing and basketball.  More importantly, the relationships that have been made and the lessons I have learned and continue to learn have made me a better person. While this volunteering does consume multiple nights and weekends, the love and joy that is given back is so much more valuable. I look forward to continuing my affiliation with Special Olympics for years to come.

August 19, 2014

Picture Book Preview- Unplugged

Ever see a young person seemingly glued to their technological device, unable to seemingly have traditional social interactions because of a perceived dependence on the latest innovations and gadgets? This picture book preview tells the story of a young man who finds himself when he is forced to unplug from world of technology and plug back in to life.

Please let me know what you think by commenting or sending me a note at Thanks, and happy reading!

“How can the power be out? There’s no storm,” grumbled Mark. “It was just getting to the best part. This stinks!”
“There must be a problem with the electric company,” reasoned Mark’s mother. “Why don’t you get some fresh air?”
“Cuz I know the minute I go outside, the power will come back on and I’ll miss the end of the movie.”
“It’s not like you haven’t seen that movie before. I’m sure it will be. . . .”
Mark’s cell phone text alert interrupted his mom.
“What a joke! Kevin said his power is out too.”  Mark grabbed his tablet and headed upstairs.
A swirl of angry words and a few floor stomps interrupted him on his journey.
Mom walked over to the bottom of the stairs and met Mark on his way back down. “What’s wrong now, honey?” asked his mom.
“Tablet battery’s dead and I can’t charge it until the power comes back.” Mark passed right past his mother and lounged on the couch.
“Mark, it’s a beautiful day. Go get some time in the sun.  It will make you feel better.”
Mark didn’t respond.  He was too busy texting on his cell phone.

“Mark,” she tried again.  Still no response.
“MARK!” she said in the strongest of tones. “Put down the phone and get some fresh air.  It will do you good.”
“Boring,” replied Mark. “I’m just going to wait until the power is back on.”
His mother frowned. “Absolutely not. Give me that phone. NOW!” she stated firmly. “I’m tired of you being tied to your video games and your computer and your cell phone. From now on, you are unplugged.”
“What does that mean?” asked Mark.
“No technology until further notice. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.” His mother grabbed his phone.
 “But mom.”
“But nothing,” said his mom. “There’s no use sitting here and complaining.  Go outside and do something. Anything.”
“Fine,” Mark muttered with teeth clenched. “But I’m getting my stuff back when I get back.” Mark slammed the door before his mom could reply.
Mark mumbled and grumbled under his breath until he hit the end of the driveway. He turned towards the end of his block and slowly and angrily trudged down the street. He took his frustration out on a stone that happened to be on the curb line. With a swift kick, the stone went barreling down the road.
“Why don’t you ever kick like that in gym class?” a voice bellowed from up the street.
Mark looked up and saw Kevin heading his way.
“We’d never lose a kickball game if you kicked like that,” Kevin said.  “Why aren’t you answering my texts?”
“My mom took away my phone,” Mark replied. “She said I wasn’t listening to her so she snatched it.”
“I hear ya. My dad gets the same way, always spouting off about me needing fresh air. Since you weren’t responding, I figured I’d come by. Breathe in some of that air.” Kevin sneered. “Maybe my dad will get off my back.”
“Yeah, maybe.” Mark replied. He paused for a second. “I miss my dad. He’d never take my phone away.”
Kevin hesitated to speak. The boys continued walking in silence for what seemed like an hour, though it was really only a few seconds.
Mark broke the silence.  “My dad and I would walk down there all the time.” Mark pointed towards the creek at the end of the road. “We’d catch frogs, count the cars on the trains that passed by, and skip stones by the waterfall.”
“That’s pretty cool,” Kevin replied. “I used to come down here with my little brother all the time. Remember when we’d get my brother and your cousins to come over and we’d play football in the street in front of your house.”
Mark laughed. “That was so unfair!  I never got to be quarterback,” he said with a smirk.
Kevin nodded, “Man, those were good times. We’d play until it was too dark to see.”
“Or until it started to rain,” Kevin said. “Remember when we pretended to be storm chasers.  We were so soaked.”
“Oh yeah.  My mom was so mad.  Especially when I showed her the buckets.” Mark said.
“What are you talking about?” Kevin replied.
“The worms.  You don’t remember the worms? We went out and collected all the worms that came out after the storm.  We thought they were going to get run over by the cars,” Mark said.
Kevin’s eyes lit up like fireflies. “WOW! I totally forgot. 
Yeah, my mom and dad weren’t too pleased about that either.”
The boys walked through their neighborhood for nearly an hour, recounting all sorts of mischief and memories.
“I probably should be getting back home,” Mark said.
“Same here,” Kevin replied.  “What are you up to later? Want to play video games?”
“Maybe,” Mark responded, “Or maybe we could throw the football around?”
“Yeah, that sounds fun! I’ll see if my brother wants to tag along,” Kevin said.
“Sweet! Text me when you’re on your way,” Mark  said excitedly. Instantly, he remembered being unplugged.  “You know what, just come on over after dinner.  I’ll be home.”
“Will do,” Kevin replied.  “Catch ya later!”
Mark headed home with more memories filling is head. He remembered endless nights of shooting hoops with his father in his driveway. He recalled climbing his neighbor’s maple tree. He recollected about practicing his pitching by grabbing crabapples that fell from his tree and tossing them towards his mailbox.
Before he knew it, he was at the end of his driveway.
He waited to head back in. He noticed a few crabapples on the ground. He grabbed a handful of the fallen fruits and tossed them one at a time at his mailbox, just like old times. He realized it was time to plug back in with his family and friends.

As he headed back inside, his mother was getting lunch ready. Before she could say a word, he gave her a hug and whispered, “Thank you.”
Taken aback, she said, “Power’s back, so feel free to charge up your tablet.”
“Thanks, mom,” he replied. “But I think I’m gonna stay unplugged for a little bit longer.”

August 18, 2014

Picture Book SNEAK PEEK!

One day left to vote on which of many picture book manuscripts will be previewed on tomorrow's post. Let me know which one you want to share.  Vote now! :)

DD #60 - An Original Extreme Couponer

"A bargain is a bargain" was a lesson I learned early in life. My family was full of avid coupon collectors. I recall taking advantage of a sale by going to the same store multiple times or traveling to a different location of that store if their inventory was out. It seems that as soon as I was able to walk and talk, I was able to partake in the savings extravaganza. Each member of the family would get a coupon and the items needed to use that coupon. We would then cash in on the deals by going in separates lines to complete our purchases. We would  meet outside the store, pack up the car, and repeat the process at that store or drive to the next store and do the same thing.  These money-saving, day-long excursions seemed normal to me then, even though now I see them as tedious. I feel that these adventures are why now I barely pay attention to price and have more of a "grab and go" mentality when shopping. While I certainly recognize and understand the value of a dollar, I hope to avoid using my child as a coupon collector in the future.

August 16, 2014

Discovering Dargatz #59 - Neil Burtson? Neal Burtsen? Burt Neilsen?

Neal Burtson?  Neil Burtsen?  Any way it is spelled, this fella is a mystery. When I drove Zoomobile, I used to give special extended tours for larger groups. More often than not, this involved a group of senior citizens. On these tours, I made a few stops so the guests could venture on their own.   After these tours, I was  appreciative of the warm words guests sent my way. I also turned down the occasional tip attempt or at least donated it right back to the zoo. On one  occasion, I was asked to not make any stops but go extremely slow. I obliged. At the conclusion of this painfully slow tour, a guest came up to me and did something no one else ever did.  In a shaky, gravely voice, she stated, "You remind me of a young Neil Burtson," and gave me a nice hug. I of course thanked her, but I was dumbfounded at her words.  Who was this Neal Burtsen?  Luckily, I wasn't the only one confused.  No co-workers or even Google tracked Mr. Burtson down.  I'm glad I gave this guest such a nice memory, even if no one seems to know what that memory was.
I assume Mr. Burtson would look like Australian folk singer Rolf Harris, my brother from another mother.

August 15, 2014

So You Want To Be a Sausage. . .


The poll results are in and we have a tie. Because of this, I am forced to make a decision. Oddly enough, I am both German and Polish, so this makes it even tougher.  However, since this is the first sausage reveal, I figured  I should start from the beginning. So, today's reveal will tell the tale of my inaugural sausage race .

The date was April 7, 2010. The Brewers faced the Colorado Rockies in the rubber game of the opening series in the 2010 season. I was sauntering into the underground abyss known as the Miller Park service level an hour before the gates opened to the public, as was the required starting time for many game day staff. Having this be only my second day as a member of the Brew Crew, I wasn't too surprised when I read sausage race on my schedule. Of course, that was when I thought I would be working the kid's sausage race, an activity in the children's entertainment area where kids pedaled their sausage to victory. Of course, when a fellow racer came over and asked me what sausage I wanted, I was a bit confused. That confusion quickly turned to excitement and shock, which eventually turned into massive anxiety as I realized I was in "the race." I can't remember if I picked a sausage in that moment or let the "leftover" wiener become mine, but I ended up with the Polish. (Being super old compared to my peers and also more laid pack/apathetic to the choice of sausage, I used a munch different strategy in later races, but that's a story for another day.) Knowing my face was probably exhibiting a mixture of fear and or giddiness, I marched up to the second level to avoid embarrassment and get a better cell signal.  Immediately, a text to my lovely wife was made.  It was quickly returned with a response saying a half day of work was requested and she would be there to cheer me on.  If the pressure of being a wiener in front of a jam-packed crowd on only my second day wasn't enough.  Looking back, racing so early in my career was actually akin to pulling off a bandage. Just get it over with, though being a  racing sausage can be painful in a variety of other ways  (again, another story for another day)

The race wasn't until the middle of the fifth inning, meaning I had approximately 2+ hours from the time I realized I was racing until the time I donned the wiener for real. Everything was a blur before the race. I do't remember what position I was working.  I don't remember the game. I just remember the fear. As ridiculous as it sounds, I was both scared and nervous to dress up like a polish sausage and run around the baseball diamond.  As anonymous as the situation would be, I remember being so worried about how others would perceive me. Keep in mind, I would be dressed up as a 9 foot sausage from the land of Poland.  This was not a time to be worried about appearances. I do remember the walk back down through the concrete staircase that connect the field level to the service level.  Not sure if it was the cold hard concrete slapping against my sneakers or the thump of my racing hart, but I remember that sound.  That repeating drumming sound.  In was alone in the world for a few moments.  That solitude quickly vanished as I entered the Brew Crew room to see my competitors changing into running shoes and even track gear. I kid you not. Prepared racers brought racing gear. This was comical to me as the thought of this being a legitimate, all-out race was unthinkable.  We were sausages. not sprinters. Regardless, I clumsily carried my costume out to the left field corner where we would all wait until there were two out in the inning, or one out and one on.  We had to be prepared to jettison onto the dirt track and get ready in our positions as soon as the action was baseball action was over. 

Despite my raging nerves, I do remember seeing that my beloved Brewers were down 4-3 as we prepared to entertain over 40,000 fans, many of which take this race even more serious than some of the racers. I also remember sweating. Now the costume is somewhat heavy and not the best in terms of ventilation, but the roof was closed because of the 40 degree temperatures outside the stadium. This perspiration was not costume-induced. Everything was terrifying until the stadium public address announcer shouted "GO!" Then, the anxiety melted away and I was in my element. Though no one could see, I was sporting quite the smile and slapping high fives to people in the front row.  I even snuck in a friendly slap to a Brewers player, though my very limited peripheral vision keeps me from knowing who that person was.

I crossed the finish line behind three other sausages but without a care in the world. That didn't last.  As soon as I was out of the public's carefully watching eyes, my supervisor let me know that that type of behavior was unacceptable. I was not allowed to high five people during the race. I was to run. Legitimately. The racing is real. Luckily, I was able to plead ignorance and the rest of the racers (all seasoned veterans) felt more of his wrath for not properly training me in the ways of the sausage. Looking back, seeing them change into running shoes and track gear should've been a clue, but my mind was in a different place.

4th place. Could I have gone faster?  Maybe. Would winning the race make it more memorable?  Possibly.  I've run many times since then, even winning a few. However, those races pale in comparison to my sausage debut. 
Rounding the corner.  .slowly but surely.

By the way, The Brewers scored twice to take the lead and eventually won by that 5-4 score.  I'd like to say that whoever drove in that winning run was the same person who happened to slap the hand of a Polish Sausage.  Sausages can be very motivating!

August 13, 2014

One More Day Until the Racing Sausage Reveal. . . .

Thanks for reading! Tomorrow, the poll on my readers favorite racing sausage officially comes to a close. The winning wiener will have a special blog post focusing on the intricacies of that particular sausage. ***The Mascot Code allows some information to be kept privy to sausages only.*** That reveal however is only the start.  At the end of that "sausage story,"  all readers will be encouraged to ask questions about the sausages, from the actual race to entertaining the crowd pre-game, and to making special appearances out in the community.  Questions will be complied, answered, and revealed in a blog entry next week.  Think of your questions. . .and read tomorrow's entry to see how you can FINALLY have all of  your sausage questions answered.  Thanks for participating!

DD #58 - First Day Mishap

My first day as a paperboy must have been exciting.  So exciting that I forgot to so the basic task that I made sure to do every other day: counting the papers before delivering them. As I headed down the final stretch, I realized I was three papers short.  Not wanting to disappoint my customers on my first day, I went and got two quarters and "bought" three papers for the price of one at the paperbox down the block.  I definitely made sure to count my papers before starting delivery the rest of my paper delivery career. Not every delivery mishap was entirely my fault. I always took pride in front door service, so I made sure to place papers inside the front door so my customers did not have to endure any potential weather elements in getting their paper.  This "service" brought me some tips and good words, but also brought me some scares. Once, I enjoyed a nice morning sprint avoiding a vicious-sounding dog.  Another surprise that awaited me was a gun pulled on me from a customer just waking up on their couch. I never expected my paperboy career to be as adventurous as it truly was.

August 12, 2014

Picture Book Preview & Racing Sausage Q & A Coming!!!

Don't forget to cast your vote on the polls on the right side of my blog. Once the polls are closed, I will preview a picture book I am writing and introduce a Racing Sausage Q & A for all to enjoy. :)

Classroom Zoo #15 - Musical Mayhem

Fridays are bittersweet for teachers. We all love and need weekends, but Fridays can always be tricky. Some play catch up on Fridays. Some end their week with more choice time and play time. Others assess, assess, and assess some more to help plan for the following week.  Most try to do all of these things. I, however, try to do something a little different. Each Friday, my classroom plans, rehearses, and records a "music video" based on that week's poem or shared reading. Ever heard of a rap song about apples?  We have. Ever seen a poem on transportation done by children wearing vehicle-themed hats and performed with personalized choreography?  I have. Want to witness children singing in an opera style and occasionally breakdancing to the theme of gingerbread? Stop on in, the door is always open! To say my classroom is a bit musical is an understatement of all understatements. We are either listening to music, singing songs, or performing pretty much all the time. With summer coming to an end and the preparations being made for another new beginning, I can't help but think about what music videos will be created this year.

Don't worry. I'll share.

DD #57 - Getting up at 4AM Wasn't All That Bad

I was always an early riser as a child, so getting a morning paper route for the Sentinel was a logical job for me. The paper came around four in the morning. My father and I added any inserts if necessary and ventured out in opposite directions every morning but Sunday. The -75 wind chill day was forgettable. The blizzard was regrettable. The special gift an overhead bird gave was unavoidable. Overall, loading up the red, squeaky wagon and carrying that satchel around my neighborhood brings back lots of wonderful memories. Either way, I took my job seriously and was very excited when I received compliments from my customers for my work. While most customers pre-paid, I did get to meet some face to face as I went out to "collect" them monthly. I also experienced annual interactions as I went out to "sell" calendars. When the decision was made to merge the Sentinel and Journal, I was still excited about the opportunity of gaining a few more customers and dollars. When I found out that my expected range of delivery was now approximately five times larger than my current route, I knew my paper illustrious carrier career was over.

August 11, 2014

Discovering Dargatz # 56 - Ball Boy Blues

When I got the letter stating I had an interview for Bucks Team Attendant, excitement took over.  Not only would I have the possibility of money, but I had a chance to work around professional athletes. When I got through the first interview in the depths of the Bradley Center and was selected for a second interview, I was ecstatic. After a second interview came and passed and I got the call inviting me in to tour the locker room and meet the staff, I could hardly contain the emotions I felt inside. However, that emotion quickly disappeared this third and final interview. Somehow, in the first two interviews, the fact that I was only fifteen slipped through the cracks. It wasn't until now that I found out only candidates with reliable modes of transportation were considered. Even the promise of having my father drop me off as needed didn't win over the Bucks personnel. I felt somewhat relieved when I was told I would be an alternate that season and would be called when needed. I guess I was never needed. The phone never rang, I never got that chance, and my dream of working for the Bucks was squashed.

DD #55 - Integrated Liberal Studies. . .I think.

Meeting with my college advisor before my freshman year, I was excited to select courses.  Unfortunately, with my registration being towards the end of the scheduled days for incoming underclassmen, my choices were limited. As he guided me, I signed up for the standard intro to psychology, geography class, and calculus.  What was problematic was a very limited supply of courses that would knock off the English pre-requisite needed for just about every major. A remaining course was Integrated Liberal Studies 200. Even the title confused me. Nevertheless, I trusted my advisor and signed up.  It was a mistake. This class was a weekly discussion that debated current and contemporary issues.  Our classes met at a house that was transitioned into the ILS campus building.  After my first session, I knew that was a course for the experience, more intellectual student, not a naive and overwhelmed freshman. I don't remember much about the actual discussions I had (or actually listened to) as I was in over my head and lost when it came to adding valid and reliable discussion points. I do remember writing a project about the Milwaukee County Research Park near my house and escaping with a BC.

August 10, 2014

Classroom Zoo #14 - A Teacher Wears Many, Many Hats

Teachers wear many hats, figuratively and literally. We can be educators, therapist, referees, architects, nurses, chefs, and custodians. We don't take these responsibilities for granted. It's just part of our job. As a kindergarten teacher, these tasks are second nature to me. When I'm not conducting guided reading groups, leading writing, working with numbers, or focusing on science experiments and social skills, I'm dispensing bandages, delivering mail, handing out snacks, cleaning up paint and other things (some unmentionables), and caring for kids. One of my favorite parts of the job is when a student calls me mom or dad. The hats a teacher wears are innumerable. However, those hats are also literal. In Writing Workshop, I wear a construction hat and tool belt. So too does the student known as the story builder of the day, who leads the sharing. In Math, I occasionally don a chef's hat and apron as we are cooking up numbers. When we are searching for words, letters, or facts, Detective Dargatz makes appearances with trench coat and spyglass. My favorite artist (mustache and all) joins the class for special art projects and in our imagination station. Like I said, teachers wears many hats. . .and we wouldn't have it any other way.

P.S. - Did I mention all the different voices too?  And don't get me started on the songs and dances!
Detective Dargatz during my first year as a 4th grade teacher.  My "hats" have evolved greatly since then.

August 8, 2014

Tales From the Trails

Hiking has really become an important and enriching activity of mine. Being a self-proclaimed "nature nerd," I've joined the Ice Age Trail Alliance, an organization focusing on enjoying, sustaining, building, and celebrating the Ice Age Trail (IAT).  The IAT is a nearly 1,100 mile nationally-renown trail entirely within the limits of Wisconsin.  It loosely follows the terminal moraine of the glaciers during the last Ice Age and is truly a national treasure. I highly encourage you to check out the Ice Age Trail Alliance website and see what the IAT can offer you. (

I've enjoyed the trail so much over the least year, I have even volunteered time helping out at special events hosted by my county chapter, trekked and checked off many segments in my hopes of one day achieving 1,000 miler status, and actually brought hiking into my educational world. Next summer, I will be leading a summer school course through my district called Saunters where about 30 students and I will explore the trail and apply what we learned to a variety of service opportunities and activities.  I am also very proud that I am the coordinator of Tyke Hikes (I even have business cards to prove it).  Tyke Hikes are short family-friendly hikes through parts of the Ice Age Trail.  Each hike focuses on a different natural theme.

I am also very excited that my amazing wife and beautiful daughter are also hiking enthusiasts.  We love getting out and about on the trails and seeing all the beauty and wonder nature has to offer. To keep our excursions fresh in my mind, I do blog each hike and will cherish looking back over these stories as thew years pass. Check out my adventures at my other blog, Tales From the Trails ( More importantly, go out and make some adventures of your own!

August 7, 2014

DD #54 - The Shortest Job of My Life

For one night, I was a member of the Bradley Center transition team, the group responsible for changing over the floor to accommodate different sporting and/or special events. This job was originally meant to be a stepping stone to a career in professional sports. An added twist was that my friend was also hired so we were able to experience the joys (and frustration) together. That first night, we were in charge of transitioning the Admirals ice into the Marquette University basketball floor. While my buddy was assigned to a corner of the ice and to remove  glass panels, I was in charge of clearing out the visitors bench.  I was pretty psyched to get such a "cool" assignment until I quickly realized that this meant cleaning Gatorade bottles, organizing random lengths of athletic tape, and disposing of the obligatory blood and sweat-stained towel. After all that cleaning and the physical exhaustion of lifting, twisting, and positioning puzzle pieces of basketball court, I knew I might have to change my opinion of this sports entry job. Luckily for me, a school position was offered to me the next day, just in time to leave my first and last "I quit" voicemail.

August 6, 2014

Discovering Dargatz #53 - Collectibles, Candy, Cards, and Comic Books

To many children, Sundays in summer meant trips to the pool, zoo, or park. Not for me.  I went to the flea market. Rows and rows of vendors selling anything you could imagine. If it was for sale, it could be found here. Though many different types existed, the one most memorable to me was Maxwell Street Days. It was an all day affair.  Early rising to a late departure. My parents tended to scrounge around for collectibles. Though I am sure I spent much of my younger years at their side, I recall my "tween" years allowing for a little more independence. I usually took a huge lap around the whole place looking for the sweetest deals.  The usual items were on my wish list: baseball cards and paperback comics, though I always made a pit stop at the candy store, picking up Swedish Fish or raspberry gummies. After bargain hunting and walking through the maze of materials, a trip to the grandstand was in order.  When I arrived, I would eat my candy and look through my treasures of the day, knowing full well I would be re-living the same adventure again and again throughout the summer months.

August 5, 2014

DD #52 - Parade and Afraid

Anyone aware of the mechanical nature of the zoomobiles I was once privileged to drive  knows that their reliability was questionable at best. They were in fact nothing more than forklift engines asked to cart around hordes of people at a minimal speed around the zoo grounds. I was understandably nervous when asked to participate in a holiday parade. When these operational nightmares super susceptible to breaking down in the fairest of weather conditions, what was to be expected in the dead of winter? After weighing my options, I agreed. Slowly guiding the zoomobile  through the streets of West Allis, Wisconsin on a crisp, clear November evening remarkably went smoothly.  That is, until I was told that the streets were re-opening and I would have no escort back to the winter home of the zoomobiles, the horse barn at State Fair Park. In other words, I was being asked to maneuver an oversized compartment filled with overserved bank associates through busy streets at a max speed of approximately 12 miles per hour.  I stuck to the right, honked my measly little horn at will, and survived the treacherous 12 block scramble back to the grounds. Must've been quite a sight!

August 4, 2014

DD #51 - State Fair Shenanigans

Cream puffs. Fried food on a stick. Pig races. The Smokey the Bear DNR walk. The mini newspapers. These are just a sampling of my Wisconsin State Fair childhood memories.  Every year, my family would undoubtedly park a mile away to avoid parking fees,  We would definitely get caught up in the transfer of animals, making almost impossible to get in and out in a  timely manner.  There was never any doubt that the day we decided to go would be the most sweltering and miserable summer day, which was OK because the coupon booklets always had 2 for 1 large sodas at any Root Beer barrel location.  We'd make our way through a sea of mullets, tattoos, sweat, and carnies on our way to escape the heat and get haggled by men selling shammies and "the best knives in the world."  You may think I don't like the fair based on these memories, but in fact, the opposite is true. I love it!  I'm extremely thrilled to make new memories with my own family, though I think I may replace shammies with sheep and carnies with cows. Either way, the cream puffs and pig races are here to stay.

August 3, 2014

DD # 50 - Freedom Tank

I spent nights volunteering at a hospital in the Acute Care of the Elderly, or ACE unit. My duties were pretty open, but mainly allowed me to socialize with the patients, many of which spent weeks there without visitors. They were there for reasons including recovering from surgery and persistent illness. An adorable couple taught me how to play and then went ahead and dominated me at Cribbage. A woman who struggled with her memories loved looking through old pictures and reminiscing about her glory days. Others just enjoyed shooting the breeze and getting to know a new friend. However, regardless of age or gender, illness or injury, one activity was enjoyed by all who took advantage of it.  In the activity room was a large fish tank. Many patients were excited to walk to be wheeled into the room to sit and admire the fish. What struck me was how such a simple and mundane activity brought so much joy to people. I distinctly remember looking into the eyes of these incredible individuals and being happy seeing them enjoy themselves. They seemed so free, so relaxed, and so ready to reflect on their lives and prepare for whatever was ahead.

August 2, 2014

It's the Little Things

In life, we often get caught up I 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 an absolutely 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.  Hopefully, 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.

August 1, 2014

DD # 49 - Quintuple Bypass

What was an appointment on the first day of spring break turned into an ultimate life-changer that set the wheels of change in motion and impacted my family forever. Taking my father to the doctor and seeing the struggles of a stress test made him aware of how his physical inabilities were a bigger issue than he thought. Meeting privately with a heart doctor and hearing how his results showed the need for a bypass in the relatively immediate future opened my eyes as well. This news changed everything. It led to decisions regarding the future of my sister, the future of my father, and the future of my wife and I. Many moments spent at the hospital thinking, planning, praying. Thinking about the past.  Planning for the future.  Praying for the best. I remember seeing my father helpless in the recovery wing with tubes and beeping machines. That gave me a new perspective on everything. I hated that moment.  But. . .everything happens for a reason. The time he spent living with us and recovering gave us time  to improve our relationship and build stronger plans for my sister, so ultimately it was a blessing in a very depressing disguise.