October 30, 2014

DD #94- Groin Kick & the Oil Slick

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

October 29, 2014

Discovering Dargatz #93 - It's In the Blood

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

October 28, 2014

Discovering Dargatz #92 - #1 $2.52

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

October 27, 2014

Discovering Dargatz #91 - Los Perdedors de Inquizitors

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

October 26, 2014

It's the Little Things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 21, 2014

DD #90- Was that Dargatz?

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

October 20, 2014

Discovering Dargatz #89 - The Beginning Was the End

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

October 18, 2014

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

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

October 16, 2014

DD #87 - I'm history

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

October 15, 2014

DD #86 - Example Pete

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

October 14, 2014

Discovering Dargatz #85 - The Hard Truth about Softball

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

October 13, 2014

DV #5 - Go Time

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

October 12, 2014

A New Perspective

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 10, 2014

DD #84- Childhood Staycations

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

October 9, 2014

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

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

October 8, 2014

Dadventures #4 -The Race

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

October 7, 2014

DD # 83 - To Tell the Truth

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

October 6, 2014

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

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

October 5, 2014

Dadventures #3 - Baby Shower Lockout

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

October 4, 2014

The Night Santa Gave Me Cookies

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 3, 2014

DD # 82 - Friendship

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

October 1, 2014

Picture Book Preview - Train Chasing

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

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