April 30, 2015

The Dargatz Family Heads South. . .Urban Exploration

With my wife and I being HUGE sports fans and it being Opening day for the Brewers and the National Championship Day for Badger basketball, it made sense for us to be in. . . Georgia???  Either way, our trip was planned and we would make the best of it even though are hearts may have been back home.

With just a few hours to kill before tip off and the Brewers already losing big, we decided to scout the area near our hotel for some late afternoon fun. We decided to hit up Centennial Park, the epicenter of Atlanta's 1996 Olympic Games. Whether it was our Badger gear or our proudly displayed paper map, it wasn't shocking when a gentleman just outside the hotel doors provide us a shortcut to the park. What was surprising was that he, along with anyone else who offered directions, expected a tip for their information. Whatever happened to just being kind? Atlanta wasn't as easy to navigate as we though it would be, especially when. . . .

TRIP TAKEAWAY #2 - Every other street in Atlanta is named after a peachtree. Peachtree Street, Peachtree Avenue, Peachtree Boulevard, Old Peachtree Street, and so on.

Either way, when scouring the surrounding are for things to do to entertain ourselves and a toddler, we ran into many different options. The National College Football Hall of Fame. . . closed. The Georgia Aquarium. . .open extended hours, but pretty packed. A sweet ferris wheel with scenic views. . . .too pricey. A bar. . .now we are talking. With a very energetic baby girl, we enjoyed some bar food and beverages before then venturing back to the park and taking in all the sight and sounds. We especially enjoyed the amazing Olympic-themed sculptures and as Embry calls them, the "free falls" or fountains.

Before the lights went out on downtown Atlanta, we headed back to the hotel to enjoy a nightcap at the hotel lobby bar and a big screen view of the Badgers in the National Championship game (something that still sounds a bit odd when said out loud). Unfortunately, Mother Nature was against us as she sent sporadic downpours and thunder claps that led to satellite issues for the television. With phone updates and Embry running up and down a ramp in the lobby, we held it together before retiring to the room at halftime. With subsiding storms, we were able to watch the entirety of the second half, but based on what happened, I wish it would have kept raining.

We weren't going to let some rain and a Badger defeat end our fun. we were ready for the next day's adventure:  whale sharks. . .ahhhhhhhhhh!

April 28, 2015

The Dargatz Family Heads South . . .Atlanta Arrival

Vacation is meant to be relaxing, which makes the heightened stress and lack of patience that goes with planning and preparation for departure comical. Regardless of the destination, those last few days and hours before leaving town creates a sense of unmatched paranoia. I tend to lose patience and squabble early and often. Every vacation begins with an argument. Add a toddler into the mix and you get squabbles on steroids. 

The Dargatz Family was headed to Atlanta and the Great Smoky Mountains, As my wife points out, being on "teacher time" adds an element of frustration as crowds seem larger and more rushed. Knowing our first stop was the Atlanta airport, a place where we've had previously encountered delays, less than helpful staff, and general chaos, certainly didn't ease our tension.

Luckily, some people's biggest stress tends to be one of my biggest stress relievers. Embry eased a lot of our pre-flight anxiety buy doing her usual shtick. After insisting on pulling her own luggage through the airport (with looks of dismay from other travelers), a stop at the concourse playground was requested and accepted. That extra physical labor and playtime, along with watching planes arrive and depart through the windows, led to a sacked out toddler as soon as the plane left the ground. And if we weren't lucky enough, her eyes opened up just after landing in overcast Atlanta.

Back at the Atlanta Airport. Our nemesis. But when flying out of Milwaukee, it seems impossible to avoid. After traversing the crowds to find the baggage claim, concocting a mountain of suitcases ever so carefully balanced and strapped together, and procuring the child in a stroller, we set off on a journey through concourses, on trains, and up and down escalators in search of the subway. Not for lunch, but for transport to near the hotel.

After weaving in and out of tourist and traveler traffic and purchasing tickets, the subway took us to a drop off right near our hotel. . .or so we thought. Fortunately for us, we found a personable and pleasant city worker just outside the station with a smile and a knack for customer service. Scratch that. We found a lady who seemed annoyed at our questions and actually sent us in the complete opposite direction of where we eventually needed to go.

TRIP TAKEAWAY #1 - Southern hospitality was non-existent in downtown Atlanta.

But when all was said and done, the hotel was found, the bags were unpacked, and an evening of Atlanta entertainment was staring us in the face.

April 26, 2015

Quantity over Quality

"Do we have to go outside?"

When a few of my students muttered this as we got ready for recess, I had to contain my sadness. I know I live in Wisconsin and the outdoors are not always the friendliest place to a five year old. Considering it was late April, just a stitch under 40 degrees, and it had been drizzly all morning, I understood them . . . to a point.

But part of me felt heartbroken. On a day where the playground was literally full of worms coming up from the watery earth and an amazing sky of clouds was rolling in, I hoped creative play would take over. I was disappointed. There was complaining, standing around, and a constant buzz of questions about when recess was over. I can't and won't blame the kids. It is the adults and the creativity-crushing culture that has taken away the ability to play and get dirty and just be free. 

Anyone who knows me knows I am passionate about a variety of things. With time-efficiency struggles and increasing responsibilities on my plate, any time I can combine passions, I am game. That is why my classroom moves outdoors whenever possible. Does it take a little more time, cause some extra planning, and induce some more stress?  Is it worth it? Absolutely. Is it something I can build on?  I sure hope so.

Any free time I have had recently has been focused on pouring through literature on various topics. From Richard Louv's ideas on nature-deficit disorder,  David Elkind's view on natural play, and my own feelings on outdoor learning, I know I am in the right profession, but am wondering how I can take it to the next step. . . a "natural" one.

The concept of forest kindergartens greatly intrigues me, even though the Wisconsin climate may not as conducive as forest kindergartens currently in existence. I'll use our four seasons as an opportunity rather than a nuisance. Getting my students outdoors regularly, knowing full well it might have some some "consequences" is something I will be doing.

Will their QUANTITY be impacted? Probably. Will my kids write as much. . . .maybe not. Will they read as fast. . .probably not. Will they be distracted. . .yep. Will it cause other behavior issues. . .you bet.

Will it be worth it? Will it provide a more QUALITY educational experience and set them up for success in the future? In my opinion, a resounding YES.

April 18, 2015

Mommy's Little Wordlings

Being a pre-published writer, it is always exciting to learn about, learn from, and  share the work of other writers. Please take a look at my interview of author, Linh Nguyen-Ng, and read on to look at her creative and sweet new story, Mommy's Little Wordlings. Enjoy!

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I have always loved words. Even as a child. But I never took it seriously. As I grew up, writing made me happy spiritually, so I began pursuing that dream.

What is your most frustrating part of being a writer?  
In the beginning it was carving out time to write. Now that I have a regular routine, it’s been easier. My new frustration is learning to streamline. Sometimes having too many ideas float in your head is not beneficial when you’re writing a novel, especially if you don’t follow an outline. Things can get messy and all over the place. Now I make outlines for everything. They’re flexible outlines, enough to give me guidance but also allow room for creativity.

How important is time management to writing?
I think it’s very important to set aside time to write. It’s difficult when you have a fulltime job doing something else. For me, I write either really early in the morning or at night when my kids are in bed. I have a long ride to and from work, so I use that time to brainstorm and plot.  If you can dedicate at least thirty minutes each day to your writing, I think that’s a good start. The idea is to keep the momentum going. Baby steps are ok, as long as they take you to your destination, right?

Where and when did you find out you were being published?
I received an email from Eden Plantz, who’s the executive editor at Anaiah Press. We set up a time to chat. From that phone call a book contract was offered. I’m very grateful that she believed in my book. Thank you Eden!

What are your favorite types of books to read?
For now, it’s fantasy, mystery, and suspense/thriller. For picture books, I read as many as I can get my hands on. They’re all so unique.

Any advice for someone who is pre-published?
Keep writing what you love. When you love something, it will show in your work. Somehow that love-infused work will find its way to the right publisher one way or another.

What is your ultimate writing goal?
My goal is to write fulltime. I want to create stories that leave a lasting impression—something positive that people can take with them after the last page is done.

Mommy’s Little Wordlings by Linh Nguyen-Ng
Adventures, Anaiah Press

Blurb:  Little words hold big meanings. The Little Wordlings are children who use their simple words to express their feelings for loved ones. No one is more adored than the first person who made them smile. No one is more cherished than the person who gave them life. There is no one like Mommy. Join the Little Wordlings as they show Mommy how much she is appreciated and loved.

Author Bio: I live with my family in Massachusetts where I get to enjoy the four seasons. I love unique and interesting things—things that make a lasting impression. I am constantly looking for inspiration that I can use in my writing. Everything has a story to tell.

Twitter: @linhnguyenng

April 17, 2015

A Readers Review

Book 8 of 2015 might just be my favorite so far because it captures so many of my current passions: parenting, education, and nature. How to Raise a Wild Child really hit home for me because it gave many excellent opportunities to delve into what I aim to be as a parent, teacher, and individual. I learned simple and fun ways to get the children in my life easy outlets to develop a passion for nature and the outdoors.

I highly recommend this book to anyone with young children, old children, aiming to have children, or anyone who likes to act like a child.  It is full of great information that really is needed for many "screen time" addicted kids. Another great thing is the book references about a dozen other books I am now excited to read.

One of my favorite quotes. "You don't learn about nature. You learn from it. "  Brilliant!

April 3, 2015

Good Friday

My wife and I were planning on starting out our spring break with, you guessed it, a hike. However, life got in the way. Whether it was spring cleaning, vacation planning, and/or enjoying the illustrious world of paperwork organization and filing, our plans for a family hike evaporated quicker than the chilly sprinkles that fell this morning.

But the day was not wasted. Those other "things" needed to get done, and with a week-long trip to the Great Smoky Mountains mere hours away, it was advantageous to avoid the less than spring-like weather and complete the assorted chores that would have been pushed aside if we went through with our morning hike.

Still, once the tasks were done, the need for nature took over. Maybe it was because of my aspirations from earlier in the day or memories of the most recently read chapter from a marvelous book on instilling a love and appreciation of nature with kids. Either way, the gloomy skies and below-average temperatures wouldn't stop my daughter and I from taking in our daily dose of the environment. 

Our trip today was close. Very close. Just down the block from our house is beautiful snake preserve. Really. Currently groomed with trails trampled by other people and their canine friends, this land is a set apart open space landlocked between residential neighborhoods, businesses, and the Bug Line recreational trail. Besides using the outermost trail to take a shortcut to the movie theater for a flick or Applebee’s for trivia, my wife and I occasionally explored these trails in our pre-parenthood days. The remaining maze of trails take you through a meadow, forests, and within a stone's throw of a marshy pond. I honestly have only explored a fraction of all the land that is there.  And, despite my love for nature and exploration and my goal of helping my daughter gain that similar love, I have barely taken her back there.  

Until today.

I planned on sticking to the same trail I usually trek, letting Embry grab sticks, pet rocks, and stomp leaves along the way. She is also quite into singing with the birdies at the moment. That plan changed as my ears were drawn to an overwhelming chorus of frogs emanating from the marsh off the beaten path.

Avoiding low branches and rocks littering the way to the marsh, Embry and I were able to use a fallen tree as a seat and soaked in the sights, sounds and smells of nature. My decision to leave the path was a wise one. At the marsh, we were given a special treat. Actually, two. 

Nature can be cruel, so coming across a nearly intact (and not yet decomposed) deer carcass was interesting and oddly intriguing. My mind wandered as to how the animal died and who might have been enjoying the feast of the fallen creature. While I pondered, a flash of light hit the corner of my eye as both Embry and I saw the second special treat. Directly across the wetland, a large owl (I'm guessing a barred owl) that must have been perched overlooking the water, swooped down a bit and showed off a beautiful wingspan before disappearing into a stand of pines. I got a chill when I saw it and just got another while typing up this experience.
Deer carcass was near lower right corner. Owl was perched in tree across the water, just right of center.

We continued our way back to the trail and began heading for home. I look forward to taking Embry out there on a much more regular basis and hope she connects with this space in the same way I connected to and still cherish the creek that flows down the block from my childhood home.

Today wasn't a good Friday. It was a Great Friday!

April 1, 2015

A Readers Review

The seventh book of 2015 brought me back to many childhood memories. Whether it was counting railroad cars at the creek with my dad, visiting the National Railroad Museum in Green Bay, or scoping out the Butler yards for the latest and greatest graffiti with my cousins, the book Freight Train Graffiti certainly made me reminiscent.

This book focused on the visual art of graffiti. While technically considered vandalism and with very stiff penalties (especially since 9/11), "Painting" has been around for many, many years. This book provided a history. Hobos used monikers as they traveled across this infant nation. New York subway artist icons created a subculture. Visionaries took this art form from being localized and made it nationwide through the transfer of the art to freight trains. 

I learned about different reasons for being a graffiti artist. Stories were told about adventures and misadventures. There were turf wars, battles with the "bulls" and "pigs" and the blessing and curse of social media. Opposition and support from railroad workers was highlighted. Being a lover of words, it was also trying to decipher and soaking in all the new terminology this culture has to offer.

While this book covered a great deal of interesting viewpoints and historical perspectives on this culture, I found the personal narratives to be the most influential. The majority of the book was told through the words of the artists being described in the historical retelling.

Good history. Great stories. Wonderful art.