I’m Going To MixWest and You Should, Too

MixWest14Mamacita says:  This summer, I had to choose only one conference, so I chose MixWest. There really wasn’t a lot of thinking involved in this decision; my budget is so low this summer that only one conference was possible, and if I had to choose only one, it would be MixWest.  Hands down.  Without a backward glance.

I’ve done a lot of writing for clients these past ten years, and it’s extremely important to me that I do it exactly right – I want my clients to look at my work and think, “Yes, that’s what I wanted. That’s precisely what I had in mind.”

When I take on a client – or, rather, when a client takes on me – promises are made. My day job is teaching expository writing at a community college, so I promise every client that each and every piece of writing I do for him/her will be grammatically correct, and that every word will be spelled properly. This might sound trivial to some of you, but believe me, it is not trivial. Grammatical mistakes and misspelled words on a business level can be disastrous. I tell my students constantly that if there is a misspelled word or a grammatical error on anything presented to the public, that same public had best COUNT THEIR CHANGE, because errors in the front where all can see them usually mean even worse errors in the back where the public can’t see them.

I believe that everyone in every career path owes it to himself/herself and to those who hired him/her to keep skills updated at all times. This goes for teachers, brain surgeons, fry cooks, opera singers, lawyers, accountants, mechanics, IT, underwriters, undertakers, salespeople. . . . everyone. Much of this updating and upgrading can be done on one’s own, of course, but a conference is an excellent opportunity to learn best practices, new practices, innovations, and experiences from professionals, advisors, and people who do what you do and have therefore “been there, done that.”  At MixWest, you will find people who actually understand what you do for a living!

The conferences I love best are BlogHer, New Media Expo, and MixWest.  I can’t get to BlogHer or New Media Expo this year, but I’ll be there in spirit. However, I’ll be at MixWest in all possible ways: heart, soul, body, spirit, humility, and snark.  It would take an advanced case of leprosy or an active volcano to keep me from MixWest. (Invading aliens could be talked into going to the conference with me.)

I’ve never attended a conference from which I didn’t come away a little smarter (or a lot!), but I go to each one for different reasons.  The skills, networking, and connections I make at BlogHer, or  New Media Expo, for example, are very different from the skills, networking, and connections I make at MixWest.  If all conferences were alike, I would need to go to only one.  No two conferences are ever alike, so savvy people try to get to as many as possible.  We learn different things and we’re exposed to different ideas at each one. For me, MixWest offers the best combination of people and learning opportunities.

MixWest is in two weeks, and I highly recommend that you go to its website RIGHT NOW and register, because MixWest (formerly Blog Indiana) is where I have picked up more useful skills than in all my years of graduate school.  I am not exaggerating.

Social media, marketing, tech, design, writing – if your area of business uses any of these things, you will find much at MixWest that will enhance your business.  That’s a promise.

Oh, and if there is such a thing as a business or institution of any kind that does NOT use social Social media treemedia, marketing, tech, design, or writing, somebody is a big fat liar.  EVERY business needs all of those things, and don’t let anyone ever tell you differently, be that ‘anyone’ an individual or board or rich guy or son-of-the-boss or Les Nessman with his invisible office walls.  Learn to use these things or your business will start circling the drain.  If you personally can’t be arsed to learn or do them, hire someone who can and will. (Hello!)

MixWest is my conferences of choice for summer 2014, but there are many other conferences as well.  Pick a few and start going regularly.  You’ll be surprised at how fast your business will benefit from just a little more savvy in these areas.

Hospitals, schools, stores, companies. . .  EVERY business benefits from social media, marketing, tech, and design.  If a business has these things locked down, there is something seriously wrong somewhere inside the premises.

Most important, in my own experience, are the contacts you will make – people you will see regularly at conferences year after year.  Ultimately, it is people who help people.  I have met many people who have helped me, enriched me, and shoved me through doors that have benefited me in too many ways to list here.  I hope to sit by some of them once again in just a few days.

Maybe YOU could be at our table, too.  That would be bloody awesome.

Two weeks, MixWest.  To quote the Pointer Sisters, “I’m So Excited!”




Weddings. Not Mine.

wedding ringsMamacita says: Wedding day!  My baby sister is getting married.  Actually, it’s happening right now, as I write this.  I wish I could have been down there in Tampa to see it, but we plan to have a reunion and celebration when they get back home.  Besides, it’s never about the location or the dress or the photographer or the flowers or the band or any of the silly things that turn so many brainless women into Bridezillas; it’s about the people.  The people here are Kevin and Diana, and nobody else really matters at this magic moment in time.

Well, they MATTER, of course, but they’re not center stage.  Nobody’s in the spotlight here except the bride and groom, surrounded by people they love and who love them.

All those other things – cakes, dresses, etc, – sure seem stupid in comparison  And if you don’t think so, you ain’t right in the head.

Priorities, people.

My sister is deserving of a handsome, kind, funny, loving, hardworking man, and Kevin is deserving of a beautiful, kind, loving, funny, hardworking woman.  It’s a match made in heaven.  And if you don’t believe in heaven, it’s a match made on Facebook.

Much love and all the good wishes in the world to my very lucky sister and her equally lucky husband,upsidedown world both of whom have beaten the odds and found REAL love in this upside-down world.

Then again, I don’t think luck had much to do with it.  More than likely, it was karma, which can shower us with joy as well as bite us on the. . . . well, you know.

May the shower of joy never end, baby sister.

No More Watermelon, and a Question

watermelonMamacita says:  The kitchen still smells like watermelon even though I threw out the rinds last night.  I’m sensitive to odors and it’s hard to work in here right now because to me, melons stink.  They stink like skunks stink.  It’s not just a strong odor; they stink.  The windows are open, but I can still smell it.  Tim loves melons and in the summer, he used to buy them as often as he could. Melons represented the best of summer to him.  In his family, people fought wars over who got the last slice of melon.  In our house, he gets it all to himself.
Until this summer, that is.  This is the summer of the high blood sugar, and even though he buys the melons and cheats, he pays for it now.  Once in the store and again with the glucometer.  He’s had to cut way back, with the melons.
I don’t like watermelon.  I don’t like canteloupe, either.  (We call them ‘mushmelons’ around these parts.)
I don’t like any kind of melon, actually. Honeydon’t.
picky eater
When it comes to food, I’m seven years old in the head and sitting at the table with my arms crossed in front of a plate of good, healthy food that’s grown ice cold, waiting for me to touch it again.
On the bright side, I always taste it before passing judgment. Usually, I give it several chances to impress me.  Sometimes, it wins me over.  Sometimes, nothing on earth works, no matter how hard I try.  Tomatoes and cottage cheese, for example, always look so delicious to me, but when I put a bite in my mouth, I’m still grossed out.  When I’m dining with friends, I can fake it pretty well, and you’ll never know, but it took years of practice before I could pull it off without a grimace.
I also hate onions.  And Brussels sprouts.  And most casseroles. And “flavored” drinks.
Peas make me gag, even at my age.
I don’t eat gravy. The very concept is disgusting.  I’m pretty good at making it, though, and if you want some, I’ll be happy to make some.  For you.  You can have all of it.
Most cooked vegetables make me all sad and unhungry.  Raw vegetables, I love.  Roasted, boiled, baked, not so much.  In fact, not at all.
I’m also not a big garlic fan.  Or pasta, although there are a few pasta recipes I like a lot.
Tim’s family fought wars over who got the last piece of pie.  I don’t eat pie, either, but I do love to make them.  (Exception:  gooseberry pie if it’s really, really sour.)
Most sweet things:  no.  Most sour things:  yes.  Sugar:  no.  Lemons:  yes.
One of the coolest things about being an adult is that, with the exception of a few social occasions when I don’t want PEOPLE to know I’m a food sissy, I can eat what I want and ignore the rest, and not be sent to bed without any Lost in Space for turning up my nose at good, healthy food starving children in Biafra would give anything to have.
Nobody can make me eat melons.  Nobody.  Actually, most days I eat once a day, late at night, unless I meet a friend for lunch.
I guess my question is, “Why am I so fat?”

Facts Notwithstanding, I Still Have Hope

Hope is the thing with feathersMamacita says:  While it is true that I tend to rant and rave about how far too many students (one is too many) can’t read or write or add two numbers together, and how far too many students (one is too many) can’t behave themselves, have no intention of learning anything, and have dedicated themselves to preventing the nice kids from learning anything, either, it is also true that I have nothing but admiration and fondness for the students who work hard, pay attention, behave themselves, and laugh at my jokes have a pleasant attitude. Add a quirky sense of humor, and I’m hooked.  There is nothing better than a friendly, hardworking student.  Nothing.

I never minded the “stupid questions” and I still don’t mind them, because if a question is sincere, it is not a stupid question; it’s a legitimate question and isn’t that what it’s all about? I love a student who asks questions; that student means more to me than a student who answers questions. If the question is about a connection between the lesson and something out in the world, even better. Better? It’s FANTASTIC!!!

I’ve had my share of teachers who were interested only in what was in the textbook. Questions that dealt with a connection or a tangent were dismissed completely; I’ve actually seen students punished for asking questions. I know tons of teachers who are lost without the answers pre-printed in their Teacher’s Edition.

What the heck is up with that? I have always assumed that a teacher who doesn’t already know those answers has no business standing before a group of learners in the first place! Sometimes those Teacher’s Editions have mistakes in them, and I’ve known teachers who will count the student’s correct answer wrong because the teacher is fixated on believing that the Teacher’s Edition is always right. I do not believe that these are good teachers, and I really don’t care what kind of scores that particular school is making. Scores are not education, but if I start in on that one again I’ll never make my dental appointment in a half hour.

Now, we all know that there are kids who will pester the teacher with questions just to get attention or get a laugh from his/her classmates; that’s not what I’m talking about here.

I’m talking about students with eager minds who genuinely want to know something. I’m talking about students who suddenly see and understand a connection between a few words in our book and something out there in “real life.” I’m talking about the wide eyes and the amazed expression and the gasp of realization that teachers come back year after year hoping to see. I’m talking about that moment when the student gazes at his/her pen and realizes that it’s actually a magic wand, and that with that wand the student wields power the likes of which make atomic energy seem feeble.

Every year, teachers have less and less authority. Every year, teachers must work in environments that would have most adults calling the authorities on the first day. Every year, teachers must deal with a population that is dangerous to the point of being criminal, and every year teachers risk their lives to try to bring a little light to the few actual learners and workers who hover quietly, in fear of their lives, too, on the sidelines. Every year, teachers must deal with parents who won’t support them, children who won’t try, administrations that won’t guarantee a safe habitat for either the teacher or the students, and buildings that are crumbling. Our students are hungry and sleepy, and far too many of them know far too much about the dregs of society: some because their families ARE the dregs of society, and others because they spend too much unsupervised time watching the trash on Jerry Springer and various television shows that teach our young people to be smartassed single parents who sleep around, have a cell phone glued to their hand, long for designer shoes,  and respect nothing. Every year, teachers must deal with more and more evidence that too many stupid people are breeding like rabbits, too much time, attention, and money is spent on the lowest common denominator in the building and not nearly enough on the students who would really love to be taught something, and the very real possibility of being disciplined or sent to the Rubber Room if they speak out, try to help, or in any way upset the status quo of our extremely dysfunctional school systems. It’s dangerous to speak out, and it’s dangerous to show up for work, it’s dangerous to walk to the restroom, and it’s dangerous to walk across the parking lot before and after school, and it’s dangerous to mow your lawn on the weekend because you never know which disgruntled moron – parent or child – is going to show up demanding “justice,” ie entitlements, favors, exceptions, and freebies.

But I digress.

I believe that the students I have now are the same as students in the public school – it’s just that at this level, it’s safe to be a learner because those who would disrupt and endanger and bully are escorted out of the building almost immediately.  Have you any idea what a difference knowing that small fact can make to a student who really IS a student? Today, for example, we were discussing the fact that many words we all consider to be English were actually stolen borrowed from other languages. The students caught on immediately to the fact that if a person speaks English, a person is actually also speaking Spanish, and French, and Italian, and Russian, and German, and Yugoslavian, and Aztec, and Hawaiian, and Chinese, and Outer Mongolian, not to even mention the dialects of the Fiji Islanders and assorted Scandanavian nations, and dead languages,  because our language is not only vaguely reminiscent of Shakespeare’s English (which catered to the uneducated peasants), it’s also a big stewpot full of every other language on the planet. This is a partial explanation of why we have so many odd spellings and strange plurals and exceptions to all the grammar rules. I love it. Today, my students loved it, too.  Watching them love it made me love it, and them, even more.

I tried this lesson back in the public schools and several parents complained because I was telling their kids that the language of the true patriotic Americans wasn’t “pure.” Of course, this was the same group of parents who were irate because we were talking about homonyms. Can you guess why? I mean, jeepers.

See above, “Too many stupid people are breeding.”

But a student who asks questions, questions that show a longing to KNOW, questions that demonstrate an understanding of a connection. . . questions that tell me that there is yet hope for the human race because in this classroom, today, students were laughing and excited about a few WORDS, and looking at their pens in awe as though they’d just that moment understood the amount of power they had with it?

This is why teachers come back, year after year. This is why we hope. This is what makes it all Hope, featherworthwhile. This is why we risk everything we have and everything we are.

I wonder how many professions require as much hope as teaching? I’d bet money, if I had any, that educators lean on hope even more than the medical professions and the ministers do.

Food, Clothing, Shelter, and Books.

bookshelf, house with booksMamacita says:   I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the children who grow up in households wherein there are no books are generally the kids who end up in the slow class at school.  There are exceptions, of course, but I haven’t seen very many.  I was always happy to see the exceptions, but I was also really surprised.
I’ve had kids come to me with their Scholastic purchases and beg me to keep them at school so someone at home wouldn’t destroy or sell them, or maybe even just mock the child for loving books.
It wasn’t always the poor families who raised their children in houses that had no books, either.  Often they were families who just didn’t like books.  They’d rather watch TV or go to the races or chase Bambi’s mother across the meadow, mount her head on the wall, and have the rest of her for dinner.  Families who love and respect books will get books into the house one way or another. Parents who don’t understand their child’s love of books will get books into the house one way or another, too.   I would do anything for those families.
And sometimes, kids from these families would come to school hungering for something and not knowing what.  And once finally finding it, were transformed.  I loved that. I lived for that.  I still do, only at a different level now.
Some families teased their kids for bringing home books and wanting to read them.  Imagine. Laura Ingalls Wilder, Jack the Bulldog Some parents got angry when their kids brought home books.  Books were suspect.  Books might contain something Uncle Reverend Billy-Bob didn’t already know.  Why does the kid want to read a book?  Nobody else in this family does.  Put the blame thing down and come watch TV with the rest of us.
The Real Mother GooseI’ve posted about this before, but it bears repeating.  Back when classes were grouped (don’t get me started because some of you won’t like what I would say) EVERY KID in the top class knew dozens of nursery rhymes, poems, and stories, many by heart.  Down in the slowest group, few if any kids even understood the question.  They didn’t know no pomes.
Many of those kids weren’t grouped in the slow class because they were stupid.  They were in there because they’d been exposed to so little, culture-wise, that they had no frame of reference for much of anything that didn’t involve chaw, huntin’ dawgs, Nascar, Carhartt, the 4-H Fair, Junior Samples, Honey Boo Boo, Duck Dynasty, and Blue Collar Comedy.  Not that there’s anything wrong with any of those.
People who don’t know poetry, music, books, and plays have no frame of reference when it comes to cultural literacy.  One thing builds upon another.  If we have no prior knowledge to bring to the table, it won’t much matter what’s on the table.  We won’t get it.
Billy Coleman, Where the Red Fern GrowsThere are good books, poems, and stories about chaw, huntin’ dawgs, Nascar, and county fairs.  Great stuff.  Billy Coleman might have worn Carhartts.  He might have listened to the Blue Collar guys. Travis knew there was more to life than just huntin’ dogs. Caroline Ingalls loved Jack the bulldog, but was determined that her girls get an education.  Great-grandparents may have been illiterate, but by golly, their kids were going to have an education.
By that same token, it won’t hurt literary-types to get outside and Old-Yeller-classic-disney-9980477-853-480experience life, and do some physical labor.
We get too one-sided, we lose each other. 
But “A house without books is like a room without windows.  No man has a right to bring up his children without surrounding them with books, if he has the means to buy them.” –Horace Mann
And books for the children should be purchased before chaw and Nascar tickets for an adult.  Yes, and before cable, beer, and shotgun shells.
Am I a snob?  I don’t honestly think so.  And if I am, then you should be one, too.

Invention and Re-invention

This post is sponsored by Oxytrol and BlogHer.invention & re-invention, Scheiss WeeklyThe reinvention of ME and the reason for that reinvention are both the result of an invention – specifically, computers. I was a middle school teacher, and had been for over twenty years. It was a hard job, but I loved it. When computers entered the classrooms, my job became at once more difficult and more enjoyable. The students certainly loved it; it was the administration that remained skeptical.With 46 students in one classroom, close supervision was pretty nearly impossible, but even acknowledging that fact, I was held responsible for every single thing that could possibly go wrong with students and computers. It finally got to the point where I’d had enough, and I quit. Cold. I walked out the door and never looked back. I had never done anything in my adult life except teach middle school. What would I do now? A community college heard that I was now free during the day and hired me on the spot. I didn’t even have to fill out an application. College level teaching was, and is, an experience like no other. It was a different world. It was a world in which my judgment was trusted and my technique admired. In other words, it was as unlike public school as if it were on Mars. I loved it. Love it. Still doing it. But I’m also doing something else – professional writing and social media for several businesses. A few years ago these jobs did not exist, and now, almost every business participates; they have to, or they’ll go under. This is so exciting for me – seeing my name in print, being asked to speak at conferences, being trusted with logins and passwords and reputations of businesses. . . I was created to do these jobs. Leaving the only job I’d ever had as an adult was scary. It was traumatic, after I’d had a few day to keep calm and change your life, scheiss weeklyconsider what I’d done and to wonder how I’d feed my children on personal satisfaction. In retrospect, it was the best decision I’d ever made in my life. The best decision of my life. My life’s BEST DECISION. Turning my life, and the lives of my family, completely askew, changing my getting up and my going to bed, my eating habits, my every aspect of living habits. . . buying plane tickets and making hotel reservations and wandering around huge strange cities gawking at the skyscrapers. . .being hired to speak in front of people. . . .being consulted on issues people considered me knowledgeable about. . . . I discovered that I was made for this life. Do I regret turning myself into an entirely different person? I do not. I only regret not doing it sooner.

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