Picture – My Daughters’ First Day Of School

I’ve quite enjoyed this week’s Back To School Blog Challenge.  It’s been fun sauntering through the old memory banks and writing about my past.  Today, however, I want to wrap up the challenge with a post about the present.

My two oldest daughters had their first day of school this past Wednesday.  Now, if you’re like me, you’ll think of your first days of each school year, and remember that it was actually the first day back to school, not the first day of school.  Sure enough, it was the same with my girls – the first day consisted of going to their classrooms, having papers handed out to them, meeting their new teachers, then going home.

Surprisingly enough, they did get homework assignments – bring in a picture or pictures of their loved ones.  In a move that I hope is not indicative of the remainder of the school year, they waited until the night before it was due to find the pictures and print them out.

Well, in that spirit, I’d like to share with you a picture of my two loved ones, all dressed and ready for their first day of school.

Good luck, girls!  Daddy’s very proud of you! 🙂

My Two Eldest

This post concludes the September Back To School Blog Challenge, hosted by Matt Conlon on Join Something.

September Back To School Blog Challenge


Art Class – My Achilles Heel

Henry Fitch Taylor

Henry Fitch Taylor (Photo credit: Smithsonian Institution)

This could be part of my Least Favorite Subjects post, but there is a story involved, so I think it merits its own post.

In elementary school, I loved every one of my school subjects.  Now, I didn’t really count two of them as actual classes, because they weren’t really something to learn.  Art and Music were just supposed to be fun time, as far as I was concerned – there wasn’t any real work being done or lessons learned.  OK, art and music teachers, please don’t send me hate mail – although I’m sure it would be beautiful prose.  Please remember – this is all from the point of view of a four- to ten-year-old boy.

In fact, that boy had one trait that made this opinion of art class inevitable: a complete and utter lack of artistic ability.

I’m serious when I say this, too.  I had trouble drawing a convincing stick figure, lollipop-style tree, or even a straight line with a ruler.  To be perfectly honest, the adult into whom this boy grew still can’t draw worth squat – hence my lack of original artwork on this and my other blog.

To add to my frustration, it seemed all my friends had the artistic ability of a Michelangelo or Picasso, which made my work seem like poop.  So, it may have been an ego-defense mechanism to downplay art class in my mind.

One art project in particular stands out in my mind.  I think I was in fourth grade, which would be the 1979-1980 school year.  The school had a kiln, and we had spent a fair number of classes making cups, bowls, plates, and other things out of clay, painting them, and the teacher would fire them up in the kiln.  So, my bowls resembled broken pancakes, my cups pinched popcorn, and my animals some sort of animal dung.  Then, the art teacher, whose name escapes me, sprang this little project on us.

Make A Logo For Your Parents

That’s right, she wanted me to make a logo out of clay.  It had to be some real, honest-to-goodness corporate or product logo.  “Great,” I thought, “I don’t even know what any logos are, let alone what my parents would like.”  We were to go home, look through magazines for advertisements, and bring in the page to use for a model.

At home that night, I started going through my parents’ magazines, looking for the simplest logo I could find of a product that my parents would be even remotely interested in.  I don’t remember how long I looked, but I do remember what I selected.  At the time, my dad smoked cigarettes.  His brand of choice was Marlboro.  And, no – you can be darn sure I didn’t choose Marlboro’s logo!  It was too involved, contained letters, three (THREE!) colors, and that ribbon-shaped thing.  Oh, no – there was another cigarette brand.  One with an easier logo.  I can’t tell you the name, because I sure as heck don’t remember it.  What I do remember is the logo itself: two concentric circles, one blue, one yellow.

Clay II Class - Kiln Loading

Clay II Class – Kiln Loading (Photo credit: Paul Chenoweth)

My idea was brilliant!  An easy-to-make, simple logo of a cigarette for my dad!  Sure, my dad didn’t smoke the brand, but it was something I could do!

I brought the magazine page into school and got to work during art.  I grabbed a compass, and drew a circle.  OK, so the compass got a little wider as I used it, so the lines didn’t match up.  I widened the compass for the outer circle, and this time the compass wiggled out of the first hole.  So, the outer circle was wobbly, with a straight line at more than one place.  I took that template, cut out the clay, and painted it.  I handed it to the art teacher, who gave me a dubious look, but took it anyway.

The next art class, we got our logos back.  Honestly, some of my classmates’ logos were awesome: Ford, with the cursive lettering; Coca-Cola, again with cursive; Marlboro (uh-oh, that should have been me); Duncan Hines; J.C. Penney; Eric Theaters; General Mills….  Each logo had two or more layers of clay, beautifully carved lettering, or pictures.  And… there was mine.

A bumpy, misshapen, blue, yellow and purple (where the two colors had mixed) imperfect dodecagon, or, at least, something that was most definitely anything but a pair of concentric circles.  “Wow,
I thought, “I really stink at art!”

“What the heck is that?!”  The other kids teased, “You really stink at art!”  They had me there, for sure.

So, I brought home my logo.  It was so lumpy that it couldn’t even serve as a coaster.  I gave it to my dad that night.  I remember him looking at it, giving me the same dubious look the teacher gave me, and asked, “What is it?”

“It’s, uh, a logo.  You know, for <Whatever> cigarettes.  I know you like to smoke, so…,” I trailed off, not sure what else to say.

“Oh, OK.  Well, thank you,” Dad managed to say.  But I could see him thinking, what the heck should I do with this?

So, Art class was my one stumbling block in school, and a source of much teasing from my classmates.

So, how about you?  Was Art class your source of embarrassment, like for me?  Or were you more like some of my classmates, one masterpiece away from the art galleries?

This post is for the September Back To School Blog Challenge, hosted by Matt Conlon on Join Something.

September Back To School Blog Challenge

Early School Memory – Car Doors And Hands

William Penn Center

Inspired by Matt Conlon’s first and second post of this blog challenge, wherein he regales us with some early school memories, I will take this opportunity to share with you one of my own.

Way, way back in the mists of pre-history, in the Internet sense of the term at least, my parents enrolled me at the William Penn Center.  I’m pretty sure I started there in 1974, when I was about to turn four years old.  Go ahead, do the math and find out how old I am – I’ll wait…

OK, that’s out of the way.  Oh, while I’m at it: Hey, you kids – get off my lawn!

OK, I’m done now.  Anyway, like Matt, I remember a lot of things from that time of my life.  Sometimes I feel like I remember more of the first half of my life than the latter half.  One of the first things that comes to mind when I think of this school is a scary incident that happened.  Now, it’s not scary like a parent would think of it – no one tried to coax me into a white, windowless van or anything.  But, to a four-year-old, it made quite an impression.

My mom and a few other parents would take turns driving us to and from school every day.  Back in the 1970s, this was no big deal – you didn’t need notes from every parent every morning with fingerprints, DNA samples and whatnot.  What a different, less-paranoid time it was, right?

So, on this particular day, my mom was the chauffeur. I remember sitting in the back seat with one or two of my classmates.  Again, back at the time, we didn’t need car seats.  As a matter of fact, we didn’t even need to wear our seat belts!  Weird – that just came back to me.  So, we were sitting in the back seat, two kids were in the front seat(!), and we pulled up to the drop-off.

My mom got out of the car, went to the passenger side, and opened the door.  She looked at me in the back seat and told me, “Now, Mark, you stay in here.  I’m going to let you out at the next door.”  She let the two kids out who were in the front seat, popped the latch on the seat to lean it forward, and let the other kids out.  Four-year-old me, forgetting what Mom just said, leaned toward the door, stretched out my hand to get out and…

SLAM! Just as my mom swung the door shut, my hand was against the edge.  The door shut – right on my hand.  Immediately I began yelling, scared out of my mind, and tried to yank my hand out of the door.  In a panic, I kept yanking my hand, but it was stuck firmly.  I remember my hand being stuck for like ten minutes.  Of course, it really was more like three seconds.

My mom heard me panicking, and opened the door.  I pulled my hand back and looked at it – no damage.  I wiggled my fingers – no pain.  I was fortunate that my mom didn’t slam the door shut, she only pushed it slowly enough so it would close.

Crying from the panic, I remember my mom looking at my hand.  “It doesn’t hurt?  You can move your fingers?  Well, you’re lucky – you could have broken your hand.”

“What does that mean?”

“Oh, don’t worry about it now.  But why did you do that?”

“I was trying to get out!  I thought you forgot about me!”

“What?!  Mark, I told you to stay in!  You have to get out at the other door.”

“….  Oh,” I mumbled.

I did remember that, now that she reminded me.  Well, no harm done, right?  But I’ll tell you this much – I don’t put my hand near a car door until I’m sure that it’s not closing now.

That this post is for the September Back To School Blog Challenge, hosted by Matt Conlon on Join Something.

September Back To School Blog Challenge

My Least Favorite School Subjects

This was long thought to be the only portrait ...

This was long thought to be the only portrait of William Shakespeare that had any claim to have been painted from life, until another possible life portrait, the Cobbe portrait, was revealed in 2009. The portrait is known as the ‘Chandos portrait’ after a previous owner, James Brydges, 1st Duke of Chandos. It was the first portrait to be acquired by the National Portrait Gallery in 1856. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Consider this post the flip side of my last post.  I figure that while my favorite subjects may divulge certain things about me, my least favorite subjects will do the same.  In fact, it may show even more.


The only science that I couldn’t stand, biology was a learning experience for me.  It was the first subject in school in which I got less than a B+.  It was a struggle for me – I studied hard for it, but it didn’t make sense to me.  The problem, I believe, is that it is more memorization of facts than derivation of ideas built upon the basics.  In other words, it is the least mathematical of the sciences that I have studied.  If you read my last post, you’ll recall that I have a mathematical mind, so it stands to reason that I would have trouble with biology.  I wish I had understood more about biology, but, at the time, it was just this far beyond my complete grasp.

Creative Writing

This was another difficult subject for me.  At the time, when I was in high school, I hated to write – especially about something that I didn’t quite understand.  Even if I enjoyed the topic about which I wrote, I just wanted to get done with it.  What I learned from this class were concepts such as opening paragraphs, bodies, closing paragraphs, summaries… no, let me correct myself.  What this class taught me was to add extraneous adjectives, adverbs, and clauses to reach the required word count.  It also taught me proper spelling and grammar, because the teacher would deduct points for mistakes.  The fact that I have not one, but two blogs shows that I have overcome my aversion to writing.  In fact, I quite like to write now.

British/American/World Literature

Related to the above paragraph, I couldn’t stand these classes.  Part of it was because we were required to write papers about the literature, but the biggest reason was because I hated to read!  In fact, I hated to read so much that I would take notes during class about whatever I was supposed to be reading, then write my papers based on the notes.  Not the best, or most intelligent, strategy, but it must have worked – I passed the classes.  Oddly enough, just like writing, I changed later in life, and now I love reading.  One of my favorite electives in college was Shakespeare, and I still enjoy reading his works.


Of these three subjects, two of them have made 180s, and now I love them.  The third, biology, I wish I understood better.  It’s funny, but people can change.  At the time, I would never have thought it possible that I would one day love to read and write.  Thank God I have.

How about you?  What were some of your least favorite subjects?  Has your opinion changed since then?

This post is for the September Back To School Blog Challenge, hosted by Matt Conlon on Join Something.

September Back To School Blog Challenge

My Favorite School Subjects

Periodic table of the chemical elements Españo...

Periodic table of the chemical elements Español: Tabla periódica de los elementos Suomi: Alkuaineiden jaksollinen järjestelmä (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was in grade school, I liked every subject I studied.  I think it was because they were the basics, and as such, were introductory.  Like I said previously, I love learning, and in grade school everything was new.  But even back then, I could tell what subjects I preferred.

Once I got to middle school, and especially high school, those preferences became much more pronounced and developed into my favorites.


By far, my most favorite subject was math.  It just made sense to me.  The beauty of math is that the more you learned, the more it lead to new ideas and the next level.  If I forgot a particular idea, all I needed to do was go back to the last step, then build upon it to get to the next step.  That’s what was so beautiful about math – everything builds upon the more basic concepts.  This love of math grew with each subsequent level.  From the basics of addition, subtraction, to algebra, to geometry, to calculus, to Boolean algebra, to analytical geometry, to statistics, and on and on.  Guess what was my favorite type of question on a math test.  Most people think I’m crazy when I tell them this, but it is a word problem.  My love of mathematics, I believe, is what underpins the rest of my favorite subjects.


Physics is awesome because, to me at least, it takes my most favorite subject, math, and applies it to the real world.  From classical Newtonian mechanics, to quantum mechanics, to heat transfer – just like math, the next concept builds upon the last, all the way back to the basics.  Sure, you had to learn some basic concepts first, but once you had those down, it was all a logical progression from there.  What physics showed me was that, no matter how confusing the world around me, it could always be reduced to an equation, or a series of equations.  And equations can be solved.  That was very comforting to me in my adolescence.


Another subject that takes math and applies it to the real world.  Similar to physics, you had to understand the basics before you could advance.  Chemistry, in my humble opinion at least, has more basics to learn than physics.  Nonetheless, each new concept in chemistry builds upon the last.  And what is the most beautiful concept and structure in chemistry?  The Periodic Table of The Elements.  How awesome it is that the basic elements of matter can be sorted into a logical, structured table like that!


What does this say about me?  Well, besides that I’m quite the oddball, that is.  What it tells me is that I have an analytic brain, that logic factors heavily into my thinking, and that I’m not a typical person.  But then, I’ve said as much before in previous posts anyway.

How about you?  What were your favorite subjects in school?  Were you a math and science admirer (read: geek) like me?

This post is for the September Back To School Blog Challenge, hosted by Matt Conlon on Join Something.

September Back To School Blog Challenge

Labor Day

swimming pool

swimming pool (Photo credit: freefotouk)

In the US, Labor Day is the first Monday in September.  It is also considered the last “official” day of summer by schoolchildren and most adults because, not only is it the third day of a three-day weekend, but also the first day of the school year usually starts some time during the week of Labor Day.

Labor Day, therefore, is the Last Hurrah of summer vacation.  Many families I know take this opportunity to go away for the weekend.  In my hometown, that usually means the Jersey shore.  For me, when I was growing up, if we weren’t at the shore, I would spend the entire weekend in my parents’ swimming pool.

Of course, that’s where I would usually be for the rest of the summer anyway.  In the morning, I’d wake up, eat breakfast, then get into the pool.  Around noon, I’d get out of the pool, eat lunch, then jump back in the pool.  Then, I’d get out for dinner, then jump back in the pool.  Finally, I’d get out of the pool, shower, put on my pajamas, and go to bed.

Now that I’ve grown up, got married, and have children of my own, Labor Day means something different.  My wife’s job and mine don’t often afford us the time to vacation.  But, what we have been doing, fairly consistently, for the last several years is have a relaxing family day.  I like to fire up the grill and put on some burgers, hot dogs, steaks, or whatever.  I like to grill anything that will go over the charcoal, especially since I have all day to do it.  We also do other things around the house, like put away picnic tables, chairs, the little pool, and other summer items that won’t really be used any more.

But, largely, the best part about days like these, for me at least, is having a chance to spend the day with my wife and daughters.

How about you?  Did you have any Labor Day traditions growing up?  Are your traditions different now?

This post is for the September Back To School Blog Challenge, hosted by Matt Conlon on Join Something.

September Back To School Blog Challenge

Back-To-School Shopping

Melbourne old GPO postal hall converted to a s...

Melbourne old GPO postal hall converted to a shopping mall complex. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This time of year always meant one huge thing to me as a child – back to school!  I loved, loved, loved going to school.  But, back to school meant…

Back-To-School Shopping!

Shopping is the one thing I hated about going back to school.  My mom would take my brother and me shopping.

Shopping for clothes.

Shopping for shoes.

Shopping for lunchboxes and thermoses.

Shopping for pencils, and pens, and copybooks, and rulers, and scissors, and…

On and on and on.  The preparation for school started in late July and lasted for, well, forever!  At least, to a young boy it seemed it did.  It was at this time that I developed what I would call my mall headache, which I still get today.  It’s a headache that has a particular feel to it, and I only get it in a mall.

This aversion to shopping of mine continues to this day.  I can’t stand going into a store for more than five minutes.  Even if it’s for something that I like, I have to do my best to get in, get what I want or need, and get the heck out.  Now, there are some things I can stand to browse for a little longer.  Books, computers and accessories, food, and office supplies are awesome to look at.  But, even then, once I have my fill, I’m ready to get whatever it is I came for and/or found and leave posthaste.

I know I’m not alone in my shopping aversion.  I know plenty of people (mostly other guys) who try to set a new speed record when they shop.  Perhaps there’s something on the Y-chromosome that makes us that way.  Perhaps it has to do with evolution.  I can see that – when hunting some huge animal, the less time you’re outside the cave and in the wild, the less chance you’ll end up in some predator’s stomach.

How about you?  Does the mere thought of shopping make you cringe?  Or are you more like the shopaholic, who can spend hours comparing a hundred different items for the perfect fit and/or the perfect deal?

This post is for the September Back To School Blog Challenge, hosted by Matt Conlon on Join Something.

September Back To School Blog Challenge

The Joy Of School

A depiction of the world's oldest continually ...

A depiction of the world’s oldest continually operating university, the University of Bologna, Italy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was of school age, which is approximately 5 to 18 years in the US, I loved going to school.  Does that make me weird?  Well, for the typical child in the US, it does.  I remember being the only one who couldn’t wait to start school, who couldn’t wait for Monday, and couldn’t wait for the summer to end.  I enjoyed learning new things; indeed, I still do.  Also, and this is when I will sound arrogant, I enjoyed showing how smart I was.

Yes – I was your typical little nerd.  Some (myself included) would argue that I still am that little nerd, but that’s not the point of my post.

September meant that I could get back to what I enjoyed – learning, acquiring new knowledge, and learning to apply that knowledge.  Sometimes that application was only what I could answer on a test, at least in my (then) young lifetime, but that was fine by me.  I managed to get great marks in school.

I learned quickly that I was, shall we say, unique in that regard.  My classmates hated school, and made sure I knew that I was different than them.  But… that’s a story for another time.

Nonetheless, I loved school, loved learning, and still do.

How about you – did you love school, as I did?  Or were you more like my classmates?


Edit: I neglected to mention that this post is for the September Back To School Blog Challenge, hosted by Matt Conlon on Join Something.

September Back To School Blog Challenge