Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Anyone else having a Seinfeld moment? Lost wallet found behind bleachers after 63 years

Caught a headline today and it caused me a Seinfeld flashback... A man lost his wallet in his school gym 63 years ago. Imagine his surprise when the current school secretary showed up at his home, wallet in hand. It brought to mind the Seinfeld episode where Jerry must find a library book he checked out and failed to return in high school. He reenacts the day, finds the book (under the lockers in the locker room? I think), and all turns out well in the end. How likely is it that the book just sat there for 15 years? Apparently very likely! This guy's wallet just sat there for 63...

Apparently it brought back many memories... Imagine that!

Happy coincidences!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Up, Up, and Away: Finding New Dreams

Last week was a lovely week. El 3atal decided to take a week of vacation and spent the week here with us. We've been thrilled with the TLC. So, Friday, in honor of HelperBean's day off, we had lunch out and the took the kids to a movie. No big deal, right? Well, actually it's the TwinBeans' first movie in the theaters... ever. ButterBean got to see Winnie the Pooh's Heffalump Movie back in 2005 (she was 3 at the time) back in the US, but the TwinBeans were too small and no really great for kids movies have come out since we've been here.

So, today, we took in a movie. We went to see Up. This is such a great movie for kids. Mind you, we were one of only 3 groups at the movie and were the only one with kids, teehee. The other two were groups of young, foreign, twenty-somethings. Too cute.

Now for the down side... the people who decide what previews to show before the movie are insane. This movie is a kids animated. They rated it PG for "peril and action". In other words, there are some parts that have the protagonists in danger. But, it's a kids animated film. And the previews included Harry Potter and a movie about a guy who's wife is cheating on him. JuniorBean was so scared by the Harry Potter preview that he wanted to leave immediately. It was loud, creepy, and just plain Yuck. He ended up in my lap and stayed there until 3/4 of the way through the movie (when JujuBean came to my lap and JuniorBean went to El 3atal's).

I can't tell you how much I enjoyed this movie. I cried several times. It's a beautiful movie with a moving plot and cuteness abounding for the kids. So, let me tell you the overall plot and why I liked it so much. However, if you're going to see it and don't want the plot to be spoiled STOP READING! Teehee.

The movie starts off with a young kid who gets to hear his hero, a renowned explorer, give a speech. He meets a girl who is also thrilled by exploring and they end up married. We see them grow old together and then, very sadly (tears #1), she dies of old age just as he saves up enough to buy her tickets to Paradise Falls. The movie i an epic (for little ones) tale of his trip tying thousands of balloons to the house to take his wife to Paradise Falls. He is "assisted" by a young Wilderness Scout. Along the way he learns some truly valuable lessons:
  1. Some dreams are meant to come true, but some dreams change as we live with them. His wife, who had a book of things she wanted to do, dies before accomplishing the dream that brings them together. He assumes that that implies that she did not fill those pages. After his journey to Paradise Falls and back, he realizes that she lived another dream when he finds that she has filled the pages of the book with pictures of their life together.
  2. Heroes are just people, with all the human frailty and failings that the rest of us sport. The lead role in the movie is the old man who gets to meet his hero. He finds that his hero has lead feet...
  3. When we achieve a dream, the key is to recognize that such a time is the launching point for a new dream, a new vision of what life can be. Our leading man learns this in the course of his journey and makes many lives better as a result.
  4. Distractions and detours aren't part of the journey, they ARE the journey. Being saddled with his young wilderness scout allows our leading man to understand that the detours and distractions posed are what life is really about. It not about the destination after all. Paradise Falls is just a place, the key is living life on the way there.

All in all, I highly recommend this movie for all ages. As always, Pixar has put in references to tickle the adult funny bones in audience (can I simply bless the folks who realized that maybe mom and dad would like to be entertained too?). The messages in the movie are clear and all three Beans enjoyed it greatly.

One more spoiler/warning: there is an intro short film (also typical of Pixar) about clouds. The Beans found this just a bit scary mostly because of how loud the music was... It's really quite cute as well.

I found Up to be a perfect first movie for the TwinBeans. Now if we could just get age-appropriateness into the minds of Jordanian providers...

Happy uppers!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

American Class Divide - Widened By Summer Opportunities

I have just finished reading an excellent, excellent book by Malcolm Gladwell called Outliers: The Story of Success. It is a very interesting look at what makes people succeed. The fundamental premise is that there is pretty much no such thing as a "self-made man". His arguments and examples are fairly compelling. He draws them from business (Bill Gates), Canadian youth hockey, in fact all over the place. And in doing so, takes a long view of the American education system and why some kids do better than others. I found one particular section very telling.

In looking at the "achievement gap" between rich and poor kids, he cites a study done of school kids in Baltimore over a five year period. The school system tested its kids using the California Achievement Test. What they found was fascinating. The kids started first grade with a clear, but not outstanding difference across the income divide. The first graders from the richest families have scores 32 points higher than those from the poorest. By fifth grade, the gap has more than doubled. More than doubled. What they found, when probing the numbers comparing the beginning of one year to the end of that same year is that the poor kids "out-learn" the rich kids. However, summer vacation, the rich kids scores have move ahead and poor kids have fallen back. In the end, after the first five grades, the poorest kids learned no new reading skills during the summers an the richest kids moved up by 54+ points.

In reading this, I'm definitely planning to beef up the educational regimen for the Beans this summer. We were planning on continuing Arabic lessons with a focus on reading, but now all the Beans will be getting more content. I'll still try and preserve significant play-time, but I think four hours a week of learning will be a good influence on them. The only challenge is that I actually have to develop the curricula for each according to their needed skills... Maybe I'll throw in some American social studies as well, after all, I doubt they'll be getting that in Jordan's schools, nor should they.

So, after saying all this, for those of you with teen-aged kids (I'm only wishing the beans were old enough) my friend at Whiz Kids is once again offering awesome programs for kids. Given the challenges of Jordan's education system, I'm particularly pleased to see the two workshops on writing skills. I think those are more needed than pretty much any others.

Great News Parents! Whiz Kids now has our Summer Teen Workshop schedule finalized.

Workshops topics include:
 Mind Mapping
 Communication and Presentation Skills for Teens
 Today's Teens - Tomorrow's Leader
 Nonfiction Writer's Workshop
 Essay Writing for Teens Seats are limited for each program so early registration is essential.

For more details about each workshop, or to register now, visit our events page at http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#/event.php?eid=219931580483&ref=ts.

Here's hoping those of you with kids in the age range targeted will help give your kids a bit of a push this summer. As for those of us with younger kids, one of these days, we need to get something going for them. I mean, besides all of the physical activities (like ballet for the girl Beans this year and tennis for the boy Bean) they should be learning too. Maybe each of us can offer a special workshop in an area of our expertise...

Happy Summer School!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Old enough to die for your country but not get a credit card?

I was reading an article about a new law passed in the US in the wake of the credit crisis. I have to say that I find some of its provisions inane and discriminatory. As part of the new law "Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009" students under 21 can't obtain a credit card without 1. income sufficient to independently pay their debts or 2. a parent or spouse co-signing on the card.

When I was in college, I got my first credit card based on my scholarships, grants, and work study. Oh, and I ran up debt. Not much, by today's standards. I ran up a little over $1000 in debt. I carried a balance from month to month, but always paid the minimum on time. So, what did I use this credit for? Did I go on irresponsible shopping sprees buying clothes and makeup? Nope. How about dining out constantly? Rarely in fact. I used my credit card to pay for my books and supplies for the first 2 years of college. After my second year, I simply stopped buying books. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I was a history major who never bought a text book. Can you imagine? Frankly, I just couldn't afford them and found that I could maintain my 3.5 average without them. So, I skipped the purchase of text books. And, my debt held steady instead of continuing to increase.

When I graduated from college (with my credit card debt being the least of my concerns, by the way, that $1000 paled in comparison to the $30,000 I had in Stafford loans and maybe $17,000 from the Kiwanis club), I worked and paid off my creditors every month. I steadily worked down my balance so that before my wedding I had paid off all of my credit card debt and purchased my wedding dress myself. I didn't file bankruptcy, I didn't fail under the weight of the debt, I paid it down, month by month. I made a budget and stuck to it.

Now, had this law been in place then, I don't know if I would have been able to get a credit card. MemeBean's credit at the time was less than stellar due primarily to a tendency to forget to mail off the checks on time. Without the credit card, I likely would not have been able to afford to buy books even my first two years of college. My ability to get supplies and such would also have been in doubt. So, how then, are those students whose parents aren't able to foot their entire bill supposed to manage a college education. Mind you, during the time that I was accruing this debt, I worked 20 hours a week. Perhaps students like me should just work full time and do school part time? Or maybe ignore the grades and work and take classes full time? Frankly I'm not quite sure.

What I am sure of is that it is incomprehensible that you believe someone is old enough to fight and die for their country, but not old enough to obtain credit. Either at 18 you're an adult or you aren't. If you are, then credit facilities should be available. If you aren't then the selective service registration and enlistment age need to be adjusted... American lawmakers need to decide when does someone become an adult, because once they have they should be treated like one.

Oh, and the irony of this situation is that my credit is actually a hair better than El 3atal who got his first credit card several years into college and paid off his balances every month. Our combined credit allowed us to purchase houses and cars with very competitive interest rates and I am thankful that I had the opportunity to learn very early on about credit. It wasn't an easy thing to learn, but it made a significant difference in how I approach money and relate to it. I certainly hope we won't take that away from our kids.

Happy credit crunch!

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Ya3teek al 3aafee! Giving Praise Where Praise Is Due!

So today I was driving down Rainbow Street and what to my wondering eyes did appear? A police officer ticket people parked illegally. Yep, really. That mythical creature, the ticketing officer was active his morning. As I had my window down and he looked over and saw me, I couldn't help but smile and tell him Ya3ateek al 3aafeee (good job!). I imagine he was quite surprised to have a crazy ajnabeeyeh (foreigner) saying this to him. But, I was just so happy to see him ticketing offenders. Take a minute next time you see a cop doing a good job and tell him so. After all, much maligned (including by me) they may be, but they provide a vital service. I figure it's like being a parent, catch your child doing something good and praise them. This is the way we'll change bad behavior (maybe anyway).

Happy Sights For Sore Eyes!

Monday, June 01, 2009

Doing The Relationship Shuffle: Amman the World's Largest Small Town

As you may know, Jordan is all about relationships. Amman is literally the biggest small town I've ever seen. How you can have 4 million people and still be a small town, search me... but Amman manages it. It's fascinating to see two folks from Jordan meet for the first time. The typical conversation goes something like this...

"Hi, I'm John XYZ."
"Ah, I'm George PQR."
"Really PQR? So, how are you related to Dave PQR?
"He's my first cousin (ibn 3ammi)."

The community here is really small. The is even more exaggerated in Christian circles. Last night is an excellent example. I went to a dinner for some worthy young people who were being honored. The event was at the King Hussein Club (Ooh la la). I sat down at a table, there in a professional capacity (mentoring one of the groups). I smiled at the lady and her husband who were already at the table. At this point, she leans over and says aren't you a Bean? Why, yes, I am. Seems she's seen me in church and knows Teta and Jiddo Bean very well. I don't recall ever having seen her before, but apparently I'm noticeable, teehee. She proceeded to ask about the Beans and tell me how cute they are (see it's not JUST because I'm the Mom that I think they're amazingly cute). A few minutes later another couple joins us, friends of the couple at the table. After several minutes of conversation, Auntie 1 says to Aunti and 3ammo 2, do yu know who she is? No, they didn't. She's kint (daughter-in-law to) JiddoBean. More oohing and ahhing. Of course, the other mentor sitting next to me during conversation with 3ammo 2 discovered that his sister is married to 3ammo's niece.

Can we say small town? Really, really small town? Or maybe it's just that Teta and JiddoBean are such well-known figures. Who knows... But it is fun.

Happy recognition!