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Writer’s Retreat 

The writer in me was craving some peace and quiet, some long-term sitting time, some mental room in which to grow and nurture a thought plucked from thin air.

The rest of my daily life was having absolutely none of that idea! The last few years have gone by with the speed and fury of a cyclone, carved up by job, commute, new grandbaby, elderly relatives in decline, funerals, household chores, writers’ conferences, wrestling with nature rather than ceding the field of battle over my ten little flower beds, and…of late…the addition of two “spare” cats to the household while their owners (my children) went temporarily overseas.

It seemed that I could hold no train of thought for longer than five minutes, and I was wilting from the lack. A dear friend of mine who I had first met at an idyllic writers’ retreat led by the late poet Norbert Blei was headed back to the idyll earlier this summer for a glorious full week away from reality.

I knew full well the value of that environment, and that recharging of the soul. I had experienced it for myself three times in the past decade, driving north along the western shore of Lake Michigan to “The Clearing” in Door County, a collection of log cabins and larger gathering places and campfire pits set on the shore of Green Bay, augmented by three hearty meals a day with the plates whisked away by the staff so that “the writers” could get back to work…or not. Another year, when my checking account permitted but my work schedule forbade my going up to The Clearing I rented a tiny cottage on the lake and repaired there for a week of replenishing solitude. I hiked shaded trails, lived mostly like a hermit, and wrote…and napped…a lot.

Oh, this year as my friend prepared to launch into her writer’s Eden, I was so jealous! But a combination of scheduling problems and finances conspired to keep me from going with this time. A week away from home at a place like The Clearing is never cheap. Add to it the post-divorce costs associated with parking the dog in a kennel for a week and paying someone to drive over to feed the cats and make them feel validated, and the idea of a week-long getaway rapidly rose to the level of “pipe dream.”

Still…I knew I needed to recharge. Badly. And so I improvised.

I co-opted my youngest son and his wife, newly returned from a semester abroad “across the pond” in Ireland, to move in to the house while I’d be gone and play zookeepers to Lucky the dog and the four felines who had kept me in conversation, kitty litter and carpet shampoo for a number of months. One of the cats was theirs, and while I had grown incredibly fond of little Finnigan over the course of seven months, there was payback to be reaped. Knowing that the cats would not be “home alone” and full of mischief was a HUGE weight off my shoulders.

Then I got on line and started looking for a cheap motel room for an entire TWO DAYS that my other commitments didn’t cut into. And lo and behold, I found a lovely place just two miles from Kohler Andrae state park, site of what I consider the loveliest beach in the state of Wisconsin. SOLD!! I booked the room and started to pack.

My needs, when you got right down to it, were very simple: a bed and a bathroom, breakfast, free WiFi, and above all, peace and quiet. Armed with my laptop computer, a picnic basket full of “gluten free” snacks and fruits, and several cans of Diet Coke, I set out to recharge my batteries.

It didn’t take long. I could feel both life and creativity flooding into me before I even stepped on to the sandy path leading from the parking lot to the beach. I felt my state of eternal vigilance and rapid responsiveness—dog, cats, elderly mother, kids, work, laundry, boyfriend, and the occasional raccoon in the garage—relax, and new trains of thought start to grow and evolve. I felt the daily realities and timetables and litter box maintenance fly right out of my head on the breeze, to be replaced by whimsy, and mischievousness, and, dare I say it, imagination.

Leaving the motel for the first time to head toward the beach, I drove past the ruins of an older motel, in full swing of being reclaimed by nature. It gave off the disturbing feel of the Bates Motel…about twenty years after abandonment when Norman Bates got locked up at the end of “Psycho.” It was desolate…and atmospheric…and I stopped to snap a lot of photos. A place that creepy has just got to find a spot in a story some day!

An early morning trip to the shore revealed that I was indeed the first person there, and I walked into sand shrouded in mist rising from the rains of the night before. The sand between the grass in the dunes was still pockmarked by raindrops, and I set my little blanket a few hundred feet from a gathering of seagulls at the water’s edge. While I am a rabid fan of Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s book “Gift From the Sea,” I admit I broke her cardinal rule that the shore is no place to work, but a place to replenish. And so I wrote.

I was writing “old school,” of course. I had left my iPhone in the car’s glove compartment, and the laptop back at the motel room. I was equipped with those most antiquated forms of writing accoutrements—a pen and a pad of paper. But sitting there, surrounded by wind and waves and footprints in the sand, the thoughts and images just kept coming as though Pandora’s box had been opened. And every piece of dialogue that I jotted down, every shred of character development or backstory that emerged, invariably led to more. It would have been criminal NOT to write it all down! Nefariousness, clues, atmospherics, troubled families, emotional scars, observations of modern society—they all would have flared and then disappeared on the wind like leaves in autumn, gone for good if not pinned to the paper.

There were breaks in my action, of course. I can’t sit by the shore and not be lulled by the sight of rolling whitecaps. Or stretch out full-length and watch clouds pass by…or even just close my eyes and listen to the sounds of the wind and water. This is truly my favorite beach, reminiscent in size and endless, unbroken horizon of the shore at the edge of the ocean. While you may not spy any dolphins playing in the surf at daybreak, I personally find that the dearth of sharks and jellyfish is more than a fair trade-off.

And so it went. A trip to the beach followed by the trek back to the motel to read and research and type, after a quick shower to remove sand and sunblock. Write, rinse and repeat. 


will drive back toward reality and routine in a few hours, but not before I return to the beach one more time with pen and paper in hand. As I chatted the day before with the motel manager, he offered up the location of yet another “inspirational” place for a writer to visit, known to the locals yet off the beaten path. If I had another day or two to spare, I’m sure I’d find my way there, drawn by the promise of broken foundations and ruined buildings, grown-over gardens, and cliffs at the shore. I’m keeping the exact location of that one to myself.

Because I just know there’s going to be a “next time.”

Mary T. Wagner is a former newspaper and magazine journalist who changed careers at forty by going to law school and becoming a criminal prosecutor…and THEN started writing again. Her most recent award-winning book is “When the Shoe Fits…Essays of Love, Life and Second Chances,” available in paperback and e-book formats. Her website, which contains links to her books and short stories on Amazon, is


Most of you have ventured forward into the digital age. Instead of great binders filled with aging photographs you have digital pictures stored on some kind of computer or phone. Many of you will also copy those files off to a thumb drive or other form of removable media for safe keeping. Some of you even realize that thumb drive only protects you from computer failure, not burglary, fire, flood or other catastrophe in your dwelling. A token few of you will subscribe to some kind of cloud based automated backup system because they have come down in price and you really don't want to lose some things. Whatever method you choose, be it fire resistant safe, one of the methods mentioned already, or something else entirely, you do so because you believe you have some level of responsibility when it comes to preserving things you either need or cherish.

Who is responsible for backing up the human race? What should be backed up? How should it be preserved? Have any of you asked these questions? 

There was a time, not all that long ago, when these questions were asked at very high levels. Before the United States government went off spending hideous amounts of money on pointless wars just to make a few people rich, scientists had funding and a plan. Not some super secret Area 51 type plan. Every one of us heard about it and very few thought about what it really was. The Lunar Colonization Plan wasn't just a bunch of scientific experiments. It was off-site backup for the human race. Before you go poo-hooing that statement, just remember, we had a mission to put a man on the moon and return him safely to earth not because the government needed to manufacture work for scientists, but because we needed a missile which could deliver a nuclear warhead to any spot on the planet.

Why was the American (and probably many other governments) looking to fund an off-planet colony? Human history. Oh, there will be many claims of many other things which have some level of validity, but that world history class we were all supposed to pay attention in is the real reason. Why do we have The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World? Put aside the debate about what should and should not be on the list and ask yourself why there is anything to put on the list in the first place? The answer is simple. The human race repeatedly lost the skill and knowledge required to create such things. The human race has been rebooted many times and each time we started from scratch or pretty close to it.

Off-site backup of the human race is coming to the forefront of conversations once again. You might have heard about plans for a Mars colony with a completion date some time in the 2030s. There has also been the success of National Geographic's Doomsday Preppers show. Unless you've been completely tuned out of all news for the past year, you had to have heard about the 2014 Ebola Outbreak and the global panic which followed. You might have forgotten when reputable news organizations ran articles linking The Black Death to an Ebola like virus some years before, but all of those conversations have resurfaced. 

Even if humans don't wipe each other out with a war or cost cutting at a corporation which lets some viral weapon loose, the planet will reboot us. Some natural disaster, be it disease, flood, ice age or some volcano which belches and blocks out the sun for a year, the human race will be rebooted as it has so many times before. 

Not long ago I visited the Evergreen Air & Space Museum and viewed a decommissioned launch center. It was nostalgic for me, having spent over 20 years in software development and consulting.

It is rather scary to think what if all the knowledge of the human race were stored on equipment like this?

People today are all enamored with their phones, the Internet and storing things in “the cloud.” What happens when some disaster takes out the global electrical infrastructure while it is busy removing most humans from the planet? A hospital full of doctors and nurses will be of little use if we no longer have the ability to make even a bottle of aspirin.

The International Space Station isn't really a solution. Yes, we can pack it with disk drives and other forms of storage, but that is much like making a copy of something on a thumb drive. It needs everything in place on Earth in order to be of any use. 

Until we really do get off-site backup for the human race in the form of a self sustaining colony on some other rock in space, we have to solve the “what to back up” and “how to preserve it” questions. We are talking about preservation of the basic knowledge of the human species divorced from religion and creed. Containers which can survive fire, flood and all manner of disaster which have copies of this knowledge need to be scattered around the planet. The information needs to be stored in such a way that a person who never learned to read, or never learned the language the information is written in, can quickly bring themselves up to a 4th Grade reading level. All other information such as the making of simple tools, mining of ores, smelting of metal, making of basic medicines, husbandry of the land, etc. must be written at that 4th Grade level without any words or terms which are beyond that 4th Grade reading level.

In my recent book, John Smith – Last Known Survivor of the Microsoft Wars, one statement by John Smith seems to be striking a chord with readers: “Beginnings, no matter how important they are, get forgotten.” The Great Pyramids of Giza are a mystery for a very simple reason. Cutting and transporting huge stones was such a common skill nobody wrote it down on something which survives today.


Roland Hughes is an IT consultant, technical writer, and award winning author. He is the creator and author of the trademarked book series The Minimum You Need to Know as well as several novels. When he isn't busy at a client site he enjoys helping out on the family farm in the Midwest. He does not “do” Twitter or Facebook. He does periodically update his blog though.


How digital and media literacies are woven into a fourth grade class room

As the Internet continues to change and grow, new literacies have emerged which involve the use of digital and media technologies. It is crucial that students are able to comprehend and adapt to these literacy requirements if they are to become successful, productive members of society.

Part of the problem is that many teachers themselves, particularly the older ones, may not have experience with the new literacies that are out there, and thus they are unable to lay the groundwork for their students to transition.Their skills may still be rooted in the old style of literacy teaching which focused on the use of paper and pencil. In order to teach effectively in this day and age they need to be open to new ideas pertaining to the teaching of reading and writing, and aware of the fact that their teaching tools are constantly changing now due to the Internet, and they need to be flexible.  

Expanded literacy experiences

Some of the new literacies are as follows: innovative text formats new and higher reader expectations, and new activities. What all of this translates into is that these new literacies have expanded the usual literacy experiences which remained the same for a long time, and now there is an amazing amount of information available on the Internet; along with search engines which make it possible to swiftly find information, there is also the ability to assess internet sources; improved communication through email, chatting, and texts; and another big change has been in the increased use of word processing programs.

The Internet has prodded educators to meet issues pertaining to new technologies head on and with a swiftness that is alien to them, due to the fact that past technological innovations took much longer to be fully accepted and were not adapted in so many areas at the same time. The power of the Internet comes in part from the fact that it opens the door to the instant sharing of information with only the click of a link. One link and it's done, that's pretty remarkable.  

The role of the internet in today’s schools

What's more, most schools now provide Internet access for their students. This is another contributing factor. Statistics state that in 2005, approximately 95% of K-12 classrooms in the United States had internet access. Plus, 80% of kindergartners use computers and the percentage of children under 9 years old who use the Internet is above 50%. What's strange about all this, and gives pause for thought is the fact that the average amount of time U.S. students that use computers in school was 12 minutes per week. This data speaks volumes as it indicates that while computers and internet access are readily available to students, most students are not given enough time to use this technology in school to develop new literacies.

Introducing new literacies to students

While teachers are frequently the focus of our wrath when students fail to learn properly, it should be noted that introducing new literacies to a group of pupils is not a simple job for a teacher. We assume that they know all about it, but the fact of the matter is that two thirds of teachers feel that they themselves are not experienced enough to use the technology they are to teach to their students. There are many other difficulties which teachers must cope with too.  

Things such as lack of resources, their own lack of knowledge and the necessary skills (which stems from being underprepared by the schools in the technological fields they are supposed to teach), failure of school leadership, teachers' own opinions towards new technology, and evaluations (which fail to take into consideration new expectations. Here are three essential items to consider before attempting introducing new literacies to classrooms:

1. The mere use of software programs on computers is not enough to ready students for new literacies' experiences.

2. New literacies are great, but they are also in an unending state of flux, or change and necessitate that teachers accept and promote these changes regardless of how they actually feel about them.

3. New literacies are a must in all classrooms in order to ensure that equal opportunities are available to all students and that they are able to take advantage of them.

By Christopher Austin and!


New Internet Technology for Children and Their Authors 


We live in a technological world. My four year old granddaughter knows exactly how to use iTunes on my phone. My sons recently threw out all my cds in a flurry of housecleaning and then placed all my favorite albums (are they still called that?) on my iPhone. “You don't need all that clutter,” they told me.  The only catch was, I couldn't turn it on, and worse, once I did, I didn't know how to turn it off. Hallie, who will turn five this summer, continuously impresses me with her knowledge and agility, using her tiny fingers to show me new things on my phone. So, when buncee wrote and asked if I would like to join their program, it took about a second for me to say, "Yes!"

Buncee’s goal is to foster students’ technology and digital literacy skills in an easy and cost-effective way. By combining their artwork and web media on the site’s digital canvas, teachers and students can create anything from multimedia presentations & projects, to digital stories, and more. 

Kids today are used to keyboards, touch screens, and instant access to a world my own children could only dream about. The idea of interactive programs that can change and adapt to your child's interest is as fascinating as it is thrilling. At buncee, they are requesting authors to actually "talk" to the readers, creating a personal atmosphere that is inviting to the child. A child can listen to the author's own words and learn why they wrote the book, what their favorite part is, and finally work with questions to help in their understanding and appreciation of what they are reading. They have personalized reading books! This is using the computer for children in the best possible way, combining what is so easy for them with the idea that they are in control and can take their lesson as far as they want to go.

Buncee has so much to offer classrooms all across the world, whether they are homeschooled or in a brick-and-mortar classroom. Teachers, parents, and students can produce their own original work with the use of the site’s backgrounds, graphics and animations, as well as text, drawings, audio, photos, videos, cited images, and more. After being inspired by the words and stories of authors featured in the Author's Corner, students can then use the site to create their very own tales and share with other students around the world.

What I loved about Buncee is that their technology brings creation, education, and imagination to life! It's easy-to-us e and fun! It's an online creation tool for students and teachers and their just released newest project on - the Author’s Corner, is a unique place filled with lessons, projects, read-alouds and more! Authors featured in the corner each have their own buncees full of amazing content for educators and children to share and learn with. Students can then do their own book reviews, story logs, and digital storytelling projects on buncee based off the books in the Author's Corner. Their goal with the Author’s Corner is to provide a special library that sparks literacy curiosity, inspires students, supports children’s book authors, and makes learning fun! For more information on Carole P. Roman books visit her at

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