Dear Germs,jordan_ed_l

This month, Germ is celebrating the excitement and newness of going back to school. Between buying new school supplies, new school clothes, and getting ready to see your friends eight hours a day, five days a week, there are few things not to like about going back to school. As such, September’s theme is “School Days,” and we here at Germ HQ have a bunch of great stuff lined up for you! Between tips on how to make friends at a new school, book reviews, and stories from around the world to keep you current and able to wow your teachers, going back to school has never been so fun. (And for those of you who don’t like school and find it difficult to bear, I swear upon my eternal soul that it gets better. Plus, if nothing else, enduring it just makes summer all the more enjoyable).

Till next time!


Name: Maggie King

Grade: Junior at West Henderson High, Hendersonville North Carolina

Nestled in the southwestern corner of the North Carolina mountains is a town of about 13,000 people named Hendersonville, home of the late poet Carl Sandburg.  It is also the home of the latest Germ Girl of the Month: Maggie King.  I spoke to Maggie, who is 16, about what it is that makes her tick, and it turns out that there’s a lot.  From getting up early to attend her junior year classes at the 1,300-student West Henderson High School to being involved in after school activities, Ms. King is a whirlwind of energy and laughter.  I told her we’d talk for only 15 minutes, but we ended up gabbing for twice that time.


Q: Tell me about your average day:

A: “I’m up at 6:30, no makeup — for me it’s kind of a waste of time. I have a club before school (Pride and Junior Civitan, which participates in Special Olympics events), school, honors and AP Classes. After school at 4PM there’s another club.  I’m also junior class secretary in school government, and next year I am Student Body President.  I’m also Junior Marshal, top 15 in my class, and I’m on the yearbook staff.  I love being on yearbook.  It’s so fun, and you get to be creative. I’m also president of the youth group at church. On Saturday I work at the local gym and babysit.”

Q: Do you play sports?

A: “Yes, I play volleyball and am the basketball statistician and go to all of their games.”

Q: You sure are busy!

A:“(Laughs) Free time I don’t know what to do with, so I just don’t have any.”

Q: Tell me about your family:

A: “I have a half-brother who is 34 years old, so he doesn’t live at home, which kind of makes me an only child. I have a nephew, Familyparents.  My mom is getting her doctorate degree in Education.  Dad is a retired P.E. teacher and substitutes at my school.”

Q: Is it odd having your dad at school?

A: “It’s a little weird, I’m not gonna lie (Laughs).”

Q: What do you like for entertainment?

A: “I love NCIS.  I love the character Abby, and we watch it as a family on Tuesday night as family time.”

Q: What are your dreams for the future?

A: “As of today, it changes a lot, but I think I’d like to major in Actuarial Science at a college in NC.  It’s like calculating risk, statistics, it has a lot to do with probability.  I love math!  I have 3 hours of math while I’m at school, two in AP and one in Honors.”

Q: Favorite superhero?

A: “My school principal.  He’s a really strong man; he truly leads by example every day.  He is an awesome guy. He says to our student body all the time: ‘Do what’s right all the time.’  His name is Dean Jones.  He really will sit down with you and talk to you about your future.  He gets the job done, but he also cares.”

Q: Anything lacking for girls at your school?

A: “No, our school is about 50-50 males and females.  I really think we’re good.”

Evidence of this is that her high school was named one of the U.S. top schools by US News & World Reports in 2012.  Out of 596 schools, it placed 70th.

Q: Anything surprising about you?

A: “I love mission trips.  I’ve been to Costa Rica, and this summer I’m going to Atlanta and all over the South.” Costa Rica Misson Trip

Q: What do you do on these missions?

A: “In Costa Rica I built a Sunday school room, and I became the master of the concrete mixer.  I like to get down and dirty, and I loved it!  At other locations we built porches, and in others we built more living space.  So I guess a surprising thing about me is that I’m the concrete mixer master (Laughs).”

Q: How do the missions make you feel?

A: “I notice how grateful I should be; I notice how blessed I am.  Not everyone has a TV and a warm bed at night.  I have to keep things in check when I complain about my food not being right.”

Q: What are the people like that you encounter?

A: “I didn’t speak Spanish in Costa Rica, but we managed to worship and sing together.  We found a way to communicate.”

Q: Does it make you sad?

A: “It’s great that you’re helping them out.  In Kentucky this cute little kid helped me build the foundation for his grandmother’s new bedroom.”

Q: Will you continue to do this throughout your life?

A: “Oh, definitely.”

Q:  What would you say to convince others to do mission trips?

A: “Don’t worry about your nails and your makeup; you truly feel like you’re changing someone’s life. It’s a great feeling to feel that you’ve truly made an impact.”

Q: What do you do for fun?

A: “Hang out with my cousins; I really love them.  I really enjoy my clubs. I’m probably involved in 2/3 of the clubs in my school.  On the weekends we’ll go get ice cream, stuff like that.  In student government, we start in July, we go on team building stuff, a lot of very hands on type things.”

Q:What’s the hardest lesson you’ve ever learned?

A: “Sometimes it’s hard for me to admit I’m wrong. I’m a little stubborn.  Sometimes I have to accept that someone else is right, and that’s hard for me.”

Q: Can you recall a very meaningful life event?

A: “I was 7 years old when my mom got her Master’s Degree at Gardner Webb, and it showed me how much she could do on a packed schedule.  She had me, she had a job, my dad had a job, she just made things work.  She furthered her education, and I really respected her for that. And now she’s getting her doctorate!”

Q: Favorite color?

A: “Turquoise.”

Q: Favorite book?

A: “I have a favorite genre: realistic fiction, something that could happen to me.  I like John Grisham and also To Kill A Mockingbird.  I just like that Atticus Finch fights for what’s right.  He’s kind of risking himself, and he’s a single dad and a strong guy, and he gets work done.”

Q: What would you do if you were President for a day? What’s the first thing you would do?

A: “If we weren’t in debt, I’d probably go give some money away to people who need it and will work for it but don’t have the ability for some reason.  I would always make it a point for me to be visual; people would be able to see me and what I was doing.”

Q: Do you have political office aspirations?

A: “No, ma’am.  I like to lead in my school, but not nationally.  I could see it at a local level, like school board.”

Q: What kind of music do you like?

A: “Country music like Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan.  I also like upbeat songs like Katie Perry’s “Roar.” Our school did a music video for that song for a Good Morning America contest in November.  We all got on the football field, and we danced around.  We didn’t win, and yet it was a great time!”

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: “Yes.  I’m the school mascot.  I dress up in a silly bird costume for my fellow classmates.  It’s a falcon; it has this big head thatMascot_2 makes me 3 feet taller with big foam shoes.  It’s pretty neat.  I have a lot of school spirit.  I had a great time.  I was pecking people with my foam beak, and I had a great time.  I go out into the community and once played with kids at an elementary school, and they loved it.  They called me a ‘chicken’ because the uniform kind of looks like a chicken for sure (Laughs).  They don’t really sell falcon uniforms, so we just kind of make it work.” (More laughter, from both of us.)

Q: You really seem to roll with the punches, don’t you, Maggie?

A:“Yes, definitely. I roll with the punches and go along happily. My motto is ‘Faith, Family, Friends,’ and my friends are pretty much the whole student body, so it’s basically ‘Faith, Family, School.’”


I came away from the interview very impressed with the zest for life and overall kindness Maggie possesses.  She wants to make the world a better place, and she’s brimming with determination and self-confidence.  There’s nothing ‘chicken’ about Maggie King.

Images courtesy of Spencer Tulis.
Images courtesy of Spencer Tulis.

Name: Jenny Tompkins

Grade: Senior at Romulus Central High School, Romulus, NY

In a small town named Romulus in the wine country of Western New York, there is an even smaller high school.  With only about 3,500 residents, the town is nestled between Cayuga Lake and Seneca Lake. Few people outside of Western New York had ever heard of it until last week when Romulus Central High’s varsity girls basketball team took the state championship title with a 25-0 undefeated season.  The school has only 400 students, but it makes up for its lack of size with its dedication and determination.  At the heart of the team is one of the senior players who is just as accomplished at winning off the court as she is on it.  Her name is Jenny Tompkins, and she has been named our first ever Girl of the Month.

Images courtesy of Spencer Tulis.

Jenny is engaging, modest, and well-spoken.  She has a real sense of how special her town is and feels that her upbringing in such a place has contributed to her success.  She readily gives credit to mentors, teachers, and family, and she is truly passionate about sports and the environment.  I spoke with her via phone soon after her team won the New York State Championship.

Q: What do you find most empowering in your daily life?
A: I live in a small town and attend a small school, so there’s never been barriers here.  Two-thirds of my class is female and there’s nothing stopping you here.

Q: What are your plans after high school?
A: To get a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies.  After that I’m undecided.  My mom was into environmental conservation and is now a teaching assistant.  My dad is an avid sportsman and grew up around the Finger Lakes.  Seeing damage to the watershed on our weekends at Montezuma Wildlife Refuge made me want to protect it.

Q: Does that passion figure into your goals?
A: I might consider law school and work for a non-profit or with legislative or policy type jobs related to environmental studies.

Q: When did you begin playing basketball?
A: Since first grade.  Now at Romulus they have a program that begins in kindergarten!  So now I’ve taken it full circle and am coaching young teams.  It’s very organic.

Q: Who or what has shaped you?
A: I’d say my brother.  He was my first coach for basketball because we had a goal in the driveway.  I was 4, and he was 8, and we had our handprints on it.  We watched the NBA together when Kobe and Shaq played.

Q: What do you think helped you to become a leader?
A: Sports.  I was a point guard and played at all levels.  I moved to varsity in my freshman year.  It’s a small school with only 27 in my graduating class.  Leadership in class comes from the court.

Q: What advice would you offer for entering freshmen?
A: Be yourself, no petty things, go after goals, and don’t let your dreams fade.  Make time and have your priorities.

Images courtesy of Spencer Tulis.

Q: What do you find most challenging? Time?
A: Totally.  I have softball practice and band concert, a social life, academics, and athletics.

Q: Do you have a favorite quote?
A: My mom says, “Take the bull by the horns,” so I think of that a lot.

Q: What’s your favorite subject?
A: History.  I’m good at it, and I like knowing what got us to this point. We live in such a special country.

Q: Now for some girly stuff: What’s your favorite color? Favorite food? Movie?
A: Blue, mint chocolate chip ice cream,  and Field Of Dreams.

Q: What’s your favorite thing to do?
A: Watch a good sports game.

Q: What’s your favorite thing to wear?
A: I get picked on about this, but I love cardigans (laughs).

Q: Do you have a favorite character on TV?
A: When I have time for TV, it’s usually a game.
[Me, the interviewer, being into board games, thought she meant a game such as Jeopardy, but she meant sports, such as the UCONN Women’s Basketball team, arguably the best program in women’s college basketball.]

Q: What book do you like the best and why?
A: The Giver by Lois Lowry.  I read it in middle school, and I had a really good teacher.  It’s about dystopia, no creativity, and it really affected me.  Romulus is a small town where you can do anything.  In fact our theme is “The small school with the big idea.”

Q: Anything you want to add?
A: Yes.  You should have seen the parade our town threw for our team.  It was awesome!

The overall thing I came away with after speaking to Jenny Tompkins? Girl power!  She may come from a small town and an even smaller school, but there is nothing small about Jenny Tompkins.

A special thanks to Bob McCann, Romulus Central School District’s President of the Board of Education, for contributing to this story.

I was introduced to author Michael Brookes through one of his horror stories. He is an excellent writer, and he was doing something on his website I’d never seen before: Drabbles. Little did I know that Michael and I would become friends. Through him, I met Jonathan Hill, the king of drabbles. He has written many books, among them 100 One Hundred Word Tales and Beyond One Hundred Drabbles.

So what exactly is a drabble?  To quote Jonathan Hill, “A drabble is a piece of writing precisely 100 words long.  A challenge to write, but fun to read, they often tell a tale with a twist or encapsulate an idea or emotion.”


As I read both of Hill’s books, I became a huge fan. His stories run the gambit of emotion from  hysterically funny, to sad, to make-your-blood-run-cold, to better-look-over-your-shoulder, to make-you-stop-and-think. With Jonathan’s encouragement, I began to write drabbles on my book blog. I’ve written thirty-five to date.

It’s challenging work– you need to tug at the heartstrings or inspire terror in a short time to really pull off this kind of writing.  It’s also a great exercise in editing, in getting to the heart of what you’re trying to say by trying to say it in as few words as possible.  You could even use it as a tool when writing a short story or novel– first create a drabble as an exercise to figure out the core of your story.

And, as with almost anything, the more you do it, the better you become.

I encourage you to give it a try. (Note to writers age 12-22: see Germ’s Week One Writing Challenge to submit your drabbles!) But beware: drabbles are like potato chips. You cannot write just one.

Here are two of mine:


A Chat

“Do we talk now?” she asks him. “What is there to talk about?” “Us.”

“I don’t trust you anymore. I just exist. I hate life. I pray to sleep

late. I do not enjoy television. It is like watching a black hole. I

want to… the only thing I can count on is going to work and coming

home.” This breaks her heart because it is all her fault. She knows his

job has a high suicide rate. She is scared. If she never leaves the house,

she can count on what he says, going to work and coming home.


It’s Your Call

She watches the snow fall. It has a calming effect on her. But she does

not know how her night will progress. Can she make plans? Sure! Lots

of books to read. She can watch television downstairs and play with the

dog. It is very quiet and still here. Sometimes comforting to her,

sometimes unnerving. She thinks about him. How her night goes always depends

on him. With all the arguing lately, she is looking forward to a one-person slumber party.

She looks at the snowfall again. The phone rings– he will not be working. She is happy and sad.




MollydeeMelissa Grabowski, or “Mollydee” as her friends call her, is a Registered Nurse who had to stop working due to medical reasons. She was not able to read for fourteen years because of her medications, which made her lose focus and concentration. Last June, she was blessed with getting better, and was able to read once again. This led to blogging and meeting many wonderful authors (such as Jennifer Niven!). When she is not reading or blogging, Mollydee is working on her own book. She has been a Steelers fan since the age of eight, loves the winter, keeps a garden in the summer, and loves crafts. She has been married for thirteen years to the best man in the world and hopes to return to Nursing one day.

By Daderot (Daderot) [CC0 or CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
Lo Sze, the ancient Chinese Pug, is one of the oldest known breeds of dog.  This surprising historical fact flies in the face of any type of genetic selection I can imagine because, as far as dogs go, pugs are bred with all of the least useful physical traits.   Dogs with elongated snouts have a better sense of smell while pugs are short snouted — or, as we like to say in our highly technical household, “smush faced.”   Dogs with erect ears can better hear.  The pugs’?  A flop.  Pugs’ eyes  are so protruded that harnesses are recommended over leashes since with sharp pulling, their eyes can literally disgorge.  They also don’t retain heat well, which makes the fact that they are tolerant of funny clothing fortunate.

molly (2)
My pug, Molly.

And yet, these funny looking, questionably bright, short legged, curly tailed wonders were the delight of Chinese royalty.  In fact, in ancient China, only the emperor’s household, aside from Buddhist monks, were allowed to own pugs unless the prestigious pup was received as a gift from royalty.

All this and more has been noted in easily accessible histories.  My favorite, by Juliette Cunliffe, can be found here.  Even Juliette, though, despite the fine job that she’s done, could not answer my most basic question about pugs.

“Why?  Just, why?”

Yes, they are so ugly that they are adorable.  Yes, they are sweet and companionable.  But what about them made them so special to the Chinese? The pugs themselves were treated as royalty in the Chinese courts, and in some cases they were even awarded their own palaces and guards! One normally has to be a person (or a cat) to receive such honors.  Moreover, what about the pugs’ Buddhist nature so appealed to the monks that they favored them over all other expressions of Buddha in canine form?

By Daderot (Daderot) [CC0 or CC0], via Wikimedia CommonsI know why I like them. They are sweet and silly looking;  and, one of the many reasons I love Molly is due to her absolutely unabashed, uncompromising, and uncomplicated love for me. But emperors were adored all the time, and Buddhist monks, surely, didn’t need such constant affirmation.

As a student of Chinese philosophy, I have long pondered the pug popularity question, and last weekend I finally got my answer.  I took Molly and my daughters on a GERM field trip to the Milton House Museum (look for Elizabeth’s write-up for GERM coming in February!), and we found a pet friendly hotel so that our pug could join us.  Molly is just a year old now and has led a sheltered life. Besides her Newfoundland nanny, Izzy, and the five cats that she lives with, her experience is pretty limited and her manners remain unestablished.  I was both excited and a bit apprehensive about the trip. Would she bark and growl at everyone who came near the girls?  Molly is very proud that her fierceness has prevented all of the dogs from even daring  to come out of the TV to get near her humans.

What actually happened was quite instructive, and it revealed, I believe, a portion of the ancient Chinese secret of the pug’s privilege.  In the early morning on the second day of our trip, I took Molly with me to partake in the hotel’s complimentary continental breakfast.  Other than the early rising staff, she and I  were the first ones there.  Molly met, sniffed, and approved all of the staff members with no problem.  Soon, the next early risers stumbled in, looking scruffy, rough, and grumpy. They included truckers getting ready for the day’s haul and linemen bundled up for the -35 degree wind chills that we would face that day. We couldn’t blame them, and Molly didn’t judge. Again, all snuffles –no trouble.  She met everyone, visited those tables in range of her lead, inspected the ground for offerings, and came back to lie down. She seemed to cheer people up a bit and create a loose sense of community.  People talked a bit about their dogs, asked her name, and complimented her.  She liked that.

The news was playing, and after the weather, the local politics aired.  The atmosphere subtly changed, and like a propriety barometer, Molly grew a little bit more watchful.  Those present began to comment upon the wisdom (or lack thereof, in the opinion of some) of our local politicians and the effect of their policies on working families. Work is hard to come by; if it weren’t, there wouldn’t be so many people getting ready to go work outside in such weather.  You don’t have to be particularly political to understand that.  One gentleman (I thought of him as “Overalls” in lieu of knowing his name) was particularly passionate in his views — and that is when Molly sprang to action.

StoneLionOveralls was not disorderly or offensive, but as he rose to get a refill on his coffee, he raised his voice, and his tone had gained intensity as he expressed his opinion about the governor.  Molly jumped up and strained at her harness, growled, hackles up, and issued several sharp barks followed by more growls.   Shock and awe followed.  After we regained our composure, Overalls, truly apologetic, said, “I’m sorry, Molly.”  He sat down and finished his breakfast without coffee. Molly settled back down by my feet, but she kept a watchful eye on him.   Before he left, he came back over to apologize to Molly again and to pet her.  “I didn’t mean to upset your puppy,” he said, chagrined.  “I didn’t even realize I was raising my voice.”  He looked at me,  “She sure shut me down, though.”  He smiled at her. “Keeping us minding our manners.  Good dog, Molly.”

Then, I understood why the ancient Chinese loved their pugs. Pugs guarded palace protocol.  I imagine that in the Inner Court, these precious companions kept the conversations respectful and the demeanor courteous.  Anyone who spoke in a manner non-decorous risked an embarrassingly pugnacious rebuke.  The dogmatic enforcement of etiquette would bring shame upon the speaker in the emperor’s presence.  Thousands of years later, in our little food court, Molly was fulfilling her ancient heritage as the guardian of good manners.  Although Overalls had vexed the carefully balanced accord of the room, Molly re-established the friendliness of the meal with her pointed reprimand.  Overalls was suitably contrite, and  comradery was restored.  Nobody wants to be the person at the table that sets off the “big dog in a little body.”  That is why I believe that the pug was not only adored, but it also played a vital role in Chinese court — an environment so imbued with ritual and tradition that a raised voice or out of place gesture might risk deadly disgrace or evoke the wrath of the Lion Dog.