Sunday, October 11, 2009

What to do?

Over the last several weeks it seems that time evaporates! I don't know where it goes. Can anyone tell me?
Last week I spent Thursday and Friday in Austin taking care of some business. The weekend before that Mary and I spent in Dallas with friends shopping at Canton. The weekend before that Mary and I were in Round Rock. When we attended church today it was almost like visiting.
Thanksgiving is close at hand and I am sure we will be traveling to see my daughter and her family. I am excited about that always. Today I received an email from her and there were pictures of my grandson and the Halloween costume being made for him. He is so cute even without the costume!
The weeks at school are flying by both at my job and my night class. Speaking of night classes, I am very fortunate to be able to attend San Jacinto College and take classes that interest me. I have for a very long time wanted to know about computers and how to use them to create fun projects. Now I am actually learning to do some of those things. Being an old guy it does not come easy but it does eventually and anything I learn is a bonus.
Well short post but it is nearing my bedtime.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Up and Running!


Star Date: 2009238
Mission Date: 09/10/02

We have almost broken free of the gravity that holds us back, close to the Summer Star System. A huge thrust of the boosters pushes us away from ground zero. The payload lay silent, unaware of the changes taking place all around. Added thrust jettisons the mother-load into the , as yet unexplored, next great frontier.
Barreling through unfamiliar space, barely conscious of the velocity at which they hurdle through time, this payload shifts first one way and then the other. Characteristic of the proverbial "sleeping giant", this change causes a slight awakening as well as disorientation. Fighting consciousness, with a desire to remain deeply implanted in the Summer Star System, our participants, as on many missions before, are experiencing shock, mild discomfort and in some instances trauma as SMI Flight 2009/2010 has begun the long journey into Spring.
August 26, 2009, as reflected on Earth's calendar, places us exactly two days into the mission. The launch was nearly flawless. The crew, to this point, has performed up to the standards set during previous missions. The preparation of this flights payload is just beginning. Once fully conscious, these participants will initiate effort by the crew to instill the work ethic and motivation needed to achieve what no previous mission has.
There is a sense of quiet desperation demanding every crew member from Star Fleet Commander to deck hand to push with every fiber of their being toward the success of this mission, a daunting responsibility.
The future of our galaxy, as we know it, is at stake. The mind and hands to whom we commit our very existence must be sculpted to be successful. Their character has yet to experience the refiners fire. The mission pushes on aware that some may be lost but not accepting a predetermined outcome less than complete success. Time, persistence and the ability to persevere are necessities for all of our crew. When our destination is reached, success of this missions performance will be judged or assessed as others have been.
For now we begin the journey and "The Force" is with us.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Gee Wally, it's time to go to school!

Well, it's August 17th and the work year has officially started for the 09-10 school year. I remember a time when the start of the year was a huge rush. The thought of starting anew, sort of a rebirth if you will.
Education is very different from "jobs" that require a great deal of stamina, doing the same tasks day after day. In education everything is broken into small pieces, more like a McNugget than a bucket of the Colonels best! When I was an employee of the City of Beaumont I went to work each day with the same objective but there were never two days that presented the same way, ever! There was always the element of excitement when you were required to use the job skills taught or learned through experience. There was something about knowing that you had an advantage and ultimately would win out that made the whole experience new even though you had executed the same task a hundred times before. The setting, the characters and the attitudes were almost never the same. Success was measured by the number of encounters with the public and the disposition of said encounters. Oddly though the objective was to reduce the number of like encounters thereby demonstrating your effectiveness as an agent of the city.
In education, nothing is certain excepting only "change". For six weeks you pursue a set of objectives in the curriculum using strategies related to your area of expertise. You teach and evaluate then re-teach and evaluate. Each objective must be mastered at the prescribed level by those in your charge. There are many learning characteristics to consider, such as the style (auditory, visual, tactile kinesthetic), right brained, left brained, learning disabled, gifted, broken home, happy home, single parent, extended family, economically disadvantaged, limited English proficient, did they have breakfast this morning, did they sleep in a bed within some type of shelter, are they familiar with the juvenile justice system, are they bullied by other students, are they on good terms with their girl/boyfriend, do they move several times a year attending several different schools or are the from a wealthy but dysfunctional family, ect., ect. Success under these circumstances is simply measured by "a sufficient number of students performing at a prescribed level of mastery, demonstrating said mastery on a testing instrument put together by bureaucrats who in many cases have never taught a day.
Granted you have anywhere from 75 to 90 minutes, every other day to detect deficiencies, produce alternative strategies, reteach and assess to insure successful outcomes and I know this sounds petty, but in many cases there is not enough time to accomplish your goals. I must be fair as not to present a totally biased scenario. There are some areas of curriculum that have more time than I have described here. A chosen few see their students every day for 75 to 90 minutes. What difference could it possibly make? It depends on how you look at it. With 75 minute classes meeting every other day over a two week period you see each student 6.25 hours. Where students attend 75 minutes every day 12.5 hours of contact can be achieved. Calculating the same using a 90 minute class schedule the figures are 7.5 hours vs 15 hours. To put it another way, in a six week grading period your single block classes meet 15 times vs 30 for the double blocked classes. Of course this refers to the number of times a class meets. If a student is absent, especially the day before or following a holiday, you may only see him or her once in a 7 day period. If a student is assigned discipline out of your classroom, well, it could be weeks between contact.
All of this sounds like an evil plan to steal the farmers homestead, booting him out and claiming all of the oil and mineral rights, distributing the spoils to greedy CEO's as bonuses to insure that the haves continue to have and the have not continue to have not! I'm sorry, it is far more complicated than that. Our system of education, as maligned as it is, is the only system in the world that guarantees a free education to ALL! We do this knowing that we have limited financial resources, and a shrinking pool of young people with a desire to take on such a difficult task, for little pay, much criticism, and near impossible odds.
Every core (academic) subject, ideally, should be double blocked. To do so would require more money for additional teachers and more space. You may be asking yourself "why are any of the subjects double blocked"? The answer is simple and requires only two words; State Accountability. Under fire because our educational system appears to pale when compared to countries such as Japan our government think tanks puke new laws designed to raise our standing in a world where we stand alone in offering a chance to every child. Many other countries provide primary education to the masses with only the brightest being accepted into their secondary or university prep schools. When only your brightest students are tested in algebra, you should look very good. The pressure to show continued improvement as demonstrated by higher scores on "State Assessments", closing the gap between all ethnic groups as well as the economically disadvantaged, has brought about a plethora of educational programs that change almost yearly. Teachers and administrators are the targets of critics who point to our system and describe it as broken, unsuccessful, and in need of reform. The fact that so many of our schools have been able to achieve incredible results speaks volumes of the hard work, dedication and the sense of pride you can only find within the walls of the public school system in the United States of America.
Yes, at one time, the beginning of a new school year was invigorating even exciting. As I look back over the past 30+ years I am proud to have worked with so many fine people who have such selfless attitudes, who are making a difference in the lives of young people and I even feel a little pride in the small successes I have been blessed to accomplish.
One week from tomorrow students, tomorrows leaders, will begin to walk through the doors of schools in my district. Each one with their own hopes and dreams, some yet to realize that they can not only have hopes and dreams but they can attain their highest aspirations. This year, perhaps my last, I have a great opportunity before me. I have the opportunity to not only see the potential future before us but an opportunity to touch that future the way only a teacher can.
I am excited about the year. I am excited about what may be. I am humbled by such a daunting responsibility.

Friday, July 31, 2009

What Happened to the Month of July?



Today as I sit quietly and watch the hours go by my mind races through the memories created during my lifetime. Prior to age ten my memories are of events that occurred but without the emotion of the moment. I actually remember events dating back to toddler age. I just don't have a sense of how I felt about it, what it meant at the time.
In February of 1960 my parents moved to Texas where my dad had a new job and my mom could be near her relatives. Moving was really no big deal, we did it all the time! We lived in a small town of about 25,000 people and I could not begin to list the locations. No matter where we moved my friends were still within walking distance. Those were days when parents did not live in fear that their child would be abducted and never seen again.
This move was different, my friends were going to be out of my life forever. I remember sitting in the back seat of our 1953 Buick as we backed out of the driveway, leaving behind my home, friends, and most importantly, my dog. My dog was black, long fur, a mix chow and who knows what. We called him Cinders because of his color. Cinders would be the first real emotional trauma I would face. He went everywhere with me. He would follow me to school and wait beside my bicycle for my return.
My dad gave Cinders away, he said, to someone I did not know. My heart was broken to hear that Cinders had run away and found his way back to our old house. Neighbors said he would wait outside the back door, sometimes whimpering, sometimes barking. They said he would not leave and that he most likely would starve to death. Fifty years later I can still feel the emotion I felt at leaving behind my first pet, a dog that loved me unconditionally. A dog that, no doubt, did not understand where I had gone.
One of life's lessons. You can't always have what you want, even if it would be the right thing to do. I have to admit that event opened the gate to a lifetime of memories, some similar, some far more painful, and some that bring joy to my heart and have the power to lift me up when I am weighted down with life's trials.
During my youth an hour was a very long time, not to mention a whole day! You just never wanted to hear the phrase "Wait until tomorrow". Summer was long and fun, there were so many things to do. Of all the things a kid could do, baseball was always my favorite. When I was twelve years old I played for a Little League team. Our uniforms were all cotton and very hot during the humid summers in south Texas. Usually there were two games played twice per week. One day you had the early game, the next the late game. Start time was probably 5:30 PM or so, I really don't remember anymore. I do remember putting on my uniform, I loved to wear it, and walking to the ballpark a couple of hours early. I would sit in the old covered stands, most of the time in the announcers booth. There was something about the smell of the air and hearing the announcer say "And now batting for the Tigers, number 12, Roy Gunn". I suppose those experiences are what make movies like "Sandlot" so dear to me. I have a chance to feel like a kid again.
It seems that those precious days of youth were so fleeting, and we were so clueless, we did not even notice just how short an hour or a day really was. If you knew what the rest of life would be like, you would stop and savor the moment.
The journey through adulthood is like a roller-coaster ride. Filled with highs and lows, seldom just maintaining the status-quo. As we become our parents we realize just how many difficult, often unpopular decisions have to be made. Most people are not living their dream but somehow trying to make their dream fit the life they live. I wonder what my father's dream was. I don't remember ever hearing my parents talk about retirement, how they eventually wanted to live out their days. I do know that we lived payday to payday, with five brothers and sisters and my maternal grandmother living with us, my dad did not have the income to do much.
Growing up in a home with so many mouths to feed and so many wants and needs to satisfy I, unknowingly, developed my strategy for the rest of my life. Just after graduation from high school my parents moved back to my former hometown, without me. I was ready to begin my life, to experience the freedom from adult supervision and accountability. Looking back, my education began right there.
Two years earlier I met a young lady at the skating rink on a Friday night. Actually it was her 15th birthday and my neighbor, a girl we both knew, introduced us. If we could see into the future, what decisions would we make, or change? At the time I had no idea that this beautiful young lady would be my eternal companion. We, like young people of that day, committed to each other in the customary way. I gave her my initial ring. Three months later she gave it back and we both went our separate ways. Each leading to some very important experiences that would prepare us for the time we would meet again, seven years later.
Today my most vivid memories are of our marriage, the birth of our children, and discovering how deeply I love and cherish my family. We gravitate toward that which brings us comfort, makes us feel loved, needed and maybe even appreciated for who we are. Sometimes it takes a very long time to fully realize the importance of those blessings. I suppose some people may never come to that point in their life.
Time becomes the enemy once more, not because an hour or a day is so long to wait but because they pass so quickly. Stopping to smell the roses becomes impossible as you are riding an escalator that pushes you faster and faster through the remainder of your life. Children grow up, leave home, marry and have children. Being a parent is a wonderful blessing, being a grandparent is the opportunity to see how you did as a parent. Our children learn how to parent from us. They draw on their own experiences.
Where did July go? For three days all of my children and grandchildren were here at home, something that almost never happens anymore. Kellie, Nathan and their three left yesterday to return to Cleveland, Ohio and resume lifes journey. Nathan begins his second year of dental school. From where I sit today, I would tell my children and anyone else that would listen, life does not begin once you finish school, or exit the military, it is everything you do today and tomorrow and the next day. July has just 31 days and only comes once in a year, make the most of that time and there will never be any regrets.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Best Things in Life are Free


Today is Friday, July 24th. Tomorrow, Sunday and most of Monday my daughter and grand children will be in San Antonio with our son-in-law, Nathan. Monday is a very big day for him and them. Since the middle of June Nathan has been going through his Army Officer Boot Camp. Monday is graduation day. Everyone will be there to see the ceremonial parade and festivities.
The children have missed their Papa, and, Mama has missed her hubby.
Just as you might expect from a government agency, especially the military, there must be some kind of brainless act to end the entire affair. I dare you to make sense out of this.... Ceremony over, graduation completed, only one thing left to do......go home! Just how can we make this interesting? I know! We will have the family drive back to Friendswood; Nathan will be required to fly back to Cleveland, Ohio. Once there Nathan will remain in the airport, after all the family and the car are in Texas, until he can catch a flight back to Texas so he can pick up his family and drive back to Ohio!
Tuesday Nathan will arrive and begin preparing for the trip back home, leaving the next day for the long drive back. Then their lives can resume some semblance of normality.
Today is really the last day to do anything fun with the kids. My daughter and I decided that a trip to nearby Kemah and the boardwalk would be fun for all. Megan and Jeremy became so excited when they saw all of the rides, especially the huge roller coaster! Sadly you must be at least 36" tall to ride with an adult. No one fit the criteria! I was heart broken that I did not get the chance to ride such an impressively intimidating monstrosity! The fact that it cost $4.75 each to ride made me feel a little better about our "bad" luck.
The sun was very hot, shade almost non-existent. Sweat was pouring from every pore of my body. I was sticky, why did I wear bluejeans? Every ride was a minimum of $3.00 each. It was looking like this might not be the great idea we thought it would be. Kellie pushing Emma in the stroller, Megan and Jeremy in tow we walked through the rides and to the walk by the water. With the children voicing their displeasure at not even riding one of those marvelously attractive rides, we effectively explained how economically irresponsible it would be to indulge in such shallow entertainment. In other words we took them by the hand and showed no sign of weakness as we retreated to the walkway.
A few moments later we were completely removed from the sight of the parent trap/money pit.
There was only mild grumbling combined with slight whining as we walked past the "Ring Toss Booth"; the "Croaking Frog Booth; and the "Basketball Shooting Booth". Fortunately they are too short to see most of what we were passing. As they looked down to avoid the bright sun and whine as though at deaths door, we were able to avoid any further exposure to "Wally World".
On the walkway there is a location near one of the many restaurants where two small vending machines held brown pellets. Twenty-five cents bought you a handful of these pellets, and much to the delight of the children, could be feed to literally thousands of catfish in the water. Fifty cents bought not just a little fun feeding the fish but a complete change of mood.
I thought if they enjoyed this, they will love the fountains. We walked a very short distance to a wide open area where water danced from small openings in a seemingly endless random pattern. Megan and Jeremy walked curiously to the middle while Kellie removed Emma from her stroller. Water began to shoot high in the air from different locations and screams of delight filled the pavilion. Emma was caught right on top of the head with a burst of water. She turned and smiled as Jeremy and Megan ran around trying to step on the origin of the water. A ton of pictures later and completely soaked this was the best day of all!
Total expenditure: $.50; what a deal! As we left the boardwalk there was no whining, not grumbling, just talk of how much fun that was. Truly the best things in life are free.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Milestone


Today is my youngest daughters birthday. She is a grown up wife, mommy of three, a college graduate, a return missionary and a very talented writer. As I look back over the last twelve years, I can't help but miss the mornings when I would wake her with a verse of "You Are My Sunshine". I have never been able to sing, probably the only person in our church choir who, when I told our director that I could no longer participate, received a warm smile and an affirming headnod. Yet this angel of a daughter endured my off tune yaking attempt to sing every morning for 18 years and always awoke with a smile. There is no wonder she was anxious to leave for college and insisted on going to Idaho!
Today as I watch her with her babies I know a part of my life is gone. I will never again wake her with my horrible rendition of one of the most uplifting songs ever penned. As she carried the youngest on her hip, teasing her with little kisses, my mind was drawn back to the first summer. I was a young school teacher/coach and I was off from work. I spent everyday with her in my arms, I doubt her feet touched the floor the first two months of her life. Later, each afternoon as soon as work was done, I would head home to be with my little family.
I know that some day this will all repeat itself as she too will experience a bitter-sweet part of life. You have to let them go. I mean you can't keep them as children forever. Or can you? It really does not matter how old she gets or how many of her own children she has, she will always be my "Sunshine".

Monday, July 20, 2009

Baseball, kinda!


Today, even though it was 95 degrees in the shade, my grandson and I took to the backyard and America's favorite past time, baseball! Armed with his "Star Wars" bat and ball the backyard was virtually a major league park. Well maybe not quite, but it was more than big enough to learn a little hand-eye coordination.
First Jeremy had to master the art of the grip. It really is not automatic. It takes a little bit of visualization and a lot of demonstration. Learning which hand goes on top and where the bat is held are two very important points in learning to swing the bat.
Second is the very uncomfortable adjustment to standing perpendicular to the pitcher. There is an urge to face the person throwing to you. The batting stance is an art that takes many forms as anyone who has watched professional ball players can testify. Pete Rose, before disgracing himself, was extremely successful even though he used an unconventional batting stance. Jeff Bagwell, a power hitter with the Houston Astros, spread his feet so wide you would think he would have no stride at all. To get Jeremy's feet pointed in the correct direction was as interesting as it was consistent with every pitch.
Third was the swing of the bat. Baseball teams spend hours, days, seasons, years trying to perfect the swing. One of the most difficult and athletic things a person can do is hit a round ball with a round bat while the ball is thrown almost directly at you. Jeremy loved to swing the bat. Sometimes he would be so excited and anxious that he would run at the ball in an effort to hit it.
Amazingly he actually hit the ball several times. His tomahawk swing was fast and always in the same place.
Hitting the ball was very exciting to him. He had a huge smile on his face, pleased with the result. Each time he hit the ball he would declare "I'm gonna hit it again"!
Many years have passed since I threw the baseball to my son. I had forgotten how sweet the feeling is to watch the eyes of one so young when they swing the bat in anticipation of hitting the ball. It brought back a flood of memories, not unlike the movie "Sandlot". Some young men grow up participating in many different activities. Baseball to those who live to play it has an addictive if not captivating hold on the imagination.
The smell of new leather, hot dogs, or grass can bring the ballpark into full view. Night games played in the Spring seemed to always have a special smell in the air. There is something about red dirt and green grass that makes me yearn for those days when the summer was spent with my closest friends doing what we loved to do most, playing baseball.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Today was a trip back in time!

Today my wife (Mary) and I had the opportunity to entertain our 4 year old grand daughter and our 3 year old grand son. Our daughter attended an event held for a friend and took the 1 year old grand daughter with her.
For me this was as terrifying as it was fun! I just did not know what would happen when the "mommy" would not be available. Now I know. They were great. We took them to the local mall because they both like "Arbys". There is an Arbys restaurant in the mall and mercifully there are other choices for g-ma and me. They both ate well and Mary and I were able to eat as well.
Following the meal were journeyed across the freeway to the movie "Ice Age, Rise of the Dinosaurs". Believing that this would be a huge treat we eagerly walked in and took our seats, popcorn and lemonade in hand. Everyone was enjoying the previews of movies to come, including the remake of "A Christmas Carol" with Jim Carey; A new Alvin and the Chipmunks show; and finally a new Disney 3-D animation "Partly Cloudy and a Chance of Meatballs". Both of the g-kids were in great spirits following these delightful previews. As the feature was about to begin we were prompted to put on our 3-D glasses to enjoy the full effect of the feature. This was quickly done and as the movie began both giggled with delight as they tried in vain to grab the images in front of their faces. Consuming treats and laughing all was going great.
Enter the dinosaur (T-Rex). Now we each had an additional body on top of our own. Slightly audible whimpers of "Is it over?" were repeated with regularity.
Well, the movie is titled "Rise of the Dinosaurs"! I thought maybe it would be along the line of "Land Before Time". No! We have flesh eating raptors, pterodactyls, T-Rex, etc. These were
even more exciting as they seemed to jump right off the screen at you. Covering their eyes, looking away, or removing the glasses altogether the rest of the movie was a great bonding experience!
Once the movie was over and the nice furry mammals were back where they belonged everyone agreed they had had a good time!
Actually movie or not, the chance to spend time with our precious grand children made this Saturday afternoon very special for g-ma and g-pa.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

I already miss them!

Today is the first time I have ever posted on my blog! I'm not sure exactly what I want to say but I do want to express how thankful I am for my children and grandchildren. My middle child and her three children have come to visit while my son-in-law completes basic training at Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio. They left today to join him for the next couple of days and to celebrate my grandsons birthday. He will be three.
They left about five hours ago and I miss them already. I miss my daughter, whom I do not get to see enough. It pains my heart when I realize I have had precious little time with her over the past twelve years. She has accomplished many things during that time that make me a proud papa. I wish I could be closer to them geographically.
Family is what this life is all about. Don't doubt that for a moment. We are here to create and raise a cohesive family unit.
I am looking forward to their safe return for a couple of short weeks before they will need to return to their lives in what may as well be another continent.