Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Spouse is a Voodoo High Priestess: A "mostly" True Version of The Christmas Parade Story

Here's a picture of mE from Sunday night. Our little slice of heaven has a parade every year on the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

Every year, The Girl Child wants to be in the parade. She's walked as a Brownie and she's walked as a Girl Scout. We dropped Scouts this year for a variety of reasons including but not limited to:
1. The meeting time was not convenient.

So, this year, she was "invited" by the local newspaper to walk with the Jr. Reporters. She is a junior reporter for her school and is given various assignments throughout the year. I always try to get her to write some type of expose piece on the corruption within the Catholic school system in our town but she always rolls her eyes at me and tells me that she has to write about the new construction, or "stuff that's happening around the school," or whatever assignment she was given. These junior reporter types take their assignments very seriously. I'm trying to direct her to the big news pieces, she's more worried about getting her name in the byline on the piece about the new cafeteria that will be ready sometime in the Spring of 9785 at the pace it's going now.

Anyway, The Girl Child was lured to the parade with the promise of a sweatshirt and cups of hot cocoa after the parade. Nothing tempts a nine year old like a sweatshirt with "Jr. Reporter" on the back and the local paper's logo on the front. She's only a nine year old after all and those swarthy newspaper types know how to lure these kids in.

So, it's Sunday morning, it's very cold, it's rainy, it's windy and it's very cold. Also, it was very cold. I get a text message on my phone and I'm super excited because I just KNOW that the parade has been cancelled due to crappy weather.

I check the text and it says that the parade will go on. Obviously, there are some seriously deranged people involved in the decision making process regarding the parade. Either that, or a lot of folks shelled out some serious moolah for their floats and they were threatening to occupy some part of downtown so the parade people caved to the pressure and decided to have it anyway.

That afternoon, I come up from the basement after watching some riveting television and The Spouse says, "We need to leave the house before 4:00p.m. in order to get The Girl Child to her meeting place for the parade."

I respond with, "'s rainy and cold and windy and cold and icky and cold outside. And, mostly, it's cold out and I can't go outside when it's cold."

She gave me that one look, the one that she thinks is intimidating, and said, "We are going to the parade. You are going to drop me and The Boy Child off in front of the newspaper building and then you are going to take The Girl Child to her meeting point in the park."

I gave her my look...the one that says, "Whatchoo talkin' 'bout Willis?!" and I said, ", I'm not."

She responded, "Yes, you are." It was said rather firmly.

I looked back at her and said, "Nuh-uh!"

Then, The Spouse just stood there for a minute, looking at me like I'm some insect she's about to squash, and she says, "YES, YOU ARE! Your daughter is walking in the parade and you are going to drop me and The Boy Child off at our spot and then YOU are going to take her to the park and help her meet up with her group!"

I didn't miss a beat and responded with, "I'm moving to Tybee Island and you can't come. They don't let mean pushy people come on the island, you know. It's also not 32 FREAKING DEGREES WITH A 90 MILE PER HOUR WIND THERE!"

She looks back at me and says, "You are going to the parade."

I have been known to get all religious on people and I just looked at her and said, "I'm rebuking that!"

I guess she wanted to try some pop psychology on me and asked me, "Why don't you want to go to the parade?"

I replied, "Because it is cold outside and I don't like being cold. I'm old, I'm fat and I'm very sensitive to cold weather. I hate being cold. I wouldn't be cold if I were living on Tybee right now."

She said, "You don't live on Tybee, you live here. It's cold but you won't die from it. You are going to the parade and you are going to enjoy it. You don't want to hurt The Girl Child's feelings by not going, do you?"

I don't fall into the pop psychology trap easily so I said, "I could live on Tybee and, given the choice between going back there or staying here and walking in this stupid parade, I bet The Girl Child would skip the parade in a heartbeat. No hurt feelings to worry about then!"

She sat there for a minute just looking at me with a blank stare and said, "You aren't going to Tybee, she isn't going to Tybee. You are going to the parade. She is going to the parade. You will do exactly as I tell you and you will enjoy it!" She must think she has hypnotic powers of suggestion or something because she said it slowly and in a real low tone. Lucky for me, I don't believe in hypnosis or the power of suggestion so it didn't work.

I thought I was going to respond, but when I looked up I found myself wearing jeans, heavy socks, a t-shirt, a sweatshirt, my winter coat, gloves, a scarf and a hat while driving to the downtown area.

It's all a blur but I distinctly remember dropping her and The Boy Child off at the newspaper office and driving to the park. I also remember standing in the freezing cold for an eternity waiting for the newspaper people with the sweatshirts to show up. Then, I know I ended up parking in the lot behind the newspaper and taking up residence in the chair beside my wife in downtown Our Town.

If you look at the picture, you'll see that I'm all bundled up and I have a BEACH TOWEL covering my legs! I'm not sure how or why I had a beach towel unless my subconscious self was warring with the voodoo she used on me and the beach towel was some form of rebellion on my behalf. Even though I was under some hypnotic spell, I still managed to be cold and miserable.

The Spouse posted this picture on Facebook during the parade. I bet she earned some voodoo credits with the local voodoo priestess chapter.

My mother called me and told me I looked like a homeless person. I tried to explain that I was married to a Voodoo High Priestess and that I only looked that way because my wife had obviously sacrificed some poor chicken and said an incantation. She doesn't believe me, though. Maybe she's under The Spouse's control, too.

First chance I get to break free, I'm headed for Tybee Island!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Technology and Transitions...Two Big Issues in Education Today

Are Computers the Answer to a Better Education: This NYTimes article looks at a Waldorf School that has NO TECHNOLOGY and educates the kids of some of Silicon Valley's Technogeniuses! After reading this article, what do you think about the use of technology in the classroom?

Transition Troubles: This article is from EDWeek. For a while now, there's been a focus on the transition issues associated with students when they leave middle or junior high schools and head into high schools. The solution, in many cases, has been to adopt a Freshman Academy model of some sort. Many of those have been quite successful. Ironically, while we've been so focused on the transition to high school, we've neglected to look at the impact of transitioning from elementary to middle or junior high. Give this a read. I've heard that the national Middle School Conference dealt with this issue quite extensively.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Not a Person I Admire...More Like People I Admire

Mondays are about picking out a person I admire and telling you why. Today, I've decided not to focus on a particular person or a couple of people I know. Rather, I'd like to tell you why I'm such a HUGE fan of Big Brothers Big Sisters.

A few years ago, while toiling away as a principal in a junior high school, I was actively and openly looking for ways to bring more positive role models into the lives of many of the students in my building. I had formed a partnership with our local Boys and Girls Club (another perfectly wonderful and worthy organization) and we were offering programming in the building after school for students who wanted to participate.

Still, I felt that there must be more I could do to help so many of these kids. So, I made a call to the local Big Brothers Big Sisters agency director and asked her if we could meet. We did and, at the time, it was difficult to figure out what a partnership would look like between the school and the organization. Most of the kids they served were elementary school kids, they had a very limited budget, and it just didn't seem like something that could happen right now. We left the meeting agreeing that I could send referrals to the organization and they would screen the kids and try to match them up with a Big.

Fast-forward a few years and I was asked to sit on a board for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri. The home office is based in St. Louis and they have a satellite office here in our town. BBBSEMO wanted to take a look at the impact of the Big/Little relationship in regard to student success in the areas of attendance, behavior and academic achievement as measured by district and state assessments. So, we met at a local eatery one evening with a few elementary principals, myself, the Alternative School Director, the Assistant Superintendent and Superintendent, and a few folks from the local University.

We were told from the onset that they were curious on two fronts:

1. Does having a strong Big/Little relationship have an impact on a student's success in school?

2. Is there a way the Bigs could help the students find more success in school?

We met quarterly and spent much of the time in those first meetings deciding what to measure, how to measure it and what the thresholds were for taking measurements. The thing that CONTINUOUSLY impressed me was the agency's constant focus on finding new ways of helping the kids they serve. They didn't just want "ideas" or "plans" or "I think this would work". They took each idea, question and comment seriously and they scrutinized it. We were asked "What would that look like?", "How would that help?", "Why is this the threshhold and not another ________?", "How would we measure that?", "What are the biggest indicators of success and failure in students?", "How could a Big have a more positive impact or greater influence on this without compromising the relationship?" etc. The questions were deep and probing. Each answer to each question was probed deeper and deeper until there was a real understanding of the concept or idea or metric or whatever.

I've always heard that "you know quality when you see it". This was quality. This was the good stuff. These were the conversations that my teachers should be having with each other and with me. These were the conversations the teachers and I should have been having with the kids we taught.

After several years of collecting data based on the metrics we agreed upon, we began to see trends and correlations between the data. Successful, strong matches DID make a difference in the life of the Little! There was hard, quantifiable data that indicated that the stronger the relationship between the Big and Little, the more likely that child was to do well in school in all areas. The data also showed that Bigs who were asked to speak positively about school, inquire about the Little's day or week or month at school, or who simply asked their Little to give them a call after a big test or project had Littles who missed fewer days of school, had better behavior than previously and increased their academic scores in both district and state assessment measures.

It sounds so simple. And, in many ways, it really is simple. Sometimes we take a really complex problem like student success and we assume that it must require a really complex answer. The truth is, some of the most difficult problems are solved with the simplest solutions. In this case, having a caring adult role model who takes an active interest in your education, speaks positively of education and checks in on your progress can make a significant difference in the school life of a child.

I once wrote an email to a friend decrying the hopelessness of many of the students I encountered. I wasn't calling them hopeless. Rather, they saw no HOPE. It's hard to be motivated about anything when you have no hope. Every child deserves to have some hope. Many in this area do not. I've seen it and I've heard it from their mouths. They want to believe that someone really cares about them, but they have no solid proof.

BBBSEMO instills HOPE in the lives of the children it serves. They have hard data that proves that what they do makes a difference in the lives of children.

Now, are you wondering what YOU can do to help them help kids? Give the local agency a call and simply ask, "What can I do to help?". Maybe it's a donation of money or time, maybe you could become a Big Brother or Big Sister. Either way, you win and some child wins.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Giving Thanks

Since Thanksgiving is tomorrow and today is my "Anything Goes" day, I thought I would write about a few things for which I'm thankful.\

1. My parents.
2. My beautiful wife.
3. My wonderful children.
4. My sister, brother and their families.
5. My incredible in-laws.
6. My ridiculously insane extended family.
7. My truest friends (you know who you are Dinner for 8).
8. My neighbors, both past and present.
9. My coworkers.
10. Last, but certainly not least, Jesus Christ.

1. Tybee Island, Georgia.
2. The Great Smoky Mountains.
3. The beauty of Missouri.
4. My homes (past and present).
5. The churches I've worshipped in.
6. America, in spite of all the turmoil, it's still the greatest country on earth!

1. iPad2.
2. iPhone 3G (I know, I really need to upgrade!)
3. Clothing.
4. Food.
5. My house.
6. My truck. (Almost 7 years old with 118,000+ miles on it and running like a champ!)
7. My bed.
8. Technology in general.

Single Most Important Thing for Which I'm Thankful:
A God who loved me so much that He gave His only son as a sacrifice so that my sins could be forgiven.

For what will you give Thanks tomorrow?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Education Pieces You Should Read

11 States Seek Relief from NCLB... President Obama and the DOE have offered states the opportunity to get relief from some of the expectations of NCLB in exchange for tightening their standards and some other concessions. This article, from The New York Times, briefly hits on the states that have applied so far and what they are doing to meet the requirements.

Middle School: The Critical Years... Is a series of articles from the New York Times worthy of the time to read them.

What if the Secret to Success is Failure... Is one of the most impactful pieces I've read in a while. This article is worthy of being read, reread, printed and distributed to all teachers, principals, school reformists, etc.

How to Get Fired... This is an example of one principal who lost his mind and got fired because of it. Quite frankly, he deserved it.

Fixing the Graduation Rate... This article takes a look at the disparity between states in graduation rate reporting. Missouri's system is pretty insane and very difficult to follow. Basically, if a student drops out as a sophomore, comes back to school six months later, then drops out again, he/she is counted in both the sophomore graduating class and in the junior graduating class. In theory, a student could be counted in four different graduation cohorts. It's a crazy formula that has needed revision for a long time. Unfortunately, this "fix" seems to be just as confusing as the old formula.

A Unique Way for Schools to Increase Cash Flow... How do you feel about schools placing advertising on their school buses, buildings, etc?

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Two Who Have Become One

It's Monday and that means it's time for a look at someone who inspires me.

Since Thanksgiving is just a few days away, it seems appropriate that I write about family. Not just any family, though. This is family that I've grown up with, fought with, fought beside, been mean to, been kind to and everything in-between. I'm talking about my sister and her husband. Some, those who don't read beyond this paragraph, will assume I've taken the easy way out on this topic. That's hardly the truth.

My sister is married to a saint of a man. David is, simply put, one of the nicest guys ever put on the earth. He's not a softy or a sissy. In fact, he's far more manly than I've ever been or will ever be. He speaks softly but deeply. He works with his hands, tears apart motors, puts them back together and looks for the next one to work on. He manages the shop of a semi-truck dealership. He can dissassemble an entire 1966 Mustang in horrid condition, repair everything that's wrong with it, rebuild the motor and give it to his only child for her high school graduation present. All of this manliness is tempered with a kind and gentle heart. He loves his wife and daughter unconditionally and he expresses that love and devotion to them in ways that few others could.

My sister, on the other hand, is loud and, well...obnoxious at times. She'll compliment you if it's earned but she'll criticize you if you tick her off. Here's an example: She will order from a fast food place, pull up to the window, pay and then wait. If, God forbid, the worker bee at the window foolishly says, "Would you please pull up to the yellow line? We'll bring your food out to you?" She is just as likely to respond with, "No, I won't. This is a fast food place. If you can't fix it fast you shouldn't fix it at all." I have a theory that certain fast food chains actually hire her to go through their drive-thru lines just to see if the newbies are cut out for the job. That's the brash side of her.

The kinder, gentler side of my sister shines through when she is helping others. I think it's fitting that she works as an HR person for a mental health establishment. She has the right stuff to be an HR director. She can have the tough conversations and she can be very gracious and welcoming. She's also meticulous in her work. Very, very meticulous. When she speaks of her job, she often talks more about the needs of the clients they serve or the various trials and tribulations of the employees who work for the organization. She is genuinely concerned about them and their welfare and, I know for a fact, she has helped them out with her own time and money. Underneath that brash exterior, there's a beautiful heart and soul.

So, now you know a bit about each of them. What you don't know is that on top of both of them working stressful jobs that require far more than 40 hours per week, and on top of raising a beautiful and magnificent daughter, and on top of them both doing volunteer and charity work; they are taking care of David's octogenarian mother. (David has a brother who is also very involved in his mother's care but lives in Manhattan.)

If you've never cared for an elderly person who is in declining health, the magnitude of what they are doing may elude you. Let me help you understand what's going on in their lives.

They get up early in the morning, work 8-10 hour days, and then one or both of them drive around 30 miles north to check on David's mother who resides in a nursing home. David's mother is a genteel, Southern lady. She exudes elegance and grace. It's easy to see where David gets his kind heart and good manners. Now, he and my sister must watch the daily decline in health of his mother. If you've cared for someone who is in declining health, you know the emotional and physical toll it can take on you. David and Kathy are living that life. As the elegant life of David's mother slowly slips away, David and Kathy sit with her, console her, and help her in ways few will ever know of.

I could go on and on about their dedication and devotion to David's mother but I'll give you one illustration that, I think, sums it all up.

The cost of residential care for David's mother is exorbitant. Her stay was being taken care of by Medicare, but that has run out. So, in order to help his mother, David and Kathy have decided to sell their home, buy his mother's home and use the money from the sale to pay for her continued healthcare. David and Kathy have a beautiful ranch style home. The landscaping is stunning and all of it was done by David. David loves rose bushes and he buys these crazy varieties that require a ton of care. He plants them, fertilizes them, runs an irrigation system to them, prunes them and does everything possible to keep them alive and flourishing. He can talk for hours about rose bushes and he does so with an enthusiasm that is contagious to even the most uninterested listener.

The example that my sister and her husband set for me and my wife and for others who know them is nothing short of outstanding. They make the right choice every time when it comes to helping his mother. They make the most difficult choices with ease and grace and elegance. Many, including myself, could learn valuable lessons from them.

The Bible tells us that others should know we are Christians by our actions and that when we marry, that the two should become one. Kathy and David are surely examples of Christ's commandments to feed the hungry, care for the sick and dying, to love one another, and to love your parents. They have also become the embodiment of "becoming one".

During this Thanksgiving week, I would ask you to stop for just a moment and to give thanks for people like them. Say a prayer for Kathy, David and David's mother. I know I will.

P.S. Love you Sis and David! (Mom, stop crying and don't make mushy talk about this!)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Updates on My Heroes

A few months ago, I wrote about Kimberly Adelson, Julie Tipton and Kate and Ashley Lipke. All three are friends who've endured horrible ordeals and unbelievable stress in their lives. It's been a while since I updated you on them so....

Kimberly Adelson: Kimberly has continued a roller-coaster ride of recovery and illness as she has battled with her cancer. Through it all she has remained incredibly strong and faithfilled! I, along with others, have been praying for her and asking others to do the same thing. On Monday of this week, Kimberly had a PET Scan at Barnes-Jewish in St. Louis.

If you've followed her journey, you know that she's been diagnosed, misdiagnosed, rediagnosed, received good news, bad news and no news. She's had just about every complication and side effect associated with her cancer and its treatment, too.

So, Monday morning, as she walked into the cancer center for her PET Scan, she was full of worry and concern. I can only imagine what it must have been like to just sit and wait for someone to come deliver the news. It's seldom been good news in the past.

The doctor walked in and announced he had "good news". He stated that THERE WAS NO SIGN OF CANCER ANYWHERE ON THE SCAN!!! She is in full remission!

People, if you've ever wondered if your prayers are heard and answered, know that they are!!! Kimberly is elated. It's the perfect gift for the holiday!

Julie Tipton: If you remember her story, you know that her son committed suicide in May and she has been a tower of strength through the whole ordeal. She has touched so many lives in such a positive way by her example of trusting in God.

Julie continues to do well. She still mourns the loss of her son, but she finds comfort in knowing that God heals and that she has been able to help others through her experiences.

Ashley and Kate Lipke: Ashley is the Mom and Kate, aged 4, is the second cutest little girl in the world (my daughter is the cutest, of course). Kate was born with a heart disease called HLHS. Basically, she has half of a heart.

Kate has had a series of surgeries to keep her alive. The latest surgery, called a Fontan, happened just a few months ago. While Kate has given us all a few scares, overall, she's doing GREAT!

Ashley and her awesome husband, Scott, and their boys continue to be such a role model for all of us when we forget to trust in God. They recently shared a movie with us, Defeating the Giants. We watched it as a family and it was a terrific movie with a tremendous message of hope and trust in God.

So, that's the short of it for those folks. Until we meet tomorrow....

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


So, it looks like it's been over a month since I last posted. There are a number of reasons for that and I'll give you a few before I move on to more interesting things.
1. Work has picked up and my travel has gone from almost none to 4 days per week.
2. The kids are back in school and "hometime" is being sucked up with "homework time". I'm relearning 6th grade Math! That's a good thing... I think.
3. I've been in a bit of a funk.

There you go, folks. Three reasons I haven't written in a while.

Now, on to more important things...

I will resume posting regularly effective immediately. I think the plan will look something like this:

Monday: Personal Profile -- a look at someone I know who inspires me or who I think is worthy of being profiled.

Tuesday: Education Related Foolishness -- I'll find an education related issue to write about or I'll simply post a link to an article, ask you to read it and respond.

Wednesday: Anything Goes -- Since it's Hump Day, I'll post about whatever I think is relevant or irrelevant at the time.

Thursday: Family and Friends Time -- I'll write about my little family or my extended family. I'll share the funnier moments with you and I may throw in a few heartfelt things as well.

Friday: The Week in Review -- a look at things I didn't post on the other days.

Thanks for sticking around and thanks for reading. I look forward to a long and happy blogging.