Where the Buck Stopped

January 6th, 2009

A few weeks ago I was quite disillusioned with the political antics taking place in a neighboring state (which continue to lead to great confusion).   But coincidentally I saw an email about Harry Truman that day, one you may have come across before.   In his day, Harry Truman was not a popular President.  And he was charged with making the kind of decisions that we hope no one will ever entertain again.   But he made them with courage and conviction.  

With the passage of time his legacy has grown along with the appreciation we feel for someone who led such a humble life, especially after leaving office.  I think I would have enjoyed meeting him.  In some ways I feel like I already know him, or at least can identify with him, in part because he hails from Missouri.   But also because I had the chance to wander around Wake Island on a transitory visit once- a desolate, historical place in the middle of the Pacific Ocean where President Truman journeyed to that historic meeting with General Douglas McCarthur… only to relieve him of command six months later.   

I also know of him from reading the excellent biography of Truman written by David McCullough.   (Side note: I haven’t read very many Presidential biographies, but some of our more ambitous blogging friends have chosen to undertake that effort in total…  It’s neat to read where Ed at Riverbend Journal shares his thoughts about a George Washington biography for example.)

But my distinct impression about Harry Truman is that he was one of the hardest-working and more principled leaders (and yes, politicians) our country has produced.  And that he was quite a simple man in terms of needs.

I don’t know who wrote the following, but it’s fairly accurate according to Snopes… (Side note 2:  How did Snopes become the WWWebs leading authority for getting to the bottom of urban legends, myths, scams, rumors and half-truths anyway?  It’s a great “first place to check” for those questionable emails that too many people always seem to send out.)   

But what is written below about Truman is such a stark contrast to what we see today throughout the political landscape that I thought it worth sharing.

Harry Truman, from Missouri, was a different kind of President.  He probably made as many important decisions regarding our nation’s history as any of the other 42 Presidents.  However, a measure of his greatness may rest on what he did after he left the White House.  Historians have written that the only asset he had when he died was the house he lived in, which was in Independence Missouri .  On top of that, his wife inherited the house from her Mother.
When he retired from office in 1952, his income was a U.S. Army pension reported to have been $13,507.72 a year. Congress, noting that he was paying for his stamps and personally licking them, granted him an ‘allowance’ and, later, a retroactive pension of $25,000 per year.

After President Eisenhower was inaugurated, Harry and Bess drove home to Missouri by themselves.  There were no Secret Service following them.

When offered corporate positions at large salaries, he reportedly declined, stating, ‘You don’t want me.  You want the office of the President, and that doesn’t belong to me.  It belongs to the American people and it’s not for sale.’

Even later, on May 6, 1971, when Congress was preparing to award him the Medal of Honor on his 87th birthday, he refused to accept it, writing, ‘I don’t consider that I have done anything which should be the reason for any award, Congressional or otherwise.’  (President Truman passed away just over a year later).

He never owned his own home and as president he paid for all of his own travel expenses and food.
Modern politicians have found a new level of success in cashing in on the Presidency, resulting in untold wealth.
Today, many in Congress also have found a way to become quite wealthy while enjoying the fruits of their offices. Political offices are now for sale.

Good old Harry Truman was correct when he observed, ‘My choices early in life were either to be a piano player in a whore house or a politician.  And to tell the truth, there’s hardly any difference.’

President Truman died on the morning of December 26th, 1972 in Kansas City, Missouri, just over 36 years ago.  A write-up by Mary McGrory in the Washington Star the next day remembered him in a simple and profound manner.

“He was not a hero or a magician or a chess player, or an obsession.  He was a certifiable member of the human race, direct, fallible, and unexpectedly wise when it counted.   He did not require to be loved.  He did not expect to be followed blindly.  Congressional opposition never struck him as subversive, nor did he regard his critics as traitors.  He never whined.”

“He walked around Washington every morning- it was safe then.  He met reporters frequently as a matter of course, and did not blame them for his failures.  He did not use the office as a club or a shield, or a hiding place.  He worked at it… He said he lived by the Bible and history.  So armed, he proved that the ordinary American is capable of grandeur.  And that a President can be a human being…”

May we always be so fortunate as to find such men- and women- as our nation’s leaders.

Building Character, Helping the Community

November 22nd, 2008

It was a big day for our Cub Scouts and the annual Scouting for Food campaign.   This is a national community stewardship project to help alleviate hunger in local communities, with all levels of scouting participating.  In our area, around 25 of our cub scouts collected over 5,700 food items from a couple of nearby small towns.  Thanks to generous donors and more kids in our pack, we beat last year’s collection by almost 2,000 items, mostly canned goods, and brought it all in to a local food pantry.  This one day of food collection provides almost 50% of their annual operations supporting families in need in the local area. 

Cub Scouts and Scouting for Food Campaign


We covered half of a small town this morning with our vehicle, and it only took about 90 minutes going from house-to-house. There are a lot of generous people out there, and most of the bags were heavy with food. The bags from what just our family collected almost covered the entire back floor of a pickup truck.  Lots of other vehicles were full of food too.  It was a chilly morning for the kids!





Scouting for Food




Equally important however, the boys were learning about helping other people, and “doing good deeds” with their labor.  Last week they walked through towns and neighborhoods placing empty bags on doorknobs.  And today they walked back to every one of those houses, brining back a lot of canned goods.  And when we pulled up to the food pantry, all the scouts pitched in to unload the vehicles.  What a great way to help the local community- and to share food at a time when many people are struggling.



After the food drive we had a neat “Raingutter Regatta” which is a balsa wood sailboat race in 10 foot gutters- real rain gutters!  The kids built and decorated their sailboats at home in preparation for the race.  Today they raced each other down the raingutter by blowing on the sails.  Some of them were very creative with the little boats, and everyone had a lot of fun.  I’m a den leader for the 2nd grade scouts, and I was very proud of them today!

Cub Scout Raingutter Regatta

Kids and Nature Just Go Together

May 14th, 2008

A nice day today, without rain.  Started cloudy and cool and then warmed up beautifully.  We walked to make the bus for school through the wet grass, with the yellow lab running around us.  As we waited, playing catch with a newspaper, the lab decided to find a comfortable spot in the tall grass and settle down.  He’s becoming more independent as well as comfortable with the world around him.  He was happy just to lay here in the grass and wait until the walk home.

Yellow Labrador Retriever in the grass

In many ways the seven year old is the same.  I find myself looking for opportunities that our son can use to stretch his own independence.   The boy runs around finding interesting things to play with in nature, climbing trees, riding his bicycle, collecting rocks.  When he comes home from school he loves to watch one particular cartoon, and will sit in front of the tv if allowed.  But he loves being outside as well, and comes out pretty quickly to play and follow me around.  He watches and helps me with various projects when he can.  

After the windstorm the other day, we worked together staking nine little trees.  It’s not always my nature to think of ways to involve him, but I’m getting better.  I’m a “do-it-yourselfer” most of the time, and just move from one project to another trying to keep up with things that need done.  But as our son grows I want to share knowledge and find opportunities to involve him and help him learn.

I’ve been watching an interesting show tonight on PBS about kids growing up while living closer to nature versus in a suburban environment.  Did you see it?   Paraphrasing one of the themes:

“The kids growing up over the last twenty years see nature as an abstraction. Something “out there” apart from their own lives.  And that fosters a disconnection with the natural world.”

One of the reasons I love living in the country is to be able to maintain that connection with the natural world.  To live it, touch it and be part of the changing of the seasons.   We thought it important somehow that our son have the opportunity to experience this lifestyle, while balancing the modern world’s tools of technology and communication.

What young child isn’t fascinated with tadpoles?  He loves to play by the water, and always seems to find neat stuff.

Boy finding tadpoles at the pond in spring

But that’s also the challenge in many ways.  As a society we have evolved and are continuing to change very quickly. Kids today are challenged to adapt and are faced with countless choices involving what I call technological literacy.  Certainly basic reading and math literacy is critical as a foundation, but I also believe that technological literacy is something that can empower and leverage an individual’s life and choices in a myriad of constructive ways.   I think that tech literacy must reach a point where a child recognizes the benefits as well as learns the limits of the technology they will use in life, and that it’s really just another set of tools.

Personally I have run the gamut of being an early adopting tech addict years ago, to managing thousands of the most advanced computers and communications equipment in the world, and now back to being a simple user of technology in a way that expresses creativity and helps me keep up at home.  I feel like I’ve come full circle, and have heard the same from others.  I’m still tempted by new-fangled gadgets, but weigh the cost of owning and using them not only in dollars, but also in time.  Time seems to become more precious in many ways, and I am thankful to have time to do what is necessary each day.

But I always come back to nature, or what I see as “real” with the world around us.  Perhaps as a way to find a centered place within, and a foundation of being well grounded. I fear losing the connection with nature and what is real.  Somehow the spirit of the living and the energy that exists in nature are like healing waters that a metaphorical fountain brings forth.  When we work and take part in the natural world we touch our roots, and renew the bonds of life that exists between the human species and the living world.  

So where our son is concerned, a lot of it has to do with me. I have always sought a rural lifestyle, and a chance to learn and practice basic skills of living and self sufficiency.  I like that about living here.  But at times I wonder if the boy isn’t missing out with many of the various activities that a suburban lifestyle might offer.

We do try to involve him in typical activities such as baseball and scouting.  And he has the run of ten acres of land, joining more land in the area.  But driving to town takes a few gallons of gas round trip, so it’s not something we do routinely without a reason.  There are no nearby places to go and interact with others unless we get in the car and make the trip.  So he does miss different aspects of living in society such as a suburban area with parks full of other kids.  For all those who live in this area, it’s just the way it is.

Thankfully he has a full school day and a district that believes strongly in physical activity.  They usually have three recess periods to work off excess energy (or catch up on work not quite finished).   By the time he gets home he needs a break, but is then ready to head outside and play again.

I know as he grows up he will have the opportunity to experience far more than we see here at home anyway. In that regard I’m not worried about what he may miss for a few years.  To see him run and play, discovering new critters, finding cool rocks or snail shells to collect, shouting and screaming at imaginary creatures, all are things that I believe help create a balance and ability to find a centered place within himself which he will carry for the rest of his life.

Blowing Dandelion seeds in the wind

I don’t know if that makes any sense, but it’s where I am.  I have this sense that he needs this in his life, and that many years from now he will reflect on it and find satisfaction and strength in his experience.  Certainly all parents must make choices that they believe best for their children.  There are times in our lives that we are fortunate to have the ability to make certain choices, where others may not.  For however long we are here, I am thankful for our experience. 

Fairy Rings and Fungi

April 3rd, 2008

The oddities of nature amaze me.  Or maybe they’re not oddities, but I am amazed anyway.  I’ve been watching a fairy ring in a field for a year or two.  I didn’t recognize the green dark ring at first, but then found the strange, dark fungi hidden beneath the grass.  Since I first noticed it, it hasn’t become much larger.  Which makes me think it grows very slowly. 

 Fairy ring in pasture

It was interesting to read Fun Facts about Fungi and how fairy rings grow.   They also describe one in France that is over a half mile in diameter and maybe 700 years old!    Our little fairy ring is about 20 feet in diameter, and probably at least that old in years.

 Unknown Fungi in pasture

What kind of fungi is this?  I’m not really sure.  I thought maybe a puffball, but it’s flat along the top.  We’ll keep checking on it through the years.  

It’s colder and rainy again today, and the spring season is beginning slowly.  But when we get a day or two of warming weather it’s time to think about Morels…  we haven’t found any on our property, but maybe some day.  Folks guard their secret morel sites carefully.  They are really delicious!

Our Nature with Trees as Inspiration

April 1st, 2008

It seems to me that among the many things we have in common as humans on this great planet earth, is a desire to share our interests and creativity with each other, even when we do so somewhat anonymously :)   Technology has leveraged this ability for so many of us, and allowed amateur journalists and photographers to start their own published works.  Why do we write or take pictures, and share our thoughts with other people we may never meet as more than mere pseudonyms? 

Perhaps it is more than that… we are sharing our nature with each other, and our love for the larger Nature of the world around us.  Inspiration comes in many forms, but today it comes from Trees.  

Festival of the Trees

When I submitted a post on The Tuning Fork Tree for the wonderful Festival of the Trees this month, I didn’t have any idea that it would be hosted half a world away in Sao Paulo, Brazil! 

But it’s true- this month the Festival of the Trees is hosted by Alive Trees in Our Lives … soon to include an english translation if it’s not there quite yet.  Being ever curious however, I found a little help from Alta Vista Babel Fish, pasted the link to the site, selected Portuguese to English, and then translate!  Isn’t technology wonderful?  Then I was able to read not only the wonderful festival post, but also to discover more about Alive Trees in Our Lives and their mission:

“To promote and to develop action and projects that value the trees, creating a culture of encantamento, recognition and preservation, always with much joy, creativity and integration.”

 Would encantamento be charm or enchantment?  It missed that word, but when you visit the Alive Trees site you get the idea, and then understand that the Trees and forests are the inspiration and mission.  What a joy to find themes of Nature shared here and there.  But then again, we really are on the same journey, aren’t we?

Smart Kids, Not-So-Smart Parents and Achievement

December 13th, 2007

It’s not technically winter, but it feels like it now. The low over the next twenty-four hours may be less than 20 degrees F, with snow on Saturday. Which I’m ready for… I love the different seasons, but wet, soggy days are not very fun. If it’s going to be cold, bring on the fluffy white stuff! Otherwise like so many of you, we’re catching up for the season. The school year is winding down for the kids and Christmas is just around the corner (I’m not ready!).

Speaking of catching up, I’ve been making the rounds of a few blogs. I’ve always found ongoing themes of synchronicity in life, and the world of blogging is no exception. Pablo at Roundrock Journal always shares some interesting thoughts and links to other sites. Yesterday he pointed me towards Ron at Homesteading Hickory Hills. Ron wrote about a great article he found called The Secret to Raising Smart Kids. The article and his thoughts struck a chord personally for a variety of reasons I’ve been contemplating over the past couple of years.

We love to praise our kids and see them succeed… but when is praise too much, or inappropriate? Why should telling a child they are “smart” not help them? And how do we balance that with constructive criticism for helping them “get things done” so they grow up understanding what “trying hard” can accomplish? Many questions that Ron is also thinking about, and the article examines in detail. Each child is unique, yet some do not seem to understand or find value in task accomplishment, while others have much greater “stick-to-it-iveness”… something educators call intrinsic motivation. Certainly much relates to maturity at a given age and personality, and parents may or may not have a great influence on child development, at least for a time. Hopefuly parents help more than hinder development… one of the reasons poverty is so damaging in society, but that’s for another discussion.

But I love to see our young one living “in the moment” and displaying the epitome of childlike wonder for so many things. His joy and excitement is like an incredible elixir that I can hardly get enough of… it helps me remember my own joys for the moment.

Our Tiger Cub recieved his Bobcat Badge last month- the first achievement in Cub Scouts. He was very proud.

Boy receving his Bobcat Badge- the first Cub Scout achievement

Sometimes it seems as we grow we have to set aside that living “in the moment” to gain a larger persepctive for accomplishment. Too often we lose that childlike wonder, so focused on getting things done that we don’t appreciate the moments that pass. But ideally we help our kids grow in a constructive, supportive environment where they don’t lose that sense of joy, but become motivated to accomplish, contribute, and achieve along the way… it’s so many things that I can hardly articulate. Cub Scouts for example, provides many opportunities for achievement and fun.

“People do differ in intelligence, talent and ability. And yet research is converging on the conclusion that great accomplishment, and even what we call genius, is typically the result of years of passion and dedication and not something that flows naturally from a gift. Mozart, Edison, Curie, Darwin and Cézanne were not simply born with talent; they cultivated it through tremendous and sustained effort. Similarly, hard work and discipline contribute much more to school achievement than IQ does.” Secret to Raising Smart Kids, Scientific American, December 2007

But it’s a very interesting article… and I hope to continue focusing on themes of dedication, working toward success and accomplishing things along the way with our young one. Heck, a lot of us know this from personal experience… and personal frustration. What are some of the most rewarding memories you have? For me they have to do with accomplishing things that I really wanted, but also that really took a lot of work and discipline… where I almost surprised myself that I could do it. I guess it should be no surprise then as a parent, that helping our kids develop a positive work ethic and a sense of achievement should be a foundation for learning and growth. Now, how to balance and structure that approach is the question… any tips?! :)

Practically speaking, simply being a smart kid isn’t really enough. And no one ever said smart people had a lock on common sense. Sometimes it seems quite the opposite… living in the country you meet people who display a sense of rural intelligence that is beyond any measure of academic knowledge for how to live and succeed in the world. So maybe I like to think “being smart” encompasses a lot more than just book knowledge over time. And hopefully our young one will go way beyond the limitations of parental ignorance as well! Of one thing I’m certain… there’s always a lot more to learn.

Missouri Conservation

September 7th, 2007

    We’ve been so busy lately!  For some reason September brings a sense of urgency for getting things done, and catching up where we have been behind.  Maybe the dwindling daylight hours tell us that the year will be winding down in a few months… Fall is almost here and Winter is coming.   The weather has finally changed and we’ve had 2-3 days of rain.  The trees were really showing the stress from the summer heat and drought, but this should refresh everything. Between school and home projects I’m also planning for the Fall hunting season.  Not sure how much I’ll be able to get out this year, but it will be the Lab pups first season… I have to get him on some birds!  Maybe I can meet some other hunters and work together…  My other goals over the next couple of months involve property maintenance and “habitat management.”  Most of which is human habitat!  But there are many grassy areas and wooded borders I want to manage not only for wildlife, but also erosion prevention, etc. 

     Conservation has little to do with preservation when it comes to habitat and wildlife management.  It’s more about sustainability and stewardship of resources, including striking a balance for resource needs and environmental needs.  I think of myself as an ardent conservationist more than an environmentalist.  Some people think in terms of preservation whenever “the environment” is brought to mind.  I can see that… we have many special places that we should preserve for future generations. 

Yet I think it is more than simply preservation.  As the human population grows, I think we must consider not only the impact we will have on the environment, but also consider the resource needs  we will have.  I believe we can work to achieve balance, and that stewardship and management of resource sustainability over time will best serve the needs of humans and the environment.  

Education is critical, especially in developing nations and third-world countries where industrialization is expanding at a rapid pace.  The technology that is now available can be very destructive in the wrong hands, but concurrently it can be very beneficial, especially where people need assistance and struggle for survival.    What do you think?  And how do you view conservation and environmental stewardship?

     On the topic of conservation,  while I was browsing the Missouri Department of Conservation website for information, I came across a wonderful new tool they have called the Missouri Fish and Wildlife Information System (MOFWIS).  This is a searchable database containing information and pictures of more than 900 Missouri species of fish and wildlife… I checked a few species out and the system works pretty well.  You can even search by life history, geographical location (county), habitat, etc.  

I really think the Missouri Department of Conservation does an amazing job with technology and providing education and resources to Missouri citizens.  We have one of the strongest conservation agencies in the country.   The monthly Missouri Conservationist is a wonderful magazine as well.  The pictures are beautiful and the articles are always very informative.  If you’re a Missouri citizen, the magazine is free, and out-of-state subscriptions are only $7 per year!

Rain, Bass and Growing Up

March 10th, 2007

Daddy was proud yesterday. Well, twice actually. The day started out warm and I took advantage of the weather while getting lots of outdoor work accomplished. The young one came home after a half-day at kindergarten and had a picnic on his playset. I got the tools and chainsaw ready to cut the trees on the dam, while he wanted go fishing. Then, what do they say about the weather in Missouri? Oh… “Stick around, it’ll change.” I think they say that everywhere… But of course it began raining gently and we went to the barn.

He still wanted to go fishing… “You want to fish in the rain? By yourself at the pond?” I asked. He answered with a resounding “Yes!” I was proud of him, not only because he didn’t mind the rain, but also because he could finally fish at the pond, mostly by himself. He has made such wonderful progress at swimming lessons over the last six months. I’ve been taking him twice a week since last October, and he finally can swim and stay afloat… and loves the water. So when he asks to go to the pond, I can finally say “Okay!” and know he’ll be safe, and can get himself out. I still want to be within sight distance, but I can be in the barn now and check on him. It’s a big step, because we wouldn’t let him down there by himself until now.

Oh I almost forgot… the other day we released the minnows, do you know what he did? I was busy with the bag of fish and he said, “Daddy… do you think I can walk across this log?” (I’m trying to let the fish out…) “Ah… well probably, I’m sure you can….” I look up and he’s halfway across a little log in the corner of the pond! Now this is about 12 feet long, across water that’s 2-3 feet deep! So I quietly watched him… lest he fall in if I say something! There he is, an apple he was eating in one hand, and balancing with the other… he was really concentrating, the picture of childhood… and he made it! He jumped with excitement at the other end as I clapped for him. He had asked to walk across before and I always said “No!” because it was winter, cold, etc. But I told him that was really terrific…. “Can I do it again?” he says. “Well, I’m SURE you can… but not right now… ” That could have been a Norman Rockwell painting, it was so cool! So anyway, my other proud moment? I think this is three or four… okay I’m proud of him all the time!

But this one is neat… I’m working away in the barn and he walks up with a smile on his face, and a nice fat fish on his pole! He caught a Largemouth Bass and walked up to the barn to show it to me! His eyes beamed with pride as he said, “I caught it all by myself, and I didn’t even need your help!” I was so happy for him… when he went to the pond I really hoped he would catch a fish. After taking his picture, we took it back to the pond and let it go. The last few weeks have shown a change in his youth… he is not the same six-year old of just a few months ago. Our relationship has changed… he has changed. He’s growing up.

First Largemouth Bass caught all by himself

Carnival of Education!

January 31st, 2007

fountainpen.gifWhat the heck is a blog carnival?!   Well, a blog carnival is simply that- a festive, fun-filled blogging and reading experience!  But it is so much more- truly a collaborative writing effort where bloggers and sites with similar interests host a “carnival” of content on a periodic basis.  The blog carnivals are a wonderful way to gather theme-oriented content in a single reading experience, with creative layout, graphics, and links to articles and other sites.   Last week I was browsing and found the “Home of the Carnival of Education,” a blog called The Education Wonks…  a really informative blog on current issues in teaching and education.  As it happens, I had written a short post about my son titled Kindergarten University a few days before, and although I didn’t even know blog carnivals existed until then, on a whim I submitted my kindergarten post.  And today it was included by Carol at The Median Sib , hosting this week’s  Carnival of Education, a wonderful mix of education content (thanks for including me!).  


You can find out more about blog carnivals at the main website BlogCarnival.com.  Their About page is very informative. Who knows, maybe I’ll start or join a blog carnival and host it here!

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Kindergarten University

January 23rd, 2007

Kindergarten isn’t what it used to be… that is probably an understatement. I have few memories of my kindergarten experience, other than naps, playtime and snacks for a few hours a day. I must have been deprived!

Not any more… these days schools have robust and vibrant kindergarten programs to capitalize on the creative, intellectual and physical growth of children at an early age. Many programs differ among communities, but they share the common goals to help increase readiness for later educational attainment. Sometimes however, in our zeal to help our children grow and “be whatever they want to be,” I think educators and administrators are too focused on metrics, standards and programmatic curricula.

I am not taking anything away from our local school and teachers- they are wonderful. The learning environment is rich and the experience and social development our child receives is so important. He looks forward to going to school, loves his teacher and is learning everyday- what parent could ask for more? Well, how about sometimes… less? Within the rich learning environment of today’s kindergarten programs are assessments, tests and quizes, and a day to make any high school student exhausted. He is up at 6:00 to make the 6:50 bus, a 45-minute ride to school, then a myriad of classes to include recess, music and PE, and then back on the bus to arrive home at 3:20 (if the bus is on time.) For a 6-year old, an 8 and 1/2 hour day is a lot! I wonder if there is a national “norm” for what is expected from kindergarten, or the length of the school day at an early age? We are asking much of our children to expect attentive concentration and academic performance that only a few years ago was part of a 1st or 2nd grade curriculum.

But now is not then, and these children will be challenged to learn much as they grow and develop in our society. Be that as it may, we are wise to remember how much we ask of them. Driving to school is one method to shorten the day, and I am fortunate to be able to do so. He loves riding the bus, but sometimes when he seems a little tired, or the morning rush is simply not worth it, we slow down a bit- add 45 minutes to the day and ride together enjoying the morning. Today we shared a sunrise as he sang and pointed out the sights of the countryside. After school? He’s off to swimming lessons…

“Today… is gold that covers hills and dell, and rich are they who use it well. (Pearl Phillips)”

Sunrise Driving to School