Archive for the 'Education' Category

On the Road Again

March 12th, 2010

A milestone over the past week as I finally fixed the old truck.   Something with the clutch or transmission wasn’t working, and it was either getting stuck in gear, or popping out of gear.  I finally figured out (guessed!) that the slave cylinder had a tiny leak. Not enough to drain the master reservoir, but enough to prevent good hydraulic pressure to the transmission. After a little research online, a stop at the parts store and a few hours one night, it came out as good as new.   That was the only thing wrong with the clutch fortunately.

I thought it would be painful to bleed the system, especially with no bleed valve on the cylinder part. Instead I slowly dripped Dot 3 fluid into the tiny fluid port as bubbles popped up until it appeared totally full. That took a while, but had to open the master cylinder reservoir up top, the fluid started flowing out the end of the tube where I could quickly attach it to the slave cylinder, keep pressure on the clutch, and the air gradually was evacuated. Voila! No air bubbles!

My next move wasn’t so smart… like a knucklehead I wanted to test it out too fast, and pushed the clutch pedal in and heard a “Pop!” noise. Climbing back under the truck I realized it worked exactly like it was supposed to… except since I had not installed the slave cylinder to the transmission yet, when I actuated the clutch it popped the piston out of the cylinder and broke the retaining clip that held it in for easy installation. Arrrgh!

With messy visions of starting over, I took a few deep breaths and with lots of grunting and groaning, I was able to squeeze the piston back in enough to get it in place. Aahhh… I felt lucky that this particular truck had the slave cylinder attached outside the transmission bell housing, or I would have had to do a lot more work taking the transmission apart.

Why do this myself? Partly because I like to, but mostly to try and save some bucks. I spent too much at the dealer a few months ago to fix some fuel system issues, and they said I needed a new starter at the time because it wasn’t starting the truck properly. Heck, it costs money to get an opinion after nearly an hour of labor charges… the diagnostic fee.  I’m learning, but replacing the starter would have been hundreds more dollars on top of what I already spent.

Sure it started rough, and sometimes not at all, but for a truck I only use sometimes, I declined their kind offer.   Now however I was in “fix it” mode, so I tried a simple fix by replacing the starter solenoid for twenty bucks.  Guess what? That was all it took, and it starts just fine now… go figure.  One would think the dealer could have figured that out… or maybe they did. Makes you wonder.

I also put in a new power window motor since the driver’s side was mostly dead. I say mostly because it had been intermittent for a couple of years and had not worked at all for over 6 months. I swear I didn’t touch it, but that silly window motor magically started working after I bought the new motor!    Here’s a shot of the driver’s door with the panel removed- the window motor is between the outer and inner door frame!

Replacing the motor seemed like an extravagance as a “nice to have” item, but there’s no other way to open the drivers window without it… and if you’re like me, how can you drive a truck around without hanging your arm out the window for half of the year!?! :)   But that old motor would have stopped working again anyway, so I replaced it.  It was a little painful trying to squeeze my arm inside that door panel to get to the motor.

Ah, but that was another education as I took everything apart, stereo speaker out, etc. and then trying to squish my arm and tools in all kinds of directions to undo the dang thing. It finally dawned on me that the door was put together at the factory with the motor inside, and the bolt locations were marked so it could be replaced easily… duh!

I finally saw the two tiny dimples (I marked with yellow dots in the first picture) in the door frame to mark where the bolts were attached…. and to show me where to drill holes to get the bolts undone. After that, removing the motor was simple.    Here’s a photo of the old motor- they’re sealed units, but after 17 years it had a lot of rust all around.  Maybe I can use it for something?

How many things in life are like that? We struggle and look and wonder, sometimes wasting a lot of time and energy, and even giving up, simply because we just don’t know any different?   I like to do things myself if I have time, and I don’t mind paying a professional if you can afford it, or really need one.

But I’ll say one thing… if I’ve got a question or can’t figure something out, the internet is an amazing place to find answers or ideas.  Yeah, some of it’s good, some of it’s pretty bad.  But it’s a place to start.  Lots of folks share their lessons learned and it can really be helpful.   I can’t help but wonder if the pace of human evolution and change is increasing much faster now in proportion to the degree of shared information and ideas…

It does feel good to have the truck running normally again without spending a fortune.   I think it was $56 for the clutch slave cylinder, $20 for the starter solenoid and $49 for the window motor.  Would have been way past $500 at the dealer including labor.  Something to be said about old cars… the new ones just throw computer codes, and look a lot harder to work on.

So off we went the other day to get a load of straw for the garden.   I’d like to try using it for mulch and keeping the weeds down this year. The boy got to play in someone’s barn for a bit, and then back on our own driveway he tucked himself in up top for a short ride.

Before that night’s rainstorm I had some straw down between the rows to help prevent the soil washing out. We’ll add a bunch more as we go along…  Next week we can get those potatoes and peas in the ground!   Hey, maybe we can use some of that straw to make a scarecrow?!

Elementary School Redux: There’s Always Another Way

September 15th, 2009

School has been a bit challenging this year for our young one. The 2nd to 3rd grade transition begins focusing more strongly on independence and responsibility.  Lots of new expectations, routines and challenges.  And not all of them something each child is ready for.  In some ways it seems like they’re trying to make miniature college students out of elementary kids… our son has even got an official weekly planner that he must fill out everyday on top of his homework.   Good that they’re teaching planning and organization skills I suppose, but sometimes it’s just so much for them at 8-9 years of age.

He is fortunate that his school is full of caring, professional educators- it’s really a good little public school.  However there’s always an oddity or two among classroom management styles. His 3rd grade teacher, for example, does not allow the students to have more than one pencil in their desk.  If they lose that pencil, they must ask for a new one, and then they lose one of their recess playtimes for not keeping track of their pencil. If they just want a new one, they have to hold up the stubby remains of the old pencil before getting it. Ugh.  This new rule after having had access to pencils for the previous three years in K through 2nd grades.

Anyway, unlike the sweet, touchy-feely first and second grade teachers (and don’t forget the treasure box!), his new teacher is all business.  So he has been a bit confused and overwhelmed by these new rules and expectations.

Case in point: The other day a note came home that he just “sat there” for three hours doing nothing in the morning.  I asked him what was the matter, and at first he didn’t know (he lives in the moment…).  But then he remembered:  “I lost my pencil and didn’t want the teacher to get upset by asking for another one, and then I didn’t know what to do…”  He really didn’t mind losing recess (they have three of them during the day), but he didn’t want to upset her, he felt overwhelmed and confused and so he just sat there with his head down.

Naturally my first reaction stemmed from that innate parental desire to just make everything okay for him (I haven’t figured out how to do that yet, and if you’ll be kind enough to share the secret I’ll gladly pay you a bunch of money).


     More rationally, I wondered why in the heck his teacher didn’t try to find out what the problem was, or try encouraging him to do something else instead of just letting him sit there for so long?! Argghhh.  And truth be told I was frustrated with him for not making his needs clear and asking for a new pencil and just getting busy.  It’s not like his teacher is a monster- she’s actually a petite woman and seemingly quite nice.  Well that’s another story…  But her business-like demeanor in the classroom will take some getting used to for him.

Besides, it’s so simple to me, right?  Just get a new pencil and get the job done?!  I was like that in 3rd grade, right?  Well, not at first anyway, but I was a fast learner.  Bear with me for an historical digression:

School always seemed fun and exciting to me somehow, and learning was a positive challenge.  But I remember testing boundaries in 3rd grade, to the point of making a really cool paper airplane once during a reading session.   I don’t know what I was thinking, other than being a little bored and trying to get the other kids’ attention.   They watched me with that airplane, wondering what I would do… almost daring me to throw it.   I remember the smiles and glee in my classmates’ eyes when I zinged that sucker toward the front of the classroom while the teacher was sitting with her head down reading.   Incredible!  That airplane flew beautifully, it was an amazing sight really, soaring toward the blackboard, rising higher and higher, and then?  It swooped down almost purposefully into the great big foot-high bun of hair right on top of the teacher’s head!

At first the silence was broken only with the gasps of my classmates while all eyes were riveted to the white airplane sticking out of the teacher’s hair.   And then laughter erupting all around me, at least until the teacher stood up.  I thought maybe it was okay?  Maybe doing something funny was good?   I was looking at the airplane, amazed at the result of my craftsmanship while also staring at the teacher’s face.  My eyes then grew wider with the knowledge that I just did something really, really bad.  Reality set in quickly with the,  “Who threw this airplane!”  voice that I had not heard before in a classroom.   This was one of three Catholic schools I attended in various states, at least through fifth grade, and I wasn’t going to tell a lie and commit a sin.   I raised my hand slowly, somehow knowing that I was all alone in this, and she motioned me to come up to the front.  I was then forcibly escorted by my arm into the hallway where I received a very stern lecture by a red-faced woman with spittle coming out of her mouth.   That was a new moment in my life.

I have no idea what she said, and was left in a chair for an hour to contemplate my actions.  I like to think I helped educate an entire class of kids regarding what one should or should not do in a classroom.  And it was about that time that I came to the conclusion that upsetting the teacher didn’t result in anything good, ever, and that doing tricks for one’s classmates didn’t help matters much either.  Getting in trouble was just not worth it, and I didn’t like the visibility.  It really didn’t have anything to do with my parents either- I’m not even sure they knew about it.  If they did, I was fortunate in that they probably just laughed.

But I think I decided then and there that I would not stick out in the classroom ever again.  And I didn’t. *(Pamela makes a good point that this  would be a sad lesson- learning to be invisible.  I would absolutely agree, but that really wasn’t my point.  What I mean by not sticking out, is that despite a person’s experience, there’s always another way to go about things, or see things, or learn from things… and you didn’t need to try to do things (like throwing paper airplanes) and stand out in a negative sense, except to be yourself.)

Somehow I managed to figure out at a very young age, that if you just do what the teacher wants, getting things accomplished, along with the studying and homework of course, you can get decent grades and get through school just fine.  And then you can manage your own time… your own program and do the stuff you really want to do.   Teachers love kids who just do what they ask them to do…


     So back to the story at hand:   As I sat there with my son last week, I really wished I could inject him with some kind of Vulcan mind-meld device that would give him years of experience and knowledge about the world around us, just for momentary use of course…  Enough to stand up, walk briskly to the teacher, look her straight in the eye and say:

“Ma’am it seems I’ve lost my pencil. Now I understand I’m going to lose my recess, and that’s fine even if it is a really silly rule. But I would in fact like to learn something here! I really love school you know,  and I especially enjoy science and reading.  Math? Not so much, but even that is better than just sitting in my chair for three hours with a sore butt!  So please get one of my personally-labeled pencils out of your cabinet, and would you mind redirecting me a bit? I seem to have forgotten what it is we are working on. Thank you!”

The squeaky wheel gets the grease as they say, even in the classroom. Our young one is a bit shy and not very assertive at times, so he doesn’t ask for help when he needs it. After relating his predicament to his teacher, she remained ever the professional.. “He needs to learn the rules and do it on his own…” Ah the rules, always the rules.  We don’t want learning to get in the way of the rules now do we?

She’s right of course, within reason, and at least in terms of her classroom management style and meeting the expectations established for the kids in that context.  The pencil rule isn’t something I would do, but then again she’s been teaching for 20 years and I haven’t. The kids are going to have to learn to succeed in that environment.   But you know, there’s always another way… another angle, a different approach and a child that isn’t the same as the four thousand seven hundred and fifty-two children they’ve worked with previously. And it’s not just teachers, but as parents and mentors too.  Sometimes I think we miss opportunities to really make a difference and gain a little perspective.

Ah well, the school year has just begun.   And it looks like I’m going to get to know his teacher really well this year.  We all must learn to navigate the written and unwritten rules of life.  And more often how to succeed despite those rules and the challenges we find along the way.  As for my son, I know he’s going to have to learn at his own pace. And I’ll love him just the same. But sometimes it’s really hard to watch.

Cash for Clunkers: Money For A New Gas Guzzler?

August 7th, 2009

Isn’t this a nice looking truck? It’s big, bold and in my view, kind of neat.  It’s a 1993 Ford F-250 with a 7.3 liter Turbo Diesel engine, 5-speed manual transmission and four-wheel drive.  I’ve had it for 16 years now, and it’s only got around 125,000 miles on it with lots of memories along the way.  It’s low miles mostly because it was stored for a few years at different times while I was deployed in the navy.  Lots of mileage and engine wear to go on it still.

The “Big Black Truck” as we call it only gets about 15 miles to the gallon of diesel fuel no matter what you do with it. And yes, it belches out black, diesel smoke when you start it… and smells to high heaven (which to an old aviator smells pretty good).  But it’s a load carrying, tow-hauling machine and I’ve driven it all over the country.  For me it was my ride… the truck I enjoyed driving to work and taking trips with.  The miles it does have on it have taken me to some pretty cool places.  I’ve towed boats for salmon fishing in the Pacific,  had it hill-climbing while camping and hunting in the rugged Cascade and Okanogan ranges in the northwest, and the same throughout the midwest. That truck has tooled through mountains in Oregon and California, high and low deserts in the southwest, and just about everywhere in between there and Missouri.  It’s a comfortable highway cruiser too, albeit a little costly these days for fuel.



As I grew older though, somehow that dang truck became stiffer and stiffer.  Or so it seemed. The ride is pretty rough, and the clutch on the truck is about five times as stiff as one in a passenger car.  And as nice as it is when it’s truckin’ along the interstate,  it’s plain hell to drive in traffic, shifting up and down constantly.  But that granny gear in 1st can climb a hill like you wouldn’t believe! 

It does need a little work… I should fix the loose ignition switch, maybe a new fuel filter assembly, new glow plugs and/or fuel injection pump to make starting easier and a few other odds and ends (and yes, I just finished replacing the window and side mirror on the driver’s side- grrr!).  But its only had a couple of real maintenance issues in it’s entire 16-year lifespan– the clutch gave up the ghost once and a serpentine belt broke once. 

It still starts and runs like a top- a little stiff on the roads, but that’s how they’re built.  Actually rides a lot smoother with about 5,000 pounds in the back.  But I mostly use it around the property and to hold diesel fuel in a tank in the back- otherwise it doesn’t get a whole lot of use.  The Blue Book value of this truck in good condition is between $2000 and $3000 bucks.  Less for trade-in, maybe a little more at retail.    Seems crazy since it runs so well and is such a great tow vehicle, and it’s worth a lot more than that to me. 

When the new “Cash for Clunkers” laws came up this year I thought maybe it was time to do something with it, and that I could get a decent down-payment towards a higher mileage vehicle (decent meaning $4,500 bucks to me).   After all, we’re helping the auto industry, the economy and the environment by getting these big, smoky, pollutin’ trucks off the road, right?  Lots of advertisements these days are touting how “Cash for Clunkers” is good for the country and the environment because people want higher mileage vehicles and this is the way to get them. 

I was one of those people.  Was is the operative word because as I recently found out, under the Cash for Clunkers regulations, my truck does not qualify to be traded in for any kind of vehicle except another truck (or van or SUV that gets really low mileage)!  Why?  Because it is listed as a Category 3 truck, which the lawmakers defined as a vehicle with a GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) between 8,500 lbs and 10,000 lbs.  My nice old truck has a GVWR of 8,800 pounds.   Which means that I am only eligible for a $3,500 credit to purchase another truck, van or SUV (Category 2 or 3).

So there you have it.  Under Cash for Clunkers, infused today with another 2 Billion dollars,  if I want to take the government’s, taxpayers money- I have to purchase another vehicle with terrible gas mileage.   Now why do you suppose they wrote the laws like that?   I have no desire to spend $20,000 to $40,000 or more for another truck or SUV that’s going to get around 15 miles to the gallon, just like the one I have.   I was really thinking about a little car that would cost a third of that and get around 40 mpg. That might just have helped our family and the environment a little, right?   

Statement from President Obama after the Senate vote today:  “Now, more American consumers will have the chance to purchase newer, more fuel efficient cars and the American economy will continue to get a much-needed boost. ‘Cash for Clunkers’ has been a proven success: the initial transactions are generating a more than 50% increase in fuel economy; they are generating $700 to $1000 in annual savings for consumers in reduced gas costs alone; and they are getting the oldest, dirtiest and most air polluting trucks and SUVs off the road for good…”  

Perhaps the Cash for Clunkers program does  get a few old gas guzzlers off the road.  But I would offer to you that it’s not that significant.  The CARS program rules only include required mpg increases of from 5 to 10 miles per gallon to make most vehicles eligible for the credits.  I guess that’s something.   But in my case for example, there isn’t any required mpg increase to trade in my truck… just a requirement that I buy another gas-guzzling truck! 

In my view the program is simply a government redistribution of taxpayer’s dollars with an intent to stimulate the economy (automakers, jobs, dealers, etc) for a short while.    

Is this the smartest use of our tax dollars?   According to our legislators, right now it apparently is. Probably because the program is so popular.  I would submit that most of the people trading in cars under this program were going to do so anyway at some point (eventually I’m sure I will too).   In this case, the government is simply giving money to people to do something they would have done anyway, trying to give a boost to the economy.  

Seems to me it would be simpler if we just expanded offering incentives in the way of tax credits for vehicles with higher mileage.  That way the credits would be available to everyone.

In my case I think I’ll just hang on to my ‘ole truck for a while.  Maybe it’ll actually increase in value over time.   Besides, I’m probably helping the environment more simply by not driving it very much.

To read more about Cash for Clunkers, there’s a host of other opinions and news stories on the subject.

Morning Thoughts in the Garden

June 14th, 2009

It really feels like summer with the warmer and humid weather.  Finally a good bit of sun for the garden to really take off.   I’m more excited by the day to see the vegetables growing.  Some may wonder, “Can you really be excited simply by watching a garden grow?”  To which I say, most assuredly, yes. It’s like God is present all around you with the beauty of the moment, day, season… It’s an enjoyment or appreciation perhaps, but to see food grow from seed where none grew before is almost magical.  And it represents other things too… hope, simplicity, tangible results of effort, even saving a few dollars here and there.  And it’s fun to remember how much you can actually do at home.



The hollyhocks are in bloom too- these grew on a couple of stalks last year, but now there are three times that many growing very tall- reaching past six feet.


Everything is starting to produce, so now it’s a matter of keeping the weeds down and the bugs away from the goodies.  In another experiment I’m going to try training cucumbers (below middle) on a wire fence.



I supported the top of the fence because cukes can get somewhat heavy, but we just don’t have a lot of room for them to spread out.  If you’ve grown cucumbers before you know they could take over the whole garden if you let them!


The sugar and snow peas are finally here and even the beets look halfway decent with the tops filling out.   The beets don’t seem to get very large though, and I’m wondering if that’s because our soil is too compacted? I didn’t till this year, but instead topdressed the rows with a couple inches of mulch and organic compost.  Much of that probably washed off in the rain.  Perhaps I’ll do the same next year, but only after tilling the row to loosen it up.


That may also be better for our potatoes (above). They’ve come along really well, but the soil is pretty thick.  Some of you professional potato growers have figured out that loose mulch works very well and makes  harvesting that much easier.  Maybe we’ll try that next year too.



This morning I went out to pick some of the peas- they grow so fast once they get going!  Fortunately the spring has been cool and wet, but I don’t know how long our pea harvest will be.  This will be the first big week for them.  Last year we grew beans that lasted almost all summer.  But I enjoy peas so much more than beans!  Maybe we’ll plant them again in September for a fall harvest?  Never tried that before.





On a different note in recent gardening news, a lot of folks are worried about looming passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act (HR 875).    While the idea and intent make sense in terms of safer foods for everyone, some organizations (here with comments) and people (here and here) believe small farm and livestock operations, organic gardening, farmer’s markets, and even backyard gardens could all be affected negatively by government regulations run amok over time.   In some areas of the blogosphere the subject nearly incites panic.

With all due respect to our most principled and esteemed lawyer friends :),  I find one of the comments to the Slow Food USA Blog posting from April 10th particularly appropriate:

“The fact that Rep. DeLauro is “shocked” that people have taken notice of her piece of ambiguous and questionable legislation should be a wake up for our nation that our politicrats are expecting us to continue being sheep. There is nothing wrong with the American public demanding greater transparency and a much more well-defined bill to be set on Obama’s desk once the legislative process is complete.  When politician’s don’t hear from anyone but corporate lobbyists, lawyers, and special interest groups is when the legislative process goes awry.  Kudos to the radicals and the misinformed public for asking questions and demanding clarification…if even they are “inflammatory”, “hysterical”, or “misguided”. ”   Glenn Grossman

After a little reading and practical reasoning however, the fears don’t appear to be justified.   But fears are borne from lack of clarity and/or transparency of intention.   There are simply too many questions left unanswered and that’s where the concern arises.     I have to say I’m squarely in the camp that opposes bigger government intruding into our lives.  Meaning I don’t enjoy seeing more government… more regulations… more laws to juggle and comply with and obey.  I don’t believe the government can protect us from all evils, including ourselves, nor should it attempt to.   But hey, the folks on capitol hill just want to do what’s best for us, right?  I have visions of FDA inspectors running around looking for ways to justify their existence…


Here at home the leaves on the trees are becoming that deep summer green once again.  It’s nice to see shade, and places where dappled sunlight falls through the trees.  Somehow it brings thoughts of quiet afternoons or exploring places not seen.


While I walked around early this morning I saw that the heron was back again.  It had an even bigger fish in its bill as it flew away.  I just shook my head…  the dogs wandered around with me, looking for the rabbit that haunts the garden.


Old man basset hound tells the yellow lab  “Woo…woo…wooooo… this is my spot!”  How about those ears!?


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.

Next »