Are Resolutions Worthwhile?

It’s that time of year—the time to make a list of resolutions. They’re promises we make to ourselves about improving life in the coming year. Each New Year we write them down and display the lists at highly visible places to keep them fresh in our minds.

Resolutions usually address a person’s shortcomings. The most often cited one deals with weight loss. The holiday season that begins with Thanksgiving gives individuals too many opportunities to stuff their gullets and pack on the pounds. By the time New Years arrives, folks are exhausted from carrying those spare tires around and promise to get rid of the pounds.

Others promise to stop the use of profanity, give up smoking, or become better employees or parents. For some reason, we like making those kinds of commitments on the first day of the year—a new day and new lease on life. All is positive, and we can see in our minds how much better life will be as we live up to those resolutions for self-improvement.

The key to a successful resolution is work. A person has to be aware of the new promise he’s made, and then he must put forth plenty of effort to complete the steps that make that resolution a reality. Before long, the actions of a resolution become a habit, and at that point, a person has made the behavior a part of his every-day life. This applies to declarations to exercise more or to be better organized. In both cases, the individual sets at time each day to run, walk, or lift weights or to clean, file, and plan until it becomes second nature.

In the end, reality sets in. Most of us don’t last more than a few days in working on our resolutions. We have the best of intentions, just like the ones that line the road to hell. However, unlearning a behavior, especially one that rewards a person with some kind of pleasure, is difficult at best. No one wants to do without something he enjoys, so resolutions that are aimed at habits are often abandoned quickly. I can’t remember how many times I swore I’d quit smoking at the New Year, but when I finally gave up the habit, it was July. In high school I promised myself to study more and improve my grades. That lasted until the first day back in school. Then I decided that improving required too much energy and effort.

This year, I’m not making any resolutions. There are some things I’d like to accomplish, but I’m not setting them up so that failure leads to depression. Yeah, I’d like to drop twenty or thirty pounds, begin walking every day, set a time each day to write, and spend more time with others who need my help. If I reach these goals, I’ll be a healthier, lighter, and more contented person. If I don’t, I’ll still be okay.

Be careful what resolutions you set for the coming year. Don’t be too hard on yourself. It’s good to set goals, but after all, isn’t life supposed to be a pleasant journey? I, for one, can do without the heaps of guilt for falling short of expectations. Hang in there and have a Happy New Year

The Good and Bad of Christmas

Christmas time is special at our house. At heart, I’m still a kid who gets excited. However, not everything is perfect during the holidays.

Most people have horror stories about shopping during the season. Some even set out on Black Friday to find wonderful deals. I’m not about to place one foot in a store on that day. Instead, I go before that infamous time, and on many occasions in the past, I have finished all my shopping well before Thanksgiving.

My primary job is to search out gifts for Amy. I made her cry on our first Christmas together—no a good cry—because I bought her hot curlers and some other “dorky” stuff. Hey, we’d just gotten married five days earlier, and I didn’t know “jack” about buying things for a woman. I did learn.
A couple of times I bought pieces of furniture to refinish, and she seemed pleased. Then I bought clothing for her. Sometimes I picked a winner, and sometimes the presents were duds. The good thing is that I always kept the receipt. Amy liked that because she could exchange presents and shop for items that she liked.

Now I ask for a list of things she wants. From that I make selections. Sometimes I deviate from the list and get something I think she’ll like. Again, the receipts are tucked away in case the gifts don’t pass muster. Overall, I’m successful in pleasing my wife at Christmas. The rest of the year, I’m not so sure.

Another task with which I am charged is finding items for “stocking stuffers” for the kids. I enjoy stalking stores like Dollar General, K-Mart, and Walgreens for atypical Christmas presents. De-Icer was a hit with all one year. A lint cleaner to use on refrigerators and other appliances became a useful tool, even though I bought them as gag gifts. Some of my selections have become the butts of jokes. It seems each year the kids pull out pairs of finger nail clippers, tire pressure gauges, and chap sticks. I’m always open to good suggestions for future stocking presents.

Of course, there are some things about Christmas that drive me crazy. The crowds are one. I don’t do well in them, and my nerves fray and temper grows short in traffic jams and rude persons who jump line or push through to reach their destinations. The only time I enjoy those crowds and places is when my shopping is complete. Then, the best entertainment for the weekend is sitting at the mall and watching folks go nuts trying to find gifts that are in short supply. I sit and smile at their panic and thank the good lord my shopping is completed.

The most stressful part of the process is wrapping presents. For the life of me, I can’t make beautiful packages. I never get the edges of the paper cut straight and always use too much paper for one present. Even though I use a half a container of tape, the gift still slips and slides inside its covering. It’s sexist to say this, but I think wrapping packages correctly is something that’s built into a woman’s genetic make-up and absent in men’s.

So, we’ll meet the kids on Christmas and exchange gifts. They’ll be pleased because Amy has again done a wonderful job. My poor wife will give me a fake smile and open pitifully wrapped boxes or items stuffed in gift bags. She can rest assured that I have receipts for everything in case I didn’t quite get the right thing or chose the wrong color. Still, it’s Christmas and a wonderful time for family and friends.

Have a good one!!!!

Easing into Age

Age is a wonderful thing. No, I’m not talking about all those aches and

pains that accompany passing years, nor is forgetfulness a positive for those of us who are in the last third of our lives. However, some things are much better with age.

One of the benefits of growing older is retirement. I took mine early. Thirty years of teaching proved to be all I could stand, and reading and hearing from those still in the profession about the hoops through which they must jump, I have to thank God that He knows what’s best for me. I should add thanks to Amy that she’s willing to work so that I can be finished with the work world.

This life without having to answer an alarm every morning is special. My days consist of writing, covering a story or two, completing “honey-do’s,” and playing golf. The best thing of all is that I can say “no” to any of those if my mood doesn’t match their demands. I’m my own boss; well, Amy is actually the CEO of Rector, Inc., but no outside individual has power over my time and what I do with it. I highly recommend retirement to all who can find things to keep themselves busy. I always enjoyed my job, but I refused to let it become the center of my life. Some might say I’m too self-centered to let that happen.

Age also shows us who’s in charge. Just when I think I am the man I used to be, the years sneak into bed after a long day of yard work and clamp vices on calf and thigh muscles. My nights are often filled with fitful sleep as aches and pains come in waves. It’s then that the years announce that it’s all right to take a rest or two during chores. I’ve discovered that sometimes the harder chores require my calling for help.

Growing older also helps us to forget. Yes, I know putting an item away and then not being able to find it is maddening. That’s not what I’m talking about. Age helps us to forget to worry. Amy used to say that her mother lived a contented life during her last years, and the main cause was that she didn’t worry about a thing. Mary Alice lived for the moment, and she enjoyed her time with friends and family without concerning herself about the “small stuff” in life. Nobody can come up with a better way of living.

For years people knew my intensity about anything was exhausting and volatile. I had an opinion on everything and argued it whenever someone disagreed. My patience was easily worn thin, and righteous indignation rose over the slightest things.

Lately, my family has been shocked at how I’ve let some things that used to set me off pass. My daughter waits for me to explode with “moronic drivers” or traffic jams. Amy is shocked that I have developed more patience with folks I don’t necessarily like and for shows that I once refused to watch. Dallas is stunned that I tolerate some things that grandson Madden does, things that used to bring on spankings or, worse, verbal tirades.

What finally got through my thick skull is that I have only so much energy, and it is more quickly depleted now. I have to carefully choose my battles, so that means things that used to chap me are left alone. It’s good that age has mellowed me. Don’t get me wrong; I still can have a conniption if the situation demands it, and I have enough energy to outwork most of the younger folks around.

I coast a little more in this life now, and the reward is finding so much to enjoy and love. I’m okay with myself and in my years. Both are well worn enough to be comfortable like an old pair of shoes. I hope several more years are left to be laid back before I’m laid low.

Guarding Against Big Brother

I wonder if most folks are as surprised as I am that individuals so quickly and freely give outside entities access to their lives. It is shocking how much they are willing to cede to “authority figures.

Recently, a column on traffic cameras appeared on my blog. It pooh-poohed the use of them and their ticketing drivers for turning right on red lights. I agree that laws are created to protect us. However, the one thing that machine enforcement of laws lacks is common sense. If a person turns right on a red light when no traffic is coming, is he or she breaking the law? Technically, the answer is yes, but with a little common sense, the answer is no. It’s a good bet that a policeman won’t issue a ticket under that circumstance.

To say that traffic cameras should snap photos of so-called violation and then have a company issue a ticket because it’s the law is giving in to something that just doesn’t seem okay. No, it’s not right that a machine should eyeball us and then make the decision as to whether we should or shouldn’t be punished.

After 9/11, our government passed the Patriot Act. One part included roving wiretaps. It allowed one wiretap authorization to cover multiple devices, eliminating the need for separate court authorizations for a suspect's cell phone, PC and Blackberry, and other things. Another allowed "Sneak and peek" search warrants, which let authorities search a home or business without immediately notifying the target of a probe.

Too many citizens panicked and agreed that such things be allowed to continue in this country. I’m not at all for that. I expect plenty of grief from others who disagree. Allowing any governmental department to illegally search my property or to invade my privacy just to keep tabs on me is unacceptable. Some would say those acts keep me safe. I say to you, the right to bear arms was included in our fabric during a time when the U.S. was in its infancy and subject to attack from England. Like this act, it no longer applies since we no longer are threatened by an opposing army and especially because our country has the most sophisticated and expensive defense on the planet, one that spends more that all other countries combined.

What we citizens must guard against is giving up control over our lives. Now, plenty of people carp about too much government control, but at the same time, they are all for allowing parts of the Patriot Act to become permanent. They say a person has nothing to worry about unless he is guilty of a crime. At present that might be true, but at some point in the future such laws can be used against all, innocent and guilty alike.

Our government at present is unable to come together to do anything that helps the citizens. The economy is in the tank, and the super committee in charge of making recommendations couldn’t agree on a lunch menu, not to mention on cuts in all areas of spending. Why in the name of sense would anyone give that incompetent government access to the personal parts of our lives? If we don’t wake up and question invasions of our privacy, then George Orwell’s “Big Brother” will arrive at our doorsteps before we realize it. It might already be too late.

I’m never going to argue with folks about possessing firearms, more specifically assault weapons because neither side will ever convince the other of its wrong thinking. However, let’s wake up and be alert to what laws actually do to our liberties and personal lives. It’s the duty of a diligent citizenry and the safeguard of freedom.

Fully Using Schools

“What we have here is a failure to communicate.” That’s what Paul Newman’s Cool Hand Luke said, and it’s a fair assessment of the situation with which community organizations find themselves facing in their attempt to use Knox County Schools facilities.

The schools system is facing a reported $7 million shortfall in its 2012 budget. What’s new? Every year it’s the same old thing: “We don’t have enough money so it’s time to cut, cut, cut.” In past years that’s meant axing teachers, aides, and course offerings. What the heck; it’s just education.

So now, programs, nonprofits, and organizations of all kind will be in search of new homes before the budget is passed next summer. Scout troops are already scrambling to set up new digs for their get-togethers. Fledgling church groups will look elsewhere for meeting places, and hundreds, if not thousands, of kids will be locked out of gyms and other facilities that hosted recreational league activities.

What’s going on with Knox County Schools? It seems that this superintendent was hired for his background in juggling finances for Boston schools. His time in the classroom was limited. Instead, he’s been heavily involved with budgets and money and fitting the two together. That’s wonderful news that he’s so strong in that area, but here in Knoxville, his mantra seems to have been cut, tighten belts, and outsource. As Knoxvillians can tell him, outsourcing was done once before and proved to be a fiasco. Buildings were left dirty, supplies were few and far between, and workers were no longer loyal to the schools in which they worked.

This latest idea of charging for use of the building might not be bad if the charges were reasonable. What makes many folks scratch their heads is the question of costs. If the building is already opened at the end of a school day, exactly what are the outstanding costs incurred by letting groups use classrooms? Sending a scout troop a usage invoice for $1800 would be laughable if it weren’t so ridiculous.

Sure, recreational leagues that require daylong use of gyms or fields should help out with the costs incurred by the system. Lights and scoreboards gobble up energy, and it’s not fair for the system to absorb then entire bill.

What this is more about is a relationship between the school system and communities. It used to be that a schoolz wer the focal points of most communities, and they served as meeting places. Residents tied their allegiances to those schoolz and defended them. Today, PTA’s work to install playground equipment and make other improvements to schools. What’s going to happen if parents decide to no longer invest in a system that shuts its doors to all except those who can pay fees? By the way, will the system charge the government for using schools as polling places?

Another question is where will kids be gathering if not at schools? Opening the doors to buildings that sit idle much of the time could possibly serve communities and save children who might otherwise find trouble to occupy themselves.

The fact is that school systems, from time to time, need an increase in the money they take in. That means the tax rate needs to go up. Yes, it’s painful for folks in these tough economic times, but if we believe that education is of value, then we have to “pony up.” At the same time, groups have to be willing to contribute a little. If we work together, we’ll find that school buildings can be used without a financial strain on anyone.

From board evaluations, this superintendent is performing well. That means teachers are helping students to raise scores on test and meeting the statistical demands of administrators and others outside the classroom. However, he’s not doing so well in recognizing and understanding the “human element” of schools, communities, and education. I suppose no one taught that in finance courses. Just like businesses for Knox County Schools, it’s all about the bottom line.

Up Too Early or Too Late

I’m constantly amazed by people. Just when I think I have them figured out, they show me how wrong I am.

On this Thanksgiving morning, I rolled out of bed after tossing and turning most of the night. The clock showed 6:10 when I finally rose, even though I’d seen every hour of the night before flashing on the dial.
Maybe I was too excited about the day and going to Cookeville to eat and spend time with Amy’s uncles and aunts and my kids and grandson. Maybe I was looking forward to having my wife back home. She’d spent the previous four days in Nashville. I envied her time with Madden, Lacey, and Nick, but circumstances dictated that I stay home. I hope Amy is as glad to see me, although I doubt she missed me much. She fairs better by herself than I do.
At any rate, I stumbled to the kitchen to make coffee and then sat down in my chair and stared at the computer screen that was already running. After checking email, I clicked into Facebook to see what folks had posted and even wrote a couple of lines. Then I noticed the times under folks’ posts. Some had typed things three hours ago and some four.

What the heck is going on? If people posted then, that means they were up and stirring at 3:00 a.m. or earlier. What are they doing up that early? Yes, it’s possible that they’ve not been in bed yet, which brings on another set of questions.

I used to be a night owl, but only on special occasions did I ever hang around until that early in the morning, or late at night, depending on how you look at it. Even in my twenties, staying up that long was difficult since I’d lost so much sleep during college years as I pulled all-nighters studying for exams. Something in my being just doesn’t allow my body to function or my eyes to focus that late.

On the other hand, what makes people get out of bed that early? I know some have to baste that turkey or begin preparing the Thanksgiving feast. I also remember those years when little ones cried out and awakened parents with demands for bottles or clean diapers. And, yes, some folks work night shifts and have their days turned upside down.

But what about all these others? I hope they aren’t affected by insomnia that robs them of sleep every night. Maybe some are so wrapped up in their careers that they have to hit the floor early to maintain an edge on competitors. What I hope is that none are in the throes of bad times that keep them worried and awake.

The only time any of us might be up in the middle of the night is Christmas. Children struggle to sleep the night before because they’re ramped up with excitement over the arrival of Santa Claus. They might slip into unconsciousness for a couple of hours, but somewhere around 4-5 a.m., they’ll wake up, run to the tree, and squeal with excitement over the presents under trees.

Parents will stay up into the wee hours of the night as they read instructions for toys that must be assembled. They’ll stress over not having all the pieces or having to find batteries in the middle of the night for toys that must operate in the morning. Exhausted, they’ll collapse in bed, but just as they doze off, bedroom doors will burst open, and begging voices will urge them to get up and see what Santa left.
No, I didn’t sleep well last night. I’ll make up for it sometime today. Somewhere there’s a couch that calls me to nap this afternoon. For those of you who are up early every morning/night, consider some medication or career changes. If you have little ones, you’re stuck, and I feel your pain. By the way, Happy Thanksgiving!

Camera Karma

I fetched the paper the other morning, and my eyes were drawn to a front

page article: “Traffic Camera Vendor Sues City.” It’s not so amazing how the truth surfaces on so many things if we’re just patient.

American Traffic Solutions, Inc. filed suit in Chancery Court. The company says that Public Acts 425 is unconstitutional because it doesn’t allow for issuing of tickets for illegal right turns if the only evidence is traffic camera video. This company squawks about the unfairness of the law and over the contract violations by Knoxville.

It’s a funny thing to me that ATS manipulated the legislative process as it developed a business that monitors driving habits and mistakes of citizens. However, when a new law that goes against the company’s self-interest is enacted, its officials cry out over the injustices done to them. Hey ATS, karma’s a bitch!

I’ve been a victim of those cameras during a right turn. At Morrell Road, I pulled up to the light, looked to the left and saw nothing coming, and made the turn. SNAP! I received a citation and accompanying photo in the mail, and then I watched the video online. Yep, I sure did “roll” past the white line at the light. Yep, I did turn right. Nope, I didn’t endanger anyone. The truth is that not a single car was coming from the left nor did the right turn I made in any way present a danger to other motorists.

A further look into the situation indicates that these cameras are more about revenue than safety. Sure, some grinding wrecks have been prevented as motorists jam on the brakes to keep from going through red lights. However, I’m curious how many rear-end collisions have occurred because of such quick stops.

Knoxville has cameras at fourteen intersections throughout the city. Since the PA 425 was enacted, a NINETY percent DROP in citations has occurred, and Farragut’s citations have decreased by fifty percent. Hmm. That statistical evidence seems to indicate that the overwhelming majority of fines were levied for right turns that didn’t take into account the flow or traffic or the overall driving habits of victims.

So, now the vendor is filing suit to continue issuing citations where cameras were in place before the new law came into effect. Oh, I see, ATS wants to have its own exception to the rule so it can maintain revenues produced on the backs of Knoxville citizens. At the same time, they pooh-pooh any changes or exceptions in laws that benefit those who pay for their profits.

Yes, the roads need to be safe places on which we can travel. Folks who run red lights should be ticketed for putting theirs and others’ lives in danger. However, a system that monitors intersections must include a key component that American Traffic Solutions cameras and staff ignore. Common sense should be used in looking at the overall traffic situation, and if no dangers are present in a situation, then shutters should remain still. In the end, the traffic will flow much easier, and what looks like a form of George Orwell’s “Big Brother” won’t be squashing common folks.

As for American Traffic Solutions, stop whining. Your profit taking doesn’t supersede the laws that are enacted to protect the citizens of Tennessee. Like I said before, what goes around comes around.

Fall-Pro and Con

The last week ushered in the coldest temperatures yet of the late fall. I suppose it’s about time since we’re fast approaching the middle of November. Still, it’s fall that drives me crazy sometimes.

For one thing, frost sneaks in during the early morning and hammers those plants that Amy has babied and fed and watered so faithfully since spring. With only one visit, blooms wither and turn brown, and it’s off to the mulch pile or burning area for them. Their ends are sad.

A couple of years ago we bought rain barrels to catch water from our gutters. The things can come in handy, but setting them up in spring is a pain and even worse is when cold weather demands that they be removed. The spigots on both barrels grudgingly give up the water inside, and it can take an hour or more to drain them. Then the downspouts for the gutters must be reattached. Failure to put these giant watering cans away can result in their splitting as the water inside freezes, and I sure don’t want my wife mad at my laziness.

So far this fall, I’ve worked with leaves four times. The yard is filled with trees, and while the maple trees cooperate by dumping their leaves all at once, hickory trees drop giant brown husk-like things that don’t easily grind. Then there are the oak trees. They never cooperate. Instead, they dribble leaves from the first cold snap. Each year I work with those stubborn dead things until January. Then, I give up and take care of the lingering ones when the mower reappears in early spring.

On the news I watched a story about some snobbish neighborhood whose residents had grown tired leaf blowers. They’d started a petition to ban the use of them because they produced too much noise. One woman, I think she once played Cat Woman on the old “Batman” television story, proclaimed that the use of blowers wasn’t necessary. This snarly old girl obviously has never worked in a yard filled with leaves. She probably hires a gardener to complete the work and to do it in a manner that wouldn’t disturb her entitled lifestyle.

I don’t hate the fall leaves. Reds and golds against a cloudless blue sky present a scene that proves that a higher power is in charge of things. In fact, maple tree leaves that turn those colors are mainstays of fall and the Thanksgiving season. They’re the ones that elementary school children apply with crayons to the art work in classrooms.

Just the other day, another fall event caught my attention. I pulled to the side of the road in our neighborhood and watched several turkeys as they picked at the ground of a yard. The appearance of wildlife in the fall searching for food always thrills me. Deer in the median along Interstate 75, while dangerous when they run in front of trucks and cars that zip by, are some of the grandest features that the area has to offer tourists on the way to Florida. For me, seeing those creatures is just another part of the cooling season’s approach.

As labor intensive as the fall is, it still beats the coming months of winter. When frigid temperatures trap me inside, I’ll long for the days when I spent time outside working on those jobs that sometimes irritate me so much. I’m actually grateful to be alive and healthy enough to enjoy the out-of-doors, regardless of how much work is involved. Besides, before long, spring and summer will arrive, and then I’ll again enjoy the seasons and work I love the most.

Frou-Frou Food and Drink

People who know me will acknowledge the fact that I am a “simple” person. No, I’m not talking about mentally, although there might be some truth to that as well. Simple in this case means I live a rather common, day-to-day life that is void of extravagance. On those occasions when I do attend more upscale events than drinking a beer and eating wings with the boys, my attention is drawn to the things that are out of kilter with my normal life.

At a recent dinner for a non-profit organization close to Amy’s and my heart, I discovered how out of touch I am. The room in which the restaurant seated us had one wall of shelves filled with wine bottles. A few other bottles were open for guests as they arrived. What I didn’t find was a single bottle of beer. So, after a hasty retreat, I arrived at the main bar and ordered up a Miller Lite. The bartender asked if I wanted it in a glass, and I answered with a “no.”

Other guests in the room held stemmed wine glasses. My blue-labeled beer bottle stuck out like a sore thumb. It also shouted “redneck,” a possibly accurate description of the person holding the bottle. Amy was understanding about my beer toting because she knows I don’t do wine.
One of the attractions of the affair centered on a woman who is an expert in the field of wines. Our menu listed a different one for each course of the meal. This aficionado presented each wine and discussed the grapes peculiar to the drink, as well as the bouquet, place of origin, and other trivia. After one pronouncement about French wine and Oregon wine, a person seated at our table looked up and, with seriousness registered on his face, commented, “Who knew?” A smile crossed his face and the rest of us laughed too loud. It was more information than any of us cared to know. That was especially true for a beer-swigging guy like me.

In my high school and college years, on occasion I did sip the fruit of the vine. It came in a bottle with a screw-on lid. Boone’s Farm was the name, and instead of a good year, I looked to see what month the stuff had been made. On too many occasions, I drank too much and woke the next day with a mule kicking the inside of my skull. That’s enough make me swear off the stuff for good.

The meal was okay. I know I’m supposed to say that the food was excellent at such a fined restaurant, but hey, my favorite meal is a hamburger steak, mashed potatoes, and green peas.

The waiter set in front of me a piece of prime rib. I swear it kicked twice and quivered once right there on the plate. Immediately, I told him, “I can’t eat this. It’s too rare.” The guy looked at me and smiled but made no move. I suppose he’d never heard anyone speak ill about the restaurant’s food. I sat just as still and looked at him, waiting to see who blinked first. The man sitting beside me solved the problem by telling us he would exchange his cut for mine. I’m glad he did or I’d have had stopped at Krystal for a bagful of sliders on the way home. At least they’re cooked.

Amy requested that I wear a tie and coat for the occasion, and for her I’d do anything. I don’t wear a tie more than a half dozen times a year. The entire night my neck chafed from a shirt collar and tie pressing too tightly against my skin. Wearing a tie also makes a meal less enjoyable. Acid reflux already makes swallowing difficult, and the tie only exacerbates the problem. Yep, I’d rather wear a t-shirt for meals, and I’ll even put on a clean one if it’s required.

We returned home at about 10:00 p.m. For us, that’s late, so I hurried to my closet and changed back into a comfortable pair of sweat pants. The best parts of the evening were the laughter that I shared with those good people at the table and the time with Amy. As we rode home, part of our discussion touched on the next night’s supper. We decided on either Papa Murphy’s pizza or hotdogs and chili. The food suits me better and either “entrĂ©e” goes will with Miller Lite.

They Don't Care

I’ve had it! I’m fed up to my receding hairline with the politics

that are being played at the expense of this country’s economic stability, not to mention survival of millions of Americans.
Right now, the jobless rate is stuck at 9.1%. That doesn’t include all those folks who have quit searching for employment. If they were included, the rate would skyrocketed. People have lost their jobs and homes. Now, some who lost their homes had bitten off more than they could chew because they tried to buy too much house with too little paycheck. Still, others, such as laid-off teachers, simply can’t meet their mortgage payments any longer. In this case, the stands from politicos both locally and nationally in support of education are nothing more than posturing when at the same time they yammer deep cuts to school budgets are being inflicted.
Our country has been in a nasty funk since 2008. The economy tanked, as did those of other countries across the globe. Part of our problem was debt. However, let’s be clear about one thing: a huge hunk of this debt is the result of a ten year “war” that has sucked the life bloods from soldiers and the economy. So, those ultra-conservatives who decry all the spending should decide if they’re in favor of suspending the war and bringing our troops home. Hmm, maybe that’s not such a bad idea since no end to the fracas is in sight.
The voting public is a fickle bunch. On the one hand, they’ve given President Obama a 44% approval rating, and a whopping 74.7% of those asked are unhappy with the direction of the country. However, 63% of those surveyed approve of the jobs program the president presented to Congress, who mostly along party lines, killed help for the middle class. At the same time, 64% agree the wealthiest citizens and corporations should take on the largest portions of the tax burden.
Congress has no intentions of setting aside differences so that the needs of the country can be addressed. The most liberal members demand that more money be spent, even though the nation can’t afford it. On the other side, the Tea Party representatives are against everything, and they would rather shut down the country than compromise. In either case, not much leadership is being shown.
It’s time to clean house. In case you haven’t noticed, they don’t care. The politicians are playing games with our country and its well being. Their actions remind me of little kids who get mad and won’t talk to each other. Of course, with grown-ups, spiteful actions accompany ill feelings. Ideologues are more interested in principle than reality. The rest of us can “go to hell in a hand basket” as far as they are concerned.
The US has plenty of problems, and all of us can share in the blame. The point is that we can get out from under the bad times, but only if we work together. The time for bickering is over. From now on, any public servant who chooses to stand in the way of recovery should be sent home where he or she can answer to the folks who vote.
If we don’t get our house in order, this country will continue its slide from a shining beacon on the hill to forty watt bulb that barely lights a single room. Politics should have no place in the rescue of America. Tell the morons in Washington to get out of the way of recovery or get run over.

Steve Jobs and Others Pass

The “Today Show” began the other morning with almost eerie music. At the same time a picture of Steve Jobs appeared. The CEO of Apple died the day before. It was a sad time in some ways, but in other ways, the whole thing aggravated me. Yes, Steve Jobs changed the American culture, perhaps, more than any other modern day individual. After all, the brand name Apple rolls off the tongues of most everyone in this country. More astonishing, millions of us have iPods, iPads, and iPhones. They are the toys that most intrigue us, and for years we’ve paid out loads of cash to obtain them. I ordered my first iPhone yesterday after I dropped my Blackberry and shattered the screen. I wanted this new phone because it is much like the iPod I already own and has to be easier to use than the cursed phone with tiny buttons and an unfriendly roller. Jobs also offered thousands, maybe millions, employment. Not only are 47,000 workers at the Apple Corporation receiving paychecks but untold numbers also make livings by selling those products from the company. Even in tough economic times, millions of Apple products are sold, and because of the iPod, a whole new business exploded with the beginnings of iTunes. Jobs sent shockwaves through the educational world by proving that college isn’t necessarily the answer for every individual. He dropped out and then began building empires at Apple and Pixar, and at the time of his death, his total wealth is estimated to be $7 billion. He showed us all that drive, raw intelligence, and creativity can be developed outside the classroom. Thinking of life without such a great mind might make us wonder if new gadgets the same quality of those at Apple will be forthcoming. Who will pick up the slack? The answer is that this country produces plenty of geniuses, and surely one can be every bit as successful as Jobs. It must have been a slow news day for the networks. How else can the coverage of Jobs’ death be explained. Usually, somber music playing as photo of an individual, along with birth and death dates, fill the screen is reserved for national leaders. However, when the “Today” show began, Jobs’ face appeared and Matt Lauer spoke in an almost worshipping tone. I get the importance of the man’s passing, but was such a fuss justified? The fact is that approximately 70,000 people die each day. They succumb to various diseases, accidents, or wars. They leave families in pain, and many times those who are left behind have little or no financial support on which to live, not to mention to bury the deceased. The news never mentions the vast majority of those who have died unless they have done so at the hands of murderers or in high profile accidents. No, most of us who pass do so quietly. We aren’t mourned by the world, nor are we recognized by the media for our contributions to this world during our time here. Jobs’ passing is a loss for all of us. So are the deaths of all who are on this earth. All persons are products of a creator, and as such, they are special. We lose a piece of God each time an individual passes. The point is that no one, not Steve Jobs, not Elvis, not Abraham Lincoln, is more precious than another. We all stand on equal footing as children of the same father. So, no one’s passing should be deemed more of a loss than others. The fault for this isn’t Jobs’. It’s the way business sell papers or air television shows.

Women "Manning" Up

Sitting in the waiting area of the surgery center in Oak Ridge, I watched a young couple across the lobby. Again, the differences in men and women zoomed into view, this time in the ways they approach business-like events.

At first, I didn’t realize the woman was accompanied by her partner since he was camped in the restroom. I tried the door to find it locked, and the ol’ boy took care of his business for no less than twenty-five minutes. Now, I believe that a person needs his space and privacy for some tasks, but not even I take that long in a restroom.

When he finally exited the facility, he ambled across the waiting area and dropped himself exhausted into a chair beside the young woman. He was so spent from his restroom venture that sitting up straight was out of the question. Instead, the young man half reclined and rested his shoulder on the arm of the adjacent chair. For the next half hour or more, he craned his neck to watch “Today.” A couple of times he nudged the girl with his elbow to make sure she heard what Matt Lauer said. Then he grunted in agreement to another comment. I’m not sure the guy could have made an important decision or performed a single task.

The woman sat with a small child, and I overheard her tell a nurse that the baby was fifteen days old. The surgery center isn’t necessarily the healthiest place for a newborn, but she must have not had anyone to baby-sit. She loaded up the child, carrier, purse, and some machine and moved to a room for a consultation. Again, I overheard the staff tell her that a second child who was having some kind of surgery would definitely experience pain and that the prescriptions should be filled as soon as possible.

She returned to her chair and retrieved a bottle to feed the infant. As she cradled and fed the little one, this young woman studied the scripts the nurse had handed her, and then with care filed them away in her purse. She would be responsible for having them filled, although her partner might drive her to the drugstore and sit in the car while she did so.

The couple later walked to a room where the second child lay. This little girl moaned and cried with pain. Nurses worked to make her comfortable, and the mom pitched in to help. The dad, however, sat on the foot of the bed and did nothing but make himself a nuisance. However, he never made a move to get out of the way, and I saw the woman glare at him a couple of times with a look of total disgust.

The entire scene reminded me of the many times I’ve failed to “man up” and take charge of situations. Amy assumed the mature person role and handled everything while I sat like an inanimate lump that was incapable of thinking. When she finished business, I followed her out the door like a third child.

My observations over the years convince me that, in general, most men act this way. We are either oblivious to what goes on around us or we are too lazy or immature to care. No matter, we, the beings that are stronger and larger, take one step back to allow the so-called “weaker sex” the room necessary to solve problems. It’s for sure that our family and its financial well being and health would have failed had it not been for the meticulous and logical actions of Amy.

When she awoke from the surgical procedure, I gave her a kiss, a hug, and a “thank you.” I even took charge and waited on her when she arrived home. I managed to have prescriptions filled without any help. Women have been “manning up” for a long time. Maybe it’s time we males did so a little more often. We’ll definitely look better to our wives and to others who might observe our actions.

Getting and Losing a Girlfriend

The past weekend was one filled with emotions. They provided a rollercoaster ride for those who were involved and had Amy and me running in different directions.

Jake Mabe, writer for The Shopper, tied the knot on Saturday. He and bride Jennifer opted to exchange vows at The Museum of Appalachia. They sandwiched their vows in between UT football game weekends, and that made for a good turnout.

The couple exchanged rings and “I love you” at the base of the waterwheel on the mill at the museum. Rows of white chairs sat in the field, and Mason jars held brown and orange arrangements. A clear blue sky and cool temperatures kept guests comfortable. The setting was one that matched Jake’s unpretentious personality and love for history. The bride was beautiful, and her glowing smile warmed the hearts of all. Quick vows over, the throng moved to the banquet hall for food and festivities.

At First Christian Church, another couple enjoyed a wedding day. Julie Mayo, a member of the church, became the wife of Jonah Ruddy. The ceremony took place in the sanctuary. It’s one of the most beautiful places in Knoxville for a couple to begin life together. A pipe organ filled the setting with the majestic notes of special music for the occasion. What made it more special was the presence of so many folks who have been members of the church in years past and folks who have watched the bride grow up. Afterward, guests sat down to a wonderful meal in the fellowship hall.

In both cases, the young couples repeated their vows with excitement. They looked at each other with the sparks of new love. Both traveled to wonderfully romantic places for their honeymoons, and upon their return, they’ll set up new households where each will learn, possibly with some angst and flaring tempers, how to live with another person. That will include accepting the partner’s quirks and annoying habits. In the end, the hopes are that both couples will find years of happiness and love together.

On Friday, things weren’t so joyful. John Rutherford left a message on our phone. His wife June had fallen ill on Wednesday and continued to worsen throughout the next day. His call informed me that she’d suffered a massive stroke and wasn’t expected to live. As soon as I heard the message after arriving home, I took a quick shower and headed to the hospital. I found my good friend John sitting in the hallway with his nephew. He teared up and told me exactly what had happened.

For the next couple of hours we sat together and just talked about lots of things. John commented that it would be hard to lose June. They’ve been married for 59 years, the same number of years I’ve been on this earth. I thought about that, and it broke my heart, mostly because I know how I’d feel if something happened to Amy.

June passed just as Saturday appeared. That same bright day for two couples who were getting married looked gloomy and dark to a longtime husband. John made arrangements, and he held up as best as could be expected. He hated crying in front of people, but how could he keep his emotions in check when the love of his life was no longer there? I told him that no one would think less of him if he showed emotions.

Men, you need to make a short trip to wherever your girlfriend is sitting. Once there, give her a hug and tell her how important she is to you. Over the years, one of my biggest questions has been how I got lucky enough to be with a woman like Amy. We’ve had plenty of rough patches, but with some help, the good Lord above, and a deep, abiding love between us, our marriage has stood the test of time. The truth is that we love each other more now than we did during those first few days of marriage.

Amy is my girlfriend. I love her. June was John’s girlfriend, and he loved her, but now she’s gone. Let’s hope that several decades from now Jake and Jennifer and Jonah and Julie are still together and that the guys still consider their wives as “girlfriends.” Say a prayer for John Rutherford as you imagine how much he misses his girlfriend.

Empower and Enable My Ass

I’ve held off as long as I can about this subject, but the common sense

behind it is so lacking that the time to spout off has arrived. My take on it will rub some folks the wrong way, but on this we’ll have to just disagree.

For too long now, our society has taken on “catch words.” They serve as nothing more than deflections for what is reality. One, for instance, is “empower.” According to the dictionary, the word means “to promote the self-actualization or influence of.” We hear it all the time. Some organization claims that its agenda “empowers” individuals to do something. Legislation is passed to “empower” some special interest group in its fight for their place in society.

Give me a break. Since when did individuals or groups need empowerment from the government? Over the course of years, they were empowered through the sweat created by their own efforts. The civil rights movement empowered itself by taking its message to the streets where common folks live.

The same is true of women’s suffrage. The stronger sex grew tired of being treated as second class citizens, so they took the fight for voting rights to the courthouses, community centers, and other public places. Then they demanded an equal voice in the choices made by this country, and guess what. Changes occurred and the vote was theirs.

The Vietnam War brought about never before seen waves of dissension. Citizens, as well as many veterans of that war, saw the injustices of it. They so believed in their cause that they organized and marched and protested until the war that the government wouldn’t let the troops win ended.

Now, all sorts of groups clamor for inclusion in society. They want equal footing with other well-established causes, organizations, or mores. However, advocates aren’t about to tackle the tasks on their own. No, they stand around and complain and whine and wait for some entity to “empower” them. They want it free of charge and without having to put any effort or sweat into make dreams reality.

And what is all this about “enabling.” The definition of “enable” is “to provide with the means or opportunity.” Again, those who want something want it for free. Individuals look to someone or something to “enable” them to act. How does that work? If I need money to pay the bills, why in the world would I look to some group to give me the means to earn money? Seems to me that the need to eat and pay bills is enough motivation to find a job. I don’t need anyone to provide me with the means or opportunity to search for employment. I sell myself to a boss, and through my own actions I enable myself to earn the money I need.

The term “enabler” has replaced teacher too many times in public schools. I always hated to be called one. I was a teacher. That meant standing in front of classes and explaining how to do something or interpreting some piece of literature. When I’d covered the skills, the time came for students to put into practice the skills that I taught. I didn’t enable anyone. Instead, my job was to provide the material or the skill. Whether a student took those things and applied them or sat idly by and earned failing marks was his or her decision. They “enabled” themselves by taking up what I taught and applying it.

Empower and enable my ass. The folks of this country need to stop looking outside themselves for power and motivation. Those things dwell within, and that’s where we all need to look if our hopes and dreams are to come to fruition. Ralph Waldo Emerson “empowered” all of us with one line: “Insist upon yourself; never imitate.” That’s good enough advice for me.

Waiting for a Healing

I knew we were in trouble when she walked into the room and said, “Hello, my name is Peggy.” Our Sunday afternoon turned into a stop in hell.

Amy and I traveled to Athens, TN to eat lunch with Dallas. He wanted to spend time with his mother on her birthday weekend. Our visit with him at the Cracker Barrel followed a good morning at church and then a relaxing drive.

On the way home, Amy called the Summit Medical Walk-in Clinic in Farragut to set an appointment. Her left wrist was puffy and ached so much that she woke up from the pain during the night. I practiced medicine without a license and diagnosed the problem as being tendonitis, but she wanted to get a second opinion.

The employee who answered the phone set up an appointment at 3:45. That gave us plenty of time to drive back to Knoxville. In fact, we got there early (big surprise with me being involved) and walked through the door a half hour early. The place was crowded, but the attendant told Amy that individuals with appointments would be seen first. Not a single seat was empty, so I stood for awhile.

Most of the folks walking in snorted and coughed and wheezed. Whether they suffered from colds or allergies wasn’t clear. However, I wanted to hurry up and get out of the place before someone hacked on me a million germs attacked and laid me low. What I can’t figure out is why folks will lie around sick for a couple of days and finally look for help when the weekend comes.

One woman rose from her chair and asked the receptionist behind the glass how much longer would she have to wait? Her voice carried throughout the waiting area as she announced she was experiencing heart palpitations. DUH! If my heart is fluttering or beating so fast that it feels as if it might jump out of my chest, I’m not wasting time in a clinic. I’m headed for the closest ER.

A young mother entered and carried a little boy who appeared to be around five years old. She filled out papers and asked how long it would be. When the worker couldn’t give her a definitive answer, she snapped, “My son has had a fever of 104 for five hours.” It’s been a long time since our kids were little, but I’m sure I would have had either child somewhere much earlier if one had come down with a fever that high.

We sat, patiently I might add, as our 3:45 appointment melted into 4:00 and then 4:45. Finally, Amy was called back a few minutes before 5:00. After the nurse took vitals, the physician assistant entered and introduced herself as “Peggy.” She advised Amy to have an x-ray and said she’d have the nurse take one. More than fifteen minutes later, my wife asked the nurse about it, to which she responded that Peggy hadn’t told her. In all, we waited for forty-five minutes to have an x-ray taken, developed, and analyzed.

I admit by then I was HOT. We’d spent the entire afternoon in a crowded waiting area with no lights and no ventilation. For a brief time the receptionist opened the door that led to the rooms so that cooler air could circulate, but that didn’t last long.

A weekend clinic should be adequately staffed. Having someone to check patients in, one nurse, and a physician’s assistant seems to be running a facility on the cheap. Come on! At least a couple of nurses and examiners comprise and adequate minimum staff for serving people. It looks like Summit Medical is cutting costs without regard to service to patients.

When Amy and I finally escaped, it was almost 6:00, and we still had to find an open pharmacy to fill prescriptions. Once safely at home, we both reached for a soothing refreshment. Sipping and decompressing, we came to the decision that the next time we had a situation that required medical attention, a visit to the emergency room is our preference. The wait won’t be any longer than the one we had Sunday, and we’ll even get to see a physician.

Buffaloed by My Blackberry

As my Blackberry pinged, a new message appeared. It announced that I could now have Blackberry Protect. Oh how I wish I had ignored that app.

Seeing the word “protect” led me to add the program to my phone. The information about Blackberry Protect states it is “a free application designed to help find a lost BlackBerry smartphone and keep the information on it secure. That was just what I needed. Without questioning, I downloaded and installed this cursed app. It didn’t take long for me to discover how stupid I’d been.

After rebooting my phone, I checked my information. One place I looked first was Lister, another app. It keeps lists of things that are typed into it and prioritizes them. Over the last year and a half, I’ve typed in no fewer than thirty titles and ideas for columns I planned to write.

When Lister came up, the screen was empty. I read a message that said no lists were available. Yep, everything that I typed into the app had disappeared. It had been zapped into some other dimension where my retrieving it was impossible.

Most folks are probably shaking their heads and thinking, “Why didn’t the moron have the list somewhere else?” That’s a good question for which I have an answer. I put those ideas on my phone as soon as they came to me. At this point in my life, ideas, appointments, and chores flash into my consciousness briefly before evaporating for all time. By typing them onto Lister, I was assured the “next great column” would be waiting for me when I sat down at the keyboard. Then I simply forgot to make a copy of the items.

So, here I am without a clue what those topics were. Oh, a couple returned to my mind, but for the most part, they taken flight. I should have known better. I’m no technical whiz anyway. Computers confound me, and on so many occasions I’ve run to my neighbor Mike Bremseth or to fellow teacher Brad Neal and begged them to save me from the blue screen of despair.

It’s the same way with my iPod. I’ve invested in a library of songs that bring entertainment and fond memories. However, not long ago I hit the wrong key, and an entire segment of them disappeared. I furrowed my brow, cursed, and spent three hours trying to rescue the music, all of it in vain.

I love my flat screen television and Bose speaker system and blu-ray player. But I can’t operate them. The simple act of loading a DVD and watching a movie overwhelms me. Amy or one of the kids, when they’re in town, has to take over the controls and get things running right.

On my night stand sits an alarm clock. It has no radio or CD player. On the back are dials that I can use to set the time and alarm. Simple? You bet your ass because I’m not smart enough to figure out the operations of anything higher level.

So, I sit here and grieve for the list of topics that I lost. My last hope is that someone who reads this can email me instructions on how to find those lost ideas. Whoever can will have earned my undying thanks. Until that happens, I’m going back to paper and pen for cataloging ideas. Things will be fine until I have to remember where I put the paper.

Jack in the Box Church

A couple of Sundays ago I sat in a pew in the back of a church. During my childhood, Mother made us sit in the second row from the front, and because of that, I plant my fanny in the back of any church that I enter.

At the beginning of the service and throughout it, folks were up and out of the sanctuary. Some kids left alone; parents accompanied others; even adults made exits during that one hour session. The events left me flabbergasted and wondering what was going on.

Both children and young adults had trouble making through the hour without leaving. Perhaps the children suffer from some rare disease that doesn’t allow them to hold their water. That problem usually is one that afflicts us older men, and we seek medical help to alleviate the malady.

Maybe these people suffer from ADHD. According to some authorities, such a condition prevents individuals from staying plugged in for extended periods of time. Because they aren’t able to make it through an hour, these people rise in the middle of a service and leave. However, before long they reappear, usually with their heads bowed and smiles smeared across their faces.

More than likely, the younger generations have difficulty remaining in one place because of conditions of their worlds. That first includes television shows. A typical thirty minute show has twenty-two minutes of programming and eight minutes of advertising, most of it in thirty second slots. Viewers attention to a program is interrupted sixteen times in a half hour show. No wonder folks can’t sit still long.

Video games, computers, and communication equipment all offer highly addictive sources of entertainment. Other things like church, school, and even casual conversations with friends and family lack the “rush” of action, so young people lose interest in them quickly.

We who have several years behind us remember a different behavior in church. Jim and I survived church services, barely. We never spent time in the nursery. Instead, our parents plopped us down on the pew and dared us to misbehave.

Of course, sitting two little boys side by side is just asking for things to happen. People who used to sing in the choir remembered us as being two who looked for things to get into. We, on the other hand, slid down in the pew because we felt that those singers were staring at us.

On too many occasions, one of us had our “tickle boxes” turned over. That meant we swallowed and choked on laughs that, if loosed in the sanctuary, would have resulted in immediate and severe punishment. Sometimes, Daddy grabbed one of us and plunked us down on the other side of the pew.

One woman, Mrs. Gault, always caused us grief. We knew talking was forbidden, but this lady would sit beside us and yak. She’d offer peppermint lifesavers during prayer time. We’d shake our heads “no,” but the woman kept on until we took one to silence her, but then we worried about being in trouble for taking candy.

The biggest deterrent to our misbehavior was a one-line whisper: “You’ve had it when we get home.” That death sentence meant a spanking awaited us as soon as our feet crossed the threshold at home. Like so many times throughout our lives, we refrained from doing things because the thrill wasn’t worth the ensuing pain that was inflicted by a belt or switch or paddle.

These days, parents don’t keep children in check. Instead, they believe that children should be allowed to be freer spirits than we were allowed to be. That’s why they can’t sit still for an hour. Instead, they become jacks-in-the-boxes at any place that requires them to sit still for more than ten minutes. I wonder how they’ll do in college lectures. For now, I supposed the good lord will forgive them.

Backpacks and Nifty Notebooks

At church this past Sunday the minister called all children and their pack backs and teachers armed with their grade books to the front and said prayers for a successful school year. It was a nice moment that softened the realization that summer’s end is here. It’s interesting to look at the difference in school supplies that kids need these days.

One kindergarten mom posted on Facebook the following: “[I] just bought 2 bottles of hand sanitizer, 2 rolls of paper towels, 6 boxes of Kleenex, 2 containers of Clorox wipes, 1 white t-shirt size adult S, 5 boxes of baby wipes, and every size of Ziploc baggie.”

Whew! What a sight to witness as little ones walk into their first day of school with a large cardboard box filled with supplies that promote good health. Glaringly absent were any items that might be used in subjects. Hey, the kids might not learn a single thing, but they’ll be able to fight off every germ that dares cross the classroom’s threshold.

Older students want a new pack back every year, even though last year’s model is still in one piece and sturdy enough for the abuse handed out by young people. The new models need enough room in the main compartment to haul an apartment of furniture. That’s because kids tote all sorts of “necessaries” for school, yes, things like water bottles, hand-held games, a bag filled with make-up, and lunch. Oh, books need to have a place since students never uses lockers to store them. Those young folks would rather risk permanent back injuries than to make a stop to exchange textbooks.

Several smaller compartments should be available on the outside areas of the pack. There kids stow electronic equipment. Hey, it’s a well-known fact that no student can survive without a cell phone. No one knows when an important phone call might come in, one that confirms a weekend date or a work schedule. And texting is a “must-do activity” for the younger generation. In addition, pockets to house iPods, electronic games, and chargers for them are needed.

How things have changed.

In a simpler time, kids had different wants for school. A Nifty Notebook served most needs. Some whose families were better off got Trapper Keepers, the envy of all other kids. A big pack of Blue Horse notebook paper, along with several new pencils, the big fat ones for first graders, and a couple of Bic pens rounded out supplies. A Pink Pearl eraser was considered an extra for which students were grateful.

Brown bags or metal boxes held lunches of peanut butter and jelly or bologna and Velveeta sandwiches. Some kids ate school lunches, and others begged for money for special meals during Thanksgiving and Christmas times. Students shared lockers and kept books and other school items in them, and somehow they managed to drop by them between classes without arriving tardy to classes.

School has changed plenty. Before, kids were excited to begin a new year. The summer kept them from seeing friends on a daily basis, and activities and transportation were limited. A sense of returning to “normal” accompanied the first days of classes. New supplies were few in number for most everyone, just like new clothes consisted only of a pair of jeans, a couple of shirts, and a pair of shoes.

Today, kids get all sorts of supplies, and too many are careless with them. At the end of each year, no fewer than twenty backpacks will be abandoned in lockers or classrooms. Students use technical gadgetry to aid their learning, a far cry from the days of using paper and pencil only.
Still, school returns just like the seasons. The roads are jammed with buses and mini-vans. Teachers await student arrivals with weeks of lesson plans. The new will wear off and excitement will wane the same as daylight hours of fall days. Classrooms that brought so much excitement just a few weeks earlier will offer torturous homework assignments. Students will long for the days of summer where no homework or bedtimes cramped their styles. Bathing suits and shorts will replace backpacks and Nifty Notebooks.

Krystal--The Real Economic Indicator

I’m feeling rather punk. As if we didn’t know already how deep our nation’s economic woes were, the local paper drove the point home like a railroad spike to the skull. In case anyone missed the story, I’ll report it in a shortened version.

Krystal is looking to sell itself to a new owner. The corporate leaders say the company is “looking for a way to deliver an attractive exit for current shareholders who have been so supportive.”
Huh? What’s the deal with making things “comfortable” for shareholders? Although not a single share is in the Rector vault, I’m not at all comfortable. Looking to unload a company that represents one of the main food groups for southerners shouldn’t bring ease in anyone’s life. Krystal has 364 franchises in 11 states. Before long, a new owner will take over, and I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts that they’ll start a wholesale shutdown of stores. Before long, finding a Krystal might be as difficult as finding a Blue Circle or Jiffy.

The selling of such a hallowed institution is indicative of the problems in the USA. The two founders, Rody Davenport, Jr. and J. Glenn Sherrill, opened the first store. Yes, that’s right; they set up shop in the middle of The Depression. The first customer walked in and ordered six Krystals and a cup of coffee and paid thirty-five cents. The restaurant gave folks who were down on their luck a chance to eat a filling meal at a fair price.
Fast forward nearly eighty years, and our country is so screwed up that a business that began in the worst economic situation of our history is on the auction block. More than 7000 employees are shaking in their boots as they worry over the company’s future and whether or not they’ll be out of a job soon.

Since my high school years, Krystal has been an important part of my life. On those nights when too much libation passed my lips, I’d often find myself sitting on a stool in a Krystal and ordering breakfast. Eggs and bacon and toast soaked up enough grease to clog every artery, but the thoughts of those foods late at night still make my mouth water.

As young adults, my two brothers and I would sit around the kitchen table at Mother’s house and talk until the early morning hours. Then we loaded into a car and drove to Clinton Highway where we’d buy two or three bags of Krystals and fries. Only after eating no fewer than half a dozen of them did we make our ways to bed.

I’ve passed my love for those gut bombs to son Dallas, and he often makes a stop at the Krystal less than a mile from his house (lucky dog). What’s more, the boy lives in Chattanooga, the home base for the company, as well as for another famous food company—Moonpie.

The past few years have brought about a change in my eating habits. Acid reflux dictates much of my diet. However, occasionally, I risk the malady and run out for a few little hamburgers. A nickel won’t buy one anymore; prices have risen to an average of seventy-nine cents for each of the little grease balls. A bowl of chili also sometimes finds its way in my bag of food. Before lying down for the night, I pop a Nexium and say a prayer that the rumbling volcano in my gut won’t erupt.

Yes, I’m plenty worried about the country and our economic well-being. If the creators of the original “slider” struggles in this environment, the light at the other end of the recession tunnel is no larger than a pinpoint. The time has come for our so-called leaders in the legislative branch to forget about partisan politics and ideology. Govern so that Americans have jobs and a fair shake. Make sure every individual pays his fair share in support of the government. That way, all of us will be able to afford a bag of Krystals if the restaurants are still open.

Couch Time

Think back a few years, or in some cases a lifetime ago, to the times that you and your partner first got together. Can you still feel that adrenaline rush? What about the flip-flops your stomach took as you sat close or held hands? It all brings smiles to our faces and “aahs” to our mouths. Those were the best of times.

Too often, a few years later the closeness melts as life gets in the way. Like the proverbial “two ships that pass in the night,” couples float apart on the waters of work, child rearing, economic woes, and a hundred other demands. Before long, communications are trimmed to a couple of canned phrases, a peck on the cheek before leaving the house, or falling exhausted into a coma-like sleep.

When brief periods of rest come, each person retires to his and her recliner. A button is pushed on the remote, and both sit in hypnotic states with their thoughts wrapped tightly in their heads. Sometime, one or both silently rise and begin the evening rituals of preparing for bed.

I’ve decided that many of the problems that occur in marriage could be wiped away like the fog on the bathroom mirror with a little couch time. Yep, I say let’s go back to the old days when couples sat together on the couch, close, side-by-side. The man can put his arm around his honey, and she can take his hand and hold it. Maybe she’ll even decide to lay her head upon his chest, right in the position where he can smell the fragrance of her shampoo and feel the tickles of strands of hair across his nose.

An important part of this couch time is talking. Most of us have little time during the day to share thoughts and feelings with the person who should be our best friend. Sitting on the couch and scrunched up naturally leads to conversation. It might begin with nothing more than a “How was your day?” However, that one little question is the spark that ignites some of the most meaningful sharing that couples will ever experience.

It also re-establishes the connection that brought the two people together in the first place. What’s more, that talk time reminds us of the importance of our partners in our lives and how much we depend upon them each and every day.

Couch time also puts life in perspective. The whole world might seem to be going to hell in a hand basket, but when we rediscover our love and devotion to someone, the toughest of times are easier to take. It’s also much easier to take on the tough things in life when someone is standing beside us or “has our backs.”

All of us need a little time with our loves on the couch because our hopes are that the rest of our lives will be spent with those individuals. It’s like an annuity that we set up with our financial planner. Investing a little of ourselves in the relationship brings huge dividends down the road. When the times seem the roughest, we are able to withdraw some of that saved love that we banked through couch time.

Amy and I have been married for almost 37 years. My brother Jim and his wife Brenda celebrate their 40th anniversary in August. Amy and I have had good and bad times; we’ve overcome problems and obstacles that others would have declared are “the last straw.” Our survival is from, first by the grace of a loving God. Then it’s the result of hard work on our parts. As much as anything, we’ve made it through the years by talking to each other. No, we haven’t spent all the years curled up on the couch. Amy has her chair and so do I, although it reclines only when I pull the chain that releases the leg part. Still, we have our times when we sit together and just soak up the love that is offered. It’s a time of appreciation and thanks. Most of all, it’s a time when we reinforce the partnership that was established on the last day of fall in 1974.

I’d like to think that everyone who reads this will find a little couch time with his or her love. However, I’m a realist who knows it “ain’t about to happen.” So, my closing advice is to at least make a connection with the person who means most in life and share some time and feelings. And make sure you share by talking and listening to each other. The rewards are huge, especially when you share a little couch time.

What Other Storms Are Damaging Knox County Schools?

The 2011-2012 school year is fast approaching. Does that seem impossible to anyone other than me? It’s the middle of July, and band camps and football teams are already practicing. School starts in some systems at the end of July and the rest during the first weeks of August. Whatever happened to the days when school opened after Labor Day? Lots of things have happened to make Knox County Schools unidentifiable to lots of us.

The system’s schools have turned, for the most part, from the traditional Three R’s. In their places sits the burning desire for students to score well on standardized tests. However, a child’s learning things that apply to real life situations is of secondary importance. The moronic program No Child Left Behind changed the rules of public education. In place of learning, the stuff of real education, are percentages—of achievement test scores, graduation rates, and overall school performance. Forget the contributing factors such as the value placed on education by parents, the socio-economic characteristics of the surrounding communities, or even the commitment of students to their education and their impact on focused areas. Too many school systems want graduation rates increased, even if it means passing students who haven’t completed work or learned a thing. It’s all about looking good on paper.

Knox County Schools, just like the rest around the country, jump through governmental hoops so that the funding continues to roll in. The funny part is that more and more demands are placed on the schools while less money is being expended to fund them. Instead of demanding that teachers be allowed to teach and that politicians keep their noses out of something about which they have little knowledge, systems and their administrators kowtow to federal government officials and become their lackeys.

The school system is also investing more and more time in professional growth and training days. The majority of teachers agree that the days are less than rewarding and the time would be better spent doing their jobs—TEACHING. However, if those sessions aren’t included, some central office staff members would have no job.

Another strange thing about Knox County Schools is the hiring practices, especially regarding principals and directors. Over the time that Supt. James McIntyre has been at the helm, many new hires have come from places outside Knox County or even the immediate area. Some individuals came to the system from Massachusetts; others have been cultivated from Nashville and Kentucky. Folks wonder why those long distance hires are necessary. These out-of-system people might be effective leaders, but surely the system already employs individuals who are qualified and capable of performing the duties of a principal or another administrative position.

The system’s penchant for moving principals around confounds many of us. In years gone-by, the leader of a school put down roots in the community and became an important individual to all. For those who were good leaders, parents and students identified with the principal and bought in to the direction of the school. Principals were moved when they failed to do a good job.

These days, school level administrators are moved like Methodist ministers. However, a minister is moved to meet the needs of a specific congregation. Principals seem to be shuffled to keep them from developing ties to the community. Is it a power play by the superintendent that keeps communities from developing a united front that proves advantageous for students and teachers?

The bottom line is that school doesn’t have the same appeal that it once did. That’s a sad fact. Public schools will continue to decline until they once again become the focal points of communities. That will happen when systems wise up about the social aspects of a group of people. They might also wake up and realize that education of children includes much more than test scores. I’m thankful that my tenure with Knox County Schools ended a few years ago. If it hadn’t, I might have been replaced for failing to meet percentages. Teaching kids what they needed was more important to me.

Just Let Me Watch the Game

The past weekends were with good baseball, meaning the college world series games aired on ESPN. I enjoy watching those games, as well as a variety of college and professional sports. However, sometimes outside factors make the experience less than satisfactory.

For one, commercials drive me crazy. It’s not only the number of them that air but also the times that they appear. Built-in timeouts cut into the intensity of games. I wonder how upset a coach becomes when his team is launching a comeback or is dealing a deathblow to an opponent, only to have momentum thwarted by a string of commercials.

Equally annoying are the types of commercials that are aired. Really, how many different beer commercials are necessary? If a person refreshes himself with a cool one, he already knows which brand best suits his taste. Then the commercials for the erectile dysfunction burst on screens and show a couple holding hands as they sit side-by-side in bathtubs on a hillside overlooking a panoramic view of the countryside or ocean. Huh? How does that fit with testosterone-driven events like college or professional football?

I also hate it when networks announce a game time and I switch on the set to find a group of men talking. Pre-game stuff should be limited to ten minutes. That gives the old pros and media workers enough air time for recognition. For more time they should endorse one or more of the obnoxious products that are advertised during the game. Besides, too many of these guys are qualified only because they once played the game or worked in sports in some capacity at some stage in their lives. This weekend, one guy who did pre and post-game work on baseball actually played football in college. I’m not sure how that qualified him as an expert.

The thing that makes games least enjoyable is the analysis by commentators. These guys bump their gums about what should have happened or how something should have been done. They second-guess coaches and call out referees and umpires. Sometimes they even “dog” players who make errors on the field. Where do these guys get the idea that what they think trumps the folks who are involved in the contest? Many of them are former coaches who have been fired or retired. If these geniuses are so wonderful, why aren’t they still on the sidelines or in the dugouts? It’s because their times have past. It’s easy to second-guess someone, especially when a guy has nothing invested in the game.

Cute segments drive me nuts as well. Who really wants to spend time watching the mindless rants of a Lou Holtz locker room speech? Larry Merchant and Jim Lampley prate about boxers with their flowery descriptions and not-so-clever analogies. Neither of them could whip a third grader in a playground fight. And I’m over hearing “diaper dandies, PT, and Baby” from a coach who never had much success in the college or professional ranks. The man had a 78-30 record as coach of University of Detroit and a 34-60 record as head coach of the Detroit Pistons. His claim to fame at college was beating Marquette, the 1977 NCAA champions during a 21 game winning streak. Did the guys’ team beat any other opponents of note?

All I want to do is watch a game with as little interference as possible. Yes, that means having announcers who can identify players and call the play-by-play action. That’s all. The best thing they can do is hush and just let me watch the game. Is that too much for a sports fan to ask?

Father's Day Reflections

The newspaper featured one story of a UT athlete and his dad and another told of a relationship between a father and son that strengthened through the automobiles they first bought. US Open winner Rory McIlroy greeted his dad on the eighteenth green with a hug and a “happy Father’s Day.” My son Dallas traveled from Chattanooga to spend some time with me, and we shared breakfast with Amy at I-Hop, where tables and booths were filled with dads and their families. Father’s Day is a wonderful day for us guys, but it brings about some serious thoughts.

I also turned the paper to the obituary section. Listed there are dads who’ve passed in the last few days. For their survivors, future Sundays in June will bring about emptiness and sadness. It’s the same for all of us who’ve lost a dad. Ours died in 1965 when Jim and I were thirteen. For the last forty six years, I’ve thought about that man hundreds of time and wondered what might have been if he’d lived to be older than fifty three.

Also in the obituary section are pictures and messages to lost dads. Some families need to express their undying love in form of tributes. The fact is that no accolades can bring back dads who have passed. It’s also true that with each year the pain of loss ebbs just a bit until living without such important people is bearable. Even today, many of us think of our dads and tell them they’re missed and wished they’d been parts of the greatest things in our lives.

Father’s Day is much different from that special day that honors mothers. For one thing, moms deserve a much more serious and grand celebration. They are the glue that holds families together through the roughest of times. The big presents are showered on them, again rightly so. I’ve seen a mother’s job, first as my own mother and then my wife Amy and daughter Lacey performed a grocery list of duties and chores each and every day. I’ve never wanted to swap places. So, making Mother’s Day a bit more extravagant is fine with me.

Dads are happy spending their day home with family. A burger or hotdog on the grill is exquisite cuisine for us, and with just a little luck, we can find a good baseball game to watch until a Sunday afternoon nap swallows us. I put a coat of polish on Dallas’ car before he aimed the vehicle toward a Chattanooga landing. For supper I ate a couple of bologna and cheese sandwiches and washed them down with a refreshing drink. The less fuss made, the happier dads are.

My last thought on this Father’s Day is a reflection. I know what I did as a dad when my children were small. Many of those acts weren’t the best I might have chosen. I regret some things I did, felt, and said. Now I wonder what, if anything, I might do differently if given the chance to have a “do-over.” After much consideration, I admit to myself that I probably would change little. I did the best I could at the time. Because my children are blessed with a wonderful mother and are watched over by a loving God, they’ve turned out to be good, solid, lovable individuals of whom I am proud. They serve as undeniable proof that even my worst parenting didn’t keep them from turning out right.

I am thankful for Father’s Day. I’m also thankful that I’ve been allowed to be around to watch my children grow and become the good folks that they are today. I still miss my dad but thank God that I have memories of him from so many years ago. Today is a time for celebration, not only of dads but also of family. Dads, continue to do the best you can and always give thanks for your blessings.

Tennessee Political Morons

It’s been a while since I riled up friends and readers with something I’ve written. However, when I look at some of the work of the Tennessee legislature in its 2011 session, refraining from making comments on the absurdity of some of its bills becomes impossible.

The most embarrassing bill presented this past session came from Bo Watson, a Republican representing portions of Hamilton County. Bill 893, nicknamed the “anti-evolution” bill, would suggest “effective ways to present the science curriculum as it addresses scientific controversies.” Those topics include cloning, global warming, and yes, evolution. Watson might possibly have missed the news from Dayton, a nearby county, where the Scopes Monkey trial was held almost 100 years ago. That trial brought about the ground swell for the teaching of evolution even though fundamentalist tried to legislate the idea out of schools. Sen. Watson should get over it. Too many other problems in this world exist for him to be wasting the state’s time and money on an issue that was settled long ago.

Next came the most ridiculous bill, sponsored by another moron, Stacey Campfield. This individual is widely known for his propensity to bring to the floor absurd bills. This year’s version is unofficially known as the “Don’t Say Gay Bill,” which prohibits the teaching of homosexuality in the classroom. This publicity-seeking half wit doesn’t even know that homosexuality isn’t even taught in the grade school curriculum. Of course, this bill passed 5-4, and it brought national attention to Tennessee for all the wrong reasons. Hey, remember this nitwit is the same person who introduced legislation to replace taxes on food with taxes on pornography and requiring the state to issue death certificates for aborted fetuses. He is also the same person who was booted from a UT football game for allegedly being drunk and refusing to remove a Mexican mask from his face. He probably wore the thing to keep people from recognizing him and horse laughing him out of the stadium. Somehow, the people in his Knoxville district continue to send him to office where he makes a fool of himself and them as well.

The biggest faux pas of the year came when the legislature one-upped Wisconsin and killed teachers’ collective bargaining rights. Supposedly, teacher unions (TEA, NEA, etc.) were hurting students and the state’s educational system by representing teachers at the bargaining table. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In Knox County, the Knox County Education Association has been the recognized spokesman for teachers. Over the years, the organization has done little to help teachers. How could they have done otherwise? Teachers don’t have a right to strike, and without any kind of leverage to use, the KCEA told the school board what it wanted, the board said “no,” and KCEA said, “thank you so much.” That doesn’t sound like much of a threat to education.

The truth is that Tennessee ranks 46th in its spending per student and 41st in student achievement. However, local systems such as Knox County score much higher in achievement than the state. That doesn’t happen because of administrators or board members or union representatives. It’s a reality because teacher here do a tremendous job for some of the lowest pay of any system. Every time a raise for them is voted down, it shows how important education is to the people of Knoxville. Some of the state’s politicians want to run the schools, even if their ideas are archaic or harmful. It’s that old idea that “I know what to do about schools because I was a student.” Yeah, right!

In too many cases, we, the citizens of Tennessee, have elected clowns as our state’s leaders. They’ve shown their incompetence time and time again, but for some reason, we still ship them off to Nashville, where they waste time and resources with obnoxious legislative ideas that make our state and its people look like fools to the rest of the world. Hasn’t the time come for us to send them packing and to at least try to elect a senate and a house that care more about the state and its people than they care for party politics and self aggrandizing?

Curing a Nasty Cough

It’s that time of year when pollen coats furniture, cars, and anything that stands still outside for more than a minute or so. Especially in East Tennessee, folks barely survive spring as they snort, sniff, cough, and hack from allergic reactions.
Grandson Madden spent his birthday with a fever, snotty nose, and fatigue as Mother Nature sprinkled a variety of things in the air. When he has a cold, doctors won’t prescribe anything to ease the symptoms. Instead, they tell parents to just let the thing run its course. Now, remember that those physicians aren’t going to spend the next several nights sitting up with the sick child as he or she coughs and struggles to catch a breath through a stuffy nose.
When our children suffered from allergies and bad colds, doctors showed better sense. They were careful not to overprescribe medications, but they did have the good sense to offer their small patients, and their parents at the same time, some small relief. Decongestants helped, as did doses of Tylenol. The best medicine that MD’s gave quieted coughs so that children could sleep and allow their bodies to remain strong enough to fight off those colds and allergy symptoms. On those occasions when nose drainage or mucus in the lungs turned green, prescriptions became necessary. For what seemed an eternity, Lacey and Dallas took “bubblegum” flavored medicine. Amoxicillin came to the rescue and zapped illnesses in short order. We celebrated when the kids crossed to the other side of illness into recovery and good health.
Long ago in another world without fear of giving medicine to children, parents used things passed down from generations before, and they worked well. Never mind that today those remedies might be looked upon with frowns. For instance, when an ear ache that felt as if spikes were being driven in to our brains hit, our parents had us stand close to them. They’d take a long slow drag from a cigarette and then blow the smoke into our ear canal. A cotton ball plugged the opening, and within a couple of minutes, the pain subsided. Stopped up noses opened after application of a cool, damp wash cloths or a rubbing of Vick’s on our upper lips. For chest colds, a glob of mentholated goo was rubbed onto our bodies. Its strong smell was matched in disgust only by the way pajamas stuck when it touched the stuff.
The worst of all medicines came when uncontrolled coughing hit. On one occasion, I swallowed a two-fingered scoop of Vicks. It worked well for a while, but eventually, the hacking returned. Daddy would hear us and go to work making a magic elixir. He’d blend honey, horehound candy, a touch of lemon, and several ounces of whiskey. Soon, he’d be standing by our beds with the concoction and a spoon. Even though we protested, he made us take a hardy dose of stuff. We held it in our mouths as long as possible before swallowing and feeling the fires of hell travel down our throats. Within minutes, the coughing stopped, and we drifted off to sleep.
These days doctors, lawyers, and politicians would scream abuse if parents used such barbaric remedies. Children would do as we did: hide under our blankets to squelch coughs so that the cure wouldn’t be offered. The fact is that those things did work, and none of us seemed to suffer. Today’s physicians and parents could learn a thing or two from past generations. If they did, children would receive treatment for their misery, and everyone in the family would sleep better.