Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Portuguese Bean Soup

  For Christmas Eve dinner, Braden and I cooked up the local favorite:  Portuguese bean soup.  In recent years past, we've been having just such soup for Christmas Eve dinner at my sister Joan's, but this year Mom and Dad decided to spend Christmas at home in Hilo, my brother Grant and his son went over to join them, and we got to celebrate a nice, quiet at-home dinner with the five of us.
  Braden was a huge help since there was lots to be done after I got home shortly before lunch.  Deanne left the recipe on the counter for us to follow (if we felt brave enough to do it ourselves that afternoon), so starting from three o'clock, I boiled the water and speed-defrosted the two smoked turkey legs in the microwave and added the latter to the former along with dried red beans that Braden had soaked for a day-and-a-half.
     While those came to a boil, Braden diced an onion, garlic, celery, and carrots.  After the beans softened in a half-hour, I reduced the heat to a steady simmer.  Fifteen minutes later, I stripped the meat from the bones and Braden added the canned tomatoes and chopped vegetables.  While waiting for the now cooled mixture to simmer after we'd raised the heat, I speed defrosted a Portuguese sausage, then Braden sliced it up and browned it in a pan, I absorbed the oil in a paper towel, and he added it to the pot.  By four o'clock, the turkey meat was tender, and the vegetables were just crunchy, so I turned off the heat and let everything sit, still cooking in the residual heat.  By five o'clock, everything was ready and perfect.
  The reason I raise this is Braden and I have had our head-butt moments, times when we didn't like each other, times when he questioned my authority (in actions, never words), and times when I questioned his competence and capabilities (to myself, mostly, rarely to him).  So it's nice to find something that we can do together cordially and with him showing excellent competence.
     Cooking for him is not a problem.  He'll never go with lack of good food for want of cooking skills.  Perhaps there's a career there for him.  (I do question his college-worthiness, mostly in attitude and work ethic and persistent confidence and desire, not aptitude or ability, so much.)  And I never felt there was shame in cooking jobs or any other manual labor for that matter.  For awhile I considered switching careers to plumbing since I loved working with my hands (and I'd heard of another accountant who did the same, loved it, and earned more money after the career-switch.)
  God has his own plans for everyone, so there's no point insisting our kids follow our preconceived notions of what they ought to do.  (At my thirtieth class reunion, a spouse of a classmate shared how his dad never forgave him for abandoning his engineering college education that he never wanted in favor of a dry-cleaning business, in which he did quite well.  He mentioned it when I told him of Braden's academic travails and dubious college potential.  It was a perfect true story for me to hear since it was obvious that the man was a fine, upstanding citizen with no reason to feel shame.  It took courage in fact for him to go out on his own (I've always been too chicken to start my own business, I'm so risk averse) and moreso to take that risk against his father's wishes.)
  So necessity shopping and cooking are two things at least that Braden and I can enjoy each others' company doing.  Praise God for that!     

Monday, December 21, 2015

Blessings Big and Small

     Other than when it's my turn to say grace before dinner and bed time prayers with Deanne, I seldom pray aloud. But I did during a recent trip to KMart to return a TV purchased the day before that lacked a remote control and owner's manual (and batteries and packing material, I later discovered). I was not looking forward to waiting in line at Customer Service. Or getting another faulty TV upon exchange. Of being told even then I couldn't get a cash refund since I paid by check. Or having other such unpleasantness arise.
     In truth, I didn't even especially want a TV. Ours—an old 20” Sony Trinitron picture tube type—broke from a power surge that also broke our stereo receiver and our rental unit's refrigerator and washing machine. The latter two the landlord replaced; the reason for the TV purchase was the kids' upcoming winter break when they'll be home alone for over a week—it'll give them an hour or two each day to watch DVDs. (We don't have cable and have no TV reception.)
     Already stressed by the holiday rush, I told Braden I hope and pray it will all go smoothly and we won't have to wait too long at Customer Service or find out no one is there.
     Braden held the TV while we waited two-deep in line at Customer Service. The first in line was returning a twelve pack of Diet Sprites. The cashier kept scanning a coupon and fiddling with the register's keypad, and asked to see the receipt. Then she requested help from a clerk standing nearby who said they had to ask Sally. Five, ten, perhaps fifteen minutes passed. Sally came and told them what to do—the coupon was two-for-one, so they had to refund the twelve pack Pepsi's too, which they did. I was praying silently the while as my ire rose and receded as I battled my all-too-common impatience.
     The next customer wanted a refund to take advantage of a dollar off coupon on a decorative holiday item. Again more coupon scanning, then punching away at a keypad, receipt tie-in, and consultation with the clerk (who stood by observing). The customer said she wanted the item but wanted the refund so she could repurchase it plus four more at the sale price. Aha! A bargain shopper refunding at full price to repurchase at sale price to save an entire dollar! I thought. For ten minutes plus of waiting, she must really need the money...
     Finally, it was our turn and the clerk told us to go straight to Electronics.
     “But my wife called and they said to come here,” I said.
     The cashier said, “Only if you want a refund. Exchanges go straight back there” (with a point toward the back of the store).
     Electronics had one customer ahead of us that took a few minutes. The cashier asked when it was our turn how she could help and upon being told of the missing items asked what we wanted to do.
     I said exchange...unless there's a sale on it from today.
     She said let me check and walked to the bank of TVs displayed. Yes, she said, and reported a price fifteen dollars less than what we'd paid. To get the refund, go back to Customer Service she said, and she initialed our receipt.
     Back we went with TV in hand to wait in a now three-deep line that moved like opihi. Finally a free cashier opened a second register and processed our refund, taking the TV and giving me cash.
     Back at Electronics, I chose a boxed TV from below the display stands and we waited in a one-deep line. The cashier was pleasant and apologized and offered to open the box to ensure its contents were complete, which it was.
     Fifteen dollars for the trip down and time spent waiting? Yeah, it was worth it—I count it a blessing.
     Getting spared from undue stress? I count a huge blessing.
     I told Braden had we not waited in line at Customer Service, I would never have thought to request a refund. Perhaps I wouldn't even have bothered to recheck the price. (The price on the box hadn't changed.)
     I also got to spend time with Braden doing something he does well—keep me calm and grounded in situations I find stressful: anything to do with stores or shopping. We shared a nice enough drive and conversations, me doing most of the talking (since he tends to keep quiet). Not a bad way to spend an afternoon after all. And the TV ended up working fine.

Thursday, December 10, 2015


     Turns out my tired legs feeling (described in my prior Burn Out? essay) was caused largely by an uncomfortable temporary chair at work, not so much burn out or old age. I didn't realize it until they felt painful after a workout and upon sitting on a hard surface and I recalled that all of it started just about when I started sitting on the uncomfortable chair. Subsequently, I added a knit zabuton (Japanese style square cushion) my grandmother gave me ages ago and things improved markedly. I even added a padded zabuton from Mom to my wood dining room chair at home and now my workout runs are lengthening and without so much discomfort afterwards. They're still not back to where they were before, but at least they're headed that way. Nonetheless, the rest did me good—overall I feel lots better.
     A year ago I got tennis elbow on my right forearm related to trying to beef up my always slight build using dumbbells. My right-hand dominance had something to do with it because my left forearm was fine, even though I was doing the exact same exercises with it. I soon noticed that using poor writing technique (inadequate or no wrist support) aggravated the pain and that it helped when I held the pencil looser and took breaks from the computer. For awhile it was so bad I was doing everything I could left-handed. It slowed things a lot when I was on the keyboard, but fortunately, I had no tight deadlines for a span.
     After that, my right shoulder got bursitis, so that lifting it high, crossing it over to my left, or stretching to scratch my back or remove a shirt caused pain and stiffness. I couldn't even throw a ball or swing a racket without worsening it. Ice, rest, and later, stretching and strengthening exercises helped, but it's still not one hundred percent. I think it was lingering effects of the tennis elbow and leaning heavy on my forearms while reading crouched beside my bed while doing quiet time (bible reading)—a practice which I've since stopped.
     Medical essays stated that it's common for those in their 50's or older to get these types of injuries from weight lifting or using improper technique. No surprise then that I did all these same things when I was younger and nothing unpleasant resulted, certainly no injuries that took months to heal.
     Just an unpleasant fact, then, that as I age, I'll have to be more and more vigilant about what I do and how I do it lest I end up getting some new injury doing something that never bothered me before.
     Which is why Braden always comes with me on Costco runs to do all the heavy lifting, although I insist that we handle the fifty pound sack of rice together, one on each side, two hands lift on the count of three.
     I always used to wonder why Mom used to get frustrated by the inability to do things she always used to; now I see myself in her shoes and understand. It's easy for the young and healthy to take things for granted—Braden thinks it's ridiculous of me to fret about his lifting technique—too bad we on the other side have no such luxury. On the upside, perhaps we elders have a bit more wisdom?

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Common Core Standards (or More of the Same)

     The jury is in:  Common Core Standards is NCLB Part II, meaning schools continue to teach to the standardized tests to the detriment of students' health, creativity, independent thinking, leadership and team development, societal values, socialization, artistry, and chief of all, schools' reason for being: love of learning.  For I don't know a single child who loves this Phd developed teach-to-the-test curricula that focuses to an obscene degree on grilling students on test taking techniques via test after test after test of sample questions that are disguised as homework.
     I don't know of any credible teacher that loves this shove-it-down-their-throats mandates.
     I can't imagine any good, caring, loving, thoughtful parent that would love doing it themselves.
     Here are some of the evidence of this misfocus, forced by politicians in Washington D.C. who are making captive schools who want big grant dollars (bribes)--nearly everyone--to their fixed, know-it-all agendas:
  • None of my kids have regular P.E.  Our nation is in the midst of an obesity and sedentary lifestyle health-related epidemic--even among growing numbers of youth--and more and more schools are choosing to reduce or cut P.E. to try to make arbitrary test cut-off scores.
  • Same's true with art, though ample evidence suggests that students who take art tend to do better in academics.  (There appears to be a link between creativity and analytical problem solving.)
  • I ask my kids everyday, "What did you learn in school today?" and they so often draw blanks because they spend class time reviewing (getting drilled on) test taking techniques or taking quizzes and tests.  Most nefarious is "computer time" during which they mostly take sample standardized tests.  This should be banned during normal school hours as it's just a form of lazy "teaching."  In essence, it's T.V. with an academic sheen:  Kids hunt for answers (in text, say) and forget all the content.  Getting the correct answer is all that matters, learning is secondary (or inconsequential).
  • The school topics my kids get excited about are largely non-academic:  politics (Braden), orchestra and teacher jokes and anecdotes (Pene), games and other social contacts (Jaren).  Thank God they have something that engages them in school.  Too bad it's not more often academics.
     The whole notion that a nation of expert standardized test takers will be comprise a better prepared and qualified workforce for international competition is absurd.  How would our nation's greatest leaders and businessmen and scientists even have done on these standardized tests?  Think Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, Franklin, Ford, Edison, Carnegie, Jobs, Walmart, Gates, King Jr., Whitney, Tesla, Oppenheimer, Patton, Tubman, MacArthur, Souza, Ellington, Gershwin, Lewis, Clark, Armstrong?  I think some would have scored miserably.  I think most would have hated them and thought them ridiculous wastes of time.
     Come on, can't we inject some common sense into our national academic agenda?  Shouldn't making all students life-long lovers of learning be objective number one at all our schools?  For of what benefit is superior test taking skills if a student hates learning and quits after high school or enters college only "to get a better job" while seeking to just get by with as little learning as possible?  Will that make him or her more competitive?  Or our nation stronger if more and more students feel that way?
     In business school, we learned that if you want to improve performance, measure that which you want improved.  Let's come up with better measures of student learning and love of learning than standardized tests.  We can do better and did do better, even when I was a kid and yes, when I loved learning. 

Friday, November 27, 2015


     Praise God Deanne has a full-time job!  She needs to drive to work, which is a half-hour to forty-five minutes commute each way, so we stuck Jaren in A+/Kamaaina Kids (state sponsored before- and after-school day cares at Jaren's school), which lasts for him from about 6:30 each morning, until I or Braden and Pene pick him up after school between 3:00 and 4:15, depending on their school and my work schedules.
     As a test run, I've been having both Braden and Pene meet at Jaren's school to take him home if I haven't already picked him up.  I felt this is an excellent age-appropriate responsibility for them.  (They're ages fifteen and twelve and catch the bus to and from school, which is true on most days).
     Normally, I get home about four o'clock, but I've been taking off an hour early recently via saved vacation that's "use it or lose it" (by year end).  So on days I feel like it, I could pick up Jaren before they do (when they have later school end times).
     But they need to get accustomed to picking him up, walking him home, inspecting from a safe distance the house for possible break-in, unlocking the door, getting in, and relocking the door.  I feel it's much safer if all three are present at the time, than say, just Pene alone, so I've told her to always wait for Braden at Jaren's school and not enter the house alone.
     Deanne could pick Jaren up at 4:40 or so after work.  For now, I feel it's better if Jaren not stay in before- and after-school care too long.  Plus, our kids could all use the additional exercise of walking home from Jaren's school (which amounts to about a quarter-mile).
     I told Deanne and the kids that things will work themselves out in the coming days/weeks/months schedule-wise, and who does what, when.
     Braden said he needs to stay late at school sometimes to study, work on group projects, etc.
     I said maybe on days that I work-out and take off an hour early, he can stay late and I'll pick up Jaren.
     Jaren said, "I want to stay late to play with friends."
     I said, "You'll have plenty of time to play.  I don't want Mom to have to pick you up everyday.  Plus you need to be bathed and ready for dinner by the time she gets home."
     The first day went great.  I picked up Jaren; we got home, showered, and started dinner (using an omelet recipe left by Deanne).  Braden and Pene got home, showered, and started their homeworks, set the table, and served milk.
     I love cooking so it's nice to be back at it again after a fifteen year hiatus when Deanne assumed all cooking responsibilities (she's a super cook and enjoys it so I passed it on to her).
     Best of all, Deanne's income takes a lot of pressure off me.  If we save most of her earnings, we should be able to cover most of Braden's college tuition, should he attend U.H.--a huge relief.  It increases the flexibility of future options too, as far as financial-related retirement, choice of state residency, our kids' college options, housing, etc. decisions are concerned.  And it renews my hopes (mentioned in prior essays) for a bright, interesting, new, and exciting future not too many years hence, God willing!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Burn Out?

     Am I burnt out? I don't know.
     I've been feeling a bit worn out at times over the past couple months but thought it was the usual work-out recovery cycles or less-sleep, more-sleep exchanges I often enough go through.
     But these past two weeks or so, I've been feeling it in my legs. That's unusual, those are usually strong due to decades of daily walking and regular runs, so I take it as a sign of my need to ratchet back. Get some rest. Take some sick leave even, as necessary. (I seldom take a sick day off.)
     I wonder if it may be further evidence of my advancing age. I may have to walk up the two steep, short hills toward the beginning of my three-and-a-half mile run, which I do every third day. But work-outs and recoveries usually go just fine, so I'm not yet convinced. “Run the way I feel” is the old adage I must follow—I try to—rather than force through to make the miles.
     But then again, I've been pushing pretty hard emotionally this past half-year, starting from our church's spring camp, then our public speaking engagement at church service, and outer island mission trip. Then I had to address Braden's academic travails and bad attitudes, and chose to play bass with the worship band. It's all been good, but stressful at times. In the past, dealing with stress has been doable for me—all part of life. But within the past five years or so God's shown me the need to do a better job taking care of myself: I'm responsible for my feelings and I have to do better for the sake of my long-term (and short-term) health at managing my stress levels. I've been trying, but I'm emotional by nature, so it's far from automatic.
     I notice when I push myself (or cruise along at high octane) for too long, I sometimes get sick. I think that's what might have just happened. Pene's out for her second day today with a fever. Though I don't have a fever, I do have other cold-like symptoms (tired legs, bleah feelings, lethargy, occasional stomach aches, deep drowsiness—very unusual for me. I like work and am loathe to miss a day, so to skip, I have to feel pretty awful.)
     I'm glad in a way. I've been praying for God's peace, calm, and rest, and this has helped in the healing/recovery process.  I hope these trials are all just temporary and I'll be back to normal before long. But, if necessary, I'll dial back the intensity of workouts and moderate what I can to avoid/eliminate/reduce avoidable (bad) stress, especially.
     For not all stress is bad and worth avoiding. Some is good and to be appreciated such as a child's wedding, a job promotion, a once-in-a-lifetime vacation trip, etc.
     Oh yeah, Deanne just got offered a full-time job, wonderful news, so she's been arranging for Jaren's before- and after-school care. This is a load off my mind knowing she's building up a strong work history so that when it comes my time to retire, God willing, she'll be able to make up for my pension's lower monthly pay check (especially until social security kicks in). She's almost a decade my junior so she's likely got far more work years in her than I do. Praise God for that!
     I wonder now if I perhaps caught the flu? I every year get a flu shot early, so perhaps I'm experiencing milder symptoms 'cause my body's already built-up an immunity? If so, praise God! (I've had the flu before, sans shot, and it was miserable.)

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

U.H. Football

     There's a saying I love:  fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.
     With U.H.'s recent firing of football head coach Norm Chow, there's been talk of rehiring June Jones who left in very bad graces (greedy—wanted more money; I guess 1.7 million dollars per year wasn't enough) about eight years ago.
     Why bother?
     At SMU, which he recently left in bad graces for personal reasons, he amassed a lousy 36-43 record. Does U.H. want that?
     Bob Jones in Midweek recommended U.H. switch from the FBS (for big, rich schools) to the FCS (for smaller, budget-conscious schools). He thinks it may not result in cost savings (U.H. Football currently loses money year after year after year) but should result in more wins.
     I say it will likely result in substantial cost savings due to reduced salaries, scholarships, staff, and training, recruitment, maintenance, and other costs. Nix the half-a-million-dollars-plus head coach salary (Norm Chow gets $550,000), duplicate offensive and defense coordinators, line coaches, quarterback coaches, assistant coaches and on and on and on, plus state-of-the art air conditioned luxury training and other facilities 'cause expectations will be scaled back.
     Best of all, the costly distraction that football has become from U.H.'s core academic mission will be largely abated. (Why is a coach among the highest paid U.H. positions? Or state positions? What message does that send our youth? Or other civil service employees who do a lifetime of far more meaningful work for far less?)
     During June Jones' heyday at U.H., one of my most painful family experiences occurred. The team won its bowl game, and in a show of good sportsmanship (and for the second time in about three years) engaged in a full-scale, bench-cleaning, on-field brawl (which later got replayed on national T.V.  Welcome to the Aloha State!) Metal folding chair were flung and one was swung and used to strike at least one player's back...) Mid-brawl, I switched off the T.V. we were watching at my sister's house 'cause there were kids present, at least one whom was getting disturbed. This on Christmas day, by the way.
     At that point the angry ball of energy in the room got redirected towards me—even by some of the most reasonable and even-keeled of family members.
     It was a tough stand to take, but I held. And took the abuse, and kept the T.V. off though many insisted I switch it back on. I suggested we continue the Christmas activity we had started but put off until the game's conclusion.
     Since then, I've been looking forward to the day when U.H. football is no longer a part of the big school conference. (U.H. is a minnow compared the mainland large schools, both in terms of enrollment and dollars. Which is why they can never compete against the best, such as Georgia in the Sugar Bowl (42 Bulldogs, U.H. 10, Notre Dame in the Hawaii Bowl (49-21), or Tulsa in the Hawaii Bowl (62-35). Sure, U.H. has had a few big wins along the way, but these are becoming increasingly rare and ever more distant, almost like faded memories, tarnished by years of black oblivion.)
     In less than three years, Braden will be college age, possibly entering U.H. Student athletic fees (currently fifty dollars per semester) to subsidize oversized football salaries and budgets (18 coaches/coordinators/assistant /trainers, etc. are listed on the website) may by then be doubled or tripled to add hundred of dollars on top of tuition and other fees to his enormous student loans. Unfortunately, such athletic fees are not and will not be optional—all students will have to pay.
     FBS football, optional for the school, is an expensive and huge distraction from academics that drains valuable resources (there's a long list of overdue building repairs and maintenance at Manoa amounting to over $400 million), is demoralizing, and is bound to produce long-term noncompetitive bottom-of-the-heap losers. And is something U.H. and the state should get rid of by season's end at the latest.
     How many more losing seasons and 3.5 million dollar deficits are the school gunning for? It's been eleven deficits years out of the past thirteen as of 2014, sure to be twelve out of fourteen as of 2015. Is the school out to set some sort of loser/deficit records? Is that how it intends to rebuild its fan base and return the program to profitability? U.H., Hawaii's brain trust, needs to think this through clearly and act wisely now. Future generations of students will be thankful for it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Child Safety Concerns

     Every school year the Department of Education (DOE) and/or our kids' schools send home media release/Student Publication forms with our kids for us to sign saying, in essence, the schools may or may not use photo/video images of them, their names and/or other identifying information (school, age, grade, club, etc.) and print, publish, or post on the Internet any such material at anytime they choose.
     One of the forms states that we may opt out by submitting a signed letter but warns that grievous consequences may result from blanket block-outs such as exclusion from year book photos and awards or graduation rolls. School administrative staff have informed us, too, that participation in certain club/class/school events, and the like, that are blanket video recorded may be jeopardized.
     When our kids were younger, I wrote opt out letters every year, mostly out of concern over Internet postings. Who knows what psychopath, able to easily track down our kids could or might do?—the Internet is open to all, reasonable and unreasonable, stable and unstable.
    In the letters I listed what usages were acceptable (year book photos, awards lists, printed newsletters, and the like) and those that weren't (posting photos, videos, or personal identifying information on the Internet).
     The DOE should do all parents a favor by creating an opt-out check list form of all potential media usages such as:

  □ Internet posting of photos
  □ Internet posting of videos
  □ Internet posting of personal identifying information

etc., that parents could use to check off all unacceptable usages.
     I shared this idea with Deanne, saying this will never happen because the DOE/schools do not want any parents to opt out because it creates more work for them to track kids that can and can't be included in this or that. And it exposes them to liability should a child's image or name appear somewhere that it wasn't supposed to. So rather than do the right thing and provide parents with such an easy-to-use, sensible tool, they place the burden on “troublesome”, “paranoid”, or “demanding” parents to create their own tailor-made opt out letters, knowing most parents won't bother. And they wrote one of these forms in such a manner as to scare parents into feeling like slime for opting out and causing their kids to stick out like pariahs to classmates, staff, and classmates' parents.
     Fortunately, this hasn't happened to our kids mainly due to sympathetic teachers (most or all of whom had kids of their own). During May Day, they strategically placed our kids somewhere in back where they wouldn't likely appear on the official video, enabling them to participate with all their classmates. And they were included in newsletters sent home that listed high achievers, perfect attendees, etc.
     So the system worked, but made it unnecessarily difficult for parents. (I doubt whether all schools would be equally accommodating by strategic placements, etc. I can image some saying, “You can't participate because you might appear in the school's video.”)
     The DOE should do the right think by making it far easier for parents to selectively opt out use of their kids' images or information without deploying scare tactics or making them out to be pariahs or pains or anything negative. It was a good law that gave power to parents to control this vital material concerning their children. It should thus be implemented with nonjudgmental good will by the DOE and schools, too.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Signs of Maturity

     When Braden was yet in diapers, too young to talk, I once prepared for him his usual breakfast of cut fruit, Cheerios, and milk. Braden always ate with healthy enthusiasm and this morning was no different, but after ingesting a few spoonsfull, he looked in his bowl, reached in with a hand to explore the contents beneath, said, “Humph!” with down-turned lips, opened his mouth wide—enabling me to see the cave-like ridges on the roof of his mouth—and let out a long, agonized wail.
      I realized in an instant what had happened: for perhaps the first time ever, there was no cut bananas—we had run out. I said with a bemused smile, “What? It's okay, I gave you plenty to eat.  You don't need bananas every day.”
      He kept on eating through his tears and sudden gulps that caught his throat like hiccups and within a couple minutes settled to his usual placid state. Obviously he was just upset 'cause he didn't get what he expected.
      I smiled at it then as I smile at it now 'cause it was so characteristic of him to react with such strong, sudden, hot, demonstrative forcefulness over such a small, unpleasant stimulus. He could be an emotional bugger like me.
      This past school quarter, one of his class electives—positive in most ways—was a distraction to him, demanding lots of time and effort that should more appropriately have been spent on academics, not on the fun but rigorous and otherwise demanding elective. As mentioned in my prior Choices essay, Braden's academics have been a serious struggle for him this past quarter mostly because he was not exerting the time and effort on them necessary to thrive. He was instead cruising (slacking) in these honors History, Math, Science, and English classes and floundering with all too frequent C's, D's, and F's.
      By quarter end, his academics had improved to marginally acceptable, but only just. His attitude, though, still had a ways to go. So based on these and other factors, I had him cancel his eighth period (non school-hours) elective that was becoming burdensome for him and us due in part to inconvenient scheduling. We had warned him that this day might come and he took the disappointment with humble maturity so I gave him back his laptop computer that we had confiscated about a month earlier for inappropriate use, lying, and bad attitudes.
      But then the school counselor advocated for Braden by telling Deanne that the teacher said Braden could rearrange his class schedule to enable him to keep the elective by attending class during study halls and twice a week after school.
      I said this was unacceptable because he needs his study halls for academics, not this one non-essential elective. Because he'd gotten so excited and hopeful about keeping the class, though, this came as a new bitter disappointment to him.
      Braden doesn't cry with open-mouthed wails anymore. But he did cry with hot huffs and tears. And he later fed Deanne some bull about, “It's going to be embarrassing to take next year since I dropped out,” which she ate and regurgitated for me. And he fed her other bull, too.
      But his tantruming didn't last long 'cause he's matured some and realized that it's only temporary—next year he gets three electives and can fit it into his normal class schedule.
      For want of bananas and want of an elective Braden reacted quite consistently, I later realized.
      I told him that life is full of disappointments. I've had many throughout the years. I shook my head and chuckled. It helps to have a sense of humor about it. Life is also full of no's—far more than yes's. No, you can't go to the moon. Or Africa. Or Antarctica. No, you can't heal the world of all its ills. Or end hunger or disease. Or get what you want all the time. Adults take such no's with calm maturity. Or work hard to change things for the better. If you don't like it, get it together and maybe we can add the class back later this year.
     I think he got it. But with youth, as with life, a lot of it is wait and see.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Prayer--Part II

     Prayer works! 
     Which is why I do it so often, not that my prayers always get answered just the way I hope or imagine.
     But virtually always they do get answered, one way or another. (Yes! No! Not now...maybe later. You're not ready, yet.) These answers are never audible, but often manifest themselves by doors opening and closing, silent prompts, and/or confirmations.
     Often, my prayers get answered with a seeming question such as, “What are your motives?” Or “Is this God's best for you?” For God our Savior is sovereign, whom we must obey to live life at its fullest, not a genie in a bottle who does our bidding on command. I find it all too easy to get caught up with asking, asking, asking for what I want, and often forget to bother asking what God wants of me.
     I tend to want self-centered, temporal things, too: health, security, happiness, prosperity, success, improved relationships—nothing wrong with these, but all based on my own selfish wants and desires and not God's, for God, possessed of all-knowing wisdom, perfect in every way, eternal and with everyone's best interests at heart, and imbued with perfect meaning, purpose, fulfillment, peace, contentment, patience, and love has ways that are far beyond my meager comprehension and understanding (thank God for that!)
     And when I do get what I want, I'm often not very happy long-term, either, because whatever I've gotten is essentially temporal—something that comes and goes. Life itself is temporal as no one lives forever, so no one can be happy forever (except perhaps in Heaven).
     Whereas God always gives us what we need: air, water, food, clothing, and shelter, plus more: abundant life that leads to peace and contentment, which is far better than anything the world has to offer. 
     It's telling that the Lord's Prayer, in which Jesus tells us how to pray, doesn't contain a single selfish “want.” The closest is “...give us this day our daily bread.” I usually think of this as food, air, water, clothes, and shelter—necessities for survival. Yet Jesus calls Himself the Bread of Life. Bread also can be interpreted to mean God's word—scripture. The other apparently self-focused prayer items include “forgive us our trespasses...and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” I'd hardly call these requests selfish, though. I consider them humble and suppliant, acknowledging the need for God's divine forgiveness and help and guidance 'cause we can't do it on our own.
     The rest of the prayer acknowledges God's sovereignty and holiness and glory and power and superior ability to choose what's best for everyone (“Thy will be done on Earth...”) And, in essence, it requires us to forgive others even before we pray (“ we have forgiven those who have trespassed against us.”)
     Although I pray in specifics (travel mercies, healing, help in times of trouble or doubt, etc.), I also pray in general terms. ("Make him a man of God you would have him be."  "Guide me in all your ways."  "Bless her mightily."   I love you, Lord, draw me closer to you...") I've even come to the point where I've largely stopped wanting what I want anymore, meaning God's provision is more than sufficient, it's abundant and full, so if I can content myself with that, why want more?
     In short, I'd much prefer my prayers being answered “No” with God's peace and contentment, than having all my prayers answered “Yes” and suffering unhappy consequences as a result. So getting “No” answers from God may be the best blessings yet (especially when we don't pray according to His will).

Tuesday, October 13, 2015


     I've been feeling more stress recently—I'm not quite sure why. Maybe it's residual from our church's family camp and outer island mission awhile ago. Maybe it's from striving with Braden to improve his attitude—mostly regarding academics. Maybe it's Norm's (my friend's) and Grant's (my brother's) divorces. Or my father-in-law passing away. Or the difficulties faced by mother—in—law and unemployed and unmarried brother-in-law who lives at home. Or my aging parents. Or sister's family that seems to be distancing itself from my family along with some of the others listed above. Or my unpleasant work relationship with my boss and boss's boss. Or the good-stress joy of playing bass with our church's praise band. Or my disappointment in much in the world today. Or maybe a little of all of the above.
     I'm not depressed—I've got too much to be thankful for to feel that.
     My mom read me a book in my first year in college (my last year living with my parents) when I was stressed that said that most human emotions—fear, anger, joy, stress, etc.—are biologically indistinguishable. The only thing that's different is our perceptions of them—positive, negative, pleasant, unpleasant, etc. I still wonder over that one. Surely fear and passion would light up different brain patches in an MRI? Or are MRIs capable of sensing our different perceptions? (I doubt it.) I have, however, noticed that positive intense emotions tend to go hand-in-hand with intense negative emotions: a person who cries tears of joy one day often enough may scream hot and angry the next, for example.
     Or how even-keeled people neither tend to get too high up nor too low down.
     I'm emotional by nature so I admire the even-keeled types that are so good to be around in stressful situations—calm and soothing. Not that I'd want to trade positions with them.
     Because for me, a lot of what make my life worth living are those moments of peak intensity: joy, passion, relief, and even sadness, productive anger, forgiveness, and regret that helps me grow. It's all a part of what makes me human and that reminds me that no one has it good all the time and no one has it bad all the time, except in Heaven and Hell. So while life lasts, we may as well learn to appreciate or grow from whatever comes our way, positive or negative.
     I need to write more, I've discovered this very moment. For prior to writing this essay, I was feeling stressed. Putting pen to paper is such a wonderful all consuming task for me.  All the stress just seems to float away leaving a calm, clear air of contentment.
     A few years ago, I experienced some of the most intense negative stress in my life—largely due to medical issues. At the time, I had given up writing for over a year due to horrible experiences dealing with my writing at a prior church we attended. In an effort to release that overabundant negative energy, I took pencil to paper and wrote a novella—a children's story with adult themes. Writing it was one of the single best things at the time to release stress and find calm and peace amidst scary moments.
     When I started typing in the story a couple years later, my stress by then largely abated, I was astounded by how relaxing it was to read. I had expected the stress to transfer to the writing yet it hadn't, and in fact it was some of my most soothing writing ever (without being boring.) I read it to Pene and she enjoyed it. (In essence, I wrote it to her—or at least with her in mind as the primary audience, a “trick” employed by John Steinbeck and other writers.)
     I told Deanne that I believe God wanted me to write and knew I wouldn't do it unless I had to, so he allowed that unpleasant period to enter my life.
     I still believe it.
     So I write not only because I enjoy it, but also because I have to to deal with everyday stressors that can accumulate and grow so big. And because I believe God wants me to.
     Would that everyone had something to rely on for such soothing release, and knew God's love, direction, and purpose in their lives.  (I may not know the last two, but I try to, which helps just as well.)

Thursday, October 8, 2015

In Their Words--PartII

     I felt like I needed a break from posting to this blog (or more accurately, felt too lazy to follow-through by writing something worthwhile, which takes tons of effort—like father like son, I guess given my last post about Braden...  Anyway this week they're at home on vacation for Fall break, whereas I'm at work with No break, so “Put them to work” seemed appropriate as misery loves company—Joke! I love my job and they love writing—at least as much as they love cleaning clogged toilets), so here for the second time in almost a year are all my kids' writings. (No joke—they really did write the following of which I didn't change a thing.) The only ground rules were word counts of a 100-130 for Jaren, 400-450 for Penelope, and 500-550 for Braden. And they had to be works they'd feel proud of and wouldn't later regret for bad spelling, grammar, or punctuation. 

(Jaren's essay)

Star Wars

     Have you seen the Star wars movies 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6? Apparently the movies 4, 5 and 6 were made first an 1, 2 and 3 were made after 4, 5 and 6. The episode 7 “The force awakens” is coming out December 2015! Also, episode 3 explains amolst every thing for episodes 4, 5, and 6. Did you see the trailer for episode 7? (If you didn't, this is going to spoil the trailer.) Did you see the guy with the three bladed lightsaber? (In case you didn't know, a lightsaber is the weapon used by Jedi and Sith made of pure energy.) Truthfully, I like the regular single bladed lightsabers. Last, I would like to trash talk the produscers that I don't know if Obi-wan, Yoda and Anakin can die since they are king of invisible.

(Penelope's essay)
Broken Computer

     I have a computer in my room. In my former room, really. Anyway, before you attempt to track me down in an attempt to steal it, let me save your time with a few simple words. Any guesses? Don't waste your time.
     There's nothing special about that particular computer. Well, nothing special that will make you want to take it. Unless you're an antiques collector, considering how old the computer is. But I don't think that it's that priceless. The entire computer (let's call it Fred) is heavy, clunky and must be plugged in for it to turn on. Then with an added bonus of it working less than 50% of the time, I could possibly attempt to sell it on eBay and see how many buyers I get. Maybe I'll get more for it since I named it.
     Fred has been with my family for quite some time. A really long time. Maybe since I was five. Fred is an old computer and sometimes I feel as if it's trying to tell us to just retire him. Let it live out it's final days in quiet retirement. 
     A description of Fred. Fred is composed of two major parts: a monitor and a big other part containing all of the hardware or whatever you call it. The screen looks almost exactly like our TV, a large boxy shape that narrows down on the back and is set upon a platform that's about the size of the screen. That part is very heavy in itself. The other part of Fred resembles a cereal box enlarged a little, with buttons and wires and all sorts of things that you need for your computer to be useful. Fred also has a black and white printer, nothing fancy. At least the printer can be used and works 100% of the time that you attempt to use it.
     Now let's say that today's your day and you manage to make Fred cooperate with you. Remember how I said that Fred resembles out TV? It does, except that my family doesn't have Internet, so we can't watch TV on it. (Not that we could watch TV on our TV set anyway). In our house, Fred has two major uses: schoolwork that needs to be typed out and work that my parents need to do. An extremely useful computer. *cough, cough*
     The programming of Fred thankfully works perfectly fine (except for Word processing), so my main problem with Fred is that it doesn't always work for me.
     I have a suspicion that Fred favors my dad or has a grudge against everyone except for him, since Fred usually works fine for dad but not us. Or maybe it's just me.

(Braden's essay)

Broken Computer

     We need to get a new computer. The one that is in my room is a Windows XP computer that was used by the cavemen. You know that this is true because like all old computers it has two parts. The first part is a monitor. You can compare it to a those box shaped old televisions with out those pointy things sticking out from the top. Also, unlike a regular television you can not watch Comedy Central on it. All in all the monitor is pretty much like a TV but all you can do with it is use it as a computer screen. The other part of the computer is shaped like a giant cereal box (unfortunately it does not have any cereal in it). This part has all the hardware and stuff that makes the computer work. As you can imagine the combined weight of the monitor and the computer weighs a lot. P.S. To keep things simple I will call the computer and the monitor combined Mr. Computer to keep things simple to prevent confusion.
      Recently the power strip that Mr. Computer is plugged into broke so whenever you want to use him you have to move him to the nearest outlet. Now Mr. Computer weighs a TON. Trying to move him is like trying to push an overweight elephant around. It takes a lot of work if it is even possible. Unfortunately unlike an overweight elephant Mr. Computer can not go on a diet or get exercise, so he can not loose weight. Moving him is not going to get any easier.
     Oh, did I mention that Mr. Computer is broken as well? I guess doing all that work for people since the cavemen days shorted put his brains (or whatever computers use to think). Whenever someone would power him up he would scream at you. Pressing his power button results in a annoying high pitched scream as his internal parts try to get moving. To get a good idea of how he sounds when you turn him on think of the sounds that a broken disk would make when playing a recording of R2-D2. 
     After hearing about our wonderful Mr. Computer you would think that we would be shopping for a new computer by now. After all most people would probably drive down to whatever computer store the usually buy from, and buy a new computer. For the better of for the worse my dad is not like most people. He says that once you can power it on it would work fine, you just have to keep trying to power it on. Well I would say that there is about a trillion to one chance of successfully powering on Mr. Computer. I probably will win the lottery before I can successfully turn on Mr. Computer. If there are any lottery winners out there then will you mind coming by and trying to turn on my computer because the odds are in your favor.
     We really need a new computer. One that works and does not scream at you. A computer that is not from the cavemen days. Oh and a computer that does not weigh as much as an elephant does.

     It's I again. 
     Here are my impressions of my kids' foregoing writing. First of all, note to self: Next year consider forgoing this exercise—mainly for the readers' or reader's (if any exists) benefit. My kids' above writings, though not good—in fact, they still repulse me same as last time, though perhaps a little less—are fair and indicative samples of their psyches at their ages. 
     My inside observations: All three went about the assignment with so-so enthusiasm at best this time, perhaps Jaren showing more than the others.
     Jaren and Pene wrote age-appropriately. What can I expect from a twelve and seven year old?
     I enjoyed Braden's a lot. Showed tons of improvement, humor, and unintentional humor with still too numerous spelling and grammatical errors that I think add to the humor (it's funny when the person criticizing you says unintentionally humorous things like ungrammatical sentences, misused words, etc. There's a higher-up where I work that loves to say “irregardless” in all seriousness. It's hard to take him serious when he says stuff like that. No one tells him of his error, because, well, I do not care to speculate.)
     By the way, Braden and Pene claim they did not discuss their essays at all, they just coincidentally turned out with identical titles, themes, and techniques—naming the computer and referring to it as “he” and a “cereal box.” I believe them. It's scary to think that they think so much alike though, they're as different to me as two people could be, but perhaps that's just my impression. Makes me wonder, though... seems so strange.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Making the Grade—Part II

     Here we go again. We've been asking Braden throughout this school quarter how he's doing and whether he's keeping up with his grades and his answers have always been “Fine” and “Yes.” Three weeks ago we get a prerecorded message from his school announcing a mid-quarter report card was sent home that day. Deanne asks him for it and he says, “Oh, yeah...” and retrieves it. Turns out his grades are far from fine. Not even close to fine with C's or worse in Math, English, and Science and a border-line B in History—all honors classes, but nonetheless, all grades unacceptable. This is especially unexpected and unpleasant 'cause he's had so much time throughout his days at home to get in trouble with Jaren, do lousy jobs with dish washing, lie around, do nothing, misuse the computer, give us bad attitude, and in general, look as if he hadn't a care in the world. (Perhaps he's fit to serve in Congress?) We ask him to bring home a print-out of all his grades for every assignment this quarter and through such discover he's been getting tomes of C's, D's, and F's for all these classes.
     Regular readers of this blog (real or imagined) may know the routine for such sub-B grades: Redo all such assignments, show the redone work to the teacher, and ask, “Will this have gotten me a B or better? My father wants to know even if it does not change my grade.”
     I ask which of the sub-B assignments he redid and he says, “None.”
     Why not? I ask, veins in my eyes throbbing like sea slugs.
     He attempts to feed me bovine feces, which I decline because I've already eaten and put him in time-out and make him do all the chores for all eternity.
     I then look at all his redone sub-B work to see that they're up to snuff, but what he shows me looks and smells an awful lot like equine feces (with heavy emphasis on the word awful).
      It takes him billions of attempts at each assignment to finally get them to where I believe they might warrant B's or better. All the while, I'm fuming, he's fuming, Deanne's fuming, and the family (and ozone layer) is suffering! I don't know how else to get it done. Just let him get lazier and lazier and lazier, with a worsening “Who cares?” attitude? I don't even know what he's thinking, sometimes wondering (assuming) he's doing it all just to irritate me and show me up.
     I start reading a book that I find on a library display called The Teen Whisperer 'cause it sounds so nice to be able to whisper to Braden to get him to put in his best effort the first time every time and follow-up on sub B grades with an attitude of excellence and responsibility without having to be told (shouted at, disciplined, threatened, etc. etc. etc.) as if he were completely ignorant on the matter even though this has been our ongoing routine during the beginning of every school year since he was in diapers. What must I whisper to him? I love you? Please? Pretty please with sugar on top? I know this must be difficult for you? How can I help you? Is there anything bothering you? I hope (though I know I shouldn't) that there is some magic incantation that I can whisper to him in his sleep that will solve all his life's ills...
     Turns out the book's pretty reasonable (but not earth-shattering—Where's the magic bullet?) and even softens my heart some, so after he breaks down and cries in anguish (over the difficulty of learning—Yes, learning and thinking are difficult, they're some of the most difficult things there are to do, that's why jobs that require such are some of the higher paid (excepting rock star, pro athlete, CEO, and hedge fund manager), I've told him. But the upside is that they're also some of the most rewarding and doing without thinking and learning makes life far more difficult. I realize, eventually, that he's just going through typical teen angst, of which I had more than my fill when I was a teen, and yes, I do remember and empathize.) I give him a choice: Do what needs to get done by quarter end and he gets to keep all his classes. Don't do adequate, and I'll have him drop Honors Science in favor of regular Science. (The most recent grades listing shows marked improvements in Math (low A territory), English (low B territory), and History (a solid B). Science has dropped to D territory, however, with Fs and an ungraded “redo” for recent assignments, one of which he spent hours on, including a Saturday afternoon taking a bus to and from the library to do internet research. He's trying fairly hard, I see, but is still struggling in the class. A change must be made—I don't want this to be the beginning of a long downhill slide...) If the school demurs, I'll insist he drop his favorite elective: JROTC, which is demanding and at times distracting, taking time and attention from academics (though he may resume it next year, assuming he earns decent marks in all his core academic subjects).
     He isn't pleased, but then again, what does he expect? He can no longer score A's and B's with minimal effort like in the past, he's going to have to work much, much harder to thrive and enjoy school, which are critical at his age should he desire higher education later, 'cause it's not going to get any easier, it's going to just keep getting tougher and tougher. I don't like laying down the law this way, but under the circumstances, I feel I must. It's what helpful dads do (or so I deceive myself). Leastwise, we can scarce afford to send him to adult play school (college) with no expectation of return (a useful diploma). However, if he finds a way to perform well, we will do our best to provide. But time is running out... (which is why those sea slugs in my eyes are thriving!)

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Worship Band

     About a year ago, I asked if I could play bass in the keiki worship band our church had, comprised of an adult leader that played guitar; kids that played percussion, piano, guitar, and violin; and youth vocalists. I felt it could use more low end and that I could have fun interacting with the youth.
      The leader said, Sure. The church has a bass, do you have an amp?
      I said, No, I'll check around and maybe buy one.
      The next week I showed up expecting to see the bass (I already knew where to buy an amp from), but he instead said, You'll play the washtub bass. And he showed me two different ones to chose from: large and small. Both were made by a church elder years ago from old-fashion aluminum washtubs, each with a string attached to the middle bottom and a stick to pull on to adjust the string's tension, which was plucked. I said, This is great. I love it! And I selected the big one to practice their songs, one of which we played in church one Sunday. I never did get to play my favorite song that we practiced, though, Lean on Me, with it's distinctive bass line because the kids were having trouble with the vocals.
      Then that worship leader left our church and a new leader stepped in. I was no longer particularly welcomed to continue playing, so I stepped aside.
      Then several months ago, our pastor told me, “I have a gift for you,” and gave me the church's Ibanez electric bass and asked me to join the keiki worship band (soon to be renamed praise band with all ages welcome). So I bought an amp and joined the group.
      We played our first song in church this past Sunday, even though we were originally scheduled to play in November. On seeming whim, our pastor last Sunday at practice said to the group just as I arrived (they started practicing early and were already finishing), So let's have you all play next Sunday, alright? (meaning we were on).
      Fortunately it was a song I knew well enough and we got to extend practice that day for those in the core of the group (sans drummer, who rarely shows up for practices these days).
      The day of the show, my family and I got to church an hour early—good thing because I had to set up the electronic drums, mics, music stands, music, bass, bass amp, and drum amp, and do sound checks. Fortunately the backup guitarist and drummer showed up fifteen minutes early so we could do a couple of run-throughs. Pene was supposed to play violin following notes I wrote for her. (She picked favorite notes from the chords I wrote out—mostly whole notes and a few half-notes. We'd practiced a few times at home and she'd sounded fine.) But during rehearsal, she started to put away her violin. I asked why. She said she wanted to sing, instead. I said, Play violin, you sound great. So she unpacked and the rehearsal went fine.
      Before service, I asked Deanne how Pene sounded and she said she was just standing there with violin in hand, not playing.
      Before we played, I asked Pene to play. She did and sounded fine (I heard her this time), and the song went fine, though when I asked Deanne about how Pene sounded, she said her violin was drowned out by the bass. I knew then that next time, we'll have to mic her just as the past violinist was always mic'd whenever he played, for one acoustic violin just can't compete with a plugged-in band.
      I wonder though if my playing style and volume was appropriate for our mostly senior audience and our church's conservative service (we sing mostly hymns accompanied by organ). My incentive for rockin' the bass line (with slaps, plucks, treble boost, some overdrive, slides, and bass chords) was to engage the youngsters and waken the baby boomers so it wouldn't seem so boring. For some of our youth are very iffy and indifferent toward the group and worship in general. I'd hate to see the band dissolve for lack of interest. Anything, then, to ignite the interest of these youngsters so that they would want to come and/or join—that's why I'm involved, that and of course to spend time with my kids doing something we can all get into and share happy memories of.
      We must not have been that bad 'cause our pastor asked (told) us to play again next week—same song. Amen to that!
     I later asked Pene why she didn't play during rehearsal and after a long pause she said because she didn't feel quite ready. I asked was it because the whole notes were boring to play? She said no. I said I can change them to quarter note scales. She said that's not necessary. I said if you're playing first in orchestra, you have to play out—I made lots of mistakes, no one cared. She said yes Dad. For some reason, she didn't seem quite into it, but once she's mic'd, perhaps she'll get more excited then. Or perhaps she's just imitating the ho-hum attitude of some of the other youth—she's like that: she'll pick up vibes and imitate. Her loss, though, if she's unable to enjoy due to the disinterest of others.  It's my job to try to make her like it!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Bypassing Promotions

     I might do it again—bypass the opportunity for promotion. Others must think I'm unambitious, lazy, or crazy to not want the additional prestige, responsibility, power, career advancement potential, and cash. In truth, I just want to make best use of my limited time on earth. As no one on his or her death bed has ever said, “My one regret in life is that I didn't spend more time at work.” And prestige, responsibility, power, career advancement potential, and cash come and go and are soon forgotten (once one dies, say) but time spent with family, friends, and loved ones is eternal, never forgotten or regretted, so I believe.
     The night I first noticed the posted vacancy, I imagined what it would be like to take the promotion—this in a different department with tons more responsibility. There would be lots of documents to sign—super long documents that would be impossible to read in their entireties before signing. A retired judge, who was a family friend, once told me, “Don't ever sign anything unless you read it first.” It's one of the best advice I have ever received and I've taken it to heart. It gets merchants (auto mechanics, rental car agencies, landlords, etc.) annoyed at times, but such practice has saved me from regretting hasty “I trust you” decisions, so, no signature from me until I at least get the gist of the document. I imagined the incumbent in the position either signing off on numerous such documents at a glance, or calling the author and asking, “What's this all about? A lot of this technical stuff is over my head”—e.g. for technology department approvals, legal contracts, etc. I know were I in the incumbent's position, regardless of what the author told me, I'd still feel uncomfortable signing off if I hadn't read or understood it. I know good managers trust their co-workers and staff; I wouldn't be so ready, at least at first.
     Also, there would be lots of urgent deadlines. “We have to get this out by today, please let me know ASAP”—I imagined receiving this via employer-provided iPhone some Sunday afternoon as I was assembled with a bunch of kids to practice in our new worship group (I play bass). I'd have to excuse myself, read the thing, respond, and maybe even dismiss myself from attending altogether in order to get the work done, cursing under my breath for having to do such boring, responsible business stuff I really don't want to have to do and forgoing doing the fun, meaningful stuff I really do want to do.
     Also, there would be lots of meetings. I'm not big on non-productive meetings where senseless banter and beat-around-the-bush small talk prevails and perhaps the real issue gets addressed in only the last few minutes, if at all. And I detest meetings dominated by politics, in-fighting, and put downs—especially of those not present. And I wouldn't want to have to put on a fake smile and feel obligated to contribute my own cynical views, and act as if I enjoyed it all and believed that what we were doing was all sooo important and that we were all doing such wonderful jobs, deserving of our disproportionate higher pays.
     Also, there would be lots of stress. None of the higher-ups at our workplace look happy—not one. Nearly all seem stressed-out. Some act completely uncivil and shrill at times. Not something I wanted to be a part of.
     Also, there would be lots of overtime, meaning less time devoted to family life at home, time spent with those whom I love most, doing what makes life enjoyable and meaningful, far more than work ever could. And as our kids are growing so fast, do I really want to miss the next several years of watching them and actively engaging with them—especially Braden who may be leaving home for good in less than three years?
     My current job allows me to arrive early and leave early, thus, I arrive around 6:15 a.m. and leave work shortly after 3:00 p.m. and arrive home before 4:00. No doubt this would be a thing of the past should I take the promotion, not that they'd likely select me, for no higher up has encouraged me to apply or sent signals that I'm their anointed one.
     But I don't mind. What's a twenty percent pay raise (or so) compared to having a job one enjoys (I enjoy mine, overall, 'cause it has enough responsibility, meaning, challenge, and fulfillment, but not too much stress and no overtime or super-tight deadlines). Also, coworkers at my level and below are fantastic—humble, professional, and helpful—and I hope to be like them throughout my career. And the closer I am to them, the more likely I'll be like them, I feel.
     Most important, I don't feel God's peace about the position, whereas I feel tons of God's peace about staying. He's been blessing me and our family in my current job. Decades ago, I bypassed two offers of advancement (due to similar, though different reasons—neither felt right) and have never regretted it. God was with me after those and I believe he's with us now, praise God!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

School Gripes

     I've often said that the two most important and underpaid jobs on the planet are pastor and teacher. I've also said that they're two of the most difficult jobs to do well and that I doubt I'd last more than a couple days as a teacher and perhaps a couple months as a pastor, depending, as I don't feel equipped for either. So such practitioners deserve huge amounts of respect for dedicating themselves despite low pay, long hours, and persistent underfunding, all for the intangible benefit of growth of students/parishioners that they may never see.
     Deanne and I have always been very satisfied with all our three kids' public schools and teachers, so it was a huge disappointment to learn of reduced middle school and high school hours and periodic replacement of academic class periods with study hall. For Pene, school hours were reduced from ~8:00 to ~3:00 to ~8:00 to ~2:00 and she now has study hall four days a week. For Braden, hours were cut from ~8:00 to ~2:30 to ~8:00 to ~2:15, and study hall, which meets twice a week, is this year considered optional, thus school days are in essence ~8:00 to ~2:00 for students that choose to skip study hall.
     At Pene's open house, I learned that last academic year, students attended each of six enrolled classes four times a week but that this year such meetings have been cut to three. Teachers emphasized that with this reduction, it's critical that students not fall behind and that they get the most out of each class session because there won't be many opportunities to catch up otherwise, and that the new study hall class is essential to keep on top with the reduced classroom hours and class attendance days.
     The good news is that study hall permits students to get a hall pass and go to whichever teacher they need help from. It's a decent idea in theory, but in practice, I doubt many students that need help use it as designed to improve their grades or understanding—it's expecting an awful lot of students (slackers) to recognize the need to study more, request a hall pass, walk over to the designated teacher, wait in line, ask the teacher for help, sit through explanations, perform additional exercises as necessary, get the pass signed, walk back to study hall, return the pass, and mostly to recognize the need for tutoring and drum up the courage to pursue it in the first place without being told or forced to by a parent or teacher. This is especially true at Braden's high school where study hall is scheduled the last period of the day and is now optional. Will kids voluntarily stay after school dismissal to pursue help? Wasn't this always an option last year before this ill-advised policy change?
     I told Braden that unless he's getting straight A's, he is to always attend and study hall, especially since he's taking a foreign language for the first time, and this from a disciplined teacher with high expectations.
     Pene's school fortunately mandates attendance at study hall, but most of the time she just does homework or reads in it since she always stays on top of her academics. Nonetheless, study hall has effectively reduced her classroom instruction time since there is no teaching in study hall for students like her who don't need additional help. I feel that's short-changing her for being responsible and staying on top of her work.
     I asked one of Pene's teacher, “Whose idea was it to reduce the number of times each class meets per week?”
     He said, “The teachers. After each school year, the faculty discuss how the year's schedule worked and how it might be improved. Last year we ended close to three o-clock and everyone was just dragging by the end of the day—it was just too long. So the idea came up to shorten each day and class meetings per week and make up for it with study hall. We had study hall in the past; for some reason it got dropped.
     This explained a bunch. Last academic year, especially toward the end, Pene's and Braden's classes each had tons of slack days when all they did was watch non-academic movies or only very loosely related Hollywood fare during class time. Some of their classes showed movies in series, too, multiple class sessions in a row.  And sometimes the kids did nothing but attend class parties and watch movies all day long! When I was their age, this never happened.  They even had do-nothing periods, when all they did was “whatever”—as long as they stayed out of trouble. Pene tended to read and Braden tended to put his head down or “do nothing.”
     By the way, Pene's teacher also said that next school year, the schedule will change again due to state legislature mandated increased classroom hours. I hope this doesn't mean more movies, parties, and do-nothing days to give teachers and students a break.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Good Fights

     I read a column awhile ago about a marriage based on mutual respect and love, wonderful in every way, where the advice columnist's only advice was: “Once in awhile, have a really good fight so you don't get bored with each other.”
      I wondered about that. Is it really necessary for a happy couple to have occasional fights to keep things alive?
      Not that that ever applied to our marriage. Such peaceful nonaggressiveness between Deanne and me has never been enduring (perhaps occasional stretches of a couple months or so at most), so we have had fights aplenty. Most have been quite minor over day-to-day matters and preferences: helping out with the kids and chores, and scoldings/arguments over errors, misunderstandings, relationships with relatives, moodiness, attitudes, tones, and so forth. So there's little threat that we'll ever get bored of each other due to lack of fights.
      But I do see the benefit and necessity (at least for us) of fighting the good fight—the fight to improve things, not to tear down; the fight for what's good and right; the fight for hope and a future, not despair and surrender to the world's selfish, messed up ways; in short, the fight to preserve peace and wholesomeness in our lives and encourage growth in God as individuals, a couple, and a family. It's not automatic to do such things, as people have moods and frailties, so Godly success comes and goes. We must thus catch ourselves. Sometimes she or I needs to remind the other where we both belong and truly want to be. But pride or laziness or worldliness sometimes puts up a bad fight that makes the true good fight necessary, for if these things aren't worth fighting for, what are?
      Though I feel our marriage has been heavenly blessed, I also have had the dread feeling—too often to recall—of being on the edge, when things could have gone either way, depending. There's no blame involved, but we all have our limits and sometimes when it feels like she or I is at that limit and no motion for the better is forthcoming, that there's little option left. That's when I've prayed like crazy. And talked. And fought the good fight as necessary. (It has gone as often or more the other way, too, where Deanne was the one that led by example, mostly by submitting to Godly authority—mine—when she'd felt certain I'd been following God's lead.) Such times were soooo scary because I could foresee the bleak, dark future on the other side, a place I never wanted to go, especially since our marriage, when working well, is wonderful (I hope as much for Deanne as it is for me). And God has always come through, not once failing to provide for our needs in such dire circumstances. Praise God almighty for his faithfulness!
      As for fights with the kids, I don't tolerate it. If they wish to disagree with civility, I'm happy to listen, but no shouting back. Braden, now age fifteen, on occasion (usually before or after big trips away from home) sometimes loses control and challenges with angry cynical shouts. But it's not a true fight because by then he just defies to make a show of independence, which is unacceptable since it's at our expense, so as long as he keeps it up, he suffers consequences: chores, groundings, time-outs in the carport, and walks up and down the street. It's his choice: say “Yes, Dad (or Mom)” and go in peace, or shout back and get consequences leveled upon him for as long as he continues.
     When I was Braden's age, my mom tolerated my angry, vehement shouting at her and for awhile encouraged it by shouting back at me without leveling consequences. Partly as a result, I never learned to fully control my temper, which has hurt me numerous ways throughout my life. I don't want that to happen to Braden or any of our kids, so that's why I insist that they not vent their tempers on us, the authority figures. (By the way, my temper is mine to control and it's not my mom's fault that I still haven't mastered it, but it reminds me of a story I heard of Swede Bjorn Borg, the tennis great from the 1970s who was the picture of cool, calm composure for anyone of any sport or profession. As a youth, he once lost his temper during a tennis match. His dad took away his racket for awhile and Bjorn never lost his temper on court again. Fine dad. Fine results. Is it naive for me to hope for comparable?)