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.