Saturday, January 30, 2016

Kansas Day!

Man, I'm always a day behind. Happy belated Kansas Day y'all. 155 years man. You don't look a day over 100. Hope yesterday was great!

Friday, January 29, 2016

Where were you?

Yesterday was the thirtieth anniversary of the Challenger explosion. For my generation that would be a moment we would forever remember exactly where we were when it happened. It was similar to previous generations knowing where they were when Pearl Harbor was attacked or when JFK was shot or more recently, the September 11th attacks.

I was in 7th grade band. Our principal, Mr. Rockledge, came on the intercom to tell us the news about the loss of the Challenger and the seven crew members aboard. His voice was breaking as he talked. After he was done there was stunned silence in the room. It was hard to comprehend.

My current students do not have a similar moment to point to where a whole generation can remember where they were when something happened. My students were, at the oldest, toddlers when the September 11 attacks occurred. My freshmen weren't even born yet. This is a good thing. These events are easily remembered because they are tragic and shocking. It's harder to remember where you were on a generational level when good events happen. For some reason it's easier to remember the bad stuff. That was a very sad day.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Utah Again

Finally received my invite this morning to the AP World History Grading this June. AP World History teachers around the nation were getting a bit anxious because this is the latest they've been sent out. Last year it was January 22nd which was the latest ever. This year even later. All the other subjects had received theirs two weeks ago.When the hundreds of emails finally hit the inboxes there was a collective sigh of relief this morning around 10 am. Lots of texts and facebook messages going back and forth to confirm that friends would see each other once again this summer. It's kind of like summer camp actually.

I will be a Table Leader again this year. Guess I didn't mess up things too badly last year on my first go around as a TL. Being a TL means you have to go three days earlier than the rest of the graders. But the pay increase is substantial and makes it worth it. I was nervous going into it last year, teachers can be hard to handle believe it or not. But this year I'm feeling good about it.

This will be my ninth year to grade. Four summers in Ft. Collins, Colorado and five in Salt Lake City. I'm also very happy to finally fly out of Love Field again. Since they moved the grading to Salt Lake I've had to fly out of DFW. But with all the Wright Amendment restrictions finally gone, Southwest Airlines can fly direct out of Dallas to Salt Lake City from Love Field. And Love Field is so much better than DFW in almost every way. Much smaller, much less chaotic, lots less traffic and it's 20 minutes closer to us than DFW. I've missed flying out of there right over the tips of the downtown Dallas skyscrapers.

My memories of last year's grading are bittersweet. The day I arrived in SLC last year my father had to be rushed to the hospital. I found out later that he looked so bad those first few days that my wife almost had me return to Dallas immediately. I had some difficult conversations with my worried uncles about Dad's future and his health loomed large over my stay in Salt Lake. I really wanted to head back home but they all assured me he was making slow and steady progress. He came through that particular bout and was back home about a day before I returned to Texas, eight days he spent in the hospital. I was gone ten days.

Well, that wouldn't be the last hospital day of that difficult summer and fall. He'd actually have to go back a couple of more times for week long stays. And he didn't get better. And he would pass away in September. I'm sure I'll be thinking of him quite often during my time in Utah.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Not Me.

I promise that's not me. Different guy. Although I live just five miles from this precinct I live across the county line. Nope. I'm not running for any office. Promise. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Low Tech

Last night was the first class of my last "real" class at SMU. All that remains after this is a capstone project which I will begin next semester. The professor of this class was the professor of the very first class I took in this Masters program. When I saw the course schedule I thought it would be fitting to end with Dr. Swaim who I admire very much. He's a true inspiration. Nice way to bookend the program. Not sure what I'm going to do with all my free time after this class is over. I will probably take a break for awhile although they are already recruiting me to continue on in the department for a doctorate. It may be a long time before I have that kind of energy again. 

Side note: We met in a fully modern classroom in the Life Sciences Building on campus. This class, like all the others I've had in different buildings at SMU, is outfitted with LCD projectors, sound systems, retracting screens, computers, charging stations, the works. Weirdly enough there was an overhead projector in the corner. Don't see those in use much anymore. I've got one in the corner of my classroom but haven't used it in years. It's just a decoration. 

But weirdest of all was that there were no white boards. On the wall was a very nice set of overlapping wood-framed chalkboards. Extremely retro. I have a center white board in my classroom but I have stubbornly kept all my wall chalkboards as well. I love my chalkboards. I have refused to let maintenance take them away and replace them with shiny new white boards. I have heard that when we move to the new building next year there will be no chalkboards.

So I texted the picture above to my principal and said look, chalkboards are still being used in the most advanced settings. Can I keep mine for the new room? He texted back "absolutely!" I think he may be joking. I am not. I want to keep my chalkboards.

Friday, January 22, 2016

The Force Awakens Review

So I waited a long time to post my thoughts on the new Star Wars. I always admire critics who can shoot out a rapid fire response on a single viewing. I like to process and I wanted to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens twice before making a judgement call. Here are some of my random thoughts. Spoiler alert for those who still have yet to see this movie.

Once again, SPOILERS follow.

Force Awakens was better than any of the prequels but not nearly as good as the Original Trilogy. This is not mere nostalgia speaking. I have my reasons for placing it fourth in the pantheon. I liked the movie but when the ending credits began to roll I had no desire to applaud. I was entertained but I was not left in awe. I actually felt more awe after J.J. Abram's Star Trek movies than I did for his Star Wars. Movies that come immediately to mind that left me with a sense of awe after seeing them in the theater: The Matrix, Interstellar, Star Trek (J.J. Abrams), The Bourne Supremacy, The Avengers, The Dark Knight...just to name a few in a similar genre. I didn't get that feeling with The Force Awakens. Maybe I was too beaten down by all the cross-promotions thrown at me for a year before the movie opened.

BUT: I did feel that awe for the first 40 minutes of The Force Awakens. I thought the first half of the movie was excellent. It then began to feel redundant when once again they go to destroy a planet killing weapon. Star Wars has not only used this plot device once, but twice! A third time felt lazy and anti-climatic. The outcome was already known. Yeah, they tried to show that the Starkiller Base was much much bigger than a Death Star but that felt forced. Lame plot device.

I thought Rey was excellently portrayed. I loved BB-8. I thought Finn was okay but he still didn't feel like an ex-stormtrooper gone good. I would expect a former stormtrooper who had been brainwashed his whole life to not so easily switch allegiances. I expect more inner turmoil. I expect a different personality from a hardened soldier than the glib "DID YOU SEE THAT!? DID YOU SEE THAT!?" or "Yes, Yes I am with the Resistance." Just a little too goofy from an ex-First Order soldier. But he was okay. The acting was fine.

It was jarring at the beginning not to hear the 20th Century Fox fanfare before the movie. That has become as much a part of the Star Wars movies as anything. I know Disney has the rights now. But the opening credits seemed weird without the old fanfare. I realize I'm quibbling.

Harrison Ford did a much better job reprising Han Solo than I expected. He's been so lousy in recent movies. But he was great. So was Carrie Fisher. All the originals did well.

I like Poe but his opening response to Kylo Ren was dumb...the whole "who talks first, you talk, I talk" took away from the sinister nature of what's about to happen. Maybe they wanted to lighten the tension a bit, but it seemed fakey.

Speaking of Kylo Ren: I'm all over the place with this guy. I liked him at first then he became a whiny emo kid. And killing Han Solo? Don't know if I'll ever get over that. And I found it a stretch that he would kill his own father. Maybe I'm naive. I am looking forward to seeing his development. Not sure if he'll be able to ever come back from the bad side. I guess Anakin did but we never saw him kill his own family. He came close but the worst we saw him do was take out jedi younglings and the camera turned away to shield us from his most barbaric act.

I thought Hux overacted his big speech to the point of self-parody. Snoke is terrible. His CG effects are already outdated. I'm hoping this will be a Wizard of Oz ploy and the guy behind the Snoke curtain is a villain we can believe in.

The effects were good. The story great in the first half, weak in the second half. Not bad...but not nearly as good as it should have been. 

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Super Early Predictions

photo: Trump and Hillary when they were friends

I've been dead wrong on previous election predictions so take these with a massive grain of salt. I did say Mitt would win the last GOP nomination but I figured Rick Perry would give him a serious run for his money. Oops. 

But here's my gut instinct and it's not an original fits with most of the conventional wisdom:

This is about Hillary. If Trump or Cruz win the GOP nomination then it's a done deal. Once those guys enter the even harsher glare of a national election, they're cooked. There's only so many angry white men who vote. 

Rubio and Jeb might have a chance in a general election but they got an uphill battle just to win the nomination. Jeb is pretty much done. Rubio still has some life and I give him the best chance against Hillary. I have no hard data to back any of this up. Just pure speculation. 

Hillary will easily win the support of women and minorities. She will probably eventually win independents when they look at the alternatives. The problem for Cruz and Trump is there's not enough angry white men to turn the election to their favor. I'm still thinking the GOP will somehow come through and Trump and Cruz will be gently nudged out. My early guess is Rubio will be the GOP's man. I just haven't come to terms with either a Trump or Cruz nomination. And as much as a I despise Trump...I think I'd rather have Trump than Cruz. Cruz is an extremist and even his own party can't stand him.

As for me personally? I'm for Bernie. But he has no chance.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016


This past Saturday we invited a new kitten into our home. My son named her Annabeth after a character in the Percy Jackson series. The sign on her cage at the shelter warned that she was very scared and very shy. She was feral and just hid in the corner every day. But every time we picked her up she purred like crazy and hugged and kneaded us. The guy at the shelter seemed to think she would be fine once she felt comfortable in a new home. She had only been at the shelter a week and was still very young. We were smitten.

But she didn't make it. She continued to purr every time we picked her up and she loved to snuggle. But she didn't move and she didn't eat or drink. That final night we tried using a water dropper to keep her hydrated. Finally we decided the shelter was wrong. She wasn't merely scared or nervous, she was sick. And it was too late. Our vet did not know why she was sick. It wasn't viral. But she was too far gone for the vet to save her and her three month old system couldn't fight back.

After two days in our home we lost her. Amazing how sad we feel about a kitten that was only in our lives for two days. We will always remember her. At least she ended her short life in a comfortable and quiet setting with people who showed her loving attention. That's the best spin I can put on it now.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Church Hunting

After my father passed, it was very difficult to continue attending the church he had pastored. It wasn't anything the people of the church did. It was just that I saw my Dad everywhere. I saw him on the things he had hung on the wall or the Sunday School rooms he had renovated. I saw him behind the pulpit and in the foyer. Going to Central Church became too painful. The weight of tragedy oppressed me every Sunday. So we made up our minds to make a clean break after the holidays. We wanted a fresh start. Only problem was that there wasn't an obvious landing spot for us when it came to churches. 

Both my wife and I had grown up in the Nazarene church, we had met at a Nazarene university and we were believers in Nazarene doctrine. However, there was no real Nazarene alternative for us anywhere close. And we realized, after attending a non-denominational church on Sunday evenings for several years, that doctrine matters. No church will fit your worldview completely but the main ideas definitely should jibe. 

So for us that meant Methodism. The Nazarene church had branched out of Methodism back in the day. We like the Wesleyan-Arminianism stuff. Nazarene and Methodist doctrines are virtually identical. And I actually have quite a heritage in Methodism on my mother's side including ancestors who were pastors in the Methodist Church. I'm talking Methodist pastors in the family going back to the nineteenth century. So we began to look for a church, a Methodist church. 

My wife and I had never really had to find a new church before. I now empathize with those who are searching for a church home. It's a strange experience to just walk into a new building if no one has invited you. It takes courage to go to a new place. Coming from churchgoing backgrounds made it much easier for us than if we were new to the faith and trying to find a place to worship. The experience has made me much more sensitive to those who have not yet found a church home and have difficulty beginning the search. That takes courage.

We also had it easier than most because we had narrowed down our options to a particular denomination. Because of our upbringing and theological education we had a rudimentary knowledge of different denominations. I can't imagine how hard it must be for those new to faith looking for a church. The number of denominations and non-demominations and inter-denominations and sub-denominations can be bewildering.

Everyone is searching for different things in a church. We were looking for a healthy children's program, friendly people close to our age, a well organized service and a pastor with a burden to show Christ's love to the world. Overt politics and nationalism were a deal breaker. One church we visited was proud to announce a concealed gun license class from the pulpit. We almost walked out right then. Maybe our expectations were too high. We were not looking for perfection. We were looking for a church that exuded love and compassion, not an "us against them" mentality. We were looking for an "us for them" church.

After several weeks and several visits we have found a church we're going to focus on for awhile. We really hope to make this church our home. I'd like this to be a long-term relationship. I'm actually excited about going to church on Sundays again. I can't wait for Sundays. It's not a big church. But they exude love. I know after awhile the warts will show like all churches. We're not the type to bail during rough times.We're not perfect either. We got warts. But God loves us anyway. I think that's the whole point.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Better Already

Weezer has announced a new album coming out April 1st. They say it's not a joke. It will be self-titled and the speculation is it will be known as the White Album (guess it's dedicated to me). Sweet!

Rumors are also amping up that Radiohead will also release a new album sometime this year. Wow!

That would be enough to make 2016 better than last year. But M Ward also is releasing a new album in March called More Rain.

Word around the campfire is that Local Natives, Gungor and Brazzaville are also dropping discs this year as well. Epic music year. Glad I asked for all those iTunes gift cards for Christmas.

Very nice indeed. My iPod will be very busy.

Yes, I still use an iPod.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

New cam

So I got my son an ion Air Pro camera for his birthday. I'm actually probably going to use it as much as he will. He really wanted one last year for Christmas but I was unwilling to spend $300 for it. But around last Thanksgiving I was wandering the aisles at walmart and stopped at the GoPro display. Then I noticed three boxes of Air Pros on the bottom shelf. I was stunned at the price. They had been marked down to $39.99!

I asked the sales associate what the deal was. Last year they cost upwards of $300 and now they were priced at less then $40?  She said they were a Black Friday special and those were what was left. I had researched this item and knew it was a good camera. I figured $40 was not a big risk. So I snagged it. 

So far the thing is pretty impressive. WiFi connectivity allows you to download videos from the camera to your phone. I haven't mounted it to the bike yet but I look forward to testing it out on the road. I also hope to use it while skiing or hiking or whatever. So far the quality of video has been very good. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2016


This scene is right outside my classroom window. The photo does not convey the thundering and the smashing of the mechanical beasts. The pounding actually vibrates though my student's desks. Guess I better get used to it. Probably another year or so of the breaking of concrete. The road to the future is often filled with great clamor and activity. But hopefully a sparkling new school will be worth it all. 

Monday, January 11, 2016


Finally! The Chiefs win their first playoff game since 1993! My desk is celebrating. Now, if Kansas City can go into New England and defeat the defending Super Bowl champions...that would be something. I didn't think the Royals would win the World Series either. 

Friday, January 08, 2016


We are blessed beyond measure to have this little guy in our lives. Not so little anymore! He's a great kid who has made parenting easy. Happy Birthday to my son! 

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Quiet Stillness

We spent most of the Holidays on the family farm in the Hoosier National Forest in southern Indiana. No internet down there. You can't get a signal for your cell phone unless you trudge up the big hill by the big barn. It's pretty quiet in the Holler. For someone like me who likes to keep up to speed with Facebook and Twitter, it's a nice way to force a tech sabbatical. School has started again. The schedule has amped up. During the busyness I like to think about the sound of that bubbling creek and the quiet stillness of the valleys on the farm. 

Wednesday, January 06, 2016


Today my Dad would have been 65 years old. I'm going to honor his memory by doing my best to be kind to everyone today even when I don't quite feel like it. Because he was always kind...even to those who didn't deserve his kindness. It was just his nature.

Monday, January 04, 2016

Good Bye Ringo

photo: That's Ringo up there...he really liked playing in boxes. 

I don't want to be a downer but 2015 was a pretty lousy year for us. Yes, there were some great moments however, we lost a lot of loved ones this past year or so. I lost my father to cancer. My wife's grandmother passed away. Last Christmas (2014) we lost our beloved cat Simba to kidney failure. Yesterday we lost our cat of seventeen years, Ringo, to old age. 

Ringo joined our family three weeks after our wedding in July of 1998. He was our first baby. He was a beautiful cat. He was pretty crazy for the first couple of years before he finally settled into a regal maturity that defined most of his life. He was very social and liked to come out and visit with those who came to our house as guests. He was gracious to the new cats that joined our household along the way. When Simba joined our family in 2002 Ringo was very accepting. And this past July he welcomed our newest kitten Athena in a friendly manner. 

I never thought I'd grow so attached to pets. But when you have an animal in your life for so long they really do become a part of the family. Ringo was just a few months shy of eighteen years old. He lived a good long life and brought us a lot of happiness. 

So for us, the new year starts today. We are putting all those tragedies in the 2015 column. We really hope that 2016 can go a bit easier on us as far as losing loved ones.