Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Me Worry?

The holidays for me are time of mixed feelings. The joy of what is to come and sadness for what is lost. I feel anxiety over what I need to do, should do, and what I want to do for others. I guess you might say I worry.

It helps to know that I am not the only one concerned about things to the point of worrying. Sometimes it amuses me to hear what other people worry about, and it allows me to put my own worries into perspective. I hope others think my worries are funny.

Alfred E. Newman, "What, me worry?" Mad Magazine

I worry that;
...the newest ache, pain, cough, or sneeze is the first step to a new Ebola like disease outbreak.
...the HDMI cable that the Target guy put in my bag, but forgot to ring up, has me on most wanted posters (didn't realize it until I left the store- I am going to take it back, maybe even today).
...I look like an idiot when I speak, walk, stand or do just about anything really. I am pretty sure I do, but I try not to care about it.
...when I pick up a tool I will break whatever I touch.
...aliens are plotting to transform the earth into a giant farmer's market and I am a juicy tomato.
...whatever I choose to do is not nearly as much fun as the thing I passed up.
...there is an asteroid with our name on it floating around out there in space.
...greenhouse effect gases coming from cows will destroy the ozone.
...bad things will happen to Brittany Spear's children because of her reckless behavior.

Some of these things are genuine concerns, others not so much, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. I think the problem that I have, as well as all of the other worriers out there, is that worrying gives you an odd feeling of power over what you are worrying about. This is a total illusion. Worrying causes many more problems that it ever solves. It makes people unhappy so that they can't enjoy what they have right now.

I think worrying comes from a time in human history when worrying was needed to survive. It allowed man to plan against dangers to himself and his family. Shared worries helped man to learn to work together and build society so that more people would live. Worrying is an evolutionary leftover- like an appendix.

Now, approximately 99% of the things I worry about I have no control over. How does that help me or anyone else? So, I am trying to give up worrying. It is not easy because I have quite a bit of quality practice time under my belt. I started getting really good at worrying after I decided to settle down. Before that, I was able to pursue my hedonistic lifestyle with very few worries.

I became a "Worry Master" after after my wife became pregnant the first time. Children really have a way of bringing that out in a person. After child number three, worries consumed me. Men are not supposed to worry in our society, they are supposed to do something. When things are beyond your control and yet you continue to worry, well, it can make you a bit conflicted at times.

I am thinking that I need to try to give up worrying about the past and the future, and just concentrate on making the present the best I can. I try to experience my anger and quickly let it go. I run with my dog as often as I can. I play with my kids as much as they will allow me to play. I try to behave in a fun loving way and avoid those people that make me unhappy. Unfortunately, I still watch the news and look at Internet news sites- an industry that thrives on making people worry.

A life without worry may only be possible for coma patients and very young children, but it seems to be a worthy goal in life. Maybe now I can give up my lucky underwear and accept that no matter what I do in life I do not have an impact on all that I worry about, and let it go.

For a believer in the Chaos Theory this is a problem. If the butterfly effect is true, then isn't it possible that if I don't wear my lucky underwear my team could lose? I think I may have found something else to worry about...

Monday, November 26, 2007

We Don't Need Another Hero?

I read an article that really bothered me. The article is basically about the qualities that make a hero and Arland D. Williams, Jr. Mr. Williams was a passenger on Air Florida Flight 90, a plane that crashed into the Potomac River on January 13, 1982. He was one of a handful of people to survive the initial impact of the crash and hang on to a part of the airplane that was still on the surface while waiting to be rescued. A helicopter came with a rescue ring on a cable and Mr. Williams gave it up three times to others so that they could live. The article finishes up with what amounts to a Darwin Award. No lie, these are the last two lines of the article,

"But as Darwin predicted, there is no Arland Williams IV.
And there never will be."

There was quite a bit of useful information in the article but the way it ended made me feel like it was condemning heroes for being selfish and not thinking of those that loved them. I understand that heroes typically die just trying to help others, and perhaps they are individually foolish. But what about the greater good? What about the lives that were saved because Mr. Williams gave up his turn at the rescue ring three times?

Kelly Duncan was one of the people that received one of Mr. Williams' turns on the rescue ring. As of 2005, she was happily married with three teen-aged children, she said,

"I feel like every day has been a blessing. I have a wonderful life. It sounds crazy to say it, but that accident changed my life for good... God used a bad thing to turn my life around."

I understand the impact of the loss of Mr. Williams on his family. The whole incident was a tragedy and the loss of his life was no less tragic, but he did one of the most kind and generous things that anyone can do for another human being. He gave his life trying to help others.

I am not sure that anyone has the answer as to why a person sacrifices his life for others he does not even know. This is a special quality that should leave us all wondering how we can help another person, not just in a dangerous situation, but in the everyday world. Altruism is something we see very little of in our daily ugliness bombardment of death, destruction, and celebrity gossip that we call news. Yes, the loss of Mr. Williams is bittersweet, but he has given us all a higher standard to live up to.

I am saying all of this not because I have always wanted to be a Superhero, but because this article is wrong in its conclusion. We must have people like Mr. Williams who stand up and do the right thing to help others. This is the example that we all need learn from to become better people so that all of humanity can progress.

I thought about listing heroes from war, or civilian heroes , but these links will have to be enough. After all, I know that I can not really put together a thoroughly researched response to Christopher Mcdougall's article, but I don't think I need to do that to know in my heart that he is wrong. Mr. Williams is not a Darwin Award winner. He is what we should all aspire to be. A hero.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Gator Bowl

Tomorrow, Wednesday, November 21, 2007, is my school’s annual Gator Bowl. Each year, for the last fifteen years, my school has put on a Gator Bowl. This is a football game between the fifth grade students and the staff of my school. The last day before Thanksgiving break is a half day of school and all of the students, staff and other spectators line up around a roughly laid out 80 yard football field.

I have been a part of each one of the games that have been played. I have coached the teachers, coached the students, played on offense, and my favorite, defense. I have always felt like the Gator Bowl served a greater purpose; the goal of the game has always been to pump up school spirit and have fun.

But the game means a more to me than that. It certainly is fun to run around and play football, but it is not important to me so that I can live some kind of middle aged football fantasy. It is important to me because 15 years ago I met my wife at the 1st Gator Bowl.

We had talked a little in the halls about this and that, but I started to really get to know her at the teacher practices. Right before the game we were walking down the hall together and out of nowhere she started singing some made up song. Immediately, I thought that was odd, because I thought I was the only one who did that- make up ridiculous songs and sing them out loud. I thought, “There is something different about her.”

In the game that day I played tight end and Amy was a running back. Late in the game, Amy ran the ball off the right tackle, while I ran my route on the left. As soon as she busted past the line, I came across the field and blocked three kids off of her. Touchdown!

Ever since that day, I have felt like I won.

So, each year the Gator Bowl comes around and I get a little sentimental. My wife and I still work at the same school. We share so much that I am sure other people think we should be sick of one another. Somehow we aren’t like that. The Gator Bowl always makes me feel like I have so much to be thankful for.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Not Bob the Builder

Every person should have some idea of what they are good at, I am still struggling with this, but I do have some idea. I am certain of what I am not good at. I am not a handy man. Maybe it is my own fault because my standards of quality are just too high.

Some men are perfectly happy just patching things together with duct tape and calling it a day. I expect that if I build shelves from scratch that they should not lean at 23 ½ degrees to the right. I explained to my wife that the leaning of the shelves was due to the coriolis effect. I said it with a straight face but I don’t think she believed me. She knows I have a B.S. degree.

This “not being handy,” is a fault of mine that I recognized long ago but have only recently decided to accept. Somehow being a man means that there is a whole list of things that you should be able to do, you can’t ever do, or should never be seen doing. Being handy is something that every man is supposed to be born with, like it is a gene or something. I am here to tell you that it is a learned behavior.

In my formative years, I must have missed something. I do have some skills, but they are helper skills. If you show me what to do I can replicate it. If you tell me what to do I can make it happen. If I am in charge, it is going to get broken. I should never be unsupervised if repairs or construction work is needed.

I do have a pretty good collection of tools and equipment for someone who has no business using them. Sometimes looking at them scares me because all I can picture is the damage I can cause. I have an ultimately cool laser level and I swear I still can’t hang a picture straight. I am not making this up, I have the piles of un-hung pictures stacked around my house to prove it. Part of the reason this tool doesn’t work well for me is the fact that I am afraid that I will blind myself or a family member with the intense beam of focused light. I saw Star Wars and know what a laser can do.

Last night I got to set up my Birthday/Christmas present for the next seven years- a new 42” LCD TV. It has really been filling me with dread. Not because of the putting together of the TV, that is easy- I do well with electronic stuff for some reason. The problem was the new TV stand.

I can’t call it an entertainment center, because that sounds very large. This “stand,” as I call it, is a glorified coffee table really. It is about the same height and length, but it has a drawer and little mini shelves. It only took me almost three hours to put together. This is a new personal record, especially considering that I only had one left-over screw, and that was the manufacturer’s fault, not mine. One of the screw holes had the female connector jammed too far down the hole. That is how I have a left-over screw.

Part of the problem with putting the stand together last night was that I was trying to do it with my kids around. They want to help, and I needed help, but I needed someone with more skills than I have to help me, not fewer skills. If I don’t know what to do, how am I supposed to direct them? I try not to be the grumpy dad, but it is hard. I never understood that about my father, why he would suddenly become moody over doing some little thing. Now I know it is because he was faced with something he didn’t know how to handle, or what he was supposed to do. It is hard when you are an authority figure and you don’t have a clue as to what to do.

I tried to get my kids to help me at different points during the stand building. Sammy, who is 3, sorted my screws, and then when my back was turned, put a tiny screw into a bigger hole. The screw disappeared and I spent the next 5 minutes banging on the part to get the screw to fall back out. This was before step number one was started.

Of my children, Sammy was by far the most eager to help me. I used a rechargeable screwdriver and lined everything up and let him push the buttons. He was digging it. Calvin helped me get the top lined up and move the big pieces around. Savannah also joined in after the screwdriver button pushing fun began.

The most difficult part of the build was when I was laying on the floor trying to look in the dark space underneath the stand holding a flashlight while attaching the top to the supports. Sammy thought this would be a great time to hang off the sofa and try to zerbert my stomach. When he couldn’t quite reach he asked me to stretch my stomach up to meet him, which I did because I thought it was funny. Suddenly, he jumped of the sofa and onto my stomach. I was a trampoline, and Sammy was bouncing on me. It is hard to laugh, breathe and tell a kid to get off of you. They just don't take that very seriously.

In the end, I only had to take the stand apart and put it back together 3 times. And I did not cuss, except really low where the kids couldn’t hear. I didn’t yell at anyone or break the stand, but I am still afraid to move it by picking it up from the top. I think it will pop right off. The screw that could not go into the base, well I think I know what to do with him. I will just put him in the drawer with all of the other left over parts I have collected throughout the years.

Maybe I am getting better at this stuff. This project turned out much better than the computer desk that I put together that could not be moved for 4 years because it would collapse (we lost the desk when a mover lifted it 2 inches off the ground). Or the doggie door that nearly crushed my wife and Calvin, when he was a newborn. Why would a dog actually use a door that you made for him?

So, I am not handy. Big deal. At least I have some helpers that that don't know how incompetent I am. And they know the Bob the Builder song. That always fills me with confidence.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

And the Pain Continues...

I think I mentioned before that I am a Redskins fan. I question why, and all I can really come up up with is a warm fuzzy feeling that I would get inside whenever I wore a stupid hat. How illogical and emotional that makes me. After the latest loss, I am feeling - despair.
The problem is that I have such an emotional investment in each game that I can't separate the outcome of the game from my own personal reality. I believe in my team the way a native population of a small pacific island might believe in a volcano god that will not destroy the village if fed virgins. Mine is a mindless devotion. I can even prove my devotion. I participate in a weekly football pool. During the week before the Skins vs Pats game I was the only person on the the face of the earth to pick the skins to win, and believe in the pick! Foolish man that I am...
If my feelings about the Redskins are similar to a religious belief, then FedEx field is the cathedral where I worship. The TV is only a stand in when I can not make my pilgrimage. My clothes are purchased to keep up with the latest styles so that I will always be prepared to show my Sunday's best.
My tithe to my team is probably not a tenth of my family income as the definition implies, but I estimate that it is in the neighborhood of 2% to maybe 5%. This is way out of wack for a family of five with income that is based on two teacher's salaries. I was inspired by a cool blog and created a special graphic to illustrate my meaning (inserted below).

Pain Illustrated

The disappointment of this season is settling in nicely. With the highest paid brain trust in the NFL, the Redskins have managed to all but throw this season away. I wonder which one of them said, "Hey, lets run Portis 7 times and see how far he gets (this was after a turnover at the Philly 24)!" The cameras didn't show the sideline, but I am thinking there was major high fiving on that one.

Don't get me wrong, I have the highest respect for Joe Gibbs. He is a supreme football being to me. If I were to ever meet him I would be giddy like a schoolgirl meeting her favorite teen idol. I can only assume that he is being pushed into the background by the other coaches. Could it be there are too many cooks in the kitchen?

Should I mention how penalties contributed to our loss? Nah, why bore anyone by going over one of the few things we do well? We easily keep drives going for the other team with mindless penalties. This should always be expected from a Washington team. You might think that having geniuses in charge of your team you would only see the proper number of defensive players on the field. But geniuses should never be bothered with counting to 11. That's kindergarten stuff.

Sophisticated communications equipment is in use in the NFL so that all of the coaches can talk and figure out what to do. Do we really need to blow all three 2nd half timeouts for patty cake? Don't they have a contingency flow chart with a pimply faced intern in charge to remind everyone about what they would do if X thing happened- like they agreed to in a Wednesday meeting? Can they just tell Cambell to fake it and run the hurry up all the time?

People might say that if I was a real fan I would never say these things (believe me I am thinking much worse- I am just trying to stay true to my promise of a clean blog). The only thing I can say to that is that I have paid for the privilege. To me, it is like voting. You must pay for the right to complain about government by taking an active role in it and voting. I have given my hard earned money, I have believed in my team and I have felt each loss as if it were my own personal failure. This gives me the right to say what I want.

These coaches make an obscene amount of money to fail. I would pay for the privilege. At least then I could say that I had some influence in a game that I feel so involved in. The difference between me and them, I would pay to fail, while they get paid to fail? No wonder I can't be happy with my team. I am willing to sacrifice my untested football reputation, more of my family's income than I already give away, and precious time away from my family to make my team right and they sacrifice what? Their reputation and time from their families. Millionaire Losers- that's what they are, while I am just a Loser.

I am a 41 year old male who weighs 170 on a heavy day, stands 5 ft 10 (that's what I put on my driver's licence), and I would suit up for a game and sacrifice my body to help my team. I would block the biggest rusher, tackle whoever had the ball, and run crossing routes through Baltimore's D. I mean this- I would do it knowing in the end I would be squished like a grape. My williness to sacrifce myself should mean something, but it doesn't. I sounds like false bravado.

So, where does this leave me? Believing that the Redskins can beat the Cowboys this weekend. Being mocked by other teams fans. Throwing virgins in the volcano...

I believe in God. I have prayed for my team to succeed. I know that He has to be on the Redskins side, because I think the Bible says something like, "The meek shall inherit the Earth." Lord, the Redskins are ready.


Kona is my dog. She is a beautiful border collie that just turned 1 on Halloween. We didn't get her until she was 6 months old. My brother in law has a male and female that he bred and Kona was one of their puppies. She was a bounce back- meaning she was sold and brought back. She was an unwanted puppy.

My wife, Amy, and I have a pet rule; we never buy our animals, we prefer the ones no one else wants. I suppose in some way it makes us feel that if we give an animal a home that we are doing a good thing inviting another creature into our home. Unlike purchasing a pet which feels more like you own the animal. Somehow, the invitation makes it seem like you have a new family member. This is important because it allows you to accept the flaws and the option to return the animal when it doesn't meet your unrealistic expectations is not present.

Kona is a wonderful dog. High on energy, and a fantastic companion. She is sweet and sensitive and will play fetch all day long. Kona is smart. I am pretty sure she is smarter than me, but she lets me think I am in charge (there must be an alpha dog in the pack and I am it, although my family constantly argues about who is the lead dog).

Border collies have been bred to herd sheep. I don't understand how a trait like that can be passed through genes, but she does this herding behavior without any training. When my 3 kids are running around she will try to herd them. If she finds a frog, she tries to dictate where the frog should go. Sometimes I take Kona to my friend's house, he has her brother, Jackson. Kona and Jackson will herd other dogs that come over to visit and they will work as a team when they do it. It is really fascinating to watch.

Kona notices everything. Movement is key- if it moves, she is on it. Some dogs bite. Kona nips to try to get you to move a certain way- she is herding. I have tried to take her to the baseball field more than once. It is too much for her, she can't calm down. Balls are flying every which way, kids are running, there is simply too much for her to deal with and process.

She is a guard dog in the sense that she is a barker. Any noise at the door will set off the alarm- Kona rushes to the door barking. The TV always throws her off. A doorbell sound from a TV show will send her scrambling for the door barking like crazy. It's pretty funny.

I said she is a guard dog, but there is not a vicious bone in her body. She is really quite timid. Vacuums, handheld or upright, will send her cowering in a corner as far away as she can get from the noisy machines. Loud noises, like fireworks will cause her to run away. This past August, we went to a redneck firework show (fireworks in the backyard after a few beverages with few safety controls- the danger makes it more fun) and she ran off for about almost four hours. She does not like balloons. They scare her.

She does have some bad habits. Kona is a chewer. She has chewed on the dinning room furniture, molding on the wall, the banister rails on the stairs and any toy my kids leave on the floor (and some they don't leave on the floor). She still poops in the house- it is always the same spot, so at least we can find it.

People who don't like dogs, well, I don't understand them. I can't say they are not to be trusted because there could be a perfectly good reason as to why they don't like dogs. Dog attacks are more common than most people believe, but the cause of that problem is people. People who don't care for their dogs properly and don't train them to behave. But people who don't like dogs for any good reason, are just people who have never been around the right dog.

Dogs are like love with hair on it. When they accept you as part of their pack, it is unconditional. The love they give is completely disproportionate to the love they receive. I could list many dog stories to illustrate dog's devotion to people, but the improvement in the quality of life of a person who finds a dog friend is more important than depending on a dog to save your life.

Before we got Kona, the morning wake up routine was tough during the school year. Our youngest, Sammy, was a complete grump in the morning. Everyday was filled with screaming and ugliness. But after we got Kona, things changed quickly.

My morning routine is to come downstairs and let Kona out. Then I make the coffee. Next I make the rounds, waking up the kids. This has become Kona's favorite part of the day. She runs to Calvin's door and waits with her tail wagging and a little, "woof," to tell me to hurry up and open the door. When the door opens, she runs in, jumps on his bed and licks his face. He hates this, but he gets up.

Savannah is next. Kona jumps up on her bed and licks her and then she likes to play, "Don't Touch My Baby Girl." This is a game she invented were she blocks me with her body and nips at me until Savannah is awake. Savannah loves this game, it makes her feel special and protected.

Sammy is last on the wake up list. It used to be that he would wake up screaming and angry at me and the rest of the world. Now, Kona jumps on the bed and flicks that little pink tongue across his face and a smile always greets me. Some days are still bad days, but everyday starts with a smile.

There are many more reasons why Kona is my special little girl. She can tear up the house and drop the occasional load, and it will still bother me, but that one smile first thing in the morning makes everything else insignificant. She has left her mark in the kid's play room, and on all of our hearts.

Kona and Sam

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Something New and Fun

I am always excited about trying new things with my students. The introduction of something new expands the possibilities of what can be done. My principal has become interested in using blogging with students. I am all over this idea!

Obviously, I have been playing with this blog since August, and it has become very important to me. This blog is more of a personal experience kind of thing, like a journal. I treat it this way because I was afraid to limit myself to a single topic. I didn't want to lose interest. While I get very excited if someone comments, I am not sure if I am motivated by what others think. Do I do this for selfish reasons, or is it an attempt to share with others? Can it be both? That is not important now, this entry is about the school project.

The new school blog must be more focused. It needs to have an educational point to its existence and it must have participation to be meaningful. Having played with this blog, I have a better idea of how to set a school blog up and gear it to meet a specific goal. I created a test blog site for my school. I did it as an exploration of the available tools, and to show some of my staff the possiblities of a how a blog could be used to start a conversation. This idea can then be used to help student's reading comprehension and writing abilities.

Edublogs has some great features but it is super slow. Learnerblogs is from Edublogs with the same features, but it is faster. So, this site will be the future home of my school's blog. Unless something better presents itself. I really am not sure exactly which direction the blog will take. Right now I have the idea if it being a writing prompt activity. Pictures, science stories and perhaps some literature will be weaved together to give students the change to put their thoughts in writing and interact in a new way.

I hope that this is just the beginning. There is still so much more out there that kids can jump right into. Podcasting and vodcasting are two that I want to explore asap. Not for myself, but for my students. They need to find their voice and where they can fit into the conversation. Everyone has something to share, they just may not know how to share it.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Pain of My Colors

The first winter hat that I can remember having as a child was a gold and burgundy knit cap with a big pom-pom on the end and a Redskins patch. I loved that hat. I think that it was because of that hat that I became a Redskins fan.

Now, as a 41 year old male, I no longer have that hat. I wish that I did, but they don't make them like that anymore so I can't even have a stand in. I do have a closet full of Redskins clothes. I have 15 hats, 17 shirts, a pair of boxers, sweat pants, sweat shirts, a winter jacket, lounge pants (pajamas- but real men don't wear that stuff), and other non clothes items that are far to numerous to list.

The last time a Redskins team won the Super Bowl I missed most of it. I am embarrassed to say that I was busy girl chasing in college and missed all of the good stuff. I did a lot of that in college, I think it is normal, but I missed the glory days of Redskins football. I should have been watching football because now I don't even remember what it is like to have a team to be proud of...

The Redskins are still above .500, so that is good, but after the agony of watching my team destroyed on Sunday, I feel like there is little hope for this team to really be anything more than an also ran. I really have to ask, was it necessary to completely humiliate a team, and their fans, on television like that? I don't think Gandhi would have agreed with what the Patriots did, but he never did learn to appreciate football.

Perhaps the crushing defeat the Redskins experienced (along with the fans) is the result of the bad Karma created by Joe Gibbs in his first go around as head coach. Maybe being wiped all of the field was a form of cosmic justice, but doesn't that in turn create bad Karma for the Patriots?
No one enjoys having their face rubbed in their own weaknesses, but 350 defensive linemen can actually do something about it. I don't wish anything bad on anyone, but I couldn't believe that none of the Redskins had resorted to juvenile acting out as some sports journalists suggested. I would have considered it, but I am quick to anger and usually regret those types of things later, so I have learned to behave. Taking that kind of spanking goes beyond anything I have ever seen in professional football. I realize that the Patriots can do whatever they want, but I don't agree with their reasoning.

Not every team will be as gracious in losing as the skins were on Sunday. Someone, somewhere, is not going to appreciate the throttling that they must take at the hands of the Patriots. It might only take one hit to end their dominance...

Meanwhile, I have to live with my team. One with highly overpaid conservative coaches (Gibbs- as head coach, Williams- Defense, and Saunders- Offense) whose idea of imaginative play calling is a reverse, or a prevent defense. The offense did nothing against New England. Little out patterns, nothing deep, no variety in calls. Defense played a completely different style than every other week so far this year. Like they were afraid. Where is my hard hitting pair of safeties? Why was there no blitzing?

I have been supporting the Redskins for about ten years by purchasing tickets, concessions, and by buying a ridiculous amount of things with the Redskins logo on it. All of that money has gone into Dan Synder's pocket and created a loser. But I can't go against my team. What about my little knit hat with the pom-pom? So I will return to the scene of ultimate failure as a sports fan, FEDEX field. How is it that you can be associated with a losing team but never believe that they will lose? Each year is filled with high expectations and no satisfaction (and quite a bit of financial loss on my teacher's salary).

There are two more games that I have tickets to go and see, in the good seats (club level), but I think I need to save my dignity. I know! I will go in disguise.