Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Dear Diary...

Yesterday, several family members descended on my Mom's house for a work day. There was a ton of culling, filtering, sorting, and sibling brotherly love to fight through. It was a day of surprises as it seemed around every corner and in every drawer we found the unexpected. Amazing and hitherto unknown pictures of Mom and Dad popped up repeatedly, some from their early marriage days. If you can believe the pictures, they were crazily in love.

Somehow I ended up in the garage, and I began work on a stack of boxes over there with the leaf rake and rusty shovels. About three boxes into this fun activity, I opened a box, blew decades of dust away, and stared directly into the life of my father's mother. For here lay bunches and bunches of diaries - a mother lode of personal history from the 60's and 70's. Curious guy that I am, I immediately began pulling back the curtain on her innermost thoughts.

So this leads to an important question. Do diary writers write for themselves or for others? Is the diary for their eyes only or for those who find them in dusty boxes years later? Was Granny Fenn hoping that no one would ever read her words but her or was she penning words with an eye towards getting feelings and facts right for someone else's eyes? Hopefully I'll know the answer soon. Pleasure reading rarely gets better than this.

By the way, on a random note, as a teacher I was tormented by the word "diary". Often the word would come up as we looked at civil war resources, and inevitably, the kids would spell it "dairy". This led to hysterical sentences like, "We learned a lot about this Tennessee rebel soldier by examining his dairy." Oh boy, thank goodness for moments like that to give a teacher a break from the torture of endless papers to grade!

Friday, December 26, 2008

3 pretty good parents

Ever think about Jesus' 3 parents? You could do worse, you know.

First, you have his heavenly father, the Heavenly Father. They had such a tight relationship, such love, that when the Father needed a sacrifice big enough to show his love for mankind, he gave up that son. Now I don't want to explore the concept of the Holy Trinity...because it can't be understood this side of heaven. One needs only to listen to Jesus' words on the cross to grasp the love..."Father, why have you forsaken me?" So it goes without saying, parent #1 was special.

Then there is Joseph, the humble carpenter. I see him as a man of quiet class and dignity. Did you know that there are no recorded words of Joseph in the Bible? We all know that he could have become quite the angry man upon learning that his betrothed was pregnant. We know he received instructions in a dream and did what he was told. And strangely, he isn't mentioned in the Scriptures after his 12 year-old's son's little incident at the Temple. But he must have had an incredible influence on his boy. One can almost see him in the workshop, patiently teaching Jesus about tools for wood...and life.

And there is Mom. The one selected to participate in the strangest plan possible, to smuggle the Saviour into the earthly realm against all sensibility. The one who was there to the end. Can her faith be adequately described? Did she wake up from her vision and say, "Naw, that didn't happen"? Nope, she resolutely understood and obeyed. And through her, we've all been blessed. We'll never know the depth and scope of her influence on her boy, but it must have been considerable.

Quite a triumvirate.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Behold, Steve Morris

The plan was, this morning, to roll out of bed fairly early and head to Love Field for some airline photography. After all it's been since early October since I pointed a loaded camera at unsuspecting aircraft. My passion became an afterthought with all that was going on with Mom.

But the bed was just too warm. I did briefly peek out the window at the sky and saw wispy clouds, enough to discourage a guy who likes full sun to shoot planes. So I slithered back between the sheets and edged toward the warm wife. The cold aluminum fuselages would have to wait for another day.

Then, this evening, I find the above photo, taken by the incomparable Steve Morris, a retired British Airways pilot. He has a zoom lens that has to be carted around on a dolly. And, he's a genius. So, when I see that shot, I get the fever again. Makes me want to get out of bed early and get a few sunrise pics. Except, tomorrow is Christmas Day. Rats!

Saturday, December 20, 2008


Today provided a much needed injection of warm fuzzies into my system. On Wednesday, I had basically watched Mom die, and it was tough. From 6 AM until she died at 2:30 PM, she had to battle for each breath, her chest heaving, her head thrown back when she inhaled and thrown down as she exhaled. This even with oxygen being administered. So when it was finally over, there was palpable relief in the room that heaven had a new occupant.

I had real trouble sleeping that night, unable to rid my brain of (1) what I had witnessed during the day, and (2) flashbacks of memories of Mom from my childhood. But today, I listened as two ministers who knew my parents well reminisce about them during the graveside service. And I learned things I had not heard before. One minister had decades ago decided to forego a normal preaching job and launch out in an individual mission to save souls on his own. He told me after the service that had it not been for an injection of cash from my folks, the idea would have never gotten off the ground.

We were introduced to a man with a 3rd grade education who was wearing a suit my father had given him. Through the efforts of my parents and others, he became an amazing student of the Bible and is now office manager at Mom's church. Scores of others descended on my siblings and me with similar stories. What a boost! How great is it to find out things that they had done without tooting their horn, just trying to be Jesus to those who needed Him. Things of which we had no knowledge.

So the transition has been made and nothing in our lives will be the same. But this is all good...especially with such an amazing heritage passed on to us kids. What an awesome example they left for us!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Born: January 22, 1922
Died: December 17, 2008
Give Dad a big hug for us up there, Mom. We will always love you.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Iceman Cometh

Most days, I feel like I'm stealing money from Dallas County Schools, the folks who write out checks to me from time to time. I drive a new bus, I drive a great route, my female passengers are great most of the time, and I get to tower over most itty-bitty vehicles on the road. A real power trip.

Then there are days like today. Black ice is a killer. It lurks in secret places and snatches control of buses and cars and especially trucks. I couldn't believe all the parents who seemed to drop off their kids at the bus stops this morning, almost cavalierly assuming I could be trusted. Were I in their shoes, I'd want a full background check, a drug test, and a notorized statement saying that I'd never been to a Texas Rangers game. Trust me, today I felt the full burden of the knowledge that I was carrying 40 or so precious children - children whose parents would be devastated beyond repair if I did something foolish on the I-20 overhead ramp to I-45.

Naturally, I said my prayers. And after more than four hours total time behind the wheel, I parked my yellow-hound and 'bout collapsed on the steering wheel. The tension in my shoulders and neck was palpable. So was the fatigue.

Another day, another dollar. Tomorrow's menu is "freezing fog". Mercy, I can't wait.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Rating the carols

It's Friday night and Carole and I are unwinding from a difficult week. She's on her laptop and I'm on mine. Dish Network has a holiday channel playing nothing but Christmas music and the carols are playing softly in the background. Which leads me to a treatise on those carols.

Don't we all have some that instantly transport us back to our youth? You know, back when it was normal to say and use the word "Christmas" on commercials and advertisements. Whenever I hear "Come let us adore Him", I'm instantly zipped back to the 5th grade, where I'm standing in the front hallway of Mt. Auburn Elementary, singing that carol with classmates as students are escorted past us to start the Christmas break.

But when I hear two particular songs, I get the spirit...the Christmas spirit. These make me smell fir trees, see colored lights, and think of presents. One is "The Christmas Song". You know, the one with chestnuts roasting on an open fire. I heard on a local radio station that this song was written on one of the hottest summer days ever in California. Whoever wrote it, seems like it was Mel Torme, was jotting down things that reminded him of cold weather and the holidays. Nat King Cole recorded it and the rest is history.

The other is the ubiquitous "Silent Night". That one gets me in the mood to give and receive. Of course, when we were all younger, the thrill was receiving. Now it's giving. That's one of the great things about having grandkids. You can again relive your childhood excitement as you watch their faces explode in joy as they rip away the wrapping paper. At least, it better happen that way.

On the flip side, one cannot discuss the worst carols without shoving "The Twelve Days of Christmas" to the forefront. What a beating! All that repetition and nonsense! And the very slow, incongruous "five golden rings" right in the middle. Anyone who can listen to this thing all the way through, if they are still alive, needs immediate psychological evaluation. The song is a bucket of ice water thrown on the Christmas spirit. And close behind is one about the little drummer boy. Please. Deliver me.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Update on Mom

These are tough days for me and my siblings. Mom has a host of physical problems and some mental ones as well. Physically, she is weak and is frequently short of breath. She doesn't like having the oxygen thingy in her nose and many times takes it out. Then when the staff measures her oxygen blood level, it's in the low 90's rather than the upper 90's. Her heart is bad and she has little appetite. She hasn't gotten out of bed much the last two days due to nausea.

The mental issues really get to us. So much deep confusion about things in the here and now. The other day, she had worked herself into a frenzy over her car and where it was parked. Of course, we sold her car last January. When I finally convinced her of that, she started claiming that it must be a rental car, then. She wanted to know when I was leaving for Denver. Of course, that was news to me. It's so sad to see someone who owned a brilliant mind in her prime now having all those synapses and neurons misfiring.

There's the irony of role-reversal going on. How often did she sit me down in my growing-up years and patiently explain how things were? And now I'm in her chair and she's in mine. I had to have her to care of me then; she has to have us to care for her now.

Some might be offended by my next statement...I'm praying for God to take her soon, peacefully and gracefully. Her time this side of the curtain has been well-spent and honorable. Her body and mind are failing rapidly. It's time for a reunion in heaven with my Dad, her parents, and 3 of her siblings. I think it's really okay to speak that when you're talking about a Christian. We all are going to be so much better off there than here. In her case, I'm willing to trade my immediate grief for her transition to that mansion in the sky.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

The Time Machine

I just returned from a trip to the attic. The mission was to put a lighted wreath in the window. Mission accomplished, but little did I know I was stepping into a time machine.

Walking past those boxes of stuff we'd stashed up there, I just couldn't keep from checking them out. "Stuff" means spiral notebooks from college, bank statements from the '70's, leftover army gear from my six years in the military, and exquisite couple's photos from college banquets to which I'd been invited in the late '60's. I hated being invited to those things. Girls who otherwise were certifiably attractive would spend hours at the beauty shop getting their hair swirled into a turban shape and stacked like flapjacks atop their craniums. Then, in the style du jour, there would be a curly little strand dangling down in front of each ear, looking for all the world like pigs' tails.

It was almost as if the girls at the banquet were in a contest to see how high they could get their respective beehives. I wondered if all the guys felt as I did, that these weren't the girls we expected. They were aliens, visitors from planet Klimchock who had happened to land in Abilene, Texas for a night of frivolity. I sincerely hope some of them have recently visited their attics and seen the same pictures...and I hope they are aghast at what they see.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Future is Bright

About 99% of the time, I have an aviation picture to lead off the blog entry. But we've been getting photo albums from Mom's house and bringing them to our house, just to be on the safe side. And I found the above shot, taken when I was about six. On a bitterly cold Saturday morning, Dad took me to Union Station, planted me squarely on a Santa Fe "warbonnet", and snapped this picture. It was one of the most exciting things to ever happen to me. And I was so afraid the engineer was going to crank that thing up before I got off.

But that's not what I'm writing about tonight. Our church is in a transition period, having had its former pulpit minister relocate to San Diego and waiting for a search committee to find the next preacher. In the interim, we have had a steady stream of mostly young, incredibly talented men fill the pulpit, pinch-hitting as it were. It's funny, but when you don't get out and about in the brotherhood, you lose perspective on the state of preaching. Somehow, I had developed a small worry that all our great preachers were getting old and would soon be retiring.

Well, if one can make broad assumptions based on the men who've graced our pulpit during this in-between time, we as a brotherhood are doing quite well, thank you. The last two guys are good examples of what I mean. Both ignored the rostrum and basically spoke eloquently for a half-hour without looking at notes. Think about how many words that is. Think of the amount of preparation it takes to pull that off. And both weren't just up there speaking nonsense; every sentence seemed to challenge the audience and there were no "uhs" or "ahs" as they contemplated their next thought.

Now I used to be able to pull this off when I taught Texas History...but I had the benefit of telling the same history stories six times a day for 36 years. Pretty soon, I could do it in my sleep. But it's totally different when you're standing in front of several hundred folks, sharing a message that six days prior wasn't even in the formative stage. I'm in awe of these guys.

But way more important than the speaking and memorization process is this - these guys are driven by the Holy Spirit and are truly messengers of the gospel. I can almost picture Paul, sitting on the 4th row, stroking his beard, nodding in approval, and nudging the guy next to him, "These guys are good...real good!"

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Post-Black Friday post

Well, it's 7:34 on Saturday morning and I feel like I'm obligated to have another blog entry. Trouble is, I'm not sure what's blog-worthy today. My ideas are either too trivial to post or too involved to even start. So I guess I'll scattershoot.

1. Carole and I have had a lot of wonderful time together this week. With all the concerns about my Mom lately, I've spent a lot of time away from home. A lot of days, I've been getting up at 5 AM and getting home at 6:30 PM. So we've made up for it by running all our errands together and generally acting like giddy honeymooners. I hereby suggest that the last week of every month be like this.

2. This move away from daylight savings coupled with the days getting shorter anyway plays mind tricks on me. I'm picking up my first students in the dark and driving home in darkness in the evening. And when the sun goes down, my body feels like it's time to shut down for the day. It definitely doesn't want to go swimming in the evening. Which leads me to my next point...

3. I've got a bad case of tennis elbow, brought on by too much swimming. Now I can't swim at all, can't lift ordinary objects with my left arm, and have trouble gripping things with my left hand. And the only cure, apparently, is rest. I had so gotten into the exercise mode that it kills me now to have to lay out. Plus, we all know that it's a lot easier to lose fitness than to gain it back. Bummer.

4. I have a lot of respect for the workers at a nursing home. It takes special people to show love to elderly folks who can't do for themselves anymore. I've been very impressed with the people working with Mom.

5. I had thought that the current state of the economy might cut into the post-Thanksgiving shopping craze. Guess I was wrong. What does it say about America that we trample workers to death just to get stuff on sale? I would dearly love to have all Christmas gift recipients restricted to just children. Can we all agree that gift-giving has gotten out of hand? And don't call me Scrooge.

6. I haven't taken a photo of an aircraft since early October. And it's killing me.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

It can be done...

When I taught at a large, urban middle school, one of the most dreaded events was any kind of program or assembly. It didn't matter the nature of the program, be it a Christmas play or pep assembly or MLK remembrance. The 7th and 8th graders treated this as a wonderful opportunity to go crazy. These were kids who didn't behave in most of their classes, so why expect them to suddenly morph into angels when 700 of them were squeezed into an auditorium?

I've seen very respectable speakers booed. I've seen principals stalk out, unable to gain control of the horde. There were times when I stalked out, having had my sensibilities violated by what some consider "cultural activities". I deemed it laciviousness.

But there is hope. Today, Carole and I did our first "Grandparents' Day" at Dallas Christian. The highlight was a two-hour program featuring choral and musician groups. We sat amazed as group after group entered the stage area and took their positions. Not one child of the hundreds we saw showed any inclination to be anything less than angelic and professional. No one clowned around. No one elbowed the kid next to him to point out someone in the audience. Nobody pulled a frog from their pants or flicked the ear of the girl in front of him. And their performances were stunning. Everyone showed self-control, discipline, and pride.

I wanted to stand up and scream, "It isn't like this everywhere!!" But then, that wouldn't be showing self-control, discipline, or pride.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Whatta Day #2

Mom's house was burglarized today. Fortunately, it was sometime between two visits I made to the house about 4 hours apart. Nothing of value taken except a TV and a converter box. Numerous drawers pulled out and dumped on the floor. One busted door leading from inside the garage to the kitchen. Perps gained entrance through a window pane in a garage panel (they busted it out).

We're very blessed that Mom was, of course, not present, that I was not present, and that damage/loss wasn't as bad as it could have been.

But pardon me while I sigh mightily.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Whatta Day...

Okay. I'm a retiree who now does a job I enjoy. So a bad day for me ain't so bad. But today stretched my patience.

I'm currently driving the bus of my dreams, D824. It's a fantastic bus that has been prone, however, to glitches. This morning, while it was still very dark, the bus overheated at the corner of Lamar and Corinth. That makes two times this year I've had malfunctions on Lamar St. Twenty minutes later, a mechanic arrives, notices the bus has no coolant, sees a leak, and declares the bus inoperative. The bus lot dispatches a "spare" bus for me so I can proceed on. BTW, I always arrive very early for my run...just in case something breaks down...like this morning.

The spare bus broke my heart. It was P3066, a 14 year-old dog with 148,000 miles on the odometer. And, it had been sitting on the lot for months, unused, with its windows open. There was a nice layer of dirt and dust on every seat. I hurried to my first stop. The waiting girls climbed on with scowls on their faces, having gotten used to plush D824. I had them stand as I took the only rag I had and did my best to scrape the filth off the seats. It was ugly but I got the kids to school on time.

A fellow driver took pity on me and loaned me decent bus for a field trip I had today. Every school has to have hands-on bus evacuation training, and today I was dispatched to Truett Elementary. Teachers are supposed to conduct the training, but upon arrival, I got the news that they wanted us, the bus drivers, to do their job. So, I spent the day teaching groups of 50 kids at a time on how to save their lives if the bus stalls on a railroad track...or worse.

I returned to the bus lot in hopes of getting D824 back. I figured it had a leaky radiator hose, easily fixed. Nope, they said. "Your fan is tore all to h___ and water pump is busted. It's so bad, we're bringing the manufacturer here tomorrow to look at it." Oh, brother. That meant I had to drive another "dog" this afternoon. They gave me D226, another 14 year-old bus with 142,000 miles on it. At least the the seats were clean, but the floor was covered with enough detritus to fill a dumpster. So for the second time today, I was Molly Maid, doing a cleaning job that the previous driver passed on to me. It ain't supposed to happen that way, but I work for a pretty loosey-goosey organization.

I have another all-day field trip tomorrow, taking a group to far southeast Dallas County to an environmental center way out in the woods. I'll start the day in another "dog", but fortunately, a co-worker has agreed to let me drive his very nice bus for my trip. It had better be a better day.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The purpose of pain

Fantastic service this morning at Highland Oaks. Lynn Anderson spoke about giving thanks during tough times. That sure is a tough assignment! I guess my tendency is to see a tough situation as all negative. But the scriptures tell us to be thankful at ALL times. We have to discipline ourselves to refocus on all the positives in our lives rather than dwell on the tough situation.

Another part of this morning's experience was the singing...the songs were all about finding peace in difficult times. I get emotional during HO's singing anyway - the praise team is beyond belief and Chad Higgins, the leader, is superb. And I'm a softie for great choral performances. But this morning's theme and beautiful singing really touched me as for the first time, I let out the repressed feelings about my Mom. Soon, the tears were flowing - not so much for my situation, but for hers...and then we sang "When Peace Like a River" and when we got to the last verse about the clouds rolling back and the Lord descending and well, I was a mess.

I know I don't HAVE to understand why Mom is going through this stress at a time when she hasn't the mental or physical strength to cope with it. I keep returning over and over again to my favorite scripture, II Cor. 4:16-17:

Therefore, we are not discouraged; rather, although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.

For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Another update on Mom

Not a lot of blogs lately and not much else except updates on Mom. Her situation is consuming the family and we are putting a lot of time and effort into making sure the correct things are being done for her. The emphasis all this week has been to see if we can get her into an assisted-living apartment at Christian Care Center. There are a couple of rooms available but we found out today that Mom must first put in the necessary therapy before she can be discharged to go to assisted living. The estimate we have is 14-30 days.

Meanwhile, I started today removing important documents from her house. I'm trying every way I know to make it look like someone is still in the house, but we don't want a burglar to ransack the place and destroy a lot of important records and memorabilia. Kind of a sad task.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Update on my mom

After a week in the hospital getting her heart-rate regulated, Mom was discharged yesterday. I took her back to Christian Care Center and she's back in her room. The newest task now is to decide where she goes from here.

We were under the impression that Medicare would cover her up for up to 120 days of rehab. But CCC is not designated as a rehab center. It's a skilled-nursing facility. As a result, Medicare will pay only for the first 20 days. Mom's insurance helps a little bit after those 20 days are up. We need to get a handle on what Mom can and cannot do for herself and then go from there. It could be that she can handle an "assisted-living" apartment there at CCC, a place where she could have her own space but have help nearby.

We kids have talked a bit about returning Mom home and having some level of home health care. But we are a bit leery of having strangers in the house and whether this idea is doable.

If any readers of this blog want to comment on any experiences you have had with your parent(s), I'd love to hear from you.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Reflections on the Election

1. This election proves how our society values looks over substance. Obama would have lost to Abe Lincoln in 1860, back when what a candidate said and believed was pretty much what got him elected. McCain's looks, voice, and age didn't connect with the younger voters.

2. The only real conservative voice in this election was Sarah Palin. I believe that had she been the presidential candidate and McCain the V-P candidate, the Republicans would have had a better chance of winning. Also, in retrospect, Mike Huckabee might have been the best option for the GOP. With Huckabee's ability to think on his feet and his overall courage, I think he would have destroyed Obama in the debates. McCain was reluctant to nail his opponent on his associations with Bill Ayers and Jeremiah Wright. Obama was vulnerable on abortion and tax policies, but McCain couldn't pull the trigger.

3. Way too many religious blacks voted for Obama simply because he was black. That was the over-riding factor - not his positions on the issues. He could have said some really outrageous stuff and they would have voted for him regardless...in fact, he did and they did.

4. And finally (and I'm struggling with this), I just don't get the Christians who voted for a gay-marriage supporting, pro-abortion candidate. Did his glibness, his attractiveness, and his political party trump these enormous liabilities? How can a Christian respond and say, "Yeah, but I felt the country needed a change, a fresh voice"? How will that person feel if Obama gets to replace two Supreme Court justices with two pro-choice jurists? And how about this sticky question: With such a stark contrast between the two candidates and their stances on abortion and marriage, should our churches have gotten "political", urging their members to examine more closely these critical issues? I don't know. Personally, I feel that if I voted for Obama, I would be complicit in the murders of untold numbers of precious lives. No way would I do that.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

What to pray for on the morning after...

This will be a 4-year only presidency for Barack Obama. With his outrageous ideas, the economy will insure that. So what should we be praying for now?

Easy. Pray that Obama does not get to make any selections for the Supreme Court. Should he get that opportunity, he will choose someone who is pro-choice and extremely liberal.

Want some good news? How 'bout this. The folks in America who are anti-family and anti-morality are not having any kids. That's not a pure absolute...a couple of them have one child, but that's about it. Meanwhile, Christian families are having kids, lots and lots of them. The liberals have noticed this and are worried about the fact that they may have only this one generation to get their screwy ideas implanted in America. Because the moral wave is coming, brother. (And the sooner the better.)

Mom's back in the hospital

Yesterday at the nursing home, Mom's heart-rate went sky-high (152 beats/min), so they transported her back to Baylor Hospital. I don't have much to report yet since I haven't talked with her doctor or the head nurse yet, but she is resting comfortably at the moment. They did get the heart-rate down to normal while in the ER yesterday.

One thing making this more difficult is Mom's confusion. She simply doesn't recall much of anything that has transpired in the near past. This means that she has to be told constantly where she is and why she is here. It must be awful to wake up in the morning in a strange room and not understand where you are. So please pray for her in this difficult situation.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Questions for the Obama supporter

I don't even know if any Obama supporters read my blog. But just in case, I'd like for you to answer some questions. I'm not trying to pick a fight or act condescendingly to you. I honestly want to know your thought process on these issues:

1. Does Obama's stand on abortion bother you? Do you put the mother's rights above those of the child in the womb?

2. Does Obama's association with Bill Ayers bother you, or do you take him for his word that Ayers is merely a guy who lives in his neighborhood?

3. Do you feel any qualms about Obama's ties with Jeremiah Wright and his racist rantings?

4. Is the fact that much of Obama's academic career remains under lock and key bothersome to you? Is this at all suspicious to you?

5. Can you name something Obama has accomplished in his political career?

6. Does his view of Iran bother you?

Again, I'm not trying to bait somebody into a flame-throwing contest. The above questions are the kinds of questions Republicans are asking during this election season. If a Democrat can respond with frank answers in the same spirit in which the questions were asked, I would love to get your viewpoints.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Beyond Belief

Today, I finished reading the book, Beyond Belief, by Josh Hamilton. For those who don't know, Hamilton plays baseball for the Texas Rangers. It's an amazing account of the two forces constantly battling for our souls - good and evil.

In a nutshell: Hamilton was the top high school baseball player in the land a few years ago. Three years later, he had blown his $4.5 million signing bonus on drugs, had alienated himself from his family and his wife, and was wandering the countryside of North Carolina in a stupor. The details are shocking as Hamilton is ever-aware of the stupidity of what he is doing but has absolutely no clue as to how to reverse the spiral downward.

In the middle of still another night of heavy drug use, he wakes up on the floor of a trailor belonging to guys he didn't even know. He realizes he has finally hit bottom. He staggers to his truck and drives to the home of the only relative who hadn't given up on him...his grandmother. She takes him in (at 2 in the morning) and immediately cooks him a meal. In his baseball days, Hamilton had 235 lbs. packed into a 6'4" frame...now, a spare 180 lbs exposed skin and bone. She basically puts him on house arrest, gives him straightforward advice, and feeds him. Meanwhile, Josh commits his life to God. Horrors! I giving away everything!!

Get the book. Read the book. If your not a baseball fan, skip the first third of the book, which is about Hamilton's precocious athletic prowess as a youth. Concentrate instead on the details of how low Satan can pull someone down and how high God can lift the same person. It's inspiring to the max.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sunday evening update...

Thrilled to report that Mom has started adjusting to the new environment. My sister Marybeth spent the morning with her and accompanied her to the church service provided by the home. Mom was in good spirits and that, friends, is absolute music to my ears.

Sunday morning update...

Short post this morning. We got Mom moved to Christian Care Center yesterday, but her short-term memory loss was playing havoc with her adjustment. She seems to erase much of what she knows every few hours. So after all the work to explain to her that this move was to rehab her left hand and arm and get her strong enough to go back home, Mom got confused after a couple of hours...thinking she was still at Baylor and not understanding what this was all about. My prayer is that she will come around to the reality of her new environment and be able to grasp why she is there...and accept it.

And...Carole is quite ill with a sinus infection, headache, and fever. I need to be able to snap my fingers and take care of her, too. I'm so glad I have a Father in heaven who loves me and understands me and hears my prayers. What a blessing!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Update on Mom

Just as Carole and I were walking up to the hospital around 12:30 this afternoon, my cell rang and it was Dr. Myers' secretary...informing me that Mom's coumadin level was too high for her to be released today. So now we're looking at tomorrow (probably) or maybe Monday. The doctor has taken coumadin from her med list and so her level should drop to acceptable levels soon.

Dr. Myers made the mistake of checking on Mom late this afternoon when my little sister was there. Marybeth confronted him with the facts: Mom was in better shape BEFORE he began the cocktail of medicines and hasn't felt anything like her usual self since these meds have been administered. She got him to agree to review the meds with the goal of eliminating any she positively doesn't need. The nurse said that most of the meds were for the fluid on Mom's lungs and wouldn't be used once she was out of the hospital. Good News!!

Thursday, October 23, 2008


On Friday, we will move my Mom from Baylor Hospital to a rehab facility. One of her nurses told me that they expect her to rehab for two weeks before being able to go home. I'm not so nearly optimistic. She is on numerous meds which make her feel woozy and sleepy. I'll be working to see if we can cut those down in the next few days. One concern I have is that she's given pills as though she's a full-sized adult. Actually, she's somewhere in the 85-lb. area and is extremely frail. I pray that she endures the transition well.

On a much lighter note, I'm finally driving a nearly-new bus. It is so great, so modern, so light-years ahead of the dogs I've been driving that I genuinely feel guilty as I motor down the road. Then I think of all the years I'd climb aboard an old yellow-hound that had been sitting out in 100+ degree heat all day...yes, climb aboard wearing nice slacks, a starched shirt, and a nice tie, and then drive for an hour. When I'd get back home, nothing on me would be dry. Bees flying in the windows, kids yelling out the open windows at passing motorists, and scores of other memories are now just memories since the windows on my bus should never have to be lowered regardless of the season.

My new bus has intermittent wipers, remote-controlled outside mirrors, a power captain's chair for the driver's seat, three powerful air-conditioners, tilt steering wheel, a cup-holder (uh, just for the driver), and a bunch of buttons whose purpose I haven't investigated yet. Life is good!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Monday morning finds me...

...sitting here at Baylor Hospital where Mom is being cared for. This was to be the day that she might go home, but I think she's too weak for that now. I got here before 7 today so I could catch the doctor on his rounds...he said he'd be by between 7 and 8, but now it's after 8 and no doctor.

The family has had serious issues with this guy from the beginning. He tends to over-prescribe, over-scan, and generally miss the point of trying to keep Mom comfortable. The biggest issue is with something called amiodarone, a drug designed to control arrhythmia (sp). It has powerful side effects and dosage must be carefully monitored and tweeked. The doc gave it to Mom 18 months ago when she was hospitalized and it just about killed her. When we demanded that the dosage be seriously reduced, she got better immediately and went home. On Thursday, when the doc said Mom would be admitted, I reminded him of this episode and warned him of her vulnerability to this drug's effects. Well, he started her out on a full dosage, and Mom has gone downhill since.

But he hasn't shown up yet. I only hope that when he does (if he does), I can control my anger and speak in measured tones. Hard to do since he's messin' with my momma.

Saturday, October 18, 2008


We had to put Mom back in the hospital on last Thursday. She had suffered a mild stroke a couple of days prior and hadn't told any of us kids. She was also having general weakness and some nausea. Turns out she was having another episode of atrial dibrillation as well. The doctor says she could go home Monday if she responds well to the medicine. The mini-stroke affected her left hand and is making it difficult for her grab or grasp things.

We kids know that we're looking at the inevitable now...getting her into some sort of assisted living arrangement. Fortunately, Mom understands this, too.

On another front, I am so tired of the Fox News Network. Carole has become so very enthralled with the election and its plethora of stories that she has to have the FNC on all the time. I haven't the heart to tell her how utterly beaten down I am by the yelling at the camera by Fox's news anchors. It sounds like I'm intervening in an argument every time I step into our den. Maybe Carole will read this and have mercy on me. Just two more weeks of this...unless there's some sort of disputed election result, something that could well happen.

For those of you following the saga concerning my school bus situation, here's the latest. I had a field trip this morning and amazingly was given bus 824 to drive. It had arrived back from the shop. Even though the field trip never happened (the sponsors and students were no-shows), I got to drive it across town and back. It was a dream...it's only 18 months old, has tilt-steering, and power outside mirrors. Drives and handles like a Lexus. I should officially be assigned the bus on Monday afternoon. I'm really blessed to have a retirement job I thoroughly enjoy. To get to drive SuperBus is icing on the cake.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

This is getting silly...

All I do these days, these lovely days, is drive a school bus. My world is a lot simpler than when I was in the classroom trying to explain the International Date Line to middle schoolers. ("What you mean you go back a day?") Retirement is truly wonderful. But if you've read this blog for any length of time, you know that I've been trying to get a new, or almost-new, bus assigned to me. I've spent 26 years driving buses nobody wanted.

It was supposed to be different this year. I was supposed to get bus 819, an almost-new beauty. But when I arrived for work in August, they had pulled 819 and given it to someone else. I was given 499, a really good bus with, uh, 120,794 miles on it. I complained but got nowhere.

But then yesterday I was told that I was being upgraded to bus 824! Outstanding! A wonderful bus barely a year old. I couldn't start driving it yet because they wanted to give me a quick training session this morning. That's fine with me. I've waited 26 years; another 12 hours won't hurt. But then this morning, I was told that the bus was in the shop and that I'd have to get the training session this afternoon. No problem! So I return this afternoon...where I'm told, "We're sorry, but we're sending 824 back to the manufacturer." "What? Why??" "Well, it's horn honks randomly and we can't find the source of the problem." "When will I get it back?" "We have no idea."

Some days, you just can't win. Hey, some decades, too.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Still want him to lead the country?

If you consistently handle the small things in life, chances are excellent that you can tackle the big stuff with ease when life gets tough. I urge you to read the following story about the difference between Obama's campaign and that of McCain:


Monday, October 06, 2008

It'll be okay, even if HE wins...

I want McCain to be inaugurated next January as much as anyone, but there is already much angst building among Republicans (and family members) as to whether life will still be worth living if Obama gets elected. I'm certainly convinced that his chumminess with Ayers and other weirdos by itself should disqualify him from the Presidency. And his pro-abortion stance is horrible. And he's a liberal. Case closed.

But there's still a month left for things to change, and the political atmosphere these days is nothing if not volatile and subject to quick changes. But there's an even better reason to take a chill pill about a potential Obama presidency. Could it be that a little more challenge would be healthy for us Christians? If Barack really is Muslim-friendly and inclined to make deliterious decisions impacting the future of our great country, wouldn't we be forced to almost draw a line in the sand of our spiritual consciousness? One thing's for sure...we've had it a lot easier than the souls who make up the book Fox's Book of Martyrs. I mean, after all, we live in comfort, we have little or no persecution, and maybe, just maybe, that makes it easier for Satan.

I haven't researched this tonight, but I've always heard that Christianity has flourished in times of persecution. Most of us, if we had to make a quick decision...renounce God or die...would have no trouble staying loyal to our Maker. But we sometimes don't pass the test when the decision is spread over decades...and Satan has a chance to erode our commitment with his lies. Personally, I don't want persecution. I hate confrontation. I want McCain to be elected and Obama to go back to organizing communities. But most of all, I want to go to heaven. If an Obama presidency forces me to "man up" my relationship with God, then it's all for good.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

S. Dallas Poverty

I'm getting a real education with the new bus route I have this school year. I guess the area just west of Fair Park has the most abject poverty seen in Dallas. Signs of this are everywhere you look. About a quarter of the houses are boarded up, deserted. Nearly all the others have burglar bars. Many lean to the right or left...some to the right and left.

The toll of poverty on the people there is readily apparent. I see men who are old before their time, their bodies twisted and contorted as they walk the streets. Another cue is the problem posed by transportation...specifically, the lack of available reliable transportation. Cars tend to be beat-up, weathered, and dilapidated. As I reflect on the stress caused when our family has an automobile maintenance issue, I wonder the turmoil caused when one of the aforementioned clunkers gives out. Today, I saw a large lady, appearing to be 40-ish. She was pushing a bicycle along Pennsylvania Avenue. It appeared that she perhaps had been riding the bike but had become winded, and now was simply pushing it along. Obviously, this is not a scene you'll see in the suburbs. I immediately wondered about the circumstances: had she ridden it to work? to check on her mom? Was she on the way to the grocery store? Probably not the latter. There are no grocery stores in S. Dallas.

There is a heavy police presence in this area. It is difficult to travel from my school on the west side of Fair Park, down Pennsylvania, and west to Lamar St. without seeing at least one squad car. Poverty breeds desperation, desperation breeds crime. Now I know all the arguments about folks who've hit bottom...they made their bed, they made poor choices, they should have gotten an education, they're lazy, etc. All I know is that the older I get, the less import I give those arguments. It seems we Christians should be less about explaining and more about reacting.

I've been conducting a strange experiment every afternoon. As I drive down Pennsylvania, I've been noticing a man sitting in front of a house, same place, same time every day. His body is twisted and his head is always canted in a way that suggests mental illness. He is skin and bones and dirty clothing. And he's reading a Bible every time I see him. He always looks up as I pass because, after all, you can hear a school bus coming. About three weeks ago, after I began to pick up on him being there every day, I started waving to him as I passed. And until yesterday, his only response was the coldest of stares...a chilling stare, frankly. But then yesterday, he raised his right hand ever so slightly. And again today, the same reaction, an almost imperceptible wave. In the grand scheme of things, this is pretty small. I can't see the two of us ever getting past this most rudimentary of contacts. But somehow, someway, I was glad to make the connection. A highly blessed, never wanting, educated white man from the bedroom community of Rockwall allowed to penetrate into the sphere of a South Dallas black man. I wonder what he thinks of me?! God moves in mysterious ways!

Friday, September 26, 2008

The height of something...

It's rather embarrassing how this presidential campaign is going. The vitriol between the two camps of supporters is so caustic that I fear the aftermath of Election Day. It appears that the "losers" will be seriously fatalistic about the results. If it's the Dems, they simply will not be able to imagine life with still another dull Republican. If it's the GOP, there will be genuine concern about the future of our country under such an inexperienced leader.

What has sadly added to this situation is the reality that smear tactics work...they really work. That's hardly an endorsement of the intellect of the electorate. But a huge percentage of us seems vulnerable to believing outrageous, messy allegations. Why is that? My guess is that we don't have time to study our candidates or the issues. We therefore will rely on soundbites, gossip, and how tall or short the nominees are rather than what they truly stand for. And why is that? Could it be that we have become a nation of instant-gratification lovers who want quick decisions because research takes time and effort? Pretty sad.

I also am appalled by the talking heads on Fox and CNN who interview guests. They aren't interested in listening to their answers, so interrupting them before they finish a thought is the M.O. of these shows. I'm a Republican, but it galls me to see a lack of grace and politeness that Sean Hannity exhibits. I love his ideas but his attitude is very unappealing. I guess the good old days of gentlemanly disagreement are over.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Stalked by 22's, con't.

Some of you have read a previous blog entry of mine (scroll down), and you know how the number 22 and its cousins delight in ambushing Carole and me on a daily basis. Here's another example:

This morning, I was heading south on I-35 in my bus at 6:30. It was dark, I was sleepy, and my mind was wandering. Then something dawned on me about my bus, which is bus #499. If you add those digits together, you get, ahem, 22. I wondered if that were unique on my bus lot. So when I arrived back at the lot, I cruised around looking at every bus number. Not one other bus number totaled 22. And we have well over a hundred buses on our lot. Surprising? Not in the least.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

What's Goin' On

Well, it's been a busy week. This new exercise routine that Carole and I are committed to takes at least three evenings a week. I'm real encouraged by the results so far. I'm up to 50 minutes of lap swimming per session with the goal of doing a full hour each time I jump in the pool. Carole is making great progress on the treadmill, easily exceeding a half-hour per session. We've traded quite a bit of free time for the goal of getting in shape and it's a pretty good trade-off.

My first field trip of the new school year was cancelled due to the extreme Ike weather last Saturday. So I had to wait until today...and I took the Highland Park Middle School girls to a cross-country meet in McKinney. I kinda knew what to expect since a couple of other drivers had tipped me off on HP students: they are extremely polite. This is a quality that drivers seldom see, sadly, in the groups of kids we transport. I know it's easy to stereotype a Highland Park kid with all the money and a privileged upbringing...but I was blown away when one of them got on the bus this morning and said, "Thank you for taking the time to drive our bus today." When we arrived in McKinney and the girls were stepping off the bus, nearly every one thanked me...what an amazing show of kindness!

One of the consequences of going to the gym so often is the impact on my yard work. Whereas I was mowing our front yard every fourth evening, now it's once a week. And I'm not doing near the usual amount of weed-eating and other landscaping chores. Oh, well, as long as the neighbors don't hang me in effigy, I guess I'm safe. I'm truly ready for cold weather to come along and completely shut down this boring routine.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Stalked by the number 222 and it's cousins

It all started soon after Carole and I were married. My new wife noticed that invariably when she awoke in the middle of the night, the alarm clock was at 2:22. It happened so frequently that we thought it might be a noise coming from the clock at that time every night, but we tested the theory and found no sound, just silence. Simultaneously, we began to note that "twos" were flooding our lives from all directions. Carole noticed that her birthday, August 10, is the 222nd day of the year. The assault was on.

Since she was a dental hygienist, it was vitally important to be careful around all the radiation from the x-rays she took. To be on the safe side, she wore a clip that measured the amount of the bad stuff to which she was being subjected. The clip was mailed in and a report would be sent to her. One day a report arrived announcing that she was exposed to 22,222 rads of radiation...enough to turn her green, yea even kill her. It turned out to be a terrible mistake, but there were those numbers again.

When someone on Carole's side of the family published a genealogy book of their family tree, she was very interested. She wondered where in the book her name might be mentioned. We should have known...p.222.

One New Year's Eve, we were driving home from a party in our fairly new car. We noticed the odometer approaching 22,222. When that momentous moment occurred, the time was exactly 2:22 AM.

I could go on. Suffice it to say there have been at least 222 incidents involving the twos. They occur on a daily basis. The occurrences don't connote something bad, usually, so when our first son, Brett, chose his number for the Dallas Christian basketball team, he grabbed 22. A year later, second son Blake couldn't have 22 so he picked 21. And they both had superlative years.

As the incidents mount up, we can't help but wonder what is going on. This is far beyond a matter of coincidence. You may be thinking that I've over-exaggerated the matter and that, say, 47 pops up just as much if we'd pay attention. Nay, nay, my friend.

Carole just walked in the room and reminded me of a relative who had a premature baby that weighed in at 2 lbs, 2 oz. And she was born at 2:22 AM. And so the beat goes on.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


"Change" is certainly a buzzword during these politically volatile days. I'm kinda tired of hearing it used to represent so many things. But I have an announcement to make: I am in the process of changing. Actually, "we" are in the process of changing. Guess I better explain.

Carole and I had slipped into an all familiar trap in recent months. With our ages creeping steadily and scarily toward 60, we had settled into a very comfortable routine of heading to the couch/recliner after the evening meal, laptops in hand. And for the next 3-4 hours, she would be immersed in her internet world of dolls and blog friends while I would touch base with every aviation website this side of Kitty Hawk. We didn't grow apart or anything like that. In fact, it was kind of an endorsement of our marriage that we could go hours with limited verbal communication.

But the flaw in the slaw of all this was that as we sat there evening after evening, giant globules of fat were seeping out of the seat cushions and onto our formerly svelte bodies. Like moss slowly growing on trees, flab was creeping into the typical, familiar body locales. And this was alarming. We have always been skinny types...Carole has had a model's body forever and I used to run marathons. But the needle on the scale cares little about your history. And it was time to do something.

So I signed us both up to a YMCA membership. I had been mulling this over for a few weeks, but had been waffling back and forth...on M-W-F, I'd be gung-ho, ready to rip. On Tues-Thursday-Saturdays, I'd cave in to the voices of unreason and try to forget about it. But then I finally committed to the idea and tried to convince Carole of the same. She demurred initially but then came on board. So, long story short, we have gotten started.

I'm swimming mostly (with a bit of time in the weight room); Carole is hitting the treadmill (with a bit of time in the pool). So instead of vegetating during prime time and then hitting the sack with that familiar dullness of mind and body, we arrive at 10 PM with a fresh, invigorating tiredness. It feels so good!

Now the tough part...maintaining. It's easy to have energy during the first part of a race. It's also easy to grow tired of the routine. But part of my reason for exposing our new endeavor is the accountability factor. I don't want the three people who read this blog to confront me in a couple of months, asking about the status of my flab, only to have to confess that we've fallen off the wagon.

I'll keep you posted on how we're doing. Whoopee!!

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Full Circle

Tucked away in various closets and also in our attic are hundreds of videotapes, each containing 1-3 basketball games involving our two sons. There was only one game in their careers that I didn't tape, an exciting win where Brett hit a 30-ft. jump shot at the horn to steal a victory for Dallas Christian. That still haunts me. It seemed that in the '90's, we were always at basketball games. Maybe that's why that decade seemed to fly by.

Now I find myself going to soccer games featuring my grandchildren, as my sons have started the process of showing up at any athletic event where their kids are involved. We were in attendance at one of Zach's soccer games in San Antonio in the spring, and yesterday we caught 4 year-old Maddie's first-ever athletic event, a soccer game (of course). I came away from the game happy for Maddie, but also extremely impressed with the league. Lake Point Church in Rockwall organized the league and has done a masterful job. Before the game, I noticed Maddie's coach leading her team in prayer.

Seconds later, for the first time in her life, Maddie participated in the traditional team handshake.

Then it was on to the game. She played well for a 4 year-old, given the fact that her league is for ages 4-6. I think she was the youngest player on the field.

At halftime, all of the soccer games (and there were many) stopped for an announcement from Lake Point Church. The guy urged the spectators to cheer for both sides, not just your team, and to treat coaches and referees with dignity and appreciation. Then he said a prayer, a nice touch. All in all, it was a very satisfying experience even though Maddie didn't score a goal. Her time will come.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Cleaning the clutter from my brain...

1. How 'bout Sarah Palin? If McCain wins in November, it could well be that his risky but sensational v-p choice made the difference.

2. Isn't politics messy? I find it distasteful to the max, all the name-calling and chest-thumping.

3. Just can't get any hurricane to leave its remains over my house. They always get close and tease me unmercifully, but then move off to the northeast.

4. My meteorological background asserts that the first cool front arrives on Sept. 21. That's a Sunday this year and it can't get here soon enough.

5. If I had a smooth, green yard, I'd love to play croquet again.

6. I really admire people who can think and speak on their feet.

7. I have a girl on my bus this year named "Asia Pink".

8. Bill O'Reilly is obnoxious. And so is anyone else who interrupts constantly. Aaarrrgghhhh!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Hurricane Talk

I'm fascinated by weather. One of the greatest days in my life was that Saturday in the 80's when we got cable TV, and thus was able to look at a weather radar all day and night if I so desired. I'm really interested in severe weather and certainly a hurricane qualifies. And as much as I'm curious about Gustav, there's a huge part of me that is already hurting for those who will have their lives changed forever by this storm.

Yesterday at the bus lot, we were told that our buses would probably not be used to transport evacuees along the Texas coast. Today word came down that Rick Perry really did want them after all...and tonight 100 of them are being driven by our drivers to Beaumont. That caused some very hard feelings amongst the other drivers because no one knows the criteria that were used to select the ones going. There are hard feelings because the drivers who left tonight will make at least $3000 for their services, and maybe a lot more should this emergency drag out. All we know is that it wasn't based on tenure or age. Some of the drivers who earned a big check last year for 4 days work (forgot the name of the storm) got a call today asking them if they wanted to drive tonight. Others, such as I, didn't get a call last year and didn't get one today. Kinda irrelevant for me since I wasn't that interested in stress involved.

Back when I taught Texas History, I used hurricanes to help teach latitude and longitude, directions, geography, and weather. Each student was given two or three different hurricane tracking charts. Every day there was a tropical storm or hurricane, we would begin class by charting the latest storm coordinates and connecting the dots with the locations from the previous day. Once the kids knew how to do it, I would simply have the latitude and longitude of the storm(s) on the board as the students walked in...they would eagerly get out their charts and begin finding the new locations, all before the tardy bell rang. I had kids who didn't get excited about anything else, but would ask questions about hurricanes 'til the cows came home.

We're kinda out in the country and we use propane as our fuel. Two days ago I ordered 300+ gallons of the stuff because I feared what might happen to the price if Gustav lowered the boom on our refineries and platforms. I would gladly give up being smug if only this storm suddenly disintegrated. Let's be in prayer for all those who live in the path of Gustav and those who will be helping them.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Pouring on the miles

I've got a new route this school year, a move of my choosing since it involves more time; and with this job, time is money. But the route is a long one. My bus lot is near Ferguson and I-30. But my three stops are in far southwest Dallas County. I tallied up my mileage just on the bus today and got 85 miles.

It was a good start. My female riders were extremely well-behaved, but that's no surprise with this school. These girls are classy and will be tomorrow's leaders. It's a privilege to transport them around.

I was told by the bossman that the almost-new bus I had been promised was a casualty, indirectly, of the state closing down Spruce High School. They pulled that bus, for some reason, to transport the Spruce kids to Madison and Lincoln High Schools. However, the bossman did say that when new buses are delivered to our bus lot this year, I'll be in line to get one. But I can't complain. Even though my bus has 119,000 miles, it is amazingly solid for a school bus...absolutely rattle-free. The engine is strong. And, most importantly, the two air-conditioning units work just fine.

The best part of today was driving past all those schools and relishing in the reality that the stress of the first day of school had been passed on to a younger group. I wish them well. They have it so much harder than I. The education bureaucracy had just started growing tentacles in 1971, and today is a full-grown monster, devouring dreams and upchucking reams of paperwork. I took it as long as I could, 36 years. I retired, not because the kids had gotten out-of-hand, but because management refined idiocy to fine art. I hope that changes for the better in my lifetime. I shudder to think what becomes of our country if the teachers continue to be, not the best and brightest, but those who have failed at every other venture.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

That time of year

Teachers (and former teachers) notice that a calendar year has a certain rhythm to it. Spring break week is invariably cold and wet and still feels like winter. The Thanksgiving break goes hand-in-hand with the last leaves of the season hanging on the trees. And August heat lets you know that your longest break of the year is about to be terminated.

Tomorrow, I do a dry run on my bus in preparation for Monday's school beginning. BTW, my ever-considerate employers went back on their word and gave the new bus to someone else, but I guess that's okay. Even though I've been retired from teaching two years, a couple of times this week I've caught myself feeling a twinge of dread, thinking I was returning to another year of teaching...only to catch myself and realize I don't have to stand in front of students anymore.

But my job is so easy that there's no real sorrow that summer's over. I really do enjoy what I'm doing and that is quite a blessing. But I pray a lot in August for one thing: a safe year of driving. In 25 years, I've only had one incident. About six years ago on a September 25th, someone drove through my bus' alternating red flashers at about 40 mph and hit one of my kids as he was crossing the street. The impact knocked him out of his shoes and through the air for about 50 feet. I thought I had just witnessed someone die instantly. Miraculously, he suffered "only" a broken femur and some internal injuries. I can still recall every second of that horrible accident. I didn't sleep the next couple of nights.

So as we get back into the rhythm of school, please resolve to be aware of school buses and school kids. If a bus ahead of you has flashing amber lights, slow down considerably and be prepared to stop instantly. The flashing red lights will coming on very soon. (BTW, a number of our buses will have cameras rigged up on the swing-out stop signs to get an image of vehicles who run through the red lights.) Don't be so caught up in other things that you mindlessly drive through the lights. May all of us have a safe school year.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Must Read

I'm halfway through a book entitled, "Same Kind of Different as Me". All I can say is you must get the book and read it. You can buy it for as little as $8.40 at amazon.com. You will thank me. If you have already read it, you know what I mean.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Service with a ......

For the life of me, I can't figure out why some businesses haven't figured out that good customer relations translates into return business and that equals profit. Two well-known companies are, however, driving me nuts with their inability to understand this principle.

We have a neighborhood Wal-Mart close to us. It's not a "super" Wal-Mart, one of those mega-monsters that sells everything from lawn chairs to lingerie, but a nice, blend-into-the-area kind of store that pretty much sells food and health items. It's a great store in nearly every way. Except one. It still uses the same grocery carts that were there when the store opened about five years ago. The problem is the wheels. The wheels are worn out. On many of the carts, the wheels' rubber tires are practically gone. On most of them, the wheels are severely out of line. The result? As one tries to push the cart down the aisle, it has a mind of its own and seems determined to get into the green beans, pulling severely to one side or another as a contrary dog might act toward his master.

I've even tried contacting Wal-Mart headquarters, telling them that I love their store but may have to go elsewhere if they don't do something about the squirrely carts. The answer? "We're working on it." That was six months ago.

Then there is Luby's, a venerable Texas institution. I love Luby's, to the point that my children taunt me mercilessly, as though I were already in the geriactric set. (I'm close, but I still have my teeth.) I love Luby's because healthy food can be had there. And after I've eaten their healthy food, I can destroy my good intentions with pecan pie or carrot cake.

But this week, I happened by a Luby's at lunchtime and it was a nightmare experience. As I parked my car, I noticed a half-dozen of the employees gathered in front of the doors, smoking. Hardly an appetizing thought. It opened at 11 and I was first in line. There I was, ready to slide my tray down the row, and Luby's wasn't ready. 11:05 arrived and much of the food had not even been set out. The servers were mingling about, blissfully ignoring what was now a growing line of hungry customers. Finally, at 11:07, they decided to give it a go. Then, they had no mashed potatoes. I was told it would be three minutes and they would bring me the potatoes. How can you not have mashed potatoes ready?

I walked to a table and had a seat. Immediately, I noticed that the table was not clean. I looked down and saw silverware on the floor beneath an adjacent seat. So already, this place has gotten a failing grade and not much can be done to salvage the meal. But...unfortunately, I was sitting beneath a speaker and now was being assaulted by music that could charitably be described as awful. It sounded like a tasmanian devil mating march. I thought cafeterias piped in gentle, soothing stuff that facilitated conversation and relaxation. Not this Luby's.

I finally straggled to the cashier to pay for this experience. For some reason, I glanced upward and my eyes caught an air-conditioning vent positioned directly over the line of customers who were picking out their vegetables. The vent was covered with filth and obviously hadn't been cleaned since...maybe opening day?

Again, if businesses would just realize what it takes to generate return customers, and how easy it is, their profits would skyrocket accordingly. I don't know whether we're dealing with some sort of corporate laziness that permeates from the top exec all the way to the new hire or if business is so good that customer service gets put on the back burner. But I hate it.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Abilene Back

I've got an interesting week goin' on. This is the third and final summer school week for the (ready?) Irma Lerma Rangel Leadership School for Young Women. There was one week in both June and July, and now these enrichment weeks are wrapping up with this session. These aren't "catch up" weeks for the girls. They are advancement opportunities. This week the 14 girls I'm picking up are learning robotics at the Science Place at Fair Park.

What makes this a demanding week for me is the strange schedule. I go to nine different middle schools which are spread out from far north Dallas all the way to deep Pleasant Grove in the southeast part of town. So, I leave Rockwall at 6 AM, get in my bus around 6:45, make my first pickup at 7:30, go to 8 more schools, and finally arrive at Rangel around 9:20.

As you can tell, that translates to nearly four and a half hours of driving. In the afternoon, I repeat the process as I take them home and then drive myself back to Rockwall. I had trouble sleeping last night with a strange symptom known as "Abilene Back", a condition that originated in the '60's and '70's when I was making so many trips between Dallas and Abilene. "Abilene Back" (westexicus spinus) is nothing more than back spasms and is the result of sitting behind the wheel for stupid lengths of time. Good thing this only lasts a week.