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Monday, May 27, 2013

The curtain and the cup.

It's been ten months since Hurricane Isaac forever changed our lives.  With the help of great friends, family, and church members we were able to get back in our home in record time, but there are still things that haunt us.  In the process of gutting and repairing a flooded home the journey of your belongings can be a dizzying thing to keep up with.  After throwing out a mountain of furniture, clothes, and personal possessions the remaining things must be moved to make room for repairs.  With much help, our remaining possessions made a non-stop journey from room to room.  At one time everything was piled into one bathroom, then later all into the garage, and ultimately into the attic.  Things were bagged, tagged, boxed, sorted, rearranged, and turned all around.

As I said we moved back in our home in just eleven weeks.  The process of unpacking things took much longer.  About a week after we were home, my duties at school took me away for an entire day.  My wife said she was staying home to find some personal items and our curtains.  We had installed all the blinds but we like to sleep in total darkness that the combination of blinds and curtains can make.  I text her a few times during the day and she replied, "still in the attic looking for my curtains".  I came home to see very little had changed and my wife was visibly upset. When I asked what was wrong she said, "I spent the entire day looking for my living room curtains and they're gone!"  Most would say what's the big deal, you had to replace so much other stuff why worry over some curtains.  While I will not pretend to know the value that women place on decorating their homes, I can tell you those curtains meant a lot to my wife.  Not only did she work hard to make the money to buy these particular curtains, but because I had just had back fusion surgery at the time she had to install them herself.  It was one of her many defining touches on our home.

Just the other day while I was sorting through my disaster of a garage.  Yes ten months later and things are still in disarray. I came across one of my camping cups.  While I have numerous cups, canteens, bottles, and other drinking devices, this cup was a gift.  It was given to me by my scouting friends at the first residency camp that I taught at all those years ago.  But there was a huge problem when I examined the cup.  The enamel inscriptions from my friends designating the particular camp we were at was washed away.  The flood waters had very strange and unusual affects on things.  There were orange rings around things that did not flood and some but not all TVs played red screens.  Some how the flood waters had erased the writing on the cup and now it was just a cup.  Isaac had taken my memento of my first residency camp and made it nothing more than a fading memory.

We left our home in the middle of the night when the water first entered.  The next morning I ferried my beautiful bride to our house in a flat boat.  We waded through our home, surveying the damage with tears in our eyes.  As we walked out, we embraced and my wife said something very profound, "It's just things, but it's our things!"  While I'm forever grateful for the fact that my family is alive and well, there seems to be a constant reminder of the things we lost.  It is remarkable how we attach feelings and memories to things in our homes.  Things are just things until they wash away and take with them our bits of life.  There is an expression that wounds may heal but scars remain.  Our home is repaired and restored but there will always be reminders of the things that did not survive.  The curtain, the cup, and many other things are now just holes in our memory.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

A kid's Summer

It's the end of May and that means the end of the school year for most kids.  Today was actually the last official day of school for my boys.  While the kids are always ecstatic for the end of school from the perspective of not having to do schoolwork for a couple months, what are their plans? What does two months off look like for the average school kid?  When I was of school age, summer was a very mixed bag.  I was what was known as a "latch key kid".  My parents both worked and worked very long hours.  My little sister was eight years younger so she was always brought to a babysitter or day care.  The part of summer I looked forward to was the two weeks spent "in the country". (my grandparents lived in very rural Avoyelles parish)  The part I dreaded was the weeks spent at home while my parents worked and my sister was at day care.  While every kid says they would love to have nothing to do, I can tell you it gets old real fast.  Yes, I rode my bike and played some ball in the street with friends but most of the time was spent indoors trying to escape the heat.  Also, this was before computers, Internet, and cable/satellite TV.  What would kids do today if they only had three channels to pick from?

When Penny and I decided to give into the crazy idea of having a family this was one of the subjects we talked about in detail.  Lord knows there were about twenty additional subjects we should have talked about but this one we did cover.  We had decided that our kids would be made to try different things.  For example, they had to give baseball a try.  Although I personally wanted both my boys to be the next Chipper Jones and Greg Maddux, they were not forced to make baseball their hobby but they had to try it out.  Over the years the boys have tried many sports, musical instruments, scouting, academic clubs, social clubs, church youth activities, and many more.  The choice to pursue a particular hobby or sport was up to our boys, but saying, "I don't want to do anything" was not an option.  If you don't like baseball then you should try soccer.  If the piano isn't your thing then let's look into another musical instrument.  This way they are made to find what they are good at.  While number one in importance is always school academics their are some things a boy needs to learn outside the classroom.  While we didn't decide exactly what our boys would be good at, we made sure they had a chance to find out where their God given talents would shine.  So now their summers are not spent locked up in a room with a game controller in their hand.  Summer is non-stop with football training, leadership camps, math tournaments, scout camp, and hopefully even a little family vacation.

Parents of young kids don't like to hear my advice to push their kids to be involved in things at early ages.  There's this "purist" concept of leave kids to their own and they will find themselves.  I say leave a kid sitting on your couch and he will still be there at age 30.  The number of summers that they are kids is extremely finite.  They'll be 18 before you know it and the season of your influence will pass.  This is the last summer Penny and I will have with both of our boys still being kids.  Next May we will have an 8th grade graduation and a 12th grade graduation.  And while the thought of that saddens us, we realize what we've put into them can not be taken out.  Our boys won't remember summers for what they didn't have to do, they will remember summers for what they got a chance to do.  Mold them will you can because soon they will be out of your hands.

Strength and growth come only through continuous effort and struggle...
            --Napoleon Hill

Monday, May 20, 2013

Is that you, Big Brother?

It is impossible to turn on the news and not hear about the ridiculous and disturbing scandals in Washington D.C.  Most have to do with abuse of power and some are just plain apathy towards or country.  The idea of a government employees using the information of private citizens to help a political faction is flat out treason.  Our American understanding of the word treason comes from the story of Benedict Arnold.  Arnold was a General in the Revolutionary War.  His crimes were a grand total of informing the British of our Troop sizes and planning to surrender.  That's it!  He didn't kill Americans and he didn't blame the uncertain political climate of his day.  But today we have people in our government giving "troop sizes" of Tea Party officials to American Bridge 21st Century Foundation.  So the officials that did this are saying that they were just following orders and the heads of state are saying it wasn't their orders.  Somebody is lying.  The problem is no one is screaming treason and that is more than scary to me.

The bigger issue here is the total of scandals and the commonality of them all.  Using the guise of protectionism to wire tap newspaper reporters is clearly an evasion of the freedom of the press. Then again, no one gave the order to spy on the AP.  The extra scrutiny of the IRS of Conservative groups my sound like pure politics but it is a clear step to interfere with the process of democracy.  The fact is our country, freedom, and democracy are at risk.  Take the time to Google "NSA Utah Data Center".  This massive computer hub will have the capability to capture all forms of e-mails, cell phone information, credit card purchases, and anything else that has an electronic signature.  This place will be able to gather so much information they had to invent a new word.  "Yottabyte" is the equivalent to one quadrillion gigabytes of information.  Do you really need that much capability to track just the terrorist?  Then there is the most helpful Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.  (AKA Obamacare)  You are not smart enough to handle your own health care so we will create a massive government entity to do it for you.  This wonderful Act will need and have access to your bank accounts to insure you are healthy.  Then there's the issue that disgusts me the most.  You would think that this Totalitarian regime that invented Obamacare is worried about your life, but you would be deceived. To watch Hillary sit before a Congressional Panel and scream at the top of her lungs, "What difference does it make that four people died in Benghazi?" is nauseating.  For Congressmen to just sit and allow such things to be said is frightening.  Mind you, this is the same type of Congressional Panel that decided to prosecute Roger Clemens for injecting himself with hormones that would make him throw a ball faster.  We will crucify anyone who cheats at a ball game but honor people that let Americans die!

The common factors are as clear as day.  Unquestioned power to the ruling class.  Mass enslavement to the government subsidized systems.  No freedom to speak, report, or act on your own.  This is not Democracy at all.  Have you ever read "1984" by George Orwell?  Maybe he should have named it "2014" instead.  The part that bothers me is, in 1941 when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor it awoke the Sleeping Giant.  That Sleeping Giant rid the world of tyranny is four short years.  But when the terrorists flew those planes into those buildings, we fell fast asleep in the arms of Big Brother.   Sweet dreams my friends.

“Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel. Unfortunately, nothing will preserve it but downright force. Whenever you give up that force, you are inevitably ruined.” –Patrick Henry

Friday, May 17, 2013

The case for Music

Image by wikipedia
Most know that I have been very involved with my kid's school band.  I have proudly headed up the band booster program for the last two years.  I have been the pied piper for logistical and financial needs of our band.  I've helped our school gain acceptance into a ground breaking A+ program for Arts.  This program will help our school incorporate art into every aspect of learning.  Their are many forms of art.  Art can be as simple as drawing, as beautiful as dancing, as tasty as food, and an emotional piece of  music.  So I wanted to take the time to show why music is so important in the process of learning.

High School students that study music have been shown in study after study to hold a higher GPA than non music students.  There is a reason for this.  Music is a lesson in math.  Every note is counted against a beat, therefore every note is a fraction.  Kids playing music are constantly doing math and figuring out fractions.  The College Entry Examination Board has reported that students with music training score 44 percent higher on Math than students with no Art training.  Kids are also getting a lesson in languages while learning music.  Many music terms are still in Latin such as crescendo, diminuendo, vivace, and many others.  They are learning root words that give them insight to some of the obscure vocabulary words their English Lit. teacher throws at them. In 1994 a study of 7,500 University students showed the music majors scored the highest reading levels of all majors including English, biology, and chemistry.  Studying music is also a study of  History. Music students learn about musical movements such as Renaissance, Medieval, and Contemporary that gives them a glimpse into the history of our world.  It's also a look at our own American History.  The transformation of Folk into Country and Blues into Rock n Roll is an insight to music kids that others miss out on.  History and Geography scores are usually 40 percent higher for kids studying music.  Playing music (as well as other group artistic activities) helps kids with their social skills.  Learning to be in sync with others in art teaches camaraderie and leads to 71 percent fewer disciplinary problems.

Image courtesy of wikimedia
The case for music in learning is astounding, but it also has benefits for the family.  Playing music brings feelings of joy and euphoria to the brain.  Kids that play music believe their music brings their families closer together.  Kids entering college, having played music, have less problems adjusting.  It has to do with having conquered performance anxiety.  The top academic countries in the world, such as Japan and the Netherlands place high emphasis on music education starting in elementary school.  So please, introduce your kids to music.  Lots of different types of music. Then plant the seed, that they can take lessons and play the music that stimulates their souls. Your kid will thank you in the long run and their test scores will reflect a positive return on your investment.  Now excuse me while I jam out before going to bed.

Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


As we get more and more advanced as a society it seems like we are getting less and less real with each other.  Every advance we log into our world becomes a way of projecting an image rather than reality.  We used to buy cars and trucks based on our needs.  Now we buy automobiles to give a certain image about ourselves.  Our cars are now a reflection on who we are supposedly.  At one time buying a house was about the need to put kids in their own rooms.  Nowadays we are willing to pile kids to the ceiling as long as our house has a certain roof pitch or vaulted entrance way to impress passersby. My grandmother loved her modern kitchen.  Understand her modern kitchen had a refrigerator, stove, and sink.  Today kitchens must have granite counter tops, cherry wood cabinets, and ornate knobs.  You know the stuff that gets food cooked.

You see, it's all about the look.  It's all about the image projected.  I need to look good in my truck so others think I'm something important.  And if that's not enough to make me look like something I'm not, then I'll just add some ridiculous and flashy things to my truck like spinning rims, noisy tail pipes, and super loud bass speakers.  Oh wait, I have noisy tail pipes so scratch that one.  Then factor in the computer/information age.  When computers first became popular everyone was instantly drawn to AOL chat rooms.  What an incredible concept.  You could talk to other people, sometimes many people, and they would only know what you typed about yourself.  This was an incredible way to project an image about yourself without having to buy an expensive house.  You could be overweight, unemployed, and live on your parent's couch, but in the chat room you were The Man!  Teenagers could pose as adults and more disturbingly adults could pose as kids.  Fast forward to modern social media and you have Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at your disposal. These feature photos so to most this seems like a deterrent to falsifying your image.  But there are many ways to fake photos.  Yes the most obvious is photo shop.  The ability to make your eyes shine a little bluer or squeeze your mid section seems common place and almost like little white lies in today's image driven world.  Then there are the hard core fakers.  For example the whole Manti Te'o controversy.  This young man was supposedly involved in an online relationship with a non existent young lady who died of leukemia.  If I understand correctly it was his cousin that faked the entire thing because he had a crush on the star football player.  Can you say John Hinkley Jr.?  The more gadgets and abilities we have the more we are able to distance ourselves from reality.

I am definitely not against technology.  The information age is a wonderful thing that helps us keep in touch and share our lives.  The reality of it is that we are all victims of the age old sin of covetness.  Insert whatever cliche' you would like here; keeping up with the Jones, we have to have the best,  everybody else is doing it, etc, etc.  At the end of the day it's your own happiness you are robbing by being fake.  So what if you fool some people about your life, status, or income.  You still have to go home to reality.  In the end love what God gave you.  Make the best of that and I assure you it will be much more rewarding than any electronic image you could dream up.  At the end of the day ask the image in the mirror if all is well with his soul.

Friday, May 10, 2013

A shout out to all my Band Boosters

Last night was the end of the year Band Banquet for The Marching Pride of Riverside.  Band Banquet is a celebration of all the accomplishments of the students in the past year.  End of year awards are handed out and students are recognized for their hard work.  It is also a time to recognize and honor the Band Director and Auxiliary Sponsors.  We also celebrate all the hard work of the Band Boosters.  For me this was the end of a two year journey as the head of this world class organization.  So I got to pay tribute and say farewell to all my Boosters.  I thought I would post some of my speech to honor all those who have gone on already either through graduating or moving.

It goes with out saying that I believe we have the best band director and faculty at Riverside that an arts program could ever want.  While the treasure of The Marching Pride of Riverside is it's talented kids, I know that the program is supported by the unnumbered parents that make up the booster club.  There are far to many of them to name so I will try to list a few things that they do for our program.  For the past two years here are some things done by parents that I truly appreciate; the text saying, "what do you need boss", the e-mails saying, "I'll be there", the jambalaya cooked, the ice bagged, the chicken fried, the nacho cheese slung, the money counted, the pizzas hustled, the trailers pulled, the camp lunches made, the forms filled out, the money spent, the trips chaperoned, the bibbers hemmed, the sponsorships sold, the dances decorated, the buttons sewed, the speeches endured, the sweaty buses rode, the popcorn popped, the miles marched, the hotel rooms taped, the undercarriages loaded and unloaded, the booths manned, the desserts baked, the fry boats loaded, the hamburgers wrapped, the coolers stocked, the pots washed, the trash picked up, the pep rallies attended, the performances cheered, and even the tears shed.  I thank you for doing all these things and much, much more.  It is from the platform of this solid foundation that our kids are able to showcase their talents in an award winning fashion.

I also want to thank all my fellow officers past and present.  Lord knows I needed you guys to keep me from losing all sense of sanity.  I am very excited to see the next group of officers ready to take the helm.  They are very eager and ready to move the program to the next level.  With new leaders, the best band director in the world, and a re-commitment of the school to better it's arts program, I see a very bright future for The Marching Pride of Riverside.  There is no question that our kids have the talent to succeed.  It has been a blessing, honor, and privilege to serve our kids.  I will always be proud to say that I am, Marching Pride!

 "Whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men,
knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward." (Colossians

Thursday, May 9, 2013

When nothing else matters.

So I was reading about the three women in Cleveland that had been kidnapped and held prisoner for a decade.  I would love to go on a two hour rant about the sick, demented fools that did this.  I'd also love to string them up by their nags in the middle of the town square.  Truth is they are not the only ones doing this.  As I continue to read more and more articles, I realize how much emphasis the media is putting on the fact that these families never stopped searching for their daughters.  I hate to sound arrogant, but do people in the media not have kids? 

If you have lived for more than a few years you know what it's like to drop everything because a loved one is in need.  How many sleepless nights have you spent with your sick child in your arms?  How many nights have we all slept in chairs at the side of a hospital bed with our Grandfather facing death or our Mother fighting a disease?  The media writes about this as if it's a totally foreign concept.  From reading these views you would think the reporters expect for you to be upset the day your child goes missing and back to the status quo the next day.  When you get that phone call about an accident that involves a loved one, I assure nothing else is important.  When your Aunt is diagnosed with cancer the monthly bills are not dominating your thoughts.  When our younger Son was in the first grade he came down with meningitis.  I can tell you that our whole world came to a stop.  Whether or not we had enough vacation days to stay in the hospital was not relevant in our decisions.  My wife's pending real estate contracts were no longer the issue at hand.  Whether or not we could afford the hospital bills meant absolutely nothing.  The only thing that mattered was the life of our child.

Apathy is a terrible disease and it does run wild in our society.  I tend to believe (and maybe I'm naive) that we all love our families.  Searching for a daughter for ten years may sound like a lot but for the love of a family member it is not even a choice.  I just wish we could all love our neighbors the same way.  Clearly, in this Cleveland neighborhood apathy for others kept these girls prisoners for years.  I mean what could it hurt to go knock on your neighbor's door and introduce yourself?  Bring a pie to an elderly person down the street and ask about their grandchildren.  You don't have to bear their burdens.  Just lend an ear and show some interest and you might just make a connection.  A connection that might cause the neighbor to look out for you on your darkest day.

Galatians 5:14
For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”