Sunday, March 31, 2013


My last living grandparent died March 25, 2013 at the age of 97. Some friends and co-workers were extending their condolences until the heard the “97” part. I have to give them some freedom to feel that way. There are very few people I know who are 46 (like me) and who still have living grandparents. Most of my friends of a like age have lost one of both parents.Indeed, I recognized how blessed I have been to have my grandparents as long as I had them all. Rather than being bogged down in grief, I celebrate the family connections I have.

     After learning the news of my grandmother’s death, I paused to say a little prayer and then went on with my day.

In all honesty, I was never as close to this set of grandparents growing up as I was to my other set of grandparents who lived down the road from me. I saw them every couple of summers when we went to Minnesota on vacation. I only ever saw my paternal grandparents a handful of times. Still, as I went through the day, grandma’s death weighed on my mind much more than I expected it would.

Today as I was cleaning some things off the desk in my home office, I came across the last letter I received from her. One of my fondest memories of her was the certainty that I would receive a birthday and Christmas card from her with a letter updating me on everything that was going on in her life.  For a person over 90, she stayed busy. The last time I saw her, she and I spent time cleaning out an aunt’s flower bed as the spring plants were getting ready to sprout.

Because I saw my paternal grandmother so rarely growing up, I am not mourning her in the same way I mourned my maternal grandparents. My grief this time is focused on the passing of a generation. She was the last grandparent I (and many of my cousins) had. The elder status has moved down to my parents’ generation, and will, in time move down to mine. It is the progression of ages.

One reason I am thinking so much about the idea of generations in the family is that there are cousins who live (or at least were raised) in Minnesota whom I have never met. They were born after I made my last visit in 1985. Visits with my relatives since then have either occurred when they passed through Austin or when I made my way up to Wichita. How will the hierarchy work in the coming generations? That I do not know many of my cousins is not unusual among my friends. Like me, because the family lives so far apart, there are relatives they have never seen.

I always wonder when I am traveling whether or not I am randomly passing by a unknown cousin. I have run into old college acquaintances in airports; I suppose a cousin would be just as likely. The cousins I have never seen are much harder to recognize.

With luck, I will be attending a conference in Minneapolis in the next few months and will have the chance to connect with some of those cousins I have not seen since the mid-80’s. (or ever). Perhaps through those contacts, the next generations can remain connected - at least somewhat as what has always been a very large family continues to grow.

Sunday, March 24, 2013


Every once in awhile I get to have one of those weeks that defies all expectations. The past week has been one of those.
I had high expectations for the conference I attended in Chicago. Several co-workers had attended the same conference some times before and they all had raves for the information they gained from the sessions and the resources. I went looking forward to some sessions that were very topical to the work I did on a daily basis. Mostly I went hoping to meet in person some of the professionals I had chosen to follow as a part of my PLN (Personal/Professional Learning Network). Based on their output through various social media sites, I learned to value the information they shared and have followed their online sharing of personal learning and the learning of others through links.
I have gained more from them in the last few months than I have in the last few years of professional development sessions. They have the answers I need when I need them.
They are uncannily perceptive sometimes - even though they do not know me.
My hopes were not dashed. I had the opportunity to spend far more time with my internet idols than I expected. At best I had hoped to recognize them in passing and introduce myself. Instead, I spent several hours with them in conversation and they introduced me to even more. In addition to the volumes of information I had learned on their Internet output, I learned even more with them and even gained some ideas about future work to do here in Austin.
While I expected valuable information in conversation with them, a random conversation at the hotel bar provided the biggest surprise. It started with the bartender asking me a bit of television trivia (because I looked like a smart guy) and ended in conversation with the person who originally posed the question. The conversation did not stay trivial for long and by the end of the evening he promised to send me the introductory parts of the manuscript for a book he was writing. The story he has to tell is one every educator should read when considering the smart kid who just does not do his work. There is always more to the story than we know and he provides a face for the rest of the story.
He actually sent the manuscript to me and we have maintained an email dialogue since then.
People who know me well know how difficult it is for me to talk to new people.  As a professional, the need to connect exceeds my natural shyness - that is one reason I like the opportunities that exist in social media (Twitter, Facebook, Google+). They suffice to initially make contact with others until the point that they are no longer strangers. After reaching that point, the face-to-face is a comfortable next-step rather than a mandated social norm. Being of the age and generation that I am, I do still long for the personal connection despite my initial shyness. As valuable as my virtual friends are, there is something special about a face-to-face conversation that surpasses the screen-to-screen text chats.
The biggest challenge in the last week has been keeping up with and doing something with the new knowledge and connections. While I get it all processed I think sleep will just have to wait.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Sight for the Sites

         The topic of aging has dominated much of my life lately. Just as I recovered from pulling a muscle in my back, I had to pack for a conference in Chicago. Instead of being concerned about what clothes to wear, my thoughts rested on glasses.
         Specifically – how many pair to pack.
         During the last three conferences I have attended I have had to pay the elevated rates hotels charge for everything reading glasses as I have managed to break the pair I took with me. The absence of reading glasses renders me useless at a conference. If you have not attended a conference lately, there is much reading involved. Much of that increasingly on a small screen (there is and app for that – check your smart-phone application market and you can find a conference app for almost every major conference – and small ones techy people attend).
         In addition to the conference planner/tips/etc. app for the smart phone, people still provide paper handouts of their 64 PowerPoint slides. There are also menus in unfamiliar restaurants.
         I opted for the side of caution, and after seeing how much space was available, by packing three pair – one in each bag and the pair I wore. I am determined to see my way through the entire conference with my inexpensive drug-store readers rather than the imported designer readers the hotel will sells.

Friday, March 15, 2013

To-Do List Undone

         I have a hard time relaxing in the way most people define relaxing even when I have days off. For spring break I made a lengthy list of spring cleaning chores to do around the house. Everything necessary - weather, time, materials - lined up to make completion of the list a possibility. I came into the week mentally drained but physically charged. The physical labor is what I needed to relax following a stressful month.
The attractive results (flower beds and vegetable garden) of the labor were just an added bonus.
         Then I started unloading the gardening supplies.
         Doing anything on the list came to an immediate halt while I carried a 64 quart bag of potting soil. I turned to go around the corner of my house and felt pain shoot across my lower back and down my legs. I was not lifting. I was not lowering. I was just walking.
         This is the third time in just over a year that I have hurt my back. As much as I hate going to the gym, this is a wake-up call that I have to get in and work on my core strength. Like it or not, I am aging and I have to do more to take care of my body to keep it functioning the way I expect it to.
         Two days later I was still just sitting. Aspercreme, Aleve, Ibuprofen and a folded towel behind my back. Two days of anything but relaxation.
The worst thing about sitting around for over two days with a to-do list going undone is that that it only increases my stress level. I looked forward to the physical activity releasing my mental stress. Having my hands dirty and breathing the outdoor air does wonders for my mental state.
         The interruption does exactly the opposite.
         I have been able to fill the time reading, writing, and discovering there is absolutely nothing on television worth watching.
         I have found some professional Twitter discussions to join.
         I cannot just sit here and do nothing productive. Even if I am not completing the to-do list, I find options to replace it.
         My landscaping may be left wanting, but I am a few months ahead on my blog work (yes, I do some things in draft well in advance) and I am well into a couple books of professional reading. Considering those things I am finding some positive use for my time confined to the chair.
         Another positive to the time in the chair was that I healed more quickly than if I had tried to power through and do what physical labor I could. By the fourth day I was moving almost normally. I still winced from time to time as I made a move my body was not ready to make, but I was able to pack for a trip (I was able to make the trip after fearing for a few days that I would have to cancel) and leave the house somewhat orderly for my return.
         The garden to-do list remains undone. Here we have a very short spring before withering summer heat diminishes the productivity of most garden plants. Until it is complete, I am keeping my weekends free and I am avoiding anything over twenty-five pounds.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Indestructible: Not

         My dog cannot read. I keep buying toys for him which have labels that say they are “indestructible” and “tear resistant.” Within hours the toy stuffing is scattered around the house resembling a light winter snow. Again today I had to sweep the carpet of toy fragments before vacuuming the pieces that threatened to be ground permanently into the carpet.
         Most of the labels are in English and Spanish. They need to start writing them in Canine.
         Whenever I bring home a new indestructible toy, my roommate and I make bets on how long it will last. Some number of hours is the standard wager.
         Little did I know I was being prophetic when I named the dog “Bart” after the hyperactive, misadventure-prone middle child of The Simpsons. I should have picked something heroic, but Superman, Batman, Aquaman and Wonder Woman just did not seem appropriate for the energetic puppy. That puppy has grown into the name and has maintained puppy levels of energy like no dog I have ever owned. I had never encountered a Pug/Boston Terrier cross before, so I had no idea what I was in for.
         Clearly the toy manufacturers have never encountered one either. Whenever I first present him with a new toy that contains any kind of stuffing, he strategically picks a point to start chewing and persists until he has worked his way through the fabric, and then, just like with a runner in hose, he rips a hole large enough for him to pluck out every thread of filling. He remains perfectly happy with the floppy dismembered shreds of fabric and will carry it around like a trophy and bring it to us for play.
         I am probably cursing myself by writing it, but also like his namesake, Bart is genuinely good at heart and far smarter than he is given credit for being. He routinely destroys his toys, but he does not touch other items around the house that could be destroyed and could be mistaken for one of his toys. He knows what is safe to touch and what is not.
         A truly indestructible pet toy has become my holy grail. Like the elusive vessel for crusaders of history, it remains undiscovered. Despite the setbacks to date, I keep pressing forward, certain that it will be found. Until then, my broom and vacuum stay busy.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Pacing Myself

         I like to think of myself as a witty and clever person. To be entirely honest though, it comes in fits and spurts. I have moments when my mind explodes with puns equal to O’Henry, witticisms that would make Dorothy Parker proud, and wordplay that would make George Carlin smirk. I want everyone else to think I am as witty and clever as I think I am, so I have to find ways to parse out my wit and wisdom in digestible bites.
         Why am I telling this if I want to protect my secrets?
         This week’s Lenten scriptures are all about repentance and confession.

         And the three people who read this are not likely to blow my cover.

         Because my cleverness comes in such bursts, I have started using technology to preserve the creativity until an appropriate time. I have to pace myself. While the creativity comes in waves, the dispensation of that creative wisdom must be measured and steady. I have discovered how to use the voice and notes program on my phone to record exceptional thoughts. I have a half-dozen blog posts sitting in draft form as I season them with just enough creativity to (hopefully) not be a waste of bandwidth.
         I have also been perfecting my use of TweetDeck. It lets me type the tweet and schedule it for a later time. That way my Twitter feed does not get overwhelmed with my witticisms and my Facebook timeline does not spam all my dear friends by filling up their timeline with an incomprehensible volume of genius.
         I am nice like that.
         On top of being witty and clever.