Saturday, September 27, 2014

From Harry

The Bus Duty Nazis
I’m generally a mild-mannered man, but there are days when my buttons get pushed. Yesterday was one of them.
I started volunteering at one of our elementary schools this fall. Two days a week I drive to the other end of the county to help coach a Lego robotics team. Thursday I was running late because I had been babysitting the twins while my wife had her hair appointment. Normally I get to the school before the end of the day, sign-in in the office and go to the classroom we use.
When I arrived yesterday the buses in front of the school were beginning to leave. The bus ramp is between the parking lot and the school building. Two teachers were on duty, one on each side of the crosswalk. The teacher on my side said I needed to wait for the buses to leave.
Okay. This makes sense. No one in his right mind is going to step in front of a bus. Right? The first bus pulled out, then the second, third, fourth, etc. Now there are two buses left. The one in the lead is four car lengths away and is just starting his engine. It is not moving. I cross and enter the school.
These bus ramp Nazis are yelling at me that I can’t go yet. I ignore them. You see I generally follow laws and most rules. Natural laws I will follow until I can figure out how to levitate. As Sheldon on the Big Bang Theory said, “Gravity, thou art a heartless bitch.” But I am a private citizen now and an arbitrary rule made up by some coven of a bus ramp safety committee rubs me wrong when compared to the common sense rule of looking both ways at a crosswalk and then proceeding across the street.
What made the whole incident really intolerable is that these two idiots followed me into the school office and accosted me, and telling me that I was setting a poor example to their kids. Neither of these‘ladies’ knew me. I don’t know about other schools, but it is not a common practice for teachers to yell at school visitors where I come from. They are lucky because I could have reported them to the principal, a man I have known for 20 years. Instead I told them in very direct terms that I cared very little for their arbitrary rules and they were making me even later for my meeting. They stormed off and I had to settle my nerves before facing my teams of student robot builders.
In the end the sad thing is I was considering running a robotics camp for these kids after the robotics competition is over. Now I don’t see where is worth my time to drive 60 miles (round trip) to volunteer my time at this school anymore.
I'm inclined to agree. When I was a new teacher, I let staff run all over me. I don't allow that now. In the last two years I've told the principal where to go and how to get there at least once a semester. I refused to let the yearbook staff disrupt my class room. I threw a district videographer out of my class room, reminding him and the district of Washington State student privacy law. I'm primarily responsible for having our former attendance secretary transferred to another school. I expect to give exemplary service to my students, and I expect that of other district employees. No exceptions.
If you allow officious people to run your life, you will be miserable. I'm one of the most highly qualified teachers in my field in the PNW. It is their privilege to have me. I no longer take abuse or anything approaching it from anyone. I especially expect that from support staff. They're there to support instructors; instructors are not there to support classified staff.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

An Under-whelming Response

Email to my writing partner:

Dear Brother Schulz,
Thank you for your recent e-mail. I appreciate your providing a copy of your recent book. It was received in good condition.
With good wishes,
John W*


Saturday, September 13, 2014


Mom said I could write what I wanted for her blog. So, I am. Mom is some better. Dad took off work yesterday and took mom to her school. She set in on one of her classes and had a meeting with the substitute teachers who are teaching her classes. I’m in her writing class and that’s where she was. We all miss her in that class. I try to like everyone, but sometimes that’s hard. I don’t like the substitute teaching that class, and no one else does either. Mom makes the class fun but the new teacher doesn’t. He expects us to write like adults. We’re not adults. Mom knows this and is not so critical and we learn how to improve instead of being insulted. After her visit to our school, Mom went home and slept most of the day.

I bought a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle and we put it together. Mom does better when she has something to concentrate on. She sleeps a huge amount. Dad says her new medicine does that.

My aunts come by to help. And my grand aunt came for two days. She’s my favorite aunt. One of mom’s best friends made dinner for us. It was a chicken stew with oriental noodles, different from the kind of food we usually have but okay.

Almost every kid in our school knows Mom. I can’t think of any but two boys who don’t like her. Both the boys were thrown out of her classes for being idiots. So they don’t like Mom. No one cares. No one likes them either except for a few boys just like them. I forgot to say that mom met with the substitutes taking her classes. It’s funny to me that it takes three substitutes to do what mom does.

My oldest sisters except for Kat all go to the same church. Two of them got baptized in it. And Izzy just goes sometimes. I go sometimes, but just to go with my sisters. It doesn’t make sense to me to believe some of their stuff. And some of the people are odd. One lady from that church came to see Mom yesterday. She wouldn’t take no for an answer and I was angry at her. Mom said to let her in and she says to my mom that God sent her with a special message. Now I know this church doesn’t believe in special messages in that way. But that’s what she said. Mom said that’s a Black church thing and the woman came from a black Pentecostal church originally. She took mom’s hand and said: “Who stole your lampstand?” This was creepy. But mom was nice to her. I wouldn’t have been. I wanted to yell at her. Mom’s sick. Come debate your silly religion when mom’s not sick!

Kat and I have been fixing up mom’s work space. We dusted all the shelves and put all the books back where they belong. I get distracted in her room. It’s easy to do. She has so many interesting things. And I like her stamps. She gave me an album and I started my own stamp collection.

People call mom on the phone, but mostly she can’t talk to them or for long. I’ve brought home lots of get well cards from school from teachers and from kids who like her. We stick them on the frig.

Dad took her to town this afternoon for coffee and cake. They’re not home yet. You have to help her walk because she is dizzy a lot. She has a cane she uses then too. Not because she’s lame or anything just dizzy.

When I was younger I didn’t like it when other kids hugged my mom, but I don’t mind anymore. When she was at our school she got lots of hugs. It made me feel better for my mom. So she’s getting better but slowly.

I tell her when people wish her well. Sometimes she doesn’t really hear what I say, but she’s much better at that now. -- Anastasia

Monday, September 08, 2014


I've answered a few of mom's emails, but some seem personal. For those who've asked about her health you should know that she can't answer your emails but I've told her that you've written.

Anastasia Marie

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Mom can't write things for her blog right now. She'll be better later and come back to it then.


Tuesday, September 02, 2014

From O. Reader


Like many a tourist I do like history and enjoy visiting historical sites. Back in June when I made my first visit to America, one thing I noted was that as a (relatively speaking) young country nearly everything was quite modern – certainly when compared with the UK. Now that is not a criticism, it is just the way it is – you see an old barn (ten a penny in rural England) and in America it turns out to be an ancient monument.

I will say though, that in my limited experience in America, the places I visited had made efforts to preserve what history they had. I spent several days in Pittsburgh. I liked Pittsburgh a lot. It is quite a small city, a little smaller than Cardiff in South Wales. It is a city built on steel. There are numerous folk songs about steel-men that originate in the area and have travelled since. One evening in Pittsburgh I was standing with my hosts looking down from what is now known as Mount Washington.

The area had originally been populated by poor German immigrants. They lived on top of what was then called Coal Hill and had to work down in the valley alongside the Monongahela River. The river was so polluted, in the depths of winter it never froze, and met the Allegheny River downstream – which did freeze. To get to and from work they built a number of incline railways – based on the funiculars found back in the old country.

Only two of the incline railways are preserved, but they are preserved well. Of course, the hill top area has now become extremely expensive – the views, coupled with the absence of the steel industry, make it so.

Along the river valley, there are various pieces of machinery from the steelworks, now preserved. They are painted up, often in bright colors, with labels showing what they did, and the waterfront area is a nice place to walk and eat and drink. It was full of families – and history. They have done well.

Looking across the vista from Mount Washington you could see modern Pittsburgh with its tall buildings – which may be practical but do not appeal – aesthetically I found New York the pits for that reason, although I acknowledge that some British cities are going the same way. And you could also see old Allegheny. Allegheny has been much redeveloped, and they haven’t done a bad job – except that about 40-50 years ago they knocked down rather a lot of the history that I had specifically come to Pittsburgh to see. I actually knew in advance that it had gone, and there was a plaque to say it had gone but that it had once been the stomping ground of the person I was researching – but retrospectively, it was a shame. My main sources of research that remained untouched were the many graveyards. Unlike Britain, where it is quite possible that your ancient relatives may get concreted over in the interests of a new multi-storey car park, graveyards in America seem to be heritage sites, and therefore protected and well-tended. Well, at least the ones I visited anyway.

If only we knew what would be viable historical sites for the future. Where I live, in South Wales, there is a World Heritage Site called Blaenavon. Now I knew Blaenavon when it was just Blaenavon. I used to visit people there and visit the spit and sawdust cinema, where films ended up after the major circuits had finished with them and trashed half the sprocket holes. It was a rowdy but friendly audience – you could expect full interactive audience participation for every movie.

Blaenavon had been a huge site for the coal, iron and steel industries. As these industries contracted and died, things were just left to rot. And rot they did. No slum clearance, no gentrification – nobody from outside wanted to live there, and those stuck there didn’t have a lot of choice. But when heritage became big business, suddenly there were sufficient viable ruins to be restored on which they could set to work. So there is the Big Pit – you can go down in the cage and turn your light off and just be very glad you didn’t work there in the old days. There’s the Blaenavon Ironworks, a section of the Pontypool and Blaenavon railway, and other bits and pieces.

Sadly, next door, is a town that had far more history, Merthyr Tydfil. Two hundred years ago this was the largest place in Wales. Much larger than Cardiff. Merthyr had history, it had unrest, in addition to the martyr Tydfil (Merthyr means martyr in Welsh by the way) it had its own more recent martyr, Dic Penderyn. Dic was hanged in 1831 after a soldier was stabbed in the coalminers’ revolt that came to be known as the Merthyr Rising. Years later, someone else confessed on their deathbed that they had been responsible – but the establishment needed a scapegoat at the time. There was so much history in Merthyr, but when it all fell apart and grinding poverty hit the area after the First World War, well-meaning people tried to improve the area. They pulled down historical remains – they put up high rise flats (well, high rise for Britain of the day, small fry by American standards) and they did their best. They ultimately created new slums, and grappled with huge social problems, but they did their best. But they trashed most of their heritage along the way. It is a nice little town to visit today, with a college and river walk and new bridges and little tiny bits of history – mainly chapels from "the great awakening" no longer used for worship – other than that of mammon – but it is a huge opportunity lost. But of course, they didn’t know that at the time. Life in Merthyr might have been a bit better than Blaenavon for a few years, but it is Blaenavon that now has the heritage status.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing – but in the circumstances, a pretty useless thing. I remember reading Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat, where at one point he mused over the hideous presents people were giving each other – and wondered if these would be rare antiques of the future? You watch antique programs and – yes – they are. If only we had saved them and hoarded and then could sell them. Trouble is – you would have to wait until you were long dead and gone to get anything back – and it could be just as true that they were worthless. It is like old books. Some people think that old books are valuable because they are old. I remember visiting a shop on the Isle of Wight and asking if they had any old books (I was looking for weird Bible Translations at the time). Oh yes, they had old books – they must be rare because well, they were old, and they were real old books – you know, they had old covers (now detached) and they had old pages... It was not a productive conversation.

But I like it when old things are preserved, valuable or not. So, I like heritage. I like it when town planners insist that old facades still be kept on modern buildings. I like it when the skyline isn’t completely blighted by buildings that shut out the light. And for all its warts and all, Britain does have a lot of this sort of stuff overall. So give me your tired and your huddled masses – do come on your tourist visas and please do spend your dollars here.