Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The science of science

Yesterday, we focused on science. For the first time. Really.

I mean, we've done Science before, but more like Wierd Science. Like, "blowing stuff up" science. Hypothesis: flammable liquid will burn. Method: soak object with flammable liquids, light with match. Control: everything that's not soaked with flammable liquids. Observations: WOAH! Results: Toast. Conclusions: Waaaay coooooool!

I hated science as a kid. Studying periodic tables. Dissecting live animals. Stirring liquids with a glass rod. Hated it. Hated it. Hated it. What the heck did I learn from it? Can't think of a thing.

Anyway, yesterday's goal was to conclude an experiment we set up and conducted over the last 5 days - How a Plant Absorbs Water. (yaaaawn)

Actually, I would have been bored, but I LOVE methodology, and I love documenting stuff. Its what I do best. Need a boring Technical Manual or User's Guide? I'm your man. I once wrote a 150-page business plan from scratch in two days, with page after page of complex custom diagrams and graphics. Man, did I reek on day three.

But for this first experiement, we didn't go all out on the documentation part - rather than plan and document throughout the experiment, what we did was more like a post-mortem. Still, it was enough to help the students begin to think about, and to understand, the methodology of scientific experimentation. And you have to love a subject where you can teach skills for real-life and throw in a writing exercise to boot.

In the end, their experiment proved only that their hypothesis was incorrect, but in doing so, I think they understood that there is more to experimentation than meets the eye, or the flaming match.

I think we're gonna like Science.

Monday, October 30, 2006

El Ropa Interior De Hombres

I'm beginning to my have doubts about the Spanish Department. The head of the department recently sent a message to all students that began "Ola". I mean, sure the "H" is silent, but it kinda has to be there, doesn't it?

This semester, the Academy is sponsoring a Spanish class for regional schools. The instructor appears to be struggling to stay ahead of the students. They ask him simple questions like, how do you say "40" in Spanish, and he tells them he'll get back to them. He is spending a great deal of class time on www.freetranslation.com. I think the students are on to him. They call him "Maestro muy mal" and he just smiles and says "Ola!".

Last week, the students created menus for a fictitious spanish restaurant. The instructor encouraged "creative" dishes. These are some of the chef's offerings:

Cola de Perro en una Cama de Manzanas, Sobrepasado con Cera de Oreja
(Dog tails on a bed of apples, topped with ear wax)

Uñas, con Queso
(fingernails with cheese)

Gato Grasiento, Cocinado en el Jugo del Ropa Interior
(greasy cat, cooked in underwear juice)

The Academy was so concerned about that last menu item that we felt compelled to reach out to the parent of the student. We wanted to verify that she was not offended by the term "underwear juice". She replied "Yes, I'm o.k. with underwear juice", adding "Now there's a sentence I never thought I'd string together."

Just to remove any speculation among the students, the instructor qualified the term "underwear juice" for the class.

Un'-der-wear Juice (n) - water reserved from the process of washing a load of underwear.

The creativity of the students, and the flexibility of the parents, never ceases to amaze the Academy.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Its all in the packaging

Warning! The Academy's Headmistress has declared this blog entry to be rated PG-13. Where is the sense of humor, I ask you?

I love clubs. I love the heady experience of being a member of an exclusive group, rubbing elbows with the upper-crust. What a rush! Pull up to the curb, step out proudly and survey the underpriveleged, admiring masses shuffling by. Go inside, sit in an overstuffed leather chair and watch sports programs on large, hi-def plasma sets with expensive sound systems. I am SO there. Yes, I belong to BJ's.

I recently went shopping at this exclusive membership club. Among the items on the flatbed livestock cart I was pushing around was a package of "alvin Kle" men's undershirts. I threw them on top of the cart and didn't think too much about it until I got over to the Beverage Village (zipcode 20716). There, as I was making selections from mountains of soda, I noticed someone checking out my cart. I am ever vigilant of those cart kidnappers - you know the ones who mistake your cart for theirs, dump all your stuff on the floor and make off with your cart - so I wandered back over to check things out. The stubbly-faced guy near my cart had a beer gut that made him appear to be with child, and he was dressed in deer-hunter garb, circa 1970. After a moment of awkward eye contact, he made that animal grunt men often use to cough up whatever bits of animal meat they have lodged in their sternums. Then he turned abruptly and headed off for the Truck Tire Village(zipcode 20782). Hm. What, exactly, was he looking at, I wondered? Then it hit me. alvin Kle! Turns out he was checking out the "package" on the undershirt package.

What is WITH that packaging? Picture some fat-cat marketing exec sitting at the head of a conference table, trying to motivate his team to design some killer packaging for their underwear brand. "Its gotta be big, see? When a man looks at my package, I want him to have an urge he can't resist! I want to arouse his interest! He can't resist having it, see? He is subconsciously drawn to my package." Long pause as nervous eyes glance around the table. Finally, someone timidly offers "Um... how about a hunky male model?"

See, I just don't understand the connection between men shopping for underwear, and hunky male models. Do they think I'm stupid enough to buy their product because I want to look like thier model? Puh-leeeze! Put a picture of a Harley Davidson on there, laced with the scent of beef stew. Or a Porsche 911 with a Heidi Klum hood ornament. Sure, I'd think it was silly, but that I would at least understand. Seriously? I'd prefer my underwear to come in a plain white package rubber stamped with bold, black letters - "MEN'S UNDERWEAR".

This is precisely why I won't shop at Abercrombie and Fitch anymore. Hey, don't laugh. I could shop there, if I wanted to. But last time I did, I had to endure the walk through the mall to the truck, toting a shopping bag with soft male-porn plastered all over both sides of it. What makes retailers think that guys want to see hunky man-junk all over their products? I mean, how about a waist-up shot, minus the close-up of the man-junk? Maybe I could live with that.

Another thing about men's underwear that I don't get. What is with those "tighty whities?" How can an adult look upon them kindly? At best, its panties for men. At worst, its boy's underwear in men's sizes. I mean, they should come with pictures of the Batmobile on them and a little pouch to hold your batarangs. I just don't get it. I mean, just LOOK at them!

Hm. Strangely, I have a sudden urge to buy more.

Friday, October 27, 2006

This week's accomplishments

The headmaster's been lax in his blogging lately. So much to do, so little energy to do it. He's been picking his battles carefully.

Every Thursday morning he lies in bed, staring at a cottage cheese ceiling that desperately needs updating. His mind shuffles the deck that represents his list of things overdue. He frets at how it grows thicker each day. It is a ponderous thing to shuffle.

That's usually when he hears the garbage truck, and remembers the pile of trash spilling out of the cans and into the parking lot.

I swear, I've lived here a little more than a year, and I don't think I've made trash day more than twice. So I'm on a first-name basis with the guys at the dump. We have an "arrangement". I bring them scrap copper from my rewiring project. They let me dump drywall without going through the scales.

This is dramatically different from the arrangement I had in our last house. There, I didn't take the trash out - I had "people" for that. I tipped the garbage truck guys generously at Christmas. In return, each Tuesday morning they'd actually go into my back yard to fetch my trash cans, and then they'd put them back neatly when they were done. Now that's what I call service! One year, I made the mistake of taping their Christmas cards (tips inside, bows outside) to the trash cans at the curb. Several weeks later, I caught up with them and checked to make sure they'd received the cards. They hadn't. So either they were after a double-tip, or some Grinch drives around Bowie looking for trash cans with bows on them. At any rate, I tipped twice, and continued to sleep in on Tuesday mornings.

So... back to the Academy. Thursday morning, I lay there and listened as the sounds of the trash truck slowly faded into the distance. Today, I paid the price. It is astonishing how much trash the Academy produces. To behold it, spread out in the parking lot, it invokes a sense of accomplishment. Standing by this trophy pile of trash, I sensed that my neighbor's passing nod was a bit more respectful than usual. It was a proud moment indeed.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Calvert Tracks!

Well, this evening we finally found an interesting approach for the Calvert materials - a game called "Calvert Tracks".

Simply lay out a track, complete with obstacles and ramps, then take a small billiard ball and roll it with great speed in an attempt to keep it on the track long enough to hit the target at the end.

This approach works best if you happen to be wearing a Mr. Incredible or Human Torch costume.

Sleep, Sweet Sleep

I could love you
as dry roots love rain.
I could hold you
as branches in the wind
brandish petals.

       Let your heart look
       on white sea spray,
       and be lonely.

   - Carl Sandberg

Alas, though I try to love Calvert, Calvert ain't lovin' me back.

Second Grade. Lesson Manual. Lesson 2, Page 8. Turn to the Math Manual, Page 6. Locate the Red/Blue bird punch-outs on page 333 in the Calvert Math textbook. snore... snore... snore...

This material is the "Lunesta" of education. I find these early morning naps, while untimely, are actually quite satisfying.

Once we got started on today's program though, "Mr. Eclectic" quickly took over and got us waaaaay off track. The lesson plan called for reading a short autobiography that focused on Benjamin Franklin's invention of the bifocals. One thing led to another, and soon we were thick into the Tao of manufacturing. We talked about the problem that prompted Franklin to invent the bifocals, and extended that thought into the following corollary:

Every invention begins with a problem.

We discussed the problem of toddlers constantly spilling drinks, and made up a mock invention of a sippy-cup (an object with which I am all too familiar these days, sigh..), and did some role-playing that allowed Kyle's factory to walk off with all the profits of Josh's idea. Then we set up a mock patent office, and replayed our scenario with Josh taking Kyle to court to recoup his losses. We talked about patent lawyers and patent writing, about concise descriptions of ideas, etc. etc. We talked about prototypes and negotiations with manufacturers, and on and on and on, completely chewing up our two-hour allotment.

So where does this leave us? I LOVE this kind of instruction, and I think its what distinguishes homeschooling and gives it such an advantage over traditional schooling. But.... its also what keeps me up at night.

So here's what I plan to do. Tonight, when I'm staring intently at a cottage-cheese ceiling that desperately need updating, I will break out the Calvert Lesson Plan, and soon...

"Sweet dreams of pleasant streams
By happy, silent, moony beams!"

Monday, October 23, 2006

Calvert, by Prescription Only

Ok, no more Mr. Nice Guy. I've been doing this homeschool thang too long to still be on the "eclectic" path. I mean, its been fun and all, but the thought of crossing an item off my list of stuff that keeps me up at night really appeals to me. I'm tired of sweating bullets, wondering if my kids are missing that one thing that will determine whether they go into engineering, or become "building engineers". I mean, what if writing cursive makes the difference?

So today, I made good on a promise to myself, and broke out the Calvert program that I'd "won" on eBay.

Second Grade. Lesson Manual. Lesson 1, Page 6. Turn to the Math Manual, Page 5. Locate the Red/Yellow punch cards on page 332 in the Calvert Math textbook. snore... snore... snore...

By that point a two-hour nap was really unavoidable. Each manual in the Calvert program should have a label on the front cover: "Warning! After adminstering Calvert, do not engage in any activity that requires complete alertness, such as driving a car or operating machinery." Anwyay, we finally got underway around noon. It went swimmingly, although even I was bored to tears by the end of our class, which lasted the better part of 2 hours. I've seen that glazed-over look in students' eyes before, but generally its been in a smoke-filled passageway under the varsity bleachers.

So we began to learn writing in cursive. I have fought this one tooth and nail with the headmistress. I haven't written in cursive since the "excuses from home" that I used to forge in grade school. I suppose if the Academy's students ever need to do that, then I certainly want them to be prepared.

Now if I could only find a way to make it more exciting. Hmm... What if we combined the Calvert Writing Program with some foreign language instruction. Say... German.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Former Man Room

All this discussion of the new Man Room has made me long for my favorite room in our old house in Bowie. Sigh....

Life's Instrument Cluster

The driver of any vehicle in the Academy's fleet basks in the warm glow of the illuminated "Maintenance Required" warning sign. I've begun to use it as a sort of map light.

I suppose it as good a barometer of one's situation as any. If you drive with that light constantly on, chances are that more than just your vehicle requires maintenance.

Hey, at least this one vehicle has more than a quarter tank of gas.

The Man Room

Construction has begun on the faculty's "Man Room". If all goes according to plan, the completed 13x16 room in the basement of the main building will feature brick walls with gas sconces, weathered plank flooring and two overstuffed leather chairs. Off the right side of the room is a door leading to a small workshop. Off the left side of the room, through French doors, is a wine room with wet bar, dishwasher, humidor and bottled beer cooler. Completion is scheduled for sometime in mid-2018.

Josh and Kyle were asking about it, so I tried to help them "visualize" the Man Room by saying things like "Well first NO GIRLS are allowed in there, and it will have big dogs in it, and football on the tv, and soccer posters on the wall, and root beer in the fridge, and we can burp and spit in there if we want." Whereby Kyle chimed in "Yeah, and we can lick each other on the tongue!"

Okaaaaaay. Awkward silence.

I asked him where in the world he got that thought. His reply: "Well, guys do gross things, and that's a gross thing."

Later, I overheard him telling his niece that she should stay out of the Man Room or she might slip on our spit. Good point, hadn't thought of that. The Academy certainly wishes to avoid any situation that might spawn a lawsuit. I'll adjust the plans to include a spit trough.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Diary of a Mad Housestudent

The latest list from Kyle features items he will sell in his toy store.

I mean, what kind of toy store is this?! Who would sell cigarettes, pipes and cigars, without also selling beer?

Sigh.. I'm wondering, at what point does a headmaster intervene on these "lists"? I suppose it is at least encouraging that on the very next page he drew a respectable likeness of the headmaster.

Friday, October 20, 2006

C'est what?

The Academy wishes to address some confusion regarding its follically-challenged headmaster. It is not a comb-over, it is a faux finish. The former is tonsorial sleight-of-hand. The latter is art.

Mission Accomplished

The students of BBA look forward to Thursdays. The faculty, not so much.

On Thursdays the Academy participates in an exchange program with nearly thirty regional schools. We load all the students, all the faculty, and the entire contents of the Academy and its grounds into the man-truck bus and head to the campus of the Cornerstone Assembly. There, the students of these regional schools run inside to network and socialize, while the faculty shuffle around the parking lot unpacking the entire contents of their home facilities with zombie-like efficiency. It may be called the greatest single-day transfer of schooling materials in the history of education.

The Academy is particularly excited about Thursdays because it sponsors a photography class. Today we spontaneously came up with a mission statement for the class:

We take unusual photographs of ordinary subjects, rather than ordinary photographs of unusual subjects

That, my friends, is one philosophically and grammatically profound digital photography class mission statement. The students were duly impressed. We do have our moments.

One of the photography students, 14 years old, took the photograph above for last week's assignment. With a simple click of a button, she positively made our week.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The endowment gets a boost.

Beyond the eyes
into one's soul
Look through each window
let yourself go

This morning, the Academy received a generous donation of six window frames. It won't pay for a full MLB package, but it will help us get creative with some construction projects.

So what's a headmaster to do with such a contribution? Grab a nail gun and start building? Use a sawzall to cut some holes in a wall? Take some photos and pair them with poetry? (sound of needle scratching across a record)

Ok, so I'm sure I broke some section of the "guy code" with that one. Any minute now, Burt Reynolds will come screeching through the East entrance in a black Trans Am.

No problem.    Mr. Reynolds, meet the "guy fridge".

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Who's Anatomy?

The Academy does have a television, but I think its hard-wired into the Food Network, since that's the only thing ever on it. (Unless there is a Red Sox game, but since the media budget didn't provide for the full MLB package, and since it is the post-season and they are, well, the Sox, that's almost never.)

Grey's Anatomy. Doesn't the title refer to a female doctor? Sounds.. promising. But for all I know its a show about the function of spleens.

Television puzzles me. I mean, why can't those orange juice guys keep the shelves stocked? Haven't they heard of warehousing? Don't they own a truck? Do all orange grove workers really resemble corporate executives doing weekend yardwork? Maybe its just me, but the thought of reaching through some bushes for a carton of fresh orange juice weirds me out.

Anyway, originally published in 1918, the real Gray's Anatomy was a ponderous volume containing more than 1,200 engravings of the human body. I've looked at them all, and Allison Shepherd's anatomy wasn't featured on a single one. Hm... maybe I will have to watch an episode or two.

Monday, October 16, 2006

What's in your fridge?

A roving band of Vikings/Visigoths/Huns has run amok in my neigborhood. They tear across my freshly-mowed lawn and into my garage, intent on destroying everything in their path. They picked a poor target - my garage is already destroyed. Just as they approach the entry door, I open the "guy refrigerator", and the contents stop them dead in their tracks. Flash forward through the remainder of this blog-o-mmercial, and as they leave my yard one of them looks into the camera and yells "What's in your refrigerator?

Hey, it could happen!

Lacking for material this evening, I volun-told the Academy's music director that he'd be tonight's guest blogger. So of course, the subject is "beers in my fridge". We went out to the "guy fridge" and selected one of each brand. Without further ado, today's guest blog from Ryan, who describes each selection.

Old Speckled Hen: An English Pale Ale, ABV of 5.20%. Amber in color, it has a smooth mouthfeel with a slightly bitter finish.

Guinness Draught: The Classic Irish Dry Stout at 4.20%. It posseses a thick creamy mouthfeel with little to no carbonation and a dry finish. Best served at aprox. 50 degrees.

DogFish Head 90 Minute IPA: American double IPA at 9.00%. Pours a hazy amber with a thick syrupy mouthfeel and strog hop finish. For serious "Hop Heads" only.

DogFish Head Shelter Pale ale: American Pale ale at 5.00%. A Crisp, Smooth APA with a medium body and slight hop finish.

Troegs Troegenator DoppelBock: A semi-sweet syrupy Double Bock with hints of caramel. At 8.20% it is best served only slightly chilled at aprox. 50 degrees.

Magic Hat Blind Faith: An English IPA at 5.90%. A relatively smooth IPA with a nice rounded hop finish. Great session beer.

Victory Ten Year alt: Altbier at 8.50%. A medium thick mouthfeel with well balanced hops and medium body.

And there you have it. Beers in our 'fridge. Don't you feel the urge to fill a liter mug, raise it up high and shout "I Love Strudel!"

Pass the pomade...

Today, the entire student body of Browns Bridge Academy received a haircut. On the drive home, the man-truck bus reeked of talcum, hair gel and lollipops.

The local barbershop is people-watching nirvana. I badly wanted to take some photos of customers getting their hair cut, but it seemed like improper "guy" behavior - like talking to the dude standing at the next urinal. Far be it from me to break the "guy code".

Anyway, it all got me to thinking. Of all the bizarre creatures in the animal kindgom, there is none to rival the "comb-over guy". You've seen him. He is the tonsorial (new vocab word) equivalent of a farmer rotating his crops. He has discovered that, while the vegetation on the top of his head has waned, the side of his head is enjoying a bumper crop. So he lets it grow unchecked, and begins to rake it over the barren spots. You won't see him at the barbershop - he avoids the barber at all costs.

Each day, Comb-over Guy convinces himself that no one will notice the elaborate structure on top of his head, and he heads out the door with confidence. Then, inevitably, comes that Mighty Wind.

I'm writing about this today because I have slowly come to the
realization that I am that guy. I mean, I've been a bit more subtle about it, eschewing the side-to-side comb-over for the more
cosmopolitan front-to-back version, in the image of Pat Riley; looking in the mirror, I envision myself pacing the bench, yelling for Abdul-Jabbar to "press the boards!", or whatever it is that championship basketball coaches yell to their players. Of course, his slicked-back follicles were a bit more honest than mine, not to mention good-looking.

The realization has come to me reluctantly. It started with a visit to the barbershop. The barber makes some small talk as he snaps a plastic garbage bag around my neck, and pumps up the chair. He steps over to his table to fetch comb and scissors. Then he moves to the back of the chair, raises his instruments, and suddenly stops. He furrows his brow as he looks at the top of my head, then glances up at me in the mirror as much as to say "what do you want me to do with this?" I offer a sheepish look and shrug my shoulders. He lowers his eyes and nods. This is the silent code shared between barbers and comb-over guys.

So, I've thought about alternatives. I could go with the Captain Stubing look from Love Boat. (shudders) I could shave my head completely, like so many guys are doing these days. (too much work, and at 150 pounds, it would only work if I wore a medical bracelet) I could get it surgically corrected. (checks endowment balance)

Sigh. There really is no alternative. I guess I'll just have to avoid the wind... and, at some point, the barber. Now, where did I leave my rake?

Sunday, October 15, 2006

All is well...

Carpet is clean. Padding, baseboards, plinth blocks and door threshold are replaced. Shelving is reinstalled. Walls are repaired and repainted. And all feels right with the world, once again.

But its still early...

Do You Hear What I Hear?

It is with a great deal of sadness that the Academy closes the swimming pool for the season. It provided a great deal of comfort and entertainment, and brought us closer to many dear friends. With the leaves off the trees, the flowers wilting, and the pool covered up tight, the fire pit is the only remaining object that holds any attraction for the West Campus. Well, that and a large, inflatable, glowing Tigger the Tiger.

This would be the first season that the headmaster has actually closed a swimming pool, and frankly we're a little worried about it. Closing a swimming pool is a very intricate process - in fact, it is a science. Which explains the existence of professional pool closers; these people will leave their spectacular country mansions to come close your humble pool only if you agree to pay the equivalent of their annual mortgage, and you promise not to watch the secret process. The BBA endowment certainly wasn't up to that requirement.

And so, armed with nothing more than a little Google sense, some wrenches and a cup of coffee, the headmaster marched out into the morning sun, headed for the pool building. There, he ran headlong into a 300-lb pool cover hanging from a hook, and promptly returned to the main building. Those guys over at Google hadn't said anything about 300-lb pool covers hanging from hooks, which proves, once and for all, that those two rich nerds don't know everything. Anyway, since the headmaster weighs all of 150 pounds, we had a little problem for the physics department. Following a brief consultation, they recommended a professional pool closer.

Undaunted, the headmaster procured some help from the locals, and after several hours of unfolding, refolding and unfolding again, finally managed to wrestle the cover into position.

Next, the filter had to be disassembled and cleaned. This particular filter is registered with the National Register of Historic Places, and looks like something that is best left untouched. In fact, earlier this summer, the Academy paid a professional pool filter historian a tidy sum for an inspection, whereby it was declared that spare parts are no longer available. So it was with some trepidation that wrenches were brought to bear on the aging bolts that hold the old girl together. Fortunately, she made it through the operation.

Finally, the pipes needed blowing, which, according to the Google guys, is the professional term for removing water. An air compressor was well-suited for the task, particularly since it happens to be the headmaster's favorite tool and he misses no opportunity to use it. So the air hose was inserted into the skimmer basket, and the air valve was opened full blast. What happened next can only be described as a spectacular water show. It is simply astonishing how far the human head can deflect a column of water. Even the physics department was impressed. Still, the headmaster persevered and got the job done.

Now, the Internet is positively choked with dire predictions of what will happen if you close your pool improperly. The shell of the pool itself has been known to rise up from the ground like a concrete zombie and keel over onto its side, twitching pathetically. And even worse than that, if the pipes are not sufficiently blown, water will collect and freeze, cracking the maze of PVC pipes that emanate from the pump house and snake their way under the pool. And so, there will be precious little sleep this winter. Lying there in bed with beads of sweat collecting on his poor, furrowed brow, the headmaster swears he can hear the sound of water freezing, PVC pipes cracking, and the remainder of the BBA endowment flowing under the West Campus.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Taking Leaf of my Senses

The Academy, lacking a groundskeeper, or, to put it more accurately, lacking a willing groundskeeper, has had to resort to desperate measures, sending me, the headmaster, to battle the onslaught of falling leaves.

Who would have thought, late last spring, that the lovely deciduous flora and fauna covering the campus would have turned on us so quickly? I mean, I really don't mind if they practice photoperiodism - there's nothing wrong with that - just so long as I don't have to clean up after them.

We have leaves blanketing the lawn and the pool. We have leaves covering the porch, deck and patio. We have leaves in garden beds, pots and baskets. They are in the cars and in the truck bed. I have even found them in the headmaster's bed (which, curiously, raised the suspicions of BBA's headmistress).

I've been waiting for a Mighty Wind to sweep them into the neighbor's yard, but I think they're on to me. So finally, today, I decided to do something about it. After fighting the good fight for a couple of hours, I enlisted the help of some random students, putting them to work on the East Campus. After 10 minutes, I couldn't take the complaining anymore. "We're tired" "We're hungry" "We're cold". Talk about making a mountain out of a couple inches of chlorenchyma tissues.

I'm thinking that wind may come along any day now...

BBA Endowment

Sometimes the kindness of people simply amazes me. The Academy wishes to acknowledge the many words and acts of kindness and encouragement it has received this past week from members of its parent organization, the Columbia Homeschool Community.

And while we're on the subject, the Academy also wishes to remind the CHC board of its 2006 Master Plan, which includes projects to increase the capacity of buildings on the main campus, to enhance living quarters for staff and students, and to improve and expand the green space. Enhancements to various outbuildings on the West Campus are also on the project plan.

The Headmaster of the Academy, who also serves as the Facilities Planner, Director of Design and Construction, Project Manager, Carpenter, Plumber and Administrative Assistant, has recently declared the BBA Endowment to be in a code-red state of Severe Risk. All contributions should be expedited.

Hey, you can't blame a headmaster for tryin'.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Tell me about your hike...

I can't say that it was an easy weekend in Boston, but Barbara had so many incredible friends, and they helped to ease the transition. She had such a deep impact on so many lives. Wherever she went, and whatever she touched, her mark was indelible.

Her apartment in Watertown was no exception. Barbara knew furniture and design. It was her business for so many years, and it became a part of her. To sit in her apartment is to visit with her; it is such a connection. I don't envy those that remained behind to begin the process of dismantling it all.

Barbara was an avid hiker. When she was too sick to venture out, she'd want to hear every detail of her friends' hikes. Her wishes were to have the family scatter her ashes along her favorite trail, and we're meeting next month to take her on that last hike. A bench is being installed, in her name, along the trail. The inscription will read:

Sit here and tell me about your hike.

Improving the "Dash"

At a gathering of friends and family in Boston this past weekend, someone cited a passage they'd recently read. In a cemetery, markers generally have inscriptions containing two dates separated by a dash. The passage observed that it is only the dash, and not the dates, that bears meaning; the dash represents the accomplishments of a lifetime.

Mount Auburn cemetery in Watertown, Ma., just around the corner from the H.W. Longfellow house, is one of the most tranquil and beautiful places I've ever been. I went for a walk there yesterday morning, before heading to the airport. That's probably a strange place to walk under the circumstances, but that passage had really touched me. And so I return home with a renewed commitment to work on my "Dash".

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Old Timers

The Barber Shop in the square, Watertown Mass., is a bastion of all that is male. As you enter, you walk past the old step-crank chairs to a small waiting room in the back. There, you can admire the artwork on the walls, named Tammy, Vanessa, Misty and Heather, moving from left to right, and you can peruse the various reading materials, all titles beginning with "P", arranged in vertical racks.

I felt a little conspicuous there, reading my dog-eared copy of the 9/11 Commission Final Report.

There are three barbers, two young, one old. Of course it would be the old guy who finally called me up from the "men den". He immediately spied my reading glasses, and realized we shared a bond. So while the other two barbers discussed the Red Sox and Patriots with their customers, mine talked to me about reading glasses, spine curvature and cholesterol.

So I guess I'm now the "old guy" at the barber shop. When did that happen?

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Well ok, but not a full liter!

Kyle is such a little list-maker. He's always scratching something into a notebook. List of songs. List of movies. List of things he wants to buy. List of things he plans to make in his factory.

Here was a list from yesterday. List of beers he wants to try.

GAWD!! Where did I go wrong?!! I mean, just LOOK at that handwriting!

Friday, October 06, 2006

Dr. Patel's Rectal Clinic

I've had a couple of questions, so I thought I'd post about Barbara. She was quite remarkable.

What are the odds that, out of seven natural-born children in our family (there were two others), only one would earn a college degree? I suppose it was a hyper work ethic that dumped us all into the work force before we'd completed our education. But Barbara was always driven differently.

Ours was a very small neighborhood in Hampton, N.H., with lots of kids. I mostly remember Barbara outside until past dark every day, competing with the boys. She'd play shirts/skins sports until she was 10.

When our family moved to Washington in 1972, Barbara remained behind to complete the final two years of high school. Following that, she came home and attended Northern Virginia Community College to earn her Associates Degree.

She got her first full-time job at a local department store (which name escapes me), becoming department manager. She saved and bought a new car, and quickly moved out on her own.

She took a job with Ormond's, a local women's clothing outlet. She became store manager, district supervisor, and eventually regional Vice President. She married and bought a gorgeous home in New Hampshire. I cannot tell you how much I looked up to her.

When she and her husband parted, she moved back to Boston, bought a fire-red Porsche and enrolled in an MBA program at Simmons. We centered a family reunion around her graduation.

After graduating, she became a CFO-for-hire - a financial Top-Gun for small businesses. One of her clients was Heartwood, a retailer of handcrafted furniture with locations in Harvard Square, New Haven and Westport, Connecticut. Barbara became their full-time financial advisor, then became partner, then eventually sole owner.

It was at this point, in the Spring of 1990, that I moved to Boston and shared a house with her in a failed attempt to attain my MBA. I was only there a year before I returned to my job in Washington, but it was one of the favorite times of my life. We became quite close, and used to joke how marriage would be quite unnecessary if we could just keep our situation going. Each day I'd select a recipe from the Silver Palate cookbook, take the Porsche up to Wilson Farms and shop for fresh ingredients for that night's dinner. After a hard day, she'd come home to a great meal, and we'd sit on the back porch drinking tea and eating stale fig newtons (purposely stale, as we liked them). She'd often come home for lunch (P-T-H as we called it - Prime Tanning Hour) and we'd lay out in the sun in the back yard. Sometimes I'd help her out in the store, and we'd work until well after midnight arranging furniture. When we were too exhausted to move any more, we'd each select a favorite luxurious bed and sleep right there in the store.

More recently, she bought a run-down house in an up-and-coming Boston suburb. The entire family descended on it for two weeks in a group effort to gut it and rebuild it. God we had some laughs. I remember putting on reggae music, dancing and drumming along the walls with paint-stirring sticks. I remember mooning her from the attic, through a hole in the ceiling. We certainly are a strange clan. Every time I return to my native New England, my accent comes back automatically. Sometimes, I'll put it into hyperdrive just for laughs. And so it was on one particular trip to the Home Depot. Barbara and I went to the paint department to get some caulk. Not thinking about the effects of a New England accent on the item in question, I shouted to the guy behind the counter to inquire if he [ie: the store] had any [of the item in question]. I don't think I could adequately describe his reaction. Barb and I had to hold on to each other to keep from falling on the floor in laughter. She was never one to be embarrassed.

Barbara consolidated her operations by liquidating two of her stores to focus on the Cambridge location. She was also a certified fitness consultant, running aerobics, stretching, yoga and Tai Chi classes for local health clubs. She had her own stretching business, with many devoted clients. She would begin each day by driving her golden labrador retriever, Sophie, to Walden Pond for a swim across and back. She ran the Marine Corp Marathon a few years back. Its just the way she was - few could keep up with her.

And she never lost her sense of humor. It sounds strange, but after her diagnosis, when times would get difficult, I'd assume an alter identity and call her cell phone to leave a message. The caller was Doctor Patel, a politically incorrect figment of my imagination, born of an inexplicable talent with an Indian accent. Dr. Patel would call to administer a remote colonoscopy. I couldn't possibly go into the details, but it was quite funny the things he would find in there, including some of her regular doctors. For someone whose privacy was declared null-and-void the moment she was diagnosed, she seemed to appreciate the humor of it.

When we had a family reunion four months ago, Barbara was instrumental in arranging for an outlandish joke. They sent me on an errand, and when I returned, there was a sign in the front yard:

Dr. Patel's Rectal Clinic.

I made my way to the rear patio to find all my brothers and sisters in scrubs, surrounding a "patient" (my nephew-in-law) in stirrups. They were all awaiting Dr. Patel's expert instruction. God, we sure could have some laughs.

I've been to Boston twice since then. I never imagined for a second that as I kissed her goodbye on my last visit, it would be the last time I would see her. Barbara's enduring legacy is everywhere. It is on the face of Felix, a young kid in trouble whom she took under her wing and helped him grow into the great person he is today. It is in the minds of the many business associates and clients whose lives she touched - many of whom contact me daily to inquire after her. It is in the humor that lingers for all who knew her. And it is in the myriad accomplishments that inspire us all to achieve more. Though I often fall short, I can only smile in the knowledge that she'd think otherwise.

Barbara and Felix

Dr. Patel's Rectal Clinic. Poolside.

Final Road Trip

Well, we're finally home after 14 hours of hammer-down driving. I wouldn't call that an easy trip.

Road trips don't always have to be difficult. I'll always remember one I took with my sister Barbara to attend our nephew's graduation at Marietta College. We rented a brand new Cadillac, drove to Wilson Farms Market in Lexington, Mass. and stocked a cooler with fresh fruits, veggies, cheeses and wine. We packed blankets and a road map, and not much else.

We didn't map a course, but simply pointed the car in the general direction and headed out. We must have taken a hundred little detours, stopping to see whatever our hearts desired. When conditions were good, we'd pull off the road, set the blankets out, and just lay there soaking up some sun.

It was thus that Diane and I meandered our way to the historic district in Savannah, Ga. on Wednesday. We had no plan, just a general sense of where we wanted to go, and we eventually got there. So perhaps it was fitting on Thursday morning, as we left this impromptu diversion and made our way back to Interstate 95, that I would get the call to inform me that Barbara was gone. I suppose we made quite a scene, hugging and crying in the parking lot of the Waffle House, just off exit 77 on Route 16W.

And so Barbara's difficult journey with cancer comes to an end. I will miss her so much. I can't even comprehend a world without her.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Little Girlie-Man Driving Family Home

We're here in a hotel room in Savannah, Georgia. Ok, so I didn't make it very far. We got a late start, OK?

Anyway, Diane always wanted to see Savannah. We got to check out the restaurant of one of her favorite cooks - Paula Deen's Lady and Sons. It was WAY different from what we'd expected - kind of a hole in the wall on a very crowded side street.

So now we have, like, 43 hours of driving to do tomorrow.

You know, I think I've discovered that I have a thing for manhole covers. Wait. That didn't sound quite right. Its just that I really like taking photographs of metal plates in the street. Here are two from today - the first at Disney, and the second in Savannah. Of course, it would be great if I had access to PhotoShop or Paint Shop or something, as I think these could use some tinting or other creative treatment. Note the lack of focus. This is partially due to the cheap point-and-shoot camera, partially due to the lack of tripod, and partially due to knocking my camera over while it was on the tripod. Saving $200 by purchasing a cheapo tripod is REALLY paying off.

Savannah is a very unique place. It feels sooooo old. Yet, while some things seem authentically old, others seem forced. I took these pictures of some strange parking garages in an alley. I really needed a tripod for the low-light conditions, but I made due with my crappy point-and-shoot camera. These garages looked to be hundreds of years old. Note the chute at the far end - maybe they were coal storage bins?

We'll see how far girlie-man makes it tomorrow.....