Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Gubernatorial Forum on Education

Last Thursday, the Virginia Education Association invited all the major party candidates for Virginia's Governor to appear at a forum on education. The forum was part of the opening night activities at last week's state convention. I wasn't able to attend the convention this year, but I was able to watch the delayed broadcast on my local public broadcasting station this evening.

As you may know, I tend to be rather passionate about education, and I follow the subject very closely. This fall, there will be a very important gubernatorial election. Virginia's governors are limited by law to one term, so Governor Tim Kaine nor Governors Mark Warner, Jim Gilmore, or George Allen Jr. were able to take on a second term.

This year, Virginia has three Democratic candidates for the party's nomination. A June 9 primary will be held to determine their candidate. The Republican Party has one candidate with no challengers at this point.

Here's what I heard from each of them. I'm utilizing extreme paraphrasing.

Republican Bob McDonnell
I love teachers. Teachers should be paid more. I'm counting on the defined benefit Virginia Retirement System being there for me when I retire, but we don't owe new people in the profession that defined benefit. We need to look at merit pay for teachers. That's how we can pay teachers more. Public schools need to be supported, but parents need a choice. We also need to look at charter schools. I have a plan. Let me say again; I love teachers.

Democrat Brian Moran
90% of the 10% of college dropouts are 55% more likely to end up in prison with 3/4th of them failing to graduate. We need to pay teachers at the national average. I'm the son of a government teacher who didn't make any money. I oppose vouchers. Teachers should be paid at the national average. We need more record and less rhetoric with green jobs. No to the past and yes to the future and no to oil rigs and yes to the wind farms and no to coal power plants. We can't solve 21th century problems with 19th century ideas. I will fight the fight to win the fight to stand by you. I have a plan.

Democrat Creigh Deeds
My grandparents were teachers. They didn't have degrees, and they drew VRS checks of $110.00 a piece. I, I love teachers. George Allen was bad. I'll stand with you and draw a line in the sand for education (don't applaud or get excited...I only have three minutes). I have four children. My daughter has two years to go at Bath County High School. My children have gone to William and Mary, UVA, and JMU. Teachers need to be paid more. I have a plan. I'll be on your side.

Democrat Terry McAuliffe

That's pretty much it. I would suggest that the thousands of people who check into this blog every day do some further checking and learn for yourself about each candidate.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Love and Joy and Peace

Amy Tan, author of many books including The Joy Luck Club, appeared on the final NPR episode of This I Believe today. This series has been a four year partnership between public radio and the international thisibelieve organization. The series will now move on to a new partnership with the original host of NPR's Morning Edition, Colonel Bob Edwards (tips his hat to Red Barber).

Amy Tan's essay is riveting. You can listen to it at the link above. Her essay begins at roughly the 7:30 mark. What I like best was how she takes her time with her words and cradles them carefully. The essay ends with a most amazing revelation:

"It took my breath away and filled me with something absolute: love, but also joy and peace — and with that, understanding that love and joy and peace are all the same thing. Joy comes from love. Peace comes from love."

I've always enjoyed Amy Tan's writing style. The Joy Luck Club was one of the most amazing books I've ever read. So delicate, so thoughtful.

Hearing her this morning on NPR made me want to refresh my memory of her as a writer, so I searched for and found her website and began exploring. After a moment, I picked up on an unusual section heading: Lyme Disease. I figured that perhaps Amy had become a spokesperson for this disease. To my amazement, that link took me to another most personal essay by Amy Tan. She writes of her ten year struggle with Lyme Disease and chronicles its effects on her personal and professional life.

Two amazing Amy Tan essays in one day. I am a better person.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Tomato and Pepper Catalog 2009

I'm sure that you've been waiting for it. Well, the time has come for me to reveal my

This beast seems to grow every year and is now up to twenty pages or so. Click on the link above and you will be taken to the drop box where I've stored it for you at Drop.io. From there you can either view it right on the site or download it to your computer. It should open with MS Word 2003.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A Hitchcock Moment

About fifteen years ago, my wife and I noticed that the occasional visits from the neighborhood black carpenter ants, the big black ones that look like plump blackberries, were becoming more regular, especially in our kitchen. So we sprayed inside and dropped diazinon around the foundation, but still the ants came back every day. Then one day, we found them celebrating mass on a slop of spilled vanilla ice cream on the kitchen counter. There were fifty or sixty right there on the counter feasting and taking communion. I knew then that there had to be a nest.

So I started cleaning out all the cabinets. Nothing. Finally when I pulled out the refrigerator, I found lots of black ants scurrying around. They were especially thick along the ice maker water line that entered the room from the crawl space below.

Armed with that information, I went around to the other side of the house and entered the crawl space. This particular crawl space, underneath our traditional ranch style house, required me to wiggle myself across the length of the house with the floor above coming increasingly closer and closer to my head. Finally, I made it to the area where I had concluded the water line entered the kitchen above. I didn't see any sign of ants, so I reached up in the tight space and pulled down the section of insulation above me. As I pulled it away from the floor, hundreds...perhaps thousands...of huge, black carpenter ants fell on my face. reflexively I started swatting at my face futilely brushing and swinging. It must have looked like I was in a full-blown seizure. I wedged my way back out as quickly as humanly possible, spitting out ants as I went.

Horrible. horrible. ick.

Later, after I had recovered somewhat, I wiggled back under there. This time I was armed with a can of ant spay. I wedged my way right back there and saturated the area with the poisonous liquid. Rarely have I enjoyed killing as much as I did that afternoon.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Seedling Count 2009

Here my initial count of seedlings for this season. Some of these are a bit shaky and may not make it, but by and large the crop looks healthy enough. All seedlings have been transplanted from their initial seed bed into individual pots. They've been labeled and given their own identifying craft stick. I've moved them all out of my son's north facing bedroom and into my sheltered south facing garage. From there, I'll let them outside a little bit at a time, gradually increasing the time in the blasting full sun. The challenge for me now is to get them enough sunlight without allowing them to get wind-whipped or overcooked in the scalding sun.

In addition to these, I have one more flat (72 cells with several seeds per cell) that I started late. I've included older seed to see if they will germinate, and I've also included some varieties that I either forgot or didn't feel I had enough of. Here are the varieties that I'm hoping will germinate: Red Beauty pepper, Purple Beauty, Candlelight pepper, Persimmon tomato, Jersey Devil tomato, Roma tomato, Pruden's Purple tomato (very old seed-1991), Early Dawn cauliflower, Early Dividend broccoli, Calabrese Green Sprouting broccoli, Islander pepper (home seed), Anaheim Chile pepper(Home seed), and Habanero pepper (Home seed).

I'll have my annual entertaining catalog up on this blog soon. I have a few varieties to add. I do plan to sell plants this year for $1.50 each or 3/$4.00. If you want some, just drop me an email at Newt999@gmail.com. I usually try disperse plants sometime between May 5 and May 15.

Seedlings 2009
Tomatoes Type Quantity
Big Boy Slice 21
Brandywine Suddith Slice 9
Cherokee Purple Slice 15
Early Girl Slice 2
Giant Belgium Slice 15
Goliath Slice 8
Jet Star Slice 15
Juliet Salad
Large Red Cherry Cherry 9
Momotaro Slice
Sun Gold Cherry 15
Park's Whopper Slice 18
Peron Slice
Pink Ping Pong Salad
Polish Slice
Raad Red Slice
Sprite Grape
Stupice Salad
Sugary Cherry 7
Sun Sugar Cherry 12
Super Beefsteak Slice 16
Super Marzano Paste
Sweet Million Cherry 12
Tigrella Salad
Tumbling Tom Patio


Peppers Type Quantity
Sweet Pickle Sweet 10
California Wonder Sweet 9
Chocolate Beauty Sweet 8
Explosive Ember Ornamental Hot 13
Riot Ornamental Hot 9
Marconi Golden Sweet 11
Black Hungarian Ornamental Hot 3
Senorita Hot 5
Sweet Banana Sweet 17
Bell Boy Sweet 11
Filus Blue Ornamental Hot 8
Chilly Chili Ornamental Hot 12
Cubanelle Sweet 7
Largo Purple Ornamental Hot 7
Sweet Cayenne Sweet 4
Habanero Hot 2
Anaheim Chile Hot 7
Poinsetta Ornamental Hot 3
Cayenne Hot 5


Miscellaneous Type Quantity
Emerald Artichoke 9
Nadia Hybrid Eggplant 7


Grand Total

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter 2009

What follows is a collection of pictures from the family Easter gathering in Roanoke. The flowers are from my home and the rest were taken at my parents' and sister's house. My parents are featured prominently, especially holding their first great grandchild, Makaya. A grand time was had by all. Food was incredible. The hunt was tamer than usual except for the usual shenanigans from one of the participants. A video will be up in a day or so via YouTube.

The tulips are growing near where the old maple used to stand.

A redbud finishes its bloom cycle in my front yard.

Libby counts the eggs before the hunt...122 eggs.

Joey sleeps.

Experimental Joey shot.

Jody (Joe) and Brenda

Libby hunts.

Andrew observes hunters.

Jeane-Marie searches for baskets to rob.

Jackie lurks.

Greg and my father hunt and hide simultaneously.

Joe hunts while Callan observes.

Adrienne and Greg

The Adrienne and Greg Ryder family.

Grape Hyacinths

Great-Grandmother with Makaya

That's one cute baby. She can walk and eat cheesy potatoes as well.

Someone stole the show.

Seats of honor

Not my father's most flattering picture, but interesting nonetheless.

There was plenty of food. I especially enjoyed the asparagus.

Creeping phlox

Jackie and Callan

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Trash Cans

I hear people talk.

They are concerned about the state of the world. Money's tight. Jobs are being lost. Families are fractured. 40% of children born in America in 2007 were born out of wedlock.

Teachers have noticed a change. It seems like parents have zoned out with regard to their children and their school. Carnivals are being canceled or radically scaled back due to a lack of parent volunteers. Conference appointments are skipped. Communication has become one way, school to home.

Children, predictably, have changed. These days, it's hard for a teacher to get two sentences out without having a student interject whatever is on their mind. Common good sense and manners have evaporated. Children care just as much and are just as willing to help; however, they seem more oblivious to those around them. Teachers are becoming more and more frustrated and worn. Year-round school schemes seem like some premeditated form of teacher torture to me.

Yesterday, one of my children got angry. He didn't want to do the assignment I gave him. His initial response to the assignment was to clutch his pencil so hard that his fingers turned ghost-white. Then he scribbled over his paper-tearing it. Next, he balled the paper up. Then he threw his pencil to the front of the room nicely. Following that, he threw a crayon bit at me-hitting me in the back. He followed that up with a crayon tossed at one of his classmates. Then he got up and walked calmly to the thirteen gallon trash can(medium size) in the front of the room. He stopped in front of it, stared at it for a moment before stepping calmly into it. Squiggling down, he managed to contort his body in such a manner that he fit snugly inside crouched in a fetal position. After about two or three minutes, he slinked out and crawled to the back of the room. Along the way, he extracted a tennis ball from the bottom of a classroom chair (we use old tennis balls on the feet of chairs to keep them the chairs from scratching the floor wax). As he headed for the back corner of my room, he threw the tennis ball at another student.

I don't know what caused this child to get angry and sit in my trashcan. He gets angry sometimes. In fact, he gets angry a lot of times. I teach on raw eggs around him. Until yesterday, however, my trashcan has always just contained trash.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

A Home Visit

My brother and I played the home course today, Countryside Gold Course in Roanoke, Virginia. The sun was golden and the pace was relaxed. With each shot and with each step, I was transported to a time when I was younger and would spend hours wandering the course chasing my ball or hunting for lost ones. I’ve never been a very good golfer, but I’ve always enjoyed the scenery that comes with searching for stray shots.

Each hole on the course has special places I seemingly always visit. The first hole allowed me to flirt with the tall grass by the old dead swimming pool. The apartments on number two are magnetic, and one of my golf balls was sucked into their vortex. The short third hole took me to the plum tree and gave up a startling surprise which I will share later.

On the fourth hole, I mimicked my oldest brother who used to accidently sport with the speedy cars on Interstate 581. The fifth hole gave me the woods on the right and the sixth- the marshy mess on the left. I did manage to almost hole in my chip shot. I communed with the creek a couple of times on the seventh while the eighth reintroduced me to the wilds beyond the old cart path on the right.

The ninth hole was special. I pegged the most amazing drive of my storied golf career. My ball landed dead center in the fairway beyond the dogleg. I quickly gave up and joined the sycamore tree beside the sand trap just short of the green on my second shot.

The back nine brought more special visitations. The tenth allowed me to monitor spring yard cleaning at the neighborhood on the right. I also enjoyed the sand trap on the left. On the eleventh, I channeled my older brother again and visited the tall weeds beyond the green on the left. The home hole, number 12-the one closest to the house I grew up in, always gives me fits, but today I mastered it, driving my ball past the right mound, then to the bottom, then onto the green with a short putt for a birdie. That’s when the green allowed me to experience its unique undulations.

The thirteenth took me to the tall grass where the old tree used to rest on the right. Not far from there a plane once crashed killing the two people onboard. Now a small plaque rests on the ground at that spot lovingly paying tribute to the mother and father who perished. Most golfers wouldn’t know the memorial is there.

The fourteenth relaxed today and let me pass unscathed. On the fifteenth, I enjoyed my stay in the fairway sand inn. At least I only spent one night, as opposed to my brother, who spent two.

The water hole tried its best to suck my ball into the murky depths, but it escaped and plugged in the usually tall grass on the back left of the green. Of course, the green then zipped my ball down toward the lake. Only a well-placed plop of goose poop kept the ball from sliding into the muddy water.

On the seventeenth, I explored new territory to the far right. Now, I’m usually one to lean far left, so this was an uncomfortable place for me to be. Enjoyably, I was able to play pinball with the pines on the left side of the eighteenth as we wrapped up our round.

As I mentioned 441 words ago, I made a shocking discovery on the third hole. As I was slowly strolling off the green, I happened to look up. There, above my head, strangled by the power lines that ran from a transformer on the frontage road to the Newbern Trane building behind the green, was a perfectly intact pitching wedge. Lodged in the wires thirty feet directly above the pin, it was poised like a water bucket atop a doorway waiting for the right moment to douse an unsuspecting visitor.

In the woods across the creek behind the thirteenth hole at my old golf course, Greene Hills Club in Stanardsville, there is a broken three wood lodged in the crotch of a tree. When I last saw the broken club over twelve years ago, it had been in that tree so long that the tree had grown around the shaft of the club. I wonder how long that pitching wedge will remain trapped in the power lines.