Monday, December 23, 2013

An Innocent Inquiry

It's amazing what you can learn by asking a simple question.
I stopped by the World Wide Market on Williamson Road this morning. It was open with no one inside. The owner hadn't even finished turning the lights on. This market has all kinds of cool far east foods. Some seem to have been on the shelves for years.

I struck up a conversation with the owner and found her to be reflective and sad. Her son hadn't come home for Thanksgiving and she wondered if he would come home for Christmas. What compounded her forlorn feelings, I think, was her past.

In our conversation, she kept mentioning her "country" but didn't name it. So I innocently asked her where she was from. She told me that she grew up in Cambodia.

When she was 14, the Khmer Rouge took her away from her family and placed her in a government workplace. She toiled there for several years while they systematically killed all of her family. She told me amazing snippets of what life was like there in the late 1970' and said that the movie, "The Killing Fields," didn't capture the true horror. I watched that movie and it was horrific. I can't imagine what she endured.

Then she told of how the Vietnamese invaded forcing her to flee toward the mountains on the Thai border. She lived without shelter in the mountains for two years with the Thai government attacking the refugees at every opportunity. I was amazed by her story. Sobered. I never even got to ask her how she ended up in America.

Sa-Von [Sp], you won my respect and heart today. 

You are amazing.

Monday, July 22, 2013

White Trucks

When I was young, many kids would write to their favorite baseball team and in return receive glossy pictures of players on the roster, pencils with team logos, and other such treasures.  I did all that, but I was a little different.  I wrote a letter to Radio Moscow. 
I had received a shortwave radio for Christmas in 1974, and I began listening to broadcasts from all over the world.  Back then, the USSR (Russia) broadcast their propaganda all across the world in English, much like Rush Limbaugh does today.  Moved and intrigued, I wrote them a letter. I told them that I wanted to know more about their mysterious land.  About a half year later, I received an air-freight package from them.  It contained a paperback book called, "Russia, My Land" and a courteous letter inviting me to come join the revolution and peacefully take up residence in the Soviet Union. I noted that the package obviously had been opened before I received it. 

Ever since then, I've been followed.  At first, it was classic Hollywood-dark sedans-guys with fedoras-smoking cigars-behind tinted windows-type spying.  Ten years ago, the surveillance was masked by a vast network of white vans that followed me every time I went for a drive.  These vans were sometimes plain white or carried bogus business signs on their sides; white plumbing vans, white painting vans, white auto glass vans, white pest company vans, and white cable company vans, just to list a few. Inside the vans, I’m convinced, were teams of tracking specialists led by people like Barney from the original “Mission Impossible.”

Eventually, I began to ignore them. After all, I’m really not that interesting.  Recently however, I noticed a change in tracking strategy, which I attribute to improvements in technology.  Instead of a fleet fully electronically-networked white vans,  the people who wish to hide from me are now using white pick-up trucks, F-250/350 or GMC Sierra’s, with trailer towing mirrors flanking them like bug antennae.  Instead of teams of specialists tracking my every move from their hidden nests inside the white vans, now one driver, using his dashboard navigation and communication systems can pass me from one white pick-up to another seamlessly. I suppose this streamlining was an excellent way to save money but still maintain the necessary “eyes on.” 

Whenever I check my rear-view mirror, they are with me.  Sometimes they drive by seemingly heading in the opposite direction, but I'm on to how the network operates.  I know how they work.  Basic surveillance techniques never change.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Novel Beginnings: The Hike

Last year,  I posted a line that I found on a third graders discarded note.  I thought that it would make a great opening line to a novel.  That gave me an idea.  What if I tried to come up with novel openings here on my blog?  What if I did that?  What would that look like?  Would I become inspired to actually take up the pen (keyboard)?


The Hike  
When people see something horrible, they sometimes react in unpredictable ways.  That’s what happened to me that day.

The woods were quiet, the sun not reaching the dark side of the mountain yet. Dampness dripped on me as I walked along the ridge top trail. The early morning humidity was rich and persistent.  My shirt was already drenched even though I had only been on my morning day-hike for less than a half hour.  But I really didn’t mind, because there was a lot on my mind.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Summer Stroll Begins

I made the first leg of my summer  strolls across the Roanoke area.  Today, just to get things working properly again,  I took the Northside/Countryside 3.687 mile jaunt.  My body was rusty and to be honest the chaffing  was almost unbearable,  but I persevered.

I plan on walking each day this week and then pop down to Emerald Isle for some fishing and beach strolling.  Perhaps 20-25 miles are in the works.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013


Today was the last day of a difficult school year.  Change is always hard, but when you group change with increased expectations and altered variables, you form something formidable.  My year has been intense and way too fast-paced.  At times I felt as if I was the Coyote spinning my heels while chasing the Road Runner.

Then Ted (not his real name) entered my life.

He came to my Math class from parts unknown in time for the last nine weeks of the school year.  He immediately impressed me with his ability to relate to adults and with his academic potential, but he was seriously behind his peers.  I surmised that he simply had never been in a position where he could excel academically.

In late April, I brought in several trays of tomato seedlings.  Each Math student in my class was allowed to adopt one and then spend two weeks talking to it, breathing on it, and measuring it. Our experiment proved that when kids talk to tomatoes, plant growth is stunted- except for Ted's plant.

At the end of the experiment, the children were allowed to adopt their plant or choose another from my vast collection of tomato seedlings and take them home to plant. Ted traded his plant  in for a cool variety called, Black Zebra.

A couple of weeks later, Ted brought his Black Zebra back in to school.  He was so proud of its growth.  He wanted to show it to me and wanted my advice on how to keep it healthy and growing.  A week later, Ted brought the Zebra in again.  Once again,  I gave him some advice.  When the kids saw his plant,  they were in awe.  It was beautiful in its expanded pot.

I thought of Ted this morning as I was going in to work.  Yesterday,  he asked me what he needed to do with his plant to keep it healthy.  I told him that it needed some excellent potting soil and needed to be moved to a larger container-like a 5-gallon bucket.  You see, Ted lives in Section-8 housing.  He's on an upper floor in his apartment complex.  So this morning,  I decided to bring Ted a bag of my best potting soil (Big Lots Pro-Mix $5.00...seriously).

To my surprise,  Ted brought his tomato in once again to show me.  He carried it on his crowded bus and made sure it was safe.  When he brought it to me this morning,  he was beaming.  It truly is an outstanding plant- full, green...very healthy.  This gave me an opportunity to talk to him about long-term care.  For example, I showed him where the "suckers" are and how to take them off.  He was blown away when I told him that the tomato suckers could be rooted to form new plants that would also produce tomatoes.

My neighbor teacher suggested that he get some support for the tomato.  So we worked on that project.  Honestly,  helping Ted with his tomato meant the world to me.  It validated what I've always believed about teaching.

Teaching is NOT a single assessment on a random day in May.  Rather,  it's the live connection you make with each  individual student on a daily basis.    If you aren't doing aren't  teaching.

My prayer is that Ted takes the sense of accomplishment,  knowledge, and joy  he gained from our tomato project and parlay that into something positive for himself in the future.

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Aren't We All?

School is winding down.  There is just too much to do.  So much that my brain can't get around it all.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Handy Idioms

Back in 1981, Regents Publishing Company published Solomon Wiener's A Handy Book of Commonly Used American Idioms.  It's a fascinating read.  

Wiener included more than 1,200 commonly used idioms in his book, my copy of which was apparently purchased in Japan for 760 Yen.  Scanning the alphabetical list of idioms,  there are a fair number that I don't know.
  • According to Hoyle
  • All In
  • Back Number
  • Bobby Soxer
  • Carry Coals to Newcastle
  • Don't Give a Rap
  • Dry Behind the Ears
  • Eat One's Head Off
  • Fifth Column
  • Grass Widow
  • Have Drag
  • In the Jug
  • Keep the Wolf From the Door
  • Make a Clean Breast
  • Queer Fish
  • Serve One Right
  • Shift For Oneself
While the vast number of entries in the book are known to me,  the meaning of these eludes me.   Before you get all cocky on me and talk through your hat, you'd better mark my words and think over these very carefully.  For example,  I thought I knew what "All In" means, but according to Wiener, I don't.  Go figure.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

First Love

First Love

“I kinda started liking you after I had a dream,” she wrote. 

He read the note over and over, not believing his good fortune.  She was lovely.  The way she tilted her head and smiled.  Her clothes always smelled so fresh.  Her voice was quiet,  but he liked that.  She kept looking over at him from across the room, her eyes shimmering and sparkling. He couldn’t face her though, for she was much too close and tempting.  

Her persistence was dogged. “Do you like me?  Yes or No.”  Along with the words, a carefully constructed heart adorned the paper fragment.

He shook deep inside and dared a quick glance. Her eyes were there awaiting his reply.  He blinked and held her gaze as if he was holding her heart. Their relationship was fixed.

They looked at each other more boldly as time went on.  One day at recess, they even dared to hold hands.  Her hands were delicate and a bit sweaty, but he didn’t mind.  At the school carnival, they walked side by side and giggled through game after game.  As she turned to leave with her parents, she reached between the gap and kissed him quickly on the cheek.  

Her dream had become his.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


Are children important to our society or are they simply a by-product of momentary passions?