Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Days 12 and 13; Golf and a note about costs.

These are lounge around days that include golf in morning and lot of relaxing and reading during the day. 

Just a note about costs on our trips. 

We road trip because we get an enormous bang for our buck by driving and hiking.  Flying anywhere is expensive.  Flying and renting a car is more, and flying, renting a car, and constantly eating out makes the trip cost prohibitive.  This year’s trip has a budget of about $5000.  That’s for everything; lodging, gas, food, everything for the anticipated 8,000 miles.  How do we keep costs down?

-Gas is cheaper nearly everywhere other than California.  Some places are a full dollar cheaper than Northern California, so that’s nice.  Our preferred app for finding cheap gas is Gas Buddy. 

-We almost never eat an expensive meal out.  We might, MIGHT, have one fairly pricey meal per trip.  But we are so often disappointed that we have stopped really trying local food.  Hell, Northern California has excellent food.  

-We ask for Chipotle gift cards for Christmas and holidays, and that becomes are primary method of eating out.

-We do eat McDonalds but only for quick breakfasts and a Diet Coke.  So in the afternoons we have a large $1 Diet Coke with lemon.  We order separately.   Then we take the receipt and do the online survey, where we then receive a code for a buy-one-get-one Egg McMuffin.  We do it for both receipts.  Then we go into McDonalds and order the Egg McMuffin but with egg whites only.  Then we take those receipts and do it all over again.  Easy, cheap breakfast. 

-Lunches on the road are Costco.  $3 for a two dogs and sodas.  If there is no Costco we make sandwiches and eat while driving.

-But most of our food is taken with us.  Breakfast is Starbucks Via coffee and the big Costco Quaker Oatmeal.  Lunches on the trail are sandwiches that we make from supplies from Wal-Mart.  Dinners are a salad and Cup-O-Noodles.  Believe it or not our bodies are screaming for the salt of Cup-O-Noodles in the evening after a long hike.  We add different hot sauces and lime to them to change them up.  Snacks are chips or cracker in portion-controlled packs, usually from Wal-Mart.

-Yes, Wal-Mart is awesome.  Super Wal-Marts are everywhere, they are cheap, and they are easy. 

-We buy a National Park Annual Pass at the beginning of the month and it will last a year to the end of the month.  We bought our pass at the beginning of July 2014.  It will end July 31, 2015.  It gets us into all National Parks, Monuments, BLM lands, Refuges, you name it. 

-Lodging is the most expensive thing.  We don’t camp.  We stay some time with relatives.  We use points and free nights.  And we research the hell out of places.  I’ve racked up a lot of points from all the basketball player rooms for tournaments and I got points for my Marriott room when I graded AP tests.  That gave us four nights of free rooms plus with the Best Western Summer Promotion, we will have enough for free nights later on.  The most expensive hotels are free to us with points.  We also research a ton.  Most hotels are under $100 until we get around Glacier National Park, in which case we simply have to pay up.  We also look at cabins and VRBO.  We also book early and change when we find cheaper fares.   

-We save for the trip and buy throughout the year for the trip.

-There are plenty of free audiobooks and podcasts for the drive, and plenty of books to read while relaxing at night.

-We take wine with us in the car and it must be cheap.  Our preferred include Meridian Chardonnay from Safeway, Trader Joe’s Box White, Trader Joe’s Riesling, Beringer Chardonnay, Trader Joe’s Sangiovese, and any local wines we come upon. 

Costs spread out over the year make this kind of trip doable.  And every year we seem to be able to do a better and better job saving money.    

What does a Day One look like?

I get up at 4 a.m.  This is going to be pretty normal for the next half year until probably March.  By that time I’ll be trying to get a little more sleep to recoup from basketball season.

I head into the kitchen and my wife and I make coffee.  She checks work e-mails as Ms. Coach Brown begins her new job at, well, my school.  I look at twitter and notice that the Asian markets are in a tailspin.  I take a mental note.  I have breakfast; two eggs, two bacon, two pieces of toast.  Then I look at blog post; Giants blogs, retail deal blogs, Mashable, and finally teacher blogs for a couple of pearls of wisdom or a link. 

My wife goes to work out and I pick out a shirt and tie for the day.  Shower, shave, and I’m ready and out the door by six.  This is about thirty minutes from normal but I want to leave nothing to chance in the classroom.  Oddly enough I forget to check simple things before the day begins. 

I’m not the first one in my building.  This is a good thing.  It means I work with people that care.  I unlock my door and immediately start arranging desks in a more workable fashion.  Then the hour plus dance.

-Set the Newshour on the laptop.

-Bring up the video clips and Power Points I’ll use for today.

-Check Twitter again.  Dow is down 500 pts and I need to be prepared to discuss it. 

-Print out new class rosters.  Shit, printer is out of paper.  Put in paper.  Shit, it won’t print.  Make sure printer is found on my laptop.  I is.  I go and turn off and on the printer.  Hit print again.  Still won’t print.  Class is 45 minutes away and I’m starting to get concerned (which is stupid).  I find the printer properties and hit the Refresh button.  Printer now prints four copies of my class roster.  Happy Monday.

-I turn on my iTunes play-list and put it up on the big screen and music starts….30 minutes before class. 

-I head to the Admin Building to make sure no last minute things  are in my box. 

-I come back, look over the room, nod in satisfaction, and check Twitter.  The market is not looking good. 

-I walk out of my door with 15 minutes before class.  In my class songs from the Rolling Stone to Lorde James Brown to Prince are playing.  I help Freshmen find the right rooms and greet my students as they filter in.

Here we go.

1st Period-

My classroom is stuffy because the AC won’t kick in for another hour.  I’m already warm.  The class is an Economics/AP Comparative Government hybrid and it is already engaged.  News is well received and I get into character.  I read the attendance as Ben Stein, then show the clip of Ben Stein, then talk as Ben Stein about the misconceptions of Economics.  I then slowly change my character into character from the boring Stein to Morphus from The Matrix, complete with robe-style jacket and sunglasses.  I do the whole “red pill, blue pill” speech but with an Economics bend.  We do a simulation that shows self-interest and then start into the Eight Core Rules of Economics.  A very good class.

2nd Period-

I head out and greet my next class, American Government.  Again music is playing as they come into the room only this time I concentrate on the Introductions.  These students are going to be less intrinsically engaged with the academia so I want them to know who I am.  The news elicits a lot of good questions and engagement is high.  I have them write opinion pieces on utopian society, capital punishment, and if they know if people can be arrested for possibly committing a crime in the future.  We talk about it and the discussion is great.  I show a clip from Star Trek, The Next Generation in which the group is on a planet where all crime is punishable by death, and Wesley Crusher falls through a planter thus breaking the law.  The conversation is fantastic.  Another very good class.

At break I consume a nutrition bar and talk to the Athletic Director about basketball stuff.  Then I hustle back and greet my third period.

3rd Period-

Again American Government, and this class is very eclectic.  There is massive debate potential here.  I start by discussing Silent Reading (the first 20 minutes of this period, added on) and why I find it valuable.  I also show them my library of books, talk about each magazine, and they tell them that I’m happy to buy them books.  They we conduct the class much like second period only this class is very chatty, and in a good way.  I cut back some of the writing portion of the questions and make them flat out discussion, which is usually the most important part.  We end a bit behind but just as, maybe even more so, enlightened. 

4th Period-

Back outside and back to the AP Comp Gov-Econ hybrid.  This time my boss shows up and engages the students about the music and some post-secondary institutional advice.  This is nice because it shows that the principal clearly “gets it” and we have a nice banter.  The problem is now we are behind.  I do the Ben Stein/Morphus shtick  but I end up about ten minutes off the previous class.  I’ll have to make this up in two days since tomorrow is the Google Classroom log-in day.

Lunch is quiet and I surf the net looking for news of the markets.  I’m back outside to greet students. 

5th Period-

Fairly large class for a 5th period and back to American Government.  This class is the first one that shows signs of Seniors that are no longer enamored with the concept of being here for the next nine months.  Body language from a few choice students is not good.  But most of the students are still very engaged and overwhelms any negativity.  The engagement is so good that we are also behind (only a tad) in this class at the end. 

6th Period is my prep and take stock of day one.  I’m tired but happy that everything went well.  But day one is easy and most teachers are good on this day.  It’s the next 186 that really make the difference.  I wander to A-Building and watch the lines of students trying to make changes to their schedule.  The building is totally alive and in action.  I ask some of the staff for stickers for the computers in my Chromebook cart.  We are totally out of stickers.  That’s not good.  I need the computers numbered to match their port in the cart.  I wander over to a teacher that I have found extremely resourceful and he shows me a label maker that works perfect for marking the Chromebooks.  It takes most of the period. 

The bell rings for the end of school but I ignore it and start grading some papers and prepping for tomorrow.  The technology portion is going to be full of hiccups but that’s par for the course when dealing with machines.  I want to have it totally down by 3rd Period.  I end the day by cleaning up my desk.

My wife lets me know that she is leaving and I follow her home.  We take a three mile walk and decompress from the day; she spent all of it helping kids with schedules.  She’s been a teacher for 15 years and is now a program head and administrator. Her new adventure is just starting.  It’s low-90’s outside but the walk feels good. 

We end the night with pizza and a salad, and we are in bed by about 8:30.  The night will be a little noisy as they are harvesting grapes really early this year and the vineyard behind my fence doesn’t have the Cakebread level vines.  They are harvested by machine.  I read a little from a book about Nigerian culture and drift off. 

My fifteenth year has begun.     

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Day 11: Saguaro National Park East and West

We finally relaxed upon waking up on our trip.  We took our time, enjoyed the conversation and the coffee, and promptly paid for it with our first hike. 

Even if we had been to Tucson many times we had never visited Saguaro National Park, which is divided between the Tucson Mountain District west of Tucson, and the Rincon Valley District an hour away east of Tucson.  We decided to drive out to the east end of Saguaro because most reviews stated that the east end had better hiking.  This means a lot of driving because Tucson and the burbs around it are very spread out.

At the visitor’s center we stopped to take a look for some stickers my wife is hunting for when we found about a half dozen javelina dozing underneath the large windows looking out from the building.  Javelina look like boars that have been flattened sideways between two large stones.  They are not particularly cute and cuddly, and golfers in this area hate them because they often tear up the course foraging for food.  Most patrons of the visitor’s center found the creatures mildly interesting and the park rangers didn’t seem all too concerned with them at all.  Then a couple of more Javelina started to wander into the clearing from the desert scrub.  Then more.  Finally a mother appeared with two tiny babies in tow, both with part of their umbilical cord still attached.  The place went bananas.  People started with the “ohhhhhhh, so cute” and madly flashed pictures.  The rangers immediately stopped what they were doing and started to oogle over the little Javes.   “They can’t be more than a couple of days old” one of the older rangers exclaimed.  The energy was quite impressive.  Me?  I was stoic as usual. 


Just kidding.  It was actually a pretty damn cool moment.  The babies were introduced to the rest of the javelina clan and the whole thing became a celebratory mood within the building.  It was kind of a special moment.

We drove to a different area of the east end of the park and hiked a nice series of trails that wove through a thin Saguaro forest within the hills of east Tucson.  It was nice, it wasn’t terribly hot (mid-80’s), and the trail was fairly simple.  The problem?  It was 10:30 and it was unbelievably humid.  By the end of the hike we were whipped only because the air was thick and we were sweating like sponges.  It ended up being a hike that shouldn’t have been difficult but was. 

We decided to head to the Tucson Mountain part of the park on the west side of the city to hit a couple of very small, mellow hikes.  No long ones.  The west side of Saguaro doesn’t have the great plethora of hiking trails but it did have a much more dense saguaro forest, and much more natural looking areas being farther away from civilization.  We hit the Visitor’s Center, the Desert Nature Trail, and a series of petroglyphs on a rock pile before we were ran off by approaching thunderstorms.  Since the petroglyphs were on a dirt road we didn’t want to be caught off in the wilderness in a flash flood or in muck. 

We are whipped.  Damn humidity.

Trails hiked:  Garwood/Carrillo/Douglas Springs loop, Desert Nature Trail, Signal Hill petroglyphs.

Total miles:  6.3

Friday, August 21, 2015


It stands for Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support.  I’m not going to lie, I was insanely skeptical.  The half dozen people I talked to said it was inconsistent in terms of dealing with school culture, and it hid some of the overarching problems by focusing on a small population.  Many reviews online said that while the number of referrals within schools was way down, the culture didn’t really change. 

I left the two and a half hour presentation with a much better feeling, although there are plenty of questions I have about a systemic implementation at the high school. 

Things I liked:

-This program seems to really target kids that have suffered from traumatic childhood events.  This group is probably a higher in school than most teachers think. 

-The program starts in early childhood and stresses the necessity of providing information to teachers and stakeholders later in the child’s academic career. 

-Data.  More and more data and greater access to data, thus a greater ability for educators to make rational interventions.

-Creation of multiple levels of incentives while maintaining appropriate disincentives for behavior.  We can teach and model social skills but in the end there is still rules that need to be followed. 

Things I Question:

-The program really focused on what is probably about 10% of the population but wants change the culture of the entire institution.

-There was a strong amount of “a lot of kids don’t have a choice about how they act, they are a product of the environment.”  Well, yes and no.  By the time a student reaches me the “product of your environment” tag, while legitimate, will not transfer out into society.  We need to talk about choice, and making the right choices.

-When subject of tardies came up we were shown a dance number from a school in Wisconsin.  Positive school atmosphere.  I get it.  But the problem is not necessarily student buy in, it’s will the teachers be consistent.  That has been a problem. 

-Stop using Norway as a comparable country statistically.  “Look, Norway has a lower recidivism rate.  Why can’t we be more like them?”  Because Norway is a nearly completely homogenous culture of five million people with a massive welfare state supported by petroleum and natural gas.  Bring a little more diversity and increase the population by over 300 million and you might see something different. 

When we debriefed later in the day it was evident that many of my colleagues shared the same hopes and concerns about PBIS.  The data and interventions were much welcomed but some fundamental philosophies had a long way to go.  

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Day 10: Discovery Bay, California to Tucson, Arizona via a whole lot of damn miles.

Well over 800 of them in fact.  That’s a lot of miles.

So why drive from the Sacramento Valley all the way to the northern suburbs of Tucson?  Why not.  We save about 90$ in hotel costs and we get to spend extra time with good relatives.  The only negative is being in the car for over 800 miles in a day.  That’s far.  We left Discovery Bay at 4:18 in the morning.  The day went something like this:

-Why the hell is it 72 degrees at four in the morning here?  This sucks.

-Hey look, the moment we hit I-5 the temperature went down seven degrees. Too bad we’ll be on this road for three hundred more miles.

-Animal, Vegetable, Miracle continues in cd player.

-After the fifteenth “Congress Created the California Dust Bowl” sign, I’m starting to get irritated at farmers that plant water thirsty trees near a desert.

-Pull into Paso Robles cutoff McDonalds for a couple of Egg White Delights.   

-Up the Grapevine we go.  The temperature is heading up past 80 degrees now. 

-Los Angeles looks like something that Sauron runs with the help of a bunch of Nazgul.  It is 70 degrees on the 210 but visibility is less than half a mile and the smoke is choking us in the car.  It looks totally otherworldly and disgusting at the same time.  There has to be a wildfire somewhere but we are in this nasty soup for over an hour.

-Oh look, Palm Springs and the temperature is 100 degrees. And Flo Rida is playing at one casino while Boyz-2-Men is at another.  Which one would you choose?

-We stop at a Chipotle in Indio and eat lunch.  It’s now 105 and it sucks here.  We then get just enough gas to get us to Arizona (at $3.20 a gallon) and take off.

-It’s Sunday.  How in the hell is there so much traffic between Indio and Phoenix?  Sometimes we are crawling at 40 mph.  Drivers with license plates from Texas are assholes.  They either flip you off if you go slow or try and side-swipe you.

-Arizona’s first town on I-10 is Quartzsite, and we get gas for $2.69 a gallon. 

-I’m seeing thunderstorms on the horizon but it’s still 106 outside.

-This Goodyear, Arizona McDonalds is the most technologically sound Golden Arches we have ever seen.  It still took us nearly three minutes to get two extra large drinks. 

-Phoenix is packed with traffic and is 106 degrees. 

-A windstorm hits us in Tempe.  Just about the time when I tell my wife “hey look, that’s where the Angels play during Spring Training”, our car gets buffeted by crazy winds.  The temperature is starting to drop and the sky south of us is dark with clouds.

-Off the highway and on to the back roads for Oro Valley.  Just an hour south of Phoenix the temperature is now 73 degrees with a steady rain.  Yes NorCal’ers, rain exists.  It rains for the next 45 minutes straight. 

We pulled into the driveway at 5:37 p.m.  I don’t think I’ve been this tired from driving ever and I’m pretty much a zombie for the rest of the evening.     

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Day 9: Ukiah to Discovery Bay via preparation

Part 2 of the road trip began with a mellow leg to my mother-in-law’s house.  There was little fretting, rushing, or concerns about time since the drive was short and familiar.  Our house sitter was good, the Outback was packed more wisely, our audio books were ready, and we were out of Ukiah by about 11 a.m.  Bye, Ukiah!  See you in month. 

We have changed the way we shop for provisions so we didn’t stop for food at all with the exception of lunch.  Instead we stopped for t-shirts for me.  My standard hiking outfit consists of, from head to toe, a canvas-style breathable hat, a t-shirt, Dri-fit Nike shorts, basketball socks, and my Merrill hiking boots.  My t-shirts are the ultimate multi-purpose item used for basketball, lounging, hiking; they are basically my most comfortable piece of clothing.  But they have about had it so the afternoon was spent at Kohls finding some cheap Dri-Fit replacements from the clearance racks.

Discovery Bay, like the rest of Northern California, was damn hot.  But dinner was excellent and sleep was necessary because tomorrow we have one hell of a drive.

Monday, August 17, 2015

A woman on money is the kind of debate we like. Part 2: Who shall be worthy?

Not Wilma Mankiller. 

I appreciate Mankiller’s contribution to the Cherokee Nation and to feminism, and to the building of a stronger relationship with the U.S. Government.  However I have a problem with putting someone’s face on U.S. currency that was, in fact, an active proponent of not being part of the United States.  Advocating sovereignty from the United States gives you a “no” in my book.

And no Harriet Tubman either. 

Hi there!  Now that we have your attention, welcome to Part Two of the question of what important historical female should adorn what paper currency for the United States of America.  In Part One I advocated keeping Alexander Hamilton alone, why Andrew Jackson should stay, and why Ulysses S. Grant is probably still drunk and wouldn’t care if he was on currency anyway.  Now we look at my considerations for the important women in U.S. History that deserve to be on paper currency. 

What say you Hillary?

Looks like she agrees with me on the single lady on a single bill.

But I’m sure plenty of people bailed out when I said no Mankiller and Tubman.  I’m sure the racist moniker went full Duke and some people are wondering how a horrible human being like me teaches kids.  Well, let’s see.  If the idea is to put someone on the bill that measures accomplishments or influence to U.S. History, then Mankiller is out (for reasons listed) and Tubman suffers from bubblitis (she’s important but not Top 10).  So who makes it and why?

In no particular order….

1.  Harriett Beecher Stowe

Abolitionist, feminist, member of the Underground Railroad, and author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the book that energized the North in a ground-swell against slavery that set the foundation to the Civil War.  Stowe went beyond influencing feminism, she helped save the United States with her prose and was the model for the ideals that all Americans should incorporate.

2.  Eleanor Roosevelt

There might not be a more politically powerful woman in all of U.S. History.  Hell, Roosevelt probably ranks as one of the most powerful politicians in the 20th Century period.  She made the First Lady position a political powerhouse by attacking her political desires with action.  Civil Rights activist, communicator with the Bonus Army, opponent of Japanese internment, draftee of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,  and quite possibly the Chief Advisor to the President of the United States.  There is even a good chance that FDR’s presidency was a team.

3.  Alice Paul

Paul’s demand for political equality goes beyond admiration into legacy status when you take into account that her protests were during the First World War, and that she had a direct causal impact on the creation of the 19th Amendment.  She was a tireless advocate for women’s suffrage and equal rights until her death, from chaining herself to the White House gates to demanding that women’s rights be added to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

4.  Rosa Parks

So the argument could be made that the she was neither the first to refuse to sit in the back of the bus, nor was the act totally spontaneous.  That is irrelevant.  Parks was a symbol of the Civil Rights Movement and an active participant in events ranging from the death of Emmett Till, to the Montgomery Bus Boycott, to Martin Luther King, to Malcolm X, and so much more.  And she did everything with passion and grace; a calm demeanor that goes beyond action to legendary symbolism.

5.  Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Stanton was the first real suffragette.  She basically created the Women’s Movement and took it further because she brought to light issues of social injustice as well; property rights, divorce, employment, and birth control.  The Declaration of Sentiments is required reading and was an excellent way to remind the U.S. that all people are created equal.  Stanton also did the unorthodox move of not supporting the 14th and 15th Amendments.  Why?  They were not going to give women the right to vote. 

There are many, many other excellent possibilities but I’m sticking with those five.  Want to get the debate started?  Let’s get it on!