Halloween Nostalgia

When I was a child, and when my children were in elementary school, Halloween was a neighborhood holiday.  Kids (even with parents in tow) generally visited only those houses within walking distance, except for the last stop or two of the night to the homes of grandparents and other relatives.Halloween2012

In those times, I looked forward to greeting the neighborhood children.  A few years later, around the turn of the century, there was a new phenomenon of people driving from other parts of town (or other towns) to drop off kids in our neighborhood for trick-or-treat.  In those years, it was not unheard-of to see 200-300 children per night.

Since that time, other neighborhoods have taken over as the “drive-to” destinations.  That’s fine with me — I really like Halloween as a neighborhood holiday, so that I can see how cute they are from year to year.  I really don’t care about seeing kids whose parents brought them in from a neighboring town or county, simply in search of loot.

Neighborhoods tend to age; when my children were young, almost every house on our street had young children.  Now that mine are mostly in college (one almost there, one with a freshly-minted Master’s degree, two in between), I guess the neighbors’ children have similarly aged.  Before too long, the neighborhood will begin turning over again, and young children will return.

I’ll be the old lady that gives out the good stuff, for those brave enough to venture to my door.  There will be scary things to get past along the way… after all, two graves were moved to build this house, and I have it on good authority that there were more than two buried here.  It’s haunted, kiddos, but we don’t give out the cheap stuff.  It’s all chocolate.  It’s the kind of candy your parents want to ration over months.  Or steal.

I’m just a big kid myself, and I absolutely love Halloween.

If you don’t come get it, I’ll have to eat it, and I don’t want cheap candy any more than you do.  Or, thanks to Facebook, I now have the addresses of the children who used to visit, but are now in out-of-state colleges and craving chocolate.  Yeah, they’ll get a care package to carry them through finals.

Three kids came to my door tonight.  I look forward to the day when the little ones return.

Understanding the Sales Tax Fight

It has become apparent to me (and others) in the last couple of weeks since my column ran that many people — maybe most people — don’t really understand how the sales tax is divided between the state, local governments, and schools in Tennessee.

Normally, that wouldn’t be a big deal.  Right now though, in Oak Ridge Tennessee, it IS a big deal, because accusations are flying back and forth about whether a sales tax approved in 2004 is being used to pay debt service on the bonds for our new high school.  It is, but it’s not quite that simple.

Fortunately, an informed local citizen — Cathy Toth — has come up with a brief presentation that explains the situation very well, in a graphic format that’s easy to understand.  Well, at least as easy as this one gets.  Check it out here: What Now May 2012

Is this even legal?

An accident occurs in the  parking lot of a small, local business — private property — and the drivers exchange information.  The driver at fault admits fault, and readily provides his name, phone number, address, driver’s license number, insurance company (GEICO) and policy number.

A week or so passes before Beta (owner of the injured vehicle) calls GEICO to report the claim.  They take the report, then say they need to talk with their insured.  Okay… but, weeks pass, and the at-fault driver doesn’t return calls to his insurance company.  He doesn’t respond to certified mail.

Or, GEICO says he didn’t respond.  Unfortunately, it’s been our experience over the last few weeks that it’s impossible to get a real person on the phone; you get the privilege of leaving a voice mail, and the one person (Antonia Johnson, Examiner Code F669) who can talk about this claim might call back in a day or two.  Usually at the least convenient time, like in the middle of an upper-division physics class, or when Beta was riding her bike from UT to Island Home.  So, we’re thinking it’s possible he tried to call — maybe multiple times — but just didn’t leave a message.

Benefit of the doubt seems warranted, since he was very polite about the whole thing and did provide accurate information.  Meanwhile, GEICO also called HWTFM at work to get his version of events.

Earlier this week, Beta got a letter from GEICO stating that because they have been unable to contact their customer, and lacking a police report or verification of independent witnesses (evidently, HWTFM is not considered independent; why did they bother him in the first place?), they were dropping the claim.

It took me just one quick phone call to the tire store; the gentleman who answered the phone remembered the accident.  It only took another two minutes before he found an employee who had been in the parking lot at the time, and saw the whole thing.  So, I called GEICO and left a rather terse message to that effect, and provided the Ms. Johnson with the information when she got around to returning my call.

So, she talked to an independent witness who could verify that the white truck pulled out and hit the side of the black truck.  He didn’t know either of the drivers (thus, qualifying him as a truly independent witness), and didn’t write down tag numbers or anything, but gave an accurate description of the vehicles and drivers.

A description which matched, by the way, the cell phone photo that Beta had already e-mailed GEICO.  It showed the front of his white truck, and the side of her black truck, with his body partially in the photo as he leaned on the front bumper of his truck.

Still, GEICO says they cannot settle the claim because the independent witness cannot positively confirm the identity of the man in the white truck.  The man whose name, address, driver’s licence number, etc. is recorded in his own handwriting on a note in Beta’s possession.


Beta has an appointment with a GEICO adjuster next week, and Ms. Johnson said that if they can speak with their insured before then, the adjuster will be authorized to cut a check.  If not… we’re right back where we’ve been for six weeks already.

I do believe that the Tennessee Insurance Commission needs to know about this.  And the Better Business Bureau.  And probably some other folks in a position to right this wrong.

Meanwhile, if you’re shopping for insurance, caveat emptor: the lizard’s not nearly as helpful as he is on TV.




How Long?

Four years, nine months, and nine days have passed since I quit smoking.

But in times of stress (like this afternoon), it seems like I could pull into the convenience store, buy a pack, and light one up — just like the old days.  I don’t know why the poison filling my lungs would feel so good, but it would.

I would gladly stand on the deck, with my back pressed against the outside wall to avoid the rain, just to feel that calm wash over me.

But I won’t.  I know myself: a pack would lead to a carton, and that carton to a lifetime of slavery to cigarettes.  To standing outside when everyone else is inside.  To having to build in extra time every day for a habit that would eventually kill me.

I’ll settle for a Tom Collins and keep cleaning the house for company tomorrow.  I just wish that someone could tell me that someday, that feeling will go away entirely.

Halloween Nostalgia

Halloween is decidedly different than it used to be.

Forty years ago, a 7-year old could be turned loose on All Hallows Eve, traipsing for miles in search of candy.  There were lots of hard candies, a few with the prized miniature chocolate bars, and then, the treasured houses with homemade treats.

Like Mrs. Streetman’s homemade popcorn balls.  Those were excellent!

Even in 1970, we weren’t allowed to eat homemade stuff from people we didn’t know, but that’s beside the point.  The point is, back then — or even ten or fifteen years ago — Halloween was one of the main ways that kids got to know the adults in their extended neighborhood.  Not just the people next door and across the street, but people in a half-mile radius around our homes.

Now, it seems that most parents either take kids to some organized event (our church’s Trunk or Treat is one) on another night and skip Halloween altogether, or they drive kids to some other neighborhood.  Every year, Briarcliff is overrun with children spilling from cars bearing license plates of surrounding counties.  Some residents reported 500 kids or more… with streets blocked off by police cruisers to protect pedestrians.

Last night, we had all of nine little goblins stop by.  Throughout the neighborhood, lights were on and porches decorated, but there’s a lot of leftover candy in our neighborhood this morning.

The loss in this is that we don’t know our neighbors as we used to.


Was Dr. Kevorkian all wrong?

About 20 years ago, as my maternal grandmother lay slowly dying, my mother gave me very clear instructions: “if I’m ever like this, just shoot me.”

I love my mother very much, but I’m really not interested in going to prison.  At the same time, I understand where Mom was coming from.  She was emotionally frayed from watching her own beloved mother dying a little bit at a time, over a decade or more, of strokes that progressively took more and more of her brain.  It was pretty awful.

Just last week, my 89-year old mother in law told us, “don’t get old.”  Kind of strange advice given the alternative, but she’s on the opposite end of the problem as her body fails, while her mind remains strong.  There was no request for us to kill her, but she repeatedly said that she might not be around for Christmas.

I’m guessing she could be around for several more Christmases, if she chooses to.  It’s hard for me to know if she’s in physical discomfort, or if she simply misses her husband (gone 10 years now) more than she loves what is left of life from her living room chair.

Today, my friend G traveled a great distance to visit her ailing mother.  G’s mom has Alzheimer’s Disease, and no longer recognizes her own daughter.  G asked me the same thing (not so graphically, but nonetheless the same result) as my mother did: to kill her when that time came.  Just give her an overdose of something.

What, do I look like Dr. Kevorkian?  Of course not.  But maybe these strong women sense that I feel much the same as they do — that end-of-life care is too successful in prolonging the life not worth living.  That maybe we do need an out, a way to say “enough is enough” when we’ve long outlived anything resembling quality of life.

I do not believe in taking the life (or denying life-saving treatment) to one who wants to live.  At the same time, is it not equally wrong to deny peaceful passage to those who are ready to go on their own terms?

I think it is.  I hope that by the time I am old and worn out, we’ll have a better option.

Knocking the dust off now…

Yes, I’m aware that I haven’t written here in months.  I took a break.  This morning, I sat down to finally start back, but in (foolishly, I admit) attempting an automatic upgrade to WordPress 3.0, I managed to completely take out the admin code.

That’s the part that I need to be able to write, rather than just read what I already wrote.

Fortunately, I had the old code backed up, so I’m going to be working on this thing a bit today, and will resume posting shortly.

Race to the Top

This week, the Tennessee Legislature goes into a special session to consider education proposals that would make our state eligible for a share of approximately $4 billion in federal “Race to the Top” funding. One of the key provisions is to make student testing data a “significant” factor in tenure decisions and subsequent evaluations. The TEA is opposed to making it count for more than 35% of the weighting, while the Governor has asked for at least 50%.

Tennessee has one of the best data systems in the country, but we generally don’t make the best use of it. One of the reasons is the provisions built into law about who can access the data and for what purposes, but I’m sure that another of the reasons is that not enough people know how to access and use the data effectively.

I also have some questions about the Governor’s proposals:

  • What would happen for teachers who teach subjects (or grade levels) that aren’t part of the standardized testing?
  • Would the decision be based on raw scores, value-added, or some combination of both?
  • Might we encounter increased teacher shortage areas, as some choose to teach subjects that aren’t tested to avoid this additional scrutiny?

Those aren’t all of my questions, to be sure. Just the ones that come to mind right off the bat. Regarding the use of test data in tenure decisions, we might ought to reconsider some of our other tenure provisions. Presently, a teacher is evaluated for tenure at the end of the third year; if tenure is not awarded, then he/she cannot be offered a contract for the following year. But, what if a new teacher shows great promise, but might need another year of coaching to get his or her scores up? Could we change that part of the law, so that a teacher who doesn’t get tenure in the third year could be retained for another year or two?

It would make more sense to me to use test data in performance evaluations, except that with teacher salaries dictated solely by education and experience, what difference do the evaluations really make? Certainly, it provides teachers with a clearer picture of their strengths and weaknesses, but it doesn’t make any difference in compensation, as it would in most other professions.

My feelings on this are decidedly mixed.

Submarine Races

So, all of us with teenagers have probably hoped, at least secretly, that our kids are not engaging in the time-honored tradition of spectatorship at the submarine races… I know I have.

Never did I expect that one of mine would actually attempt to enter the race, in a vehicle intended only for dry land.

Yes, that silver Explorer darn near made it into one of the tributaries of Melton Hill Lake last Friday afternoon.

Beta, on her way to work at Big Ed’s from her apartment in Knoxville, was cruising southbound on Melton Lake Drive when she fell asleep at the wheel.

At 4 in the afternoon.  Rush hour.  She crossed a lane of oncoming traffic, just missed a row of vertical railroad ties, traveled nearly 100 feet  on the wrong side of the railroad ties along the top edge of a gully, then veered off toward the water.

She called and told me she’d fallen asleep while driving, and asked me to pick her up.  She didn’t say anything about the truck being in the lake, or anything like that… I guess I assumed that she’d been pulled over for weaving, and the officer wouldn’t let her drive.

She’s okay.  Her dog (riding in the back seat) is okay too.  The Explorer — yes, that one — is less than okay, but upon close inspection in the daylight, probably isn’t totaled.

On Friday evening after a wrecker towed it home, we thought the  frame was bent, but on closer inspection in the daylight,  it’s not.  There’s a cross-rail that is mangled, the front axle may have to be replaced, and some mounting pieces that nearly sheared off, but those are all things that can be found in a junkyard.  There’s a window busted out, the driver’s side rearview mirror sheared off, but those are replaceable.  HWTFM and I went back to the scene of the crime on Saturday, and picked up several pieces.

The kid is lucky to be alive.  It’s a wonder the truck didn’t roll.  She’s lucky she didn’t get thrown through the windshield (with no seatbelt on).  It’s only now that I can actually think about it, write about it, without shaking.

Maybe a few weeks without wheels will be a good thing.

THURSDAY UPDATE: Yes, it really is totaled. Our mechanic said it can’t be fixed.

Not so bad…

Fever, chills, congestion… and a general feeling that some evil elf came along and beat me all over with a big stick: sounds like the dreaded “flu-like illness” that’s been making the rounds in the last few weeks.

Since I’m not in any risk categories and likely have at least partial immunity from decades past, I have just ridden it out the old fashioned way.  Aspirin, lots of water and orange juice, a little hot tea and soup, is about the best one can do.

Today is Day 4, and the fever is gone.  At this point, I’m just left with that “hurt all over” feeling… like I’ve skied really hard for several days, or completed a 50-mile bike ride.  But I haven’t done any of those fun things.  All I’ve done is lie in the bed.  I don’t know where that big, ugly bruise on my left foot came from, but I hope it’s from kicking that evil elf to the next county.

In retrospect, it wasn’t nearly as bad (for me) as the media hype, and I’m glad to have gotten it over with.  Years ago, just out of college, I worked for the Knox Co. Health Department, where I was sick for most of three years.  Although I hated it at the time, I’ve become thankful over the years since that I did build up a pretty healthy immunity to the stuff that my kids inevitably brought home from school.

I’ve been through at least five different bouts of kids home with the flu, without catching it.   A little over a week ago though, HWTFM came home from Pantex and fell ill within a couple of days.

Luckily, neither of the younger kids, still at home, have caught it.  Yet.

The fear of the flu — at least for those of us without complicating conditions — is much worse than the real thing, in my opinion.  It’s not fun, but it’s not as bad as the hype.