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.

Growing Up

Father’s Day was fun, as we had all the girls home for the first time in a while.  It’s interesting to see how they’ve changed, what they’ve learned, as the older two transition more to living independently.

They’re still welcome here of course, but they’re growing up and leaving the nest for increasingly longer test flights.  Alpha is home for a few more days, between the end of school and her summer research project at Cal State.  Beta is sharing a duplex out in the boonies with two friends, so she’s truly experimenting with independent living over the summer.

A week ago, we finished up the Explorer project, so Beta is mobile again.  Although it took an entire frustrating year to finish (with months off during the colder periods), it runs really well.  She’s happy.  I’m happy.

An interesting comment from Beta yesterday: “Wow.  I forgot what it was like to have soft toilet paper… that stuff’s expensive.”  First-apartment living with a degree of independence is a learning experience, and it seems that they’ve developed a bit more appreciation for where money comes from, and where it goes.  Everyday items, like soft toilet paper or a gallon of milk in the refrigerator, are seen in a new light.  They’re growing up.

Gamma is experiencing her first regular job, as a lifeguard at the municipal pool.  She loves the work, and on Saturday, had her first “save.”   Thankfully, it was an easy one — an elementary-age boy who’d gotten in over his head and was struggling.  I have to hand it to the City of Oak Ridge: the training and expectations of their lifeguards is first-rate.

Two weeks ago while HWTFM and I were picking up a washer and dryer for Beta (she bought it, we just transported it), his GPS was stolen from his truck during a brief stop at a store on Clinton Highway.  He was devastated — I’d just gotten a replacement under the warranty, because the first one was broken during a business trip in May.  Beta really stepped up to the plate and suggested to me that she and her sisters split the cost of a new one for him, for Father’s Day.

Since three of the four are working, it worked out.  He was really surprised and pleased.

Now, if only I can get Delta off the couch a bit more (facilitated by taking away her wireless adapter and ethernet cable), I’ll call it a successful summer.

Cracking the Code

A month or so ago, HWTFM’s laptop developed a bizarre problem of randomly shutting down, usually during the boot process.  Since it was out of warranty, he decided it was time for a new one, so the old one sat around on the kitchen table ever since.  Now that summer has arrived, I have a little time to tend to things around the house that need fixing.

Last week, I took apart the old laptop.  I didn’t actually FIX anything, but what appears to be the ritual “laying on of hands” probably includes snugging up connections that have worked loose over time.  Also removing gobs of cat hair, attracted to the inside of anything electronic because of the electrostatic charge.  But even after I was able to get it to boot successfully several times, we were still stuck: HWTFM had forgotten the administrator password (the only account on that machine).

I tried 437 times to guess at it, then gave up.  This morning, after again fixing Delta’s laptop via the “laying on of hands” method (it was her keyboard cable), I started googling for an XP password crack.  There are several out there for $34.95-ish, but I wasn’t in the mood to spend money.  Finally, I happened upon the Ultimate Boot CD, which contains quite a few excellent tools, including a password reset.

That’s how I know I tried 437 times to guess: the password reset tool told me how many times the incorrect password had been attempted prior to my reset.  The utility also includes a variety of hard disk tools, partition tools, a registry editor, anti-virus and anti-malware tools, and a bunch of other stuff.

MOST people probably either remember their Windows password, or just don’t use one.  But occasionally one is called upon to fix a machine where the password is unknown, or even one that was changed via malware.  This tool isn’t for rookies or the faint of heart, but it’s a good one if you can follow directions and sort of know what you’re doing at the command line interface.

Next up, I’m running a full scan on the old computer, because I’m suspicious that that’s how the password got messed up in the first place.  Once that scan is done, then we’ll have one more working laptop in the house, probably destined for Gamma going into her senior year of high school.

Another nifty freebie: BurnCDCC from TeraByte Unlimited is a small, fast ISO-burner to create bootable CDs.

If only I were as proficient in auto repair.

Attitude Adjustment

This time two years ago, I spent most days standing in the sun outside of early voting (then, at the mall), trying to secure whatever margin I could in the school board election.  One day, an elderly fellow came by, yelling at the half-dozen or so of us there.

A City Council candidate smiled and waved politely, then murmured quietly to the rest of us there, “weaned on a pickle.”  That pretty much captures it.

I went to vote this morning, and having arrived a few minutes early, took a seat and listened to a book on my iPod.  Two older gentlemen were hovering nearby, talking loudly enough to be clearly heard above the recording in my headphones.  One was telling the other to vote against every incumbent — because of the red light cameras, because they didn’t get a new senior center, because the world’s gone to hell in a handbasket and it’s all the politicians’ fault.

I sat quietly, pretending not to hear.  I didn’t want to hear, as I don’t make a habit of eavesdropping on others’ conversations.  But some folks don’t recognize that they’re talking loudly enough to be heard all the way out in the parking lot…

We’ve gone two years now without a tax increase in Oak Ridge, in challenging times.  We’ve seen an increase in new home construction, and have made progress in beginning to tidy up our older neighborhood.   There is work yet to be done, for sure, but this old codger had a seriously bad attitude.

I turned up the volume on my iPod, gritted my teeth, and waited my turn.  I can’t wait until this election is over.


Twice this week, I’ve live-blogged the League of Women Voters’ candidate forums — City Council candidates on Tuesday, and School Board candidates on Thursday.

Although I have tried to capture the essence of every answer, please know that these posts do not represent a verbatim transcript.  If you see something here that would cause you to change your vote, please either watch the replay on BBB Channel 12, or call the candidate to ask your question personally.

I’ve posted links to the candidate websites that I’m aware of, but if you know of a candidate site that isn’t linked here, please send me the link.

UPDATE: The links have been updated (hat tip to Ellen Smith for these).

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