CQ…Clark Here

Thoughts and opinions. LOTS of opinions.

Archive for the tag “High School”

Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education?

DeVos Post number 3.

Not really. I started with that for continuity, since a lot of folks have seen my previous Facebook posts regarding Betsy DeVos. This  post is about education in general.

I have been thinking a lot about education the past several days, due in large part to the controversy surrounding the Betsy DeVos nomination for Secretary of Education in the Trump administration.  There has been a huge amount of animus toward her, and I have been curious as to why.  The debate on my threads has been intense and impassioned. I have enjoyed the thoughts back and forth on the issue.  But I think the problems we face in education go much deeper than simply the Betsy DeVos nomination.

It is inarguable that the education system in America is in dire straits. The statistic I recently heard (I did not vet this) is that the United States currently  ranks 25th in science, mathematics, and reading. Twenty-fifth in the world! At one time, we lead the world in nearly every metric, but not now. But as poorly as we do in actual understanding, I also heard that our high school graduates rank near the top in their confidence in themselves. Educationally, our kids suck compared to the rest of the world, but they feel pretty darn good about themselves.  So why is this?  It is far too easy to blame “the teachers,” “the unions,” or “the parents.” Although I think there are issues within each of those categories, I think the issues run much deeper than those easy targets. Here are my thoughts.  Admittedly, they are rather general and simplistic, but for the purposes of this post, they will suffice.

Public education is indeed the bedrock of American education, and our public education system has been the model for education around the world. Historically, education in the United States started in “one-room,” with one teacher for all grades. As students got older and moved through the grades, they helped teach the younger kids, and on and on. Huge amounts of individual attention. On the other hand, education was rather optional, and families that didn’t think education important would just not send their kids, or sometimes the kids were needed at home to help with the family business.  Very, very few went to University after high school, and often “grammar school,” or primary school was as far as most students went in their education.  Teachers didn’t necessarily need a degree, many lawyers learned through apprentice-type programs, and most jobs that now require a degree were learned on the job.

After education became mandatory, there were loose standards for advancing through the grades.  Students usually needed to pass some sort of primer to move on to the next grade, with a fairly comprehensive test that one needed to pass in order to graduate high school.

Post-high school education was relatively strict, teaching a broad curriculum. As emphases changed, the curriculums became more specialized, with degrees in multiple areas. Today there is nearly an unlimited number of “specialties” in which one can major and get a degree. And that includes a number of specialties within the field of education.

There are multiple problems that I see for those getting a degree in education.

First, much of college education is structured around innovation. Partly this is understandable. Who, after all, wants to “rest on someone else’s laurels.” Most people want to make their own mark on the world. And the thought is that there is “always” a better way to do something. I don’t happen to believe that. I think there is definitely a place for rote memorization, and for learning to do things “as they always were.” Understand, I am NOT opposed to innovation. Otherwise, we would still be using an abacus for math, and if lucky, a slide rule for complex engineering issues. Heck, I’m so old I remember when a Texas Instrument calculator was about the size of a small iPad, could add, subtract, multiply, and divide, and ran around $100.00. So no, I am not a luddite, and I am not against innovation. But I think innovation should be measured, and should replace something only when it is proven to be better/faster/more effective than that which it is replacing. And I do NOT think that which we currently have is better than that which we used to have.

My father, when he was 79 years old (about 15 years ago or so), came to our home for a visit. While he was there, we found one of his old one-room schoolhouse primers. In it were several Algebra problems which my father figured out in his head. I couldn’t have solved them with an engineering calculator, paper and pen, and five hours to try. Admittedly, my old man was good at math; I am not. However, that doesn’t explain all of it. My education was good. Not excellent, but good. Our daughters’ education was very good; my wife and I saw to that. But what of those that don’t have “activist parents,” or dedicated teachers? Not sure. I agree that there needs to be a baseline. But common core isn’t it. Not with how math is currently taught.

I understand the theory of Common Core. As I understand it, the purpose of common core math is to teach kids an intuitive understanding of mathematics and how the numbers all relate to each other. And I know that some kids already think in a way that common core math reaches; that when common core math is shown to these kids, they instantly “get it,” because that’s how they already analyze problems. But many, many children do not think in a way that common core reaches, and will simply not understand common core math. In my opinion, I think common core math should be offered as one method of learning, but not demanded of all students. There is absolutely nothing wrong with rote memorization of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division tables. This works as well, and works far better for some. Let me end this paragraph with this thought: I wonder if common core math is kind of like the metric system. Yes, there are applications in which metric is far, far superior to the English method we currently use. But metric will never be adopted as the standard in the US, certainly not in my lifetime, anyhow. It’s superiority is irrelevant.  The Standard measurement system is so entrenched that to switch over would be nearly impossible. In the computer world, it is no different with Apple products. It is inarguable that there are applications in which the Apple operating system is far, far superior to the PC. But Gates is a marketing genius, and the PC is far too entrenched to ever be moved out of its current position.

As I said earlier, I think that “innovative” educational approaches are demanded, and perhaps to the detriment of what has worked, and worked well, for ages. But that is not the only issue.

One of the objections raised on Facebook regarding charter schools as opposed to public education is that charter schools might “put profit before education.” This is a valid concern. But my observation is that since the 1960’s, the socialist left/liberals/progressives (in my opinion, “a rose by any other name…) have done an excellent job of co-opting education; it appears that education is currently used to “put ideology before education.” And I believe that is inarguable. This is not to say that every single educator is a leftist intent on indoctrinating their students, but I am saying that such indoctrination is pervasive within higher education and it has been very effective, to the point that many, many secondary education teachers now follow the same ideology and use their position as teachers to influence the political leanings of their students. Debate is not encouraged, and opposing thoughts and beliefs are not only discouraged, but mocked and vilified.  And herein lies the basic problem.

At its best, education teaches one how to think. This is what I learned, although much of that was self-taught. I fear that much of current education is not so much about how to think as it is what to think. And that is a definite problem.

What is the answer? Not sure. But with our current world standing(s) in education, it is imperative that we do something, and do it soon. The status quo will not suffice, and the United States is on an educational slide that will harm our country for generations if it is not arrested and reversed.

Betsy DeVos has a passion for education. She has no formal learning in that area, nor first-hand experience. But she has been confirmed as Secretary of Education under the Trump administration. Although I am not an avowed “Trumpie,” President Trump has my support, and thus far, DeVos is the only appointment, decision, or executive order by President Trump that I am not entirely behind. With DeVos I am neutral, I am withholding judgment, and I am puzzled. Time will tell what policies will be enacted in the Department of Education, how those policies will be implemented, and what effect such policies will have on the education of our children in the United States. If those policies succeed, 100% of the credit goes to the Republicans. Not one Democrat supported her. If she fails miserably, 100% of the blame goes to the Republicans. Not one Democrat supported her. Time will tell. I hope she succeeds, and I hope the educational system tailspin in which we find ourselves is halted and reversed.

Caught in the corner.

Hang on, dig in, strap down, get set.  I am going to state a truism that may just rock your world.  Ready?  Here it is:  Life is hard.  Yep, I’m sorry to be the one to break it to you, but there it is.  Life is hard and there is nothing to be done about it.  “Life is pain Highness.  Anyone that tells you otherwise is trying to sell you something.”

When I was young (Wait.  I meant younger) I thought I was ready for anything that life had to throw at me.  I thought I would chew it up and spit it out.  Little did I know just how painful life can be.  Let me describe what I mean.

I met Beth at Behrend College of Penn State in 1975.  Through her feminine wiles, we soon fell in love and planned our life together.  Long walks, long talks, gazing into each others’ eyes, we did all those dewy, romantic and saccharine things that young couples often do when they fall in love.  Objectively speaking, our romance was (and remains) the best and finest romance in the history of the world.  And I wouldn’t trade one single minute for anything.

We married in 1978 (see, Beth?  I do too remember) and started with nothing more than an old Chevy Impala given to us by my folks, a cat, and love.  What a grand start to a marriage!  We moved to northwestern Pennsylvania and I found a job in, of all places, a donut factory on my way to my life-long dream job of being a policeman.  I got into police work over thirty years ago, and the trials and travails Beth and I experienced could have wrecked us multiple times.  But from the beginning, we both loved God more than anything, and have worked to make Him, and Him alone, the focus and center of our marriage.

Children came along, planned and anticipated.  Loved, adored, and our pride and joy.  We raised them “purposely and intentionally,” a catch phrase with a set of our closest friends; a catch phrase, but describes our parenting very nicely.  Everything we did with them was intended to be a life’s lesson, to instruct them and to train and prepare them for everything that life was going to throw at them.  Clearly we were not perfect, and there are innumerable moments I wish I could take back, change, re-do.  But we’re not given that option, are we?  Even so, no one has ever loved their children more, or worked harder to raise their children to be the best they could be.  I went back to school part-time, and worked toward my Master’s Degree from Mercyhurst College in Erie, PA.  I found that I enjoyed my class work (as opposed to my undergrad experience) and excelled.  Of course, I devoted a ton of time to my school work to do so, but enjoyed it none the less.

In the mid-1980’s, I joined the Erie Police Department in Erie, PA.  Having come from a small police department where every sneeze and belch was noted and scrutinized, when I moved to a larger department I was like a kid in a candy store.  I had more fun than anyone had a right to.  But all things change, and even good things have a habit of diminishing.  I finished my Master’s degree program and eventually left the street to become a detective, then a Detective Sergeant working Homicides, bank robberies with FBI agents, Presidential protection details with the Secret Service, Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT),  just about any cool thing that one could desire.  I had a “patron” that was guiding me in the ways of politics within the city, and I was moving toward higher ranks; meeting people, shaking hands, joining clubs and organizations.

During this time I also worked in our church.  I found myself elected to the Deacon board, which at the time was kind of a combined Elder/Deacon position.  We made policy for the church, as well as watching for the immediate spiritual needs of our brothers and sisters in the congregation.  As was typical, I threw myself into it, and spent a lot of time working for the church.

As are many men, I am driven to excel at whatever task I take on.  And for most of the things I try, I push myself until I’m pretty good at whatever it is I am doing.  However, as I pushed and struggled to advance, I noticed something.  My daughters were in High School, perhaps only a few years from graduating and moving on.  And I hardly knew them.

I remembered some of the ideals that Beth and I had as young marrieds and as young parents, and I did not want to look back and regret the time that I devoted to my job; I did not want to regret the time that I should have given to my children.  So I did something that was very difficult for me.  I took myself off the fast track at work.  Man was I disappointed.  But, I thought, at least I had my church and my family.  Family, church, and work.  I measured myself as a successful man by these three things.

Oops, one down.  I intentionally gave work away, but that’s ok.  I still had the other two.  I convinced myself that as long as I “succeeded” at church and family, I was ok.  Work was actually the third on the list anyway, so I could be less than at the pinnacle there and still be a success at the other two.  However, church is a funny thing; it’s filled with people.  And people are the same no matter where they happen to be located.  I dealt with good folks and mean folks all across the spectrum.  I dealt with issues that I wish I had never known about.  Ultimately I kind of flamed out with leadership in church, too.  When my term as Deacon expired, I did not seek re-election, and I am not sure how eager I am even now, twenty-something years later, to repeat that experience.

Two down.  But I still have my family.  And this is the most important of the three.  As long as I “succeed” at family, I still have worth in my eyes.  I am still a “successful” man.

You kind of see what’s coming, right?

I had read a book once that described a father’s raising his family, and essentially his thoughts were that no matter what success he had elsewhere, if he didn’t raise his children well, what good is he?  I agreed with that, and worked accordingly.

Now before I continue, I want to make clear that I love my children.  With my whole heart, mind, soul, and strength.  Nothing has ever changed that, and nothing ever will.  Further, I need not detail more than this.  They are good people, working to be the best that they can envision themselves to be.  I am proud of them and their accomplishments.  Suffice it to say here that they have chosen to walk a couple of paths that I would not have chosen for them.  Their lives, their decisions.  I respect that and will support them, love them, help them to the best that I am able.

I think that at least in part, I took their “contrary” decisions personally, that it was my responsibility for where they have chosen to be.  Of course, each of us will ultimately take ownership of our choices and decisions, but at the time, I keenly felt that I was an abject failure as a father.  And for me that was strike three.  I was a failure as a man.

Some people turn to drink, some people may become even more spiritual, some turn to other outlets to ease the pain.  I have had several.

For years I have struggled with, shall we say, less wholesome outlets.  I honestly don’t know how teens can cope with the internet.  One can instantly find just about anything one would care to find.  With all that one can access today via the internet, I wouldn’t have survived as a teen.  Anyhow, through a lot of prayer, working with several dedicated and spiritual men, this particular area is much less difficult for me than it once was.

But there were other ways that one can feel momentarily better.  Food is one of my biggest struggles.  I love food.  I love the smell of good food, I love the taste of food and its texture as I roll it through my mouth, I love the satisfying feel of a full stomach.  And Beth is honestly the best cook I have ever known.

For a while this wasn’t as big a problem as it could be.  Although my metabolism had been slowing down, I was pretty active.  Being on the SWAT team was pretty demanding, and I had to stay in some semblance of shape, so even though I ate big, I burned a lot of it at the same time.  Also, at 6’3″, I can hide it pretty well.  This changed a bit when I retired from the team.  I ballooned to an all-time high of 260 pounds of unadulterated cellulose, and looked every bit like the chubby hubby that I was.

I had other outlets as well.  I am a very sensual guy.  I love taste, texture, beauty, scents.  I love trying new things.  I love learning.  So when I find something new that tastes great, smells great, and has nuance, I dive in.  Especially if it’s not something that a ton of people do.  I discovered craft beer and I discovered cigars.  Both are topics of endless discussion for me, I can talk for hours about either.  For the record, my buddy Matt makes the best beer I have tried; second is Founder’s Breakfast Stout or perhaps Great Divide’s Yeti Imperial Stouts.  Oh, man!  For cigars, my go to is always an Ashton, and specifically an Ashton Double Magnum, although I love all kinds of cigars at different times.  If you’re interested, go see Chris at Leaf Lover’s Tobbaconist in North East, PA for a great cigar.  And remember my advice.  If you can buy cigars and gasoline at the same location, don’t buy the cigars!!

Anyhow, along with Scuba diving, these were the outlets I used to “cope” with life’s little surprises.  I was a far cry from that twenty-one year old that thought he could handle everything.  Essentially, it looks like I can’t handle much of anything.  Or maybe life just kept throwing its little surprises until I was broken down.  Whatever, I was at a point that I needed help with coping.  But I didn’t like where I was.  That having been said, I think I need to clarify here.  As long as this post turns out to be, it is still a very abbreviated version of all this.  This entire process kind of evolved over the past twenty years or so, and I am condensing it here to a couple of thousand-ish words.  Also, it may look like I was just a total wreck.  Not so, but I had come to lean on tangibles, not on inner strength and God’s power.

So, here I was.  A failure at work, a failure at church, a failure with my family.  “Needing” food, scuba, beer, and cigars.  So what happened next?  Earlier this year I looked at a couple of photos taken of me, and man, I did not like what I saw.  This guy’s a fatty!  Beth and I both decided it was time, so we embarked on a weight loss and life style change.  Although I started at a lower weight than my all time high, since May, I have lost about thirty pounds with ten to go to my goal.  Beth has done even better.  I think we both look great, and the next step is to get back to the gym and get in shape.

Food’s gone as a crutch.

Beer has been assuming an increasingly anticipated portion of my life.  And I don’t mean nasty or cheap beer.  You folks that drink Bud lite or Coors, well, you have my pity.  Micros are the bomb!  So many different breweries, so many different styles, combinations of hops and malts, I could easily live in a Brewpub.  Wait.  Clark, what did you just say?  Did you hear yourself?

Beth pointed out to me a bit ago that I was consuming more beer than I had before.  She wasn’t yet alarmed exactly, but she was kind of concerned.  Her concern was justified.  Although in comparison to many I didn’t drink much at all, and although in comparison to Europeans I hardly drink anything, I was still using the beer as a crutch.  Clark, what are you doing?  Yep, I need to cut back.  And although I have no intention to cease, my beer consumption has hugely diminished.

Beer’s gone.  But I still have my last stronghold, I still have my cigars.

You can see what’s coming, right?  Hey, didn’t I already say that?

Many people would say this explains a great deal, but as a teen, I fell on my head a couple of times.  Looking back, I probably fractured my spine, but as I could get up and move, I never went to the hospital or even saw a doctor.  Fast forward four decades or so, and I now have two degenerative discs.  After several years of chiropractic therapy and numerous pain shots, I had my neck fused four months ago on two levels; C-5 to C-6, and C-6 to C-7.  The surgery went great, the chronic pain is gone, and the healing has been fine.  But.  My scuba season ended on the date of my surgery, and I probably won’t get back under water (except for assisting classes of new divers in the pool) until spring.

We went back to my surgeon last Monday.  After x-rays, he showed me that the higher level is about 99% healed; essentially completely healed.  The lower level, not as much.  He gave me a few restrictions, and said that he wasn’t concerned at all, and that the only way he would be concerned at all is if I was a smoker, which I am not.  I told him that I haven’t touched a cigarette in my life, but that I do have an occasional cigar.  At that point he kind of stared at me, hesitated a second, and said, “You need to stay away from those.”

Ok, I get it.  Nicotine restricts blood vessels and inhibits the uptake of oxygen, both needed for healing.  I won’t smoke a cigar for months.  But that was my last tangible support.  I am now officially left with nothing to fall back on, nothing to look forward to (And let’s be totally clear.  When I say that, I mean outside my marriage.  Our marriage is still great, and getting better every day!).  When he said that, I felt like my last pillar was knocked down, my bridge was collapsing.  I was bereft.  Even Beth felt bad for me, and she is not, shall we say, the biggest fan of my cigars.

So what do I do?  As I see it, I don’t have a lot of choices here.  My only choice is the one I should have made long ago.  My only choice is to depend on God’s grace; first, last, everywhere.  A few years ago I coined a phrase that I have tried to utilize.  I kind of forgot it, but I’m gonna pick it back up.  That phrase is this.  Let it go, it doesn’t belong to you.  So this is what I am left with, this is what I want to do, what I want to continually tell myself.  Let it go, it doesn’t belong to you.  I need to give it to God, let it go, live in Him.  Fill me Father.  Fill me with You.  You God.  All You.  Nothing but You.

I don’t know why it is necessary to be painted into a corner to see that one cannot “do this” on one’s own, but I would not be surprised to find that this is rather common.  Even if not, I often find that it is the case for me.  I’ve been cornered, and I have nothing that I can use to defend myself.  I figure I can go in one of three directions.  I can collapse into a puddle of emotional plasma, I can fall back on one of the less healthy things that I used to fall back on, or I can let go and look to the Author and Protector.  I think I’ll look to Jesus.

But boy do I want a cigar.  Let it go, Clark.  It doesn’t belong to you.  Yeah, I know…

Interesting.

“May you lead an interesting life.”

I have no proof of this, but I have always been given to understand that this is an old Chinese curse.  I used to think that such a thought was silly; who wants to lead a boring life.  Then I understood just how stressful and difficult it can be when one’s life is “interesting,” and I longed for a life that was perhaps a bit less “interesting.”  I even found that for a while.  However, I find myself at a place now where my life is again a bit interesting.

For a while I’ve been in a bit of a quandary.  I have wanted to post here, but was finding it difficult to develop a relevant topic.  And then I heard Jeremy Riddle’s “Sweetly Broken” on our local Christian radio station, WCTL (BTW, they also stream and can be found at www.WCTL.org).  This song touched me, and after pondering for a while, I realized why my life is currently interesting and why this song resonated at this point in time.  There are several components to where I am right now.

First, a couple of weeks ago I found myself in an odd state of mind.  It occurred to me that I was quite frightened of a situation in which I am close to finding myself.

In previous posts I have discussed our Pastor, Bob Klecan in one reference or another.  I have had the privilege of grabbing an occasional cup of coffee with him on several occasions.  We have discussed everything from theology and “the church” to The Beatles, Vietnam, and sports.  And two things I have noticed: First, Bob Klecan is extremely smart.  And second, he is often underestimated.  He is a very humble man, able to discuss a variety of topics, understands deep issues, and can preach the word in a way that is understandable both in theory and in application.

I once asked him, “How do you deal with people underestimating you all the time?”  The look on his face was priceless.  He was shocked, first of all because it is true, he is consistently underestimated, but also because someone noted that fact.  He asked me how I knew that.  My reply was that it was easy for me to recognize that in him because I am underestimated all the time as well.

Note to all.  I am not bragging here, and this is not a “How cool am I?” piece.  Puffing myself up is not my style, far from it.  But I need to acknowledge  some things in this post which could look like bragging.  Not so.

Anyhow, with that proviso, I admit that I’m a fairly smart individual.  I enjoy learning and I enjoy experiencing new thoughts and new situations.  However, I come from a blue-collar family, solidly middle-class; not intentionally identifying ourselves as intellectual.  My Father was a non-commissioned officer in the army in WWII, and after that a farmer.  After selling the farm (where I grew for the first six years of my life), Dad purchased a service station in Springboro, PA.  He later took a job as a tool and die maker, working in that job until he retired.  Dad also did tax work on the side, which is about the only post-High School education he had.  Mom, due to family situations prior to marriage, did not have a chance to complete High School.  Relatively common in her era.

My point in giving some description of my family’s levels of education is to show that I do not come from a background of  higher education.  Some people come from families of doctors, attorneys, accountants, whatever.  Those families more or less expect their children to also get an education, the key word being also.  I did not grow up in that situation.

Although they had no college background, my family expected me to go to college, and it was just understood that I was going to college my entire life.    It wasn’t until decades later I discovered that when my parents adopted me, the judge granting the adoption made my parents promise that their son would get an education.  My parents were two of the most honest and honorable people I have ever known and when they made that promise, they were determined to keep it.  And they did.

My high school years were spent in Saegertown Area High School (they called it Penncrest, but we that went to Saegertown knew better).  I kind of coasted through high school, and struggled through my undergraduate work at Penn State.  I wasn’t much of a student at that time, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t find new stuff fun.  I did.  Leaving home and going to Behrend College of Penn State for the first time was cool!  Going to Main Campus from Behrend was cool!  Getting into my major class work as a junior and senior was cool, and I did a lot better, gradewise.  Within a few months of graduating from Penn State, I got a job as a policeman, my dream job, and I have been a policeman for over thirty years.

All this background is to get to this:  my entire life I have hidden my intelligence, my drive, and my love of learning and knowledge.  Cops are the best bunch of people one could ever find outside the military, and I am honored and privileged to belong to that fraternity.  And cops hate a peg that sticks out.  If someone is unique, cops will do whatever it takes to pound that person back into the hole.  This isn’t necessarily an “I’m threatened” kind of thing, either.  We depend on each other for our lives.  Very few professions worry about some knucklehead deciding for whatever reason to put a bullet into them because they had a bad day.  Cops have to know, viscerally, that the guy next to them is dependable, and will do whatever it takes to keep them safe.  A fellow officer’s oddities and uniqueness makes cops nervous, so they do what they must to feel secure that they are safe.  And that includes figuratively beating on intellectually minded people (I was also different from most cops because of the “peculiar and strange” values I brought with me due to my understanding of Christianity, but that isn’t what I’m discussing here).  So I learned (at least to some degree) to suppress that part of me.  Note:  This is not a value judgement or a criticism.  I understand the necessity of what cops do, and it is what it is.  It’s just not all that pleasant sometimes.

So here I am, thirty (plus) years later, and I find myself in a new position.  I am the Chief of Police at a University in northwestern Pennsylvania, Edinboro University of PA.  I enjoy this stage of my career, partly because of the position, of course.  I think I am doing some good where I am, and I have the chance to make a great police department even a bit better.  But for me, part of the uniqueness is being on a college campus.  I am an administrator at an institution that not only appreciates intelligence, it encourages people to apply that intelligence and to develop it.  I have found myself on various committees that I would have never dreamed of a few years ago, and I am enjoying that.  I find myself in debates with friends on the far end of the political scale from me, and have loved the debate.  My wife and I have visited an “Athiests and Agnostics” meeting, and I now have a couple of acquaintances that intrigue me and I look forward to developing a relationship with them.

And here is where I found myself frightened.  I find that I am close to being seen as a “smart” person, someone who, if not exactly an intellectual, enjoys intellectual debate and can hold his own in that area.  And not only seen as smart, but valued because of that.  I have suppressed that part of me for so long that it is scary to tap into it.  As a couple of examples, when we attended the Athiest and Agnostic meeting, the discussion was based on John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty,” an essay he had written in 1849.  It is a philosophical treatise on Utilitarianism, and definitely not light reading.  I read it for the discussion, and I loved it!  I have not participated in philosophical readings or discussion in over ten years, and I had forgotten how much I enjoyed that.  I also took college level Spanish 101 and 102 this summer, and my comprehension of a foreign language was better than I have ever experienced.

There are also a number of events occurring this summer.  I am stepping out on a number of issues: instead of sitting in one place, Beth and I took the conscious step to confront some issues that had been effecting us.  So instead of just passively standing still and taking shot after shot from life, we decided to deal with it, and consequently we are in a much better place now.  I decided to have needed corrective surgery that I had been putting off for some time (healing nicely, thank you).  We are dealing with the loss of my Mother last fall, as well as other family issues.  I volunteered to be on a council that is quite frightening in and of itself, but I felt led to do volunteer, and so was obedient.  And we are going back to the Dominican Republic in January.

If you have read my posts regarding the one-week missions trip to the Dominican Republic which started this blog, you already know how astounding it is that I would want to go back this year.  I didn’t just kind of not want to go to the DR, I did not want to go, and I was angry that I had agreed to go and was being held to that agreement.  But, being the son of honorable people, I was determined to honor that commitment, even if I hated every single second of the time I was there. Read my posts in chronological order to see the progression, but suffice it to say that God worked in amazing ways in me over that week. I came back from the DR with a renewed spirit and huge gratitude for God’s love for me.

This year, I felt that we needed to go back.  However, no one at church had made any effort for that to happen and I felt God’s prompting to be the driver.  I contacted our team leader from last year, we conferred with Pastor Klecan, and we got a game plan together.  Last Sunday at church I made an announcement regarding the trip, and seventeen people showed up to discuss their participation in the DR trip in January.  Fifteen want to go, but only four can fund the trip for themselves, and the deadline for the down payment (and thus one’s ability to go in January) is two weeks from tomorrow.  This past week, an anonymous donor paid for five to go.  We have six to fund.

I have been battered and bruised.  Crushed, numb.  But I see changes in me, in the way I view things, in my outlook.  I see healing and the return of my desire to excel, to learn, to push myself and to “push the envelope.”  Although I am more than a little uneasy at where I am right now, I feel my sense of God’s presence returning and it is far from boring.

An interesting life?  Yeah, it sure is.  And for now, I love it.  Sweetly Broken?  I’m not sure I completely understand that concept yet, but I’m far closer to understanding it than I was.

Check out Jeremy Riddle’s song “Sweetly Broken” here: http://youtu.be/fyJuKHvoPGc.

To the cross I look, to the cross I cling
Of its suffering I do drink
Of its work I do sing

For on it my Savior both bruised and crushed
Showed that God is love
And God is just

Chorus:
At the cross You beckon me
You draw me gently to my knees, and I am
Lost for words, so lost in love,
I’m sweetly broken, wholly surrendered

What a priceless gift, undeserved life
Have I been given
Through Christ crucified

You’ve called me out of death
You’ve called me into life
And I was under Your wrath
Now through the cross I’m reconciled

Chorus:

In awe of the cross I must confess
How wondrous Your redeeming love and
How great is Your faithfulness

(2x’s)
Chorus:

Looking for Adventure…

…go, Steppenwolf, go!   http://youtu.be/5UWRypqz5-o

So my Suzuki GS1100L and I have seen a lot of adventures together.  I purchased a Rifle Fairing for it, had it installed, and had the bike and fairing painted to match.  It was beautiful!  Until one spring, maybe ten years ago or so.

I have an old High School buddy that works on motorcycles in Cochranton, PA  (Professional Cycle, http://www.procycle1.com/Procycle1/Home.html.  Ask for Dell).  For quite a while I took my bikes to him to service, inspect, fix, whatever.  So on this particular day, I had gotten up early and rode down to get the 1100 inspected.  We live outside of Erie, PA, so it was always kind of a commitment to get there.  After he was done I got going, and entered Interstate 79 at Meadville to get home.  Beth and I had friends that were getting married that day, so I really cranked the throttle.  The 1100 has always had a surplus of power, and within about a nanosecond I was travelling at 90 mph (yeah, I know.  First, stupid.  Second, way above the speed limit.  Third, I’m a cop and know better.  Response?  One, I think I’m smarter now than then.  Two, I don’t drive like that now.  Three, blah, blah, blah.  Fourth, the statute of limitations is way past, so nyah! And fifth, do not try this yourselves, it’s dumb beyond belief!).

About a mile or so north of Meadville on I-79 is a curve to the right, with a “mound” separating the northbound and southbound lanes.  Just north of that is an overhead bridge.  It was just before that spot that I decided that my left mirror really needed adjusted.  As I adjusted the mirror, I drifted left to the edge of the road.  I looked up, and I was in the loose part, just entering the curve (at 90 mph).I wasn’t experienced at that point to get myself out of it, and went off the road into the median, which at that location was kind of a grass ditch between the big mound and the northbound lane.  I did a fair job of holding on, and started slowing down.  Needless to say, the word “calm” was not part of my vocabulary at this point.  Panic, terror (literal terror), oh, yeah.  But not calm.

The rear tire kicked out on me, and I did a low side spill.  Motorcycle on its side, and I on my back did a 90 mph slide down the median.  I remember my head hitting a rock and I flipped over, hitting my face shield on the motorcycle and bouncing over again onto my back until we both stopped.  I got up and looked back, only to see pieces of fairing and motorcycle as far as I could see.  Not my happiest moment.  I called Dell to come and pick up my bike, and called Beth to come and get me.  Needless to say, we didn’t get to the wedding that day (sorry, Steve and Karey).

Dell fixed the bike, and I got it home.  However, it was a couple of years before I got the guts to get back on it, and then only after taking the PA motorcycle safety course (http://www.pamsp.com/).   This is actually a great course, and I would recommend it to every rider, no matter how experienced.

I never did get another Rifle Fairing.  My brother-in-law gave me his old windshield, and I have used it for several years.  It’s cheesy, but I appreciated it.  Like I said, I hate riding without a windshield.  Here’s the bike as it looks today:

LOVED this bike!

I continued to ride the 1100 for several years, but she just continued to deteriorate.  I continued to ride, last year I figured out that I was saving five dollars a day riding it to work versus driving my Chevy Silverado.   I was a bit embarrassed to ride her last year and this year; she just was not the beautiful lady she had been.  It culminated last year when I took it to Crolli, Inc. to get some work done (Crolli’s location: http://mapq.st/IFdPJr).  After the work was done, I’m standing beside the 1100, just looking at it, looking at the other bikes around it, and thinking about how it kind of looks a bit worn.  Some guy was also there to pick up his bike, I guess, and looking down at my bike, the love of my life, says, “Now that’s a beater!”  Well!  The nerve!  Except that he’s right.  I just said, “Yep, she get’s me where I’m going, and she’s paid for.”  He did a major back pedal, but it still kind of stung.  But what could I say?  The poor thing is really pounded.  *sigh*

This year, I was just “window shopping” online, and looking at bikes.  Not seriously shopping, just looking.  I got to the point that I figured that if I ever got another two-wheeler, it would likely be a Yamaha V-Star.  Understand, I have always hated Harleys mostly on principle.  So for a long time, V-stars were kind of out, as they had (I thought) a Harley look to them.  But this year I changed my mind.  I think that instead of a “Harley look-alike” they’re more of a “retro” look, back to the motorcycles of the ’30’s and ’40’s, and I kind of got to like the look.

But like I said, I was just window shopping.  Until Beth told me that she thought I should get a new bike.  What?  “Look, Beth, I appreciate that, but really, I don’t think we can afford it.”  “No, I’ve looked at the numbers, and I think we can.”  Wow!  Well so much for “just window shopping!”  At that point it became a serious hunt.

I narrowed it down to two.  Both were V-Stars, both 1300 cc’s, both local, both 2008 models.  One was privately owned and kind of stripped down with very low mileage and a bit cheaper.  The other was a bit pricier with slightly higher mileage, around 12,000 miles, but dressed out.  The second one was being sold by Precision Bike Works in Erie (http://www.precisionbike.com/), and was the Tourer model, dressed out with windshield, engine guard, and backrest.  I took a couple of hours on a Friday afternoon and looked at both of them.  Beth, to my surprise, also took time off work, and went with me.

We stopped at Precision Bike Works first and talked to Rich. The Tourer was beautiful and dressed up just as I would like.  I couldn’t ride it as it was buried in the back by several other bikes, but she was a beaut!

The privately owned ‘Star was just as beautiful, and I got to take her out for a short spin.  BOY was that a sweet ride!  A bit less expensive, only around 1,400 miles, it was pristine!

Since it was close to dinnertime, Beth and I went to the Tap House in Erie (http://www.upick6.com/).  We sat down, got an appetizer and I got a beer.  We talked over the two bikes, compared them, pluses and minuses.  I described the less expensive one, and how it had low miles, and I could build it up over time with a windshield, backrest, and so on.  Beth said, “You’re not getting that one.  You’re getting the Tourer.”  Now, I don’t normally take orders well, but when she said that, I immediately (after picking my jaw off the floor) called Precision Bike works and told Rich I was buying it, while simultaneously calling for the check and paying the bill.  I didn’t even finish my beer!  We paid up and were on the way back to put money down on the bike in record time.

The next day we went back and paid off the rest, did all the paperwork, and I got to ride it home.  I cannot tell you how jazzed I am with this machine!  Here she is:

Screaming Thunder

Nah, just kidding, here’s  the real deal!

And what a sweet machine to ride!  Comfortable, strong, classy, and beautiful!  Beth and I got a ride on it before the weather got freezing cold again, and she loves it as much as I do.  I think I can see a long future with this bike!  And for safety’s sake I took it to Crolli and had him install a headlight modulator, a brake light modulator, a 132 dB airhorn, and new rubber on the back.  I figured out that this year I’m saving a ten-dollar bill every day that I ride it to work.  So, look out highway, here I come!  Looking for adventure

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