Thursday, May 26, 2011

2011 Liver Transplant Reunion

March 3 of this year was Judy's fourth anniversary of her successful liver transplant.  A few days ago we attended UNC's annual Liver Transplant Reunion.

The setting was once again beautiful White Oak Recreation Area at Jordan Lake.  It was a pleasant day with a gentle breeze and not too hot.

Dr. Hayashi is now head of the Transplant Center and gave a warm welcome to the attendees.  Judy was delighted to see the smiling and familiar faces of transplant staff members who have become very dear to us.

The spacious covered picnic area provided ample space for about 200 guests.

Entertainment included a country group and the famous Bouncing Bulldog jump rope team.

A wonderful meal of barbecue and grilled chicken with all the fixings was provided.  Some dessert cakes had special meaning for those who had received the gift of life.

Transplant recipients share an instant bond unlike any other.  As in past years, we struck up conversations with people we had either not met before had had met just once.  Because of the shared experiences before, during, and since transplant, we feel like life-long friends.  Many touching stories were shared under the shelter this afternoon.  And many grateful thanks were expressed.

Here's Judy with two friends we met just last year, Daniel and Re.  We had a great time catching up on the past year.  Judy also met a lady from nearby Sanford that she hopes to keep in touch with.

We were aware of some uninvited guests.  Here's one-- a cicada.  Those large insects that are making such a buzz in many piedmont forests this year. 
But even the droning buzz of these bugs was drowned out by the sounds of celebration today.  Can't wait until next year.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Up Close With Hunter

Here are two videos featuring seven and a half month-old Hunter.
In this one Hunter shows off his climbing prowess.  Not to mention his "crooning."  Judy and Brianna hear it and come to make sure we're okay.  : )

On a Saturday evening, Amanda, Judy, and Brianna attended a mother-daughter banquet.  I had a great time with Hunter.  Rumbles of thunder ruled out the nice outdoor stroll I had hoped for.  But I improvised by bringing the stroller onto the porch, unlocking the wheels, and entertaining Hunter with a little freewheeling dance.  We also strolled through the house.  He seemed to like it.
Thanks for a good time, Hunter.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

NOW, Whazzup Wid De GALS

Let's begin our display of fun with Brianna and Claire with a little afternoon game of hide-and-seek. 

Grandma is searching diligently for Claire.  Can you find her?

"Claire, Mommy's here to get you.  Claire?  Where are you?"


Claire: "Listen, Grandma, I'm not letting you up until you say I can stay at your house."

On another day we were delighted to have all the kids and their moms around for a while.  Interesting how they pair up so naturally, isn't it?

Bri just can't resist interrupting her stroll to share a little love with these handsome guys.  "Hunter, I could just EAT YOU UP!" she croons.

Meanwhile, Claire gets ready to serve up some snacks and treats at the Sandpile (not Sandhills) Deli and Grill.

Oops.  While our backs were turned, Hunter has disappeared.  What's going on?  "Is Bri going to eat ME up, too?" asks a worried Evan.

Bri: "So what if our Sandpile grill doesn't have a mechanical bull."

Kitty Cat expresses an unhealthy interest in our terrarium of beetles.

Claire and Bri have been playing with their buggy friends for about three weeks.  Not pointing any paws, but the seven beetles mysteriously disappeared over the next two nights.  Kitty Cat?  Surely not!  More likely a possum or raccoon prowling our garage.  Oh well, there's more oak wood to split, and likely more beetles, too.

I guess you've noticed how these children love to hide.  One of Claire's new spots is under this child-sized magnolia in Judy's prayer garden.

Jennifer and Amanda always loved climbing our trees, especially a dogwood.  Claire has found a dogwood tree that she hopes to climb all by herself one day.

Our friend Christy stopped by on her very own birthday to visit us because she knew we were babysitting.  What a nice surprise!

This shot is when Bri and Claire set off on their quest to mow the lawn.  All 10 acres, I suppose.  This led to the video a few blog posts ago.  Check it out if you missed it.

This is the still photo that accompanies the "Sharing" video on that same blog.  Not to be missed.

Bri was a little apprehensive about trying on these fake monster teeth at first.  But she likes what she sees.

Bri: "Now, I can really scare Evan and Hunter when I say I want to eat them up."

Claire: "Okay, Grandpa.  Time to figure up you bill for exploiting all our cuteness.  Lemme see. . . that comes to. . . ."
Okay, okay, I'll pay whatever it costs.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Whazzup Wid Da Guys

Even with my increased computer speed, pictures of the grandkids have been piling up on me. The pictures, not the kids-- well, sometimes the kids, too.
So this blog features Da Guys, Hunter and Evan.  The next post will feature Da Gals, Brianna and Claire.  Let's get going.

Hunter: "This thing may be high tech, but it has zero flavor."

Hunter: "Okay Grandpa, let's see how you like chewing on car keys."

Hunter:  "Well Grandma, they say I have to learn how to tie my shoes in time for kindergarten.  I've already got the "un" part, so I should get the "tie" part in another four years." 

Evan:  "I have the target in my sights and am closing in."

Evan: "1,2,3, open and lunge!"

Evan: "I've heard of food that expands in your stomach, but this is ridiculous."

Evan: "I can't believe I ate the whole thing."
(Appropriately, the Ev-man is wearing his Varsity shirt.)

Evan: "No more interviews.  THIS is how much I care about publicity."

"And no more pictures, either.  At least not today."

Hunter: "You can take my picture. Am I holding my foot right?"

Hunter: (music, maestro) "Climb ev'ry mountainnn. . . ."
(Yes, Hunter is transitioning from a scooter to a climber.)

Hunter: "Well, if I can stand up, I should certainly be able to play the piano."

I babysat Hunter on a rainy evening while Judy, Amanda, and Brianna went to a Mother/Daughter Banquet.  When the rains come, we get creative on indoor entertainment (soon I'll post a video of his indoor stroller ride).

Hunter: "Grandpa, why do they call it middle C if it's not in the middle?"

And finally, a public service/consumer safety announcement:
These plastic balls are well-nigh impossible for a baby to swallow.  No matter how hard we try.

And these cubes are even harder.
Stay tuned for Da Gals.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Two New Grandkid Vids

I'm now "video capable" on the blog again.  The only trouble is, I don't always have the camera handy when it would be most valuable.  But I recently captured Claire and Brianna as they set out to mow our lawn.  They are diligent and tireless in their effort.  Even if they're mostly mowing a dirt path.  Be sure to notice how Bri cuts Claire off a couple of times-- she'll be a terror on the interstates.  And you can't miss Bri's cackling laugh as she pops out from behind a utility pole to surprise Claire.  As usual, Claire is unfazed.

In the second video, Claire and Brianna take to our porch swing, which has been newly hung after the removal of the winter firewood.  They're sharing a little alphabet toy.  At one point Claire has to enforce the sharing rule.  But to Bri's credit, she submits to the rules.

I'm so happy to share with all our friends the love that these two young ladies have for each other.  We see it on a regular basis and of course, we never tire of it.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


 One week ago was National Teacher Day.  I'm sharing the article below in honor of all my educator friends.  It is both encouraging because it states the truth about your valuable calling, and somber because the message belies the direction our society is taking with regard to public education.

This blog post won't be of interest to everyone.  It's rather long and there are no baby pictures, videos, or humor. In fact, it's rather unsettling.  But it will make an interesting and thought-provoking read for my educator friends and for those of you who are friends of education.

What Arne Duncan was (maybe) thinking in his letter to teachers

By Valerie Strauss

My guest is Aaron Pallas, professor of sociology and education at Teachers College, Columbia University. He writes the Sociological Eye on Education blog—where this post first appeared—for The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, non-partisan education-news outlet affiliated with the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media.

By Aaron Pallas

As part of Teacher Appreciation Week, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan published an open letter to America’s teachers. Perhaps Secretary Duncan writes his own speeches—but the fact that the U.S. Department of Education lists 124 employees for the Office of Communications and Outreach suggests otherwise. Perhaps the secretary’s mind wanders as he reads the texts prepared for him—and perhaps he inserts his own thoughts as he reads along. Here’s Duncan’s letter, along with what I imagine just what those thoughts might be.

I have worked in education for much of my life. I have met with thousands of teachers in great schools and struggling schools, in big cities and small towns, and I have a deep and genuine appreciation for the work you do. I know that most teachers did not enter the profession for the money. (That’s why I’m such a strong supporter of basing merit pay on growth in students’ test scores.) You became teachers to make a difference in the lives of children, and for the hard work you do each day, you deserve to be respected, valued, and supported. (And as long as it doesn’t get in the way of raising test scores, I’m committed to that goal.)

I consider teaching an honorable and important profession, and it is my goal to see that you are treated with the dignity we award to other professionals in society. (Recall how outspoken I’ve been in the face of portrayals of teachers as incompetent in forums such as the film ‘Waiting for Superman.’) In too many communities, the profession has been devalued. (Perhaps you’ve heard of Central Falls, R.I., which did the right thing for kids by firing every teacher in the district.) Many of the teachers I have met object to the imposition of curriculum that reduces teaching to little more than a paint-by-numbers exercise. I agree. (Given the narrowing of the curriculum that our policies continue to promote, though, it’s more like paint-by-a-single-number. And who decided that the number should be 6?)

Inside your classroom, you exercise a high degree of autonomy. (Unless, of course, you want to be able to hold onto a job in which the performance of teachers and schools is based almost entirely on students’ standardized test scores.) You decide when to slow down to make sure all of your students fully understand a concept, or when a different instructional strategy is needed to meet the needs of a few who are struggling to keep up. (You also have a great deal of control over how many hours a day you devote to test preparation.) You build relationships with students from a variety of backgrounds and with a diverse array of needs, and you find ways to motivate and engage them. I appreciate the challenge and skill involved in the work you do and applaud those of you who have dedicated your lives to teaching. (Of course, I also applaud those of you who have dedicated the first two years of your lives after college to teaching before moving on to your real careers, which is why we awarded Teach for America $50 million in our Investing in Innovation competition.)

Many of you have told me you are willing to be held accountable for outcomes over which you have some control, but you also want school leaders held accountable for creating a positive and supportive learning environment. You want real feedback in a professional setting rather than drive-by visits from principals or a single score on a bubble test. (That’s really a caricature, I must say. Usually there are at least two bubble tests involved.) And you want the time and opportunity to work with your colleagues and strengthen your craft. (Increased time to collaborate with colleagues is one of our signature unfunded policies.)

You have told me you believe that the No Child Left Behind Act has prompted some schools—especially low-performing ones—to teach to the test, rather than focus on the educational needs of students. Because of the pressure to boost test scores, NCLB has narrowed the curriculum, and important subjects like history, science, the arts, foreign languages, and physical education have been de-emphasized. (That’s why we’ve funded two large consortia—to the tune of $330 million—to develop new state assessments in English and math only.) And you are frustrated when teachers alone are blamed for educational failures that have roots in broken families, unsafe communities, misguided reforms, and underfunded schools systems. You rightfully believe that responsibility for educational quality should be shared by administrators, community, parents, and even students themselves. (But don’t expect these shared responsibilities to show up in the teacher evaluation systems that states proposed to win those big Race to the Top bucks.)

The teachers I have met are not afraid of hard work, and few jobs today are harder. (If I keep saying this, perhaps you won’t notice that our policies are the major reason this is true.) Moreover, it’s gotten harder in recent years; the challenges kids bring into the classroom are greater and the expectations are higher. Not too long ago, it was acceptable for schools to have high dropout rates, and not all kids were expected to be proficient in every subject. In today’s economy, there is no acceptable dropout rate, and we rightly expect all children—English-language learners, students with disabilities, and children of poverty—to learn and succeed. (Just don’t ask me to define what that actually means.)

You and I are here to help America’s children. We understand that the surest way to do that is to make sure that the 3.2 million teachers in America’s classrooms are the very best they can be. The quality of our education system can only be as good as the quality of our teaching force. (Well, there’s that pesky poverty thing affecting the quality of the education system, but you can’t incentivize poverty.)

So I want to work with you to change and improve federal law, to invest in teachers and strengthen the teaching profession. Together with you, I want to develop a system of evaluation that draws on meaningful observations and input from your peers, as well as a sophisticated assessment that measures individual student growth, creativity, and critical thinking. (I’m a firm believer in making policy based on assessments that won’t exist for several more years.) States, with the help of teachers, are now developing better assessments so you will have useful information to guide instruction and show the positive impact you are having on our children.

Working together, we can transform teaching from the factory model designed over a century ago to one built for the information age. (And the market-based reforms that we incentivized in Race to the Top, such as lifting charter-school caps, are the key to doing so.) We can build an accountability system based on data we trust and a standard that is honest—one that recognizes and rewards great teaching, gives new or struggling teachers the support they need to succeed, and deals fairly, efficiently, and compassionately with teachers who are simply not up to the job. (I, for one, have so much faith in value-added measures of teacher performance based on standardized tests that I think they should be made public, to reward excellence. Imagine a great teacher’s pride at wearing a scarlet “A.”) With your input and leadership, we can restore the status of the teaching profession so more of America’s top college students choose to teach because no other job is more important or more fulfilling.

In the next decade, half of America’s teachers are likely to retire. What we do to recruit, train, and retain our new teachers will shape public education in this country for a generation. At the same time, how we recognize, honor, and show respect for our experienced educators will reaffirm teaching as a profession of nation builders and social leaders dedicated to our highest ideals. As that work proceeds, I want you to know that I hear you, I value you, and I respect you. (Now if you’ll excuse me, Bill Gates is on the line.)

Note from Ken:  I hope this article isn't too much of a "downer."  But please know that your life-changing work IS highly valued by your children, their parents, and those who believe in a free public education as the backbone of our democracy through an informed and educated citizenry.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Urban Legend: The Snake in the Car

I suppose you've all heard stories of the mechanic who went to change a fan belt on his car and grabbed a snake instead.  Or the person changing a tire and when they reached for the jack picked up a snake instead.  Or better yet/worst still, the person who stepped on the accelerator when a snake slithered up their leg.

Well, these stories are all urban legends.  Which doesn't mean snakes don't like cars.  They might like to be around the warm engine.  If it's an old car rarely driven, they might find a place of solitude and reflection.  Or maybe an unfortunate field mouse who had the same idea. 

Debi, maybe you'd better stop reading here. . . .

Well, I hadn't really planned to blog today.  I planned to haul firewood.  And I did.  Two truck loads.  And as I was backing up to dump the second load my eye caught something dark hanging down under my faithful Mercury Montego wagon, "Woody."

Was it a broken fan belt?
Was it a detached water hose?
No, none of the above.  Though he may be slightly detached.

No, this is a black rat snake.  My favorite, in case you didn't know.  And I was hardly surprised at all.  I wouldn't say snakes are all over the place (because then nobody would visit us), but they're not terribly uncommon either.

This close-up shows the characteristic "disjointed" look they often assume when they're at rest.  Judy and I have witnessed it many times.

I wasn't sure how the lighting was, so I moved around for a different angle.  He's healthy looking, but not full grown yet.  About four feet is my estimate, though Judy pointed out that we never saw his other end.  I admit, I did have to extrapolate (don't worry, that's not a bad thing).

Observant Judy asked me why he appeared to be different colors toward his rear (the part clinging to my engine).  At first I though it was dirt or a trick of the filtered sunlight.  Judy knew from other conversations that baby rat snakes have distinct markings for camouflage that gradually darken as the snake ages.  In certain light the markings still show up on adults.  But I have a feeling the gray, milky hue on this snake is a sign that he's getting ready to shed.  That is one of the telltale signs.  Another sign is that snakes are more irritable before they shed, but he seemed to be in a reasonably good mood.

Just one more photo, now.  I don't want to forget his face.
Judy went back to the house and I went on to dump my load of wood.  Only a couple of minutes later I looked back and saw no sign of my snake friend under the car OR anywhere in the open field around it.  So I'm assuming he'd had enough activity for the way and went back whence he had cometh. 
I'm fairly certain I'll see him again.  And I'll definitely raise the hood and check for him before cranking "Woody."  The last thing we need is another urban legend about the snake that became chop suey.