Friday, July 31, 2009

A Fabulous Vacation

Two weeks ago we were sitting on the deck of a private home in Annapolis, directly on the waterfront of Chesapeake Bay watching the sail boats waft homeward to the harbor and the commercial liners chug toward the Atlantic. We had spent the morning touring Washington DC and the afternoon meeting Sister and then driving into Maryland for a week's stay in the most beautiful of homes with it's own private Bay entrance and dock. We had the sole use of the home which has seven bedrooms and multiple baths, a huge kitchen, formal dinning room, formal living room, two sitting rooms, a huge glassed in porch, and an open deck. The setting and the house were simply, absolutely perfect.

Our two day drive to DC was uneventful, the countryside green and lush. Most of the way was along I70 but we hit a stretch of I68 through beautiful historic towns like Cumberland, PA where we snacked on homemade ice cream and enjoyed the historic architecture. The only problem we encountered was one I hadn't anticipated -- Hubby had not informed Sister we were coming so Friday night we needed a motel room in the DC area before we dropped in "unannounced" on his family. You would have to understand the hub's family unit to know why this shouldn't have surprised me . . .but it did.

The problem was NOT finding a room for two -- it was finding a room for two WITH two dogs. One motel wanted a non-refundable deposit of $150 per dog, per night. One thought $75 per dog was reasonable. It took us five hours of driving to finally find a Comfort Inn (in Alexandria -- if you ever need one) that would take the dogs for $10 each if we would stay in a smoking room. We had no problem with the smoking room or the deposit -- but finding all those DC suburbs (and by now it was dark) was NOT fun. Thank god for our little GPS.

The next morning, though, Sister was thrilled to find we were in DC and delighted to let has have the beach house for our stay. We picked up the key and headed to Annapolis where the house is located -- and our vacation continued on without a single hitch.

On Saturday Sister and her husband came to have lunch with us and we offered to go with her to church on Sunday. We learned that her church requires "formal" attire -- meaning long pants for Hubby and a skirt / dress for me -- but a stop at Penney's fixed us both up at fairly reasonable prices, thought I've never worn a Penney's dress in my life, I really like the skirt and matching tee I got there.

Sunday we spent with Sister and her husband, going to church, seeing their business and homes (they have three), and sharing family stories. It was a warm, caring day full of laughter and good memories. Sister, at 90, is still working full time in her own day care business (215 children five days a week) with 32 employees. She and Hubby only reconnected last year -- so lots of family stories were exchanged.

Monday and Tuesday we were on our own. We toured Annapolis and Baltimore on Monday and on Tuesday we headed south and did Mount Vernon and Fredericksburg, VA. Then on Wednesday, Sister and her husband came back to the beach and we sat and visited, had lunch, and visited some more before they departed and we packed the car for an early morning departure for home.

Friday evening we pulled in, tired but replete from a really spectacular ten days on the Eastern seaboard.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Weighing In

We were reading the Washington Post in the Plymouth Church parking lot in DC when we came across the first article about Professor Gates arrest by the Cambridge police department. I hooted -- and read the article aloud to Hubby while we waited to meet with Hubby's sister and attend church with her. We both agreed that the Cambridge police has stepped "in it" big time -- and frankly we were delighted that a prominent and respected figure like Gates would now be the spokesperson for a disgrace that every African American, especially male, has suffered throughout his lifetime.

Do we side in any way with the police? NO. A resounding NO! Racial profiling exists, folks. If you are Black you live with it daily. If you are white, you probably don't understand because if you are polite and responsive when the police stop you -- for legitimate reasons -- you are treated in return in a polite, responsive way. If you are a Black male you can expect to be under suspicion, stopped, questioned, and even arrested -- just because you ARE Black. The police, once they make the stop, have in the main, learned to be polite in the stopping and questioning -- but THEY STOP you simply because YOU ARE BLACK. This is frustrating, humiliating, and degrading. And if you, the Black male, aren't properly respectful and polite, then, like Gates, you are arrested for "disturbing the peace."

In my white life (36 years now) living with a Black man I have been stopped numerous times in both Kansas and Missouri -- not because we were breaking the law but because we were driving through a white world. When our own house was robbed -- and everything that wasn't nailed down was taken -- my husband spent 40 minutes in front of the house proving his identity -- while the crooks one block over loaded a semi and drove away with all our possessions. Especially in the white suburbs of Kansas, we have had to prove we owned the car we were driving. I have had to assure the cop that I wasn't driving around with a Black man under duress. At night we have been stopped and asked exactly where we "thought" we were going and had to verify that we were visiting friends -- at their invitation.

Driving across country I can drive ten to fifteen miles over the speed limit, directly by a cop and never be stopped. Hubby can go three miles over the speed limit and he's immediately pulled over. In Arkansas, we were stopped and the car searched by the police because we were in our brand new Toyota.

When I was senior class sponsor I used to let the class treasurer drive to the bank and deposit our funds during the noon break. He would take my old beat-up Toyota, definitely not a car anyone would steal, and drive five blocks away to make the deposit. He was stopped so often in that car that I used to have a signed note with both Hubby's and my phone number on it so the cops could verify he was driving with my permission.

Hubby has always handled the repeated cop invasions into our life with quiet dignity and respect toward the law. He never says evil things. He doesn't spout off. He just accepts the numerous intrusions with patience and forbearance. He understands that to react in any way means jail time. Me? I'm furious. I've been known to ask the police, "Did you stop us simply because I'm a white woman riding with a Black man?" It makes me seethe with anger every time we're stopped and questioned.

I totally understand Gates reaction to his being questioned -- in front of his own house -- and his anger when confronted with the reality that fame, education, money, respect -- nothing keeps him from being lumped into the whole African-American "fear" mentality of this country.

Gates had a right to be mad -- and with his anger we are finally having a dialogue that has been hundreds of years in the making. I've enjoyed Gates' PBS shows on ethnicity -- now he's my new hero. The white people of this country can say he should have been more respectful towards the police. They've never experienced the degradation that comes from facing racial profiling. After years of fighting it -- you GET mad! And this is righteous anger!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Getting Ready to Leave

The suitcases have been brought from the basement. The tees are sorted, the Capri's folded, the shorts and underwear all freshly washed. The bathing suit has been unearthed and the beach towel found. The dog food is packed. The travel maps are bagged and ready.

Wednesday morning we pick up the rental car. We always rent big luxury cars for travel but our mid-town agency threw us a loop when they quit carrying the Lincoln Town Cars. We use to rent Cadillacs but then they got too sporty and low to the ground for arthritic knees and bad backs. We love the Lincolns but this time around we're got a Mercury Marquis. Hubby says it will be big enough. We own a 1991 Lincoln Town Car -- but now that it's nearly 30 years old we don't travel long distances in it. Around town it does just fine -- and Hubby loves it. The 1991's are still not so computerized that you can't "fix" some problems on it yourself.

I'm excited about this vacation. I love road trips. Hubby is not as thrilled as I am to be driving across country but when you travel with two dogs, car travel is really the only way. I like reading about the countryside from the Internet research and the AAA brochures. I love eating in strange little diners. I live to wander through the gas stations and pick up local "snacks." I keep track of license plates and read all the road signs. I like tuning through local radio stations and singing along with the Cd's we've packed. It's fun to spend a night in a strange motel, though sometimes Hubby and I differ on our motel needs. He wants a ground floor room with king size bed but at a very cheap rate. Personally, I can't tolerate cheap motels anymore. I want cleanliness and sheets that fit (and aren't suspect) and floors you aren't afraid to walk barefoot on. We're learning to compromise on motel rooms -- he's agreed that $39 a night rooms just aren't acceptable anymore and I've agreed that we don't spend $100 a night except during holiday season.

So tomorrow we drink the last of the milk, freeze the remaining bread, choose which shoes we absolutely must pack, and count the hours until we leave for Washington, DC. The boys are watching the suitcases with care -- if I put in a toy, Gusie takes it back out. Luie hides it from me. On Wednesday morning though, when they see the suitcases being loaded, they will be the first one to jump into the car, pawing the windows for us to take off. I will be right behind them.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Cleaning House

Getting ready to travel means we need to empty out the fridge. This morning I used up all the eggs and whipping cream to make a really decadent omelet for Hubby. Combined with a can of corned beef hash and a tin of cinnamon rolls, we feasted on enough food to last until dinnertime. Then we're using up the pork chops and macaroni and cheese. Must be a pork kind of day.

Hubby sang at a funeral on Thursday and it seems to have tired him out. Since the aneurysm he has not fared well in high heat and humidity and we're having both in K.C. right now. Thursday he spent the day watching TV after he performed at the morning funeral and he's doing the same today. This is not a usual occurrence for him and it worries me a bit.

I've worked through the stereo cabinet cleaning and sorting and nearly completed clearing and cleaning the antique library table in the living room. When I get the stereo cabinet by the door cleared off, half the living room will be cleaned.

I've update iCalendar on the Mac, using the yearly school calendar to add all the dates for the 2009-2010 school year. I enrolled in my fall grad class and ordered the text book from the Pitt State book store. A used text book is $89 -- that's just criminal. The course I'm taking is Partnership with Families and it meets on Thursday nights from 7 to 9 p.m. -- that's late for me and I may find it hard to cope on Friday's this fall.

Most of the laundry is done. At least one load of towels is left and then we'll wash whatever we wear before Wednesday when we leave for the East Coast. I've got the CD's all sorted and cased for the road trip. Mostly we're packing light for this trip: Capri pants and tees for me, shorts and sport shirts for Hubby, leashes and water packs for the boys. The AAA TripTik arrived along with all the guide books. The on-line research is completed. We may be going a couple of thousand miles in a week's time, but we have no plans to rush here and there. We'll drive until we're tired. We'll give a fast glance at D.C. and Baltimore. We'll visit with Sister for a brief spell. And when we're done looking and visiting, we're ease our way home.

Then it's back to the grind of school and grad classes. It's been a great summer, though -- relaxing, refreshing, and rejuvenating. And half the living room is actually clean.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Summer's Ease

With grad school completed and three weeks before school starts up again, I'm completing all those little niggly things one puts off until a lazier day.

This week I've gotten a physical and all the meds renewed for the next year. Some blood work still needs to be completed but I laid out my little miseries for the doctor and she offered up a fist-full of scripts and some heart-felt advice and I was done with the doctoring for the year. Got my new insurance corrected with Blue Cross / Blue Shield. The district switched from Humana this year and I opted for the most expensive policy offered -- but then Blue Cross gave me the wrong primary physician. However that is all straightened out now and if I need to go to the hospital this year, Blue Cross is going to pay through the nose. Ha! My teeth and I are still working through the dentist but by August 1st even that should all be completed.

Next week we are going to motor through Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia for a week while we visit Sister in D.C. and stay in her house on Chesapeake Bay (on the right). This will be virgin territory for me and I'm very excited to eat Maryland crab and see the Washington Monument.

In two weeks we will be celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary, but the trip East is breaking the bank, so we'll probably take in a twilight hour movie and have a pizza. That's our kind of celebration, anyway.

And then it's back to school. A week of workshops precedes the actual week of teacher meetings. I don't mind going back. I love my job and enjoy the people I work with. It's been really great having two months off each year to recharge and fire up the engines.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Crazy Neighbors Send Dog into Tizzy

July 4th is a hard time to live in the ghetto. Ghetto people spend a fortune on fireworks and start at 8 a.m. (sometimes earlier) to shoot off loud poppers all day and all night long. Sometimes even guns are involved, but this 4th it has been mostly firecrackers. That and loud music, played outside with all the bass reverberation the neighbors can muster.

Gus has had enough. He just wanted a little quiet. So at 8 a.m. he snuck into the computer room and angled himself under the computer desk and waggled his butt up as close to the wall as he could get, while his papa read e-mails.

Then Hubby took the boys to the park and over to the second house for a little piece of quiet while I cleaned the bathroom.

The fireworks continued all afternoon but when I took a break around noon, I found that we had lost DSL connection -- for the second time in a week. This time around, however, the phone worked which meant that the problem was with Earthlink.

I had Hubby check out the connections around 2 p.m. and just now called Earthlink to see what the problem might be. We did have some heavy rain last night. Of course, we got the guy in India -- but it's the 4th and a holiday and Earthlink was still providing service, so I can't complain.

Anyway, when the guy got around to asking about Internet connections, I put Hubby on the phone -- and that's when we discovered that little Gussie's butt had pulled / knocked out all the Internet connections from the phone line.

We've got another three hours of this noise, at least -- and probably all day tomorrow. Right now the street is so full of haze and smoke from fireworks that we can't see two houses away.

Think of the money that is just going up in smoke. And pity poor little Gussie, who still has 24 more hours of this to endure.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Wednesday, July 01, 2009


I am completely a product of the Kansas City, Missouri school district. I was educated in the district from kindergarten through high school graduation. Then I attended Kansas City Junior College, now Metropolitan Community College and I have both a bachelor's and master's degree from UMKC. My first job out of college was to teach in the Kansas City, Missouri school district -- first at Southeast Junior for seven years and then at the original Paseo High School for fifteen years. That totals 42 years of my life given to the KCMO schools. I hang my head in shame and mortification that I supported this criminally racist district for so much of my life.

Once I graduated from the pristine white enclave of Southwest High School, the school that created the need for the huge desegregation plan Kansas City lived under for so many years, I was always very clear that my career in education belonged in urban core schools. Consequently, I have never stepped back into Southwest since I graduated in 1964 -- the year the school was nominated as one of the 50 best in the nation.

For my 22 year teaching career in KCMO district I never earned a salary above $32,000 – that’s with 20 years tenure and a master’s degree. I quit in 1990 when my high school was detonated to make way for a performing arts school. During the late 1980's and early 1990's, J.E. Dunn (the city's pre-eminent construction company) and Freedom, Inc. (an African-American political group) bilked the district of over ONE BILLION DOLLARS (and I lost count after the first billion -- it was probably closer to TWO BILLION) claiming that they were building new schools of the highest quality and renovating the old ones to top standards.

So the beautiful school I taught in (on the right) was leveled. There was nothing wrong with it, frankly, other than the greed that bringing it down and rebuilding a huge complex on its site generated (on the left, below). The high school I graduated from, Southwest, cost over $33 million to renovate. They even put in a planetarium. Westport High School in the center of the city was renovated at a cost higher than that. And the decrepit Central High School, the only high school for African-Americans during the shame of the 1950's, was torn down and replaced with a structure to support the "Greek" magnet concept -- this meant that the students were trained to become athletes (after all it was for the Black Community) so they needed a swimming pool that the instructors could walk under and watch the swimmers. Also during this time every single school in the district became a magnet school and the neighborhood schools were a thing of the past.

Today a new superintendent took over the KCMOSD, Dr. John Covington. He is reported to be guaranteed a $250,000 yearly salary for the next three years. He was hired in from the outside. His inaugurial speech was all about how he was going to be open and communicative with the people of Kansas City. He is the 24th superintendent in the district in the last 40 years. In the last 20 years nearly all of the superintendents have had their contracts bought out by the district.

I left the Kansas City School District in 1990 and I'm sure they were thrilled to see me go. Along with my students and their parents, we had sued the district in federal court to stop the destruction of Paseo High School and to ensure that those students, 100% African-American, would not have their last years of high school destroyed by a magnet plan that was sure to fail. We lost our case after a nine-month fight that was the #2 media story of Kansas City in 1989/90-- everybody likes a David and Goliath fight.

Today, the district's magnet plan is history. Funny that neighborhood schools are now the hue and cry of the parents. The billion dollars in construction? Today the district cannot afford to maintain the schools they built or rehabbed. Once Dunn and Freedom had taken all the money they could from the district, they had no interest in the educational fate of the students. This month the district has announced it is closing 13 area schools. Southwest High School stands empty except for occasional attempts to find a private sponsor to take it over. Both Westport and Central Middle Schools are being closed for the next school year.

Today I work in a district across the state line. I said I'd never cross over -- but then I began to hear about an urban core district that had their act together (and yes, they asked me to come). They were actually educating inner city students. Test scores were going up. Teachers were treated like professionals -- and though we don't make a heap of money, we sure make more than $32,000 I made from 1983 until 1990 when I quit KCMO. Even better, this district promotes its own. The superintendent was a teacher, then a principal, then an administrator in the district. She lives right around the corner from my high school. She shows up for celebrations and in times of trouble.

Here's an antidote I like to tell about the differences I see in the two districts, just from a teacher's perspective:

An arson fire was started at Paseo during the mid-1980's. It was in the office, did little physical destruction but there was water and smoke damage. The school shut down for three days but the teachers were required to be on site. During the first day, I was in my room, salvaging papers and generally examining the damage when the superintendent of schools showed up -- in a three piece white suit with his chauffeur (you got that right -- he had a driver, paid for by the district with the worst test scores in the state!). Of course, dressed all in white he couldn't sit down but he walked through first floor of the building (gingerly) and then had the teachers meet with him briefly in the auditorium. There we were told it was our job to make sure our rooms were cleaned of all damage before school opened in two days time. We were the cleaning crew.

During my first year across the state line, we had a vandalism event at my beautiful, historic, well-preserved, and beloved school. Students came in, took fire extinguishers and threw them through the beautiful historic panes of glass in our doors. They shot the foam up and down the hallways. In some rooms they threw things out the windows. When the teachers arrived in the morning, the police were still in the building, with the superintendent who had come over from her house in her bathrobe. We gathered in the parking lot. Soon the superintendent came out and told us we could enter the building and examine our rooms and see the damage, but then we were to go home and relax for the rest of the day. The district hired crews to come in and clean the building from top to bottom -- 24 hours of work -- while the teachers got a paid day of vacation. The next morning, when we gathered at school, the superintendent and her staff were there to greet us and tell us how sorry she was about the damage to our lovely building and to encourage us to have a good day despite the trouble. We could not tell that any problem had even occurred in the building. Everything was back in place, ready for business.

How vastly different are both approaches. In one setting the teachers were janitors, maids, and cleaning people. In the other, we were respected and valued professionals. In one setting the superintendent showed up to lord his suit, driver, and power over us. In the other, the superintendent was there for support, both physical and moral.

The district I work in now is improving test scores with the same student population, but possibly even more diverse (we have a larger Hispanic community) than in Kansas City Missouri. Do we face problems? Of course. But we handle them as a team. The staff is seen as professionals who want to do a good job. The administration is there to support the teaching and the teachers are there to provide a quality education.

I love teaching. I never knew how much until I finally came into a world where teachers have a value and students are the reason for our existence.

I believe with all my heart that the reason the Kansas City Missouri School District fails is because the city leaders want it to fail. Nothing is as frightening to closet bigots as having an educated minority population -- because you might actually be creating someone like an Obama -- and dear God! we don't want "those folks" in power.

So I still live in Kansas City -- and yes, I live east of Troost (white eyes are rolling now!) -- but I would NEVER, EVER entrust a child to the Kansas City School District. The people that run that show (and it's not the superintendent or the teachers, I promise you) are devils. But they are rich devils, for sure.