A Valediction Forbidding Mourning

June 1, 2012 in Family,Personal | Comments (5)

The title of this post is tribute to this poem by the same name.  It pretty much has nothing to do with what I'm about to write, but my tenth-grade English teacher made me read it and the title has stuck in my head all these years.

If you're between the ages of 30 and 50, you probably remember watching a cartoon as a kid where a fisherman hooks a small fish only to have that small fish swallowed by a larger fish as he's reeling in his catch.  That's pretty much what has happened to me over the last several days.

I posted on Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus about ten days ago that I had accepted a position in the Lewisville Independent School District.  It was an exciting new opportunity to be a Team Leader in a very large organization.  I posted that I would be leaving my current post in Honey Grove, Texas- where I've worked for the last 15 years, and beginning my new adventure in July. 

A new challenge.  A new opportunity.  A new door opened to the next phase of my career in public education.

That's all changed.

Just this morning I called Lewisville ISD to let them know that I won't be taking the position after all.  Instead I'll be packing my bags and moving to Atlanta, Georgia two weeks from today.

The day after I accepted the position with Lewisville I was contacted by Piedmont Healthcare about an Application Coordinator position that my good friend Aaron had recommended me for.  One phone conversation and one Skype video conference later I took the job.

My last day in Honey Grove will be Friday June 15th, and I'm to report to Piedmont in Atlanta on Monday June 18th.

The opportunity I was so excited about reeling in just got swallowed by a much bigger one.

Change is good….right?

I'm leaving Texas.  I'm leaving Education.  I'm uprooting my family and dragging them 800 miles east to a new home, new schools, and a new life.

If I said I wasn't excited I'd be lying.

If I said I wasn't scared I'd be lying even more.

Today I said goodbye to most of the staff I've worked with for a decade and a half.  I'll still be around for a couple of weeks, along with a few other full-year employees, and while today's goodbye was difficult, I'm sure the final one in a couple of weeks will be more so. 

A valediction forbidding morning. Saying goodbye with joy.

My family and I will miss the cherished people we leave behind, but instead of mourning what is lost, I'd much rather celebrate what was… and what will be.  I hope that I've lived my daily life in such a way that those I love, know I love them.  I hope I've brought a fraction of the joy, laughter, comfort, support and learning to your lives that you have to mine. 

The end of every journey, marks the beginning of a new adventure.  As my family embarks on our new adventure, we'll cherish the journey we've taken here in Texas, and we'll covet the prayers of those to whom we say "so long." to make smooth the path of our new adventure.


The State of Political Discourse

May 9, 2012 in Politics and Current Events | Comments (0)

Ever see the movie My Cousin Vinny?  It's a hilarious film from 1992 featuring Joe Pesci as a street-wise, but bumbling lawyer.  If you haven't seen it, stop reading this post and go watch it.  I'll wait.

Ok, now that you've seen the movie you'll remember the classic scene where Vinny gives his epic opening statement to the court.  In case it's been a while, let me refresh your memory.

Slick-haired prosecutor Jim Trotter spends about two minutes of air time laying down a strong opening statement for his case.  He tells the jury that he is certain the defendants are guilty and the he will present them with comprehensive evidence which will convince them of this fact as well.  He tells them they'll hear from three eye-witnesses, see crime scene photos, and even be presented with the defendants own confession.  His address is delivered with polish, professionalism, and just a dash of used-car-salesman thrown in for good measure.  He's articulate, animated, and clearly intelligent, though the writers do make sure he mispronounces a word here and there so you don't forget he's a hick from backwater Alabama.

Meanwhile, Vinny is snoring at his desk.  When the judge calls for his opening statement, his client punches him in the side to wake him, and he groggily makes his way to the jury box and says, "Uh… everything that guy just said is bullsh*t." The viewers' reaction at this point is to cheer and laugh.  The scrappy underdog got a good zinger in on the sleazy Establishment-type. 

You see, by this point we've been conditioned to like Vinny and Dislike Trotter.  Vinny is the dynamic, lovable protagonist and Trotter is the one-dimensional obstacle standing between him and his moment of greatness. 

The problem is that Vinny is the one in the wrong here.  Trotter did everything right.  He played by the rules.  He presented his argument well.  He was erudite and concise.  He was compelling.  His argument was complete and sound. 

Vinny was the slacker.  He was relying on emotion rather than intellect, and pandered to the lowest common denominator of humanity- vulgar mockery.

I realized today, as I listened to a podcast in which two people had a political debate, that scene poignantly typifies the current state of political discourse in the US. 

One side plays by the rules; creates sound arguments based on reason, intellect and evidence.  One side takes the time and effort to present itself in a polished and professional manner.  The other side relies on vulgar mockery and raw emotion.

I'll let you decide who is who.


Telling all my secrets

April 18, 2012 in Personal | Comments (0)

Today someone asked me (my wife, actually) on Facebook how I make my pulled-pork barbecue, so I told them everything. 

Well, not everything, but a lot. 

I know a lot of cooks who talk about "secret recipes" and "special tips," but I think knowledge exists to be shared.  So, I thought I'd take my Facebook post and copy it here to my blog for the world to see.  I don't consider myself an expert cook, by any means, but the stuff generally tastes pretty darn good, and I thought people who've never tried their hand at making authentic, southern barbecue might learn a bit from my years of experimentation.

So… without further ado, here are my basic steps for making barbecue.

 

Dry Rub

I don't really know the amounts I put in my rub.  I just go until it "looks right."

Dark brown sugar, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, cayenne, black pepper, kosher salt, white pepper, Mexican chili powder, chipotle chili powder, and cinnamon (that's the secret ingredient, don't tell anyone). Roughly equal parts chili powder and sugar, roughly a half part salt, roughly a half part everything else put together.

Brine

I always brine my pork and poultry before I cook it.  Beef usually has enough flavor and fat to not really need a brine.

1 cup kosher salt to 1 gallon of water, worcestershire sauce, dehydrated onion, dehydrated garlic, whole black peppercorns, apple cider vinegar, cayenne, cinnamon (again), and a touch of honey. I never measure any of these ingredients.  Just put some of this, and a little of that.  It's cooking, not astrophysics.

Cover the meat with brine and lots of ice (or freezer cold packs) and stash in a cooler for 12-24 hours for large cuts of meat, 6-8 hours for smaller cuts like ribs. Replace ice/cold packs as needed to keep the meat below 40F. If your meat floats (whole turkeys and chickens tend to do that) weigh it down with a bit of heavy steel chain from the hardware store.  Pop it in the dishwasher when you're done and store it in a plastic container until next time.  Also, I highly recommend you have cooler dedicated to brining as it tends to leave odors behind that you can never fully wash out.

Smoking

After brining, rinse the meat and dry it thoroughly with paper towels. Apply dry rub liberally (there's a reason is called "rub" work it in there good) and let sit for 30-60 minutes at room temperature. Smoke at 225 until the internal temperature hits 185 for pork, 175F for poultry or 195F for beef brisket and ribs. (18-24 hours for shoulder, brisket and large birds, 8-10 hours for ribs and small birds). For pork and chicken I like a combination of hickory, oak and apple wood. For beef, I like straight hickory, or a mix of hickory and mesquite. Pull it from the smoker and let it rest for at least half an hour.

You may be looking at these temperatures and thinking, "That's way overdone!" and you're right.  However, when cooking cuts of meat with lots of connective tissues like collagen and elastin, you have to get it hot enough to break down fully.  Yes, the meat will be overcooked, but it'll also be coated with lots of natural gelatin formed by the breaking down of the connective tissue.  This will make the meat feel and taste moist and juicy, even though you've pretty much cooked all of the natural juices out of it.


Pining for the Fjords

January 13, 2012 in Personal | Comments (0)

Despite how it may seem upon casual inspection, my blog isn't dead.  Recently someone asked me why it is that I don't blog much any more, since my last update to this site was more than half a year ago.  I haven't given up blogging, necessarily. I just find that I don't really need it right now.

I'm sure most of you already know this, but for almost two years now I've been podcasting on a regular basis. It started with a simple, bi-weekly show called The Tightwad Tech, where my co-host Shawn and I discussed our unique methods for stretching a tight technology budget in a small, rural school.  To date we've produced more than 90 episodes of The Tightwad Tech and have had the amazing privilidge of interviewing world-famous authors, CEOs of major corporations, and many hard-working, talented, dedicated education professionals.  The show, which is now a weekly publication, is downloaded by thousands of people every week, with the numbers growing steadily.

Shawn and I so enjoyed doing the show, that we began to produce others, and in the summer of 2011 formed a media production company called Element Opie Productions to produce and distribute our growing catalog of weekly Internet radio shows.  As of right now, I'm "on the air" an average of about ten hours a week, pontificating, plying my often sardonic wit, learning from brilliant people, and just generally having a whole lot of fun.  I love what I'm doing, and hope that, in time, it can become my full-time occupation.

One side-effect of all this podcasting is that I don't really need to blog any more.  My blog has always been a place to codify my thoughts in writing, to share my observations, to entertain, to inspire.  In short, it's been my verbal playground for all these years.  Now I do all of that and more while behind a microphone.  I'm sure that, from time to time, there will be things that I just have to write- thoughts that can't be made complete until I write and then read them, and those will surely bring me back to the comfort of my blog and my first love; prose.

In the mean time, if you want to find out what's going on in my life, what thoughts are rumbling through my mind, what's breaking my heart, what's making me giggle like a schoolgirl, then pop on over to ElementOpie.com and listen in.  If you're already familiar with podcasting, you can subscribe to our shows and have them delivered to your phone, MP3 player, or computer automatically.  If not, don't worry about it.  Each show has a nice, friendly "play button" right on the Web page.  Visit the site, click play, and (hopefully) enjoy.

As always, I covet your feedback.  Let me know what you think.  What's good?  What could be better? What would you like to hear us talk about in the future.  Feel free to leave a comment here on my blog, on the Element Opie Web site, or on Twitter or Facebook.  Thanks for reading, listening, and just generally being a part of my life!


Reality Is Boring

July 31, 2011 in Education,Family | Comments (0)

Late last night my family returned home from what we dubbed our "mini-vacation."  Rather than taking a big, expensive family vacation this year, we stayed relatively local and took a small (still, somehow far too expensive) mini-vacation.  We stayed a couple of nights in a hotel, because to a kid hotel = vacation and treated ourselves to some of the Dallas area attractions.

On Friday we went to the enormous Grapevine Mills Mall, and while there visited the Rainforest Café.  If you've never been there, I'll give you a quick summary- overpriced, mediocre quality food in a pretty amazing environment.  The entire restaurant is a "recreation" of the Amazon rain forest.  There are huge aquariums filled with exotic fish, and giant fake trees and vines all around, complete with bird and animal sounds piped in over the PA.

The real showcase, though, are the animatronic animals.  Gorillas, elephants, birds, snakes and other animals surround the tables and periodically "come to life-" moving around and making loud noises.  Every hour or so there's an indoor thunderstorm, complete with lightening and even a bit of synthetic rain. 

It's really a great experience and even more so for young children.

Saturday we went to Fair Park in Dallas (the site of the Texas State Fair) and visited the sister museums of Science and Natural History.  First we went to the Science Museum, which is a vast expanse of hands-on exhibits covering everything from archeology to the human genome.  We moved from room to room literally digging for fossils, touching relics, exploring over-sized models of DNA chains and even picking a giant nose!

The museum is also currently hosting the traveling "Chinasaurus" exhibit, which includes several complete skeletons of dinosaurs found in and around modern-day China.  Along the way, interspersed with the dry, dead bones, are full-size animatronic recreations of these prehistoric beasts.  They move, they roar, they blink, they breathe.  They're inches away almost begging to be touched.

The next stop was the museum of Natural history across the way.  In this building we found a Lego room filled Lego recreations of modern Dallas landmarks such as the American Airlines Center and Reunion Tower.  There were even tables set up in the back of the room with thousands of Lego pieces strewn about, where kids (and parents!) were encouraged to build and create for as long as they want.

Next door was a room dedicated to light and optical illusions.  Huge wall-sized displays encouraged kids to turn knobs and press buttons and see what happens.  What happens when we change the oscillation frequency of a flourescent light? What happens when you put two pieces of polarized glass together and rotate them?  How bright can you make this bulb by turning the attached hand-crank generator?

All of these questions were asked and answered by the eager hands of my 8,7 and 2 year-old daughters.

Finally, we moved downstairs to the more classic exhibits- dead birds and rodents stuffed and put behind glass in the 1930s.

My kids were bored.

I was bored.

Taxidermy reality behind foggy glass simply couldn't compete with roaring dinosaurs.  Even the fierce 9-foot grizzly bear posed menacingly in the center of the room barely managed to draw a glance.

I quipped to my children and then later on Twitter that these exhibits were a lot more impressive before you could see the same thing (and better, frankly) at the Bass Pro Shop down the road.

I tried to imagine what this room looked like to the 8-year-old boys and girls of 1936, when it was first unveiled. 

Was it as awe-inspiring to them as the robotic giants my kids had just seen were to them? 

Did they stare, slack-jawed at the huge white wolf with fangs bared?

Maybe.  Probably.

My kids were ready for some chicken nuggets and the McDonald's Playland.

I'm not going to try to lay down some heavy-handed analogy here, but I do have to wonder which of these two experiences most resemble what my children (and yours) will encounter when they walk back into the classroom in a few weeks. 

Will they be challenged to learn by doing?  Will they have their curiosity piqued and then be given the tools to satisfy it?  Will they come face-to-face with fierce learning?  Or, will they be asked to look at dusty relics behind hazy glass?

If you're a teacher or school administrator, which of these do you want to describe your classroom?  Which describes it now?


A Comedy of Errors

April 26, 2011 in Humor | Comments (0)

I'm a big fan of Google Voice for a lot of reasons, but I think my favorite feature is the hours of entertainment value it can provide. Yesterday I called my wife to let her know I was coming home a bit early to stay ahead of some severe weather that was on its way. Here is how Google Voice transcribed that message:

Just came home Please, papers, break in between and so I'm gonna try to get works. What's up, I think you are park at Rick, Martin step. So what's happened bye

I think that about sums it up. Don't you?


Trust but verify?

December 12, 2010 in Family,Humor | Comments (0)

This morning as I was standing in the bathroom getting ready for church I had the following conversation with my 2-year-old daughter.

"Owa showa Daddy?"

"Yes, baby, I'm out of the shower."

"Owa showa Daddy?"

"Yes, I'm out of the shower now."

"Owa showa?"

"Yes, baby.  Daddy's out of the shower now."

"Daddy owa showa?"

"Yes, I'm out of the shower."

"Owa showa Daddy?"

"Yes, baby, I'm out of the shower now."

"Ok."

A CIA interrogator in the making? 


In remembrance

December 1, 2010 in Family | Comments (0)

Long-time readers of my blog (all three of you) may remember a post I wrote a few years ago about the inflatable Winnie the Pooh yard ornament I'm forced to put up each year around this time.  For those of you who aren't familiar with it, and don't care to read my old post, I'll post the introductory paragraph; it sums up my feelings about it fairly nicely.

What you see before you is a representation of all that is wrong with the Modern Western celebration of Christmas. An eight-foot inflatable Pooh Bear dressed as Santa Claus and sitting on a honey pot. I hate this thing. I hate everything about it. It embodies everything I hate about the mass-produced, commercialization of the celebration of the birth of my Savior. As much as I dislike the plastic Jesus of the modern manger scene, at least it pays tacit homage to the incarnate Christ. This bit of made-in-China holiday mirth, on the other hand doesn't even hint that Christmas is anything more than a time to line the pockets of the world's retailers. The worst part is that this picture was taken in my own front yard.

My wife's father bought Pooh for us as a family gift in 2003 and, while I was polite about it and thanked him for the gift, I never liked it much.

Over the years Pooh and I have made peace, of sorts.  My daughters love him, so I tolerate him.  I wait as long as possible before I put him up and take him down as soon after Christmas as I can, but like it or not, he has a place of honor in my front yard each year.

Last Saturday was the day we brought out all the Christmas decorations and began the process of decking the halls of our home.  While I'm a bit of a Grinch about some of the modern mistreatments of Christmas, I dearly love the holiday, the season, and the cause of my celebrating.  Christmas is my favorite time of the year, without exception. 

But still, there's the whole issue of Pooh.

I knew it was coming- the point when one of my children would ask about him.  I was prepared to play it off, to stall, to find a way to delay the inevitable.

"Mama, when is Daddy gonna put Pooh Bear up?" my oldest daughter asked.

I grumbled noncommittally as I fiddled with a string of lights.

"Daddy doesn't much like, Pooh." my wife answered.

"I do!" chimed my middle child.

"So do I," replied my wife "he helps me remember my Daddy."

I stood up immediately, without a word, and went to retrieve him from the garage.

I had misunderstood Pooh's significance all these years.  It's not about commercialism or avarice.  It's about remembrance.  My father-in-law died in 2007.  My wife lost her Daddy.

I wept as I pulled my inflatable nemesis out of storage and began to set him up.  I want my children to remember their Daddy- always. I realized in that moment that when I grumble, complain, roll my eyes, and scoff at his gift, I diminish and dismiss his memory.

Now I understand.

Pooh will be with us as long as I can keep him together.  I'll tape him, patch him, sew him, rewire him- whatever it takes. 

Stand tall, Pooh. 

Stand proud. 

Stand in remembrance; of Leon, of Gramps, of Daddy.


Just Google Me

October 10, 2010 in Personal,Rant | Comments (2)

On average I see two or three job postings online each week.  Many of these come to me via some electronic mailing list I'm a member of, while others are sent to me directly via some professional headhunter or other similar service.  While I'm quite happy with my current job and am not actively looking to go elsewhere, I do take the time to at least look through the postings.  You never know when the perfect opportunity might drop into your lap.

I'm often amazed at some of the archaic requirements necessary for applying to modern jobs.  I'm a technology professional, being sought out to work in a technical field.  Logic would dictate that the application and vetting process for these jobs might be the most modern, cutting-edge processes available.  After all, if I'm being hired to steer a company or school system into the technological future, I should be a future-oriented person being interviewed and hired by future-oriented people.

Why, oh why then should I be expected to print out a PDF, write on it with a ball-point and fax it back to the personnel office? 

Fax?  Really?  Do people still fax?

Ok, so maybe I'm being a bit harsh there.  Maybe these people are looking to hire me because they're mired in the past and they need someone to show them the road to the future, by at the very least, bringing them into the present.  Maybe I'm being a techno-bigot.  So, we'll move past the methodology involved in applying for the job and talk about the information they want from me.

I understand the basic resumé and cover-letter requirements. 

The resumé provides the vital statistics- the name, rank and serial number, if you will of the prospective employee.  Where did he get his education?  Where has he worked?  Is he the sort of man who hops from job to job, or is he the kind of man you can build your organization's future on?  Is he a well-rounded person with community ties, or a workaholic who's likely to burn himself out within a couple of years?  These are all things that can be gleaned from a resumé.

The cover letter is where you get a sense of the employee's personality.  Does your job description include the phrase "Must have excellent verbal and written communication skills?" Well, the cover letter will tell half of that story, at least.  Does he display attention to detail in his grammar, punctuation and even the very format of the letter? 

But why, oh why do I need to provide a college transcript?   A copy of my diploma, I could understand.  It shows that I really did attend the institution I claimed to, and that I really did graduate.  But, a transcript?  Seriously?

I'm thirty-eight years old at the time of this writing.  I graduated almost fifteen years ago.  If you're looking to hire me, you'd better hope that I'm not the same person that transcript represents. 

It'll tell you how many hours I completed and what my GPA was upon graduation, but how can that compare to the decade and a half of on-the-job experience I've had since then?  Maybe I had the minimum GPA required to graduate.  Maybe I won every academic honor possible.  So, what?  What does that tell you about who I am today?

What my transcript will tell you is that it took me six years to get my four-year degree.  It'll tell you that I took classes, dropped them, took them again, dropped them again, took them again and passed.  It'll tell you that I took a lot of physics classes, then a lot of Spanish classes, then a lot of psychology classes. What does that tell you? 

Maybe I was a slacker who goofed off on my parents money for six years.  Maybe I was a hard-drinking frat boy who didn't go to class.  Maybe I took a couple of semesters off to backpack around Europe and "find myself."  The transcript won't tell you any of  that.  You'll still have to ask me in an interview.

Let me tell you the story of my college life succinctly.  I was dirt poor and worked as many as four jobs at a time to be able to pay my rent, buy food, pay tuition and buy text books.  I had to maintain a minimum of twelve hours of classes to be considered a full-time student and remain eligible for financial aide.  There simply weren't enough hours in the week to work that much and attend that many classes.  So, I didn't go to class.  There's one particular Political Science class that I took four times and literally never even knew where the class was located three of those times.  The fourth time I made an A. 

I struggled to keep a roof over my head and was completely homeless for a while- relying on the kindness of my friends to provide me shelter.  In spite of all that I made the Dean's List.  A transcript can't tell you that.  But, again I ask, does it matter? 

Yes, who I was when I was eighteen laid the foundation of who I am at thirty-eight, but when was the last time you paid attention to a foundation? 

When it broke, right?

If my foundation were that weak, the cracks in the facade would be huge by now.  You're not hiring who I was.  You're hiring who I am.  So, how might you find out who I am?

Google me.

You'll find this blog.  You'll find my family Web site.  You'll find my Twitter feed.  You'll find postings I've made to newsgroups over the years.  Maybe you'll find my weekly podcast.  These things will tell you far more about the man you're considering hiring than any fifteen-year-old document that the registrar had to dig up out of their permanent archives.

From my blog you'll find that I'm a man with a quirky sense of humor, strong opinions and deep faith.  You'll find that I love my family, though I struggle with how to be the man they need.

From my Twitter feed you'll know some of the minute-by-minute, and oftentimes completely useless minutiae of my life.  You'll know what restaurants I like, how my Fantasy Football team is doing, and that I'm a sucker for a sunrise.

From my podcast you'll learn that I have a passion for the education process, though I sometimes think that school systems stand in the way of it more than further it.  You'll learn that I really am a seventh-level uber-geek who can talk for hours about server virtualizaton.

From my blog you'll learn that I can write.  From my podcast you'll learn that I can speak.  From my Twitter feed you'll learn that I live every moment.  How can a transcript compare to that?

You want to learn about the man represented by that job application?  Google me.


0.1 Miles, a Triumph of Absurdity

July 23, 2010 in Personal | Comments (2)

My first college experience actually occurred before classes started.  I was in the marching band and we began our rehearsals in August before the start of the semester.  It was hot, demanding, difficult, and I loved it.  The band director at the time was named Tom Bennett and he taught me one of the most valuable concepts I ever learned- the concept of the Absurdity Level.

It goes like this.  There are points in the life of any learner, regardless of what he's learning where what seemed like a pinnacle  at the time becomes absurd.  For a ten-year-old learning to play the flute, getting through a one-minute solo with only a handful of mistakes is a major milestone.  For a professional studio musician, missing a single note in the course of an entire session seems absurd.  As your skill and experience level goes up, so does the level of what you consider absurd.

Over the years I've heard Mr. Bennett's words in my mind many times. 

I learned to play the bass guitar and watched my absurdity level rise.

I learned administer a network of Linux servers and watched my absurdity level rise.

I watched my daughter learn to read and smiled as her absurdity level rose.

Tonight I rode my bike 0.1 miles and felt like my heart was going to burst out of my chest while my lungs screamed to take in more air as quickly as possible.  Yet, that's more than twice as far as I was able to ride yesterday.

In a month I'll read this blog and consider myself absurd for being happy about my 0.1 mile ride, and that's a good thing.