Love. Listen/Observe/Read. Act. Repeat.

Thursday, September 29, 2011


This is just about the nicest thing a peer has ever said about me ... dunno whether it was Gayle Reaves, or Jeff Prince, or Peter Gorman, or another one of those tenacious journalists over at the Fort Worth Weekly who wrote this, but I've got tears in my eyes.

I've long respected and admired their work and have been jealous at times that alt-weeklies have more ink to accomplish what needs to be said. And the Weekly knows that when it comes to the Barnett Shale, A LOT more needs to be said.

But, as The Hollies sang on the radio on the way home from Arlington today (from yet another public hearing on the hydraulic fracturing frenzy) and as if just to me ...

Monday, September 26, 2011

Buh-Bye, PFY 478

I stood in line at the tax office for a reasonable amount of time, about 15 minutes, which was made merrier because Monte Borders came in halfway through the wait. Monte lights up every room he enters.

Then, I told Sam's sad story to the clerk, handed over his registration sticker and $7 -- again, not too bad -- to get him on the road again without having his license plate pop up in every police scan he drove by.

This was something Sam could have done, but I didn't want him to miss work and I'm just down the street. I'd already planned on spending the day addressing other people's screw-ups (this means you, Bank of America), so I was ready to make a party of it today.

I asked the clerk whether this happened very often, whether she had given anyone else new plates because their plate number was in the warrant database. She said not very often, but it wasn't uncommon either.

And she agreed, this was the best way to fix the problem.

Sam got a new 7-digit plate. I remember when California went from six digits to seven digits on their plates.

That's about when we left California. Too many people.


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Best. Rejection. Ever.

I was cleaning out some files and came along this little gem from about a decade ago, when I was first casting about for freelance work while in grad school.

This one was a real keeper.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Overheard in the Wolfe House #133

Peggy: Wanna go to St. Philips in the morning tomorrow, since you're working tomorrow night?
Sam: Yeah.We'll take your truck.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Auto Identity Theft

Sam got pulled over again in Flower Mound.

He tried to tell me this once before, that his car identity had been stolen. It made no sense to me. His car had caught that officer's eye because he was in the wrong lane for a moment, so I thought the license plate story was getting lost in translation.

Kind of like the aphasiac talk in Diane Ackerman's book, One Hundred Names for Love.

But today, he explained it well enough that I knew I had to make a call.

You see, the officer recommended that he just get new license plates. That kind of recommendation doesn't get lost in translation.

I made a follow-up call to the police department and the officer who pulled him over set me straight. Someone got a ticket in Balch Springs and didn't pay it. When they issued a warrant for her arrest the warrant went out on both her driver's license and her car license.

What got lost in translation was that girl's license plate being entered in to the database. Sam got his tags at the Denton County Tax Office in 2008.

Guess where we're going Monday? We aren't going to try to bother telling Balch Springs his are not the tags they're looking for. We're going to solve this expeditiously.

Well, as expeditiously as a human being can experience the tax office.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

His Own Kind of Up

In training for my first half-marathon, as of this morning, I have run 193 miles. That's about as far as Kent Couch flew in 2007, when he launched his lawn chair with helium balloons in his own version of "Up."

Overheard in the Wolfe House #132

Sam: I really like that new ice cream flavor you made. Is it chocolate cookie dough?
Peggy (not wanting to say it's a knock-off of Ben and Jerry's Schweddy Balls): No. But it has rum in it.
Sam: It has rum in it?
Peggy: It has rum in it. Is there any left?
Sam: It has rum in it?
Peggy: Did you eat all of it?
Sam: No. I didn't eat all of it.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Explaining the Unexplainable

Throughout Sam's life, the things he's needed to learn had to be taught directly. You cannot imagine how important learning from context is until you are confronted with the inefficiency of hours and hours and hours of direct teaching.

As Sam has grown, he's learned to generalize. He's picked up more from context -- but he had to be taught how to do that, too. Taught to imitate, taught to read context, taught to recognize idioms, taught to generalize.

I get tired just thinking about it.

Now, Sam is struggling mightily with a new problem. And I have to figure out how to explain what civil rights are. Do you know how often we toss out that phrase and we have no idea what it means?

That violates my civil rights.

Read him his rights.

They marched for civil rights.

Google it yourself, and see what a mess you get. Dear readers, can you help?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Tour des Fleurs

Random thoughts from today's "race."

I love trail running best.
Dallas air quality is better than Denton County's.
Green bananas taste good after you've run for 2 hours and 40 minutes.
I think it would be easier to run farther if I ran faster.
The homes in Lakewood Trails -- up in the hills around White Rock Lake -- are beautiful, and no two look alike.
My favorite landscapes are the ones where you can tell the owner does it, and not a landscape service.
If you run long enough, your body surrenders the toxins. It took me 3-4 miles, it took RunnerSusan about 6. (Poor thing.)
In the hardest parts of the run, the only people encouraging you are the Dallas police officers at their posts. That has got to be some kind of metaphor about life.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Overheard in the Wolfe House #131

Peggy: So what do you think about having hair like Grandpa?
Sam (inventor of the phrase "no hair, just a head"): It will happen if I keep going bald.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Lights in London

I promise not to subject you to a bunch of home movies -- especially as aged as these images have obviously gotten -- but I couldn't help myself with this one.

When the Dallas Symphony went on its first European tour in 1997, Mark was hired as second tuba. I went along for the first half of the trip as an orchestra groupie. We had a blast.

We left the kids -- Sam was 9, Michael was 6, and Paige was 4 -- in the capable care of my parents. But we took the camcorder to capture things we thought would interest them on our return.

The videos sat in a box for years after our VHS player died. I borrowed one from my parents this summer and, with the help of a Pinnacle Dazzle, have begun digitizing the handful of family videos we have.

We made this little ditty in London when we realized how much fun Sam would have had, if he had been there to play with the light switches.

This was the first time I've heard Mark's voice since the week he died. I'm not sure who was grinning bigger tonight when we captured this first "movie," Sam -- re-living a favorite childhood memory -- or me, remembering the sound of the love of my life.

Overheard in the Wolfe House #130

Peggy (after Sam ends a phone conversation with North Central Texas College's vice president for instruction): Some people are afraid to talk to deans and vice presidents. You certainly aren't.
Sam: Well, why would anybody be afraid to talk to them?
Peggy: Oh, it might start in elementary school, when children learn to be afraid of the school principal, even though the main part of their job is to solve problems.
Sam: I wasn't afraid of Gaye Pittman Wise. She was a really nice lady.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Overheard in the Wolfe House #129

Peggy: Here's this month's royalty check.
Sam: Man, they're really pushing the money on us now.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Higher Ed Could Do More

There are thousands of kids with autism coming of age, and Sharon's comment tells me Sam's experience -- while a first for him -- is not unique in higher education and many in higher education need to do more to get ready.

Read on:

Thursday when I picked Adam up from class, he didn't want to talk, at all. He seemed sad. Finally, late in the night he told me that his philosophy professor asked the class who had read the assignment. Adam answered that he had but, fearing he might get questions he couldn't answer, he added that he was not sure he completely understood what he read. His instructor ridiculed him and got the rest of the class to laugh at him. Naturally, he felt horrible.

But, that's not all. Tuesday he went to the music department to get advice about the possibility of majoring in music. He wants to do soundtracks for movies and he is pretty darn good at it too. He was told that he should stick with engineering because he should have started his music career a long time ago.

He is 16 for crine out loud! Sixteen, with 18 college credits and a 3.8 GPA. What's wrong with the jackasses who are supposed to be teaching our young people.

Higher education has come a long way to accommodate students with disabilities, but there are still problems. This is what happens when you build an educational system that has built-in assumptions.

Oh, and because my past life was in music, I can say this with complete authority: Any music professor who thinks music training needs to begin in childhood, like you do with gymnasts, isn't a true musician and artist, he is a gymnast.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

True Grit

"Thought for the day: there's a lot to live for, and everything happens for a reason. Pain is normal, tears are how we heal, and being happy all the time is unreasonable. We hurt, but that hurt makes our happiness that much more meaningful. The key is to keep moving on, embrace life, and always be thankful for what we have (which is often much more than we give ourselves credit for)." -- Michael Wolfe, Facebook


"Straighten up, Willie. It's time to row." -- Isabel Allende, The Sum of Our Days.

Sunday, September 4, 2011


"How tempting to live in limbo and wait for my real life to return. But this was my real life now. Life is a thing that mutates without warning, not always in enviable ways."

-- Diane Ackerman, "One Hundred Names for Love"

When a test is a barrier

Sam is taking two online classes this fall, one in word processing, another in spreadsheets. I've written before about the requirements he needs to "upgrade" from a certificate to an associate's degree in computer technology. He's just four classes away. It's very exciting.

Both of this fall's classes are in another department at the community college, and both required him to thoroughly read the syllabus and take a quiz over its contents. The students have to get a 100 on the quiz (they have unlimited attempts) before they can start the class. In a way, its a brilliant way to underscore the importance of reading and understanding the course requirements. In some of the larger lecture classes I've seen, professors spend the first day of class reading the syllabus to the students. And I've seen students drop once they realize the expectations.

Sam sailed through the syllabus quiz for one class but not the other. We're not quite sure what has happened -- we suspect, actually, there is a scoring problem -- but it is yet to be resolved. I sat with him yesterday as he tried, again and again and again and again, to secure that perfect score. Before I helped him devise some evaluation strategies, he had no idea how to figure out what he was doing wrong.

It was like being thrown into the ocean with no clue where to swim to safety. You can imagine how wild and panicked a person's thinking might get. And then, when you consider the true stakes how angry you could get.

He can't get the keys to the rest of the online kingdom of the class until he does. An email to the professor about the problem has brought only the suggestion that he drop the class.

And that brings me to the point of this post -- there is testing and then there are barriers.

When I was in junior high school, a gymnastics unit was added to our curriculum, probably in part because of the wildly popular Olga Korbut and the amazing things she did at the 1972 Olympics.

I saved those Seventeen magazine pages with a story and photo about her for ages.

Our instruction was pathetic. Our teacher couldn't do any of the moves, and was continually recruiting a student to demonstrate a move to the others (with that student likely demonstrating that move to the teacher for the first time about 90 seconds earlier.)

Once "demonstrated," we could practice on the equipment, serving as spotters for each other. At the end of the unit, we had to perform the different moves for our grade. We were scored on our ability to do the moves -- nothing about the rhythm and composition of a routine, our body poise, or other criteria used to evaluate a gymnast.

The test was sequential and, theoretically, based on difficulty. Our teacher had no idea what was a hard move and what was easy, in my opinion. But, you couldn't test for a B if you couldn't do all the moves needed for a C.

Because I couldn't go from a crouch on the beam to a standing position using only one leg -- a "C" level move -- I was not allowed to test for any other grade levels, even though I'd been working on all of them, as were my classmates, for six weeks.

Lots of girls didn't get the grade they deserved for having taught themselves gymnastics.

That's not instruction, and that's not testing, so don't make like its the bar exam.

Overheard in the Wolfe House #128

Peggy: I made a green smoothie this morning.
Sam: I've had that before. It's got kiwi and green apple.
Peggy: This one has apple, but it also has kale.
Sam: Oh, man ...

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Overheard in the Wolfe House #127

Sam: I had a crazy dream last night.
Peggy: Oh, yeah?
Sam: I dreamt I slept for months. I was still alive, though. (pauses) I don't suppose that could happen in real life.

Friday, September 2, 2011

... And into 2012

The 2012 Old Farmer's Almanac came into the newsroom today and I immediately flipped to the general weather forecast to see what was ahead for us next year. They claim we are in a period of significant change and the low level of sunspot and space weather activity reinforced their read of the long-term weather patterns ahead.

No El Nino or La Nina. It doesn't look too good for Texas, the almanac says. While milder temperatures are in store for 2012, the drought will continue with below-normal precipitation.

I'm inclined to take their word for it. When Sam was in middle school, to prepare for the science fair, he conducted an experiment to check the accuracy of the the Old Farmer's Almanac that year -- not the general weather forecast, but its prediction for rainfall.

He gave them a B-plus.