I Need a Drink

When this is all over, this Coronavirus thing, I need a drink. Not that I can’t have one in my home and not that I haven’t. Just last night, with the temperature dropping toward the upper 30’s, my wife and I set up lawn chairs, six feet apart, invited our neighbors, no more than four, to set up their chairs, six feet away, and we shivered through a COVID 19 style cocktail party. For now this appears to be the norm for social gatherings. Save for the strange process of passing ten feet to the right and waving to anyone you meet on your walk, all other interaction has been relegated to the internet. I have zoomed and duo-ed to the point of being a disinterested third party and have listened to every classic song sung to new lyrics on Facebook. I have avoided the news like a, well…. plague, and finished my house projects well ahead of their time. I am a little worried I’ll end up creating a to do list for my neighbor’s house.

So back to my opening tirade. When this is over, I am going to spend every chance I get going out to eat in crowded, noisy restaurants. Going to drinking establishments, be they bars, saloons or even corner taverns where I can watch sports on their wall to wall TVs all the while talking to total strangers about everything and anything while sitting mere inches away from my newest friends. Isolation can be a good thing for introverts and for flattening the curve, but for me an extra extrovert, it is becoming a death sentence. Death by isolation. I saw a Facebook rendition of Adele’s “Hello” sung to COVID 19 lyrics and I totally identified. The only difference being that the singer had abandoned even the act of wearing pants while I still have mine on, at least at this point. Check in on me in another two weeks of this, and I might have followed suit or the lack of. Apologies for that visual.

There is a point here, isn’t there always? The economy is going to need an incredible boost when this is over. I for one am going to cease on-line shopping for at least a little while. I will avoid take-out where possible and I will do anything in my power to single handedly drag the economy back from the edge. I will never again complain about a crowded restaurant or a noisy bar. I will drink in the ambiance of foo foo boutiques and volunteer to go to grocery stores and even go shopping with my wife.

These are desperate times. In short, I need the old normal…..I need a drink…..preferable with friends…..lots of friends…..maybe friends with hugs.

Wind in the Trees

For those of you who were never aware, I grew up on a small dairy farm just outside of Appleton Wisconsin. Yes, as my high school classmates so often reminded me, I was a “hay seed.” All though an often painful handle to accept, I later became comfortable with the moniker, but not until later in life when I looked back at the memories it evoked and the undeniable aspect of my character that it became.

Being a particularly beautiful day today, I was out on the deck of our home when the wind picked up and began rustling through the leaves of the trees that line our backyard. It was the sound of that wind through the trees and the cooling effect of it on my face and arms that brought back the memory. It poured over me and gently floated me back to a time when I was about ten or eleven years old. In this memory, I am back there with my brother, sitting under the grain trailer in the middle of one of our fields, a stem of timothy grass danging from the corner of my mouth and that reminiscent wind rustling through the trees, cooling us on a hot July afternoon. We are waiting for the combine my dad is operating to fill with the oats I and my brother will haul back to the grain building on our farm.

Though this was hard work for us when other boys our age were off playing sand lot baseball or down swimming in the river on a hot and lazy summer afternoon, it was none the less a very pleasant memory. It took me back to a time when things seemed so simple and so peaceful. When I still had an entire lifetime ahead of me. It was time spent with my brother and my dad. It was a time, even if I was a hay seed, that I was glad to be a farm kid and being told by my dad that he was proud of me.

Memories are like that. It can be the simplest thing that evokes them. The words of a song or a glance at an old picture may be all that’s required to take us back to a particular time or place. For me, it was the rustling of the wind through the trees on a warm spring morning. The key is to choose to hold onto those memories that evoke a sense of peace and calm. Of happy times with friends or family, or even just the beauty of someplace we once visited. Though it is often difficult to forget the harsher memories, we don’t need to go back there and we certainly should avoid reliving them. Choose instead those memories that take you back to a place of contentment. A time of wonder and opportunity.

We are more in control of our attitudes than we believe. Evoking positive, peaceful memories is an easy thing to do. Memories can calm us and even inspire us. And here’s a thought. We have the ability to both recall and create our memories. The next time you travel, the next time an activity feels special, the next time an event is especially emotional, sense the world around you in the moment. Take in the smell and sounds that surround you. Observe the people sharing the moment with you. Create the details of a memory worth recalling.

Listen to the wind. It might be calling you back.

Sign Said, Last Gas for at Least 200 miles.

It was to be a simple trip. My daughter Bailey and I would be attending her cousin’s wedding in Bishop, California. After a late flight into Las Vegas and a night on the infamous Strip, we picked up our Pontiac G6 that next morning at the car rental agency. From there it was a four hour drive across the desert to our destination in the mountains of California. Except for a modification to my brother’s speed in the lead car, he thought the speed limit was 95 when in fact that was the interstate’s numeric designation, the trip was uneventful. We stopped for lunch in Beatty, Nevada half way across the desert and arrived in Bishop by mid afternoon.

The next two days passed quickly and on Sunday, after the wedding festivities had wound down, Bailey and I left for Las Vegas. A few facts pertinent to the story. It was late Sunday afternoon, I had not driven the rental since we had arrived on Friday and we no longer had the accompaniment of my brother as he was staying a few days longer. These facts will play heavily in the events that were to follow.

Bailey and I are known to have a habit of visiting sites that are near our route when traveling. This Sunday afternoon would afford us an opportunity to pass near “The Ancient Bristle Cone Pine Groove”. Some of these trees were over 3000 years old.

We had crested the first of our three mountain passes when we came upon the road to the grove. Not being able to resist, we took the turn off and headed toward the site. Poor planning step one, the road into the grove was over 10 miles one way. We arrived at what we thought was the grove only to realize it was a vista just below and the actual grove was still another mile or so up the grade. As we started our climb, I noticed, somehow for the first time, the fuel gauge on our G6. The gauge was already nearing the “E”. Poor planning step two, not having driven the vehicle all weekend, we had not considered our fuel supply. We were now faced with a critical decision. Drive back to Bishop, some 50 miles behind us or count on a gas station somewhere ahead. At the time the decision seemed obvious and, poor planning step three, we chose to drive on. Had we been paying attention on the drive out from Vegas, we would have been painfully aware that the only gas station had been in Beatty complete with a sign that said, next gas at least 200 miles. This was the same Beatty that was still some 100 miles ahead. Did I tell you the gauge was nearly on “E”? By the time we reached the highway we had left to drive into the grove, the low fuel light was now on and the gauge was glaring back at us on “E”.

Time to update you on our conditions, beside the fact that we were counting on something that didn’t exist, we still had two more mountain passes to clear. Add to that, mountains don’t tend to offer great cell service and mountain passes even less. Needless to say, we had no cell service, a car reading empty, and 100 miles to go.

At this point, the science of physics becomes important. Cars run on fuel, altitude climbs are hard on mileage efficiency and wind resistance only makes matters worse. Here, in no particular order, were our scientific conclusions, coasting was better than driving, braking causes resistance, using the AC reduces mileage and rolled up windows create less wind resistance. Did I remind you the temperature was in the upper 80’s. The last two decisions, no AC and rolled up windows, were tough ones, but we were determined to make it to Beatty even as the vehicle was warning us otherwise. As to the coasting and no braking conclusions, you would be shocked by the speed a 3000 lb vehicle can reach coasting down a winding mountain pass. You would be further amazed at how long we could let this go each time before lightly using the brakes to bleed off some of our speed. One of our conditions was now working in our favor for the moment. It was late Sunday afternoon and we had the road to ourselves. But this also meant that when the car would be finally completely empty, WE WERE ALONE.

We somehow made it up the last pass and were now coasting down the last grade where we could see Interstate 95 off in the distance.
This highway would lead us into Beatty or at least put us in proximity of fellow travelers. But what seemed to be in reach was just another mirage. Distances in the mountains and now down on the desert floor can be deceptive. What seemed to be right there was actually close to 20 miles ahead. Down on the desert floor, no more coasting available and more heat than we could take, we were willing the car to reach for the interstate. If we could get there, then maybe we could at least be saved. As we neared the entrance to the interstate, the road took a jog back to the north before winding onto the interstate. Off to our right was a long abandoned bordello and a parking area that ran along the edge of the interstate. The needle on the fuel gauge had long ago passed “E” and the decision became easy. We left the road, shot through the abandoned parking lot and up the side of Interstate 95, easily cutting off another half mile. Desperation was now becoming our co-pilot.

We were now on the interstate and had at least the occasional car or two to give us comfort. We also had picked up cell service again and the first call went out to Triple A. A pleasant voice took our call but informed us that if we were still running there really wasn’t anything they could do. We would need to call back when we are actually out of gas and stranded. My daughter asked where the agent was located and when she replied New Jersey, Bailey told her that we weren’t. Once she explained where we actually were and that we had just passed a sign that told us Beatty was another 60 miles ahead, she responded with a phrase closely resembling the phrase Steve Martin gets from Bunny at the rental desk in Planes, Trains and Automobiles. And so we motor on. We are now down to considering drafting the next semi we can find.

About this time my wife calls from our safe and cozy home back in Wisconsin. She is checking in on how we are doing. Being the considerate and wise daughter I raised her to be, Bailey tells her we are just great and that we will be in Beatty soon, under her breath, “one way or the other.” Any whiff of what was really going on and we would have been subject to an embarrassing lecture and then an Air Force rescue in the Nevada desert. And so we motor on.

The Pontiac G6 has decided it too refuses to give up or the fuel gauge has been set extremely conservative to thwart the effort of optimistic drivers like us, pushing the limits. Either way, the road mileage markers become more and more promising and then suddenly, from a slight crest in the highway, we view Beatty up ahead. Still five or six miles distant we begin to believe we will make it. Fear has now been replaced with determination to complete this epic record. At about a half mile out we spy the gas station up ahead on the right. We can take the jog to the left, turn at the light and head back down to the gas station. Or, we can cut through the motel parking lot, across an alley, through the grocery store parking lot and roll up to the pumps. Of course, we chose the later. As we pulled alongside the pumps, and as God is my witness, the car stuttered once and shut down. Bailey and I jump from the car and with fists held high, yelling at the top of our lungs, did our gas dance around the now quiet vehicle. One gentleman looked at us and said “that drive across the desert can be a killer.” We just replied “Oh Yeah! Don’t we know it!”

Beatty NV motel

It was a year latter, and we were on a family vacation in Hawaii. The car rental agent said we would be getting a Pontiac G6, but he wanted to upgrade us at no cost to a little larger car. Bailey and I looked at him and in unison said “we’ll take the Pontiac.”

Was it automotive ingenuity or just dumb luck? Or maybe, was it a car with a soul that said no one gets stranded in the desert on my watch. Either way, an epic story and a happy ending.

The Gripes of Wrath

I was involved in a discussion recently that reminded me of a story. Two stories in fact. The discussion was about the two different approaches people will take when seeking assistance. But let me tell the stories first.

The first story involved my daughter and I. We were traveling out to California for a family wedding. To get where we needed to be, we had to fly into Las Vegas and then travel by rental car across the desert to my sister’s home located between two mountain ranges in California. That by the way is a story to be told another time. I had reserved a room on-line in a Vegas hotel and found my daughter and I in the lobby of the hotel just before midnight. We stepped in line behind two women who were traveling together, and like me had not only reserved their room, but had prepaid for it. They were now in a heated argument with the only hotel agent available at this time of night. Their discussion, more than lightly laced with expletives, centered around their demand for a room other than the one they had already paid for. With a little eavesdropping, the conversation was loud enough that it was almost impossible not to eavesdrop, I picked up that though they had prepaid for the room assigned to that offer, they wanted a room that was larger and offered a view of the Vegas Strip. To make matters worse, they were demanding that they would get this upgrade for the same price. The agent was attempting to explain to them that there was nothing she could do as the offer they had paid for was through a third party. The bottom line was that they didn’t care, were unwilling to listen and had now decided to blame all of their problems on this poor agent. After what seemed like an unbearable amount of time and with the line behind us growing exponentially, a second and third agent were called in to pick up those of us waiting patiently, well reasonably patient. As I stepped up to the new agent, I leaned across the desk and said how bad I felt for the poor agent still being harangued by the two women. “No one deserves that kind of treatment.” She gave me a wink and then said just loud enough that the arguing women would hear, “I notice that you are staying with us for one night and reserved a room through our front desk. It appears I will be able to upgrade you at no cost to one of our nicer suites.” With that we were quickly registered and given the room key to a very nice three room suite on one of the upper floors with a view of the Strip brightly lit up below. My only chagrin was that I was sharing this lovely suite with my daughter as opposed to my wife who was forced to stay behind to cover her teaching duties. We had a good laugh about how most of the amenities would be wasted on us but were none the less impressed with our treatment.

Marriott Pool

Before I drive home my point, there is a second story. Last winter, my wife and I had decided to take off for a quick jaunt down to Florida for a brief four day get away. I had again reserved a room, along with our airline tickets, at the Marriott World Resort. Upon arrival, we checked in at the front desk to get our key. The young man waiting on us pointed out that the room was actually booked through a third party and that we were subject to the rooms set aside for that company. He pointed out that they would all be on the lower floors and could only offer a stunning view of the back of the resort and the parking garage. Believe me, at this point my earlier Vegas experience clawed its way back from the recesses of my memory and into my frontal lobe. I had a choice. I replied that I now understood my predicament and that it would be alright. I would chalk it up to lesson learned. What happened next surprised us both. The agent asked what had brought us down to Florida? We explained that we had both just retired, had gotten restless and with winter crushing us, just needed a change of scenery. His response was that he was going to check on any available room and then get cleared to upgrade us. The result after a brief five minute wait, a spacious room on an upper floor complete with a balcony and a view of the pools and surrounding gardens. No additional charges were levied and he then asked if we would prefer a bottle of red or white wine as a show of appreciation for choosing their hotel chain.

Now by this point you are thinking I am either an awesome negotiator or the world’s luckiest traveler. The truth of the matter is that I am neither. What I learned from my Vegas experience and that I have always known to be true is that you get a lot better service when you earn it as opposed to when you demand it. All too often I have witnessed the irate customer taking out their frustration on the one person least likely to have the authority or ability to do anything about it. I have been in a service career of one type or another all of my life and I know how much more likely it was that I would go the extra mile for someone who had earned it. When I find myself on the receiving end of service, I try to make sure I am at least attempting to earn good service. If the two women in Vegas had only considered their position, they too might have received an upgrade instead of even steeper resistance by the agent dutifully following the rules. They chose the gripes of wrath instead of a spoonful of sugar and for all I know are still arguing with the agent to this day. Okay, that might have been an exaggeration. If my wife and I had chosen to demand a better room of the Marriott, I am positive we would have spent our four days admiring our view of the parking garage while sipping our complimentary can of soda. Don’t get me wrong. I am not guaranteeing you an upgrade or a ticket to the promise land just for not complaining. There’s always the Gripes of Wrath if you enjoy going down that rabbit hole, but just consider how much better you and everyone else will feel with a little civility. Choose wisely the next time you have the chance. Parking garage or balcony overlooking the pool might just be the result.

Snow Storm Heroes

It snowed last night. Not a small, push it off the driveway type but a real snow storm. As you know if you follow me, I had a knee replacement four weeks ago. Things are progressing but not to the point where I was going to be the answer to how does the driveway get cleared?

It was about 6:30 am when I heard it. That distinctive sound a snowblower makes in the still softly falling snow. Conner, our neighbor from down the block, was just completing a run down the sidewalks of our street and about to turn around on his way back for the second sweep. Shortly after, another snowblower could be heard. This time it was my 80 something year old neighbor across the street. Without his yet done, he was busy clearing mine.

Have I done anything to deserve this? In my mind, I would say no. Sure I have been a good neighbor and I have answered the occasional question related to my career expertise and yes I lend a hand when needed. But did I deserve this red carpet service?

I think it is a combination of things that moved these two neighbors to help out. One I would call the snow storm phenomenon. There is something magical about a storm that just brings people together in a common cause. Nature reminds us that in that moment we are subject to the power of the storm and it brings us together in a spirit of camaraderie to take back control. We form up outside our abodes and conquer the task of cleaning up. Borders are dropped and all needs become our common needs.

The second thing, that impulse that made my neighbor cross the street to clear my driveway before his, was empathy. He knew I had had this surgery and had vowed to my wife and I that he would be there for me if I needed anything. This is a drive that exists in each of us. Though we don’t always get the chance to follow it, it is so important that when the opportunity arises, we let that drive help us rise to the occasion. Don was there for us when we needed him the most. No hesitation, no mine first attitude, he just came across the street and rescued us.

Sometimes it just takes a little adversity mixed in with a snow storm to help us see those around us as the friends and heroes they are. We had two such people visit us this morning and I will vow to pay it forward. That is once I get rid of these crutches.

As a footnote, I will admit that I missed being out there in the storm showing off my snow blower and being part of the neighborhood snow warriors. But it was a pretty warm and cozy view watching it unfold from my bay window.

A Shout out to my Heroes

Surgeons can take us apart, fix the broken stuff and put us back together. Today, I am thankful to one such surgeon, Dr. Marcu of Sauk Prairie Hospital, and his surgical team. Thanks to them I have a new knee. The old arthritic knee is gone and with a determined amount of work on the new one, I should be able to regain those activities that were beginning to slip away. But, as grateful as I am for their skills, there is another entire team that is necessary to make their surgical prowess work. Without that team, I would have a new knee but one that would never accomplish what the original one had been able to do for all those years. The surgeon could take me apart and then reassemble me, but it was the physical therapists that would make that whole project work.

This is a shout out to those incredible hospital nurses and the physical therapists that have begun and will continue the effort needed for me to complete this journey. They are often the unsung heroes of the whole process. Worse yet, they often refer to themselves as, the pain deliverers.

My road to recovery began two weeks ago at the Sauk Prairie Health Center, and my thanks go out to all of the nurses that got me back up, my pain managed and on my way to rehab. Each was appreciated for their particular skill but Brianna was one nurse that stood out. She drew the night shift on my first night and not only promptly responded to all of my needs, and yes some whining, reduced my pain and managed to protect my dignity through it all.

Next up came the SSM Home Health team of Sarah, Dana, Wayne and Gail. These four gave me what I needed most, encouragement and motivation. When I worried that I wasn’t progressing, they showed me just how much I had. When I felt I couldn’t possible bend my knee any further, they showed me how and why and then found a few more degrees. When I needed someone to listen to my stories, they even took time for that. They humored me and restored mine.

Today my home team handed me off to out-patient rehab. For the next several weeks, I will be meeting with Jim and Carolyn at Meriter Monona Clinic. These two will help me finish the journey I have begun. Both Jim and Carolyn were there for my first go round and I look forward to working with them again and am confident they will get me through these final steps, no pun intended.

Surgeons and their teams are incredible in what they accomplish. I for one cannot even watch the procedure let alone imagine performing any of these medical procedures. But as great as their feats are, without the physical therapists, none of it would matter. That said, I could not let my PT experts go unnoticed and potentially unappreciated.

Thank you all for putting me back together and making sure that all those parts start doing what they were meant to do. They say I’ll be dancing soon and with every step I take, I will think of how important each of you were in helping me make each one.

Something to be Thankful For

If you are a typical family, your day may start out with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade which you will sort of watch.  Sometime during the day you will sit down to the feast.  The adults will be seated around the grown up table and the younger crowd will be at the kids’ table where I can guarantee there will be mischief afoot.  The feast will consist of turkey, potatoes, stuffing and gravy.  You might have some squash or maybe yams and you will probably  have a salad or a dessert that are family traditions passed down from your own parents.  You will share stories, eat too much (it is a requirement), and then you will either watch football or complain about football.  If it is your team playing, you might be doing both.  Somewhere, in the course of the day, you will find a way to list the things you are thankful for or at least you will try.

In America we are generally blessed with a reasonably comfortable life.  We are after all, the land of opportunity.  The problem is that too many of us will still be looking for more.  We will look to compare ourselves to others, who in our perception, are better off than we are and ask why we can’t have that too.  If only we would look in the other direction and find those people who are in need, who aren’t enjoying the comfortable life, who actually have less.  If we did that, we would begin to realize how blessed we really are.  From that very different view point, we would realize all the things we can and should be thankful for.

“Give thanks”, that’s the line we hear over and over at this time of year.  I do believe that we need to give thanks but I challenge anyone still reading to actually take this time to give.  Find those people or organizations that are in need and give.  You can give money, that’s easy, or maybe clothing or food.  Maybe you can give time.  Time to help someone in need due to a financial condition or maybe unable to take care of the tasks they need done due to a handicap or old age.  Maybe it’s just reaching out to that person you have lost touch with or to someone who is alone and needs companionship even if it is just a brief visit.  But understand, you must give from your very best.  Not from the things you don’t want.  Make the gift count by making it meaningful.

Thanksgiving is the time to give thanks and enjoy time with your family and traditions.  But if you can rise to my challenge, you just may find out how much greater the season can truly be.  Not just for the person or persons you help but for your own soul.  Tis the season to be thankful and with a little sacrifice….maybe thanked as well.

At least that’s over

This Thanksgiving, along with all the things I am thankful for, I am very thankful that the elections are over.  No, I am not going to gloat or moan about the results.  I’m just thankful that they have come to an end.  The fact that they are over means all the threatening and misleading ads are done.  No longer will I be bombarded with messages of doom if I vote for the other candidate.  No longer will I be required to listen to promises no logical person could ever believe were possible to keep.

Campaigning is no longer about who a person is or what a person intends to do but rather about how wrong headed and dangerous their opponent is.  We are expected to assume that the person campaigning must believe in the exact opposite of everything we are asked to fear about the opponent.  Gone are the days of civility and dignity.  Without any compliance rules to follow and a boat load of money needed just to get your message out, civility and dignity have become passe.  Fear and exaggeration sell.

How refreshing it would be if a candidate simple spoke truthfully about who they were, what they believed in and what they HOPED to do instead of making promises they either couldn’t keep or never intended to keep.  How can I improve education, give universal no holds barred health care, fix our deteriorating infrastructure and do it all while I cut your taxes.  All of those items, while extremely important to us can not be paid for without dollars.  Why can’t we acknowledge that the benefits of an educated and healthy society improve life for everyone.  It should not be a question of do I have a child in the education system but rather that all children in the education system deserve a chance to learn and develop the skills, both social and intellectual, that all of our futures depend upon.

But fair taxation does not mean equal taxation.  Our graduated system has worked for years and is necessary if we are to accomplish even half the items on our wish lists.  The problem is, that promising to make sure we can pay for something, just doesn’t go well with our propensity to want our taxes cut.  Until we realize that the society we imagine needs the support of everyone in it, we can’t honestly expect it to ever exist.  This means that the dollars I pay for taxes, if based on my ability to pay, will in fact directly benefit me, if not today, in my future.  If it means I can drive on good roads across safe bridges, or know that I can see a quality doctor when I need to, without wondering if I can afford the service, then my taxes were well spent.  If paying my taxes means that children can be guaranteed a quality education whether it is my child or yours, then my dollars are well spent.  If it means that my taxes will provide the services for someone not as well off as me so that I can walk city streets knowing we have done what we can for the homeless and not that we have left even more fall through the cracks, then my dollars are well spent.

By now you are ready to accuse me of being at the very least a socialist and at the worst hopelessly idealistic.  But understand, I am still grounded.  Things may never be perfect but we should never settle for less than our best civic effort.  I just wish we could have candidates, who if they really believe what they say, would be honest about what it takes to accomplish these goals and then go about actually trying to accomplish them.

We can be a great society but only if we are willing to shoulder the responsibility, both fiscally and morally, that it requires.  But for now, fear and greed still sell.  I can only hope that as we move forward, it will actually be forward.  That we will move in a direction of increased civility.  We have a voice to be heard and that voice is our vote.

At least for now, the ad campaigns are over and I might just be able to stomach the commercial breaks in my favorite shows.  I will chalk this one up to it just had to be said.

Thanks for reading.

To the Moon and Back

Just recently Katherine Johnson celebrated her 100th birthday.  If you are unaware, as too many are, who Katherine Johnson is, Google her and take the time to meet the woman behind the math that allowed American astronauts to reach space and eventually the moon.  Her’s is a story of perseverance in the face of both gender and race discrimination that eventually and fortunately brought her to a position of importance and respect.  She served as “the human calculator” for NASA in its early days of space travel and also served as an inspiration for black and female mathematicians of that era.

As a math teacher, I preached, to anyone who would listen, about the strengths and merits of young girls ability to grasp and apply math concepts.  Back then, I had been instrumental in developing a math curriculum for both enriching and accelerating the placement of 6th and 7th grade students.  It was immediately apparent that there was a large disparity between girls and boys in the placement.  Boys easily outnumbered the girls in having success in mathematics recognized by their teachers.  It was my opinion then and still is that if anything, we should be having a higher number of girls succeeding at math.  Math is the study of concepts that become apparent when numeric relationships are recognized.

Sorry guys, but women are far more relational in their reasoning than we are.  They also tend to be more visual and this is a valuable trait when a math student is trying to see the relationships behind the concepts that govern math.  That said, there should have been more girls being recommended and placed in those accelerated classes.  It became my quest to find them and to determine why they were not showing up in the first place.

Here comes my disclaimer.  I am not a formal researcher but rather an observer.  When I do need to research an issue, thank god for Google.  Still, even though I had no formal research to back me up, I firmly believed I could point at several reasons why girls were being overlooked.

I will tackle the easy one first as it is the most obvious and the easiest to fix.  Boys by nature are more aggressive than girls and will volunteer to answer a question even when they don’t have the answer.  They also tend to be the one with too much energy and to avoid that energy going south, teachers will tend to draw them into the conversation to help control their behavior.  Score two for the boys in the categories of recognition and involvement.  We need to bring girls into the class conversation evenly.

Next up is teaching style.  This area is much improved but also too often maligned by those on the outside.  Math and arithmetic are two different animals.  Math is a study while arithmetic is a skill.  For way too long, math in the first six to eight grades was approached as arithmetic and devoid of concept development.  It was taught from a left brain approach of rules and memorization.  I will not go into systematic details and differences, but concepts are more complex and require more variety in teaching style.  Not least of these variances is realizing that many children are more inclined to be right brain thinkers than left brain.  The left brain is more rote memorization and rule oriented while the right brain is more visual and concept oriented.  Early on I had observed that the students being recommended for accelerated placement in math were almost always involved in music classes.  No surprise that music and creativity reside in the right brain.  The girls that were being recommended for acceleration were also in those music classes.  Epiphany, if girls were by nature more visual than males, was it possible that left brain teaching techniques were leaving them a step behind to start the race.  Good news, as I stated earlier, this difference in teaching style is now widely understood and implemented by educators everywhere.  Score one for the girls getting an equal chance.

Finally the difficult one, culture.  We still don’t fully recognize the importance of the role mothers play in their daughter’s math success.  Though more documented in today’s culture, back when I was teaching if I asked a parent who helped with math homework, the answer was all too often dad.  The  mother’s response was often, “I tell them to ask their dad because I was never good at this.”  So there it was, that daughter who looked at her mother as a successful role model was left with the take away that math was seemingly not important to success but likely too hard anyway.

I will always point to and thank strong women who prove time and time again that they can “do the math” and stand as role models for every young women looking to be just as successful as every young man out there.  Mothers, please don’t send your daughter to dad every time she has a math question.  Own your role and possibly your daughter’s future success.

Happy birthday Katherine Johnson and thank you for never doubting yourself and always fighting for your place in the world.  Thanks to you, our world stretches at least to the moon and back.


Delta Chi….. fraternities aren’t all bad ideas.


Still kicking after all these years

It’s been a too long time since those lazy hazy days of college, emphasis on hazy.  You know, when the first 60 degree day meant everyone cut classes and met at South Park.  For me some 45 years have passed.  I guess I need to bring my potential readers up to date.  I pledged Delta Chi in the fall of 1970 and graduated from the Big O in December of 1973.  My degree was in teaching and I accepted a position in Loyal, Wisconsin.  If you know where that is, my question would be why?  I met Jean Warnke (Alpha Phi) in my Senior year and we were married in April of 1974.  Too young, too soon?  Our marriage ended in 1976.  Our divorce proceedings centered on the division of our only two assets, a 1974 Pinto station wagon and the wedding pictures.  She got the Pinto and I got the pictures.  Any advice on what you do with those?  I moved to Madison, Wisconsin where I took a teaching position in the suburb of Oregon.  In that teaching position, I met and later married Deb Shepherd in 1980.  In the ensuing years we raised two beautiful daughters, Bailey (1984) and Kathryn (1991).  Our teaching careers, Deb taught at Lomira and DeForest, lasted until 2011 for Deb, shout out to Scott Walker, and 1998 for me.  I had developed a tax planning business and sold that to a Madison firm in 1998, retired from teaching and took a position with that purchasing company.  I obtained my investment licenses and worked with my clients as their financial advisor as well as acting as the financial manager for the firm.  In August of 2017, hearing Garrison Keillor retire after declaring “44 years is long enough to work at anything”, I left my planning career and am now enjoying retirement, traveling with Deb, volunteering for a national org and helping to spoil my two grandchildren, Jackson (2014) and Adela (2017).  For entertainment, I write entries in a blog called “Kenisms”, my daughter’s idea, and can be followed at www.kenismsblog.com.   That is, if you feel the urge to do that sort of thing.  My topics range from humorous recollections to travel stories and epiphanies.  Yes, I said epiphanies, as in life’s little ironies and aha moments.

There needs to be a point to this dialog so here it is.  This writing was inspired by the question “what has Delta Chi meant to your life journey or something like that.”  In pledge class, we were taught that each of the three legs of the Delta stood for a principal.  I remember that one was “service” and while thanks to my college night life, I have a vague recollection of the other two.  I will go with “brotherhood”, i.e. socializing, and apparently “fortitude” as it took that to survive the Delta Chi socializing.  I remember shoveling sand, tons of it, into the basement of the Delta Chi house on Scott Street as a pledge.  This was done as preparation for one of the many theme parties that were thrown in its sacred confines.  If you are thinking of some resemblance to “Animal House”, I have always been convinced that one of the writers had to be a brother.  That or John Belushi must have crashed one of our parties.  Did I mention that we actually had a house monkey when I resided there, or is that still a well-kept secret?  If so, Oops.

I spent a year and a half in the house on Scott Street, sharing a room with a view on the third floor with my roommate, Nick Yarmac.  I remember fondly a weekend road trip to visit his home in, wait for it, Connecticut.  That, like so many other decisions, was made late on a Thursday night drinking $1 buckets at “Toschs” and then leaving that Friday afternoon for Connecticut.  I mention this, because it speaks to the brotherhood and fortitude principal.  When an opportunity cropped up and you had a chance to share the adventure, you seized it.  You didn’t question the sanity of it, you might have given some thought to the risk but when a brother called and an adventure was offered, you jumped on the idea.  That has had a great deal to do with my success in both of my careers, first in public education and then in financial planning.  That willingness to take a risk, that ability to network with people and that desire to experience life as an adventure are all rooted in my Delta Chi experience.  I have passed that attitude on to my daughters and am working on nurturing it in my grandchildren.  I taught it to my seventh grade math students and my financial clients.  It is the only way to approach life if you are intent on not letting it pass you by and just becoming another cog in the wheel.

But I cannot forget “service”.  That principal guided everything I did for my students and my clients and still drives me as a SCORE volunteer.  Ironically, my favorite job in college was bartending with Tom Fricke at Dino’s Titan Tap in Oshkosh where I “served” up beer to our patrons.  That establishment more or less became the offsite fraternity house.  Hey, service takes on many forms.  That principal resonated with me and I have dedicated my life to it.  It actually served me well.  There is truth in the adage that the more you give the more you get.

Delta Chi in the 70’s was the entity that got me through college.  It was a brother to lean on when you needed one, it was the built in social network that gave you a group of friends to look out for you on a too much night out and it was a resource for academic advice when needed.  Who can forget the “test bank” or is that another well-kept secret?

I will offer a shout out to some brothers I remember fondly but also through a disclaimer in here, that if your name doesn’t appear it doesn’t mean you were any less memorable, but I am told I am limited to “characters” in this article.  To Tom Knoll, my big brother, where are you now.  You taught me to drink scotch out of necessity and it remains to this day as my favored drink.  To Mike Daly, my little brother, did you inherit any of my beliefs?  If so, I want to offer a late apology.  To Dave Koch, Bruce Whitehead, Jon Wolfgram, the Tiles brothers, Ed and Wally, Buddy Bannow and Chris Crager, my drinking buddies and cohorts in fraternity hijinks, you still out there?  To Plank, Roskom and Sonlietner, my attempt to drag my former high school classmates into the depths of depravity, how goes it?  And as I write this, to the multitude of other brothers that keep popping into my brain, thanks for the memories.

In conclusion, if for no other reason than this has to end, we are all older and supposedly wiser.  We have neared the end of or already retired from our careers.  We have likely raised a family and from the Facebook pictures, are now spoiling grandchildren.  Through all those years, still brothers, yes you too Kimbal.  Delta Chi was an underlying reason we made it.  Maybe the networking.  Maybe the dedication to service.  Maybe just the brotherhood in the adventure at its beginnings and friends to the end of the journey of life.  It has been and continues to be fraternal.

Ken Wundrow

Delta Chi Alum class of 1970

Grandkids selfie