Tuesday, December 21, 2010


Hello Boyack fans! Wow, what a year!

This letter is about to miss the Christmas deadline, but what can I say? This has been a year of adventure and changes, but one thing stays the same: I’m late wherever I go! Before I start my ramblings about the Oregon Boyacks, I think it’s most important to say in this time of celebrating family, friendships, love, and God’s goodness, that we remember you specifically. This electronic greeting doesn’t come to your door in a crisp bright envelope and stand nicely on your mantle, but it comes with smiles and warm thoughts from my family to yours. We truly wish you a merry Christmas and a joyful new year. May God’s kindness protect and bless you throughout the year.

Lillian and Leah
Lillian (7) is a very busy, independent little lady. She is reading chapter books, like “Charlotte’s Web”, and she is doing well in home school. She has been in swimming and dancing classes this year, and she likes to ride her bike the short distance to class whenever her parents will let her. She tried roller blading to class and I nearly called the police. I gave her a head start and then shadowed her in the car. Short story: I lost her, but it all ended up well. Her favorite programs are Danny Phantom, Clifford, and Martha Speaks. She sings exceptionally well and her voice fills the house. Often. Fills it right to the top and overflowing. And, significantly, she hasn’t climbed into my bed in the middle of the night in the last couple of months. Yes!!!

Rock Stars
 Hannah (12 for one more month) is an amazing young woman. If I start right off by saying how wonderfully she cooks and cleans, I’m going to get in big trouble, so let’s praise her for being responsible and a hard worker. She is in the Jr High school choir – her first participation in public school – and she also sings and plays the piano. I sometimes wonder whether I’m hearing my 12-year old daughter or a professional pop star. OK, so I’m her dad, but seriously, she’s great! She read the Harry Potter series and now she’s working on “Tennis Shoes” book five. She will be your friend for a half gallon of ice cream.

Matrix Chad
Chad (15) is going places I’ve never been! He played football again this year and follows NCAA and pro teams. He took a weight lifting class and is stronger than I ever was, even before I dissolved into a puddle of jelly back in 1997. He’s another musician in the family, and possibly the best. He’s a GENIUS on the ukulele. He picked it up from some friends at school starting last December. He got a cheap little thing for Christmas and has not put it down since. He bought himself a high-quality electric/acoustic, complete with amp and pedal, and now he’s a ukulele rocker. He creates chords, progressions, rhythms, and even lyrics.
This year Chad and I went to a concert of the ukulele legend, Jake Shimabukuro. We also had a great time cycling the San Juan islands with 20 guys and dads from church. In this beautiful setting we experienced physical challenge and refreshing relaxation. But better than those, Chad discovered that he could potentially live on twenty dollars a day. We are men of simple needs.
McKay practicing her "blonde" look

McKay (17) is our first teenage driver. She can even drive stick shift, and she runs errands for Mom in a 1986 Toyota Celica. It’s not much to look at, but I think she likes it a lot. Another great singer, her voice melts my heart. She had a couple of solo roles at the high school this year, and sings in the church choir. She is self-driven in school and is learning math I never had to know and studying anatomy. I’m no help to her when she has a question on homework. Her plan is to become a massage therapist, and she is working that plan.

McKay has a new friend. He’s six months old and twelve inches high: the smallest and busiest dog we’ve ever had. If you need your knees scratched or ketchup cleaned off your face, he’s the man for the job. He’s affectionate and playful and a loved addition to the family and THE LAST PET WE WILL BE GETTING FOR THE NEXT TEN YEARS. That’s the last time I’m saying that for the last time.

Kimber and Ray . . .

Kimber is almost 20, and getting MARRIED! AAAAAH(I’m officially old)HHHH!!! Ray Jessop is the lucky guy. I know – I could knock you over with a feather, right? Ever since he was Han Solo and she was Princess Leia before they were ten, more than a few people have seen this coming.  Kimber says she had this hope since she was six, but she and Ray have spent so much time together I think she thought he was just an annoying brother. But these things change, don’t they?

. . . have many things in common!

In May he returned from serving a mission in New Jersey, and went to work a’wooing, and won her heart handily. He made his proposal on the beach just this month – only about a month after she had picked the wedding date. They plan to be married in March.

She is still taking classes at Chemeketa and teaching at the Dance Studio. She’s also had some success selling her own artwork in the form of painted shirts. She really is an amazing artist!

Wendy, Shar and Sobe to the rescue!

Wendy has been taking it easy this year. She quit teaching early-morning Seminary and sent our kids to public school so that she can catch more daytime television. Ha Ha! But you didn’t even bite on that little tease, did you?

In addition to Seminary and home school, Wendy still teaches singing lessons. She has spent countless hours volunteering at the high school in their theater and music programs. She has become the de facto technical manager of the school’s beautiful new theater and is training students to use the equipment. She also is sharing her artistic talent as she designs and paints the sets there.

Biking Fashion Expert

For myself, I’ve had a few changes in my life this year. I’m now working at Wah Chang in Albany, OR. It’s a great job and it’s much closer to home. This year I had a concern about a school district issue, and got uncharacteristically involved. I joined the Rebel Alliance and we are taking on the Imperial Senate from a rebel base in the Alderan System.

And this year I became a pet owner farmer . I’m in love with eight beautiful hens the idea of providing for my family with resources in the back yard. Every day I run home from work and spend quality time bonding with these magnificent creatures with wide eyes and an intellect to match my own do the necessary chores to keep my livestock healthy.

So that’s the summary! I hope to share a few more details on my blog before the year is out. Here are links to a few stories I've enjoyed writing this year:

Man's Best Feathered Friends
Driving Mrs Boyack
Bicycling Adventure

Now to find more time for writing! With five active kids and a super active wife, (and lots of hairbrained adventures of my own) I am getting lots of inspiration of things to write about, but I’m trying hard to keep up and not writing much. I figure that day will come.

So Merry Christmas, and we hope to keep in touch!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Corners of My Mind . . .

. . . are dusty.

Yesterday I got a rare privelige of participating in the judicial process that we take so much for granted. Last month my lovely wife and I were witnesses to a bad car accident, in which we saw a red sports car cross Lancaster without enough clearance, and a small pickup T-boned it.

So we were subpoenaed to Salem Municipal Court to testify. It was really quite an honor, and all things were done in the greatest decorum and courtesy.

The police officer, as well as the offending driver, had established for the judge that the red car had attempted to cross from a parking lot. I think the police officer wanted more information from us witnesses as to how the guy entered the intersection. Did he stop and look, or just slow down before entering the road?

When my turn came, I was asked to describe what I saw. We were traveling far behind the pickup when it ran into the red car.

"The first thing I noticed was the cloud of smoke from the airbags deploying, and the pickup truck being shoved to the right. And the red car passing in front of the pickup.”

Policeman: “Did you see the car leave the parking lot and enter the roadway?”

Me: “No, I really wasn’t aware of either vehicle before the collision.”

Policeman, referring to his notes: “So you don’t remember telling me that the red car entered from the parking lot?”

Me, smiling: “Uh, I could have told you that, and if so, it’s probably more reliable than what I can remember today.”

Policeman, rolling his eyes: “No further questions.”

Besides the honor of participating in the greatest justice system in the world, I also got paid eight dollars and twenty cents for that testimony.

I love America!

Encouraging Civility

I have removed an anonymous comment that was made on 9/29. I appreciate this note that came from that commenter:
I would like to publicly retract my statements of Mr Maloney and Hunter from 2 posts ago.  . . .  It was not the appropriate wording for the "opinion" I was trying to get express. ...again, I do not want to go down the road of name calling and take away from the positive discussion at hand. Again, I appoligize to both men for going down that road.
We all need to remember that our voices will be heard best when spoken in careful tones, and our words will be best understood when they are unerringly true.  I found this quote today from Mary Wortley Montagu (I have no idea who she is, hopefully she is nice):
Civility costs nothing, and buys everything.
So I also apologize, for leaving the offending comments up for just over a week.  I am new to this world of controversial writing, and I did not take the needed initiative to monitor the comments.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

I Have Been Schooled

Some readers have corrected my assertion that the bond for the 47 Million was in 2006.  I am learning that it was actually 2008, and that a smaller bond was in 2006.  Thank you for pointing this out.  I havent yet found published results for the 2008 election, but will publish a link to them when I do.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Updated: The Ethics of Oversight

The Central School Board has a problem. From their perspective, it may seem small at the moment. Having to deal with a few complaining citizens has probably always been part of the job. But they may not realize that the substance of the complaints is no longer about programs and policies. It’s really not even about education. It’s about ethics and honesty. It’s about money, and it’s about oversight.

Here are some examples of flagrant waste that concern me:

Vacation time reimbursed without authorization

Personal expense budget exceeded without authorization and personal recreational activities paid for by school district funds

Non-bond funding used for items in the original bond description.

Specified and contracted items in the bond not delivered

Concerns are growing amongst staff, teachers and now citizens about district office expenditures as well as the bond fund. And right alongside those questions we are asking where does the buck stop in the Central School District? The board should be the supreme authority, but they don’t seem to be asking questions, pushing back, or demanding accountability from the superintendant.

When the public sees evidence of wrongdoing and mismanagement in the district, and hears that the school board has let this behavior pass, we wonder how many other things have happened that we are not aware of. We wonder how the school board can not be aware. Or, assuming they might be aware, we wonder if they are complicit and approving of wasteful and harmful behavior.

Let me tell you a story. This is a story told by my ethics professor at a business college, many moons ago. It’s a true story about a local manager of a large non-profit organization and his treasurer, and it goes like this: The manager traveled much for his work, and so he got in the habit of signing checks in advance, so that the treasurer could take care of routine business when the manager was out of town.

The treasurer’s family was dealing with some major medical issues. Once when the manager was out of town, a large bill came due to the treasurer. This non-profit organization collects donations for people with medical issues or other needs. The managers have control of the dispersal of this money. So the treasurer, justifying himself by saying that the manager would probably give him the money if he were to apply for it, wrote himself a check for several thousand dollars and paid his bill.

When the manager returned, the treasurer felt a little too shy to explain what he had done, so he didn’t bring it up. The manager continued to sign blank checks as usual, and was eventually gone out of town again. At the treasurer’s home, another bill came due, and he again took money from the organization without asking by using the signed checks. This happened several times. Eventually, guilt compelled him to confess to the manager what he had done. But by then this poor treasurer had stolen many thousands of dollars.

I don’t know how this story ended for the treasurer. The professor’s point in telling it was to highlight the manager’s unethical behavior. Yes, that’s right. The manager behaved unethically by placing the control of so much money into the hands of one man, without requiring accountability. The checks actually required two signatures, to facilitate accountability, but the manager defeated that system by signing blank checks. The treasurer was guilty of theft, to be sure, but the manager was responsible for creating the environment where theft could easily occur. And an otherwise honest man found the temptation too much to bear.

Is Central School Board, like the manager of this non-profit aid group, signing blank checks? If they are not performing their duty of oversight, they are guilty of creating an environment where a person might begin to think of district funds – given by taxpayers for the purpose of educating students – as completely under his own discretion and answerable to no one else.

The Central School Board’s own policy states that the board “assigns and holds the superintendent responsible for all the administrative functions of the district” (Policy Code BCD). “Holding responsible” means verifying that a task was completed according to the agreement (for example, a budget), and when it wasn’t, requiring the problem to be corrected as soon as possible. Holding responsible can also mean reprimanding, coaching, or terminating a relationship.

To salvage its reputation, the school board should take seriously the concerns that have been brought up, and take immediate and fully-corrective action.

Facts, Opinions, and Dialogue

UPDATE: Some readers have corrected me on the issue of when the 47 million bond was approved. It looks like it was 2008.  The one I saw in 2006 was a smaller bond.  I am still looking for published results of the 2008 election.

Until recently, my blogging has been infrequent and “humorous”. One of the luxuries of writing humor is that I can choose when to stray from the truth for the sake of a laugh. Likewise, the people who tell me that my writing is funny have no obligation to the truth.

But now that I’m writing about community affairs, I try to be very conscious of what’s true – or at least documented, versus what is my opinion. I don’t want to mislead people, or get people charged up emotionally based on only a kernel of truth. I want people to know what’s actually happening, the way I want to know, and make informed decisions. In the best cases I hope more of you will get involved, even if it takes the ugly truth to wake you up, as it did me.

I try to stick to documented facts and separate it from my opinion clearly, so that I can maintain some respect among you readers.

Another reason I need to be very careful about the truth is that I don’t want to ruin someone’s personal reputation through untruths. Though I have never personally spoken with any of them, I have the greatest respect for the individuals on the School Board. They are giving the sacrifice of unpaid public service. I know that if and when we do meet, we can do so respectfully, and maybe even cordially, if I’m diligently honest about how I pluck their feathers.

Also, I don’t want to be sued.

On the other hand, I think they are ruining their own reputation as a board, and I am making it my mission to loudly assist them in that process – by simply reporting what I know – if they don’t take the hint and change their ways.

Here on this blog, you and I can have a public dialogue about these issues, and raise awareness in the community. I appreciate you commenters that have noted my understatements and overstatements in my loud-mouth recommendations. I also appreciate the anonymous commenter today who wanted to set me straight about the history of the bond measure that gave us the school expansion.

I, and at least one other reader, did exactly what we should have done when told of my “inaccuracies.” I went to the source, and confirmed the truth. This is important, because honestly, I was working from memory before I was challenged on this fact. If I had been wrong, I would be posting that correction now.

So, to you commenters, anonymous or otherwise, I say bravo.

So to the specific issue raised today, I can say without a doubt that the bond measure passed in November 2006 with 54% of people who voted on this measure voting Yes. The rest of the figures are: 40% of the people who cast ballots that day in our district voted Yes. 26% of registered voters voted Yes. Here you can read the report yourself.

And the other fact I verified is that unemployment was at 5.1% that month, and it was 10.3%, more than double, last month.

Now, to the good man who was misinformed on these facts, I say, Thank you for reading and beginning to get involved and thinking about these issues. Keep reading, keep talking and listening, and let’s help everyone get the truth.

The other point, good fellow, is that the primary issue I wanted you to get from reading that blog was that YOUR tax money is paying for a 47 million dollar bond, and I’m concerned that this project may have been delivered without your best interests – and maybe not even the kids’ interest – as the top priority.

I really hope I’m wrong on that one.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Trust me, this is funny!

Hey everyone!  Just thought you might like to know that I once thought this blog was going to be a humor blog.  Here are a couple of my favorite posts: Driving Mrs Boyack, and Bicycling Adventure.  I hope to devote more time to that in the future, and less time to community problems.  Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

This is no Maytag! (Sorry for the long, long post here! The good stuff is at the bottom)

Attendees to Monday’s school board meeting were on the edge of decorum. Agitated, murmuring, and asking questions out of turn. There were strong statements of concern, with loud applause after those statements – as contrasted with polite applause after statements of congratulations and accomplishment.

There is a perception among at least some teachers that there are management problems in the district, that they are not being addressed, and that the board doesn’t want to hear about it.

My first school board meeting

I attended because I was angry. It is unfortunate that it took frustration and anger to bring me to my first attempt at civic responsibility. A nervous but enthusiastic rookie, at the very first meeting I attended, I rose to speak. I addressed the issue that roused me from slumber: the suspicion of very costly mismanagement at the district office. Judging by the applause and cheers I received, this concern was shared by many in the room.

However, the nerves I felt before and during my presentation never left me. I felt very uneasy about the unpleasant experience of being in an adversarial position with another human being. This is rare for me, especially in public.

I couldn’t sleep, and I have been thinking about this experience constantly for more than 24 hours now. I couldn’t get over how pathetic and embarrassing the whole meeting was. Complaints aired in public, emotions high, and a very complex organization to manage with scores of people watching and hoping for solutions. It seems impossible and hopeless.

This having been my first attendance to a school board meeting anywhere, I can’t say how this meeting compared to any other, or how this school district compares with any other. Certainly the problems faced by this district are common throughout the country: funding is shrinking while legislative mandates expand.

Dirty Laundry

In the middle of a long drive to work, the whole matter settled in my mind. The Central School District board has a public relations problem. Their reputation (as a collective group) is deteriorating within the district and in the community.

I compared the experience to what I know: publicly held, for-profit manufacturing companies. The school board is the board of directors; the superintendant is the CEO; the principals are the managers; the teachers operate the manufacturing equipment.

The school board meeting would translate like this: you invite customers, stockholders, and employees to one meeting, and then you open the mic to allow anyone to speak.

This would be a disaster in the private business world, in the best companies. A company’s reputation could be ruined by one bad actor, be it by blunder or bomb. A company with a contentious relationship with its employees would instantly fall apart.

The district has a big group of unhappy teachers. They’re unhappy about some important issues, and they’re looking for a place to air the dirty laundry. I went to the meeting in hopes of shining light on the issues, and I guess I did. I reached deep into the pile and got the stinkiest mess I knew about, drug it out into the public lobby, and hung it on the concierge’s desk.

This is embarrassing for me, for the board, for all the district employees, and for the entire community. Was it necessary? Maybe not. Was it helpful? Maybe not.

The real problem is this: the school district has no washing machine.

In a corporation, if management is capable at all, employee gripes are addressed when they reach critical mass. Maybe even before. But allowing employees to speak publicly about grievances and brushing it off as either trivial or out of the board’s control causes problems for the company’s image, and ultimately its profitability. Quality employees and managers leave for a more pleasant work environment; concerned customers look more closely at your competition; investors take another bet.

So corporations try to avoid this by developing specific policies and practices to resolve employee complaints before the spill out into public vies.  Occasionally there occurs a complete breakdown of trust between a manager and his employees. I have been through this twice: once as the incompetent manager, and once as the disgruntled employee. In the latter case, the VP I worked for was fired by the senior VP.

In the former case, my manager sat me down and said, “we have to be sure this position is the right one for you, and if it is not, we have to ask, is there a position at this company that is a good fit?” Ouch.

In both cases, the issue was brought to light by upset employees who went over their manager’s head to a figure they could trust. Someone who would listen. Someone with the power, and hopefully the wisdom, to make the needed change for the benefit of the company.

In both cases, until that meeting took place, good employees were leaving for other opportunities, who might perhaps have been retained if they had not been put off by their boss’s actions.

So how does this process work in Central school district? I’m still asking around, and I may be corrected, but what settled on my mind this morning is: it doesn’t. It’s not happening, at least not above the level of the school principals.

Perception is Reality

When the meeting came to order, the room was clearly divided into two groups: those who run the district, and the rest of us who don’t. The superintendent sits next to the board chairman, and three district employees sit in the same grouping with the board.

You may think I’m nitpicking here, but I see this as a problem. It’s not a giant problem if the meeting is primarily serving as a mechanism to inform the public of the state of the district and hear concerns form the public. A united front is desirable in that case.

But in my case, like several others who spoke, I was there to complain about district management. So there is the guy I want to complain about, sitting side by side with the people who are supposedly going to fix the problem. It’s like filing a complaint of assault and having the perpetrator accompany the police officer to take your statement. At first, you are incredulous. Then, when the words start flowing, they tend to come out with more animosity than they might otherwise.

And, of course, the rumor is that there is a personal friendship between the board members and the superintendent. I hope that’s not true. If it is, then even separating the tables won’t help people with complaints take the board more seriously.

In my completely unstudied opinion, the school board’s jobs are 1) setting policies, and 2) overseeing the superintendent’s work. This school board has ruined its reputation regarding #2. They seem not to notice any lapses by the superintendent. At least from what we outside the board can see.

Talk to the Hand

The other thing that was obviously frustrating to the people around me was that the rules of the board meeting don’t allow the public to ask questions of the board, or comment on any actions taken by the board.

At one point in the board business (I believe it was the issue of how public statements should be taken in board meetings), a kindergarten teacher spoke up politely and asked if she could ask a question. The school board president put out both her hands toward the woman, and stated the rule: “I’m sorry, questions are not allowed.”

The teacher sitting next to me couldn’t restrain herself: “That’s the problem!” There were murmurs of agreement.

The chairperson allowed the question, and it was  answered satisfactorily.  (For the record, I am not opposed to this rule).  This interchange was evidence to me - perhaps circumstantial at this point - that the teachers feeling of not being heard may be based on kernels of facts

I also noticed that the board members asked no questions of the speakers or the attending public. To my memory (not the best) the only questions that any board member asked was Mr. Paul Evans, asking questions of the district employees. How in the world can you understand a problem without asking questions? I certainly hope they ask questions in their private deliberations and in one-on-one conversations.

So if this board meeting was representative, and if there are not other times and places where communication occurs with the public and the school teachers, I completely agree with the teachers that there is very little communication with the school board. We made statements. They went on to other business. One item most complained of, the issue of the print shop’s reduced staffing, was added to the agenda. The board left the room for executive, private, session.

Three hours well spent.

One item discussed late in the meeting was a change in the school board meeting format in an attempt to improve their communication with the public. The idea was to have the board members split up in the meeting hall and hear the statements separately and then give reports on them in the reconvened group.

The teachers had seen this on the agenda before hand, and assumed it was an attempt to shut down communication. It may have turned out something like that, but Mr. Evans proposed to amend that plan to add time for open comment at the end of the meeting, for anyone who was not satisfied with the board member’s representation of their concern.

I think this is a noble effort. Much like buying a washboard and tub is better than sitting with no laundry service at all.

No, I’m not making this up

It was mentioned that a quieter way is being sought for the individuals attending the meeting to express their support for a statement or action in the meeting.  Because we have no applause meter, a show of hands or sign-language applause might be better.

The chairman also suggested that anyone who wants to can email the board with concerns: “you have our email addresses. I think I’ve only received three emails . . .”

Today I went looking for the email addresses on the district website. If they are there, they are somewhere other than the “board” page.  Perhaps the teaches have them.

Do something different

So, now that you have endured reading this far, here are my recommendations to the board for commencing REAL communication.  I think it is important to point out how well qualified I am to give this advice: I have been to exactly one school board meeting.

1. Hear grievances in private so that dirty laundry has someplace to go other than the public board meeting.

a. Does the district have a grievance policy for employees to go above their immediate boss’s head to the next level manager? Do the employees know about it? Are they willing to use it?

b. Since at the top of the district, the Superintendent reports to the Board, does the board make themselves available, individually as well as in formal, private board meetings, to hear the concerns of employees?

c. The public meetings have an explicit rule that criticism of individuals is not allowed. This is a good, healthy, appropriate rule. But in private meetings specifics should be encouraged.

d. This kind of private meeting could be regularly scheduled or by appointment. At a minimum it should be held before deliberations begin on whether to extend the superintendant’s contract. Yes, even when everyone is happy.

e. No one other than the board members and the parties concerned should be present in that meeting. Obviously not the superintendent.

2. Ask and answer questions.

a. There must be a forum in which the public can ask questions of the board.

b. Refusing to respond to questions is a bad PR move. I know you’re busy, but big businesses typically do this once a quarter.

c. What is it that prevents you from asking questions of the speakers? Would you feel listened to if you make a grand statement and all you get is a polite, “Thank you . . . Next!”?

3. Post board members’ contact information on the district website.

a. Actually, in addition to names, phones, and email addresses, I’d like to see what zone you are elected in and how long you have been serving.

b. A picture and a bio would be very lovely, but probably overkill.

4. Continue this public board meeting as is. It serves essential purposes

a. It works well for citizens to make their concerns known

b. Everyone gets to view the workings of the public board.

c. It is the place to debate policy, strategy and direction.

d. If it is serving also as a place for employees to air complaints about management, it is only because the superintendent and the board are failing in their management.

5. Put the district superintendant at a separate table.

a. In public meetings, the district superintendant and employees should NOT sit at the same tables as the board.

b. This will be a visual cue to the truth that the board is separate from the district management, and provides concrete oversight.

But ya gotta mean it

If these kinds of practices are put in place for show, they will fail. Cloudy people will continue to show up and rain on your public board meetings. But if you listen and act in response to the concerns about management, people will know you are for real. Doing the right thing – even when it may be different than what the complainant hopes for – goes a long way.

In the case of Central School District, when behaviors of the superintendent change for the better, then you will begin to earn the trust your position deserves.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A break from humor to address major issues at the Central School District

An Open Letter to the Central School Board:

Several years ago when the bond measure was voted on in this school district, it passed with 54%. This is democracy. Majority rules, and those who opposed paying additional taxes for this measure will dutifully pay for this bond right alongside those who supported it.

54% is a slim margin, and this was BEFORE the recession started. If the election were held one year later, it is unlikely that the measure would have passed.

These are tough times. We have entrusted you, the school board, with our children AND our money – the most sacred things we have. I do not believe you have lived up to that trust.

At the open house of the new Central High School building the other day, Mr. Hunter said that the project was completed “under budget”. This struck me as odd.

It is odd to call this under budget, because the new computer lab has no computers.

It is odd because in the beautiful auditorium, there is a giant alcove backstage for storing a concert shell. This shell doesn’t exist. Its ceiling panels are there, but the concert towers aren’t there and the rumor is they weren’t in the contract that was given to the theatrical rigging company.

It’s odd to call this project under budget when it is using money from other sources than the original bond. $300K has been allocated in the 2010 general fund budget to do resurface the track and buy the property the vision clinic was on. These items were in the scope of the original bond, and should have been paid for without affecting this year’s budget in an amount that could have paid for FOUR teachers.

And finally, it’s odd to call this project under budget given that an additional loan of $500K has been taken to upgrade HVAC systems in the existing schools. This also was part of the scope of the original project.

A local blog, the Central Advocate, states:

Given the savings realized by building during an economic slump (estimated to be several million dollars), the district should have had plenty of money to complete all of the elements promised in the bond. Instead, they have shifted some of those costs into this year's operating budget. This does not strike me as good bond management. Yet the bond manager has been rehired for next year with a new job title and a 12.5% raise. And we are laying off teachers.
And now we come to Mr. Maloney.

Mike Maloney has been the bond manager during this project expanding the high school. He has been rehired and given a twelve percent raise, to administer the half-million dollar loan for HVAC upgrades. His total compensation over two years will amount to two thirds the value of the loan he is administering, and could have been used to hire two teachers. This is an unconscionable waste of money in the economic downturn we are experiencing. Capable people in the community could be called upon to do the work which may average out to only a couple of hours per week on a part-time or volunteer basis. But we are paying an annual salary of over $110 thousand. All for a project that was in the scope of the original bond.

What about Mr. Maloney’s performance administering this bond gives the idea that spending over 300K more dollars for his services over the next two years will bring $300K worth of value to our students, our classrooms, and our taxpayers?

And before his recent work here at Central, what about his performance in prior positions made him the obvious choice to administer this bond?

With the assistance of Google and the World Wide Web, I was able to find, in about one hour’s time, some information on Mike Maloney which would not only discourage me from hiring him, but would make me question the judgment – or honesty – of any person who did.

In Education Week, January 11, 2005, it states facilities and transportation associate superintendent Michael C. Maloney, was indicted for alleged mishandling of at least $627,000 in school construction and consulting contracts. (Fee Required)

This was in Houston Texas.

At this same time, he was charged and convicted of a misdemeanor crime of lying on a government document: His Resume. He claimed baccalaureate and masters degrees from a university that doesn’t exist. According to the blog “Education Wonks”: “Maloney only got caught when his subordinates became concerned at his obvious lack of expertise in supervising the letting of contracts.”

The Mail Tribune of Southern Oregon, reported in 2007 that Mike Maloney was hired and fired from a position there. He was fired specifically because he was not forthcoming about his previous conviction. But they also had concerns with his construction management experience. It says:

A month after Maloney first met with the committee in April 2005 and began touring schools to help identify needs for repairs and construction, former Medford district facilities manager Sam Digati did an Internet search under Maloney's name and found out about the conviction.

[They were ] suspicious of Maloney because he asked questions that indicated he knew less about construction than he had claimed.
Right there at our fingertips was the background of this man who made an impression in two different districts that 1) he had an insufficient knowledge of construction and supervising of contracts, 2) he had a criminal conviction for misrepresenting himself, and 3) he was implicated in the mishandling of public money.

It appears his next stop was here, in wonderful, friendly, trusting, Central school district. In Southern Oregon they got suspicious within a month! But here we put him in charge of a 37 million dollar bond over two years, with a disappointing result that should have been predicted by Mr. Hunter and you on the School Board. More money was spent than the voters specifically approved for the project – some of it coming from the general fund which could have paid for teachers - and some components listed in the “2008 Bond Scope of Work” have not been delivered. In a time when budgets are tight everywhere, especially in Oregon, it seems we followed the approach, “Do Less With More”.

And the superintendant can state publicly that it was finished under budget? Something is definitely wrong here.

As taxpayers and parents, we expect you, the Board, to carefully oversee the wise use of our money and the operation of our district to the benefit of our students and our community.

I call on this school board to have an outside, independent audit of ALL bond expenditures, immediately. Account for EVERY penny and be prepared to justify EVERY expense.

Trust is a good thing, but it has to be earned.


At the meeting last night, Kathy Zehner said that there is some misinformation out there that they will work to correct.  I have been pondering this post and my shorter statements at the board meeting, and I feel to correct one thing.  Maloney's compensation may not be two thirds of the project he will be administering.  I assumed that the $500K HVAC project was his only responsibility, when in fact I have no knowlege what his responsibilities will be.  Therefore, while I am still critical that he was hired, and that he got a raise in tough economic times, I do not have enough information to comment on the ratio of his compensation to the value of the projects he is administering.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Mastering the Art of Blog Writing

So last night Wendy and I watched the movied "Julie and Julia", a lovely, supposedly true story about Julia Childs in the 40's and 50's, struggling to publish a cookbook, and Julie Porter(?) in the 2000's, who is inspired by Julia Child's recipes and stories as she struggles to "become a writer".

I identified with Julie for many reasons: she's working a regular day job and trying to write in her spare time; she has a wonderfully supportive spouse who can't quite make up for her own lack of follow through; her delightful wit stems from having a certain contentness in her insecurity; she's sensetive and introspective (moody and selfish) and she makes a mess every day in the kitchen.

So Julie starts a blog, and within a year she has lots of readers, gets featured in the New York Times, and then offered deals for books, movies and stage shows.

I watched her for the whole year - OK, two hours - and I thought to myself, this should be Easy!  I could do this!  All I need is a gimmick! 

That's what Julie did.  Julie's gimmick was that she made all 500+ recipes in Julia Child's book, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" in one year, and blogged about it every day.  All I need to do is find some adventure I can do every day and blog about it.  The possibilities are endless.

The most obvious is home repairs and improvements, because that has already produced so much comedy (stupidity) in my life.  But that's a bit more expensive than cooking.  I could write about my exercise plan (Walking, Yoga, and Shovelglove), which I'm going to start as soon as I find a compelling reason, like a coronary bypass.  I could write about parenting, but I'm sure I would offend the six most important people in my life. 

So the endless blogging possibilities immediately whittle themselves down from overwhelming to managable, to nothing.  And worse than that, in addition to a topic, I'm missing all the rest of the ingredients essential to this blogging success recipe: time, focus, and passion.

The difficulty with time is obvious, I'm sure you all have smilar challenges when you consider adding an extra hobby into your life.  I have a full time job plus 10 hours a week commuting; I have a wife whose company I enjoy and five kids in the most active stages of life; I have scouting activities with Chad - this year bicycling;  I serve in the church; I have a home and a yard to maintain and chickens to feed. 

I don't know - maybe I just don't have my priorities straight.  Julie was certainly able to put everything else on hold.  Of course she had a small apartment, no church, and no children, but that's beside the point.  She focused and got it done.

Focus has been a challenge for me since I was about 17.  I'm always victim to the new thought, need, or distraction that comes along.  This can be fun in writing humor, but it's not so helpful in getting things done.

Passion.  What do I really care enough about to share my excitement with others?  Hmm - let's ask it another way.  Do I ever get excited about anything?  Nope - nothing outside of ice cream anyway.

But I do have one possible solution to the topic problem.  I have a new harmonica and I'm learning to play.  I have the hymnbook and the primary children's songbook.  I could learn to play a song a day and blog about it for year!

What do you think?  You are getting excited to read about this aren't you?  Maybe this will work!

Well, I might try that later.  I'm going to see what the chickens are up to today. . . . and I'll get some ice cream on my way out.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Happy Weekend!

Hey, everyone - Thanks for stopping by.  If you like what you read, please share it with your friends.  Also, if you are an experienced blogger, we'd love to learn from your experiences. Please drop us a line!

Hey, Readers, give me a suggestion for a title for this post, would you?

There’s something wrong with our car.

It’s a 1999 Chevrolet Suburban. We’ve had it for almost four years – long enough to make it definitively ours by all the markings, inside and out. (If you want a vivid record of a rockin’-hot series of tic-tac-toe games once played in the car, just look at the leather in the second row of seats)

Well, so this car has been pretty good to our family, and in return, we have actually maintained it – as in, oil, water, filters, and all that good stuff gets changed when it’s supposed to, unlike some previous vehicles I have owned for a while and then sold for scrap.

So we think of it as a good car, but now it’s giving us some serious problems. I could give you all the technical details – about sensors, plugs, wires, baskets, nodules, timing, fanimolds, inflectors, protruders, etc., but it misses the point. I don’t mean that there’s a mechanical malfunction. I think this is more of a spiritual thing. I think the car is possessed by left-wing anarchists.

Either that or a chicken.

The whole business started about six weeks ago with an absolute gusher of a coolant leak. Wendy got it home, and we “hired” (cajoled) two mechanically-minded young friends to repair it, which they did.

But then it wouldn’t start, until and unless I changed the spark plugs. I don’t think it actually needed new plugs, but it was feeling a little pouty. You know how you sometimes buy an ice cream for a kid after the dentist fills a cavity? Same deal.

Then it ran fine for a while . . . like, an hour. And then it wouldn’t start for anything.

Then it got on a tow truck and went to the mechanic, who repaired it with the following series of operations: he A) put in the key, and B) turned it.

Yep, that’s it: started right up. That’ll be one hundred twenty-five dollars, please!

That subversive Suburban (nice alliteration there!) worked great for another three weeks. The countdown began for the liftoff of our summer vacation/reunion trip, and it started pulling random pranks. A little cough here, a little hesitation there – like me after a bite of spicy curry that is beyond my threshold. Only I’m sure this was totally intentional.

I bought it another set of spark plugs as a bribe, and it did everything I wanted for four hours. Then back to it’s old tricks.

No, not a chicken. They’re more consistent. I think it is working with the Iranian nuclear negotiators.

The misfiring got worse and worse until we (Wendy) knew that it wasn’t safe to pull the trailer from Oregon into the burning desert of southern Utah and back.

My judgment is a little different. If five out of eight cylinders are firing, that’s 62% success! That’s only a 38% chance that the family will be sitting on the side of a remote road in 100-degree heat waiting to be rescued by a tow truck operator using the handle “bean dip bouquet”.

So we rented a mini-van, which was reasonably comfortable, and very reliable, and had a great, but short, vacation in Utah. Meanwhile the “Subver-ban” was on it’s best behavior at the mechanic’s shop, and he refused to fix a car that wasn’t broken, but was only possessed by the ghost of an anarchist Iranian chicken.

You may say, “How frustrating! These cars make themselves so indispensible to us and then seem to take on a mind of their own!” But I’ve grown through this and many other similar “character-building experiences”. They give you perspective, you know? Through this I have gained confidence: I am now more confident than ever that the machines are literally conspiring against us, like Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Mankind should have never entered the Machine age.  Insetad we should have knocked down the door and thrown in a stun grenade and then sealed the door with a million yards of concrete.

But of course we wouldn’t have concrete, or grenades, so we would have to use potatoes.

And I wouldn’t be typing on the laptop while listening to Pandora. I would hand-write this missive and then publish it by sending it to . . . hmm. . . the Shinkle family!

Because there’s about thirty-five of them, and I would still have more followers than Wendy.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Extra Meetings

A couple of long days yesterday and today, but I have some good stories on tap for this weekend.  I have to keep my list of followers growing so that Wendy doesn't win the contest!

Meanwhile, because I'm swamped, Wendy just bypassed the tooth fairy completely and gave Lillian a dollar and told her to go put it under her pillow herself. 

A good manager always delegates.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Building Readership

Hey, Readers!  Thank you for your time and your encouraging comments!  Could I ask another favor?  Please sign up as a follower at the link on the right, and share a link to my post with your friends!

Man's Best Feathered Friends

It’s time we talk about chickens.

The first six months of this year have been a time of rich personal growth. I have learned much about relationships, emotion, and hygiene. I have come to better appreciate the simple things in life, like fresh eggs.

And I owe it all to my contraband chickens.

Let me first state to any Monmouth city law enforcement officer who may be reading, by way of disclaimer, that any and all references to chickens in my back yard are purely fictional! And I don’t have any reason to even care what the city ordinance says on the topic! Because . . . why would I? Although I did find out, after my nine lovely ladies were all settled in their coop, that the guy who puts up the city ordinances on the city website was like ten years behind and that chickens have been banned for years and that gun-blazing police are rampaging from neighborhood to neighborhood evicting helpless hens to a future certain to include poultry seasoning!

(Add lemon peel and chipotle sauce and bake at 450 degrees for 15 minutes).

We have nine birds which we got as chicks, named Cacciatori, Tetrazini, Marsala, Drumstick, Teriyaki, Buffalo Wings, Nibblers, Pot Pie, and Shake’N’Bake.

My ride-share buddy, Tom, has been bragging about his chickens for years. We ate some of his over-priced, farm-fresh eggs and loved them. Then we decided, as a family, that we should raise chickens ourselves.

That particular family meeting came several weeks after we had the chicks living in our garage. I was teasing Wendy that the chickens could be her Mother’s Day present. The rest of the conversation went something like this:

Wendy: not my present – you’re the one who wanted the chickens, not me.
John: Very funny! We only have chickens because you and the kids wanted them.
Wendy: Na-ahh!
(dramatic pause)
John and Wendy: You mean . . . you didn’t . . . OH NOOOOOO!

So here we were, the accidental chicken farmers. In retrospect, I am sure it was me that had the subconscious need for chickens. At the time it was probably just a craving for another unfinished project, because I was running low.

It started out to be purely a business arrangement, with no emotional connection or lifetime commitment. Their occupation is to produce eggs and garden manure. I am their employer and landlord. They work for chicken feed.

But as I fed them, shoveled their poop, built a luxurious home for them and protected them from ferocious predators (Pumpkin and Charlie), I came to understand that there is much more that chickens can do for me.

They are my emotional counterparts.

You see, chickens seem to have a dual nature: one part stupid bird, and the other part human male. It’s hard to explain but when I stare into a chicken’s eyes, I feel understood.

Chickens themselves have only three discernable emotions:

First: What’s that thing? Can I eat it?
Second: Run away! Yes, I know I’m climbing on your head – it’s as far as I can run!
Third: Ouch! Wow! Ouch! Today’s egg is on it’s waaay!

This is simplicity any man can appreciate.

With the first two points alone, they could be my soul mates! And I could also mention that they sympathize with men who cry . . . or . . . so I hear. Chickens are not criers, (see the list of three emotions above) but if you happen to be an emotional man, and you catch yourself choking up in front of a chicken, it’s OK. She will listen. She will understand. Let the tears flow. She will still respect you. . . . I’m told.

And the third point? It seems too much to ask that something so small and helpless would make my breakfast every day, but they do it, and they do it gladly.

So you see, my Fictional! chickens have found a solid home in my heart. They are useful, economical, helpful and loyal.

After two or three years, they’ll stop laying and become senior citizen hens. When that happens, as their names suggest, these loving, listening friends will be plucked, skinned, quartered, and tossed into the freezer, to be enjoyed as a family entree.

As I said: Lifetime Commitment.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Driving Mrs Boyack

This week our family traveled from Oregon to Utah and back – almost 2000 miles – to a family reunion. Wendy drove about 1800 of those miles, while I acted as co-pilot, checking distances and refilling her water bottle.

Obviously I have no Chauvinistic hang-up with having to be the driver on family outings “because I’m the man”. Wendy and I did have disagreements about this in the early years of our marriage. I like to drive and she likes to drive – nothing wrong there, it’s something we have in common. It’s just that there are some stylistic differences between her driving and mine.

Wendy’s driving style is to drive a safe speed, notice everything, put no excessive strain on the engine, and provide a smooth ride for her passengers. Mine is to get to the intended destination without physically making contact with other vehicles or embedding small animals of more than 50 lbs mass into the grill.

Wendy’s observation skills are amazing, to say the least. She notices wildlife near the road, such as deer, pheasants, and mice. She notices billboards and landmarks, and she notices wrecks and dangerous objects from miles away.

But mostly she notices police.

She notices police driving, or especially parked in sneaky locations behind shrubs or on overpasses. She sees them whether they are in patrol cars or unmarked cars, on a motorcycle or out of uniform watching their child play soccer. When Wendy sees the police while driving, everyone knows because she’ll stomp the brakes to slow down from five mph under the speed limit to ten mph under, and she’ll yell, “Everybody DOWN!”

This is because the kids might be doing absolutely anything illegal or dangerous, such as sitting in a seatbelt not approved for small children, or touching their sister.

Still, the reason I generally let Wendy drive is not because she’s the better driver, it’s because I’m the better passenger. If the car takes a sudden lurch or gets a little close to another vehicle while I’m the passenger, I just look at it like an amusement park ride. When it’s over, we’re all safe, and we can go get a corn dog.

As my passenger, Wendy’s take on the experience probably aligns nicely with her view of airplane crashes – I haven’t asked her, but I’m judging by the screaming, the hyperventilation, and the grip she places on the entry handle.

You know, if she would just close her eyes, it would probably be a lot more comfortable for her.

She also insists on giving me a lot of directions, such as “Stay within the lines, please!” or “Watch the road, would you!” Sometimes her directions are self-contradicting, like “turn right at the next light”, and “Do NOT turn right across three lanes of traffic!”

In the last few years I have had the opportunity to have my co-workers as passengers, and, as it turns out, Wendy’s view of my driving is not unique.

Mike told me “I can understand using the shoulder to go around a car turning left – and I can even understand doing that at 60 mph, but not when there is another car using the shoulder!”

Tom says, “Stop far enough behind the other vehicle that you can still see its tires, please!”

They both claim to get muscle strain from involuntary attempts to hit the brakes.

Officer Cummins of the OHP has a different view of my driving. He hasn’t seen me driving while thumbing through my notebook looking for phone numbers, or using both hands to scratch that itch under my left shoulder blade. He simply thinks I should slow down.

He and I chat about it every few weeks on Highway 99 between Rickreall and Amity. He’s a good man, in his 30’s, with a wife and two children. He loves his job, and recently bought a wood smoker.

I admit it, Wendy is a very good driver, and I'm needing improvement.  So in the interest of marital harmony, and general laziness, I let Wendy drive about 28 hours of barren Western landscape.

In addition to my copilot duties I played Sudoku on my blackberry and learned how to solve the Rubiks cube.  I also worked on my observation skills, so that I can one day become as good a driver as Wendy. I’m getting better! I even noticed a lady having a baby on the freeway – with three patrol cars, lights flashing, and feet up against the side windows.

. . . After Wendy pointed it out.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

I rolled up a log

Saturday Wendy was driving home from Bend with the kids.  Chad was in a silly mood, and was perhaps driving the driver a wee bit insane, so she called me and said, "Chad wants to talk to you.  Here you go!"

I played along.  "Howdy Chad!"

"Hi, Dad!  What did you do today?"

I told him "I wrote a blog." 

Cell phones are a little indistinct sometimes, and they were in a bad cell zone. He said, "I can't hear you.  What?"

"I wrote a BLOG!"  I yelled.

"You rolled up a log? What are you talking about?" 

He must have laughed for five minutes.  I waited patiently, and eventually he said, "OK - what else did you do today?"

"I rode my bike to the grocery store."

"Dad!  You Rock!  You rode your bike through the grocery store?  That's awesome!"

This was becoming a fun game.  In fact, we might be on the verge of patenting a new game for the hearing impaired.

Actually, someone made this into a game already.  It's called "Mad Gab", and I am the champion at it.  When someone verbalizes, "Stub Her Neigh Same Yule," I easily translate to, "Stubborn as a mule" and win the round.  On the other hand, if they actually say "Stubborn as a mule", I am just as likely to hear, "It's a rubber vestibule."  Chad may have this hereditary defect.

This kind of thing seems to happen to me often. 

Once, when Wendy was not feeling well, she said, "My stomach hurts. My thighs are greasy."  Only, the thighs weren't her own, they belonged to the chickens we ate for dinner an hour earlier. 

On another occasion I asked, "Need anything from the store?" 

She was happy I asked.  "Bring me some Carmex."

"What kind of corn mix?"

Less happy now.

It happened quite frequently when I lived in Japan, where they have a national shortage of sylables.  Once my host family was already in the middle of dinner when I arrived home, with only a few minutes until an appintment came.  The host mother asked me, "kuru made tabetara?" meaning "why don't you eat until they come?"  But I heard, "kuruma de tabetara?" meaning, "why don't you eat in the car?" 

I was a little offended.

This (dis?) aility may have come to me as a child when my family begain reciting the story "Ladle Rat Rotten Hut." 

Wants pawn term, dare worsted ladle gull, hoe left wetter murder honor itch offer lodge, dock florist.

Ladies and gentlemen, don't adjust your sets.  You read that correctly.  It makes perfect sense when you know how to translate it.  It is the story of "Little Red Riding Hood" and this is the first sentence: "Once upon a time, there was a little girl, who lived with her mother on the edge of a large, dark forest."

You're getting the hang of this now, arent you? 

Here's what I think.  Any future hearing loss I experience will be accompanied by an equally offsetting entertainment value, and kids will come from all over to talk with me.

"Hey, kid - I see you bought a new Toyota."

"That's right, Mister Boyack, and I hear you had a really amazing coupe."

"Yes, I did, after the Ex Lax took effect."

So after all, communication is a four part exercise.  The intended message, the actual spoken words, the actual heard words, and the interpreted meaning. 

If any one of those goes wrong, you can have a lot of fun.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Fighting Evil in Sunday Primary

In my church there is no paid ministry, and we are asked to to a variety of jobs.  Here's a few that I have done:
  • President of the Elder's Quorum (a men's group - actually the younger half of the congregation even though it's called Elder)
  • Counselor to a Bishop - something like an assistant pastor
  • Young Men's Advisor - working with 16 to 18 year old boys once, and 12-13 year olds another time.
  • Choir director - self explanitory
My current job is the best one I have ever had.  It is "Primary Chorister".  I lead the singing for two groups of kids.  One is 3-7 years old, and the other is 8-11.  We sing songs in between little sermons taught by the kids or the primary leaders. 

Today Sister Nelson used an object lesson that involved a whole garlic.  When she told the kids what it was, one eight-year old girl pipes up, "Garlic scares away vampires!". 

And then, in a completely unscripted moment, a ten-year old boy on the back row smiled, revealing two rows of platic green vampire teeth, complete with fangs.

I love primary!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Bicycling Adventure

Each year the Young Men’s organization in my LDS ward organizes the “high-adventure activity”, which is some extra-challenging expedition to a river, a beach, or a mountain. This is a speculative endeavor because we do things that normally only “fit” people do, like biking, canoeing or backpacking, but with our actual bodies, which are more suited to specialized functions such as punching keys on a keyboard or remote control, or for the young guys, a game controller thingy. But, for this one week each year, we scale mountains, ride rapids, or glide down highways wearing only Styrofoam.

The “High Adventure” is always adventurous, even though we are church-goers who attempt these feats without the aid of alcohol, because it involves males from ages 14 to 60, which is well before the age when the frontal lobe in human males matures and responsible judgment is possible.

Last August, for example, we canoed 100 miles of the treacherous Willamette River, which in the summer is not known for dangerous currents. However, two male priesthood brethren found, within sixty minutes of putting our boats in the water on the very first day, the only rapid anywhere on this river, and, given the choice of two forks in the river, naturally chose the one that would dump their bodies into the churning water and fold their canoe around a tree.

I thought this was pretty funny, and I confess I ribbed those guys a little. Meanwhile my son Chad and I carefully and responsibly piloted our canoe safely for the first day, until that got pretty boring. On the second day I paid attention to my fishing lines long enough to tip the canoe over. After that I was back to being responsible for the remainder of the journey, because I had lost my fishing poles and there was nothing better to do.

So here we are one year later, and the Adventure this year is a five-day, 150-mile bicycle trip on the San Juan islands, which are somewhere in the ocean of Washington state. It is a long-standing tradition, and the group has gone there every third year for the last fifteen years.

This will be my first time, however. I am told we will carry all our gear on the bikes, travelling mountainous coastal roads, ferrying from island to island, and camping in picturesque sites.

I’m also told I better get my fat old body in shape or I will suffer painfully and publicly.

I don’t want to put my son through that, so I bought a bike and have been doing a little cycling this spring. I will be much more prepared than I was when Wendy’s family did their first bike trip fifteen years ago, during which the bicycle seat willfully and repeatedly assaulted me in the most tender and sensitive places.

Last week my family camped at the coast and I brought the bike along so I could get a little more practice. Fifteen miles from the campground to the beach should be a good practice. The family went ahead in the Suburban. I passed up several “last call” opportunities where Wendy called, volunteering to come back and pick me up, saying things like “are you sure, this hill is two miles straight up?”

I bravely told her not to worry, and prepared to mount up. Apparently I forgot to pack my helmet, so I put on a hat to protect me from sunburn. Then my belly and I mounted the bike and headed out of the campground.

I was pretty much exhausted by the time I reached highway 101, less than one mile from the campground. It had been too many weeks. The road was hilly, and the wind was blowing against me.

When I reached the base of the first hill, it was time to pull off for a snack. This was going to be slow going. I surveyed the hill while I munched on unsalted nuts and dried fruits (very healthy, don’t you think? I won’t tell you how often I eat that way). Hmm. Steep hill, breezy day, narrow road, fast traffic, no helmet. What could possibly go wrong?

Then up I went. I was riding right into the wind, as well as uphill, which I thought was a little unfair. My hat was flipping around in the breeze and I thought I might lose it. It’s a manly chapeau in the style of “fishing hat”, with a brim that is identical all the way around all 360 degrees. Same hat I wore on last year’s canoe trip, actually. Good sun protection, but quite the sail in this wind.

So I pulled the hat down tight in front, and took on the challenge. I ascended that hill one inch at a time, one revolution at a time.

Occasionally I saw pairs of bicyclists in shiny Lycra suits, zipping down the hill southward. I had a sweatshirt, denim pants, and office shoes. They had rear-view mirrors mounted on the helmets. My bike has a rear-view mirror mounted on the handlebar, which is really cool. They had matching helmets and gloves. I had a fishing hat, and my right hand was going numb. They were carrying nothing, but I was carrying my belly.

They cast a glance my direction, and I’m sure gave me due respect as I lumbered up the hill in the lowest gear, with my big saddlebags, which they could not have known were totally empty.


Then, that blessed moment. After two miles of climbing, I reached the top of the first breezy hill with the hat safely secured. It was time to enjoy the fruits of my labor. I pulled the hat down again, and upshifted as the road leveled out and began descending.

As my speed built, the hat was talking to me: wippa wappa, flippa flappa. Wow – this is going to be fast. I’m not even to the steep part yet. I really don’t want to lose this hat.

I utilized my rear-view mirror to check out the traffic situation behind me. Going uphill, when the cars were passing me at 50 mph to my one mph, it was easy to stay at the edge of the road and cycle over pinecones and sticks. If I’m going to be going fast down this hill, I don’t want to be riding through that garbage.

All was clear, so I pulled out into the middle of the lane, where cars would be most likely to see me early and wait for a safe place to pass. Luckily the curvy road had warning signs keeping the cars to under 45 mph. I would slow the traffic down a little, but not much.

My speed was building, as was my adrenaline. These curves were a little daunting. I gripped the handles tightly, and felt all the muscles tightening from my fingertips to my eyebrows. This was scary in an exciting sort of way, like an amusement park ride or an intense thriller movie. I have no problems as long as the two wheels stay under me.

I was in top gear, but not applying any effort to the downhill ride.. The hat was now rattling like a flag in a hurricane: wippity wappity flippity flappity.

Here comes another pair of matching sissies southbound up the hill. And look at me, just relaxing. OK John, time to dig in and get some exercise along with the thrill ride. I hunker down to lower my wind profile and put some force on the pedals.

Wippity wappity FLAP!

Suddenly everything went dark. My hat was now silent. Instead of flapping in the breeze, its brim was now wrapped around my face like I’m a blindfolded kid getting ready to whack a piñata.

Straining my eyeballs downward, I could see through a slight opening next to my nose. I could only see the pavement directly below my bicycle.

At 40 miles per hour, cars in front and back, I had a death grip on the handlebars and no visibility to the front. However, I could, in my rear-view mirror, see the semi truck behind me.

I’m the piñata, actually. Did I mention I wasn’t wearing a helmet?

I peeled my left fingers off the handlebar and quickly pushed up my hat. Thank Heaven! The cars ahead of me were pulling away, and as a nice added benefit, I was still on the right side of the road. And I now had one eyeball free of the face-sucking hat.

Now I was John the Pirate Bicycler. The brim of my hat was down on the right, up on the left. Without any depth-perception, I carefully applied the brakes and pulled gently into the sticks and pinecones. The trucks and cars sped up and passed me by.


I took off the hat and breathed for a moment. Two eyes are twice as good.

I looked at the remaining hill, and the traffic. I considered the breeze and the sun. I folded the front brim of the hat inside, pulled it back on my head, and my belly and me got back on the road.

I love that hat.