Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Wheel on the School, Part II

God, as they say, helps those who help themselves.

And God, as He says, commands His children to treat their neighbors as themselves.

And if your tiny Dutch seaside village is so tiny even the storks don't stop there, you figure out straight away hoe to get them to stop to bring the good luck storks are famed for in The Netherlands.

The six schoolchildren in Shora work mightily to bring the storks in Meindert DeJong's delightful book "The Wheel on the School," which won the Newbery Medal in 1957, deservedly so. The children and their teacher decide Shora needs wagon wheels on their steep roofs -- traditional Dutch habitat for storks, apparently -- to get the storks to stop by, build a nest, and return the next year. The kids spend days combing their village and the farms that surround it for wheels, all the while looking for wheels in unexpected places. They find stealing wheels doesn't work all that much, but befriending the elderly population in the village -- about all that's left, what with the fathers out to sea and the mothers looking after those too young for school -- helps them find wheels where they might never find them.

First to find help is Lina, who becomes friends with Grandmother Sibble III, who tells them Shora used to have storks, and that to get storks they need to find the wagon wheels.

The boys find help in the unlikely shape of Grandfather Douwa, who never strays far with his cane, and Janus, the old crank in the wheelchair who had his fishermans' legs bitten off by sharks. The children quickly discover the old relics in town are more full of knowledge, resourcefulness, and pepper than they ever thought possible.

So it is with God's children. We never know what's in those we encounter until we take the time to remove any preconceived labels or notions and see them for who they are. And despite what we think, the vast, vast majority of people we could meet are pretty interesting and valuable, no matter what our brains or others might have us think.

That's what the folks in Shora found out. We ought to as well.

Monday, September 18, 2017

“People Should Get Beat Up for Stating Their Beliefs”

So. If people saw a Muslim ranting against Christians and Christianity on public transportation, should vigilantes use social media to track the person down and beat him up on a public street?

What if it were a Nazi, ranting against blacks?

You say I’m creating a false equivalency?

Look at that first scenario again.

I’ll bet you’re more likely to want to track down and beat up the Christians, right?

This isn’t an apology for Nazism. Nor is it to be added to the ball of “The Persecuted Christian.”
What it is, is this: Should people get beat up for stating their beliefs? Even if said stating is meant to intimidate and harass? Or do we just believe that free speech applies only to speech we agree with and that the best answer to hatred is more hatred?

I’m reminded, of all things, of a scene from the 1980 film Popeye, where Olive Oyl and J. Wellington Wimpy recognize the baby Swee’Pea has a gift for picking winning horses at the betting parlor.

Popeye happens to be against gambling. But the Oyls are in dire straits, having lost everything to the Commodore.

Popeye: What are you doing, there? No childs 'o mine will be exploiticated for ill-gotten gains. [to Swee'Pea] Yeah, that's true. You're gonna be president one day.

Olive Oyl: It is not ill-gotten, it's good-gotten gains. These races will clothe us, and feed us, and save us.

Popeye: Wrong is wrong, even when it helps ya.

J. Wellington Wimpy: The horses are at the gates.

Olive Oyl: I think family is more important than dumb morality, hmm?

What would I do if I saw a Nazi on public transportation harassing black people?

I’d speak up about it. On the bus. In the face of that Nazi. And hope others in the same car or on the same bus did the same. I might contact the local police if the situation escalated.

I would not track the dude on social media and then cheer when he got the shit beat out of him.
Because in that victory, you’re adding to the paranoia. He is persecuted. He is being held down by whomever. He’s got the bruises to prove it.

And that smug feeling of superiority you get watching “justice” be done? That comes from using fascist tactics against the fascists. Maybe you think using force is right. It’s not. Because the person who uses fascist tactics is a fascist themselves.

I’d love to have this conversation with my father. He saw real Nazis in action during World War II as a civilian in The Netherlands. Maybe he’d think I’m wrong. Maybe he’d want us to punch any Nazi we saw. But I doubt it. Because as much as he hated Nazis, he also loved Tevye’s line from “Fiddler on the Roof”:

Villager: An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.

Tevye: Very good. That way the whole world will be blind and toothless.

Wrong is wrong, even when it helps ya. I learned that from Popeye.

But I’m just a quiet voice in a world where this is becoming the anthem.

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Wheel on the School

In the morning it was school again. There they were in the schoolroom again, the five boys and Lina and the teacher. But this Saturday morning they did not start out by singing the old, old song about their country – “my lovely spot of ground, my fatherland, where once my cradle stood.” No, they sat quietly as the teacher stood looking at each one of them in turn. And then he said, “Who wondered why? And where did it take you?”

The teacher in Meindert deJong’s Newbery Award-winning book “The Wheel On the School” asks his six students an important question. They spent part of the previous week wandering their Dutch village of Shora, wondering why the storks that bring the Dutch good luck never stop to stay with them.

Jella, the natural leader of the boys, went as far as to ask his mother why the storks never stayed. “She said storks don’t come to Shora because they never did,” he said. “She said storks go back each year to the same nesting spots. So if they never came to Shora, they never will. So there’s just nothing to be done about it, she said.”

Lina, however, did some wondering. She thought the roofs in Shora were too sharp for the storks to build their nests on. She also happened to ask Grandma Sibble III, whom prior to that day Lina had regarded just as another old lady. As they talked, Grandma Sibble pointed out Shora had no trees – which the storks also liked. She also said Shora used to have both trees and storks, at a little house surrounded by a moat and willows where their school now stood. Sibble’s Corner, it was called, and was owned by her own Grandmother Sibble. A terrible storm came and blew salt spray over the dike onto the trees and killed them. The moat was filled in, the house torn down, and the school built. If they could bring back trees to Shora, Grandmother Sibble suggested, perhaps the storks would return as well.

I’ve just started reading this book – a lucky thrift store find – and am finding it delightful. I love the teacher’s approach: Sending his students out to wonder why, and asking where it took them.

That’s the kind of journey we should all be on.

And it’s tough row to hoe, being an introvert as I am. Talk to people? Yuck.

But I do. Sometimes. And it does work. It’s wonderful, if I can recharge a bit afterward.

Coffee and Maple Logs in the Lobby

Yes, I’m about to launch into a boring safety presentation that affects a very small population in my neighborhood, and I don’t even have coffee and maple logs in the lobby to make up for the boredom you’re about to endure. Sorry.

Nevertheless, we’ve got a problem, right here in River City.

We live three houses south of the intersection of Matchpoint and Tiebreaker drives, on Matchpoint. At the second house, Matchpoint, which starts out in an easterly direction southbound, makes a turn to the south two houses in.

Two of our neighbors are engaged in a (mostly) silent war over who gets to park and when on the south end of the curve, headed south. Most often, there’s a trailer there belonging to one neighbor, or a black SUV belonging to the sister of another neighbor (both appear in the picture above).

Occasionally, there’s a red pickup with a camper in the bed (seen here parked in the driveway) on the corner. Such as this week. It’s a *leetle* hard to see around.

Additionally, there’s almost always a car parked on the northbound side of the curve (the white one you see here).

It may be an optical illusion, but I’m fairly certain Matchpoint narrows a bit as it enters the curve, widening up a bit again once the curve is passed.

That narrowing road, combined with the constantly-parked vehicles, is the problem. Or at least the root of other problems.

This is going to shock you, but people travel fairly fast on this street. I don’t have a radar gun so I may be exaggerating a bit, but I’m fairly certain some people approach this curve at more than 30 miles an hour, sometimes pushing 35. This is a 25 mph zone, as are all residential streets in Ammon.


  • Street narrows in the curve (maybe)
  • Cars or trailer constantly parked on the curve, both sides
  • Drivers going fast through the curve
There are blind spots. We have to be really careful, backing out of our driveway, to make sure there’s no one approaching the curve from the north because if they come around the corner and we’re backing out, well, that’s not a good thing.

Also, we’ve nearly been hit once in the winter when a car going a bit too fast came into the curve at about the same time we did. He couldn’t see us coming because of the parked obstruction and went into a skid when he saw us. We were able to slow and move as far to the right as we could. He got out of the skid and moved as far to his right as we could. But it was a close thing.

I’ve mentioned there’s a (mostly) silent war going on amongst the two neighbors. So talking to them about the problem isn’t going to fix things. Neighbor one got the city/police involved at one point. The result? A trailer I had temporarily parked in front of our house, far enough from the curve not to be a problem in this particular situation, was tagged as “abandoned” by the city and I only knew about it because the neighbor who contacted the city or police pointed the obscurely-placed tag out and said I should probably get the trailer moved. I did. And yet the trailer/truck/camper combinations are constantly on the curve, without a peep from police or the city.

They’re causing the problem. And I’m the one who almost had a trailer towed over it.
I’ve got a solution. The city should implement a “no parking” zone on the southbound portion of the curve, where the problem parking occurs:

The no parking zone (in red, above) would still leave plenty of room for parking, including a parking spot even closer to my driveway (not ideal for us, but I concede there’s a need for parking here).

Will it happen?

Probably not.

I contacted the city this week, and they said they'd have an engineer come out and take a look. I did not bring up the idea of a no-parking zone, because that ought to be up to the city to decide. We'll see what happens.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

I'll Give them A Forty-Hour Day

For the past 10 ½ years, I’ve worked four days a week.

The days are a bit long – 10 hours of work, yes. Factor into that my commute, which starts at 5:30 AM and gets me home shortly before 7 PM, and you could say I’m “at work” fourteen hours out of each 24, Monday through Thursday.

I love this work schedule and would find it a challenge to adapt to a different one.
And while I acknowledge some of the stresses and sacrifices this job schedule makes, as Allard Dembe mentions in his article on extended work times at, I can’t help but to wonder how Dembe and Slate’s editors thought this article made sense.

I’m a technical writer at the Radioactive Waste Management Complex (the nature of the work explains the necessity of a long commute, though I live in a town of only 75,000 residents). I ride a company bus each day, for which I pay about $30 a week – a significant savings over driving the 113-mile commute to and from work each day in my own vehicle.

While I typically sleep on the bus, making the trip much more pleasant , I have used some of that down time for reading, creative writing, grading papers – I also teach English part-time at a local university. The commute give me a little bit of me-time, and I look forward to it.

And the hours are regular. I used to work as a journalist, and got tired of the odd hours – invading my evenings and weekends – that took me away from home and family.

Working four ten-hour shifts, with Fridays off, has been a godsend, no matter what Dembe says.

Three-day weekends afford me time to work on our house – I’ve tiled the kitchen and dining room, I’ve installed a sprinkler system – with significantly larger blocks of time I would not have on a five-day work schedule.

Three-day weekends offer us more opportunities for family travel, particularly when combined with federal holidays and time off school.

Three-day weekends also tie in nicely with my volunteer work as a Scoutmaster with the Boy Scouts of America. I don’t have to scramble on a Friday workday to get ready for a weekend campout – I have all day to get things pulled together.

Yes, there are times I get tired of my long days, particularly during the darkest days of winter when I leave for work in the dark and come home in the dark. I often have to race from the bus stop straight to ballet recitals or band performances, and sometimes even miss them entirely.

But the pros outweigh the cons.

Four-day work weeks may not work for everyone. But I sure like them.