Sometimes Penny just wants some attention, and sometimes she really just wants some attention. When that mood strikes, and you’re more interested in reading a book than attending to her insistent desires, she employs two equally annoying techniques. One is to use her paw to scratch your arm until you get up and give her what she wants — which usually involves food — and the other is to shove her face so close to yours that you can see every fur follicle on her muzzle. Her breath doesn’t smell like roses, either.
Richard continues to hit it out of the park in his internship for the Chicago Tribune this summer. His most recent story is a really great piece about how the recession hit the South Side of Chicago especially hard and that, years later, the development efforts in South Side neighborhoods still have not recovered. The piece includes a well-done and easy to use interactive map that allows you to look at the impact of the recession on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis.
This kind of story is really good reporting for two reasons. First, it addresses a topic — the status of rich neighborhoods versus poor neighborhoods in America, with the impact of crime and teetering city finances thrown in for good measure — that is not frequently addressed in the media. It’s not a pleasant, or easy, story to report, but it’s essential to cover if we are to get a true sense of economic reality.
Second, it involves real shoe-leather reporting, which often involves digging into public records like construction permits and figuring out boring topics like tax increment financing districts. It’s easy to call the head of a development agency, get his or her spin in a pre-packaged quote, and stop there; it’s much more challenging and time-consuming to sift through documents obtained from a municipal office and do the kinds of painstaking, but powerful and irrefutable, comparisons that Richard has done in this piece. People might pitch things to advance their agendas, but the construction permits don’t lie, because without the permits nothing gets built.
Forgive me for a little proud bragging — although what’s a family blog for if not for a little parental boasting? — but I greatly admire Richard’s willingness to roll up his sleeves and tackle some of the tough and challenging issues found in the urban areas of America. He has become a really fine reporter.
Kish’s and my road trip last week was one of the most enjoyable vacations we’ve ever had, and part of the reason was our two-day visit to the Rockywold Deephaven Family Camp near Holderness, New Hampshire. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to get away from the hurly burly of the modern world for a while, reconnect with their family, and relax.
I’m not going to try to describe the camp, its history, or its activities, you can find that information at the RDC website. Instead, I just want to list a few reasons why I think this place is special.
First, Squam Lake is one of the most beautiful lakes I’ve ever seen, anywhere. Remarkably clear water, physically beautiful, perfect for sailing, canoeing, kayaking, or using the motorboat for a tube run. We used it mostly for swimming and floating and basking in the warm sunshine. Even better, it is absolutely, perfectly, breathtakingly quiet in the morning.
Second, you have lots of lodging choices. We were going to stay in a communal lodge, where guests share common areas, but there had been a cancellation and we got a small cottage instead. Ours was a one-bedroom enclave called Bungalow, and the cabin options — all of which have their own names — run the gamut from one bedroom to cabins large enough to accommodate multiple generations of a family. Our cabin had a porch that faced the water, a bench that was right on the shoreline with a great view, and its own little dock where we did our swimming. It was ideal for us.
Third, there’s not a lot of clutter with modern amenities. Don’t worry, there are plugs so you can recharge every one of your 50 electrical devices, and we had good cell phone and wireless coverage in our cabin, so you can still get your technology fix. But there was no TV, no refrigerator, no stereo or radio in our cabin — which encouraged you to get off your duff, walk the grounds, breathe deep the fresh air, hike, swim, fish, read, or join in one of the communal activities, and otherwise avoid the insipid cat videos and internet mindlessness that otherwise fill so much of our lives.
Fourth, there was an interesting tradition and dynamic at the camp. Many of the guests when we were visiting had been coming there for years, if not generations, and the RDC encourages that by using a kind of seniority system to assign cabins and tables at the dining hall. And because there is some separation between the Rockywold and Deephaven parts, which have different dining halls for example, the old pros have formed strong allegiances to their respective sides. Our cabin was in the Deephaven section, and when we got to talking to other Deepers at a picnic lunch it was clear that they would never consider the prospect of ever staying on the Rockywold side. Horrors!
Finally, the dining was all done in a communal dining hall. Meals were served at set times and announced by a bell ringing at the bell tower. The food was good, and plentiful, and served buffet style, and every family sits at its own assigned table. It was a pleasure to see parents, kids, and grandparents as they ate their meals together. There were other communal activities, too — a chance to make tie-dyed shirts, a picnic, a family movie (Frozen, of course), a talent show where little kids were the stars for a night, boat cruises, an ultimate Frisbee match — and all of them seemed to involve kids, parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. I’d wager that the families that spend a week at the RDC grow stronger and closer in the process, which is probably why they come back.
The Rockywold Deephaven Camp has been around since 1897. It probably hasn’t changed much, while the world around it has changed a lot. It’s part of the reason why it’s such a great place. I wish we had known about it when Richard and Russell were kids.
Richard has another really good piece in the Chicago Tribune today. This one is about the significant increase in part-time workers in Illinois. The link is http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-involuntary-parttime-0808-biz-20140808-story.html.
It’s hard to argue that the economy has rebounded fully when so many willing, able workers want to find full-time work, but can’t. Those of us who are fortunate to have full-time work can’t fully appreciate the angst of not knowing what might be in your next paycheck.
How do we help these people realize the American Dream? The only emploment-related proposal being addressed is raising the minimum wage, but that’s no panacea. A raise in the minimum wage isn’t going to help these people — it will just cause their employers, who are trying to hold on themselves, to be even more grudging in allocating hours to the people at the bottom of the economic ladder.
Kish and I are up in Vermilion, Ohio for a family bridal shower. Because I’d rather thrust rusty screwdrivers under my fingernails than participate in a bridal shower, I’m spending a soggy Saturday knocking around the downtown area of Kish’s home town.
Vermilion is a cool place. Located right on Lake Erie, about halfway between Cleveland and Toledo, it’s got a clear nautical orientation. The high school football team is the Sailors, there are boats pretty much everywhere you look, and there’s a well-stocked bait shop right in the center of town. It’s one of the best places in the world to get a Lake Erie perch dinner — and anyone who has had a fresh, hot, fried Lake Erie perch dinner knows that’s the best fish you can eat, period.
Lake Erie is vast — it is a Great Lake, after all — and choppy on a day like today. A landlubber like me is endlessly fascinated by anchors, and masts, and rigging, and large mooring pylons that look massive enough to hold a freighter hard against a pier. They can be found in Vermilion in abundance. With its quaint buildings, white wooden frame houses by the lake, and the ever-present sound of water slapping against docks, Vermilion is like Ohio’s special little slice of New England.
These days you hear a lot about “Common Core” — a set of national math and reading standards that have been adopted in more than 40 states and are supported by the Obama Administration. One recent article described a “populist uprising” against the standards. In Louisiana, the state board of education and Governor Bobby Jindal are suing each other about whether that state can nullify its agreement to participate in Common Core. This week, in Ohio, House Republicans have introduced a bill to replace Common Core standards, which could set up a clash with Governor John Kasich, who has supported the Common Core initiative.
The stated goal of Common Core is to develop critical thinking and better ready students for college and careers and — as its name indicates — establish a common set of standards between states. Supporters say the Common Core approach to learning about math and reading are better, and in any event it would be foolish to retreat from the standards after the participating states have spent years developing and implementing them. Common Core opponents object to “federalization” of education and raise questions about costs.
Richard and Russell are long past learning math and reading, so I don’t have a dog in this fight. I’m not automatically opposed to trying new approaches or promoting standards that ensure that kids learn the basics; I remember taking “The Iowa Test of Basic Skills” when I was in grade school in the ’60s. At the same time, I’m often skeptical at claims that new approaches are better, particularly when it comes to subjects that have been taught for centuries.
With respect to Common Core, I’m more interested in the human element in these changes — which, I think, often get overlooked when huge national forces and politics enter the process. I became aware of that human element when I had lunch several weeks ago with two colleagues who have youngsters in grade school. Neither is a Republican or a reflexive opponent of “federalizing” standards, but both had serious concerns about Common Core. One related a story in which she sat down with her daughter to look at her math homework, which involved addition and subtraction problems. When the mother started to use the familiar right to left process, “carrying” numbers from column to column, the daughter said: “Mom, we don’t do it that way!” The Mom was embarrassed, and wondered why we are making this kind of change. NPR recently carried a report that raised that same issue of disconnect between parents and their kids that Common Core presents.
I think parental involvement helps to encourage kids to work hard in school, and homework assistance can also be one way of strengthening the parent-child bond. Those of us who learned the “carry” method have somehow managed to balance checkbooks, perform the basic math skills needed to function in modern society, and contribute to the economy. Why change the basic approach to addition and subtraction in a way that shuts parents out of the homework process even in the very early grades, and suggests to young children that their parents are old-fashioned and out of it? Isn’t it at least possible that there is an ultimate social cost in such a change that outweighs whatever incremental learning benefit the new approach is supposed to realize?
When you reach your 50s, as Kish and I have, part of life is dealing with death. Whether it is more senior members of your family succumbing to age-related conditions, or colleagues who die in inexplicable, tragic accidents, or friends who finally are taken down after long battles with cancer, at some point death becomes a significant, unfortunately recurring part of the reality of your life.
The question is how to deal with the losses, particularly when the deaths come in bunches — as so often seems to be the case. People find themselves grappling with complex combinations of emotions that they don’t typically experience at the same time — such as grief, and guilt, and also anger — and everyone needs to deal with them in their own way. When multiple deaths hit in a short period of time, and strike down people who are about your age, you can’t help but think of your own mortality, and wonder.
Kish and I try to go to calling hours or memorial services, as a kind of tangible sign to the surviving family members of the significance and impact of the departed; I’m not sure whether the family members appreciate it or not, but it makes us feel better. Collecting your thoughts about the person, mentally composing your own personal tribute, and focusing on the good, also seems to help. And as we’ve gotten older, and seen how people respond to such losses in different ways, I find that I’ve become a lot less judgmental and a lot more accepting about how people respond.
Ultimately, though, you just hope that the period of bad news finally ends, and a period of good news begins. We’ve got a family wedding coming up, and we’re looking forward to it.