Boy Loves Dog Loves Boy

Here is how this works. Our son helped us select, name, and train our fourth Brittany, Phoebe. One night not so long ago, she fell asleep on the couch waiting for him to come home, her head resting on the coffee table next to his photograph. Alas, the genius of dogs.


Phoebe awaits the arrival of her buddy.

One Teacher, Thousands of Minds


When I was in junior high at my parish grade school, St. Peter’s, I walked home on warm-weather days with my good friend from up the block, Andrea. We chatted about mundane events of the day, caught up on vital social matters, and made plans for the next sleepover. About halfway home, we’d hit Edgevale Road, a side street that sliced through the grid of our neighborhood at an angle.

At that point, our conversation would turn to English class, and, more specifically, the short story we were reading in our literature anthology. We’d discuss the piece, kick around some ideas raised in the critical thinking questions which appeared at the end of each story, and try to decide which question we were going to select for our one-page responses.

Why would adolescents just let out of school talk voluntarily and excitedly about homework? Because they had an inspiring teacher like Mrs. Shirley Renaud, the 7th and 8th grade English teacher. Mrs. Renaud created a classroom environment like no other we had ever experienced: she allowed us to choose which critical thinking question to answer, she expected us to generate thoughtful and complete responses supported by evidence from the story, she highly valued originality in our ideas, she had us read our responses aloud in class so we could consider and discuss perspectives different from our own, and she gave us immediate feedback in class and later in writing when she collected our responses.

A recent photo of Mrs. Renaud and me with my brother Mark.

A recent photo of Mrs. Renaud and me with my brother Mark.

This was the first time an adult had really paid much attention to what we thought about anything. She clearly respected our views as long as we could support them. And did we ever notice! We stepped up to the challenges she issued, took pride in our work, and strove to exceed her expectations, all the while developing confidence in ourselves and our ideas and a healthy respect for the ideas of others. She also taught us to plumb the depths of the literature we read, mining the language for clues about the story, the plot, the characters, and the images the author had presented.

Those learning experiences in junior high forever changed how I operated in school and in life. I didn’t realize it until much later, but I took with me to high school, college, and graduate school the lessons Mrs. Renaud taught us about critical thinking, audience, multiple perspectives, feedback, critique, collaboration, discussion, originality, insight, evidence, support, and writing.

These lessons eventually informed my own teaching and powerfully influenced my interest in helping other teachers foster these same teaching and learning strategies in college classrooms through the Writing Across the Curriculum program I directed.

Most of my schoolmates didn’t end up in the field of education, but given their extraordinary successes in all kinds of industries and endeavors, it would appear that the early cultivation of critical thinking and communications skills more than paid off—in school, in work, and in life.

Such is the power of a single teacher on upwards of 1,000 minds over the years. And that conservative estimate doesn’t take into account her indirect impact on my students and the hundreds of instructors I trained. In faculty workshops, I would invite instructors to share the story of a previous writing experience and connect it to their path to teaching. I would then trace my own teaching and writing life back to Mrs. Renaud.

In 1972, we were just kids, after all, focused on navigating the complex whirl of the school cafeteria and negotiating terms for the next slumber party. Mrs. Renaud masterfully saw to it that our brain development far and away surpassed what our social psyches would have ever permitted. And for this, I thank her from the bottom of my heart.

And now for the obvious question: who was your Mrs. Renaud?

Comfort and Joy

About the joy…

When I was growing up, my dad put the magic in our Christmas. Every year, he hunted down items on our list with great tenacity and stayed up all night assembling complicated toys in service of us having the best Christmas ever. He would troop us to a city park where an enormous manger scene with live animals was created on a baseball infield temporarily converted to a cave, making quite an impression on wide-eyed children. We would take evening drives through the Plaza to see the lights. If it was enchanting and joyful, he located it and shared it with us. No one enjoyed giving to others more than my dad. He was a lover of joy.

He was also intrigued by how things work and, to that end, spent many hours tinkering and creating and inventing because he had that kind of mind. He always marveled at what others would create whether it was art or simply a well-designed utility.

A few years ago, my husband surprised me with an IPad for Christmas. This is a photo of me on Christmas Day showing it to my dad—he was 80. I believe it captures the utter joy he felt at seeing an invention that pushed the envelope and illustrates his tremendous capacity to be awed.


And here is the comfort part…

When reading a favorite blog this holiday season, Privilege, I shared this family memory in response to Lisa’s post about family gift-giving traditions:

Our gift-giving traditions never revolved around a single item; each person had their own gifting signature, if you will. Which is how my siblings and I, in adulthood, came to treasure my dad’s gigantic gift bag of emergency-preparedness accoutrements every year. Oh, he’d give us all money, of course, but he’d also spend hours combing hardware stores to put together just the right mix of things each of us might need in case of a car breakdown on a single lane highway in the wilderness during a 10-day blizzard or a flat-out nuclear holocaust. Think Harrison Ford in Mosquito Coast. For all of our private eye-rolling, what do you suppose we missed most last Christmas, our first without him? Yep, the flashlights and blankets and jumper cables and cans of windshield de-icer.  ;)

Wishing you all much comfort and great joy this holiday season!

When Cows Go Rogue Instead of Home

Nothing I could add would increase your enjoyment of this video. Sometimes, this is just how things roll here in Flat Rock Creek.

For the record, I grocery shop a couple of blocks from this site at a store called—wait for it—the Hen House.



Give Us a Call When You Get to Town

This is a letter to the editor of the Kansas City Star written by a San Francisco Giants fan. So glad he came to KC and I wish he had come to see Game 7 rather than 6, but it sounds like he still really thoroughly enjoyed his time out at the K!

Royals treatment

I am a San Franciscan and a Giants fan who attended game six of the World Series in Kansas City.

Let me just say that never in my life have I enjoyed being so terribly outnumbered and, by evening’s end, absolutely clubbed into submission.

From the moment I hit the parking lot at Kauffman Stadium in my Giants gear, folks made a point to walk over, introduce themselves, welcome us to Kansas City and wish us good luck. People offered to buy us beer and brats.

Most mind-bending was the woman who apologized for the lopsided score.

My wife and our friends spent the better part of our flight home marveling at the generosity and warmth of the Royals fans and wondering whether we’d dropped into a parallel universe.

At some point, I recall announcing to my wife that I was prepared to move to Kansas City as soon as possible.

They refer to your part of the country as “flyover states.” Folks should make a point to actually drop in to Kansas City for a heaping helping of an America most people only dream about.

John Pritzker

San Francisco

KC Star

In this same issue, I read the obituary of the dad of a grade school chum of mine. It mentions that he was a successful pharmaceutical salesman who turned down many opportunities for career advancement because he didn’t want to take his family away from Kansas City.  My own late father made similar decisions during his lifetime. I guess the secret is out…now you know why they and the rest of us chose to stay here.

Oh, about the title of this piece: I heard my dad say that about a million times in phone conversations with far flung family, friends, and customers. And trust me, he meant every word. ; )

Ageless and Timeless: Baseball’s Most Ardent but Lesser Known Fans

Now that the Royals are headed to the World Series, the rest of my posts this month will likely be devoted to baseball, so bear with me.

My grandmother, Louella

My grandmother, Louella

This post features a quintessential ardent baseball fan, my paternal grandmother who passed away 8 years ago at the age of 97. Meet Louella. Her life, by any standard, was fraught with difficulties and challenges, though she would never have characterized them that way. Born and raised on a farm in northeast Kansas, she was the eldest daughter of parents of Swiss French heritage.

She was a child when the flu pandemic of 1917 struck her tiny corner of Kansas. That fall, her mother begged her father not to travel to attend the annual livestock show in Kansas City, Missouri, known as the American Royal, for fear he could come in contact with the disease. Her father, however, believed he had to attend in the interest of his family and livelihood, and unfortunately fell ill shortly after he returned home. Her mother nursed her father and all 4 of their children through horrific bouts of the disease before she finally succumbed to the influenza herself and died.

My grandmother once described to me the intense and frantic fear attached to this devastating pandemic and explained that families in their community had to mark their homes to signal to others that they had the flu. Priests would not give last rites to victims because they feared contracting the illness.

In her late teens, she moved to Kansas City with her father and attended secretarial school. She worked as a secretary, married my grandfather, and bore two children, both boys. My father, the oldest, was born in 1929, the year the stock market crashed. Her world was again upended, this time by the Great Depression, during which my grandfather struggled to find work and began seeking solace in alcohol. She worked at a large department store downtown to help make ends meet, leaving my dad and his brother in the care of others before she rode the streetcar to work.

They briefly moved to Michigan, believing that jobs were available in the auto industry, only to be profoundly disappointed to learn that no such work existed. Upon their return to Kansas City, they were forced to live, uncomfortably, with my grandfather’s relatives until they could get back on their feet.

During World War II, she obtained employment in a factory, making radio crystals and lifelong female friends. Like many women, she lost her factory job when the war ended. Soon she found work as a secretary at a steel company where she worked until she retired.

My grandfather’s alcoholism unquestionably complicated her life and though she loved him, she confessed to having felt some measure of relief when he died in middle age. He was a goodhearted person, but his unpredictable behavior propelled by liquor disrupted their lives and finances with regularity and eventually sabotaged his ability to secure steady work. After he died, she began to create a new life for herself, including a 30-year stint as a volunteer at the veterans hospital and her church and a long membership in the Ladies Auxiliary of a local American Legion.

Because my dad checked in on her daily, she was able to live independently until the last year of her life. She walked everywhere when she was still driving and even more so when she no longer could drive. After she sold her bungalow near the baseball stadium, everyone thought she was crazy for selecting an apartment on the second floor which required her to walk up and down a full flight of stairs daily. Of course, I now realize that probably contributed significantly to her good health in the final decade of her life.

Louella and her great grandaughter Ellie

Louella and her great grandaughter Ellie

She taught my children how to make cupcakes from scratch and delighted in helping take care of them on their days off school when my husband and I worked. She would get mad if we didn’t leave her a basket of clothes to fold so she would “have something to do” when the kids were napping. We’d come home to find the clothes folded with military precision and dinner preparations made.

She was an incredible seamstress who wasted not a single thread and could whip yards of cloth into apparel or home decor. She was infinitely resourceful, a walking model of thrift and sustainability; she never met a bread wrapper or piece of foil she could part with easily. She gave only bear hugs and had a handshake that could pull grown men to the ground. Her cheerful countenance masked a steely resolve and powerful work ethic borne of what most would consider a life of hardships.

Every year for Christmas, she gave us a beautiful gold Christmas ornament commemorating the year with a scene of the Plaza, a unique area of the city, and always purchased from the department store where she had worked when she was a young mother barely scraping by. When we bought our house, she gave us money from a US Savings bond she had held in my name since I was born.

She didn’t spend much money on sports merchandise and she didn’t buy season tickets or even attend a lot of baseball games. I’m confident she did not own a Royals T-shirt. But she listened to baseball religiously on the public radio and watched it on television, taking in every single Royals game every season for every decade this team existed. She was “tickled” that the Royals beat the Cardinals in their last World Series appearance.

Baseball provided her a joy no other sport could. When her vision failed, she could follow every play on the radio and not miss a thing. It was a game that had been around her whole life, and one that had not morphed into grand spectacle or reckless showboating. It was a team sport where everyone had a part to play, a contribution to make, and nothing, but nothing, in any game could ever be deemed insignificant.

And in that vein, every play of every game offered hope. No matter how far down you were in a game, you could pull out a win. No matter how many games you were down in a series, you could turn it around. No matter how many losses you sustained in a season, you could stage a triumphant comeback at the end. No matter how many years you missed the playoffs, there would always be another season next year and the next. Hope springs eternal in baseball in a way it simply cannot in other sports. In some cases, hope can last 29 years or more.

So you can imagine her surprise when my brother Mark, gift-giver extraordinaire, gave her the gift of a lifetime—enjoying a baseball game at Kauffman Stadium with her family for her 92nd birthday in mid-September. Mark bought tickets for the “Crown” seats right behind home plate and arranged for lunch in the club restaurant before the game.

But history would intervene when the unthinkable occurred on September 11th that year, 2001. The game on her birthday a few days later was cancelled as flights were banned and and all sporting events at stadiums, including that entire week of the baseball season, were postponed indefinitely.

I don’t really know how she ever came to sort out the horror of 9-11, but I do know what happened on a beautiful sunny Thursday afternoon that October. My son left his 5th grade class early to join “Gram” and his Uncle Mark and his grandfather and his dad at the stadium to watch the rescheduled birthday present, which now turned out to be the Royals final home game of the season.

At the end of the game, the players threw balls and bats and everything they had in the dugout up to the grateful kids in the stands before all were let loose to come down on the field for a final runaround. Mark had secured special permission to wait until the kids cleared the field so he and my dad could walk my grandmother by herself around the bases. And walk those bases she did!

Here are scenes from that momentous day:

My dad and my grandmother discussing a play at the Royals game while my brother mentally crunches the stats.

My dad and my grandmother discussing a play at the Royals game while my brother Mark mentally crunches the stats.

7th inning stretch

7th inning stretch

The wonderful surprise within the game: her 92nd birthday acknowledged on the big scoreboard!

The wonderful surprise within the game: her 92nd birthday acknowledged on the big scoreboard!

Those who took her out to the ballgame.

My grandmother with those who took her out to the ballgame.

4 generations take the field.

4 generations take the field and stand tall on home plate.

I suspect there are many baseball fans just like my grandmother, who live solid and respectable lives, slaying every mighty dragon that comes before them and never thinking twice about it. They are not the least bit bitter about the hand that life has dealt them nor do they ever complain. They are the unsung heroes for whom baseball— with its quaint organ music, ballpark hot dogs, 7th inning stretches, simple cheers and clap-clap-claps, against-all-odds playing, and, most importantly, its flagrant permission to hope—became the most truly pleasurable and meaningful pastime for a lifetime.

“Let’s go Royals!”

So who is the lesser known baseball fan in your life?