Sunday, May 19, 2019

Education Data Training and Sage Advice

During the last three days of March, I attended training at the National PTA headquarters in Alexandria, VA. The training was about educational data and how we as group could educate parents on the data availability, how to interpret the data, and then how to advocate using the data. I was in the group representing Tennessee PTA, and there were four other groups there as well representing Ohio PTA, Virginia PTA, North Carolina PTA, and Florida PTA.

I think the best part of the training was about Ferpa/Sherpa and the importance of privacy to student data. Not enough parents know that their student data is protected.

Holiday Inn at Night
When I first arrived at the Holiday Inn in Alexandria, there were no rooms. So, we checked in our bags with the hotel porter and began walking the block down to where all of the restaurants were located.

I had explored Google Maps the days before the trip to find some good places to eat. There were quite a few. Plus, there was a grocery store chain, Harris Teeter, another block down to buy stuff for the hotel room refrigerator.

So, I told one of my colleagues about a hot dog place that made homemade fries and homemade shakes called Haute Dogs. It had received several good marks from fellow travelers on Google and on Trip Advisor, my two go-to sources of information for restaurant and hotel information when I travel.

Haute Dogs
Well, the reviewers didn't let us down! Wow, Haute Dogs is an excellent place to eat! I had the chipotle, bleu cheese, bbq sauce dogs covered with cheese and caramelized onions. Wow was that good. And the homemade fries were excellent.

We tried a sample of the cookies and cream homemade ice cream and loved it. We decided to come back after the  Friday training session for dessert.

Then we went down to Harris Teeter, bought some supplies, and finally after walking back up to the hotel, got into our rooms.

We went back to Haute Dogs with our Virginia PTA friends and they were impressed. They said they lived here and didn't know about the place. When I walked by on Saturday night, the line was out the door.  That should tell you something.

So, on Saturday evening, we had free time after enduring 8 hours of training. The other members of the Tennessee PTA group wanted to go into DC to look at monuments. Because I just toured the monuments for four days in December during graduation weekend,  I had no desire to go back so soon to look at them again. Instead, I went searching for a drink - a real drink, not soda or water.

Hanks Pasta Bar had a real bar and I was immediately seated at the bar in front of the crowd waiting for a table. I asked about the drink Offering Sage Advice and was told it was their most popular in-house drink. I decided to try it. Look at these ingredients! Old Forester Bourbon, Cinnamon, Thai Bird Chili, Orange, Sage, and Honey. The drink was totally awesome! The chili and sage and cinnamon combined for a powerful kicker after swallowing the bourbon. Man it was fantastic! If it hadn't cost $14, I would definitely have ordered another round.
Offering Sage Advice
Sunday after more training, we left for Tennessee. Here are some pictures from the National PTA headquarters in Alexandria, VA and some group pictures.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Journey to Kansas - Going Back to Tennessee via Springfield, Illinois

[Part Three of Four]

We woke up early on Labor Day 2018. The Dwight D. Eisenhower Library and Museum opened at 9:00 AM in Abilene, and we wanted to be somewhat close to there by then.

I remember my first visit to the Eisenhower Library. I was pretty young. The only thing I knew about Abilene was from the cowboy movies and from Gunsmoke about being a rowdy cowboy town. Back during that first visit, that was what I was half-expecting. But Abilene was not. Pretty slow town. I remember the chapel where Eisenhower was buried and his boyhood home. But I mostly remember on that visit long, long ago was visiting prairie dog town -- a large expanse of gopher rodents coming out of the ground.

Fast forward to 2018. While my family made several stops to the Eisenhower Library over the years, we only did the free stuff. The chapel, the house, walking around the grounds, browsing the stuff at the gift shop. This time was different. We were actually going to pay admission to visit the Museum and get it counted on the presidential library passport.

But, alas as we got to Abilene and to the Eisenhower Center, the Museum was closed for repairs! All of the exhibits were moved to the Library. Most Presidential Libraries are off limits except for authorized researchers, but this time, the staff was allowing anyone to visit the Library as part of the Museum exhibit.

Library entrance
The exhibit showed the timeline of Eisenhower's life, especially through the military, how his coast to coast convoy as a young lieutenant led to a personal desire for better roads (hence the Interstate System was approved during his term as President) and the interactions he had with other military leaders.

One thing I didn't know. Eisenhower signed the law to create NASA. This led to JFK being able to promise to land a man on the moon.

Outside on the grounds is the Peace Monument. It is General Eisenhower statue surrounded by a large peace medallion. Peace was very important to President Eisenhower. Here is a picture of the statue and me casting shadows on the dove symbol.

After finishing up at the Eisenhower Center, we drove east, leaving the state of Kansas at the Kansas City, Missouri city limits, as we drove to the Truman Presidential Library. This was a five-minute stop to get the passport stamped verifying our last visit in July 2015.

Leaving the Truman Library, we decided to head north, not east from the KC area. A few miles north of Worlds of Fun, we turned onto US 36, a four-lane highway all the way to Interstate 72, headed to Springfield, Illinois for the night. Since I wasn't driving, I reminisced about US 36. US 36 runs all the way Denver. It goes through the town where I went to high school, where I dragged main on Friday nights. So, US 36 played a big part in my life - going to events in Phillipsburg, Norton, Mankato, Belleville. The way to Concordia. All the towns in my high school year. And when I was a junior in college, I drove all night and most of the next day using East US 36 until I had to get on the Interstate. The same route we were on now in Missouri.

We got to Springfield, Illinois, the state capital a little after 7:00. We were surprised at how rural it was almost up to the city limits. And how quiet the city was. I had reserved a hotel several weeks before the trip that was the closest to the Amtrak station. My daughter would be taking Amtrak back to her home. I didn't realize how close the state capitol building was to the hotel. Here's a view from the front door of the hotel.

Illinois State Capitol from hotel front door
I think Illinois got it right. A small state capital makes it easier for everyone to access state government, unlike Nashville in Tennessee. 

After dinner, we took a walk around the Capitol and took several pictures. Here is one of those pictures. 

A beautiful building! We had to get up early the next morning - one of us had to catch a train, and another had a seven-hour solo drive back home to Chattanooga. Part four will be the last part of this series - the long solo drive home.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Birthday with Mom (and Dad) (and the farm)

[Part 2 of 4 - continued from the Tumblr post of Part one]

My daughter and I woke up on Saturday at the Hays motel on my birthday. In Kansas. Hours west of Kansas City. Back to my roots.

For the first time in over three decades, I was celebrating my birthday with my Mom in the same physical location. A major drawback in living so far away from your parents - the lack of availability or finances to make a round trip to visit on special days.

After buying food at the local Walmart, we headed north to Stockton on US 181. 181 was a frequent path for me when I was younger, but by the time I was in high school and driving on my own, it had become almost not a road traveled at all for me -- especially this part from Hays to Stockton.  Hastings, Nebraska in high school had become my road destination to find a McDonald's and other entertainment.

We greeted Mom/Grandma with joyous celebration upon arrival in Stockton!

And we stocked her refrigerator with a lot of food! It was so good to hear Happy Birthday in person from my Mom. When you get old, you appreciate that a lot more. For you people who can routinely see your parents, don't discredit that moment each year; it is precious.

While Mom was making pizza and cake, we traveled out of Stockton to visit the cemetery to see Dad. I know Dad was so happy for me and my daughter to be here on my birthday. I said with an emotional voice at his grave, "Dad, I made it back here to visit you and to see Mom on my birthday."

I was so pleased that I had made it back to the cemetery just a little over two years after Dad's funeral. I visited other family graves and remembered them as well. My aunt and uncles. My grandfather. And other family members I never had a chance to meet -- my grandmother, an uncle, and great-grandmother and great-grandfather. Always good to remember those who lived before you and who left a part of their DNA for your existence.

I stood in the cemetery and it's loneliness as the wind whistled through the grass. I looked out beyond my family graves and looked at all of the other graves here. People who moved here, lived in this part of the world, and had moved on from this planet.

We left the cemetery to drive over some more rough roads to see the old family farm. The farm where all of those Hunters who were buried at this cemetery lived. Kind of amazing over 100 years of history tied to the farm and to the cemetery.

My arrival at the farm was reality. The last time I visited here at Dad's funeral, even though the farm had passed through other owner hands by that time, it still looked somewhat familiar then.
Now, it did not.

The house that a Hunter built from limestone was gone. Vanished. Demolished. No more.

It was a shock to see.

The farm house as it was in the 60s.

Now just the trees and empty space.
We traveled back to the pavement the quickest we could. The rough roads were too much for the car. And for me.

Back in Stockton, we arrive just in time for pizza birthday lunch with Mom! We stayed with Mom for another day, and my older sister came to visit Mom on Sunday. We went through a lot of old pictures and photo albums on Sunday. I found some great Hunter family information for a second cousin I had just met virtually through Ancestry. Second cousins are the great-grandchildren of the same great-grandparent.

It was joyful for me to stay with Mom for a couple of days. Three nights in Western Kansas. Did me a world of good.

On Monday morning, Labor Day, we left Stockton for Abilene and then went onward east to Illinois. That will be part three of this four part series about my birthday trip.

"I knew better than to look in my mirror - I never looked back." Dad to me about the day of the move.