Monday, June 27, 2016

GED Graduation Redux

Sunday, June 26, 2016

New Fun With The Conversation Group

Tommy At Work

For the past two weeks, Tommy Hensel has been helping out with the Conversation Group. Tommy is our Director of the Fine and Performing Arts Center at MVCC. He is pursuing an EFL certificate and getting some practice in with us on Saturdays. He has a lot of energy and the students are responding enthusiastically. Tommy is a Renaissance Man - He is sings, directs plays, and is food critic in his spare time. The students had a ton of questions for him and he led them through several exercises, including the one above where he got them writing restaurant critiques. In a few weeks, he will take us over to the theater and give us a guided tour. I am as excited as the students!  It is always good when we get volunteers to help with the group. Elaine was with us this week as well. Each person who interacts with the students opens new doors, new possibilities in their lives. It is fun to see them engage others - I think they are far too used to me :)  If you get a chance, check out Tommy's blog below:

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Fun With The Bounty Hunter

It is summer here and that means half-day Fridays at work. It is a nice perk, and today, for maybe the first time in my adulthood, I indulged in a Friday afternoon nap. It felt luxurious and a bit guilty, but I was dozing away when I heard someone knocking on the doors outside my apartment. As I was stirring, the knock came to my door, a bit louder than I deemed appropriate. So I got up from the couch in my skivvies and t-shirt and answered the door. I was still formulating a plan for the intruder while I was opening the door, but at the last half second I decided to go "over-under" on the unfortunate soul on the other side. I would be pleasant and affable before addressing my irritation over having my first real Friday afternoon nap ruined. When I did open the door, I was faced with an older guy with an ID hanging around his neck and what looked like a cute little holster on his belt for his pepper spray. Once again, his demeanor was a bit too cheeky for me, so I decided to have some fun.
He started off by brusquely informing me that he was something or the other cooperating with some sort of federal agency, all designed to confuse and/or impress me. He told me he was looking for someone and rattled off a name I suspected was African-American. He then asked me if I knew him. I looked at him as sheepishly as I could and told him no. I then asked if the man was African-American and he replied yes. He then asked if any of the other tenants around my apartment were Black and I responded "no, but I think there is a Black family on the other side of the unit." This irritated him and he told me that this person had to be on my side of the building. I then asked him why. He stumbled on a bit about a partial address. He was getting impatient and I was warming up. I asked if he had a photo of the guy and he replied that he did not. I then asked him how he was gonna recognize him if he came upon him. He mumbled something. Not easing up, I then asked for a description and he mumbled more. I pressed harder saying "do people normally come up to you and surrender and provide ID in your line of work?" This really irritated him. He looked at me harshly and said "look, are you sure there aren't any African-American families on this side of the building. Just as I was replying with an emphatic "no", the door next to mine (literally two feet away) opened up and a young Black woman said "can I help you." He turned towards her, then spun back around on me. I smiled and asked him if a camera crew was coming up. He looked at me quizzically and hatefully and I continued, "you know, is Dog out there somewhere? Are we gonna be on TV?" For as second I thought he was going to lunge at me, but he said something under his breath and turned to the woman. I turned back into my apartment laughing, having exacted a bit of revenge for my interrupted nap.

Friday, June 24, 2016


I am watching Theeb on Netflix. It strikes me immediately that I know the landscape and I even recognize clusters of rocks. Those memories come at a price though. I like the themes of honor, integrity, and family. The desert can be a lovely, beautiful place and it can kill you. Much like memories I suppose.......

Monday, June 20, 2016

Watching A Few Old Friends

Today at work, Anisa, an old student came back to the program to test. She brought her two kids, Ibrahim and Noor. I used to tutor Anisa a few years ago as she couldn't attend our regular classes. She worked hard and we always had fun. Noor and Ibrahim are with me now in my office and we are trying to stay busy. It has been a few years and they have grown so much! They are spelling words and doing math problems. They are two well behaved kids - Anisa has done a good job. They are very polite and intelligent. I am running out of things to give them to do though.............

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Father's Day

Today was another very good day. I started it by finishing the painting job I was doing in the early afternoon. I got a gift certificate for prime rib and a very large contribution for my favorite charity. A bit later, I went over to Kipp and Rose's house and watched the last half of the final round of the US Open. Riyad and Mohammed came over and we had barbeque then watched the NBA Finals. Got a lot done, saw some great sports with friends, heard from a lot of other friends and family, and had some great food. Can't think of a better day this decade on American soil :)

Saturday, June 18, 2016

A Typical Saturday

Today has been a very typical Saturday for me. I woke up early to drink some water (3:00ish) then dozed off and on while listening to crime shows on Youtube. I got up around 7 and read for a few hours. I went to conversation group at 10 and we had a great time. Tommy Hensel, our director of our Fine and Performing Arts Center, came and participated. He is working on his certificate in EFL (English as a Foreign Language). The students really appreciated his presence and asked him all kinds of questions. We did several activities over the four hours, including a mini-lecture on golf, given that this is the greatest weekend of the year! No, not for Father's Day, but for the US Open. I didn't bore them too long, but they are excited about the idea of me bringing my clubs in (plastic balls of course) in a few weeks from now to let them whack about a bit. I always smile when I see how competitive many of the women are, particularly the Arab women. They really like to compete and have fun.
After we finished class, I went over to a friends house to help move some bedroom furniture. She was donating to another friend and I helped load it all up and we took it over to its new home. The stuff was heavy and it was hot and humid. I was glad there wasn't too much of it or that we didn't have to tote it too far. When we got it all situated, I went back to the house to do a little prep work on a ceiling I have been patching in order to paint it tomorrow. The patching didn't take long and I was home by 4:30, in time to catch nearly three hours of US Open coverage under my air conditioner. It feels good to be lazy after doing a little bit of work :)
I will break fast in about an hour or so, then maybe catch up on some Netflix shows I like. I enjoy not having any plans for a few hours. Tomorrow I will go work for three or four hours on the ceiling and some touch up, come home and watch some golf, then go over to Kipp's house for Iftar with some other friends. I enjoy my weekends as I get a little bit done and then I just goof off. I don't think I would like to laze around for two days with nothing to do. Life is good. 

Friday, June 17, 2016

My Ego

I played golf today with my good friend Glenn. Glenn works with us part-time and is a retired assistant superintendent from the public schools. We had a played a new course to me and had a great time. I shot and 88, not bad for my third time out. One thing I appreciate is that Glenn and I don't talk shop when we golf. We hit the ball all over the place and laugh a lot. We were paired with another twosome we did not know. One of them, Paul, turned out to be a former ESL student from Croatia. They were nice guys and the day went well. I was fasting but there was a beautiful breeze all day. I hit some great shots and I hits some bad ones, but I never once tried to kill the ball - a radical departure from my previous self. I hit the ball much straighter these days, and I play from the fairway far more often. I think my new golf game is in line with my overall sense of self these days; steady and more humble. I still think I can do some things better than most, but those things are the result of decades of practice and skill building. Hitting a golf ball 300 yards isn't one of them - sticking a pitching iron from 125 yards is now. Work tests my ego more and more often these days. I don't think I have been told no as many times in 25 years as I have been in the last five. My days have evolved into a series of more complicated orchestrations of activities designed to circumnavigate the politics and gravity-bending black holes around me. I suppose this is maturity, but I don't much like it. And I don't want to grow to like it either. Nor do I want to acquiesce and sit back and relax. There are so many things we need to do to make students more successful and to improve the work experience in our department. There are days when I think compromise must be viewed as some sort of cardinal virtue; an initial step to be taken when presented with obstacles. Having said all that, I also believe that the frustrations I face are not built intentionally by bad faith. I believe it is the by-product of a large institution. I also believe that the systems I work in are not broken. So I will keep adjusting my efforts and challenging my perceptions - honestly balancing my will and passion with the needs of a larger entity. Perhaps I can bring back to work a little that I am learning on the course :)

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Not Yet!

I got word today that we were not awarded the grant to go back to the DRC. They thought the proposal was good, but that it needed and NGO on the ground to participate. I have already begun to put feelers out there to resubmit our proposal. I was dejected for about 35 seconds when I got the news, but my resolve and determination flooded in and I got to work - seems like the good folks at the Mole camp are rubbing off on me :)

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Better Nights

GED Graduation

Last night was our annual GED graduation. It is my favorite night of the year and we watched 21 hardworking students walk across the stage. I was the master of ceremonies and had the pleasure of reading their names as they came forward. I am proud to say that I was close on all of them, even the Polish names. Our entire staff did a great job behind the scenes getting everything ready. From left to right: Nina, our assistant dean who helped on stage; Betty our departmental assistant; Hortencia, our administrative assistant; Sue, our departmental assistant in charge of graducation; Kipp, our tutoring coordinator; and Mohammed, our student assistant who is also an expert selfie taker. There were others as well. A great crew on a great night.
Our student speaker was Bertha, who had been out of school for 48 years! Her story was incredible and motivating. I got to spend time with the other graduates who were equally inspiring. It was fun to watch more than 100 family and friends give them the love and support as they achieved this important milestone. Graduation celebrations, particularly those deferred, are very sweet indeed. Afterwards we all went out for barbeque, and Nina, Mohammed, and I had to wait an extra bit for Iftar. It was a fantastic evening, one Mohammed called "his best night since coming to Chicago."  
Tremayne was there as well, as a marshal. Meg, Carmela, Jeff, and Carolyn rounded out the team. The whole thing went very smoothly and for a few hours, I was whisked away from my many annoyances and irritations. This inoculation of hope and perseverance will last me a good while :)

Said barbeque - Mohammed talked me into the combo deal. I finished about 1/3 of it. I am pleased to report though, that he polished all of his off.

Monday, June 13, 2016


I am still waiting to hear back from the State Department about our proposed trip to the DRC in July. There have been a few hiccups, but I think things could still work out if we get the green light. I am not excited, nor am I pessimistic - I am simply waiting for the news and then a mad rush of activity. Of course I would love to go back; I was honored and privileged to participate in a great few months of programming that was innovative and almost revolutionary. Never before had someone like me been sent into a refugee camp by the State Department to stay on the ground and build programs. I am very proud of this.
I am often naive though, and I thought the new model was logical and that there would be throngs of qualified folks willing to compete for the opportunity. I was wrong. Even now, when I talk about going back, I am bombarded with the old "I could never do that." To which I reply, "yes you could, you just don't think you want to." Regardless, I would spend the rest of my life working in camps if it were to become feasible. I do have a few talents and some energy that I have leveraged over and over again across the world. What I have noticed is that the product produced is more related to the quality of people I am working with than my native abilities. This is the way it should be - I have worked for more than 30 years developing my craft and it has paid off. It is all for naught, however, if it is practiced in a vacuum (I have been in a few of those too). There is a warm comfort in knowing that if our proposal is accepted, we will achieve great things together. The way it should be.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Weekly Grace

Members of the ESL Conversation Group

We took a few weeks off after the spring term and I was very pleased to see thirty students when we resumed classes last week. We have lots of new students these days, as well as some "regulars." In the fall and spring, we do both Saturdays and Sundays, but in the summer, I take Sundays off. Today we had a summer theme going on (as I was late and didn't really have anything prepared) that went well. As always, we wandered off to places like marital status, temperature ranges, nudist colonies, rototillers, and other oddly disconnected items. They did a good job, and as usual, most stayed the entire four hours. It was a typically diverse day, with students from countries like Guatemala, Mexico, Columbia, Thailand, Iraq, Syria, Poland, Lithuania, Russia, Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, Yemen, Morocco, India, and Japan. Over the past four years, I suppose we have had students from more than 75 countries!

We deliberately don't set the group up as a class per se, but I usually have a plan and some materials beforehand. There are just a few basic objectives: 1) Have fun, 2) Create a warm and supportive environment, 3) Engage them, and 4) Connect them to each other, the school, and the community. Our students have gone on to help us pilot welding and medical programs for ESL students, have become student employees of the college, and have even appeared on flyers and brochures. Here are few profiles and stories of some of the more than 500 students who have participated:

Zidi - Zidi isn't with us here at this moment, as he is on one of his trips to Poland. When he is here, he is a mainstay of the group. Zidi helps break most stereotypes of Polish men as he is warm, friendly, and always ready with a joke or a smile. He is very earnest, and was one of the first volunteers for the I-Best Welding program we developed.

Rosa - Rosa is a funny storm in a teacup. She has a lot of energy and a heart of gold. I think I have shushed her about 1,000 time, but I do appreciate the enthusiasm she brings to the group. Rosa comes on weekends as she is taking care of her children during the week.

Amanda - Amanda is our diminutive Peruvian friend. She has been in and out of the group since its inception. She has a good sense of humor and is always ready to bring food for a party.

Ossama - Ossama too has been with us for a long time. I met him when I was tutoring his daughter who was injured in the Syrian war. He is a very warm man with a great sense of humor. He is very serious about his English though, and always brings me advanced words to figure out.

The Thai Girls - The two Thai girls are new and I still can't pronounce their names - I think they get longer each week. They are seventeen and nineteen, are fully engaged in a sibling rivalry, and take silly pills each morning I think. They have a great deal of energy and are a nice compliment to generally older, more serious crowd.

Ada - Ada is from Poland and our resident Eeyore at times. She has a good sense of humor but likes to grumble and fuss occasionally. Ada seldom misses a session, sits up front, and resolutely refuses to tell us when exactly she came to America.

Hide' (Hiday) - Hide' is a Japanese student enrolled in the college who used to volunteer with me at the homeless shelter. He made a cameo appearance today after having been gone for some time. Hide' is moving on to a four year school soon to study biofuels I think. He loves basketball and I always willing to help.

Maisa and Haneen - They are our resident mother/daughter duo. Haneen is on her way to being a doctor, and Maisa is a proud parent of several bright children. I think Haneen is the youngest though, and her mom keeps after her from time to time.

Richard and Luz - Richard is a good friend that came to the group with his wife Luz. She is from Mexico and wanted to continue to develop her English, although it already very good. They are two of the most generous people I know (and that is in the tall cotton in the ESL group). When I went off to the Congo last year, Richard stood in for me for two months - quite a commitment.

These are just a few of the wonderful people I interact with on my weekends. In the coming weeks, I will profile more of them :)

This past spring, I was given the Embracing Diversity Award here at MVCC, largely in part due to the work I do on my weekends with this great group. I say work but it really isn't - Each week I get to horse around with people from all over the world who are trying to better their lives and the lives of their loved ones. They help each other and they help me. I couldn't imagine doing anything else with my time........

Friday, June 10, 2016

Treating Myself

My Favorite Irons Restored!

I bought these irons about fifteen years ago and they were used then. I immediately noticed how solid they were and how they rewarded a good swing. They weren't very forgiving, but perhaps my experience with and fondness for women,  made it all the better. These are Mizuno MP14 irons and were quite popular with better players at the turn of the millennium - I wasn't a better player, but I wanted to be. After several years, the chrome eventually chipped on several of the clubs and I put them away. I bought a few new sets in the intervening years, but nothing felt as good to me. Last year I got a blow torch and took the heads off the clubs and sent them to a company to have them rechromed and regrooved. It cost me about $250 but they came back beautiful, shiny and new. This week I finished the process by having them reshafted and regripped (another $300). I went out to the course today and only hit these irons, forgoing my woods, wanting just to embrace my old friends. I could tell the difference immediately and played well despite my relative lack of rounds this year. Maybe I am getting old and romantic. Maybe these clubs are no different than any others. I don't know, but I am sure I don't want to play any other irons the rest of my life :)

Thursday, June 9, 2016

A Nice Way To Wake Up :)

This morning I had a SKYPE call with the camp. It was a great way to start my day. Teddy and his team were there, as well as many of the student  leaders and students. I got to say hello to many of them and was even serenaded by the Girls Empowerment Group! I can't overstate the fact that I miss them and the place. I am waiting patiently to hear if my proposal to return in July will be accepted or not. Last year renewed my soul, and I want to get back, back to the place where I am clean and whole. Back to where I can give and give and work with wonderful people who want to help themselves and each other. I miss that communion.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Mary Ann

Mary Ann passed away a little over a month ago. She worked here at our college for many years and I knew her for four years. Mary Ann was a very quiet and private woman who loved plants. I didn't get to know her well, but I appreciated her diligence and steadyloyalty. When we had a few problem folks in the department, Mary Ann did not join in - as a matter of fact, she let them know that she didn't appreciate their advances. She had a very dry sense of humor and was a wiz at older trivia. It became my secret mission in meetings to make her chuckle; a feat I accomplished too infrequently. I miss Mary Ann but I know she is in a better place.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Ramadan Kareem!

It is Ramadan again, and I am excited. It is time for some renewal and reflection. It is time to think of others and to challenge myself for the future. I think I will do a post a day again (as in a few years past) about people and things that matter to me. I will start tomorrow with some friends I have lost in the last year or so. I am not sure where the month will take me in these posts, inshallah, but I am looking forward to the discipline to do so. I am also cooking this month, something I rarely do otherwise. So for now, off to buy some buttermilk and dates.  Till tomorrow...........