Bluebonnet Season

This is the rarest and most beautiful flower in all of Texas.  In the words of historian Jack McGuire, “the bluebonnet is to Texas what the shamrock is to Ireland, the cherry blossom to Japan, the lily to France, the rose to England, and the tulip to Holland.”  No flower is more precious, or more dear to the hearts of Texans, than the bluebonnet.

Bluebonnets are wild, and cannot be tamed.  You will not find them in florist shops.  You cannot buy them in grocery stores.  These delicate flowers can be found only in fields and flowerbeds, and only during the spring.  (It is possible to grow them in your garden, but they are notoriously fickle.)

The season for bluebonnets begins in late March.  That is when the early-bird bluebonnets start to bloom.  The season peaks in mid-April, but by early May, almost all of the flowers are gone.  There is only a brief period during which one can view bluebonnets, and that period has just begun.

Searching for bluebonnets is not easy.  They could be anywhere; but whether you run across them is a matter of pure chance.  Fortunately, flower watchers are good at getting the word out.  Here in Texas, we have many websites dedicated to bluebonnet sightings, which alert people to the whereabouts of these beautiful, yet mysterious flowers.

As the State Flower of Texas, the bluebonnet is emblematic of springtime here in the Lone Star State.  The best place to view them is the Texas Hill Country, where you may feast your eyes on majestic scenes of rolling hills painted by these wonderful flowers.  The Texas plains are also a great place to find them.  There, it is not uncommon to find entire fields of velvet blue, a sight which is sure take your breath away.  Even in the cities, it is possible to find wild bluebonnets growing in parks, or on street corners.  You just never know where they might pop up.

Wake up and smell the wildflowers, Texas.  Bluebonnet season is officially here.

The sea breeze gushed through her hair as she and the stranger rode for miles down the beach. 

As dusk fell, they approached a cliff that towered several stories over the oceanside.  Soon she detected the faint sound of music and laughter.

The man pulled the stallion to a trot as they neared the base of the cliff, and jumped down.  Amidst the dense vegetation, she could make out a granite staircase winding up to the top.  The stranger clapped his hands twice.  Suddenly, torch lamps came to life along the staircase.  The cliff glowed with a zig zag of scattered firelight.

After tying the horse one of the torch lamps, the man came over to help her down.

She lost her balance, and fell into his arms with a scream.  “Whoa there missy!” said the stranger with a hearty laugh, as he lowered her to the sand. 

Everything seemed so surreal.  She wondered if he was upset with her.  Oh well, it’s probably better to end it before he finds out, she thought.  She actually felt a bittersweet sense of relief.  Of course, it did not hurt that she now found herself alone with a handsome stranger.

“Where are we?” she asked.

“Follow me,” he said, as he led her up the staircase.

An Educational Experiment

Now that the first weekend of spring is over, and all my brackets are officially busted, it’s time for us to exit the basketball gym and return to the classroom, just like 52 of the 68 NCAA tournament teams will be doing tomorrow.

What kind of classroom, you ask?  Well, if you go to school at TEP Charter School in New York City, you will be attending class in a double-wide trailer that looks more like a toolshed than a place for learning.  The kids at TEP are fifth and sixth graders, and most of them come from less fortunate backgrounds.  Almost all of them are minorities who live in a rough part of town.  Few would be surprised to know they go to school in makeshift classrooms like those at TEP.

Even fewer would guess that these kids are taught by arguably one of the finest grade school faculties in America. 

What TEP lacks in infrastructure, it makes up in teacher salaries.  Rather than spend millions to build brick-and-mortar classrooms for its students, TEP dedicates its resources to attracting the best educators in the country.  The school gets flooded with thousands of applications each year for a chance to teach 250 underachieving students whose families are scraping to get by.  The chosen ones are paid well: a whopping $125,000/yr, plus a chance to make up to a $25,000 bonus.

You see TEP, which opened its doors less than 2 years ago, has a unique philosophy.  It believes the biggest factor in educating students is the quality of the teachers.  So TEP has decided to delay building permanent classrooms in order to maintain the best teaching staff money can buy.

TEP was featured on 60 Minutes last weekend.  As it turns out, there are ups and downs to teaching there.  Obviously, the pay is good.  And, the work is rewarding.  Some kids come to TEP as fifth graders who can’t read or write.  As a teacher, it has to feel good to see these kids finally the attention they deserve, and slowly get them back on track.  The kids are very grateful.  They participate eagerly in class, and rave about how much they like their new school compared to their old one.  The atmosphere is uplifting.

Now for the downside.  The teachers work long hours.  Some of them have decided to quit because they were spending so much time preparing lessons for their pupils, they hardly had any time left for their own family.  Also, there is no possibility of tenure.  The teachers work on an at-will basis; they could be let go at any time.  And with thousands of applicants chomping at the bit to take their place, their jobs are anything but secure.  This is in stark contrast to the New York City public school system, where teachers are paid and promoted based on senority alone, and only 7 of the more than 55,000 teachers there are discharged for cause each year.

So how will this experiment play out?  The kids at TEP still have low test scores.  The principal is concerned, but he reminds everyone that the school just got started.  He is expecting to see tangible results in the next 3-4 years.  I guess we will just have to wait and see.

I think it’s good that this little school is trying to shake up things in the education system.  In my opinion, teachers should be paid according to their performance.  Good teachers should be paid very well.  We should seek out talent for our children, and pay what it takes to keep it.  Everyone says education is important, but we never put our money where our mouths are.  There is no telling how many people out there would be great teachers if only they could make any money doing it.  On the other hand, maybe the best teachers are motivated by things other than money.

Either way, I’ll be interested to see how this educational experiment works out.     

Time Marches On

First off, I would like take a moment to acknowledge the people of Japan, as our thoughts and prayers are with them.

Now for some lighter news.  Today is March 14, my personal last day of the year.  However, even if you adhere to a more conventional calendar, you must admit today feels different already.  This is probably due to DST “springing” our clocks forward Sunday night.  (Of course, the change is never truly felt until Monday.)

Today you may also observe people randomly scribbling on pieces of paper in bizarre places: in hallways, elevators, bathrooms, etc.  Suddenly, your male friends all seem to have bloodshot eyes, and trouble focusing during conversations.  Your mother may even ask you, what is George Mason’s mascot?  (It’s a patriot now, but it used to be this thing).  You have entered a period of delirium in America, or ‘madness’ one might say, and it only happens in March.

Yesterday, on what has come to be known as “Selection Sunday”, the NCAA selection committee unveiled the field of 68 teams that will compete for this years men’s basketball championship.  In the next 72 hours, literally millions of brackets will be filled out in an effort to capture the holy grail of average-joe sports fantasies: The Perfect Bracket. 

Ah yes, The Perfect Bracket.  Like unicorns, no living person has ever seen one before, but we are sure they exist.

This year, my dad is bravely trying to do something he has never done before — fill out his brackets online.  He usually fills them out on paper and I enter them for him.  We play the Tournament Challenge on ESPN every year.  Mom plays too.

Getting him on the computer is hopeless.  If I start reading a web address to him, the following exchange ensues:

“Wait.  You’re going too fast.  H-T-T-what?  What is a ‘forward slash’?”

At that point I give up.  Just write ’em down, Dad. 

A few hours later, the fax machine starts whirring.  It’s gonna be a long night.

But this year, things are different.  I told Mom how to download an app that allows people to fill out their brackets online from their phone.  Now it’s easy.  All you have to do is touch the team you want to win with your finger (for all 63 games) and then push ‘submit.’  To borrow a slogan, it’s so easy a caveman could do it.

Surprise, surprise.  He still manages to run into trouble.  It won’t let him pick his final team.

I log into his account to see what the problem is, which turns out to be . . . nothing.  He did great.  He picked all of them.

“But how do you know which team I picked to win?” he inquires innocently.

“Dad.  Do you see the Jawhawk beside the words ‘Your National Champion’?”

He feels tricked.  “Why doesn’t it just say ‘Kansas’?  What if I didn’t know the Jayhawk was Kansas’ mascot??”

All the other lines of the bracket have the names of the teams on them.  However, when you select your national champion, it puts the mascot of the team in the champion’s box, without the team’s name.  This makes no sense to him. 

“There are probably thousands of people all over the country who don’t know that.  They need to make things clearer for people,” he says with exasperation.

I cannot help but laugh.  “They even have the mascot right beside the name on the line below!”

“Yes, but that is so small you need a magnifying glass to see it.  Why do they have to make it so hard?”

My dad is not exactly a techie, but we love him.

Waves sloshed across two pairs of feet as he chased her across an ocean sunset.  The faint sound of laughter resonated from the shore of the beach. 

She squealed as he caught up to her and pulled her down on top of him in the sand.  Her laughter was uncontrollable.  He grinned up at her, proud of his pursuit.

Catching her breath, her eyes fell upon his.  For a lingering moment, their gazes locked.  Then, their bodies followed suit.  As the sun descended, two intertwined silhouettes writhed passionately in the sand.

Suddenly, she looked up.   A hundred yards ahead, she could make out a man riding a horse down the beach.  The man looked to be in his late thirties, tan, and in visibly good shape.  He rode shirtless, and wore a dark brimmed stetson hat.  The stallion beneath him glowed with a ghostly shade of white.

“Good evening!” he called out, as he pulled his stallion to a trot.  It almost seemed as if he had been expecting them.

Somewhat embarrased, they climbed to their feet and dusted the sand off their clothes.  A brief introduction followed.

“Hey, I was just on my way to a party at friend’s place not far from here,” the rider said, gesturing with his hand.  “It’s a casual affair.  No invitation needed.  Would you care to join me?”

The man seemed nice enough.  He offered her his hand, and helped her onto the white stallion.  

The man gave her companion an apologetic look.  “Sorry buddy, there ain’t enough room on this horse for you.”  He jerked the reigns, and they took off down the beach.  She clung to the man’s waist for dear life.  She barely managed to hold on.

Meanwhile, he watched helplessly as they faded into the distance.  There was nothing he could do.