Wednesday, December 10, 2014

December 2014 DTS Trip

In 1996 a small band of friends took their first canoe trip in cold weather.  It was the first weekend in December.  We met at the Call of the Wild between Poplar Bluff and Doniphan early on a Saturday morning and headed to Alton for an overnight trip on the Eleven Point River.  There were three of us.  We had one canoe and rented another.  Saturday was an absolutely beautiful day on the river.  About 7pm it started to mist and by midnight it was raining steadily.  We packed up on Sunday and it began to rain as we finished the final part of the trip.  The rain stopped, the wind picked up, the temperature dropped, and it started snowing as we waited for our shuttle.

For seven years our small group could be found on a Missouri river, stream, or lake.  Finally we thought it might be a bit more fun if we expanded our group.  About a dozen folks can now be found on our annual trips, although 35 distinct folks have made the trip at one time or another -- always on the same weekend.

The weather over the years has varied.  One year I wore shorts, a t-shirt, and sandals the entire weekend.  Another year I called off school and headed out in an ice storm.  The temperatures that weekend never really got above freezing.

This year we base camped at Big Spring campground on the Current River.

Several of us met at the Float Stream restaurant on Thursday for lunch.  After a big plate of chicken-fried steak, mashed potatoes, and okra we were off to set up camp.  Others arrived later and we all enjoyed a nice bowl of chili, or two, for supper.

It began to rain Thursday night and did so through much of it.  By morning it was just a misty fog.  We thought it best to perhaps take a short trip on the river before breakfast, but others were arriving in the morning so we waited on them and hit the water after breakfast.

Betting on rain later in the morning I wore my new rain hat.  With about 30 minutes of steady rain, I was thankful for it.
It was foggy until the rain set in.

When we arrived back at camp we did a bit of work expanding our big shelter and relaxed for a bit before trying out a new recipe for the group.  It was the first try at smoked salmon chowder.  It was delicious, but prep takes a while.  The guys took care of all the chunks and left only a small bit of liquid in the bottom of the pot.

The next day the weather was much better -- cloudy and windy, but no rain.  The river was also up about a foot from the previous day.  We spent most of the day on the water, arriving back in camp around 4:30pm.  Thankfully pork chops and garden vegetables don't take as long to cook as the chowder did.  The soup, coupled with Doyel's famous cornbread, was a fitting end to the day.

Another successful trip is behind us and we look forward to getting the families on the water before coming together again next December.  2015 will find us somewhere around Eminence.  We always enjoy their Christmas parade.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Be a Bridge Builder

Behind my desk...

The Bridge Builder

An old man going a lone highway,
Came, at the evening cold and gray,
To a chasm vast and deep and wide.
Through which was flowing a sullen tide
The old man crossed in the twilight dim,
The sullen stream had no fear for him;
But he turned when safe on the other side
And built a bridge to span the tide.

“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim near,
“You are wasting your strength with building here;
Your journey will end with the ending day,
You never again will pass this way;
You’ve crossed the chasm, deep and wide,
Why build this bridge at evening tide?”

The builder lifted his old gray head;
“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said,
“There followed after me to-day
A youth whose feet must pass this way.
This chasm that has been as naught to me
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be;
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building this bridge for him!”

September and October Paddles

For September we took a quick morning paddling on Simpson Lake.  It was a nice morning and we had a luncheon to attend just down the road.

We did see a guy on a paddleboard who was using it to exercise.  He was all over the place, moving quickly.  I like paddling because I can slow down and relax.

We had a big family trip planning for October.  A nice weekend paddling with friends and spending the night on the river.

The trouble with planning well in advance is that the weather is not always cooperative.  We've only had issues a couple of times because we like the mantra, "There's no such thing as bad weather, just bad equipment."

That may be true for the guys, but it gets a little different when taking the kids.  Thankfully the rain settled for the weekend, but the 5 inches of the rain the days prior put the river at level we needed to avoid.

I checked the river levels on what would have been our last morning on the water to find the river gauges at 2 to 3 times normal flow.  Guess it was a good thing we stayed back.

So what's a guy to do?  Find another place to paddle on a different weekend.  So, a week later we hit the lower Meramec for a nice morning paddle.

It was pretty foggy at the start, barely being able to see what was ahead.

The sun came out though and revealed some color leaves.

We came upon a boat dock and paddled around it a bit.  It was the first time I had seen storage seats on the top of a pontoon.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A Show-Me Board?

Recently I wrote about what I thought were a few of the qualities needed in Missouri's next Commissioner of Education.  I finished by saying that the State Board must take the time to get the selection right.

Since then we've seen Utah select a new State Superintendent.  Their website made note of the search, they included stakeholders in the selection process, and ended by selecting an in-state sitting superintendent.

Here in Missouri several superintendent groups are writing the State Board asking for a thoughtful process to select a new Commissioner.  Our hope is that our State Board will engage stakeholders to develop a leadership profile, recruit top candidates, and make a selection based on the leadership profile.

Will the State Board show us they value our input or make a quick, closed decision?  We are the Show-Me State after all.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Leadership Qualities Needed for Missouri's Next Commissioner of Education

Commissioner Nicastro recently announced her retirement effective at the end of the calendar year.  Given the state of things in Missouri (unaccredited schools, MSIP5, Accredited with Distinction, learning standards rewrite, new online testing, underfunded formula, etc.), school leaders are concerned who the new Commissioner might be.

Those concerns were not alleviated at the recent MSBA/MASA fall conference.  During a conference session with State Board of Education members the President of the Board intimated that the selection of a new Commissioner would be swift, closed, and without input from stakeholders.  I'm not sure his view aligns with the entire Board, but the comments only increased concerns.

During the last search for a Commissioner several names were being thrown around.  The same thing is happening this time.  For a moment though, let's not think in terms of WHO the Commissioner might, or should be, but rather in terms of what leadership qualities will be needed for the next Commissioner to be successful.

At the outset it is important that a new Commissioner rebuild trust and confidence in the department and the office.  The department has been decimated by budget cuts.  As such the department made a pendulum swing from assistance to regulation.  It's time to increase two-way communication, transparency, and get more practitioners in the department in order to rebuild trust.  Those in the field need to know that folks in the department understand the implications on local schools of the rules and requirements being enacted.

The next Commissioner must understand that Missouri has diverse schools.  Boards of Education across Missouri are opposing Amendment 3 because it forces a one-size-fits-all approach on Missouri schools.  The next Commissioner needs to understand that Missouri has diverse schools, much of which is determined by the community make up and culture.  A one-size-fits-all approach will not work.

The next Commissioner must be able to assess and define the reality of Missouri education and put supports in place to assist districts of varying make up.  Perhaps a restructuring of the department is necessary to start an Office of Urban Education with experts in moving urban districts forward.  An Office of Rural Education is probably also warranted because rural districts have unique needs as well. 

The next Commissioner must be politically savvy.  He or she will have to work with a Democrat Governor and a Republican Legislature.  The Commissioner must help both get past ideology and think in terms of sound, pragmatic public policy for Missouri schools.

The list could go on for some time, but I'll stop here.  The challenges the next Commissioner will face are numerous.  The State Board of Education must take the time to get the selection right.

Friday, September 5, 2014

What does success look like?

Recently I visited my hometown.  In preparation for the visit I emailed a classmate who still lives in the area and invited them to dinner while I was in town.  At that point I learned that several classmates would be in town and were all going to dinner -- an impromptu partial class reunion it was.

Amateur photography by someone's spouse.

At one point during the night we all took a few moments to tell about our families and what we've been doing.  The stories I heard have me wondering what success really looks like.

According to success is:

  1. The favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors; the accomplishment of one's goals.
  2. The attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like.
  3. A performance or achievement that is marked by success, as by the attainment of honors.
  4. A person or thing that has had success, as measured by attainment of goals, wealth, etc.
As I listened to their stories it is clear that some have been successful according to one or more of these definitions.  Yet most of us have read some version of these quotes defining success a bit differently.

    Success is a journey, not a destination. -- Ben Sweetland 

    Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the          
    outcome. -- Arthur Robert Ashe, Jr.

After a bit of reflection I've come to think that the standard way we look at success is flawed.  The stay-at-home mom among the group that is not only rearing her own kids, but also the kids of her deceased twin brother is a success in my book.  So is the guy that has jumped from job to job over the course of his life but now has steady employment that allows him to spend time engaging in his hobbies.  Success is not a single measure.

This reunion of sorts took place the day after Missouri released test and annual performance report (APR) scores for school districts.  The internal workings and calculations of the APR can be complicated, but the APR is one number in the end -- a percentage of points a district or school earned out of the total.

These results have been published in local news media across the state.  Those with increasing APR scores are applauded for their work, while those who slipped backwards are being asked why it happened.  In many cases the reason rests with a new, volatile system that defines success as one number -- the higher the better.

As in life, success for schools can't be defined as a single measure.  Teachers are more than their students' test scores.  Schools are more than attendance and test scores.  Districts are more than a single number.  Each day schools across the country welcome a diverse student body, feed them breakfast, feed them lunch, provide a safe learning environment, and offer after-school activities to keep them engaged.  We serve a noble purpose.  That, in itself, should be success.

Monday, August 4, 2014

August Paddle

Each year the Blue and Gold Scholarship Foundation holds a dinner auction as its one and only fundraiser.  Over the life of its existence the foundation has provided more than $400,000 in ongoing scholarships to kids from Wright City.

For several years I've donated an outfitted canoe trip and for most of that time it has been purchased by the same group of guys.

This year we were a bit unorganized in determining our location and when we would reach a decision water levels weren't conducive to paddling.  Finally we planned to head to Eminence and attempt to get a campsite at Circle B.  They were all booked up, but we were hoping to capture a last minute cancellation spot.

On the drive down we called an audible.  We would instead check if anything was available at the Department of Conservation campsites at Cedar Grove.  They were all taken of course.

We continued downstream on Hwy 19 and ended up at Pulltite.  This group had stayed and paddled here in the past.

On Saturday we put in at Pulltite.  Being a Saturday it was more crowded than I like, but sometimes the weekends are your only opportunities to be on the water.

After a while it cleared out for brief periods of time.  That was good because I was going to spend some time practicing rolls some more.

Throughout the day we helped folks having trouble.  Unfortunately we weren't able to recover some lost eye glasses for a boy, but we did get out the first aid kit for a young woman who took a nasty scrape from a tree.

We finished the day at Round Spring.

On Sunday we decided to paddle from Cedar Grove to Akers' Ferry.  It was a nice paddle and John had good luck fishing.  Thankfully no one really needed any help.


July Paddle

For July we put in at Castlerock State Park on the Meramec River and paddled up stream.  After my rolling troubles at NOC I spent some time practicing rolls.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

June paddling at NOC

Near the end of June Zack and I spent a few days on the main campus of the Nantahala Outdoor Center.

We arrived late on a Friday night, grabbed our check-in materials, and unloaded our stuff in our room at the Nantahala Inn.

Saturday morning we got to sleep in a bit before a morning rafting trip down the Nantahala River.  I'm not used to dam release rivers, so the notion of only 8 floatable miles was new to me.  There were six guests and our guide Rich in the raft.  After some quick instruction and practice we eased into the current of the frigid (48 to 52 degree water) Nantahala.  A few hours later, and the Nantahala Falls drop, we were back at the main campus after an enjoyable and uneventful trip.  I was grateful to Rich for the information he shared.

After a relaxing lunch of BBQ we headed over to the zip-line adventure park.  Zack was hesitant at first, but after making it across both levels of obstacles he was ready for the zip-line.  After one trip down he was quick to head up for another.  Who knows how many times he did the zip-line before doing both levels of obstacles again.

A short hike down the AT also kept us busy.

Sunday was our most relaxing day at NOC.  We had originally planned to do the duckies in the morning but after experiencing the water temps we moved the trip to the afternoon when the air temps would be higher.  Still, after experiencing the cold water on Saturday we grabbed some neoprene for sitting in the water for a few hours.

The area was absolutely beautiful.  The fog on the river could make it a challenge to see your entire party though.  We had times of sun, but it got cloudy and rained a bit each day.

I was hesitant to let Zack go on his own, but the guides seemed confident.  He had no problems as the sequence of photos from Nantahala Falls suggests.

During any down time Zack did a lot of looking at knives at the Outfitter Store while I tried to find a helmet I liked.  We ended up walking away with stickers, a frisbee, water bottle, t-shirts, and a hoodie.

Monday was the day I was most anticipating.  We were slated for a full day of kayak instruction.  When it started raining in the middle of the night I started getting concerned and when we woke to the pouring rain and went to check in I was not looking forward to being cold and wet all day.

After meeting our master guide Andrew we headed to the gear shed.  With the rain I grabbed the neoprene to keep us warm.  Thankfully it stopped raining.  After a boat fitting we were off to a nice finger of Lake Fontana.  

We practiced some strokes and did some flat water work.  Zack and I both slid down a hill and off a small ledge into the water.  Zack filled his boat with water to work on his balance and ended up doing some modified bow stalls.  I attempted to work on my roll, but just don't work on it enough to be consistent.

I should have worked on it more, but the skirt was so tight we could hardly get it on.  My thumbs ached the next few days from wrestling with the skirt.

It was my hope to then kayak the Nantahala, but Zack is still too afraid of wearing a skirt and my roll is too inconsistent.  Instead we hit the Little Tennessee for a nice afternoon trip.  After dropping us off at the put-in Andrew took the car to the take-out and ran back.  He literally ran the shuttle.

The river was up a bit from the night before so it was a bit muddy.

We put in just down stream from this suspension bridge.  Zack liked making it shake.

When Andrew returned from his run we did some brief work on entering and exiting the current and headed off.

We stopped along the way to swim a small rapid and then Zack learned to surf a kayak.  After that he was trying to do it anywhere he could.

The boat Zack paddled was meant for kids so he could manipulate it better than what he has at home.  Of course he wants one now.

I'm ready for whitewater boat too.  Just going to have to decide what to sell.

The photos don't show it, but there were actually a couple of nice small rapids for our kayak trip.  The biggest was right at the finish.

It started raining again just as we were loading up.

Overall it was a great three days at NOC.  We'll be looking to go back and perhaps take their weekend paddling course.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Lake paddling in May and June

I found myself paddling in lakes in late May and early June.

Memorial Day started with a sunrise paddle on Lake Wappapello.  This was the first time I had kayaked there, although I had done a winter paddle trip to one of the islands several years ago.

Barrett's Marina was the starting point.  From there I headed over to Eagle Point, out into the main channel and back around to Barrett's.  A really beautiful morning on the water, and some good pictures.

June saw us back at the lake in Simpson Park before heading to a WoodBadge closing luncheon.  A paddle-boarding class was just starting as we returned to the shore.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

April Paddle

For April we took a 3-day trip on the Jack's Fork River from the South Prong bridge to Alley Spring.  River maps and outfitters show this as a 31-mile stretch. 

Zack and I headed out at 5am on Friday morning to meet Kelly and Carson at Harvey's Canoe Rental near Alley Spring.  I've used Harvey's for shuttles before.  After moving their gear to the truck and settling up we headed out for the Prongs to start our trip.

We put in at the South Prong access.  Within 200 yards there was a tree blocking the entire river.  The boys pulled the kayaks over the bank while Kelly and I lined the canoes under the tree.

We couldn't have asked for a much better day.  We saw one other person before lunch.  Carson took a leap from a nice cliff right before lunch.  Two couples were putting in for a quick afternoon trip at the Highway 17 bridge.  We passed a group of women just below the bridge.  We settled for the night around the 85 mile marker on the generic park service map.

Blue Spring is a popular stop for folks. 

The boys gathered up wood and got a nice campfire going.

The meal for the night was tacos.  We stayed in my big tent together.  I fell asleep shortly after 8pm. 

Saturday morning we were out of camp around 9am.

Loaded down.

Kelly had some issues on Saturday.  Somehow he hit a rock that got him enough off balance to tip.  After grabbing some initial gear floating down, Zack and I raced downstream to catch the rest.  A few hours later he was wet again.

Saturday night we camped across the river from the Bay Creek primitive camping area.  It was the first night under the stars for both Carson and Zack.

Sunday was up and out early to head for the truck.

This was the first time I'd been on the stretch from the Prongs to Highway 17.  It is an enjoyable float, but losing a few inches of water would result in a lot of dragging.

Can't beat days like this.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

April 8

April 8 is a special day for me.  Some years ago our friends and family gathered to celebrate Debbie and I getting married.  In 2014 we received an interesting anniversary gift.

As the school privatization movement seeks to gain steam in Missouri the money that flows with it has led to a Legislature that is increasingly critical of Missouri's public schools.  Representatives and Senators seem to no longer care about the views of teachers and administrators.  Some have become downright hostile toward educators.

While the Missouri House of Representatives was passing legislation to study education standards (anti Common Core) and the House Education Committee was debating transfer legislation not supported by public schools, we learned once again that all politics is local.

On April 8 we found out here here and here that Missouri communities support their local public schools.  The list of successful bond issues and tax levies goes beyond the linked articles to cover all parts of Missouri.  And we're not talking about issues barely passing.  Many passed by huge margins.

It is clear that communities support their local schools, but sad that many of those serving in the Missouri Legislature no longer do. 

The education community rallied together in support of sustaining the veto of HB253 last summer.  It's time we stand again to show members of the Missouri Legislature that Missouri's public schools have the support of their communities.

On Friday lets unleash the power of #Lovemyschoolday

Sunday, April 6, 2014

March on the water

The 3rd weekend in March is the annual Missouri Whitewater Championships held at Millstream Gardens on the St. Francis River.  Zack and I went down Friday after school and camped at Johnson Shut-Ins State Park.  It was the first time I had stayed in the new campground and I believe we'll be going back.

We got up early on Saturday to do some walking through the shut-ins, but had to wait at the gate for a ranger to open up. 

After a walk around the shut-ins it was off to Ironton for some chocolate milk and onto Millstream Gardens to watch the races.

Watching the races is fun, but watching other people paddle just makes me want to paddle.  So two weeks later Bob and I spent a late after noon with a relaxing paddle on Creve Coeur Lake while Debbie and Zack rode on the bike trail.