Remembering Ronnie: An Old Soldier Tells His Story

vietnam, purple heart, veterans

I’ve learned there’s more to memorials than this.

I wrote a little while back about learning to listen better. At the time, I was primarily concerned with improving my relationships with my family, friends, students, and colleagues. What I didn’t expect was that actively practicing my listening skills might lock me into an hour-and-a-half long conversation at CVS. Yes, that’s where I spent last Wednesday night, talking with a Vietnam vet named Ronnie. Here’s a brief retelling.

I went out to CVS to pick up some antacid that night. I recently did a little self-diagnosing, and I think I have LPR, or “silent reflux”, but that’s a story for another day. I stood around trying to decide which medicine to purchase, when suddenly I heard a gravelly voice behind me. Continue reading


Comment; State of Education


It seems those who make the rules/laws for others have never had the honor of wearing the other’s shoes.
However, firstly, my wife and daughter are both teachers – just to show my status.

Never heard them refer to the profession as a job, they live, eat and breathe teaching. When they get together with other teachers – questions arise about what progress this or that one is making – their hours are set buy themselves, my wife used to go in to school at least 45 or more minutes than required and my daughter is always at school for a special activity, helping a student or readying for the next day. And not to be crass or surly, the $250 the government allows as an education tax deduction is chump change in the real world, where I live.

Sure, it’s a job – my two aren’t of the STEPFORD cookie cutter ilk of which Mrs. Malloy refers. How about the governor and some State Legislators teaching a class for a week (with no chance of parole) and see what ‘job’ they prefer, the good ‘ol boy gathering of’ politicos figuring out how to levy another tax or unrealistic mandate or trying to convince little Jack or Jill that 6 is the product of dividing 42 by 7.

Wonder how NCLB would have fared if this exercise were mandated?

There will always be some debate as why teaching is an easy ‘job’; all the time off, especially in the summer.

Reality is taking over  as more and more states are eschewing NCLB as a poor, no horrendous piece of legislation.

Now, being under the proverbial gun, they  are scrambling to redeem themselves by coming up with some alternatives.

I hope they consult some ‘dedicated’ educators whilst drawing up the new guidelines; because, if you boil this all down to the basics – if it weren’t for dedicated teachers – I would not have had the skills to write this comment  nor would you have the privilege of reading my opinions. Correct?

State of Education


Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, left, and Commissioner of the state Department of Education, Stefan Pryor, Right, arrive at the legislature's Education Committee public hearing on Malloy's education proposal. Melanie Stengel/Register (

Okay, I’ll admit it.

I’m a teacher and my job is pointless.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this fact as educators have come under increasing criticism—especially here in Connecticut.

I concede that formal education is unnecessary.  Public school is a relatively new idea, and people got by without classrooms and textbooks for millennia.   Our most beloved American success stories are of self-made individuals who struck out against schools and other institutions to make their own way.

The truth is everyone is perfectly capable of learning what they need to survive.  Watch a child master a new task to see what I mean.  Learning is ingrained in human nature, and our curiosity allows us to figure out everything we need to know.

So why teach?  After all, Governor Malloy insists a teaching job should be “like every other job.”  He says teachers should welcome evaluation and competition as a way to improve our practice.  He says we don’t want to accept common business principles into our field soley so we can protect our tenure system.

I’ll counter with a question: Should teaching even be considered a job?

Let’s compare working in education to working in the ministry.  Across cultures and religions devout men and women heed the call to serve others through their faith.  Clergy are highly regarded for pursuing a vocation and for trying to make the world a better place.  They are protected and cared for by organized religion so they can do good without impediment.

However, as a job, becoming a priest or a rabbi or an imam is pointless.  People in general can find their own spiritual path just fine.  Spirituality is a natural part of life, and we are all equipped with an intuitive sense of divinity.  Left to their own devices, people will usually form a personal system of belief.

But isn’t it nice to have some guidance?

Maybe teaching should not be seen as just another job.  Like the clergy, men and women enter the field to enrich their communities.  Yet you don’t see the government attacking religion.  Despite some bad apples, the influence of religious people in this country is stronger than ever.

When a member of the clergy is criticized—rightly or wrongly—the faithful often see this as an attack on their beliefs.  Believers in education should feel just as indignant.  They should see attacks on teachers for what they are—attacks against the value of education.

Governor Malloy urges you to see teaching as just a job.  As such, many of his new policies will reward the very teachers he claims he wants to root out—those who pander to principles, who bully students into compliance, and who merely teach to the test.  In short, he will reward the teachers who only show up for a paycheck, not those truly devoted to their students.

If you consider yourself a member of the faithful, please support the educators and staff who chose a career in education instead of working just another job.  Believe it or not, there are scores of talented, hard-working people in our schools who want to make a difference.

Winter Prayers


A Musing

Whether you practice a religion or not, the holiday season is a holy time for many faiths: Christians, Jews, Pagans, Hindus, Muslims–and all have important winter festivals and devotional events. Just a quick look online shows how rich and diverse are the opportunities to express one’s spirituality during this time of year!

While our commercial culture demands we spend and consume as much as possible in December, many people crave something more. I, for one, enjoy giving and receiving gifts; this admission is to stave off accusations of hypocrisy, but it’s also to provide perspective. I also enjoy the spirituality of the season, and I try, at least a little, to seize the opportunity to reflect. I’m leading into a request for you to try the same.

What Child is This?

I am a public school teacher in a district with great socioeconomic disparities but also richness of ethnicity and observed faith. Our 40% minority consists of African, Hispanic, Vietnamese, Pakistani, Indian, and Arabic students–just to name a few. I am lucky to know so many great kids who share so much of their heritage with me.

With that, I’ll share an observation gleaned from my experience working with these kids. The holidays are a wonderful time of year, but they can also be very trying. Suspensions increase in December and January. Unexplained absences occur. Suicide attempts can be more common.

Joyousness is all too often usurped by abuse, neglect, poverty, and unmet expectations among family and friends. Students are burdened by events from outside school, and the weight of these disappointments are so much heavier during the holidays.

Children, of course are not the only ones who suffer despite our best efforts to be merry. Throughout the world starvation, conflict, terror, and fear plague countless masses. We must also bear witness to the challenges they face.

May I impose upon your celebrations for a moment? The call to charity is strong as the weather grows cold. While we should do our best to contribute materially, this is not a request for that brand of donation.

Let me return to an appeal of faith. Let me return to the demands of devotion. No matter your religious beliefs, positive thoughts lead to positive deeds; positive deeds, in turn, lead to positive change.

Please take a moment to offer some sort of spiritual offering to those who need it. It costs you nothing, and there is no risk involved. Even an atheist must admit the beneficence of loving thoughtfulness.

Best Wishes

So here is my humble contribution: as I was raised a Catholic, this year I give alms that honor that tradition–a Novena to St. Jude. Please consider reciting the prayer for someone you know or even for someone you don’t.

Better yet, share a prayer according to your custom in the comments below. Or learn a new one and teach us too. No matter what you believe, leaving your words here will serve as a unique gift that will definitely not be returned to the store. Thanks, and happy holidays.

CyberDecember by PoppaErnie


Ready to buy - via Cyberspace....

CyberDecember The mystique and lure of catalog shopping, plus some other stuff……. Here I sit – the Monday Tuesday Wednesday after Black Friday, well it started as Cyyber Monday, the day of the year people return to work and use their computers to shop. Or at least I think that is the correct definition or description of the day.  Well, I guess no will be pepper sprayed or a target for  a TASER by connecting with some online retailers either by computer or as I prefer, the good old landline phone. After reading a compilation of stories from the BF weekend, I was appalled – what transpired was complete and utter madness.  And all just to save a few dollars on some dumb game for one of those reality electronic systems where you stand in front of your TV and shoot each other,  (I think). Not sure what “games” are available so can’t enlighten anyone there. So, now for my take on shopping – all year I’m on the lookout for either major presents or those pesky stocking stuffers that seem, to me, so difficult to purchase, I just don’t want to pick up some crappy junk – I like my contribution to someone’s stocking to be useful and even perhaps meaningful. My wife and I eschewed major gifts to each other and just do stockings – good enough for me as we will take a couple of trips in the coming year and be involved in other activities that will require some major funding. We both buy for our granddaughters and their parents. We attempt to buy and gifts that are meaningful to them – we do take suggestions – so as not to spend foolishly. Don’t tell Emily, but she  will receive a Radio Flyer red wagon this year – Poppa’s quintessential Christmas gift; Riley got hers a couple of years ago. And I think her Dad and Mom know what they are receiving. And just today, a trip to Wesleyan Potters in Middletown garnered a gift for Aunt Mary’s draw in the family ‘grab-bag’. I actually am going back there;  saw a couple of items that may fit well in a stocking. This is unusual for me as I do not shop local retail stores that often; just mainly for consumables and when I have coupons. This time of year is a bit different all the rules are relaxed yet  looking at what I have already purchased along with my wife’s pile – I’d say 75% of our purchases were via mail order. Then the bottom line – ‘they’ estimate, I reckon that is the Retailers Organizations, that 62 billion dollars was spent over the weekend. Boy, that is some haul – I remember when I was young we received one ‘major’ gift and stocking stuff. My wife told me she and her family received clothing for Christmas, 4 girls, but they too were the recipients of ‘toys’ – bikes, skates and the like. The children of today seem to be showered in a wide assortment of gifts from simple push toys to the latest in electronic gaming (and yet will take the box something came in and if is big enough it becomes an instant “fort”. My granddaughter, for the first time in her 8 years mentioned a specific music system and gaming unit she would be interested in obtaining for Christmas; in prior years nothing piqued her interest, that was always easy enough. Alas,  I had never heard of what she desired until someone told me one thing was like an I-Pod and the other an improvement on ATARI – shows you how old I am. Yet thinking of it, old-age, a fine precursor for bliss! Here’s something pretty obvious – Christmas has blossomed into a retail behemoth – the amount of money spent advertising, both print and TV is astonishing. The newspaper is full of Christmas ads every day, our local daily – prints a special edition on Thanksgiving with ads and the printed word advising you how to get the most out of the time prior to the holiday, of course they want you to spend most of the time shopping, but there are etiquette rules, recipes and gift suggestions. Pretty much missing any reference to the religious aspects of the Holiday. Not that I’m a religious aficionado(for lack of a better term) by any means, but billions, holy cow! I have a collection of family Nativity sets that I display every year, pretty much my religious contribution to the holiday and I do donate money and food to a couple of different LOCAL causes – where I know the goods and cash go straight to needy families and individuals.All this in the spirit of the season and adage ‘better to give than receive’. And, the point of this piece, catalogs sent in the mail. My grandfather, RIP, had a saying around this time of year ‘I get so many catalogs – I must be on every “Sucker” list imaginable’. And he did, for the era – however – I believe my wife and myself receive the most mail on our carr9ers’ route. One day he mentioned he was always glad we were one of the first houses he delivered due to the sheer weight of the catalogs. And, lo and behold my wife just brought in the mail – 12 catalogs and a couple of offers to change my Social Security supplemental insurance. Our record for one day was 22 catalogs; Yipee! Back in the 60’s life was simpler, Christmas decorations did not go up until AFTER Thanksgiving and we received the L. L. Bean and Vermont Country Store catalog regularly – plus a few others, Sears Roebuck, Montgomery Ward and at Christmas a catalog from the Play Pen on Pratt St. every toy imaginable. And I  really do not remember much more. Sure there were some, nothing like now. We still get Beans’ and VCS, both of which we order from – mainly during the holidays – VCS stocks some obscure items. And Beans’ I’m always getting new mocs, shirts etc……and now with free shipping once again and no tax with their quality guarantee – can’t really go wrong.

For low-techer's - most retailers have toll-free numbers...

Nowadays, with the sheer proliferation of catalogs touting: clothing, baked goods (English Muffins) cakes, crumpets, dried fruit, toys, gadgets, hardware, kitchen goods and so much more. So everyday, when the mail arrives I try to weed out the catalogs the wife and I would never order from to ones that may be a possibility. This year, I ordered from a candy manufacturer, the Vermont Country Store (unusual items), a children’s educational toy store (although what I bought could be usurped by a cardboard carton), an stationery/electronics outlet (oops, nope that was STAPLES – bought in person. A clothing store (Beans’), kitchen goods and gadgets catalog and a store selling corn cob smoked meats; I may order from Wolferman’s English muffin catalog – I can HIGHLY recco these items, Yum-O. You will notice that pricing for some goods is really off the wall – but we sort of pull out the stops, not too far, at Christmas. With Wolferman’s I order an assortment of muffins, crumpets and make up 2 or 3 different baskets for good friends. You have to realize that many of the food items are unique to their catalog and not available anywhere else; a point to ponder. And right now – many of the catalogs, two today had a $10 and $20 off coupon on a $50 order – plus reduced shipping – many of the catalogs are offering FREE shipping – always glad to accept a discount. For those last minute Louis and Louise’s some catalog retailers will guarantee Christmas delivery if you order by December 22/23 – however the shipping will not be free and for OVERNIGHT expedited you will get a good hit on your wallet. So, get to it – make your list of the hard to buy and check out a catalog – you may be pleasantly surprised. Sorry to say – have not found a catalog specializing in goods for people who do nothing………

Coming Soon!


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