Observations & Thoughts


Where is our state getting all this money for road repairs?

To hear the state leaders tell it, we do not have enough money to pave a gravel road, let alone seemingly shut down a large percentage of roads for repair.

However, whenever I have driven in the state for the last few years, I always run into construction. The interstate that runs past my town, maybe at most a half mile from my house, has been under construction for a number of years.

Prior to that, a large segment just a few miles south of here was under construction for years.

The section that runs through the state capital was closed recently. Right through the heart of downtown, and it was not just for a day or two.

Seriously, where is this money coming from, since we have been told numerous times that we do not have the money for road repairs.

It is not just interstates, either. It is all kinds of roads.

A couple of years ago, the state road that I usually travel when I visit one of my daughters was closed because of bridge repairs. No big deal. No one wants to drive over a dangerous bridge.

But earlier this summer the same road was closed again, and this time for a longer stretch. I could neither take that road or the usual alternate U.S. road to get to my daughter’s house. A map could not have helped, either. Fortunately, my son-in-law gave me clear directions using county roads.

I took my son on a day trip a couple of weeks ago. We came home on a U.S. highway. There was major construction, with detours, in two places. One of the construction sites delayed us nearly an hour as we waited in non-moving traffic.

Our state gas tax went up this year. Its purpose is road repair. If I heard the report correctly, it is going to rise every summer for the next decade. All for roads.

To say I do not get it is an understatement, but it is probably not what you think.

My problem is not roads being repaired. I rejoice when we have good roads. What upsets me is that there apparently is little or no coordination between agencies about when roads are going to be under construction.

I understand road repair has to be completed while the weather permits, but if something is going to be closed for just a couple of weeks, or even a month, cannot that repair be done at a different time than a road in the same area?

Why close down more than 1 artery at a time?

The amount of road work being done does amaze me. For some of the roads, like my local interstate, someone is going to have to convince me that this particular road, which traverses the state completely from south to north, will ever be completely open. I do not think that travelers on this road will ever be able to make it through our state without a delay of some kind.

I think that leaves a bad taste in passerby’s mouths.

I am ready for a road construction holiday.

The joy of being healthy; the anguish of not


Who would not want to feel well? Who does not want to be healthy?

Living a healthy life is a pleasure. Rather, I want to say it is a joy.

Who in their right mind would enjoy a headache, a cough, a fever, congestion, arthritis, unrelenting pain, sickness, or anything other than that would make him or her feel less than his or her best?

Some people who have lived generally healthy lives seem to have little or no tolerance for those who suffer, especially those who suffer chronically. At least until something debilitating strikes them as well, and then they become experts on the affliction.

I have been like that at times in my life. In my youth, the concept of sickness or pain somehow did not register with me. At least not in a prolonged sense, or from an aspect that I could not see it as anything more than a very temporary setback.

Nowadays when I walk up or down stairs or for longer distances on a flat surface, and I am free from pain or discomfort, it makes me happy. I think about (no kidding, I actually think about it) how much freedom I am experiencing to be able to do that. Sometimes I give a little skip, but I am always joyful about it and give thanks.

For the past 25 years I have been afflicted on occasion with gout. It struck me at a time that it strikes most men who have it—in my mid to late 30s.

It actually took quite a while to understand what was happening. The first time it happened I just thought it was a case of tendonitis in my Achilles tendon. After it did not go away for 9 weeks, I went to the doctor. He told me it was likely gout.

I ignored it generally, and every once in a while, it would flare up in some degree or another. However, I have had ugly, horrible cases that have confined me to bed or to the couch, being nearly incapable of walking.

The last huge, debilitating case I had was 3 years ago this coming Thanksgiving. My knee swelled up huge. I went to immediate care, which misdiagnosed it, had an MRI completed, was told I had torn my anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), and then I was sent to an orthopedic surgeon, who correctly told me what it was.

This was the worst case I ever experienced. It took me nearly 3 months to recover completely. I walked with a cane for weeks.

Since that time, however, I have changed many things. I have lost 40-45 pounds and kept it off, I have changed some eating habits, and I am fully aware at all times of what goes into my mouth, especially for sugar and protein content. I also drink water all the time, something I have not done most of my life. I flush my system intentionally to keep those toxic buildups at bay.

It has worked, and I plan on keeping it that way.

For me, pleasure and joy come when I can walk without pain, which is most of the time nowadays.

Now I can nearly always walk freer and without pain, excluding the pains that simply come with age. I have had a couple of minor flare-ups in my heels, and I have always been able to trace it to something I overindulged myself.

At the time of this writing I am experiencing a minor flare up, and it was too much cherry cider that has caused it in my left Achilles. It is near its end, and it has not prevented me from doing whatever I want to do.

Now, I can empathize much better with people who suffer regularly from some disease or condition. Pain and sickness affect us mentally and emotionally in a much worse way than many people realize. At some point, most people who have a prolonged pain or illness ask, “Am I going to be like this forever?”

There have been times I felt so hopeless that I cried.

I feel people’s needs greater the longer I live. Like everyone, I have known people who have battled cancer. My father suffered for 2 months before he passed. Others have endured prolonged illnesses that involved a considerable amount of pain. Still others have suffered through incurable diseases, some of them fatal, others not. Some have had terrible, painful accidents.

These are sad conditions, but I say that I truly understand, and I feel for them, and it upsets me.

I remember the severe gout attack a number of years ago that gave me what is I discovered is called arthritic insomnia. I accumulated a grand total of 8 hours of sleep during a 5-day period. Eight hours, that was it. I lay on the couch and stared at the ceiling. I did not want to watch television, I did not want to read (something that never happens normally), and my mind could not clear itself of trying to get rid of the pain, which it could not do. The pills I normally took to relieve me of the pain and swelling had no effect.

So again I ask, who would not want to live well?

Being healthy—without pain and without illness—is truly a pleasure. It is a joy.

I hope today finds you healthy. If not, I hope you will be very soon.


Huck and Jim – where is our adventure?


Last week my son and I took a day trip from southern Indiana to Newport, Kentucky. Our destination was the Newport Aquarium. Newport is directly across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, Ohio.

It is a trip we make nearly yearly, and we make our way by traveling to Louisville, Kentucky (a trip of 9 miles from our home), along US 42 all the way to Newport.

US 42, or River Road, as it is called at the beginning, follows the Ohio River in the length of our trip.

At one particular place during the trip, I looked out upon the Ohio River, and I thought of Huckleberry Finn and Miss Watson’s slave Jim. In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck escapes from his pap, and Jim escapes from his owner, Miss Watson. Together, they travel by raft down the Mississippi River, having numerous adventures. Jim’s purpose is to escape to the North and gain his freedom.

The numerous times I have read the book, I have marveled at the interesting times, the danger, the excitement not only of Jim’s promised land of liberty, but of each of the character’s freedom on board the raft.

Of course, that part of the story is a metaphor about America, its youthfulness at that time, discovering itself, encountering danger, surviving, having misfortunes, and keeping pursuance of its dreams.

I then thought about my early teen years in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I remembered some of the ways I discovered adulthood, some of the really idiotic things I did, and how through it all, it remained an adventure, complete with victories and defeats, and learning how to navigate through life as an adult.

Most of us, as we grow older, look back on the period of time when we transitioned from childhood to adolescence to adulthood, and not only do we wonder how we survived, but we also cherish certain parts of it. We also bury things we never want to remember again.

Then I thought of today, and the things young people have to do. Floating on a raft down the Mississippi River certainly was fraught with certain dangers, but those were of a different kind than dangers youth face today. You know the litany: drugs, sex, violence, abuse, alcohol, etc.

I also believe I understand that sailing down the Internet River for young people today is as close as they are going to get to Huck and Jim’s grand adventure. This trip has many more dangers than the trip down the Mississippi carried.

The Mississippi was ever-changing in its routes and paths and currents, and people had to be wary of where they were sailing, floating, or steam boating. The rise or fall of the river added to the complexity of the trip as well.

The internet is also changing by the minute, but in many different ways. There is no current to follow, and many dark coves, such as pornography, exist in remote places. People can get into these coves and get lost.

Of course, the days of floating down the Mississippi are the past, never to return, as are the days of the 1960s and early 70s.

I think the childishness, the discovery of life, like Huck and Jim experienced, is gone from our society for a long time, if not forever. The children of America are exposed to a horrible amount of “reality” from an early age, and it steals their childhood and innocence way too soon. Much of this “reality” comes from computer simulation and games, but also from dysfunctional homes and from society as a whole.

We herd the youth of our nation to become adults and to become serious at a much earlier age. Perhaps that is a permanent change to our culture.

Huck and Jim are classic characters from American literature. Sadly, not many of our young teens – the age Huck was –  would even consider reading about them. It would be too tame and “boring.” Many of them have bypassed the stage where they are allowed to have fun and to daydream past the time they enter school.

Danger, danger, everywhere!


In Mark Twain’s essay The Danger of Lying in Bed, Twain took to task the people of his time who saw danger where relatively no danger existed. In his day, many people were afraid of traveling by train because of some train wrecks. Using extreme extrapolation, these people concluded that everyone who rode a train was putting themselves in grave danger.

To combat this overactive imagine and logic, Twain simply pointed out that more people died in their beds than by any other method. Therefore, according to Twain, beds were putting more people in danger than anything else in the world, and if everyone wanted to avoid dying, simply stay out of beds.

Naturally, that was a ridiculous prescription, but he made his point.

We need to take his point today as well.

Social media has had an abundance of well-meaning but rather ridiculous things posted regularly. People want to warn their friends and neighbors to avoid doing something commonplace because there is a dangerous dark side to that event. You might want to get up-to-date on the following:

Don’t use file folders. Some unnamed man in Folemont, Pennsylvania, got a paper cut when using a file folder. He later got an infection and lost a hand.

Beware of fruit-based juices. Everybody loves fruit juices, right? A woman in South Dakota poured orange juice in a glass. Apparently, there was a live venomous spider that had survived for months in the lid of the bottle of orange juice. She did not know she was drinking it, and it bit her. She nearly died.

Never let your child jump rope. The repetitive action of jumping in a single place made a 6-year-old girl blow out both her knees. Do not let this happen to your child.

Remember the hand sanitizer scare? Children will ingest it and become inebriated because it has a high alcohol content. Keep that stuff under lock and key. Supervise hand sanitizer use with children.

The list goes on and on. You will probably see a warning on social media this week. A friend is looking out for you.

Are people simply that gullible? Sadly, it appears so.

In non-dangerous stuff, how many times have you read on social media that a famous person, such as Morgan Freeman, has died?

How old are John F. Kennedy, Elvis Presley, and Adolf Hitler now that we have been told they are still living? You know, they have really been in hiding from the world.

Miracle foods and drinks, magic hair restorers, all the products of overnight infomercials. The pitchmen guarantee they all work, and they do even better than what we were originally told.

A television show of the 1970s titled Fernwood 2 Night had a segment once about the dangers of wearing leisure suits. On the show, a local college professor dressed hundreds of lab rats in leisure suits, and many or most of these rats developed cancer. Of course, this was farce, but poignant nonetheless. Nor was it mentioned that as part of the project the lab rats smoked multiple packs of cigarettes per day. But the leisure suit was the problem.

What is on the cancer list today? Bacon again? Nearly all food not vegetable in content? Cellphones, wireless devices, wearing clothes that are too tightly fitting?

The mine for coming up with new dangers has barely been explored. There will be something soon, though. Very soon.

There are some things in life we should have a healthy fear of. We should pull our hands away from the hot stove. We should never play with a gun, even if we know “the safety is on and it’s not even loaded.” Things like this are common sense.

Increasingly becoming more afraid to live our lives because of incessant (and often unverified and ridiculous) warnings is mindless. A worse consequence is that we become desensitized to actual, verifiable red flags. We stop heeding good advice. We increase our chances of becoming a victim of something we genuinely could have prevented.

I think I will continue sleeping in bed, even though most people still die there. My father died in bed, as did his brothers, my grandmothers, a grandfather, and 3 aunts.

Decision Paralysis


An amazing phenomenon has transpired from the time I was a child in the 1960s to today. That phenomenon is, primarily due to the information age, people now have to make many more choices than say, 50 years ago.

Consider this. As a person growing up in the sixties where I lived, we had 4 choices of what to watch on television. In my household, in actuality, we had only 2 choices. We lived in an area that had an NBC station, a CBS station, an ABC station, and a PBS station. However, in our home, we only watched NBC and CBS. ABC was at that time on a lower tier. And no one in my house watched anything on PBS.

CBS was our first choice, and most programs we watched were on that channel. It was not until my teens that a new, independent station came on the air for part of the day. Sign-on was 3:00 p.m., and it went off the air sometime during or right after prime time.

If we did not like what was on those stations, we turned the set off and usually went outside and played. We could also choose to read. Either that, or we watched whatever was on even if we did not like it. At no time during a program did we change the channel.

Today, I have hundreds, possibly thousands, of choices to make concerning what to watch. Even though I have cut the cable cord, I subscribe to a non-cable or non-satellite service where I can still get those same channels. Plus, there are seemingly countless apps I can use to watch practically any type of entertainment or informative program I desire.

Yet, I find myself at times disappointed or dissatisfied about the myriad of choices I have. I have heard myself grumble in my mind, “There’s nothing on to watch.”

With that many choices, how can I be unhappy? Can I not simply find something and watch it? Why do I find myself constantly switching, looking for something a little more entertaining?

Graphic designer Chip Kidd provides us with words of wisdom that I believe can give us some insight. “You can be crippled by too many choices, especially if you don’t know what your goals are.”

So, the problem might be that we have too many choices? Couple that with not having something particular in mind before embarking on something? Can too many choices end up being a bad thing?

In the 1960s and 70s I generally listened to my favorite baseball team on the radio. Occasionally they were on the Saturday afternoon game of the week, and I actually got to watch them. That was a treat. The television dial never moved an inch while that baseball game was on. My viewing goal was fixed. I searched for nothing else, even if the game was out of hand early.

Switch to today. Just last night my wife and I were watching a DVD. While this was happening, I also watched a baseball game on my phone. A little later, I switched to my Kindle Fire because it had a larger screen. After our DVD finished, I switched between watching The Big Bang Theory and the baseball game on our high definition television.

I could also listen to the game over the air on my radio, but who listens to radio anymore? By the way, listening to a baseball game is still my favorite way to take in a game, other than in person. But my phone or my Kindle provides a much better sound than my radio. Actually, my Amazon Echo device or Amazon Show device gives even better sound. Or my Echo Dot connected by bluetooth to a Bose speaker gives an equally great sound.

I have too many choices, and our electronic and information revolution, I fear, has made us all impatient listeners and viewers, for I constantly switch from one thing to another. A commercial in a show means seeking something new to watch for 3-5 minutes.

Do we become crippled, as Kidd says, by too many choices? It can be frustrating for sure.

And this is not confined to watching TV or listening to something audibly. There are so many choices in life now for us that it can be mind-boggling. Which one of those 43 vacuum cleaners should I buy? How do I sift through the hundreds of options on 16 vehicles so that I can get the best automobile? Etc., etc.

Life is not going back to a simpler time. I guess we simply need to have a goal in mind what we want to do or buy or obtain.

One thing is for certain. No matter what choice we make, we will usually find something better out there at a later date.

I guess it takes a courageous person today to make choices.


Reading is fundamental

A public service announcement on both television and radio from the late 1960s and early 1970s promoted the idea that Reading Is Fundamental. RIF for short.

Being a middle school English teacher, I subscribe to that philosophy. There are too many scientific studies that have conclusively determined that reading is the most educationally important skill a person should learn at a young age. Without the ability to read, a person is destined to frustration, certainly in all things education, but more importantly in life, generally speaking.

Yes, there are anecdotal stories about poor readers who become CEOs and powerful and influential people. Those are the exceptions, however. Using today’s terminology, those people have beaten the metrics. They are rare.

In the book To Kill a Mockingbird, the narrator, a 6-year-old girl named Scout, has a small crisis. She went to school already knowing how to read. Her teacher, a young, first-year teacher, did not like this, and she demanded that Scout cease reading with her father at night. The teacher’s claim was that Scout learned incorrectly and it would ruin Scout’s reading, along with the belief the teacher now had to break Scout of learning to read without professional instruction so that she could re-teacher the girl how to read “correctly.”

Scout struggles with the idea, mainly because reading has been natural to her. In actuality, she learned to read all by herself, without her father’s instruction. She makes an amazing statement.“Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”

I know many people who love to read. I love to read. I tell my students that I read for 20-30 minutes every morning, and 20-30 minutes before I go to bed. It seems that I simply cannot not read before retiring, regardless of how late I get home and climb into bed.

Scout was right. It is like breathing. It is food for my mind and soul. My morning soul food is the Bible, usually 5 chapters. Evening reading consists of a book I am reading for pleasure, or a book I have assigned to my students.

Of course, I have a wide variety of students in my class, some of them very good readers, and on the opposite end, some who struggle with comprehension because they are challenged with sounding out the words.

I would like to say that I feel sorry for the struggling readers, and in an educational sense I do. I also realize that they are going to find something in life that excites them as much as reading does me. To that end, our objective as teachers is to help students discover their life’s passion, their life’s work, even if has little to do with reading.

Regardless, everyone has to be able to follow instructions, follow what is written on a computer screen, know how to read leases and fill out job applications, and a myriad of other things that require reading ability.

One of the saddest moments in my life occurred when I was working in the office of a plant that manufactured shipping containers. The business was adding a shift on a particular machine and needed 4 more employees. The prospects had to come to our main office window, get an application, fill it out, and turn it in before leaving.

I left for lunch one day, and the outer office was full. Three or four people in the group were sitting there, attempting to fill out the application, but who could not read. They had brought a friend or relative with them to read the application and fill it out for them. Needless to say, they were not considered for the job, for after filling out an application, they had to take a written test of basic skills privately. The test consisted of simple reading and math skills, each of which were necessary to work the job.

Certainly, some of these applicants could have done the work, but they had no chance. It made me sad.

The PSA was correct. Reading Is Fundamental.


Slowing down – a little bit


Those of you who have read any Shakespeare probably know The Seven Ages of Man, depicted in the image above.

In big picture terms, our lives are linear, moving inexorably from beginning to end. During that span of years we delineate as our lives, there come changes. Some are quite dynamic, others sneak up on us and catch us apparently unaware.

I love my job, and I have no plans of retiring in the near future. My goal is to work another 9 years. At that time I will turn 70 years old.

Thankfully, I still have the physical and mental abilities to perform at a high level. Certainly, I have had physical challenges over the past few years. What person does not in his or her fifties? Three years ago I suffered from an extremely bad case of gout, something from which I have suffered since my thirties. I missed 3 days of school then, mainly because I could not walk, and the pain was intense. Counting those 3 days, I have only missed 4 1/2 days in the past 13 years because of illness. However, an intentional change of diet, and a loss of 40-45 pounds has apparently been the answer.

But the changes keep coming, and this year I have made 2 decisions that will help me adjust to my stage of life. First, I will not being rising in the morning as early as I have been for the past 13 years. I am going to be sleeping in until 6:00 a.m. every morning, instead of groping about in the darkness at 4:45 or so. This means I will not be getting to school as early, nor bearing the responsibilities I have had where I have been on duty since about 7:00 a.m.

Sleeping in until 6:00 will mean that I will not have to be in bed by 9:00-9:30 p.m. each night as well. It has seemed like I have missed a lot of life going to bed that early.

The second decision I have made involves sports writing. Last year I went to high school sporting events and wrote sports write-ups for football, basketball, and baseball for a friend’s website. I have been involved in sports since I can remember, and I enjoyed writing again after a few years’ break. However, most of the time it meant not being in bed before midnight. I could keep that schedule 30 years ago when I took up the task of sports writing. Not any more.

I feel far from the last 2 ages of man. I do feel the practical effects of getting older, however. Sometimes I look in the mirror in the morning, and I see the effects of getting older as well.

There is a rather poignant episode of Rod Serling’s classic TV series The Twilight Zone, titled Changing of the Guard. It deals with aging and being forcibly put out to pasture. It details the mental and emotional effects on a person whose time to quit had come, but he did not know it.  I highly recommend it to all my teaching colleagues, and anyone else whoever doubts the impact that their life has made any difference.

I plan on a very enjoyable end of this fifth stage that I believe I am in, however long that may be. I plan on finishing it with all the energy I can muster. I never want to coast. If I find myself doing that, I will have to consider calling an end to what I do. Right now, though, I am  filled with enthusiasm and new ideas.

Also, I am ready to make adjustments so that I can finish the race in the best fashion possible.


A visit home


Summertime for teachers is rolling to an end, and so we find ourselves attempting to squeeze one more day into our schedules just for ourselves.

Actually, school work for the upcoming school year has already begun. For some people I know and with whom I work, the current school year simply stops one day and the next day the next year begins.

My wife and I decided to make a trip to Lawrence County, Indiana today. It is my “home” place to be, the place I want to go when I want to get away from everyday life. Our usual trip takes us to Amish farmers to buy fresh produce, to an orchard called Applacres, and to the most home place of my home place, Spring Mill State Park. Lawrence County is the place I will be buried when my time has finished. I will rest in the Burton family cemetery in Mitchell. It is located on a road called Burton Cemetery Road.

My family derives from Lawrence County. They came here from North Carolina around 1820, and they were a huge family when they arrived. In the 1850 census there were about 1,800 Burtons in Lawrence County and adjacent Orange County. My father was born in Lawrence County, and he lived there for about 10 years or so before the family moved to Jeffersonville. His old house stood until just a few years ago.

My parents took us to Spring Mill often when I was a child. At that time the ice-cold lake was still open for swimming, and I spent many summer holidays freezing in it. Going to Spring Mill is likely the fondest of my remaining childhood memories.

So it was with great joy we ventured an hour’s drive northwest today, and we visited all of our usual spots. We returned home with a dozen ears of sweet corn, tomatoes, peppers, and green beans from our Amish friends. All were fresh from the fields.

An interesting tidbit from the Amish farm was that there was a huge piece of equipment near the house. They were having a well dug so they did not have to go traipsing through one of their back fields to an existing well any more to get water. They had been digging for three days, and they found water at 110 feet today, so the family there is happy. They also discovered a cave as they were digging. That is not unusual for Lawrence County. It is filled with caves, mainly due to the limestone structure of big parts of the county.

We also arrived home with some goods from the orchard: cherry-flavored cider, some Amish wheat bread, chocolate-covered peanuts and chocolate stars, and a huge watermelon from Vincennes (it was the smallest they had; the three of us will have a difficult time eating it all.)

Next came a quick stop at the Mitchell Dollar Tree for school things for Denise and me, and some things for Michael (Dollar Tree is his favorite store in the world; he is a big believer in quantity over quality.)

Finally, we went into Spring Mill State Park and ate the at Inn, something we do a handful of times a year.

Determined not to end the day so quickly, we drove home an alternate route, through Orleans, then onto an 11-mile stretch to Livonia, and then back to Salem to reconnect on our usual route home.

We did nothing extravagant, and spent very little money (the produce from the Amish are priced really well; we got a dozen ears of fresh corn for $3.00.) All this to create a long-lasting memory.