Monday, July 28, 2008

Bush Mania - updated with video

Just taking a moment to post some of my fav pics from the Bush/Schock fundraising event today. It was phenomenal! Standing room only crowd of over 1400 people in a lovely air-conditioned tent about the size of a football field out at Weaver Farm.

Aaron Schock and the President were introduced at the same time and walked on stage together. I can't imagine that young man has ever had a more exciting moment in his life. The Presidents demeanor was very folksy, at times quite passionate, and every word he uttered had the crowd riveted. He spoke of the economy, international relations, his daughter's wedding, and of course, the candidacy of Aaron Schock and John McCain! He quipped that, after meeting the extensive Schock family, Aaron just needs to make sure they all vote and he'll be a "shoe in".

Lee Greenwood performed for almost an hour before the President's appearance, and sang his classic hit "I'm proud to be an American" immediately upon the President's departure. Oh, be still my beating heart.

We had great seats since I booked so late that there wasn't table space left. No problem, we just pulled a few chairs up next to the stage and that is how I got the awesome pics!

A big thank you to HOI News and Peoria Illinoisan for providing the following video clips:

HOI 5:00pm NEWS Coverage

HOI 10:00PM News Coverage

President Bush was a real sport. As you can see in these photos, he waved as I was taking photos, and then afterwards, worked his way over in my direction and asked "where is my friend over here"? Referring to me! I swear!

The secret service presence was quite intimidating. When I slipped out for my restroom break SWAT teams were all over the place. Not a good time to make any sudden moves or do anything cute-sy, so I moved v-e-w-y deliberately to and from my seat.

Funniest moment was when I had to pee, and the dang secret service wouldn't let me pee. Finally, I had no choice and told the guy if necessary I'd pee right in front of him and he relented. Whew.

Jen interviewed me after the event and asked if it was worth it. Absolutely, I told her. Every penny.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Local: Still Swingin...

Many of our District 150 watch group were present at the last board meeting when Hinton proudly declared a victory with the State Board of Education for approving, in terms of state funding, their argument that a 1/2 day student improvement day could be utilized for teacher collaboration every single week. I foia'd and received copies of the correspondence with Mr. Darren Reisberg of the ISBE. Obviously, Mr. Hinton gets along very well with our friends at the State, and I'm glad that they are all glad that everyone had such great Holidays. Mind you, this is also the same rubber stamp outfit that just approved hundreds of bogus grants for fraudulent after school programs in the Chicago area. Last weeks Chicago Tribune reported:
"lawmakers funneled money through the Illinois State Board of Education, which rubber-stamped the choices.

Nearly half of the 48 groups that got money this past school year for "after school programs" were running dubious programs, or declined to show how they spent the money. Only 11 of the grants went to established programs with a history of tutoring or mentoring school-age children.

The state board oversight remains so feeble, in fact, that education officials in three cases handed out money to programs where felons, one a convicted murderer, worked with children."

What, you may ask, does this have to do with Peoria?

Because THESE are the same geniuses who just agreed to allow our District to distort the school code to deliver cutting edge precedent of reducing our children's time in school. Does anyone really think that our friends at the state feel responsible for the well-being of Peoria children? They obviously do not. That is a responsibility reserved entirely for our local board of education.

Our friends at the state confirmed that we are the ONLY district in the entire state that utilize 1/2 day student improvement days every single week. Is this something we should be proud of? Is this a concept that is so advanced, so trendsetting that other districts haven't discovered it yet? Of course not. No other district does it because it is clearly the wrong approach to providing common planning time for teachers.

Part of my FOIA included a request for the material presented to the state by the District to argue for the weekly 1/2 day student improvement day.

Leafing through it, I am incredulous. Did anyone from within the District even read it? In the dozens of examples cited of school districts around the nation, relatively few reduced the school day for the children, and none to the degree that is in the works for 150. Virtually every one of the districts referenced made time throughout the day for common planning. How did they do this? Exactly the way our group suggested back in April in our alternative proposals for teacher collaboration.

Another concern is the slant the District is painting for the support of early dismissal Wednesday. Mr. Hinton stated at the last board meeting that he had received numerous e-mails from teachers - 15 - 1 voicing support for Wednesday's early release. I doubted these claims, because our group has talked with hundreds of teachers, and we have met few in support. So about 2 weeks ago I foia'd the e-mails that Mr. Hinton referenced. I still have not seen them. If they exist, it is a simple matter to hit "fwd" on your desktop. District 150 should not be misrepresenting the level of community support for the shortened day.

This should also pertain to claims made by some on the board, and they know who they are, that there is only a vocal minority opposing this idea. If they truly believe that they need to look their sphere of influence in the eye and tell them to quit bull****ing them.

Once again, I strongly urge Peoria Public Schools to table the implementation of Wacky Wednesdays and the harmful consequences that can result, until they have the opportunity to properly plan for and implement common planning time the way it was intended to be implemented.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Sell your stuff on EBAY for our furry friends

From the Summer 2008 edition of "Pawprints" - the newsletter of the Peoria Humane Society:
You can now sell an item on eBay and donate some or all of the selling price to the Peoria Humane Society to benefit the animals. Through eBay Giving Works, you can list your items on eBay and donate from 10 - 100% of the proceeds from the sale to the Peoria Humane Society. Your items will appear with all other listings on eBay, and feature a charity ribbon and information about PHS so buyers know that you and they are supporting a good cause. You complete the transaction as usual, but MissionFish, the dedicated solution provider for the program, will collect the donation from you and pass it on to PHS. Go to, and they will walk you through the easy selling steps.

Another suggestion: cut out the Ebay and shipping expenses, go to the Peoria, and list your item there. A Craigslist listing is free and easy. I can help you if you need it. Then write your own check and send it or deliver it to the hardworking staff at PAWS yourself. You can specify how you want your donation spent. I always asked for it to be used on the personal comfort of the animals - Kong toys, dog biscuits, sleeping mats, etc., but there is also a big need for spay/neuter clinics, public education and so much more.

This is a great way to assist in managing the Peoria County pet overpopulation, particularly if there is no room in your home for pet adoption. Give it a shot, then report back here. Guaranteed to make you feel all warm and squishy inside.

Video of our family reunion this weekend...

Here's a short video clip from the family reunion on my Mom's side this past weekend. She's a good 'ol farm girl, and proud of it. I love you, Mom!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Peoria Historical Society reports internal theft of $13,000

From a letter to the General Membership of the Peoria Historical Society:

Earlier this week, Executive Director Amy Kelly discovered that at least $13,000 is missing from one of our bank accounts. Our most recent hire is also missing. Records indicate check forgery, unauthorized use of an ATM card, and undeposited cash receipts.

According to the letter, a police report has been filed and an investigation is underway. The Historical Society fears they may not be able to recoup the majority of these funds. In the interim, they have changed locks, passwords and security codes and cancelled credit cards and accounts and filed claims.

This breaks my heart and I'm sure many others as well. The director, staff and board members work tirelessly and often on their own time to preserve Peoria's rich and colorful history. At a time when operating costs are increasing and membership renewals are more important than ever, this is no doubt a huge blow to their efforts and morale.

Just last week I was visiting with Amy Kelly and new board member Cory Eller at the Pettengill-Morron house. We were brainstorming ideas for fundraisers to pay for some much needed window work.

If you have ever thought of joining the Historical Society, now is the time. A family membership is a mere $35. per year, or one pizza night. The rewards to you will be infinite. Remember, if we don't cherish and embrace our history, who will some day care about us?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Gas prices killing ya? Find a "walkable" neighborhood

Here is a cool website that lets you rate the "walkability" factor of any neighborhood. The site uses an algorythm to calculate the distance of a specific residence to amenities such as grocery stores, schools, parks, churches, etc. Then it scores the "walkability" from 1 - 100.

Our personal residence didn't fare so well. We scored a 26 out of 100. Geesh. No wonder we just broke down and bought a Honda Civic. On the other hand, I plugged in my Mother-in-Laws former residence on Willow Lane by Sheridan Village, and it scored a 76, or "very walkable".

The website goes on to rate some of the highest rated walkable neighborhoods in the country. There are quite a few around Chicago, and New York City scored very high on the walkability scale as well.

This will be a great tool to promote some of my more "walk-able" listings. On the other hand if the home doesn't score that well, well, we'll just fughetaboudit.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

President George W. Bush to visit P-Town

OK maybe his approval ratings aren't the greatest but I am still psyched that the President of the United States is visiting our humble little town. How cool is that? Here is the full story. My apologies to the PJStar for stealing their photo. We just don't have the $5K they are looking for to snap our own.

Anyhoo, John and I are kicking this around a little bit and he says he is definitely in, so that is $500 bucks out of the old checking account. So then I have to decide if we wanna pony up a cool $1K for me to go too. I wonder if they would consider a 2 for 1 deal? Hmmmm.. I wonder if we could get credit for any campaign contributions already made to the Schock campaign? And I wonder whose "private residence" it is? I'd offer up our digs if we didn't have to spend the thousand bucks.

Then the Journal Star reports that a pic with the Prez is $4,500 bucks, and when I refreshed the page it is up to $5000. I understand inflation but that's ridiculous. I wonder what the chances would be of getting a quickie snapshot with my Krazer?

And would Aaron have to pay himself $4,500 for a pic with the Prez, or will that be thrown in as a freebie? Maybe he'll get like a 50% off deal.

All these questions. If anyone gets any of the details on this little gig please post them here. I'm wondering how many people they expect. Will it be standing room only or a cozy little fireside chat? Somethin tells me we are going to be $1,000 poorer to find out.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Meanwhile, down in the bayou...

Widely acclaimed School Reformer Paul Vallas is kicking butt and taking names in New Orleans. Remember him? He's the guy that received nation-wide acclaim for turning troubled school districts around. Last year, Mayor Jim Ardis struck up a friendship with Mr. Vallas, who then turned around and offered Peoria District 150 his expert (and I mean expert) advice for nothing! Well Mr. Hinton et al. would have NONE of that. His nose got so disjointed that he had everyone around him scurrying for cover. Mr. Vallas high tailed it out of Peoria and I'm sure didn't look back once. There is plenty of demand around the nation for the likes of him. Why waste effort on a District where he is not welcome?

Here is a link to How Mr. Vallas is doing in New Orleans. His students are demonstrating remarkable improvements in student achievement despite the fact that they are recovering from a pesky little natural disaster.

I found this excerpt particularly notable under the circumstances:

Mr. Vallas was known as a hard-driving reformer in Chicago and Philadelphia. After a year as the Recovery School District superintendent in New Orleans, the tireless worker has lengthened class days, decreased class sizes, and increased classroom technology. He is also helping create schools that revolve around themes like the arts and technology.

Contrast this to the policies of D150 who just shortened our school day as well as approved cuts to our arts and technologies before they came to their senses. It would be humourous if the consequences weren't so danged serious.

So as Peoria D150 continues to search for their hiney with both hands and citizens continue to debate a topic that doesn't make a hill of beans difference as far as the children of Peoria are concerned, Peorians are looking at at least 2 more years of virtually the same output.

After the dramatics of the last several board meetings, and listening to Spangler argue that they are on the crest of something so spectacular that they should cut time out of the middle school day too... I can't help but walk away with a feeling of profound sadness. Where are our community leaders in all of this? Behind closed doors, they snicker and roll their eyes. Has everyone just given up? Is poverty and disinterest so extreme that it is beyond hope? Well, I don't think it is, and I doubt Mr. Vallas does either.

Conditions are ripe for the city of Peoria and our once grand old neighborhoods to make a comeback. There is a renewed interest in walkable "urban-ism", crime stats appear to moving in the right direction, and I sense a renewed pride in our city. With gas well over $4.00 per gallon and no end in sight, there is a compelling argument to be made for urban dwelling. It seems the only thing stopping us is the perceived quality of our city schools. Unfortunately, the attitude of D150 is if you don't like it leave - and they are serious! They view it largely as their own, for the district, by the district - community be damned.

We need a knight in shining armour. Will it be the mayor? Will it be a united Council? Might it be a coalition of area employers, or better yet, all of the above? Who is going to be a hero to our children? Who is going to step up to the plate and demand better administration, leadership and accountability from our schools? Everyone says they "love kids". The "kids come first". If I ever hear someone say that in the same paragraph as a shortened school day again I am going to throw up on their leather shoes or their Reeboks or maybe both at the same time.

If you "love kids", then lets walk the walk and talk the talk. Put your ego and your pride on a back burner and either welcome Vallas back to Peoria or get out of the way.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Blog Dedication - In memory of Deb

We just returned from a weeklong sojourn to the Chicago area. We laid to rest my brothers wife, my beloved Siser-in-law, Deb, after her 2 1/2 year battle with colon cancer. Deb was a frequent commenter to this blog, and a very dear personal friend to me.

Growing up, I recall how my brother, Steve and I were inseparable. We were 11 months apart in age, so whether I liked it or not, he was always there. We played and laughed together, cried together, fought with each other, and experienced life's ups and downs together, but one thing was for sure - he always had my back.

We have a special bond that eludes many siblings, and no matter how busy we get, how immersed in our own lives we become, when Steve and I talk - we are just the same 2 kids playing under a sprinkler in Pittsburgh.

When Steve started dating, I always felt in a subconscious sort of way that I had an official power of "veto" over his dates. As you can imagine, there were many "veto's" through the years, but when Steve introduced us to Debbie, that all changed. When our family met Deb, we fell in love with her too. How could you not? Her smile was electric, her optimism was inspiring- but best of all, she laughed heartily at my jokes - even the not so good ones. I was almost as happy as my brother the day he made her his wife. On that day, Deb became a sister to me in every sense of the word.

Last Monday, Deb sent my brother away from her hospital bed. She told him to go home and get some much needed sleep. Around midnight, she rang the call bell for the nurse and the nurse assisted her to the restroom. Upon returning her to bed, Deb, true to form, hugged the nurse and told her she loved her. Sometime within the next hour she answered the call from Our Lord. She left behind my brother, her beloved husband of nearly 20 years, her daughter and my God-child, Steph, 16, and my nephew, Jim, 13.

Debbie was someone who always put everyone else's needs above her own. Even as her life's journey was nearing it's end, her only concern was for the comfort and peace of those who loved her. Her grace and dignity will be legendary in our family. In fact, when the girls in our family talk, we have coined new phrases. To be "Debbie-like" means, to do the right thing. "What would Debbie do?" is our code phrase for -"What is the right decision in this case?" Debbie has shown by example that there is a higher plateau of spirituality and behavior - but a level that few of us achieve.

Jimmy, Stef, and Steve - You have many difficult days ahead of you. There will be times when you will feel you cannot bear your despair. It will be at these moments, that if you close your eyes, open your heart and soul, lift your hands to the Heavens - you shall feel Debbie's presence. Listen to her words soothe you, feel her hands stroking you, she will be there with you. Just trust in the Lord and trust in her. She will feel your pain and stand beside you to to comfort you.

Jim and Stef, in a few short years you will be heading off to college. Many exciting opportunities await you. It will be frightening and exhilarating all at the same time. Often you will be faced with some significant decisions. Your mother has helped to prepare you to make the right ones. It will be her spirit that guides you as you choose appropriately. There will be times that you make a wrong decision. She will still be there beside you, you just might not be listening.

I predict there will be times when you feel angry that life and God took your Mom and your wife away too soon. We are only human, so do not deny or feel guilt over these feelings. Just remember that in life, she experienced the most profound joy, the deepest of love, the most spiritual of understandings. All of this has been her gift to the world. Debbie has changed all of our lives, and we will never be the same. She has passed her torch to two shining stars, who I have no doubt will proudly carry her grace and wisdom in to the future and beyond.

From this day forward, every breath I take, every word I write, I will strive to live to her standard. I dedicate my entire blog, past, present and future, to her memory. May she rest in eternal peace.