February 14, 2017

"Spring" is in the air

Something great happened today. 

The Tigers started Spring Training.

Spring Training means that we're not long for spring …
Spring Training means that we're not far from the baseball season …
Spring Training means that somebody somewhere is going to come out of nowhere …
Spring Training means that you get a chance to talk to legends every day …
Spring Training means Al Kaline, Jim Leyland, and Alan Trammell …
Spring Training means one on ones with great writers like Lynn Henning …
Spring Training means thinking back to the stories my grandpa would tell …
Spring Training means short road trips to see other teams playing ball …
Spring Training means running into Al Avila by chance …
Spring Training means warm weather …
Spring Training means the annual Lakeland Chamber of Commerce Tigers Dinner …
Spring Training means Miguel Cabrera in camp for the 10th season …
Spring Training means Justin Verlander has been around for a long, long time …
Spring Training means that anything can happen …Spring Training means
Spring Training means that everyone has the same exact record …
Spring Training means that we have our memories of Brennan Boesch coming out of nowhere …
Spring Training means that Torrey Lovullo and Chris Pittaro will never be forgotten …

Check out this video by Lynn Henning — http://detne.ws/2lgiRco

February 01, 2017

The Piano Man Continues to Ride


"I don't care what you say anymore ... this is my life ..." 
THEN … Cue the jamming piano! 
I have been in a Billy Joel mood lately. It amazes me that he hasn't put out an album of new material (well, rock 'n' roll, that is) since 1993. It's been almost 25 years since he last released a new record. The guy still sells out shows constantly — and he charges a high price for tickets. I haven't seen Billy Joel in concert since, ahem, 1998. So it's been almost 20 years since I've seen him in concert, but the funny thing is that when I last saw him it had been only five years since THE RIVER OF DREAMS had arrived on shelves in August of 1993.

Billy Joel became a favorite of mine in 1978 when I first heard the song "My Life," and subsequently heard the entire album 52nd STREET. As a first grader, it was my favorite record. And I had a few other records and was familiar with my parents' record stash as well.

Anyway, I've been listening to a great deal of Billy Joel lately and even ordered A MATTER OF TRUST: THE BRIDGE TO RUSSIA which was the spiritual sequel to his 1987 concert album recorded in Russia. I don't know why I wasn't interested in it when it came out three years ago, but listening to some stuff including a fan–created eight compact disk set THE ANTHOLOGY, I decided to check it out.

I'm a fan of Billy's oldest and least know material and his latter stuff. I have his material on vinyl, cassette, original CD release, and remastered CD release. I have all of his anthologies, his greatest hits, etc.

I do wish that Billy Joel would put out one more new album.

January 25, 2017

Priority Status


Vanderbilt Area School received a very important phone call last Friday morning. The State of Michigan was in the process of releasing the 2015–2016 School Report Cards at 11 a.m. and the State School Reform Office had an important phone call for VAS. Vanderbilt Area School became a Priority School in 2012, so a plan had to be developed to show how the school would improve its academics. An original plan was submitted to the State, and beginning with the 2012–2013 school year, VAS was a Priority School.

Last year as the school entered its fourth year, rumors persisted that the school would close because of the Priority School status. In fact, the district was told that no school had ever entered its fourth year of Priority status and actually been able to get out of the status. When the student achievement data arrived, the school showed improvement and growth, but the student achievement itself (as well as other intangible factors) was not enough to get the school out of Priority School status.

In September, VAS entered an unprecedented area: fifth year of Priority School status. The school would continue to receive support from the Cheboygan Otsego Presque Isle Educational Service District (COP), based in Indian River. Furthermore, the school would be responsible to report to the School Reform Office and Michigan Department of Education, both located in Lansing. Much additional data and information has to be submitted to both parties to showcase that VAS is working on a plan to improve student achievement data.

Furthermore, the District has worked with Mi-Excel on the Blueprint for Acceleration/Turnaround for the past two years. The belief of Grant Chanler,PhD, who designed the Blueprint, is that in order to sustain improvements in teacher and student performance, we can no longer help one classroom or building at a time. The support the Blueprint provides is to create and install sustainable systems that will impact both teachers and learners, thus student performance.

Vanderbilt officials found out in the fall that they had improved from the third percentile in state performance to the 19th percentile. Rick Heitmeyer, superintendent, had informed key communicators in November that they would be hearing some great news from Vanderbilt soon. It had been expected that the report cards would be released in November, but they were not released until January 20.

“When I found out that the report cards were going to be released publicly in January, I was glad they were finally coming out,” Heitmeyer said. “I knew we would be rolling out some good news.” Heitmeyer added that he was looking forward to the good news becoming public. The good news Heitmeyer planned to release was that the school had made major gains in student achievement.  However, on Friday, Heitmeyer received a phone call that would make the good news even better — Vanderbilt Area School was being released from Priority Status due to the improved student achievement data.

As of Friday, January 20, 2017, Vanderbilt Area School is no longer a Priority School. The label has been lifted.

“Just because we are no longer a Priority School doesn’t mean we are not going to continue to work on the areas we have been working on within the Blueprint for the past couple of years,“ Heitmeyer said. “We have been working on the belief that we are accelerating student achievement rather than turning student achievement around. That has been our focus for the past several months — acceleration.”

Heitmeyer said the District is hoping to continue its relationship with the ESD as well as with the Michigan Department of Education because the pieces have been put into place, but the puzzle is not yet complete.

“Everyone has worked so hard to improve. The Board of Education, the teachers, the support staff, our custodian and bus driver,” Heitmeyer said. “This has been a true team effort. Without everyone working together and going in the same direction, this wouldn’t be possible. In addition, the support we have received from the COP has been incredible.”

Heitmeyer credited the Board for believing in a new vision that focused on all students, the staff for keeping the faith and continuing forward, and the community for embracing changes that allows the school to succeed.

“I also have to give credit to the kids who believe in what the school is trying to do. Without the students giving their best efforts on the State Testing last spring, we wouldn’t be able to celebrate this success!” Heitmeyer added.

He also said the partnership between the school and the COP  has been incredible. He said that the support of COP ESD Superintendent Mary Vratanina, Director of Learning Services Lori Pearson, and  Coach Cindy Hunt as instrumental in the school’s improvement.

“If all goes well, we will continue to partner with the ESD and finish what we have started. We are out of Priority Status but we want to stay out of Priority Status,” Heitmeyer said. “Getting out is step one. We have more work to do, but now we know what we can do when we work together.”

January 02, 2017

Copperhead Road

I've loved listening to music since I was a youngster. Rocking out has always been a part of my life. I especially enjoy songs that tell stories. Therefore, "Copperhead Road" is one of my all–time favorite songs. The whole journey is outlined in the first part of the song:

"Well my name's John Lee Pettimore Same as my daddy and his daddy before You hardly ever saw Grandaddy down here He only came to town about twice a year He'd buy a hundred pounds of yeast and some copper line Everybody knew that he made moonshine Now the revenue man wanted Grandaddy bad He headed up the holler with everything he had It's before my time but I've been told He never came back from Copperhead Road"
 I've often been amazed at the story telling aspect of the lyrics. You could sum up the first few lines as, "My name is John Lee Pettimore III and my family has a history of making moonshine. The IRS was after my grandfather, but that was way before I was born. My grandfather died in a tragic accident up at the cabin, located down Copperhead Road." The way Steve Earle wrote the lyrics, managed the words, and set the scene is pure wordsmithing. I mean we come to like the downtrodden, white trash protagonist of the song. We even root for him when he decides to try something a little different up in the holler.

December 13, 2016

Ticonderoga Days

There are other quality pencils 

I used to be a Ticonderoga #2 specialist. It was the only pencil I would write with. I first encountered Ticonderogas when I was a little kid. I didn't know there were pencils that existed that might even be better than the original Ticonderoga #2.
Until a couple of months ago, I had never heard of a a Jumbo Grip Faber–Castell or a Blackwing. I watched Dan Pink's Pinkcast where he raved about the Faber–Castell. He even directed the viewer to his favorite pencil site on the web, CW Pencil Enterprise. I later found out there is actually a small pencil boutique store in New York City that is the original CW Pencil. I searched around and, ironically, found Pencils.com. Between CW and Pencils, I discovered that a market for quality pencils exists.

As I began my quest for better pencils, I also happened upon a blog that raved about the Blackwing and highlighted what a great pencil it was. I decided I had to give a Blackwing a try but the only place I could find one in Michigan was in Grand Rapids. So one late summer afternoon, Lori and I journeyed to the Urban Center for Contemporary Arts downtown GR and I bought my first couple of Blackwings, plus a Blackwing Longpoint Sharpener.

Suddenly, the days of the Ticonderoga #2 were becoming limited. There's a whole other world of pencils out there that I didn't even know about. I've used some Ticonderogas, Blackwings Golden Bears, and even the Faber–Castell Jumbos. Right now, I'm partial to the Palomino Blackwings and their subscription service.

December 10, 2016


GUNSLINGER: The Remarkable, Improbable, Iconic Life of Brett Favre

I can't believe it was two-and-a-half years ago that I won a contest, but it was. In February 2014, we were on vacation in Florida, down for Spring Training. I'm a big fan of Jeff Pearlman's work and actually had already pre-ordered his new book at the time, SHOWTIME. His contest asked for some PR/Marketing ideas, so I wrote him some ideas that I thought would be cool, even mentioned how my favorite rocker, Kid Rock, could capitalize on these ideas. I entered the contest near the deadline, but I was the chosen winner. Jeff let me know that I had won and even blogged about it. So, now every time he publishes a book, I get a copy. Now, that's a pretty cool contest prize. 

The other day, my autographed copy of GUNSLINGER arrived in the mail. I can't wait to read it as I have read most of Pearlman's books, but definitely the last couple. He does more research than most authors and digs deep into the content. He makes his biographies read like novels and I think that is so key for writers. If you are able to put your reader into the story, it makes the story better and the reading quicker. For example, when reading THE ROCKET THAT FELL TO EARTH, there were times when it was almost like Pearlman was telling "the rest of the story" because we knew the headline and the main story, but now we were reading the truth. 

You can read an excerpt of the new book here. Pearlman even gives his background information on GUNSLINGER in a blog post, if you're interested. 

December 04, 2016

No Longer the Pontiac Pussycats …

Turn the Lions on the TV

For the first time in a long time, I'm planning to watch the Lions' game today. Now, what that really means is that the Lions are about to break our hearts again! When the Detroit Lions suddenly are on everyone's TV set it means that they're doing well. I used to be a die–hard fan and would watch them regularly. As the team faded and started to be worse than usual every season, I quit watching. The "owen" Lions were the last team I watched regularly — I didn't want to miss them messing up and winning a game that year! They have come a long ways from the Millen Days …