Are you Mr. Gels?

“Are you Mr. Gels?”

It was a Sunday evening, and my wife and I were sitting in a restaurant, enjoying a late dinner.  As coincidence would have it, the meal we were eating was paid for with an end-of-the-year student gift card, and I knew immediately the guy standing in front of me was student related as well.  

The “Mr. Gels” was sort of a big clue.

“I am, yes,” I said, rising to my feet.

He introduced himself, and I frantically flipped through my mental Rolodex of former students during the second or so before he told me his son’s name. Just as he was telling me, I actually found it, which was sort of amazing since most of the cards in that Rolodex were nearly blank.

I have a confession: I’m terrible at remembering student names.  I’m blessed with the ability to retain positive memories, and I remember snippets of conversations and interactions, but it’s rare that I remember a name from more than a year or two ago.  And when I come face to face with a former student?  Well, it doesn’t help that they don’t look like a third-grader any more!

“Wow, how’s he doing?” I asked, genuinely glad to hear of him.

“He’s doing really well,” he replied.  “He’s graduating early and heading off to college in the fall.  He’ll be staying with his grandparents while he goes to school.”

“That’s great, I’m really happy to hear that!”

A quick moment of uncomfortable quiet fell between us as he seemed to search for something to say.  We both stood there, my wife looking up at us politely.  I was about to ask what his son would be studying when dad changed the direction of the conversation.

“You know, your class was really a turning point for him.” 

Now it was my turn to seem to search for something to say.

He continued. “Third grade was when he found out he could do school.  After that, he started to do a lot better and really turned things around.”

I didn’t know how to reply to that, and I don’t remember what I eventually came up with.  He told me that his son is working nearby for the summer, in case I wanted to drop by and see him.  I hope to do just that.  We talked for just a few more minutes before he walked away and we returned to our meals. 

It was quite a while, I have to say, before that smile left my face.

An aside: While I’m still Mr. Gels, I suppose, I’m not “Mr. Gels” in a classroom anymore. I’ve retired and taken a position as the education director for the Land Trust of North Alabama. Change, they say, is inevitable.

A Hike to Remember

I have to say, I don’t remember the hill.  Yet, there it was, the trail dropping away from us at what seemed like a precipitous slope.  

Okay, the trail was an asphalt path at least ten feet wide, and the slope wasn’t really that steep, but it was still enough to give me pause.  It wasn’t, however, enough to give my dad pause.  

Off he went. 

Here’s the thing, though: The last time I walked this path near my parent’s house in Ohio, I was getting exercise during my extended stay for my father’s open heart surgery.  

And now here he was, walking down that path.  We didn’t go too far, and we didn’t go too fast, but he was walking it. 

It was a nice little hike, and I hope to do it again sometime soon. 

Let’s Go for a Walk

I’m always eager to see their feet. 


I got out of my little truck, gathered my daypack and hiking stick, and headed toward the group that was – strangely enough, I still think – waiting for me.  

And from a distance, I glanced at their feet.


March is a month of unpredictable weather in Alabama.  Within a span of hours, the weather can go from sunny and 70 degrees to snowy and 20, and that’s something that can happen more than once within a few weeks.  That day, however, this group of hikers and I were enjoying the highs: Low 70s, a slight breeze, and partly cloudy skies.  It was a beautiful day for a hike.

I’m a volunteer hike leader for the local land trust, and I had a group of about 15 folks who looked ready to go.  I’ve always enjoyed leading these events, and it’s always fun and interesting to see who’s in the party. 

Now, the system sort of ensures the group will be a good one.  Everyone who shows up is typically a Land Trust member since the hikes fill up shortly after newsletters go out; sign-ups don’t go public for a few days.  They’re also familiar with the types of trails we’re walking on, as most of our properties are, ahem, hilly and rocky.  Finally, they almost always enjoy being with a group, and as we move into the third year of a pandemic, it’s nice to be outside in the open where conversation and gathering is more comfortable.

All that said, it’s always with a bit of trepidation that I look at everyone’s feet, and this group’s feet were looking great: Nothing but hiking boots and solid walking shoes.  No carpet slippers, no flip flops, and no crocs.  Yessss!

We gathered and talked for a bit, renewed a few friendships (a major benefit of hiking with a group), and headed out.  The trail was wonderful, despite the 450+ feet of elevation gain, and the Falling Sink waterfall – probably the highlight of the trail – was gorgeous. I can’t wait until next month when we get to do it again!

Bethel Spring: What’s the Story?

Should It Be Celebrated?

“The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.” -Douglas MacArthur

I promise I’ll write a happy slice soon.  -Me

It’s March 5, 2022, and for a variety of reasons we’re once again “watching” a war on television and social media.  This morning I saw, for the first time, a video clip of what was most likely a Russian helicopter being shot down in Ukraine.  I watched it on the CNN website, but soon saw it begin to appear on Twitter.  

All of the tweets I saw were celebratory, with gif replies like one might see on a tweet announcing the win of a sports team.

An aircrew lost their lives in that video clip.  Two men or women aren’t going home to their families.  They died.  Maybe they were fighting for a cause they believed in, or maybe they were scared and fervently wished they were not there in the first place. It doesn’t matter – lives were lost.

I do not, of course, support the Russian aggression, but nor can I celebrate the loss of human life.  The job of a soldier is to sometimes take the life of another, but I don’t believe it needs to be celebrated like a touchdown or home run from sidelines thousands of miles away.

As an aside, I’m starting to not be so crazy about social media either.  

In other news, the daffodils in my front yard have opened. That’s something to smile about!

Ready for Plowshares

When I write for my blog, there are topics I rarely touch on, and when I do, I tread lightly.  There are other opportunities to write what’s on my mind when I want to tread heavily, but – for me – this isn’t the place to share everything.  

My time (a lifetime ago, or so it seems) in the military is one of those topics.   

Current events being what they are, though, I found myself thinking yesterday and now writing today about a book that sits on a shelf in my bedroom.  I haven’t opened it in years, but there’s an image on one of the pages that’s still as clear in my mind as it was the first time I saw it.  

The book is a “cruise book.”  A cruise book is to a long-term deployment (a six-month western Pacific “WESTPAC” cruise, in this case) as a yearbook is to a year in high school: lots of pictures and lots of memories.

The cruise was in the mid-80s, and I was deployed with a Marine Corps Fighter Attack squadron as a radar and weapons system specialist.  The photo, taken by one of our aircrew members, is of an F-4S Phantom escorting a Soviet Tu-95 “Bear” bomber somewhere over the Pacific off the coast of Japan.  Two airplanes, and two aircrews, both flying what they certainly thought of as deterrence missions.

Nearly forty years later, I’m more than ready for plowshares.  

I wish we could put down the swords.

Arkansas Traveler

My driveway was empty.

There was not a pickup truck.  There was not a ladder leaning against my house.  There was no one on my roof.  Shingles weren’t being replaced, and a leak was not being repaired.

Just 45 minutes earlier I figuratively pushed my last student out the door, emptied the trash, plugged the computers in to charge, and locked up behind myself.  I made it out of the building without getting caught in a conversation, and I drove home without getting caught breaking any traffic laws.  I got out of school in record time. I had to be home.

I wasn’t expecting my driveway to be empty.

Yet, with the exception of my own vehicle, its engine cooling in the afternoon sun, it was. I glanced at my phone and saw a message from my wife: “They can’t come today.”

Given all that’s going on in the world on this first of March, I simply counted my blessings and smiled at my good fortune as the late-afternoon sun brought to mind a lyric from that old song, “Arkansas Traveler.”  

And, when the rain came down on the cabin floor,
The squatter only fiddled all the more.
Why don’t you mend your roof, said the traveler bold
How can I mend my cabin when the rain is wet and cold?
Squatter pick a sunny morning when the air is dry and nice,
Patch up your cabin, that is my advice.
The squatter shook his hoary head, and answered with a stubborn air,
Cabin never leaks a drop when days are bright and fair!

Drafting an Ode

Regarding the writing of poetry: It’s only been the last few years that I’ve started to explore forms of any sort.  Like so many folks, I fell into the camp of “forms are restricting,” while – if I’m honest with myself – they intimidated me more than just a little.

Last week I had the chance to participate in a writing party hosted by Leigh Anne Eck of Time to Write.  The event, in keeping with February as a month of love, was an opportunity to experiment with odes.   

To me, an ode has always been a lengthy affair, and John Keats sort of sets the standard.  That said, we were given a simple template: Involve the senses, and end with a question and an answer.  While that’s certainly not the only way to write an ode, it worked for me during that session.

Ode to the Trail – 1

The trail leads ever onward, or so it’s said
I see it before me, disappearing around the bend
So who am I to disagree?
Woodland path, you invite me to walk in your way
Your muted voice, sounding as the wind
to those who don’t know your words, calls to me
In the distance of a few steps, I am enveloped
Your earthen aroma washing over me 
and your rustling leaves quieting the voices within my head
“Are you complete without me?” I ask
“Yes, and may I ask the same of you,” is your reply
No, and again, no

Draft, February 2022

A Slice of (My Wife’s) Life

My wife, Lisa, is a tax accountant.  She enjoys (?!) working with people, organizing their previous year’s financial doings and putting them all together into a single, fileable package. She’s a numbers person, an organizer, blessed with, as they say, “the gift of administration.”

She’s also, as it turns out, a darn good reading tutor.  

Our oldest granddaughter, for a variety of reasons (the least of which is not the academic upheaval of the last 20 months), needs extra help with her reading.  She’s getting all the help her school is able to provide, but it’s just not been enough.

In stepped her Nana.  

Have you ever heard the joke along the lines of a doctor being called for on an airplane?  The one where the overly-eager spouse offers her help as the “wife of a doctor”?  Lisa has a line she pulls out when social conversation with my peers turns to school related topics: “I’m the wife of a teacher,” she’ll say, in order to humorously establish her bona fides.   

It turns out – and this is no surprise to those who know her – she’s so much more than just the spouse when it comes to teaching.

She’s jumped in with both feet, and our conversations are now sprinkled with words and phrases such as, “morphemes,” “graphophonemic,” and “high-frequency words.”  She’s got a stack of books she’s collected from our shelves, and she’s proven herself more than adept at mining them for the bits of information that are moving her teaching effort forward with success.  Our granddaughter’s reading is improving weekly, if not daily!

Yesterday, surrounded by texts, she felt compelled to write about me and my books, but I think her “slice” is actually more about her.  I’ll let you decide.


Living with Tim, a Slice 

Books, books, books everywhere, a modest home with a  not so modest book collection.  Books can be found on the kitchen table, books can be found neatly arranged on a display shelf in the dining room, books fill the shelves across and below the neat display, there are children’s books on  the living room hearth, two end tables hold the current interests, and an additional bookcase holds interests of the recent past, bookcases in the bedroom, (did I say three?)*, books on the headboard and on the dresser, books in the ‘yoga room’, two bookcases in the extra bedroom and naturally, books in the bathroom. Oh, I forgot, books in the garage!

These books are not organized by author or subject. They are not organized using the BISAC, Dewey Decimal or the Library of Congress system. It’s simply the Gels matter of available space and current interest that allows for a constant flow of the printed matter to circulate amongst the various horizontal surfaces of our home. 

Selecting a book and opening to a random page provides nuggets of intrigue. This morning I came across Mechanically Inclined by Jeff Anderson. My eight year old granddaughter wrote her first story this week in a turquoise journal with a matching glitter pen complete with a pom pom on top. It starts with, “if you woke up one morning and were a bug…” this interest must be supported and encouraged.  I am engrossed by the words on page 97. “First, we talk about the writer’s craft of close observation by reading aloud The Other Way of Listening by Byrd Baylor. This picture book tells a story of learning to observe, to sense things not everyone senses. The book sparks conversation about other ways of listening and seeing the world around us.” The paragraph continues with the mention of two more titles. Books beget books and soon they will be found in our home, first on the coffee table by my chair as I read them, then they will migrate to the end table by the couch as we share the reading experience together, then to the kitchen table as we learn to write about what we’ve observed and finally to the shelves dedicated to the children’s books within their reach. Books beget books. 

That eight year old is needing support as she learns to read.  As I was reading a teachers manual on teaching reading I came across this little gem, as I am not a teacher this is exciting to read. “Correspondences between print and speech. Sound-symbol associations.” I print this out and post it to the front of my composition book.

I can’t help but play with the printed words. 

Sound-symbol associations…hmmm, directly under it I write, 

“The Sound Cymbals Association : D”

I open, In the Company of Children by Joanne Hindley, to a random page to find a list titled How Readers Choose Books. Towards the bottom it states, “They read two or three pages in the middle of the book…”

*Later I observed there are actually five bookshelves in our bedroom.


Proud husband moment, right here!

November Poems of Thanks

November is Here

The rush of summer
is fading behind me now 
and I find myself 
feeling thankful for the dark
slow pace of the winter months


Pictures on the fridge
bring the past to life again
though I can’t forget
those for whom I’m most thankful
those whose love goes on and on

An Evening Walk

The sky above me
Holds the waxing quarter moon
With Saturn beside
And I walk in the pale light
On this still November eve

A Morning Walk

The conversation
we heard in the rustling leaves
high above our heads
brought us to a hushed silence
as we walked the mountain path

Signs of Life

I came around the corner on the way home from school, and our car was in the driveway.  Our car, not to be confused with our little truck, which I was driving at the time. I knew the truck wouldn’t be in the driveway, as I was in it, but I was surprised to see the car.  I was expecting an empty driveway, which, as I’ve said, wasn’t the case. 

I couldn’t remember, though, where my wife said she was going to be when I got home. Had she said she wouldn’t be home?  I thought so, but I couldn’t be sure.  I’m good like that.

As I got out of the truck, I put my hand on the hood of the car.  It was cool, so she hadn’t gone out and gotten home early.  Hmmm. 

I grabbed my school bag, and climbed the few stairs to the front door.  Opening the screen door, I reached out and found the front door locked, which was strange, since my wife usually unlocks the door when her phone tells her I’m getting close to the house. 

“Hi honey, I’m home!” I called out as I opened the door.

Yes, that’s totally a cliché, which is why we say it.  

The house was quiet, except for Lulu whining to get out of her crate, and still I was clueless about the love of my life’s whereabouts.  

Then I saw a black sequined purse, fashioned in the shape of a cat, sitting on the chair nearest the door.  Looking further, I saw one bookbag, and then another.  A lunchbox, and a jacket on the floor.  And then a second lunchbox.

The granddaughters were here; that wasn’t my sequined cat purse.

Or, were they?  Were they playing “hide from grandpa,” as is their wont when I get home? Or, just as likely, were they outside?

As they weren’t home, I was the only one who laughed at me checking behind the furniture, the shower curtains, and under the beds.  

Finally, I gave in and reached for my phone.  

Learning of their walk around the block, the mystery was solved, and I found myself outside just a moment later, watching two little girls running toward me, their hair streaming behind them.  With an exaggerated “whoof,” I caught their hugs on the run. 

I was home, and my evening had started in one of the best possible ways!

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