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Posts published in April 2004

A little story about… ramps

The preparation date for this column is April 22 but I have no idea when it will be printed. I mention this as the subject is Spring in the West Virginia mountains. Everything is in bloom, red bud, dogwood, Japanese cherry, other cherry, apple, and a host of other things including-ramps! Yes ramps!

To the uneducated, ramps are wild onions that spring forth at this time of year in many spots within our state. They are supposed to be a mountain delicacy and many chew away and enjoy. Me? I stay far away from them, and anyone eating or who has eaten them recently.

Onions smell bad, and remain on one’s breath for a long time. But, ramps? They stick to you for an eternity. I don’t want anyone who has eaten ramps around me or in my house for days. The fragrance does linger and it isn’t roses.

One of our major mountain counties, Nicholas, has an abundance of ramps and the city of Ravenswood, located there, has a ramp festival each year. Yesterday, one of our Charleston papers had a story on page one of a Nicholas resident who was selling ramps along the road near Charleston. There are ramp roadside stands in many places.

This guy is not only selling ramps but is selling a new product-ramp salt! I guess he reeked of the ramp smell as he professed to be a great ramp eater. He was selling the ramp salt to people who want the taste of ramps but don’t want to smell like them for days. People sell bushels and bushels of ramps and now I guess they will be selling boxes and boxes of ramp salt.

I have a story to tell you about ramps. The late Jim Comstock, a man who could arguably be called West Virginia’s leading booster while alive, hailed from the aforementioned town of Richwood. He was a book writer, book collector, West Virginia historian, lecturer, newspaper writer, editor and publisher, museum owner and a host of other things. One of his newspapers was the statewide West Virginia Hillbilly that was the largest weekly in the state for a number of years. It contained a bit of mountain philosophy, mountain tales, historical stuff and some news ‘round and about our hills and valleys. He had more ideas than a dozen other men and was always trying something different.

During Spring a few years back Jim decided to mix ramps and his newspaper. He took a bit of ramp juice (quite a bit actually) and mixed it with the ink that would be used to print the next “Hillbilly.” It worked well, almost too well. Things went just fine during the printing and during the circulation from the print shop in Richwood and they left there a few at a time.

Since it was a statewide publication most of the papers had to be mailed and by far the largest majority had to come to the Charleston Post Office for distribution. When the trucks hit the post office with several thousand papers the questions started, “What’s that smell?” It got so bad officials began to track it down and didn’t have much trouble when they came to the newspapers. The post office now reeked with that pungent smell.

Soon, Comstock’s phone was ringing off the hook. How could you do such a thing? We can’t stand the smell! Etc. Friend Jim almost lost his mailing permit over that episode. This single issue was the one and only that contained ramp flavored printer’s ink. Good idea. Bad result!

Such are the people, places and things that have touched my life in my West Virginia home!

College boys love their caps

Weather: Icy. Very icy. (I just don’t want to fall and die…)
Freshman Fifteen: Actually, I lost weight over Winter Break. But it’s back now.
Classes: Fiction writing, concepts of mathematics, statistics, biology, emotion/cognition, and a student-taught course about the status of females in America.
No. of Times Locked Out of Room: 2.
Pints of Ben & Jerry’s Consumed: 1/2.

One important thing I’ve learned — something that will probably prove to be much more useful than memorizing the base-pairs of DNA but slightly less useful than successfully balancing a sandwich, drink, cookies and fruit all the way from the student center to my dorm — is that college boys love their caps.

Technically, it’s not just caps; any headgear will do. My roommate actually came home crying one night because a frat boy got mad at her for keeping his favorite visor. (Said visor was obtained by my roomie in a poker match that said frat boy supposedly took an entire week to recover from.)

Most of the guys on my floor, including my RA Andy and my friends Ryan and Dave, are obsessively, notoriously protective of their sports caps (for the Redwings, Red Sox, and Cornhuskers, respectively). Ryan is actually quite the prankster, so when we were outlining the boundaries of just what exactly was prank-able and what was not, I asked about his hat. His only response was a glare and a low growl akin to that of a mother lion protecting its den. I took that to mean it was off-limits.

I think the affinity boys have for their hats directly relates to the fact that they don’t have to clean them. Quite possibly the only thing worse than spilling something onto your favorite pair of jeans is having to wash it off. Most college students, boys and girls — though boys are generally much worse about it — dread laundry day like no other. Come Sunday night, that 8-page paper isn’t looking quite so bad, especially in comparison to the pile of clothing that started smelling back on Wednesday. But then again, today’s the last day of clean underwear, so the options are pretty grim either way.

The luckiest people are the kids who go home for the weekends. Sure, they don’t get to enjoy the best part of the week with their buddies, but they also don’t have to sort every item of clothing they own into whites, lights, brights, darks and delicates. The unluckiest people are the mothers of the kids who go home for the weekends.

Actually, in all seriousness, I do feel kind of sorry for my friends who leave Friday nights and return Monday mornings. It’s all well and good to see your parents — I really and trully miss mine — but part of going to college is taking a step away from home. I might be wrong, but if you’re living on a meal plan during the week and mommy’s cooking on Saturday and Sunday, I don’t think you’ve taken much of a step.

And of course, my criticism of those dependencies have absolutely nothing to do with the fact that my own options are so limited. (Nothing at all.) But while we’re on the subject, no I can’t go home, no I can’t give my dirty laundry to my mom, and no I can’t sit and do crosswords with my dad on a lazy Sunday afternoon. To be honest, it’s really weird, if you think about it too much, to realize that you can talk to your parents with a phone, and only with a phone. That the fastest you can get home is in 3 hours, not counting the time it takes to buy tickets and get to the airport. That the people you’ve dealt with day-in and day-out for 18 years are gone, living on their own like they did before you were born, and you’re, to some extent, on your own too.

Yes, very weird indeed.

But when you’re happy, at college and at home, you learn to appreciate being in each place when you’re actually there, and to not miss the other place so much that you get sad. Because if you do let yourself ache and long too much, you’re just wasting your own time.

Speaking of enjoying college life — and not wasting time — I have a picture to email to one of my floor mates. I’m pretty sure he’ll agree that his hat looks pretty good on my pig. Almost as sure as I am that he’ll pay the ransom…

As Iraq casualties mount, Sam Houston students create memorial

Since the war in Iraq began, more than 600 American soldiers have been killed. At HISD’s Sam Houston High School, a proud school with a strong ROTC program and a deep connection to the military, students remembered every one of the fallen soldiers.

On Thursday, April 15, students in the Leadership class at Sam Houston began erecting an Iraq Memorial Wall. The students lined the main entrance of the school with stars–one for each soldier killed in Iraq.

Leadership Teacher Joanne Dawkins said the students came up with the idea as a public service project. The issue is personal for Sam Houston students. Several former students are serving in Iraq, and one teacher has a son who is serving there.

“Our kids have a very deep connection to and appreciation for the military,” Dawkins said. “They’ve grown up around military families. They understand duty and honor. They are proud of the tremendous sacrifice our soldiers in Iraq are making. As a public service project, they wanted to do something important, something the community will remember.”

In addition to the stars for each fallen soldier, the memorial wall will feature flags depicting facts about the war. Sam Houston High is located at 9400 Irvington.

Aldine and Houston ISDs 3rd graders score well on reading TAKS

As students prepare to take the TAKS test this month, school officials are optimistic that the scores will be high based on scores from the third graders who took the TAKS reading test earlier this year. Third graders in both Aldine ISD and Houston ISD made strong gains on the TAKS reading test, with passing rates up over last year even though passing the test was harder.

Ninety percent of AISD third graders met the TAKS standard in English this year, up from 87 percent last year, and 89 percent of Spanish-speaking students passed, down from 91% last year.

The percentage of AISD student earning the highest mark of “commended” increased to 26 percent on the English test, up from 17 percent last year, and the commended rate on the Spanish test soared up to 30 percent, up from 18 percent last year.

Seventeen AISD schools had 90 percent or more of third graders who passed the English test. They are: Anderson, Bethune, Black, Carmichael, Conley, Francis, Goodman, Gray, Harris, Magrill, Mendel, Odom, Oleson (99%), Orange Grove, Sammons, Stephens, and Worshams (99%).

Fourteen AISD schools had 90 percent or more of third graders who passed the Spanish test. They are Aldine, Bethune, Carmichael, Carter, Goodman, Gray, Johnson, Odom, Oleson, Orange Grove, Sammons, Smith, Thompson, and Worsham.

Eighty seven percent of HISD third graders met the TAKS standard in English this year, up from 84 percent last year, and 88 percent of Spanish-speaking students passed, up from 85 percent last year. HISD tested 10,380 third graders in English and 5,188 students in Spanish.

The percentage of HISD student earning the highest mark of “commended” soared to 31 percent on the English test, up from 19 percent last year, and up to 32 percent on the Spanish test, up from 19 percent last year.

“Our third graders made strong progress and we are very proud them,” Superintendent Kaye Stripling said. “It was harder to pass the TAKS test this year, and yet HISD schools still saw strong gains. Our teachers, our parents and most importantly, our children, deserve congratulations for their hard work.”

HISD’s Spanish-speaking students scored better than the state average, while students taking the test in English were four points under the state average. HISD’s Spanish Language students beat the state average passing rate by five points (88 percent passing rate tor HISD compared with 83 percent for the state as a whole).

HlSD’s progress was better than the state of Texas as a whole. The state average passing rate rose two percent, compared to three percent at HISD, and the percentage of students statewide achieving the highest “commended” rating.

Trade days in Canton…

Get any April fool jokes pulled on you last week? As usual, one of the twins was up to his antic pulling them. He must get it from his mother because when I tried to tell her that Osama bin Laden had been captured, she told me that she had gotten her vanpool with that one.

Being it was the first weekend in April, we got on a bus trip to the First Monday Trades Day in Canton, Texas. Having rode on a bus good many times, I must say this one has the best air conditioner; I’m taking a quilt next time.

Great weather for the trip and lots to see and eat there, not to mention the walking. One can rent one of the scooters by the hour but we did it the old fashion way, one foot in front of the other. So many scooters, pull wagons and shopping carts make slow walking. We avoided the buildings as they are so congested.

Went to where they sell the animals this trip. (My understanding is this is where the Trade Days first took place) That is a trip in itself or at least a good walk since it is not flat ground up there.

Such cute little puppies and some real pretty roosters too. The Mrs. had the nerve to suggest we could get a puppy and I said what for? She said it would give Four Dog some company.

Evidently she had forgotten that the Four Dog was found on side of the street in the rain when he was no bigger than a baking potato. After she looked and looked at the puppies and everything
else, she took interest in a Yorkshire terrier. She came back to me and told me they wanted $600 for the little fellow and she said it makes her appreciate Four even more.

Finally found the booth that sells the E Z Hook’s. That’s like a long ice pick with a bend and curve at the tip to turn meat. I got three of them and chose the Bois d’arc (bodark) handle. Great for turning meat on a grill or pit. She concentrated on coffee cups but she says they’re for tea. At one time I went back to her and asked if she was trying to memorize everything in that booth. I love it when she rolls those round brown eyes at me.

Never did find any Bubba Teeth but I did manage to have mine with me. The Mrs. says she is embarrassed and refuses to be around me when I have them in. We did find a sitting bench later that day and I proceeded to smile at everyone that would look at me. Actually I didn’t have to smile because I cannot naturally close my lips with that piece in my mouth due to the over bite.

It is so funny to watch the expressions on people when they notice my ugly teeth. They would look at me instantly look away, take a couple steps and look at me again with the funniest look on their face.

This one good looking lady looked and I smiled at her and she looked at me again and I smiled, she looked like she wanted to smile but held it. I’d give a penny for her thoughts as I was busting out loud inside.

Lots of people tell the person who they are with to look at me and my teeth. It is so comical to
watch them whisper.

Andy Pettitte helps celebrate refurbished Northeast YMCA ball field

Baseball fans in Northeast Houston have plenty to cheer about this season. On Friday, April 2 the community celebrated the completed refurbishment of Northeast Family YMCA Youth Baseball Field with a ribbon cutting followed by Astros’ pitcher Andy Pettitte tossing a few balls to YMCA Youth Baseball Players.

Representatives from Minute Maid, the Houston Astros, and the YMCA of Greater Houston were on hand for the event. The field was refurbished by Minute Maid and the Astros through Grand Slam for Youth Baseball – a community outreach effort that seeks to foster self-confidence, involvement, teamwork, and fun among area children.

The project included the installation of an electronic scoreboard, new bleachers, complete fencing with fence guards, a flagpole, and an all-dirt infield. Minute Maid and the Astros plan to renovate one local ball field each year for the next 26 years.

The Northeast Family YMCA Youth Baseball Field is located at the Northeast Family YMCA at Tidwell and N. Wayside in northeast Houston. The facility was built in 1960 and services 370 different households from the neighborhoods of the Fifth Ward, Scenic Woods, Fontaine, Settegast, Lakewood, Wood Glen, Shady Timbers, Riverwood, and Wood Glen.

The YMCA of the Greater Houston area has been an important part of the communities since 1886, building strong kids, strong families and strong communities. Today, it has 34 branches, including the Northeast Family YMCA, that serve more than 80,000 people every day.

The YMCA supports its mission through a vast array of programs and facilities designed to meet the needs and interests of members of all ages. The YMCA works continuously to meet the needs of its communities through its core values of respect, responsibility, honesty, caring and faith. Christian principals into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind, and body for all.

The Northeast Family YMCA Youth Baseball Field is used as a cluster field for several YMCAs throughout Houston including the Northeast Family YMCA, San Jacinto YMCA, Baytown YMCA, and Wendel D. Ley YMCA. More than 500 children use the field each baseball season through the YMCA youth sports program.

Minute Maid and the Houston Astros teamed up in August 2002 to create Grand Slam for Youth Baseball. Their first project was the refurbishment of the historic Settegast Park ball field.

Annual Special Olympics at Aldine stadium

Aldine ISD Board of Education President Dr. Viola M. Garcia, left, and Board Member Steve Mead, right, congratulate participants from the March 27 Special Olympics Track Meet. Dr. Garcia and Mead, along with Aldine ISD Superintendent Nadine Kujawa, presented athletes with their medals following their respective events.

U.S. Congressman Gene Green presents a congressional proclamation to Aldine ISD’s Tommy Piotrowski prior to the start of the Special Olympics Track Meet, held Saturday, March 27, at Aldine Auxiliary Stadium. Piotrowski organized the local event.

Bailey continues investigation of DPS labs

Representative Kevin Bailey, Chairman of the General Investigating Committee of the Texas House, working with other committee members has begunlooking at the operation of other crime labs in Texas. They have requested documents, records and information on the eleven DPS crime labs around the state.

The committee has requested five full years of internal and external audits for each location, standard operating procedure manuals for each location, written evaluations for each employee both current and former for the five year period, including people in management positions and all quality assurance and proficiency documents.

There have been recent allegations of procedural flaws, security lapses and poor record keeping at several of the state labs.

“I have serious concerns about DPS and their ability to oversee these labs,” said Bailey. “Clearly we’re going to have to hold hearings and ask them to come forward and give us their analysis of what’ s going on and explain any deficiencies found in the audits.”

The powerful General Investigation Committee that Rep. Kevin Bailey chairs may examine the activities of state departments, agencies, municipalities, counties and other political subdivisions of the state. They may also investigate any other matters the committee considers necessary for the information of the legislature or the welfare and protection of state citizens.