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Welcome. My blog is an experiment: Could I have something to say, once a month, for a year? While I like to tell a humorous story, there are stories and reflections I would like to share. My promise to you: when I've got nothing more to say, I quit. Thanks for reading.

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Story of Us



Susan and I were recently asked by friends (in preparation for a Valentine's Day dinner activity) to write the story of how we met.  It's one we've told many times, but for those of you who have never heard it, here it is.  Maybe one day, if there is any interest, we'll write Chapter 2.  Hope you enjoy.

Chapter 1:
Calculus Class

            In a series of highly improbable events1, in the fall of 1987 Phillip began attending Indiana University of Pennsylvania2.  An overly generous admissions officer had given him credit for his score of 3 (out of 5) on his high school AP Calculus exam (thanks Carolyn!) and he was able to receive credit for Calculus I for mathematics majors and enter that fall as a freshman taking Calculus II.  Susan on the other hand had graduated high school from Lenape in Kittanning, PA in 1986 and had spent her first year of college at California University of Pennsylvania (she once described California as the “armpit of western Pennsylvania”).  She began college majoring in elementary school education, but after sitting through a semester of the mathematics required to teach young students, she switched majors to secondary mathematics education and took Calculus I at CUP.  After two semesters of crying on the phone to her parents, she applied as a transfer student to IUP.  She was accepted and in the fall of 1987 moved into an “apartment” (really, the top floor of an old house only fit for renting to college students) with her best friend from high school, Aimee, and two of her friends, twins Nancy and Kathy, where she was much happier.
            So in late August of 1987, Susan and Phillip were both enrolled in Calculus II for mathematics majors at IUP.  Pass through the Oak Grove, cross Oakland Avenue and arrive at Stright Hall, home of all things mathematical at IUP.  Phillip arrived at the third floor classroom for Calc II and took stock of his surroundings.  Coming from Mathews, VA he knew absolutely no one.  (Sometimes a quick glance would make him think he saw someone from his hometown, but it never once happened).  However, there was a cute girl that caught his attention, but since she was several seats away there would be no chance to strike up a conversation.  Enter the calculus professor, Mr. Elwood Speakman3, straight out of 1964 (think pocket protector and chalk holder), who informs us that on our schedules we have been assigned the wrong room.  We are actually supposed to be in the same room, exactly one floor below our current location.  If we would all collect our things and move to the new room, we will begin class as soon as everyone has settled.
            Still with an eye on the cute girl, Phillip saw the room change as an opportunity.  As students began to file out, he timed his exit so that he would leave the room immediately after Cute Girl and then follow her into the new room.  Plan works and in the new room (rows of long tables instead of desks) he sits to her left while soon-to-be-new-friend Frank4 sits to her right.
            Over the next couple of weeks, Phillip was too shy to do any more than glance at her calculus notes and was enamored of beautiful handwriting (most people are).  Susan (Cute Girl) broke the ice by sharing Mike and Ike candies (Phillip won’t eat the green ones and prefers orange).  Being the more outgoing of the two, Susan eventually asked Phillip if he would like to study some calculus with her.  Sure.  Where?  How about Stapleton Library?  Sure.  Set a time.  We meet and study.  He remembers that every time he tried to say something funny she would laugh and punch him in the arm.  It was a good beginning.  After she cleared him as “safe” and “non-creepy” future calculus study sessions happened at the apartment.  And they became the best of friends.

            In Chapter 2, the dating years, we learn of Susan’s engagement to Jon, Phillip’s girlfriend (She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named), long drives in a Subaru in the falling snow looking at houses, warm hugs, and we learn who said the line “Friends can kiss, can’t they?” on a birthday evening in October of 1988.
Mr. Elwood Speakman
Mr. Frank Aloi
Stright Hall: Where it all began


















1The extended backstory is too long to include here, but for the record let’s just say that it tangentially includes a drowning cow with a broken leg, a dean of finance, the rock band Chicago, a change of legal custody, a janitor, a renovated hospital, oak trees, and a bone-chilling tale of murder (no joke on that one).
2Perhaps best well-known as the birthplace of Jimmy Stewart.  And before you say “Indiana of What?” keep in mind there is a Miami of Ohio and no one seems to think that weird.
3Mr. Speakman had the fascinating habit of tapping his bottom lip with chalk while thinking, leaving a small white mark behind.  And chalk crumbs had an eerie and gravity-defying way of slowly drifting down the green chalkboard in the classroom.  Oh, the things that you can find interesting sitting in a Calc II class!
4 Though we have not contacted him since being married many years ago, Frank appears to be doing well as a successful stock broker and CFA for PNC’s Hawthorne Group in western PA.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Twenty Quotes

Twenty Quotes

It seems that on a daily basis we are hit by bad news, be it global, national, or local.  As we struggle to deal with issues, both as a culture and on an individual basis, a quote by Martin Luther King, Jr. seems to come back to me, as if of its own volition, time after time:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

These 20 words seem as succinct a statement for living as I have ever read.

A few months ago I was wondering if any of my friends and family have any similar, life-affirming quotes that they would be willing to share.  Quotes that bring you back from believing the worst in humanity; quotes that help you see a better future for our children; quotes that seem to insist on being heard and remembered.

I solicited quotes from those who I thought might like to join in my Quotation Project and suggested that they could invite like-minded friends.  Though I received fewer responses than I expected, I sincerely appreciate those who contributed their favorite quotes.

I decided against listing who sent me each quote, but wanted to provide as accurate an attribution as I possibly could to the original author.  (I discovered that the internet was great for WHO gave a quote, but not terrific for the actual source--speech, article, book, ...)  For the most part, the quotes are in no specific order.  Finally,  if the quotation is part of a longer piece, I have placed an asterisk at the beginning.  If you are interested in the full quotes, please see the end of this document.

I hope that you will find below something to hold on to.

If anyone has quotes to add, I would be happy to consider a Part 2!

  
The Quotation Project


1*.    “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate; only      love can do that.”  Martin Luther King, Jr.,  from Where Do We Go from Here? Chaos or     Community


2.*     “The longer I love, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life….  The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day….  The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude.”  ― Charles R. Swindoll


3.         "Fire can warm or consume,
            water can quench or drown,
            wind can caress or cut.

            And so it is with human relationships;
            we can both create and destroy,
            nurture and terrorize,
            traumatize and heal each other."
                                    The Boy Who was Raised as a Dog, Bruce D. Perry and Maia Szalavitz


3.         “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  anonymous


4.         “The time is always right to do the right thing.”  Martin Luther King, Jr. 


5.         “Things work out best for those who make the best of the way things work out.” ―John Wooden


6.         “It isn't about what you do, but about how you do it.” ―John Wooden


7.         "Pain is temporary.  It may last for a minute, or an hour, or a day, or even a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place.  If I quit, however, it will last forever."  --unknown


8.         "Whether you think you can or you can't, you are right."    ―Henry Ford (or Zig Ziglar?)


9*.       "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.  Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.  It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us."   Marianne Williamson as quoted in the movie Coach Carter


10.       "Faith precedes the miracle.  Proof follows the miracle."  Clayton King


11.       "Love your neighbor as yourself."  The Bible


12.       "Never underestimate the power of a few dedicated to change the world.  It's the only thing that ever has." ―Margaret Meade


13.       “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” JK Rowling (Albus Dumbledore), Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban


14.       “If you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely” Roald Dahl, The Twits 


    15*.     “The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?

                                       Answer.
                That you are here—that life exists and identity,
                That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”
            from Walt Whitman’s “O Me! Or Life!” in Leaves of Grass (1892)
                (w/ special thanks to Robin Williams’ portrayal of Mr. Keating in Dead Poet’s Society)


16.       This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness. Dalai Lama


17.       I am driven by two main philosophies, know more today about the world than I knew yesterday.  And lessen the suffering of others. You'd be surprised how far that gets you. Neil DeGrasse Tyson


18.       Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone, just remember that all people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.  ―F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby


19.       The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it. Albert Einstein


20.       Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured. Mark Twain


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 

Here are the longer pieces from which some of the works above have been excerpted:

1.          “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, 
            begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.
            Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
            Through violence you may murder the liar,
            but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
            Through violence you may murder the hater,
            but you do not murder hate.
            In fact, violence merely increases hate.
            So it goes.
            Returning violence for violence multiplies violence,
            adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
            Darkness cannot drive out darkness:
            only light can do that.
            Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
                                                            Martin Luther King, Jr.
                                                            From Where Do We Go from Here? Chaos or Community


2.         “The longer I love, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than      circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company...a church....a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past...we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude...I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you...we are in charge of our attitudes.”   --Charles R. Swindoll



9.         "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.  Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.  It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.  We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?  Actually, who are yon not to be?  You are a child of God.  Your playing small does not serve the world.  There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you.  We are all meant to shine, as children do.  We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.  It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same.  As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others." Marianne Williamson as quoted in the movie Coach Carter


15.       Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,

                Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
                Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
                Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
                Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
                Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
                The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?

                                       Answer.
                That you are here—that life exists and identity,
                That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

                        ―Walt Whitman, “Oh Me, Oh Life!” in  Leaves of Grass (1892)

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

On (Off?) the Road Again

A number of years ago, my wife and I made the big plunge that we knew would temporarily throw our little world into disarray:  we switched from having a box at the post office to having the mail delivered to our physical address.  For the most part, the transition went smoother than expected.   Most of our family and friends as well as the businesses we deal with (read “bills”) got the message.  Most.

The lone standout exception was the Daily Press, the regional newspaper we subscribe to in southeastern Virginia.  We received the “weekend special,” papers for Friday through Sunday for an excellent rate.  For a while, the Daily Press also threw in Thursday papers as a bonus.  It was more news than we could read, but worth it for the Sunday paper alone.
We had neglected to notice that we had not been billed for the subscription for quite some time; that is until we received a phone call.  I won’t bore you with a transcript of the call, but I can summarize it like this:

                DP: “Why haven’t you paid your bill?”
                Us: “We never received a bill.”
                DP: “Would you like to pay it now?”
                Us:  “Could you please bill us?”
                DP: “Sure.  Let’s just get that corrected address right now and we’ll send a bill out to you.”

We gave them the new address.  Expected bill never came.

Over the course of half a year, we repeated that conversation at least three times.  Maybe more.  We eventually came to realize that the person on the other end of the line was not REALLY from the Daily Press.  They were something akin to an independent contractor tasked with collecting payments.  Often during these conversations we would ask to be transferred to billing.  No can do.

This was made all the more frustrating by the proximity of my mailbox to my newspaper box.  I was going to take a photo to show you just how close they are, but…well…I can’t anymore.  So you’re just going to have to take my word for it.  They were real close.  Like eight inches apart.  So this business, the Daily Press, can consistently find my newspaper box at least three days a week, but has no earthly idea how to get a bill to my mailbox.  Mind blown.

The people on the other end of the line were by and large very nice and generous.  I believe more than once they offered to absolve our previous debt and we could resume payments as originally agreed upon for weekend deliver.  Fine.  Just send us the bill.

Some callers took our new address and carefully entered it into the system.  (We’ll get this all straight today…Just hold on just a moment.”)  Some callers wondered what the other callers were doing because they claimed they did not have those sorts of powers.  (If true, one has to wonder what the first callers were doing.)  All callers were hoping to get a credit card number and an immediate payment.  No thank you.  Just please send us the bill.

Eventually the phone calls asking for payment just stopped.  That was two years ago.  But the newspapers just kept coming.

That was until recently.

That was when I received a phone call from my wife regarding the state of the mailboxes and newspaper boxes for us and our neighbor.  I mean, really, how often do you get to say “My mailbox was plowed under by a pickup truck driven by Willie Nelson”?

That’s right.  Willie Nelson reports that he blacked out soon after pulling out of his driveway half a mile away.  He drove through our ditch, over both mail and newspaper boxes, crossed over our driveway, into the next ditch, and then obliterated the next mail boxes.  When our neighbor came to investigate what he thought sounded like gunshots, he found Willie in the driver’s seat, very much awake and alert, trying like mad to launch himself and the pickup out of the ditch and onto the road, leaving the postal carnage in his wake.  This was made more challenging by the fact that the ditch culvert had rammed his front passenger side wheel into the spot usually reserved for…well…passengers.  (I briefly wondered whether the truck’s nickname was “Trigger,” but--for clarity’s sake--that’s the name of a guitar and a different Willie Nelson.)

The Daily Press came by a week later and put up a new newspaper box.  For my neighbor only.  I’m pretty sure he actually pays for his, so I really can’t complain.  They were real nice folks and chatted with me for a while about the incident, then left.


All good things must come to an end.  I sure am going to miss my Sunday paper.  But on the brighter side, much less recycling for me to do once a month.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Shrinking Nest Syndrome

As my wife and I prepare to send our second out of four children to college, I have many mixed feelings.  Elizabeth will be leaving in just a few days to attend CNU, and I am anxious for her in much of the same way as I was with Michael.  There is the part that wants her to stay and the other part that knows she has grown as much as she can in the environment we have tried to create for her.  It is the natural order to things, but I don't always have to like it.

I managed to dust off something I wrote for Michael (but don't think I ever showed him) in the days following the start of his freshmen orientation at William and Mary to share here.  Though the exact wording might be different, if I were to write something for Elizabeth, it would largely be the same.

To my children...Love, Dad


Four                                                                            August 2010       
This house held the rhythm of its four children…
Its sounds and smells of the days of the rhythms of four
And now there are three.
Nothing tragic has passed, just a natural progression of time.
This is what was supposed to happen all along,
What we planned for; what we hoped for.
We will not miss the screams and fights,
But our mornings and nights will miss the rhythm of four
That you brought with it.
The house will adapt to the rhythm of three,
Who sleeps where, who sits there.
The house will not ease into this new cadence,
It just will.
We on, the other hand, will need time.
At the same time, the house cannot be proud,
But we can.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Magic and Christmas Cookies

My childhood was not perfect, but I think that with the passing of time I am able to recall more of the good and the bad fades out of memory.  And while my parents were not perfect, what I appreciate and love the most about them is the fact that they always tried.  They always made time for me and my brother and did things for us and with us when it would have been easier to claim exhaustion.

Now married with four children of our own, I spend a great deal of time wondering about how my children will reflect upon their own childhoods.  Have I given them enough positive experiences to reflect upon when they are my age?  Have there been enough playgrounds, museums, board games, dinners, and movies?  Mostly, have they laughed enough?  My thought/fear is…probably not.

I know that using my own experiences as a measuring stick for my children is not fair—the memories of their childhoods cannot and should not be the same as my own.  However, there still may be some memories and traditions that I can pass down…

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

When I was young, Christmas time was cookie time.  Mom did all of the baking and took requests.  Favorites cookies included chocolate chip, M&M, seven-layer (I loved every single layer), jewel, oatmeal (no raisins and certainly no chocolate chips), sugar (thin and buttery in Christmas shapes) and holly (involving corn flakes, melted marsh mellows, green food dye, and cinnamon red hot candies).  In many ways, Christmas was defined by the smells of Mom’s baking as much as any other single sign.

While Mom baked, Dad typically stayed out of the kitchen (even at our tender young ages my brother and I understood this as a sign of his manly wisdom).  However, there was a single, notable exception where he took the lead role—my Dad’s peanut butter balls.  I don’t know the origin of the recipe, but the ingredients for this sweet were deceptively simple: confectionary sugar, butter, peanut butter, chocolate, and paraffin.  But they came together in an ecstasy of yumminess.  Mom and Dad would assemble the finished peanut butter balls in neat little rows in the refrigerator—a perfect rectangular array.  I spent a large part of vacation trying to sneak these from the refrigerator and rearranging the piles so that they might not notice the missing balls. 

And then my brother and I grew up.  Mom and Dad relocated from Virginia to Pennsylvania in 1986.  We went to college and, for some reason, the tradition of the peanut butter balls faded.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

When Mom passed away, Dad tried to find good homes for some of the things she cherished; one of those was her recipe box.  Among the various recipes were all of her cookie recipes and with that was formula for the peanut butter balls.  Several years ago I came up with the idea of bringing back the peanut butter balls.  Perhaps more than wanting to relive my own childhood, I wanted my own four children to have the same experience that I had, from the smells of melting chocolate right down to sneaking them from the refrigerator.

So here is my Christmas Wish for all of you: that you keep alive the memories and traditions that made you happy as a child, or that you are able to make new memories with families and friends.  Play your Christmas songs too loud and too often, bake too many cookies, hang too many lights, watch too many holiday specials, use too much wrapping paper, or drink too much eggnog.  Make someone’s eyes sparkle, give many hugs, and pass the love of the season along.

Have a Merry Christmas,

Phillip

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A Father's Day Legacy


Author’s note:

Portions of what follows have been written over the past 2 months.  I never seem to be able to unite the ideas—could never find the common thread.  Well, maybe today I did.

 

                Confession time:  I stink as an adult.

                Oh, my wife Susan will deny that this is so, but this is more some sort of spousal support than a denial of the reality that I just hate to put on the big boy pants.  Examples abound: she maintains the check book (I also have a fear of banks, or more specifically bank tellers), she does 99% of the laundry (I can fold a pair of jeans, but everything else is a mystery), I never know where exactly I am driving to, I still throw occasional temper-tantrums (ask my students or better yet my own children), and I often find both yard work and cooking dinners absolutely overwhelming.  See what I mean?  I stink.

                Perhaps the real issue is the measuring stick that I use.  Growing up I naturally assumed that I would become the man I perceived my father to be; that my children would see me as I saw my dad.  I saw him wise as Solomon, brilliant as Einstein, with the work ethic of an Amish farmer, funny as Dick van Dyke, who always had time for a game of catch or to hear about my day.  I have told anyone that will listen that “Even if he weren’t my father, I would STILL think he is one of the greatest men I have ever known.”  And here is what amazes me today at age 43: looking back, that idealized dad described above—the dad seen through the eyes of a child, the dad that could never be an honest measure of them man—well, the incredible thing is that I don’t think that I was far off as child.  I look with adult eyes now, but my opinion has not changed.

                Do my kids look at me and see the same things I saw in my dad?  I had always hoped so; it seemed like the natural order of things, like grizzly bears eating Canadians (shout out here to Berkley Breathed and the Red Ranger).  But here’s the deal.  I’m not my dad.  Instead I am stuck in this odd twilight zone experience of trying to live up to the legacy while at the same time, being true to me.  I have a different personality with different gifts and different faults.

                So today I was in Richmond, visiting Mike with Chloe, Max, and Susan.  Mike has a new place and there’s a tennis court and four of us hit the ball around.  After we called it quits and were walking off, Chloe says to me “Thanks, Dad, for playing tennis with me.”  That’s about all I need on Father’s Day.  On the way home tonight, I got to pick the music on Sirius FM the whole way home and I sang nearly the entire time.   And as my favorite songs played, I could hear Chloe or Max occasionally join in.  Just doesn’t get much better than that.  And then, after a long time of feeling a weight, I officially let myself off the hook.  I don’t need to be my dad, I just need to be me and be with my children.

                So here’s what any dad needs to be reminded of, today of all days: be the very best dad you can be.  Day in and day out.  You’ll make mistakes and pay for them.  You won’t be perfect and you’ll occasionally need to apologize to your children for major screw ups.  Assimilate the best of what you can from fathers around you (including yours) and do your best.  Maybe your dad flew kites with you, but it’s not your thing.  Ok.  Replace it with something else.  But be there for them, be present in their lives, and love them.  How you love them is uniquely up to you.  Just love them.  That’s the real lesson my dad gave me.

                Happy Father’s Day to the Big Guy.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Goodfellas

Sometime between Child Number Two and Child Number Three (or between Autumn Child and Winter Child or between Elizabeth and Chloe or between 1996 and 2000 for those of you who keep track of such things), my wife and I were living on only my teaching and her babysitting incomes.  By Friday night I considered surviving the week a considerable accomplishment if not an out-and-out miracle and a cause for great celebration.  However, as we were financially impoverished for perpetuity, not too great of a celebration.

One memorable Friday evening I suggested to her that we travel about half an hour to one of the nicer local eating establishments, Goodfellas.  The only hang up: it was the same night as the ring dance for the high school where I taught mathematics.  By Friday night I typically tried to avoid all contact with anyone under the age of 18, my own children not included, and thus all restaurants that might be playing host to the students.  But this evening we threw caution to the wind, arranged for a babysitter, and went out on a date.

Sure enough, upon arrival at the restaurant we recognized two couples—on a double date—eating dinner before the dance.  Fortunately, these were some of the finest my school district had to offer, four great kids that I didn’t mind seeing.  It seemed that they had arrived only shortly before we did.  I think I may have gone over and said hello before taking my seat, but in any case I acknowledged them and didn’t intrude.

Susan and I were seated, ordered, and then had a very pleasant dinner.  Conversation might have been about Michael and Elizabeth, or school, or math, or perhaps we just sat staring at each other.  Most likely math.

Towards the end of dinner our waiter approached our table and announced that our bill had been taken care of for us.  I remember thinking that people only say that in the movies and never in real life.  No one just pays for your meal without good reason.  On the other hand, the waiter was just standing there and was not acting as if this was a joke.  When we asked by whom, he gestured to the four high school students on their way out the door.

We were stunned, grateful, and amazed.  When every dollar seemed to weigh more than it should have, this was a true gift.

Later we found out that the church minister for one of the young men had also been at Goodfellas that evening and had done for the four of them what the students did for us.  He covered their bill as he was on the way out.  The fact that these teenagers chose to “pay it forward” to us made it no less remarkable.  Maybe even more so.  They had money in their pocket that they were planning on spending.  They had the chance to keep it all, but chose not to.

Since that time I have been the recipient of many, many gifts from students, parents, and community businesses and members.  These gifts have helped to make teaching worthwhile even when the paycheck has fallen short of what we need.  I am grateful for everything that has been done for me.  However, none have touched my heart as deeply as when that waiter said to us “Your bill has been taken care of.”  Thank you.