Thursday, September 22, 2016

Trip To Kansas City

(Barbara Lane posted about Winstead's a famous drive up restaurant that has survived decades.  Barbara, I just want you to know I saw your comment after posting the blog and want to tell you I had breakfast there!  Great as always!)

Visits home come with baggage.  Lots of memories both good and bad.  This trip will probably be the last one for quite some time.  It was fun and there is nothing like seeing family.  That said, Kansas City has nothing to offer me anymore.  I guess 40 years and the passing of time takes its toll.   My little brother still lives there and a sister leaves about two hours away.  Out of ten kids most are spread around the U.S. and getting them together is a real chore and one that no one seems to want to tackle anymore.  

My brother and his wife from Hawaii came into town for a few weeks.  They'll be visiting friends, family and also taking a side trip to Winnipeg.   My cousin Marian lives in Winnipeg and will be moving to Massachusetts just before winter sets in.   We went out for dinner along with a long-time family friend.   I was able to visit with my brother and his wife several times.  They stayed at the hotel next door.  

My oldest nephew and his wife are die hard Royals fans.   She's a head nurse and he is a teacher at the University of Missouri.  There son is 14 and a freshman in high school.  He's into robotics and loves his video game.  In the picture below you can see from l to r my godson from Germany, my little brother, nephew, his mother and yours truly!  They like Mexican food and wanted to take me to an authentic Mexican restaurant.  Well, it was Mexican, but it was more like TexMex.  Very good food no doubt.  I loved the enchiladas.  

Seeing family was fun and I'm glad I had the opportunity to make a stop off after my course from Pennsylvania.  Part of the trip was paid for and made it easier to stay for more than a couple of days.  I had a nice hotel on the Country Club Plaza although it has become very expensive.   This is an excerpt from the history of the Plaza:

The Country Club Plaza (often referred to as The Plaza) is a privately owned American shopping center in the Country Club District of Kansas CityMissouri.
The center consists of 18 separate buildings representing 804,000 square feet of retail space and 468,000 square feet of office space.[1] The standalone buildings are built in a distinctive Seville Spain theme and are on different blocks mostly west of Main Street and mostly north of Brush Creek and blends into the Country Club neighborhood around it and the whole area is often simply called the "The Plaza."
It was the first shopping center in the world designed to accommodate shoppers arriving by automobile.
We live a few blocks from here and I spent many a summer hanging out, walking around, rebel rousing and having a coke and a smoke.  It has changed quite a bit but for the better.  It is much more of an upper-class shopping area than it was back in the day.  The surrounding apartment towers are now tony condos for the up and coming in the city.  Breakfast and lunch out and evenings at cocktail bars are all the in thing there now. 

One thing that isn't mentioned in the above about is that the Kansas City and the Plaza are known as the city of fountains.  Here are just a few.  Funny that they are mostly nudes for a place built in the 20s and in the Midwest to boot.  

I guess it would be a great place to spend a few days but it just seems like the city is empty.  No one on the streets and people certainly don't do much walking.  My little brother and I went downtown to the city market which like everything else has turned into a posh place to eat and buy produce.   The Steamboat Arabia is also housed down by the river.  The steamboat sank in the Missouri river in the mid 1800s and was found 30 years ago buried in a cornfield as the river had shifted its course over the years.  Arabia was a cargo ship and was loaded with goods.  They were amazingly preserved and a museum was open which as I said houses the remains of the ship as well as store fronts that stock all of the products, clothing, jarred foods, hardware and more.   It's truly like walking back in time.

Well, my time came to an end on Tuesday as I had rental car with a weekend price.  I think I mentioned the fact that the four-day weekend was at $9 a day but had I kept the car until then next day the total would have come to $350.  I found an economy hotel a mile from the airport with shuttle service.  I dropped off the car in the late afternoon, they picked me up and took me to the hotel.  The next morning bright and early at 4 a.m. they took me back to catch my flight.  I hope it's true that TSA may be replaced by something else.  What a waste of energy and time.  The took my bag for inspection but piddled around for 15 minutes before inspecting it.  I made it to the plane (less than 30 meters away) before they closed the door.  They announced a 3 minute warning before closing the door and the TSA said, "well, that happens".  They didn't give a rat's behind.

I just had to post this pic of a Kansas City policeman on patrol at the airport.  God forbid there was an emergency, he'd never make it.  Too bad you can't see his front side.

Friday, September 16, 2016

U.S. Immigration - Your Not Going To Believe What I Say

Yesterday was a travel day.  I went from Monterrey, Houston, Chicago and into Harrisburg.  Then a rental car to Reading (pronounced Redding).  

In Houston it was a mad dash to get through immigration and on my flight to Chicago.  All my flight were tight and there was little room for tolerance.   First off, there was a struggle between gate agents and maintenance over who was responsible for moving the sky way to the plane's door. 

Finally got and the dash to immigration was on.  As we headed down the terminal which is a long and winding road, a 747 unloaded 300 people from China.  Running, running, I got there and to my surprise the system in Houston has been streamlined.  You go to a kiosk, scan your passport, enter your flight number and airline.  It prints out a slip with your picture on it and off you go.  There was no waiting and the immigration agents were very very friendly.   I wonder if the Obama administration has had something to do with it.

Anyway, it's 5:30 EDT and I'm getting ready to go to the high school.  I always drive by at night so I won't get mislead by the GPS or directions.   It's 10 minutes from here.  That's what you get when you make your own reservations.  Usually I end up 45 minutes away when the office makes the reservations.  The system, Concur, is a great online reservation system for everything I do.  I'm glad the company implemented it.

Tonight, off to Kansas City.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Off To Pennsylania - Then, A Family Visit

I'm off for West Lawn, PA tomorrow morning.  The flight leaves very early in the morning and I would have to get up at 3 a.m. to get to the airport to meet the U.S. airline requirements.  I have accumulated a lot of points.  I didn't want to leave the car at the airport so I am staying at a Holiday Inn at the airport.  No cost and I have the points.  It worked out well and there was a great manager's happy hour too.  

The shuttle leaves every thirty minutes so I can sleep in and not have to have Juan take me to the airport.  Tomorrow is a long travel day with stops in Houston, Chicago and then to Harrisburg.

Today was an Independence Day celebration.  Times have changed.  Friday is a national holiday so they decided to have the event today.  Why?  It it were tomorrow no one would show up as they are off on Friday.   Sad but parents take their kids out of school to go on a three-day weekend.

I'm excited to be visiting my family in Kansas City.   There is a shindig on Sunday the 24th with more family but I can't stay that long.  Too much to do and I need to get back home.  I'll come back home very early Wednesday morning.  I'll get to see a brother from Hawaii, my godson from Germany, my little bro, some nieces and nephews and an adopted sister  (she's really my sister-in-laws sister but we always have thought of her as a sister). 

Not sure who else I'll see but I am looking forward to four days of visits.  I got a great deal on a car at $9 a day.  Considering there is a huge event in K.C. this weekend and rates were going as high as $350 for a week.  I held out thinking worse case I could use Uber.   This worked out well.  Also, I found a promo after making a reservation at Extended Stay on the Plaza.  I called them two days later and they honored it.  $99 off the four nights.  Pretty good!

If you don't know what the Country Club Plaza is, check it out.  Also, check for Kansas City, the City of Fountains.  I'll be posting pictures along the way.

Friday, September 9, 2016

My Job Isn't Always Glamorous

We almost took the rv out for the weekend.   However, something came up and made it impossible.  Besides that, it's a bitch to get the rv back to the house on a Sunday afternoon because of traffic from the highway.

I was in Mexico City again this week for two days.  I know I travel a lot, visit great places and sometimes have the opportunity to enjoy it.   The next two months will bring me quite a bit of stress but not in a negative way.

One thing I do and I don't talk much about it, is create commercial presentations for new texts.  When I do this, my work is scrutinized by publishing editors.  They're tigers and are eager to tear you to pieces.  They have to.  It's their job.   I have been working on this project for the last eight months from bringing U.S. materials to Mexico and now adapting some of those materials to form new materials for the Mexican market.  I don't do the writing but I am always asked for feedback and once the material is ready I work on creating the commercial presentation.  It's not easy because it has to attract academics but at the same time sell materials.

I've submitted my work today in the form of what we call a rough draft although it is in presentation form.  Not complete, lacking original artwork from the publisher, I am awaiting their response to see if we are on the right track.  The email is sitting in my inbox as we speak but I never read these mails by myself.  Being very sensitive, I take my work seriously as I am an educator and not a salesperson.  The end user is my personal and professional goal.

Tonight we will read that mail and I will work from there.  It always works out but the criticism can be hard to swallow.   This time around I made it clear that we do three drafts with immediate feedback.  We'll see what happens.

Thursday I fly to Pennsylvania to teach a course and then four days visiting my family in Kansas City.  After, I have two weeks to finish the project and prepare for a company kick off where I will present the new material.  If all goes well, it will be presented at the national convention which this year takes place in Monterrey.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Private and Public Schools

I work in a private school and I wanted people to know what goes on in the Mexican system.  My school is a Catholic school and has a town trust that owns and operates the school.  I am not on the teaching staff but an external consultant and my work is not just in English but working towards creating a bilingual environment.  If you were to walk into the school it looks like another Catholic school except we no longer have religous teaching staff except for religion teachers.

There are a total of 36.9 million students in Mexican schools from Pre-K through university including both public and private  (2016-2017).  953,760 teachers support these schools with 240.000 working private educational institutions.  Out of the 263,000 schools there are 46,000 are private.  

The number of private schools continues to rise and has doubled since 1990.  Why the increase in private institutions versus public?  Number one reason is that the Mexican economy and the Mexican middle class has grown by leaps and bounds.   Another big reason is the quality of education and the teachers union.  As I am sure you've been reading, we are going through an education reform issued by the federal government and created by individuals who were chosen based on their research and investigation in the Mexican system.  The reform has pitted government, unions and teachers against each other for one very simple reason.  Teachers are now being evaluated based on performance, professional development, and overall knowledge.  There is also an additional test for English teachers.

Starting on Monday, August 22nd, many schools in four states didn't open for classes.  Students are being denied public education because of the teachers and the union.  Oaxaca, Guerrero, Michoacan and Chiapas.  Those just happen to be the country's four poorest states.   Very sad.   In many cases, the maximum educational level achieved is 6.5 years or just exiting primary.  Why is that?  At 14, a student in Oaxaca has missed so much school due to striking teachers that they no longer see the value of education and go to work.  Last year alone, students in Oaxaca missed 100 days of classes.  How will they ever make them up?  They can't and they won't.

I have worked with both the private and public sector training English teachers.   I have to say that the attitude of many public teachers is, "I really don't care, just pay me".   In the private sector, depending on the economic and educational level of the school you will find all kinds of teachers.  Keep in mind that English has been in the curriculum since 1929 but is still not considered an official subject.  Because of that, English is never taken seriously even in some private schools.   Private schools can cost $150 (u.s.) a month to $5000 (u.s.) a month.   Trust me, there are many that fall into the $1000 (u.s.) per month level.   High tech, all English schools with one hour of Spanish and some teach a third language in secondary or high school.  A large percentage of private schools offer classes from Pre-K though secondary or high school.

With that said, there are many very good public primary and secondary schools.  What makes one better than the other?  The answer lies in the culture created by the school principal.  It takes a lot to run a public school.  A new public school receives; the property, the buildings, new furniture, and a set of teachers.  After that, the school is on its own.  It (the PTA) is required to raise funds to maintain the school building, provide air conditioners, technology tools, paint, gardening tools, etc.  

There is always fight about public schools not being free in Mexico.  The school cannot force a parent to participate in the above.  We call them quotas and the parents are required to pay an amount for each student at the beginning of the year.  There are also fund raising events throughout the year.  Don't think that a good public school is always in an upper-middle class neighborhood.  Again, it depends on your principal.  Some of the best maintained schools are in some of the poorest areas.   New schools being built in this decade are also some of the highest quality that exist today.  

Many people have a plan.  They send their kids to a private school in Pre-K, primary and secondary and then return them to a public high school so that they can save money for university studies.   Public universities run approx. 3000 pesos per month and our state university in Monterrey has 130,000 students and over 50% receive some type of scholarship and many of those pay nothing.  All private schools, by federal law, are required to provide X number of scholarships to the public.   

Our most expensive university, which happens to be in Monterrey, costs 65,000 pesos per semester.  I finished my studies in English there in 1994.  It wasn't that expensive then.  They also have a scholarship program but once a person finishes their degree, they have signed a contract to work it off at the university in administrative or teaching positions.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Hmm . . . I Guess I'm Back! (For Awhile)

It has been a long summer and I haven't blogged much since we headed back to Monterrey.  It's been all work, travel and too many hotel beds to count.  We made good money and Friday was my last day for a few weeks before we start our weekend road tours.   

I met a lot of teachers, worked in two schools a day.  Private schools run the gamut from small family owned and operated schools to campuses that make some U.S. schools seem relatively small and insignificant.   I had time to read while I was riding high in the sky and I chose to read pedagogy and methodology materials since I hadn't done so since April.  You can never stop with professional development and that included materials about presenting and use of technology.

Here are a few pics that describe the last month.

Airports . . .

Hotels . . . 

An occasional splurge meal . . .

And the winner of all schools on this tour was in Guadalajara.  The owners purchased what was left of a farm in a now semi-industrial area.   The maintained as much of the farm as possible including lots of green areas.   The picture isn't the best but in the back are the classroom buildings.  I don't see many schools like this in the U.S. or Mexico where all of the staff are well-paid educational professionals.   The farm also came with what are now two older dogs, a German Shepard and a Gran Pionero (can't remember in English right now) that are allowed to roam the school.  I hit it off with one that followed me both days and sat next to me while we worked.  I guess he loved my presentations and activities.   Anyway, it was a refreshing experience to know that excellence in education still exists.

The worst were the days like this last Thursday when I had worked four days straight and took a late flight home arriving at the house at 11 p.m. only to get up and 5:30 and head back to the airport.  However, that's part of what I do.

September I will be heading to Pennsylvania and Tennessee working with the SAT/ACT and then head to Kansas City where I will visit with my family for a few days.  

Saturday, August 6, 2016

You Need To Replace It! Oh Yeah!

Whenever there is a problem at home or with the cars the answer is always the same.  "Replace the part".  Well, not necessarily true.  Here is a good example and I have more.  A lot has to do with the country or area you live in.   

Recently we had a decrease in water pressure in the house.  The outside water hoses worked fine.  We called a plumber thinking the worst, such as a leak, and he responded, " We need to open the walls and change out the shower faucets.  They are stopped up with sediment".   When you open a wall in a concrete house it is a mess and very expensive to repair not to mention the fact that you will have little luck finding matching tiles.

My mind works in mysterious ways.  We use vinegar to clean just about everything.  It's natural and it's cheap.  It works wonders on glass and chrome faucets.   So, I disconnected the water inlets to the house and attempted to pour vinegar into the lines.  We waited 24 hours and turned things on.  Sediment poured out of the faucets along with rust and it seemed to help.   The showers didn't change.   While I was in San Miguel de Allende, Juan got the idea to put vinegar directly into the shower head outlet.   

I've never seen so much water pressure in all my life.  We now have wonderful showers that once were a trickle to the point I was ready to shower outside with the garden hose and that's not an exaggeration. 

The same goes with car parts.   The starter doesn't work, we change out the magnets inside.   A motor loses power, we have the motor rewound if that is the correct word.  There are shops in Mexico called bobinadoras, that redo the copper wire on the motors.   Everything can be fixed instead of replaced.

I remember when I worked in the pioneer years of computers.   We didn't replace boards and parts.  We repaired them down to the diode.  That can still be done today in Mexico.  I've mentioned that before with the small inverters.  We have blown a few only to have them repaired for a few bucks.  I'm not an electrician or a mechanic, so I went on line to YouTube and found a video that explained that inverters have a regular auto fuse inside.   Now, if it happens, I open it up, pull the fuse and replace it.

It's been a difficult return home.   We both have two weeks of intense teacher training and travel.   We have reviewed, written presentations and trainings for over 25 different textbooks that we will use in the coming weeks.   Pooped is the word but then again, that's what we do twice a year to make money.  Did I mention that we will be making a promotional video for the university and we will be well-paid for the one-hour show?