Punxsutawney Phil Has Nothing on My Lawn Mower

Two surefire signs that winter’s grip is slipping and spring is on final approach: The pitchers and catchers reported for spring training last Wednesday for the Mariners and I had to mow my lawn on Sunday.

While having nothing to do with the former, I must take some of the blame for the latter. Quite possibly the earliest I’ve ever broken out the lawn mower (we’re still a solid month away from the official first day of spring), it wasn’t due to any prowess at growing grass. Rather it was a combination of a very mild Pacific Northwest winter, some good time-release fertilizer, an opportunistic spate of sunshine and my inability to get one last good mowing in late last fall before the rain set in. So the lawn went dormant looking shagging and unkempt.

The recent spate of sunny weather woke the grass once more and it picked up where it left off, forcing the need to pull the mower out from under the ever-growing rubble of inline skates, Razor scooters, flat basketballs, Frisbees and other general garage detritus that accumulated over the past few months.

I’d love to take credit for my winterizing skills of draining the oil and gasoline from the mower before stowing it. But the reality is I did none of that, so it is a credit to the engineers of Toro that the old beast rumbled to life on just the second pull. No doubt my neighbors looked out their window at the crazy guy next door with the mower going in February. But I felt vindicated when later in the day, I could hear other mowers sputtering to life.

As a threat of implied punishment, I keep telling my 11-year-old that he will soon take on the task of lawn care. But the truth is I’m reluctant to give up the task. There is something inherently satisfying in turning a shaggy, disheveled looking lawn into a miniature Safeco Field using just a 15-inch wide mower. The smell of freshly cut grass and the green stains on my hands from emptying out the catcher bring back memories of youthful days when — though it was an assigned chore — cutting the lawn was a task I was always happy to do.

Lawn mowing can be at once both therapeutic and relaxing. There is no rush, yet there is always a very real and tangible end product to the task. Unlike working in the garden or toiling in flower beds, you can see your handiwork at the end of the day. Some years back, my wife discovered a new use for mowing the lawn. Being nine months and a day pregnant, she mowed “just to shake things up,” and it worked. She went into labor that night.

I mow — not to induce labor or create it — but because unlike any other activity around the house, it brings a sense of spring to the senses.

A Little Fanfare for the Secret That is PYO

There’s a well-kept secret in Gig Harbor that deserves a shout out for the good they provide the community.

Peninsula Youth Orchestra has been serving the region’s youth (From Tacoma to Port Orchard) providing stringed instrument opportunities since 1998. The organization started when a handful of dedicated volunteers wanted to meet a need that wasn’t being fulfilled by the school districts in either Peninsula or South Kitsap. Although the districts have band, there was no place for youth to learn and play orchestra-style music.

Thanks to PYO, this is no longer the case, as they take in students both experienced and brand new, providing musician development through four levels of experience and age groupings with a school-year program and a summer string camp.

PYO hosted its first official performance of the 2009-10 school year with its winter concert at Peninsula High School on Saturday, Jan. 30. This was the group’s first time in the high school auditorium as they have outgrown previous performance spaces. Executive Director Paula Vander Poel told the audience that the first years they were lucky to play to 50 people in the audience. Saturday’s crowd was in the hundreds.

For many of the participants (ranging in age from 8 to 18) this was their first time on a stage under the lights with an audience. Nerves may have been in high gear, but you wouldn’t have known it by the performance. All four groups: Debut, Encore, Junior and Youth orchestras each took the stage, demonstrating how they’ve grown from learning how to properly hold and play an instrument to playing complex, moving pieces.

The organization is funded through community support and a tuition-based program. Partial and full scholarships for some are made possible thanks to the donations of sponsors.

Music education, sadly, is being underserved in many communities across the country — and the current economic conditions of budget cuts and staff layoffs mean more music programs that have thus far survived still find themselves endangered. A national study released last year was among the first to quantify the music knowledge level of eighth-grade students and the data is disheartening, to say the least.

In the findings:

Only 57 percent of eighth-graders attended schools where music instruction was offered at least three or four times a week.

Eight percent attended schools where no music instruction was offered.

Just over one-third (34 percent) of eighth-graders participated in one or more musical activities in school.

Only 5 percent of students reported playing in an orchestra in school.

At a fundamental level, music provides a young mind a better understanding of both mathematics and science, as well as learning cooperation and discipline. At a deeper level, it reaches to the very core of being human — we are the only species that creates “music” beyond a need to communicate, but for the more ethereal sense of enjoyment and satisfaction. The creation of and listening to music is a uniquely human endeavor and one that crosses all socio-economic and cultural divides. We may all speak languages that are unintelligible to non-native ears, but anyone can appreciate the lyrical lilting sensibilities of a Mozart minuet or the captivating beat of a jungle drum in Zimbabwe.

Youth who participate in music programs show improved test scores, demonstrate high levels of problem-solving, and a significant number go on to higher education (see: The Importance of Music Education). We understand this, and yet music programs are routinely among the first to be cut from shrinking educational budgets. Why? The best I can figure is that a music program’s benefits cannot be quantified as easily as can a reading or science program. Although much like mathematics in its basic form and compositional structure, music’s real benefits are on an artistic plateau, not so easily defined and measured as they are felt and experienced.

Because music speaks to the soul more than to reason does not justify its elimination in our public schools. But until there is a fundamental shift in how we view our educational system, arts in general — and music in particular — will continue to be silenced for the sake of balancing budgets.

That’s why programs like PYO need and deserve the community’s recognition and appreciation for the quality of music education they provide the region’s youth.

Bravo PYO.

Parkland Tragedy Aftermath: Fix the Broken Judicial System

It’s so frustrating — and so typical. No sooner than the stories were posted about the slaying of four police officers in Parkland, Wash., those who hate cops hit their talking points while those who hate the government hit theirs. And those who support cops were incensed by the hatred being posted while still others found ways to turn a senseless tragedy into a podium for a political rant of left or right persuasion.

This is why I didn’t even feel like writing a blog on the events that unfolded when suspected killer Maurice Clemmons was sought for, found and subsequently killed by a Seattle patrol officer after the Sunday slaying of four Lakewood Police personnel: police Sgt. Mark Renninger and officers Tina Griswold, Greg Richards and Ronnie Owens. I didn’t see a need to add to the cacophony of opinion flying about this horrific event and it’s many sordid ramifications.

But one thing seemingly everyone can agree upon — cop hater and lover, left wing liberal and right wing conservative, and every two-bit Joe that can type a message on a comment list — is that the judicial system failed us.

Even here, the blogosphere goes nuts with everyone and his brother pointing fingers and laying blame. “Someone must pay” seems to be the prevailing attitude from former Arkansas Gov. and one-time Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee to Pierce County judges who set bail earlier in November. No one steps forward to accept responsibility for their actions and how those actions may have contributed in some fractional way that allowed Clemmons to be on the street Sunday morning, and everyone is quick to point fingers across the country between Arkansas and Washington over which state messed up more. But nowhere do I see anyone looking beyond the blame game to identify just exactly where the judicial system broke down and how we can go about repairing it.

Without creating a timeline of Clemmons’ life, let’s look at one crucial moment in his violent past. In 1989, at the ripe old age of 16, Clemmons was sentenced to 108 years in prison after being tried as an adult for eight felonies that included aggravated robbery and burglary. Tried by a judge and jury, it was determined he was so dangerous that he would serve the multiple sentences consecutively, rather than concurrently, as is the norm for multiple sentences.

Clemmons applied for clemency in 1999, writing a single word in response to the question why he sought such action: “Mercy,” he wrote.

In 2000, then Gov. Huckabee — with the advice of a four-member clemency board — saw fit to commute the 108-year sentence to 57 years, thus allowing Clemmons to apply for parole immediately, decades sooner than he could have with the original sentence. A judge had to approve the clemency.

According the the Tacoma News Tribune, Sixth Circuit Judge Marion G. Humphrey supported it, adding a personal note, “I favor a time cut for Maurice Clemmons,” Humphrey wrote. “Mr. Clemmons was 16 years old when his cases began in this court. I do not know why the previous judge ran his sentences consecutively, but concurrent sentences would have been sufficient,” (italics added).

And right there lies exactly where our judicial system fails.

Humphrey does not know why the sentence was consecutive because he never bothered or was required by law to find out. A judge and jury that had to sit for days to hear of the teenager’s violent and reckless crimes saw firsthand why it was necessary to put him away for a long time and did their job as the state expected them to do.

How, then, can we have justice served when a governor or another judge down the line can look back on a trial and conviction — in this case a decade old — and arbitrarily decide they were “too harsh” in the sentence and change it? They didn’t sit in the trial. They didn’t see the evidence. They didn’t take in the testimony.

What they get is an inmate’s continued pleas for clemency and “mercy,” and sometimes get to hear from the prosecuting attorney’s office why they shouldn’t commute a sentence — although in this specific case, prosecuting attorney Larry Jegley said his office was never notified about the clemency request.

Then the same judge who granted clemency, also provided comment for the parole board, saying, “I strongly support parole in this case.”

Judges, governors and anyone else with the power to change a sentence should be mandated by law to know ALL the facts of a case and must talk with principals from BOTH sides of the court case before being given the power to alter one man’s life — allowing him the potential to alter so many more lives down the line — as Clemmons did on Sunday.

But I don’t hold out much hope for being able to change the judicial system. That would be akin to creating a new educational or health care system in this country. Too many ramifications, too many ways that too many people can jump on some blog and rant and rave and turn it into some beast of an issue that soon has nothing to do with what was intended.

Trouble With Girls Gone Wild – Sports Edition Is the Coaching

Ah, another week, another viral video on the net. This time it is a double header with a college womens soccer game in Utah and a girls high school contest in Rhode Island.

The latter shows the frustration we often see from athletes when the game is already in hand with a playoff berth waiting the winner and a trip home for the loser. What’s sad is that the brief violence on the field — seemingly well handled by the officials, spread to the sidelines and stands. The former is a clip showing a 20-year-old defender from New Mexico bringing the hammer down — literally — to various BYU players has gone worldwide with whole Web sites devoted to either villifying or defending her actions. Some peers in college soccer say she’s only getting this kind of attention because of her gender and that if she were a male, this would not be happening.

I take exception to this, going back to the infamous head butt by French player Zinedine Zidane in the 2006 World Cup contest. His extreme behavior also went viral. It’s not so much the gender as the actions that grab the attention.

Watching the 20-year-old in action, a few things become clear:

1. Her responses were not entirely unprovoked. In the shot of her throwing an elbow into the back on another player you can clearly see she reacting to being elbowed in the stomach. In the instance of her pulling the ponytail of another player, yanking her head back and throwing her to the ground, note that the BYU player is pulling on her uniform. I’m not saying that her actions are justified in any way. But let’s at least give her the benefit of the doubt that she was out to just brutalize other players.

2. There is no clear justification of her  punching a player in the face or when she kicks the ball into the face of another player after a teammate has tripped that player. But again, let’s remember, we are seeing clips, not the entire game, so there may or may not have been prior provocation.

3. Given the style of her play, her remorse following her indefinite suspension isn’t easy to completely accept. An aggressive style of play such as she showed takes time to develop — it doesn’t come out just in the “heat of the competition.” I’m thinking some high school and college coaches along her soccer career might know more about this than they have said.

There is plenty of Internet buzz about the two incidents — evolving into a discussion of what we expect of female vs. male athletes and the form of competition we expect of the genders. But what isn’t being talked about here is what I think is the root of the matter: Not that players are getting more aggressive or brazen, but that youth coaches are allowing that behavior at younger levels — all in the name of competition.

Having coached a variety of (male) youth sports for a number of years now, I can say I’ve seen my share of unsportsmanlike conduct in the way some coaches approach a game. In firsthand experience, I’ve seen coaches try to cheat by using the wrong size ball, heard them tell their players to purposefully try to hurt another player, bad mouth officials using colorful language in front of their players and even break out into a fistfight (that was two coaches on the same team …) in the middle of a game. These are sports at the 8- and 9-year-old divisions — not even close to high school age.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of really good youth coaches out there who every day try to teach the conduct of fair play and good sportsmanship. But I think there is a distinct disconnect in developing good coaches across the board. All you need to be a youth coach is a desire to do the job and the time to be at practice. There is no requisite for experience or moral sense of fair play.

For every youth sport, there are off-season coaching clinics, camps and seminars, but I see few coaches take advantage of these — often because they must foot the bill to attend out of their own pockets. Seldom do I hear of mandatory coaching clinics. Usually, there is one mandatory coach meeting before a season begins. But as a typical example, in Gig Harbor Little League baseball, the mandatory meeting is to go over details about rules and drafting order — everything except good coaching. There is the obligatory speech (usually near the end) about everyone working together for the betterment of the kids, coaching for the players — not for your ego, but you can easily see those good intentions benched early on each season.

I’ve always been a little amazed there isn’t some kind of “coaching” school that youth coaches should be required to pass before being handed their whistle. We require so much of other adults who come into daily contact with our children, such as educators and daycare personnel — yet we are happy to release junior to a virtual stranger for two hours a day over a three or four month period. It’s as if we as parents and those who run leagues are all playing a great big game of Roulette with our children — willing to blindly accept a “bad” coach for a season here and there while wishing for someone better.

Until we modifying the world of youth sports, we shouldn’t find it so surprising to see videos of women soccer players pulling hair and trading punches, upset parents flying out of the stands and sucker punching a ref, or Little League teens going ballistic and head butting an umpire. We are a competitive species living in a competitive society and this sense of competition is drilled into our youth at a very early age. It is unfortunate that in our haste to get the little one to play her best, we are willing to let some unscrupulous coach teach them the underhanded techniques to get that extra edge on the field while masquerading as someone trying to teach them how to properly kick a ball.

WSDOT’s ‘Nightmare on Alaskan Way Viaduct’ Destined to be Instant Video Classic


Hollywood needs to look over its collective special effects shoulders, some engineers in Seattle (tied to the Viaduct tunnel project) are looking to make the next natural disaster movie right in our backyard neighborhood of Seattle.

Words don’t do it justice, you gotta watch the YouTube video for yourself.

Alaskan Way Viaduct on YouTube

If this doesn’t play, check it out at the WSDOT Web site to find a streaming version — along with a quick explanation as to why they released this a week before the election.

Just be sure you pop the popcorn and grab the Milk Duds before watching. Who knows, maybe the producers of “2012” will buy the rights and cut this into the upcoming blockbuster.

To read about the politics behind the delayed release and how it was first issued to KING-TV before being put out for public viewing, see the Seattle Times article that first broke the story.

Now if someone would just film the epic about Gig Harbor being ravaged by SUV-driving soccer moms all hopped up on triple lattes and radiated by their continuous use of cell phones … If anyone in Hollywood is interested, I can have the script for you in 48 hours.

I Don’t Like Spiders and Snakes — But This Guy Does

House spider

As the cool air begins to chill the nights, the annual ritual of my wife’s blood-curdling screams fill the rooms and shatter the otherwise mostly peaceful ambiance that hangs about our rural county home.

Is she susceptible to the grisly nature of horror films that profilgate the airwaves and Netflix at this time of year? (Well, yes, but that’s not what causes her to scream.) Nor is she preparing for an upcoming appearance in one of the local theaters’ annual haunted house extravaganzas — although her howls would most assuredly add an air of sinister authenticity to the fright fests.

No, what sends her into an apoplectic shrilly nonsense is our diminutive and oft-misunderstood friend: a spider.

Like many “arachnophobes,” she firmly believes our little houseguests come in from the cold as the weather takes a turn for the worse. And up until a couple of days ago, I believed the very same myth. That is, until doing research for this blog post, I came across the Web site of a one certain Rod Crawford, curator of Arachnids at Burke Museum, on the campus of the University of Washington in Seattle.

I had the pleasure of talking with Mr. Crawford on the telephone about a dozen years ago, when as a reporter, I was preparing background information on a story of a local claiming to have found a brown recluse in their home. Mr. Crawford assured me that if indeed a person had found a brown recluse, that I had a much bigger story than I intended, as no such confirmation of this particular spider being found in western Washington had yet been made.

We talked at some length of some other spider myths before ending our conversation. Now I doubt very seriously that my one phone call so many years ago led him to publish his Web site (but I’ll gladly take some of the credit, regardless), but he has, since that fateful phone call, put upon the Web — pun most definitely intended — a site about the many spider myths. And there are quite a few.

Just some of the myths he debunks are: You are never more than three feet from a spider; spiders found in bathtubs and sinks came up through the drain pipes; the Daddy-longlegs has the world’s most dangerous venom but it’s fangs are too soft to penetrate human skin; when black widow spiders mate, the female always kills and eats the male; some bubble gum has spider eggs in it; people are bitten by spiders at night while they sleep; you can identify a spider by a photo or by its markings — and a particularly disturbing myth, that we swallow an average of four live spiders per year while we sleep.

I could go on in some detail to some of the myths vs. reality, but why when Mr. Crawford has done such an excellent job already and you can read his handiwork for yourself by clicking here?

I will admit that I have heard and believed a number of the spider myths he squashes on his Web site. In particular: that spiders come into a house to escape the cold. Think about it. They are not warm-blooded so they do not react to the vagaries of outdoor temperature changes other than to die when it gets too cold. It was fascinating to read how there are in the Pacific Northwest roughly 30 outdoor arachnid species, 25 indoor species and eight that can live indoors and outside. Most of the house spiders we see have lived their entire life inside and putting them outside is most certainly a death sentence for the spider (another myth busted).

A big myth that I still have a hard time adjusting to is that spiders rarely bite and on average a person is bitten once or twice in their life. Of the thousands of spiders he has handled, Crawford claims to have been bitten only twice.

So as Halloween approaches and the visible sight of orb weaver webs can be seen on virtually ever bush and tree, take time to read how misunderstood our little multi-eyed friends are. Like sharks and wolves, they have garnered an undeserved reputation amid their human counterparts. It’s time they earned a little respect for all the good they provide by keeping a pest-filled insect world in line.

But that respect will stop short with my arachnid-fearing wife. She won’t even discuss a spider’s attributes and the photo I’ve attached to this post will guarantee to keep her from ever reading this blog.

And my apologies to Jim Stafford’s 1970s classic, “Spiders and Snakes,” about winning love through intimidation. I loved that song as a teenager.

Forget Hawks vs. Tides, What About Gig Harbor’s Real Football Rivalry?

For more than three decades now, the crosstown football rivalry has pitted the Peninsula Seahawks against the Gig Harbor Tides in a contest so big that it garners its own name: The Fish Bowl. (The name comes from the benefit side, an annual salmon dinner served before the game that benefits the local fishermen and fleet.) Even though Gig Harbor is 4A and Peninsula is 3A, the non-league game remains big with bragging rights between the blue and green that run deep in the region’s veins. The latest incarnation of the gridiron contest is set to take place tomorrow night (Friday, Oct. 2) at the event’s only home, Roy Anderson Field at PHS, a stadium that is shared by both schools as their home field each football season.

But in my humble opinion, this contest pales in comparison to a matchup that isn’t even part of football reality — yet.

Anyone who is even remotely involved in youth football in Gig Harbor knows there are two leagues to choose from when signing up junior to be the next Peyton Manning. Part of the harbor’s rich history in youth sports is Peninsula Youth Football, well into its third decade in developing football stars of tomorrow. A relative upstart by comparison, the still young Bulldogs Football is in its fourth year of operation. Both leagues field teams from ages 8 to 14 — and both include cheerleader squads so whole families can stay involved.

Both leagues play an eight-game season with extra games included as part of a post-season tournament. Both leagues develop young minds and bodies for the rigors of football that will eventually feed their players into one of the two area high schools. Both leagues bristle with volunteers at all levels willing to help from coaching to cheerleading to recruitment. And just like their high school counterparts, both leagues do not share common opponents beyond each other.

All these similarities end at one very important point: Unlike the Hawks and Tides, PYF and Bulldogs do not play each other for bragging rights to Gig Harbor football.

Having been involved with both programs, I think I’ve gained an insight as to why this might be. As a matter of full disclosure, my son has played three years in PYF and this year is a Bulldog. I’ve been actively involved as well, having coached those same three years in PYF and now coaching as a Bulldog.

As you can well imagine, many of the “adults” involved with PYF don’t want to see this kind of matchup because they don’t want to legitimize the Bulldogs program in any way by acknowledging it (I use the term “adults” loosely because some revert to childlike behavior when it comes to youth sports). There are no doubt detractors for such a match-up in the Bulldogs camp as well, although I must confess, I have not met any of them yet. As you can imagine, those involved in a new league are eager to prove they belong, so many in the Bulldogs organization would welcome such a once-a-year contest.

At the youth level, you better believe the players are well aware of the “other” league. My son has taken his share of ribbing from his former Seahawks teammates for going Bulldog red. I just tell him to point out the difference in the won-loss records of his former and current team.

I joke, but seriously, both programs are filled with players that will one day join together as teammates on the sidelines for either Gig Harbor or Peninsula. Having now been a part of both programs, I have a better view of the youth football world than I did a year ago. Both programs are by-and-large well-run and are filled with adult volunteers who give countless hours to helping players learn and love the game of football. To be sure, both have individuals who detract from the core essence that it is and always should be by and about the youth. But I think you’d be hard pressed to look at any youth sports program anywhere and not find that element.

An annual contest between the leagues could be a good thing for the Gig Harbor community. Like it’s high school counterpart — the Fish Bowl — the games could be built around an annual fundraiser. A nominal admission could be charged and throughout the day, each grade could square off at Roy Anderson Field for bragging rights. A traveling trophy could be created, given that there are five team levels, so each league that wins three or more for a given year would earn the trophy. Non-profits could even earn needed money running concessions for the day-long event.

Granted, there are logistics to be figured out. While the Bulldogs field one team per grade, PYF fields 2-3 per grade. Creating an “all-star” team from PYF would be unfair because those kids wouldn’t have played together through the year. Maybe the PYF teams could alternate years — a Tides team one year and a Seahawks team the next.

Despite the obvious problems (where do you fit this into the calendar) and the sublime ones (those adults who don’t want to see this happen), it is an event that could be put to good use in the community to drive youth sports awareness and community spirit. I can tell you, the players on both sides would love the opportunity to play their school mates.

So how about it, adults? Can we truly act our age long enough to create a Fish Bowl in miniature? Having experienced what each program offers, I can tell you flatly that both leagues teach good values, sportsmanship and determination while also developing a respect and love for the sport of football. I no longer listen to the rumors spread about either as I’ve found it all to be just that — rumors. Let’s get past the pettiness that may have spurred the development of two youth football programs in Gig Harbor, acknowledge that there are and always will be two solid programs for players and parents to choose from, and use this opportunity to create something special and unique for Gig Harbor that involves both programs in a fun and positive fashion.

Lets embrace the competitiveness that is part of having two healthy, growing programs and develop a higher sense of community oneness by using the playing field to bring this all together. We can all feel good about creating more youth participation while raising funds that can be turned back into the community to further help make Gig Harbor a great place to live, work and play football.

I’ve snapped the ball. The question is: Will anyone run with it?

Could School District Save Parents’ $$$ with Bulk Buying?

Like swallows to Capistrano, students and educators have flocked back to area schools to start anew the educational cycle for 2009-10. Preceding the annual return to the hallowed halls is the parents’ annual trek to area stores and malls to meet the demands of the back-to-school supplies necessary to keep the classrooms running efficiently.

Not to sound like the proverbial old coot, but “when I was a kid,” we seldom had to bring more than a notebook of lined paper and a sunny disposition to start a new school year. I remember my teacher even handing me a shiny and unsharpened bright yellow No. 2 on the first day. But tightening budgets and burgeoning classrooms have conspired to create the system we have today, wherein parents must supply the class with many of the necessities that schools routinely supplied in the past.

Today’s student is lacking if she doesn’t bring a box of tissues, crayons, erasers, markers, notebooks, reams of paper, tape, rulers, glue sticks, highlighters, Ziploc bags, hand sanitizers, scissors, calculators, pocket dictionaries and enough pencils to build a bridge that would put the Tacoma Narrows to shame.

What got me to thinking was the demand for reams of paper. I got to wondering just how big the stack of paper would be if you totaled all the students in all the classrooms in all the schools in the Peninsula School District who were asked to bring a ream of paper to start the year. This rather simple query turned into a laborious task of Sisyphian proportions as I took to amassing the school supply lists of the 15 schools in the PSD realm.

The results of my query resulted in four rather cumbersome charts, which can be accessed as PDFs labeled in the following:

psd-09-supplies-per-student (SPS): Shows the supplies needed by each student in each grade, with a total dollar amount per student factored in with the pricing guide.

school Supplies by Grade/School (SGS): Shows totals of each item requested for each grade, based on projected enrollment numbers for 2009-10 posted on the PSD Web site.

psd-09-total-supplies-by-school (TSS): Shows total number of each item requested by each school, with a total for all of the districts eight elementary and four middle schools.

psd-09-supplies-prices (SP): Shows estimated cost of each item, total requested for the school district and the cost to parents based on these amounts.

As a matter of full disclosure, please note there are a number of discrepancies that make this list necessarily incomplete. For one, the high schools are not represented as class supply lists are not posted online. The per-student total is not completely accurate as a number of the supplies can be purchased at different stores for different prices — sometimes for big discounts at some stores. Also, the per-student total can be skewed by unlisted items, i.e. middle school students are required to provide gym clothes and some, locks for a locker, and none of this is incorporated into the cost totals.

Likewise, many parents refuse to purchase the total amount of some items requested, i.e. a student may be asked to bring 10 glue sticks, but a parent supplies three or they opt to not send some of the requested supplies to school at all.

And naturally enough, there is the matter of recycling. Many parents save items from one school year to the next — such as watercolor paints, or reusable items like calculators and rulers — eliminating the need to purchase the item anew each year. The costs per student shown on SPS assume that a parent is buying every item on the list as requested for the new school year.

Now I’m no statistical engineer, so my math and logic is in no way meant to be comprehensive or complete. Rather, this little project  led me to pose the bigger question: Given the distressed economy, could the school district pool the teacher wish lists, purchase the major accoutrement at a discounted bulk rate and save parents a lump sum of cash?

And like any statistical study, interesting facts and heretofore unasked questions come up when the data is laid out side by side.

For example: While most schools require at least one box of Kleenex per student, kids in Goodman Middle School must have particularly runny noses as they are expected to supply 2,196 boxes of tissues for the 549 students — a total of four boxes per student. And kids at Artondale and Purdy elementary schools plan to glue a lot of paper, with both schools expecting more than 3,500 glue sticks, while Evergreen Elementary and Goodman Middle School students will glue nary a dozen pieces of paper together with Evergreen asking for little more than two glue sticks per student and Goodman less than one per student.

And my original question on reams of paper? Students at Harbor Ridge and Voyager didn’t need to weigh their backpacks down on opening day as they were not asked for any reams, while Kopachuck tipped the other end of the scale, requesting 1,112 reams from the 656 students. Districtwide, a whopping 4,355 reams of paper were expected to be collected. With a ream of 20 lb. bond measuring 2 inches deep, that’s a stack of reams topping out at just over 725 feet high. If you were to stack the reams 10 feet high, you would need a closet measuring at least 6.5 feet by 7.5 feet and 10 feet high.

Anyone who has manipulated statistics knows you can create a number or set of numbers to represent just about anything you want. Looking at the numbers, a parent could wonder why a fifth grader at Artondale requires more than $80 in supplies while his counterpart at Minter Creek can meet her needs with less than $20. And do Artondale third-grade and Harbor Heights fourth-grade teachers really expect to go through 60 pencils per student in one school year? (That’s a new pencil for every three school days.)

But that’s not the point here. I’ll leave that kind of number crunching to those of you who feel compelled to look into this further. My point is to the school district. Couldn’t the district, with its buying power, purchase the non-reusable items on the lists each year — say  like the 23,432 glue sticks (parent price of 3 for .99 cents, costs parents $7,732.56), 7,714 Kleenex boxes (.99 each for a total of $7,636.86), and 4,355 reams of paper ($2.99 per ream, $13,021.45)?

The district could recoup the funds by then charging the parents what it paid for each item, so the parents are still footing the supplies bill, but getting the district’s buying clout.

It just seems to me a good starting off point to talk about the district looking to be innovative in ways to help parents meet the needs of the classroom by using its buying power to reduce the overall costs of going back to school. Anyone agree?

Courage Defined in the Face of a Child

How do you define courage?

Some define it by one’s ability to stand up to insurmountable odds like an American Patriot facing a charge of the British Army. Others may define it by the quiet determination of a toddler as she stands at the edge of the diving board for the very first time. Courage can be personified in standing up to a superior for what’s right, and is aptly illustrated by a stranger rushing into a burning house to rescue someone inside.

Courage comes in large Costco-sized crates and can also fit neatly into a pocket. It is both colorful and colorless, tasty and bitter, blunt and sharp.

And it is represented anew in the sweet face of a child.

The story of 9-year-old Isabelle Smith of Gig Harbor in the current issue of Gig Harbor Life personifies courage in every sense of the word.

Most everyone faces issues at some time in their lives that leave scars either real or emotional, but few of us receive them at such a young age and for most of us, we can hide or mask life’s “wounds” from the people around us. But Isabelle has been given a route through life few could endure — and yet she does so with a grace and style — and with the innocent smile of a child.

Her parents, M.K. and Ted Smith, have long ago learned to endure and survive the questions, stares and often rude and ignorant comments that come their child’s way, and they have taught Isabelle to do the same.

Even beyond the scale of impropriety from the public at large, Isabelle has had to endure numerous surgical procedures to battle the rare affliction she was born with, sebaceous nevus — bringing into sharp focus just how courageous this small child truly is.

I am in awe of people like Isabelle and the courage they routinely display every day of their lives. She demonstrates a strength of character I find seriously lacking in many people, and I find it both humbling and uplifting to read of her life and the courage she displays.

Gig Harbor Life Going Weekly in September

It’s heady times for the dedicated staff of Gig Harbor Life. What started out as a bi-weekly publication in June 2008 has grown steadily over the past year in both audience and size. With this growth comes the next step in the ever-evolving world of community news publishing: Beginning Sept. 18, residents of Gig Harbor peninsula will begin receiving their free copy of Gig Harbor Life each and every week.

Before making the decision to go weekly, we looked long and hard at the idea of Gig Harbor having two weekly newspapers. The residents of Gig Harbor have been served for years by a very dependable and quality weekly publication. But in looking at the differences we offer our readers and advertisers to the choices given them in the past, we realized we were comparing apples to oranges.

Gig Harbor Life has been and will remain a free publication, direct-mailed to households on the peninsula — including Fox Island — and we remain committed to bring our readers content they won’t find anywhere else: stories about their friends and neighbors, businesses and activities that make Gig Harbor a unique and special place we all call home.

Gig Harbor Life remains committed to giving businesses both large, but especially small, an opportunity to reach customers old and new with reasonable rates that won’t strain a tight budget. Given the current economic climate, we understand that businesses can ill afford to spend their hard-earned dollars on advertising that will only reach a small percentage of their target audience. With our 18,000-plus circulation, business owners can rest assured they are reaching the widest possible audience across the peninsula and know their advertising dollars are being used wisely.

Though our news staff is small, we feel we know Gig Harbor and its residents intimately and are uniquely suited to bring you quality news and information about your community each week. With editor Scott Turner, advertising transition lead Tim Lengel, paginator September Hyde and myself (managing editor) we bring a combined 65 years of journalism experience to the pages of Gig Harbor Life, with 20 of those years being served right here in Gig Harbor.

And nine contributing freelance writers and columnists bring an additional 25 years of experience writing about the people and happenings in and around Gig Harbor.

But we don’t stop there. We welcome and encourage reader participation. The fully interactive companion Web site at gigharbor-life.com allows readers to post comments on stories, as well as photos and even write blogs unique to Gig Harbor that are hosted on the Web site. We seek out story and photo ideas and welcome any and all suggestions on how we can better serve our readership both in print and online.

Speaking of the Web, readers can often find stories online well before the print publication, along with Web-only items designed to heighten the reader’s experience that print simply cannot deliver.

Going to a weekly publication will open new avenues to serve you, including the addition of an editorial page where we welcome a healthy and ongoing community discourse of the events and activities that have an impact on our daily lives in Gig Harbor.

As I said: heady times. But we know the staff of Gig Harbor Life is not only up to the task, they all are looking forward to having twice the opportunity to serve you that they had before. As always, we welcome, encourage and look forward to your comments and suggestions. You can reach editor Scott Turner at (253) 514-3107 or by e-mail at editor@gigharbor-life.com and Tim Lengel at (360) 731-7373 or by e-mail at tim-lengel@kitsapsun.com. Reach September at shyde@gigharbor-life.com and me at rhallock@gigharbor-life.com.

We remain thankful for your warm and inviting welcome to be a part of your lives and we look forward to serving you now and well into the future.

Ric Hallock is managing editor of Gig Harbor Life and lives with his wife, two sons, one cat and countless wild rabbits just outside the north end city limits of Gig Harbor.