Chess Club: Grandmasters

What a big week we had. On Friday, Jadzia and fellow members of Vogt Elementary’s chess club were visited by grandmasters … and a ton of media. Here is her account of the day:

Jadzia plays chess against grandmaster Jennifer Shahade

Jadzia plays chess against grandmaster Jennifer Shahade

Once upon a time, Jadzia and some of her classmates went to the library. But, this was no ordinary library day. Two (well, more, but you’ll find out later) grandmasters were going to come. Cameras would cram each and every corner and spot, flashing on and off!

It was Grandmaster Friday.

Me, Omar, Elionai, Joseph, Daryus, Camren, and Katherine went with Mr. Gardner. I saw Mama and Papa there. I realized I had forgot my cards of the two GrandMasters. Thankfullly, Papa had them. He also had a Sharpie in his pocket.

Dr. Joseph Davis came up to the podium and spoke about he was so glad about the Chess Club, and thank you for coming. Then, two more people came up and talked, but for not as long. It was time to play chess!

I went to a table. Apparently, this lady named Jennifer Shade would be my opponent. Omar got to go against the superintendent (and beat him!), and Joseph would go against the founder of the chess club.

Ms. Shahade was good. She is a Woman’s Grandmaster, so that is why she beat me — twice! The second time, I got to pick two pieces for her to NOT have. I chose a knight and her black-square bishop. I had mercy on her (I could’ve taken her queen)!! I still lost. I am still not close to grandmaster! Later I got the GrandMasters to sign my chess player cards.

I got interviewed!! Did I mention I got interviewed?! There were literally 50,000 cameras. So I wore a microphone and they asked me questions like, “What do you do at chess club?” or, “Do you think chess will be your job?” Daryus and Joseph got interviewed, too.

When I got back, they were handing out chess stuff. Since I was a girl, I got this book called, ‘Play Like A Girl’, written by none other than Jennifer Shahade, my opponent! She signed it. I got my stuff signed, and then it was pretty much over. It was fun!

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Our great summer: San Antonio

Joseph jumps to Josh

Joseph jumps to Josh

What would summer be without a trip to San Antonio to see all our family? Evenings spent swimming in Nan’s pool, the buzz of cicadas, the tinkling of wind chimes, the dry heat.

This year was a little different. For one thing, my parents agreed to watch our kids for a week so that Yoli and I could travel to Bolivia. It was a new experience for everyone involved! The kids spent their week helping Nanny in the garden; watching butterflies, birds and longhorns; and they even managed to get Nanny into a swimsuit and into the pool!

My Grandma Renaud has moved out to Kendalia to live on the ranch with Aunt Joyce and Uncle Ted. They built her an impressive apartment with bedroom, kitchen, and living room.

Uncle Jerry was in town from Saudi, so I played a round of golf with him and my dad. I hadn’t played any golf since my dad’s 50th birthday, six years earlier. I was rusty, but we still had a good time.

Thanks to the Science Center membership my parents gave us for Christmas, we were able to visit San Antonio’s children’s museum (recently rechristened the “DoSeum”) for free. There was tons of new stuff to see and explore there.

Finally, at the end of the trip, Nan had a new shower installed. We had hoped it would be finished by the time we returned from Bolivia, but alas they didn’t get done until after we had begun our return journey to St. Louis. Thankfully, my mom and dad let us shower at their place.

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Our great summer: Swim lessons

Joseph practices his "ice cream scoop / chicken wing"

Joseph practices his “ice cream scoop / chicken wing”

For the last several years our kids have taken swim lessons at January-Wabash Park.

This year, Ludi joined the swim team, while Jadzia, Josie, and Joseph stuck with the lessons.

As the littlest ones, Josie and Joseph are always a bit rusty and hesitant at the beginning of the lessons. The cool weather didn’t really help, either.

But we stuck with it. Kids overcame their fears of jumping from the edge of the pool, or even from the diving board. By the end of the summer, Joseph could truly swim to me in the pool, though when not swimming he would still cling to the edge of the pool in order to feel safe.

Josie ended up being a real fish, just like she was last year. When everything was said and done, I wish I had kept her on the Ferguson swim team with its daily lap practices and emphasis on learning strokes. If we had stuck with it and made her overcome her initial fear, I think she really would have thrived.

Next year!

Joseph swims

Joseph swims

Josie jumps right in.

Josie jumps right in.

Jadzia jumps right in.

Jadzia jumps right in.

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Our great summer: Ferguson swim team

At the June 23 swim meet, Ludi competed in the freestyle relay and individual races.

At the June 23 swim meet, Ludi competed in the freestyle relay and individual races.

This summer we embarked on a new adventure: Ludi joined the Ferguson Swim Team.

We heard about it from a fellow Ferguson mom. When we saw the team marching in the July 4th parade, we thought it might be something fun to try.

So this spring we let Ludi and Josie give it a shot. It had been long enough since Josie last set foot in a pool that she was uncomfortable and didn’t do well that first day. We decided to put her into regular swim lessons with the rest of the kids, but let Ludi try the team.

Ludi got to ride in a truck near the end of the Fourth of July parade with the rest of the Ferguson Swim Team.

Ludi got to ride in a truck near the end of the Fourth of July parade with the rest of the Ferguson Swim Team.

Ludi at her last swim meet before we had to leave town on vacation.

Ludi at her last swim meet before we had to leave town on vacation.

The swim team involved a lot of work and commitment, but Ludi really thrived. The daily practices greatly improved her swimming ability and her strength. She learned several strokes and competed in meets in freestyle and backstroke.

Yoli and I took turns volunteering as timers and working in the “bullpen” helping shuttle kids around during swim meets.

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Our great summer: Science and reading

Mad Science at the Prairie Commons County Library.

Mad Science at the Prairie Commons County Library.

This summer our kids had more science and library activities than ever before.

In June, Vogt Elementary held a weeklong “Scary Science” camp at the school. Each day there was a scary theme, like making a mummy or eating bugs. The girls were surprisingly thrilled to be eating crickets, insisting that I try one. “They’re good, they’re really good!” they both kept exclaiming.

Yoli also made an effort to take the kids to loads of activities at the Ferguson library and various St. Louis County libraries throughout the summer. First up were “Nitro Joe” at Natural Bridge followed by “Mad Science” at Prairie Commons.

We also spent a lot of time at the St. Louis Science Center. My parents gave us a membership for Christmas, and we got a lot of mileage out of it. We watched movies at the Omnimax theater, explored exhibits, and the girls even attended (another) weeklong science camp.

All the kids were enrolled in both the Ferguson and County summer reading programs. It wasn’t always easy to get them to keep track of their reading, but at the end of the summer, they were happy to reap great prizes like Cardinals tickets, an art set, and a box of K’nex. (Back in my day, all we had was “Book It!” which was good for one personal-size pizza)

Ms. Sarrah was leader for "Scary Science" camp at Vogt with Jadzia and Ludi

Ms. Sarrah was leader for “Scary Science” camp at Vogt with Jadzia and Ludi

Jadzia built a parachute to cradle her egg during the "Scary Science" camp at Vogt Elementary

Jadzia built a parachute to cradle her egg during the “Scary Science” camp at Vogt Elementary

Yoli took the kids to see Circus Harmony perform in the children's area at Ferguson Municipal Library.

Yoli took the kids to see Circus Harmony perform in the children’s area at Ferguson Municipal Library.

Joseph and Josie build creations at Lego club at Prairie Commons.

Joseph and Josie build creations at Lego club at Prairie Commons.

The Nitro Joe presentation at the Natural Bridge County Library.

The Nitro Joe presentation at the Natural Bridge County Library.

Jadzia and Ludi were on Fox 2 News:

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Remembering Benjamin Israel

Higher education had a term for folks like Benjamin Israel: “nontraditional student.” That applied to him in so many ways.

Benjamin died Monday morning. I wanted to share a little bit about his impact.

I first met Benjamin when I worked at UMSL’s student newspaper, The Current. Unlike the rest of us, he was older, with many years of journalism experience under his belt.

Why did he join The Current, a student newspaper at a commuter school with no journalism program?

Joe Harris, the paper’s editor, was in dire straits. There was a lot of turnover after the fall 1999 semester: Joe lost his news editor, photo editor, managing editor, and many other key personnel. Benjamin was working on his masters degree at UMSL and happened to see The Current’s “help wanted” advertisement. He was a journalist, and he needed a few bucks. Why not?

Joe hired Benjamin as news editor and proofreader. I was the production manager, so I worked closely with Benjamin each weekend, as all of us made the newspaper: designing pages, writing headlines and cutlines, proofreading, then printing, cutting and waxing stories onto “flats.”

Benjamin’s experience was a boon to us all. We listened to him and watched how he worked. He was a reporter who took things seriously, took nothing for granted, and had a sense of social justice. He believed reporting was more than just making phone calls; you had to go out into the real world, observe things and talk to people.

No matter what subject was being discussed, Benjamin would have an astute observation to offer, or a related story (or many) to tell. He was a gifted storyteller.

He and I came from very different backgrounds. I was an opinionated young conservative; Benjamin was a passionate liberal who had already lived an adventurous life of activism. That could be a recipe for butting heads, but that wasn’t the case with Benjamin.

My respect grew for him. A couple years later, while taking a Broadcast Writing and Reporting class, I was assigned to interview and write a story about a professional journalist. There were plenty of reporters around St. Louis to ask, but Benjamin seemed to me potentially far more interesting. And I was right. He agreed to be my subject and shared a number of anecdotes with me.

I’m going to post that story below, in tribute to him.

But first I should say that we stayed in touch over the years through email and Facebook. He wrote to me after the protests in Ferguson last fall, to find out how our family was doing. A few months later, we had a chance to catch up at a fundraising dinner for The Current. We talked about his experiences joining protesters in Clayton after the grand jury decision. He also talked a little about his recent health problems. He was as sharp as ever, sharing anecdotes, and making incisive observations as a group of alumni, students and administrators discussed the newspaper’s recent troubles and its plan to overcome them.

Benjamin was a great guy, and I will miss him.

Benajmin Israel reporter interview

(written Nov. 2001)

When Benjamin Israel found a typewriter in the trash, he knew it was a sign.

Israel has definitely led an unconventional life. In person he’s a character, a big guy with curly hair that’s almost an Afro, large glasses and a standard uniform of dress shirt, suspenders, rumpled trousers, but never a tie.

Some might be fooled by his resume, which includes stints as a garbage collector in Columbia, Mo. But eventually he became a reporter and has worked at large and small newspapers around Missouri. He’s volunteered as an activist for various causes, been a hospital clerk, studied to be a nurse, gotten involved in radio, worked in various factories and donut shops, and was active in several Marxist political and social groups during the 1970s and 1980s.

In the early 1970s, Israel got his first exposure to “news.” He started working at radio station KDNA shortly before his 21st birthday. It was a small operation and Israel soon became the news director. KDNA folded, but it was succeeded by today’s KDHX (the DHX stands for Double Helix, as in DNA).

But it was the underground press that really attracted Israel. One such paper was called On the Line and it dealt with various workplace issues in the light of Marxist ideas. Later, they used it to tackle world issues as well. Israel said it was distributed at factories around the city.

Eventually Israel had to take on other jobs to make ends meet. He worked at a factory making hospital beds and sleeper sofas for a while. He ended up in Columbia, Mo. as a garbage collector. One fateful day he found a typewriter in the trash and said “This is a sign!”

It was while he was in Columbia that Israel wrote his first professional news copy. He had been volunteering at a radio station and met a man who was upset about nuclear plants. The man told Israel about a disaster in Virginia and Israel wrote a piece on it that was published in The Guardian. He was paidUe $15 for his work–the first time he had been paid to write a story for a newspaper. Israel began stringing for the Guardian and selling the newspaper when he had time.

Later Israel went to Kansas City to join another Marxist group. But this group fell apart and Israel began having philosophical problems with some of the ideas these groups had been espousing. He and a friend named Lenny began producing a leftist newspaper called The Hammer that examined groups on the far right, like the Aryan Nation.

“It was a quarterly that came out three times a year,” Israel said laughing.

He spent a lot of time doing research for The Hammer. He began to realize that he was a good researcher and writer, but not a good organizer.

After a brief foray into the nursing field, Israel decided he needed to get into journalism. He was accepted by UMKC and MU but he decided to start at a small community college Dcalled Penn Valley since it would be cheaper the first few years.

“I did journalism before going to school,” Israel said,” but I still learned a lot in school, like how to be fair. I recognized that I had had an agenda.”

Once he joined MU, Israel did well as a student and he worked at the Missourian, a daily newspaper the University runs in order to give students real journalism experience. The other paper in town, the Tribune, is a professional paper that most residents seem to prefer.

While he was there, Israel covered the hospital beat. At that time the public county hospital was trying to go private.

“I consistently beat the Tribune reporter on that story,” Israel said. “Years later, she told me ‘You made me fear for my job!'”

Israel got noticed by the Tribune and the next spring was working for them.

He spent 4 years at the Tribune, but left after a dispute over a correction that ran in the paper about one of his stories. Israel was upset because

the correction was run for political reasons, not to fix a mistake.

“I felt disrespected because the paper didn’t back me up,” he said.

Israel also butted heads with some of the editors. They were good people, he said, but “everyone there had been promoted to their level of incompetence.”

Israel liked his stint at the Tribune because the area was easily manageable.

“Here in north county, there are so many god damn municipalities and so many school districts,” he said, laughing. “[In Columbia], we had one big city, one school district, and you had a good handle on it. You knew where to focus.”

Israel’s reporting philosophy is very people-centered.

“I’m a believer in democracy,” he said. “For democracy to work, people have to understand how things are. So I try to help people understand things in a story.”

Israel’s primary beats were health care and education. He said he wrote stories “bottom-up rather than top-down.” He interviewed first-graders (but said he didn’t get a lot of coherent ideas from them). He befriended the kids at the high school newspaper and got to know teachers in the schools. They made great sources, he said, and gave him information he’d never have gotten from school administrators who were at the “top.”

“I had a rule that I would spend time in a classroom at least once a week, so I could see what was actually going on.” Israel said. “You know, I ended up marrying a teacher.”

This human element sets his stories apart. Israel said he has always m>ade a point of visiting the people, places and locations his stories mention, rather than just interviewing them over the phone. On more than one occasion, he has discovered unusual things that changed routine stories into more interesting pieces.

“I like to see the things I’m writing about,” Israel said. “It’s nice to be able to describe what someone looks like.”

Israel has been a reporter and stringer for many other newspapers around the state, including the Kansas City Star, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jefferson County Leader, and others. He was a stringer for the Associated Press. Over the years, he has moved around to meet the needs of his wife and family, and as their financial situation has changed.

After working for several years away from St. Louis, he came back to UMSL to pursue his master’s degree in history. Israel has become something of an expert on the life of Ira Cooper, a famous black police detective who lived in St. Louis in the early 20th century. Israe*l wrote a big feature on Cooper for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch a year ago and is now working on a book about Cooper.

Of course, writing books doesn’t pay much, and school is expensive, so Israel swallowed his pride and joined the staff of the North County Journal. He’s on the Ferguson-Berkeley beat, where a lot of things are happening. While Israel didn’t have much positive to say about the Journal’s management, he said he preferred the Journal’s twice-a-week deadlines to daily newspaper deadlines because it enables him to write better stories than what his competition at the Post-Dispatch is able to.

With everything he’s done in life, it’s hard to imagine where he’s going next. But as he pursues his degree, works on his book, and reports for the Journal, Israel said he has an ultimate goal.

“I know that the chances of me making enough money on my book to be set for life are low,” he said, smiling. “But as I like to say, if HBO pays me for the rights to make a mini-series, I’ll be in real good shape.”

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The space explorers fight over an asteroid

Usually I tell Josie and Joseph bedtime stories which star two space explorers named Josie and Joseph.

Tonight I decided to change it up. They laughed so hard as I told this story that I figured I’d share it with you, too. Here goes:

The object of the quarrel. Photo by NASA.

The object of the quarrel. Photo by NASA.

Once upon a time there were two space explorers: a brother and sister named “Bonk” and “Bonk”.

Bonk was piloting their ship while Bonk was sleeping. Suddenly, a control panel lit up with flashing alerts. “Bonk!” yelled Bonk. “We’re running into a new asteroid field. Get up here!”

Bonk woke up, wiped his eyes, and ran to the bridge. “What is it, Bonk,” Bonk asked.

“Look over there,” said Bonk, pointing through the window towards a giant asteroid outside the ship.

“Wow!” said Bonk.

“Yeah, it’s a brand new asteroid,” said Bonk. “You know what that means, right?”

“We get to name it!” shouted Bonk. “Hooray!”

“I think we should name it ‘Bonk,'” said Bonk.

“But that’s YOUR name,” said Bonk. “Why can’t we name it ‘Bonk’ instead?”

Bonk rolled her eyes. “But you were sleeping. I’m the one who saw it first. Please, let’s call it ‘Bonk’!”

“NOOOO!” screamed Bonk. “No! We can’t name it ‘Bonk.’ We have to name it ‘BONK’!”

The two space explorers argued and argued back and forth. They just couldn’t agree who to name the asteroid after.

Finally they decided to flip a coin. Bonk chose heads, while Bonk chose tails. They flipped the coin, and it landed on heads.

“YES!” exclaimed Bonk.

“Aw man,” sniffed Bonk.

And so the asteroid was named “Bonk.”

But Bonk made Bonk promise that the next asteroid they discovered would be named Bonk after him.

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Merry Christmas from Ferguson

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What does one write in a Christmas newsletter after your little town has suffered civil unrest and become the center of international attention?

I’m not really sure, but here goes.

The first seven months of the year were memorable.

In April, for example, Yoli and I dropped off the kids for their AWANA class at church and decided to get away for a quick date night. We got a mocha latte and a snack and decided to walk along a trail at Creve Coeur Lake. We rounded the corner of the lake and just kept going. After all, how long could it take to make it back? But as the sun went down and bikers and joggers disappeared, we realized belatedly just how long a route it was. Our romantic walk became a race against time to get back to church that we will never forget.

In May, Yoli’s parents came to visit us. It was Don Hector and Dona Lucila’s second visit to St. Louis. They got to see the kids’ final days of school, Jadzia’s violin concert and the kids’ dance recital. We visited new places like the Science Center, the World Chess Hall of Fame and the Magic House. And we had a grand time seeing classic cars in old St. Charles (except the part where Joseph threw up all over everywhere).

In July we headed south to visit friends in Houston and family in San Antonio. It was cool to get a tour of my dad’s new business, called “City Plating.” We played putt-putt golf with mom and dad, the kids found frogs near Nan’s pool, we swam in the Guadalupe River (and so did my iPhone), we spent a morning at Kiddie Park. It was a great few weeks.

And then came August. Michael Brown was shot on Saturday, Aug. 9. That weekend was intense and surreal: I designed the front page of the Post-Dispatch each night, while watching on TV as my town convulsed with anger.
In those early days our family felt so sad and uncertain. What was happening? Many times we had difficult conversations with our kids. We prayed for the Browns, we prayed for justice, we prayed for peace.

I attended city council meetings and residents-only town halls. I learned of the cycle of tickets, warrants, and arrests driven by poverty. My eyes were opened to injustices I had been ignorant of.

It has been a long four months. The struggle in Ferguson has gone global. “Ferguson” is now a hashtag, a symbol known worldwide. Many people think they know our town, but they don’t. There is a resolve here to turn this tragedy into something good. To reform — and to rebuild, as we did after the Good Friday tornado in 2011.

I once heard a resident cite Esther 4:14, saying she believed Ferguson had been chosen for just such a time as this.

It’s hard to imagine a bright future. Yet we agree with her. God can bring change.

Josh and Yoli celebrate their anniversary at the Corner Coffeehouse in Ferguson.

Josh and Yoli celebrate their anniversary at the Corner Coffeehouse in Ferguson.

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Ferguson Sunday Parkways

Just as I began my drive to work, I noticed they were having Ferguson Sunday Parkways just down Darst from our house. This is one of many fun events Ferguson holds in different neighborhoods throughout the year.

I had forgotten it was coming up, and that it was so close to home. So, I called Yoli and let her know.

Continue reading

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Ferguson’s children: Our voice

Jadzia and her Vogt classmates pose for a photo in the bandshell at January-Wabash Park after the concert.

Jadzia and her Vogt schoolmates pose for a photo in the bandshell at January-Wabash Park after the concert.

Drums. Singing. Shakespeare. MLK.

What a great afternoon we had enjoying the artistry of Jadzia and other Ferguson kids!

The event was designed as a response to recent events in Ferguson and throughout St. Louis. Students from across the Ferguson-Florissant school district and neighboring districts sang, acted, and spoke in order to bring peace, joy and love through the arts.

Jadzia and a number of her Vogt schoolmates participated. Here is a video I made of some of the highlights:

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