Posts Tagged ‘Chuck’

Ohio roots: Chuck with a guitar

Sunday, August 23rd, 2015

We just returned from our first family trip to Ohio. My aunt Amy shared another handful of old photos she found for me, which included this gem. It’s a newly-wed Chuck at 25, in what looks to me like Gran’mom Sarah and Gran’pop Roger’s house in Orlando, strumming Jean’s guitar:

When Jean was in college, she bought a guitar and began teaching herself to play. Over time, after she and Chuck married, it became Dad’s to play, although Jean still asserted that “it’s My guitar.”

I have many fond memories of listening to my Dad play and sing folk songs from the 1960s and 1970s. Pete Seeger and The Weavers, Peter Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, the Beach Boys, and other singer-songwriters were all cherished performers in our home. Sometimes, Mom and I sang along, too. And occasionally, they hosted wonderful parties where their friends played and sang, too.

I admired — and envied — people like my Dad who could play and sing at the same time. After high school, when I played bass guitar in a band* with Geoff Fish and Del, I aspired to get good enough to sing, too. But while I achieved some proficiency on bass, I never practiced enough to multi-task. I was also too self-conscious to want a microphone in front of me.

* Geoff and Del were both 5-8 years older than me, and called us The Lawrence Welk Renegades. It sounded funny to me, but I wasn’t really old enough to get the reference.

* * *
Last summer, when the girls were two, we managed to spend a day in Galveston every week or two. This summer, I’ve been busy assembling submittals and building website content for Traffic Engineers, Inc. (TEI), and I’m sad to admit we have only made it to Galveston 6 or 7 times this summer.

Bill was in London for the last three weeks of July on proposal work for Wipro. He got 36 hours at home the weekend of the 18th, but we saw him little between flight delays and jet lag. The Zoo snow day was all we really managed.

In Bill’s absence, I decided to make the most of it by taking Sam and Cate on their first overnight grandparent visits. We spent one night at Gram Nancy’s house, and we spent a night in Galveston, too.

We had big plans for that Friday morning (July 31): Dr. Glenn (my dentist) invited us to come fish (for the first time!) from his dock, and ride in his boat, and swim in his pool. Unfortunately, Sam and I were awake from about 2 am to 6 am, after she succumbed to the puking bug that Cate suffered from the prior Sunday night. Poor kids.

When Cate woke, Baba Jean found her breakfast and entertained her so Sam and I could sleep, for which I’m most grateful. Friday afternoon brought much-needed naps, which helped immensely. When the girls woke, Dad and I were sitting in the office. They pointed to the guitar, hanging from the bookshelves, and I asked Dad to play something for us.

He hasn’t practiced in too long. He can barely see for cataracts and retina damage. The tremor makes his arms shake even as his hands finger long-familiar chords. The affliction of it all is profoundly sad. But hearing Chuck play for Cate and Sam, and hearing them start to learn the haunting melody of “Goodnight, Irene” makes me really, really happy.

Apologies for the upside-down free-handed video. I may be able to right it the next time I can upload files from my mom’s phone. In the meantime, the audio makes me happy.

Get the Flash Player to see this video.

Enjoying a binge of quality girl time

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

At the end of August, my nieces started back to school. Sierra is now a 6th-grader at the middle school in our neighborhood, and Izzy is a 1st-grader at Sierra’s former charter school. They both get out of school at 3:30 pm. However, Chris is working in Sugar Land and Shawnacy just started an MFA program in San Marcos, which means neither of them are available three days a week.

In general, they plan to have a babysitter collect the girls on those days, but that fell through on several days in the early weeks of school. The upshot is that I got to be Aunt Bob for four days and enjoy some quality time with my nieces. One day, we ran errands together to the post office and grocery, but other days we sat together at the dining room table and tackled important stuff, like:

  • making sure we all ate a healthy afternoon snack and talking about what kinds of foods are good for growing strong bodies and brains,
  • having Izzy practice her writing/spelling to tell a story instead of just drawing pretty pictures,
  • insisting that Sierra do her math homework before reading “The Far Side” for fun, and talking about how math processes are like recipes for cooking, to make sure you get the correct result everytime, and
  • going through Sierra’s schoolwork binder together daily to make sure she clipped loose papers into the right sections, so that she can learn where everything is and reduce her odds of losing something important.

Keeping the two of them engaged and on task required both patience and undivided attention. By the end of the fourth day, I was exhausted, but it was totally worth it. (I’m also thankful that by the time I have to shepherd my own girls after school, I won’t be 7 months pregnant anymore.)

As a bonus, we enjoyed family dinner together each night, too. One night, Chris and I cooked chicken fajitas and quesadillas; another night, we went out for Vietnamese with Sharon; and a third night, we met our parents at Barnaby’s.

Somewhere in there, I introduced Sierra and Izzy to the joy of being kicked by our baby girls. The shared experience of their little hands pressed to the top of my belly, their looks of quiet concentration as they waited for something to happen, and then their simultaneous joyous exclamations of “I felt her!” when Baby B finally kicked for them, were absolutely delightful. Good times!

Bob, Sierra, Izzy
Jean’s photo of Bob, Sierra, and Izzy outside Barnaby’s

With my energy level dwindling by the day, and my to do lists for both work and home still endless, it’s good that Chris and Shawn have other after-school arrangements for their girls. But I sure enjoyed the heck out of the four days we spent together.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 27th, 2009

Bill and I were delighted to host Thanksgiving for our immediate families again this year. Chuck and Jean came up from Galveston, Nancy came down from Conroe, Sarah came over from Belmont, and Chris and Shawn came from across town with their girls. Better still, Shawn volunteered both to roast the turkey and bring her famous flourless chocolate cake for dessert. Yum!

Izzy and Sierra
Izzy and Sierra (click for larger and here for another version)

Chris carried in the turkey
Chris carried in the turkey

Chuck and Izzy
Chuck and Izzy

Holzer-Blackwell family gathered
Assembled Holzer and Blackwell families (click for larger)

Shawn's chocolate cake
Shawnacy’s famous chocolate cake

chocolate cake stars

Much friendly conversation and yumminess was had by all!

While our dinner carried on long-standing traditions, our schedule was new. As Sarah’s dementia has advanced, she experiences a common effect called “sundowning.” Essentially, her cognition is best early in the day when she’s rested, and declines rapidly later in the day as she gets tired. Planning her schedule and ours accordingly is helpful for everyone involved.

So after 30+ years of evening Thanksgiving dinners, we’ve now done “dinner” at 2:00 pm twice. That means getting up earlier to finish cooking and prepping. But it also means that by 6 pm, the food was put away, the dishes were clean, the house was back in order, and Bill, Tibbs, and I were relaxing on the couch. Which was awesome. I don’t know how the rest of our family feels about it, but I’d love it if this midday timing became a new family tradition.

Old friends in new places…

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

UTMBBack in March, I wrote that Chuck was appealing UTMB’s decision to terminate him after hurricane Ike. He was notified at the end of May that his appeal was denied. describes several of the hearing outcomes, including Chuck’s, in an article that got picked up by the Houston Press Hairballs blog. But the short of it is he was forced to retire August 31st.

Given the abrupt nature of the terminations, many of the dismissed tenured faculty are considering legal recourse. I’ve accompanied Chuck to meetings with two different attorneys – one with great expertise representing employers, and one with great contacts – but neither ideally suited to advising an employee. We really wanted a better perspective. The American Association of University Professors provided a list of local lawyers and when Chuck looked it over, he found a surprise: a long-ago friend of the family.

Before I was born, my parents were friends with Ralph “Rafe” Selfridge, a British computer scientist they knew at the University of Florida. I’m sad to say that he died last summer, but Rafe’s obituary brought back happy memories. I was little when we left Florida but I remember his quirky sense of humor and his craggy grin. I remember his tiny Sunbeam sports car and him scuba diving with my parents. Later, I remember him flying to visit us in his little blue airplane. He once took me flying over Galveston!

Jean and Rafe diving
Jean and Rafe diving in 1970

Chuck, Rafe, Chris in plane
Chuck and Chris with Rafe in his plane in New Haven in 1979

Robin and Chris
Robin and Chris at the controls

Rafe's plane
Rafe’s single-piston Cessna

John, Jean, Chuck
Rafe’s stepson John with Jean and Chuck some 30 years later

So it turns out that Rafe’s stepson John is an employment attorney in Dallas who has frequently represented university employees. And though they hadn’t visited since John’s wedding a few decades ago, he seemed delighted to make time for a meeting during a trip to Houston this week. I’m thrilled to say John has relevant experience and he offered us sage perspective. (You remember the scene in The Princess Bride when Vizzini describes getting involved in a land war in Asia as a ‘classic blunder’? Suing a public agency with a limitless defense fund and the state AG’s office for counsel is apparently similar…) I don’t know whether my Dad will decide to sue the University, but I’m pleased that he’s getting good, trustworthy advice. Thanks John!

In honor of my birth day…

Monday, August 10th, 2009

When Bill asked me how I’d like to celebrate my birthday, I thought about it for a while and I wasn’t sure. Somewhere along the way, the de facto answer to that question became “go out for a nice dinner.” But if you do that enough times, it stops feeling special or memorable. I wanted to do something different.

The only thing I was sure of was that I wanted to start my day with a good workout and a healthy breakfast. While I was on the elliptical machine, I remembered something. The photo album of Polaroids from the first months of my life, which went under water during Ike, has been sitting on our porch awaiting recovery. So in honor of my birthday, I decided to disassemble the moldering albums, identify the salvageable photos, and scan them.

Flood recovery is perhaps a comparatively depressing task to tackle on a day of celebration. But I have been anxious over the fate of these photos, and I knew that getting them archived digitally would be a relief. And the subject matter seemed apt for the date. Here are a few:

newborn Robin

newborn Robin
Jean with newborn Robin just after 3:00 am on August 10, 1971

I obviously don’t remember my own birth, but mom says this:

For a sequel to conceiving in the first month that we didn’t actively prevent it, I had embarassingly quick and easy labor. It being summer and daylight saving time, I had been swimming every weekend, and walking 1.5 miles around our neighborhood every evening after supper.

On August 9, 1971, (a Monday, I think) I worked a normal day per UF computing center tradition. Sometime in the evening you “dropped.” We went to bed about 10:30.

At 11:30 I woke up wondering if I had dreamed a contraction or if it was real. Spent the next hour watching the clock, timing contractions. The interval persisted right at the threshold (5 minutes?) between false labor and real.

At 12:30 I woke Daddy and declared it time to go. We pulled on clothes and made the 15-minute drive to Alachua General, the county hospital in Gainesville. We had deemed that we would have more privacy there than at the University teaching hospital where Daddy worked.

On arrival at 1 am, I was already dilated 4 cm, they banished Daddy and prepped me minimally on the stretcher to spare us the cost of a labor room. It was during this interval that he observed the chalk board in the hall on which they were tracking the progress of the different women and made his atrocious pun about “box score”. Alachua General in those days did not allow fathers in the delivery room, but Daddy could have been with me in the labor room, except that I was then taken directly to the delivery room.

While I was not going for totally “natural childbirth”, I intended to be awake and watch in a large overhead parabolic mirror provided for the purpose. You were a long skinny baby – 6 lbs 13 oz, 21 inches – so once you had crowned, the rest was easy. You were born at 1:50am, August 10. We did not know until you emerged that you were you and not Christopher.

Daddy took the Polaroid pictures of you and me on the stretcher in the recovery room when you were 30 minutes old. The best one (top above) he posted on the bulletin board in the computing center office that morning, along with a punched card recording your name and vital statistics.

Thanks, Mom, for your account of my “debut” and to you and Dad both for giving me a birth day in the first place. Happy birthday to me!

newborn Robin
Newborn Robin around 8:00 pm on August 10, 1971

p.s. And despite my initial ambivalence, my honey did take me (and Sharon) out for a nice dinner tonight, anyway. Yum!

Happy birthday, Daddy!

Monday, May 25th, 2009

My dad turns 66 on Tuesday. In honor of the occasion, we convened the fam for dinner. Since Chuck’s birthday always falls in the general vicinity of Memorial Day, that’s usually when we celebrate it. Dad proposed that we meet at a restaurant halfway between Houston and Galveston so as to minimize anyone’s exposure to holiday traffic, and that’s what we did. A lovely and relaxing time was had by all!

Sierra, Chuck, Izzy, and Jean
I love this photo of Chuck, Jean, Sierra, and Izzy!

After everyone got home, I taught Mom how to upload the photos into FaceBook, where her family and friends can see and respond to them. You can check out the other dozen photos there. Enjoy!

Preparing for Chuck’s UTMB hearing…

Monday, March 30th, 2009

As I explained back in November, UTMB plans to terminate my Dad’s position come August, despite his tenured professor status. They claimed that the vast costs of Hurricane Ike damage contributed to a “financial exigency,” requiring them to terminate faculty in order to save the university. However, I failed to convey that he has a right to appeal the decision.

UTMB is part of the University of Texas System, which is governed by a statewide Board of Regents. The relevant policies in the Regents Rules allow tenured faculty to contest on two bases:

  • that Chuck was the wrong guy to select, even if faculty terminations were necessary, and/or
  • financial exigency wasn’t actually the initial basis for the decision to terminate faculty.

Chuck is appealing on both counts. He has evidence that a) his department chair made an arbitrary decision to terminate PhDs and keep MDs, without regard to who is capable of teaching the core courses, and b) the University has been trying to terminate research faculty since at least 2006. Further, he has evidence that the selection process did not comport with the protections and procedural requirements set forth in the Regents Rules, even as minimalist and inadequate as they are.

The hearing is scheduled for Tuesday. I offered to help Chuck prepare his appeal because I know it’s important to him. I also recruited my b-school employment law professor to review our work, which he has generously done pro bono. (Thank you, Larry!)

Chuck submits appeal materials
Chuck submitting his appeal materials to the Dean’s office

600-page appeal binder
Chuck’s appeal and supporting documents run nearly 600 pages

family document assembly line
We worked together to assemble five more binders for the panel

We had to finish the appeal document ten days ago so that Chuck could submit it and the evidence for “the other side” to review, which he did. We then spent most of this week turning the materials into five sets of exhibit binders for the hearing panel. What’s left is to outline the most important arguments and evidence for Chuck to convey during the scant two-hour hearing.

While the hearing will be over quickly, the panel has until May 12 to make their recommendation to UTMB’s President. President Callender then has until June 23 to decide whether to overturn Chuck’s termination and allow him to stay. I know the waiting will be hard. Please wish him patience and luck!

In the meantime, Chuck made both his appeal and supporting documents available online for other terminated faculty to draw from. In addition, he agreed to share his story with a reporter from the Galveston Daily News. That led to a front-page story, “UTMB faculty members fight for old jobs,” in Wednesday’s paper.

Also in recent weeks, UTMB has secured some much-needed funds and has begun to rehire staff for the hospital. However, they do *not* seem to be rehiring any of the terminated faculty, which reinforces the notion that UT intends to “bust tenure.”

What’s happening at UTMB has implications for faculty at institutions across the nation. The American Association of University Professors is watching closely and has communicated their concerns to UTMB’s leadership. In addition, the story was picked up in turn by the Chronicle of Higher Education: “Hearings Begin for Laid-Off Faculty Members at Flooded Medical School in Texas.” Here, too, I hope that national scrutiny helps lead local leaders to do the right thing.

Giving thanks for family togetherness…

Friday, November 28th, 2008

My friend Emy is from New Orleans. Back in 2005, her childhood home took 8 or more feet of water from Katrina. After Ike hit Galveston, she had this advice for me:

I would like to tell you that recovery was painless, but I can’t lie. It was incredibly difficult. The good news…I think my family is closer than we have ever been. My one small piece of advice…try to enjoy the fact that your parents are living with you. Even though it gets old after a while, you WILL look back on these days as fond memories.

Jean and Chuck shared our little bungalow for three weeks because of the storm. When they were finally able to get into a FEMA hotel on Galveston, they were eager to stop making 100-mile round trips, and we were ready to reclaim the dining room.

adaptive dining room reuse

But now, two months later, we were eager to welcome family for Thanksgiving dinner. It felt like a small victory to pull off a normal, traditional event despite everything that’s happened. And Emy was right: I feel closer with my family than I have in years. Here are some photos from our Thanksgiving festivities:

Jean and Bob at the sink
Jean made brandied cranberries while I made the veggie medley

Jean and Chris photoing
In the afternoon, we went outside to photograph…

Izzy and Sierra in holiday dresses
… Izzy and Sierra in their holiday dresses (click for larger)

Just before dinner, folks humored my desire for a family portrait:

Gathered family
Four generations of family (click for larger)

After dinner, the girls played while most of us sat and talked:

Sierra and Sean
Sierra and Sean tussled, but it looked like dancing…

Izzy spinning
… while Izzy danced and spun.

Bill teaches Sierra solitaire
Then Bill taught Sierra to play solitaire.

During the evening, I turned our family portrait into a scrapbook page, and I asked everyone to write something they are thankful for. While Izzy scrawled only an “I”, the other contributions ranged from the silly to the serious. I am thankful for…

  • the turkey and the food and to git to gathr
  • the word Thank. It comes in handy
  • good food with good people
  • our mutual ongoing survival
  • being at the top of the food chain
  • being closer with my family than we’ve been in years
  • a new boss who has human qualities
  • such a wonderful nuclear and extended family
  • the people, the rest is just stuff. Or at least I keep telling myself…
  • to still be around

So, what are you thankful for? I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Love, Bob

More Ike consequences: UTMB layoffs

Tuesday, November 25th, 2008

The University of Texas Medical Branch is the largest employer in Galveston County, and also where my dad has worked since 1985.

John Sealy hospital

But the hospital was devastated by Hurricane Ike. Essential facilities — including imaging, phlebotomy, pharmacy, clinical laboratories, and kitchens — were all on first floors and went under water. The storm caused more than $700 million of damage to the hospital, and only a fraction is covered by insurance.

Texas Legislators initially promised locals they would find funds to help get the 600-bed teaching hospital up and running again. But last week, the University of Texas System Regents announced that UTMB would lay off up to 3,800 employees, or nearly a third of the institution’s staff.

In a scathing editorial, the owner of the Galveston Daily News described the decision as a “terrible blow” not only to UTMB employees, but also to “a community staggered by Hurricane Ike.” He observed that the Regents’ decision to simply jettison much of the state’s $2 billion physical plant investment is “fiscally irresponsible and morally reprehensible.” Worse, the Regents ostensibly made the decision behind closed doors — violating the state’s Open Meetings Act — which may yet trigger a lawsuit.

In the week since the announcement, the big question for our family has been whether Chuck would be among those laid off. Early Monday morning, he got the call to come to the Chairman’s office. As a tenured faculty professor, they can’t let him go right away. But come September 1st, he will no longer work for the state.

Chuck on his way to the Chairman's office

The good news is that most of my dad’s work has been from outside consulting contracts for many years. So this is a good opportunity to shift into that full-time. And come May, he’ll be old enough to collect Social Security. But even with these silver linings, losing his job is an unwelcome addition to what’s already been a difficult year.

Ike: Signs of some recovery in Galveston…

Saturday, November 1st, 2008

On Wednesday — day 49 of our Ike experience, but who’s counting? — I drove again to Galveston to help my parents continue documenting and purging storm-damaged possessions. While there is still LOTS of work to do, there are starting to be signs of recovery around town:

new offramp with boatscaping
A TxDOT crew was busily paving an offramp from the new, nearly-complete southbound Causeway bridge, apparently unconcerned by the lingering “boatscaping” on either side.

football resumes at Weis MS
Students have returned to the middle school at the end of my parents’ block, and were enjoying fall team sports.

There are also signs of progress at home. We carried the last items out of the house on Tues Oct 21, and a week later, contractors have finished gutting it down to the studs.

Chuck and Jean in gutted house
Chuck and Jean in the sunken family room”

gutted kitchen and laundry
Kitchen and laundry room

gutted study, foyer, and dining room
Chuck’s study, the entry foyer, and formal dining room, as seen from Chris’ former bedroom

gutted master bath and closet
Master bathroom and closet

I have to admit: I kinda like the house this way. It seems light, airy, and full of possibilities. ;-)

But it’s not ready for rebuilding yet, because it’s still very damp and very moldy. The dehumidification contractor spot-checked several locations. Most of the studs still have impressive relative humidity around 50% (eww!) and the back wall was closer to 100%.

industrial dehumidification
Four dehumidifiers and 13 “air movers” are online now

So the plan is to dehumidify the house for 72 hours, and then bring an anti-mold company in to treat it. After that, the contractors can start rebuilding things like walls, cabinets, HVAC, etc.

grizzly Chuck
Chuck has gone grizzly, possibly for the duration

Jean reviewing contract
Jean reviewing one of many contractor documents

In the meantime, my parents are plugging along. We’re all grateful for the help or encouragement that each of you have provided in so many ways to get them this far.