August Toadstools?

Here’s a visible sign of just how unbelievably wet this August has been — a bumper crop of ugly toadstools has sprouted in Schiller Park.  A few days ago I jokingly posted about all of the rain we’ve been getting, and wondered whether the next thing we would see was mushrooms — and now they’re here, effectively mocking my idle attempt at humor.

Toadstools, in the middle of what is traditionally one of the hottest, driest months of the year?  I almost hesitate to ask this, but what’s next now — snow?

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Rainy August

Normally, August is one of the hottest months of the year. It’s typically the month when your lawn dries out and finally gives up the ghost, and you squirm with embarrassment when your neighbors arch an eyebrow at the carpet of brownness.

Not this year, though. We’re in the midst of the wettest August I can remember, where you need to carry your umbrella every day just in case another gullywasher is going to roll through town. We had a big cloudburst this afternoon, and another one tonight. It’s as if August and April traded places.

The lawn seems to be enjoying it, though. What’s next? August mushrooms?

Thursday Night Big Ten Buckeyes

It’s August, it’s Thursday night, and the Ohio State Buckeye football team is playing a Big Ten game — and on the road, no less.

tumblr_inline_nubcxjuy8y1qk1e3w_540This sort of thing isn’t supposed to happen to one of the most tradition-rich teams in college football, but this year all of the tradition goes out the window.  No more first-game cupcake, with Ohio State pulverizing one of the directional schools that are served up annually as fodder for the big boys.  No, this year we’re starting the season in earnest, with a game at Indiana this week and Oklahoma visiting the Horseshoe next week.   That’s called jumping into the season with both feet.  Sure, Indiana isn’t one of the Big Ten’s recognized powerhouses, but it’s a conference game, and Indiana has played the Buckeyes very tough indeed in recent years.  And all indications are that Indiana and its fans are pumped to the max for this game.  Indeed, their coach is calling the most significant home opener in Indiana history.

As a Buckeye traditionalist, the idea of Ohio State playing football in August — much less on a Thursday night, much less against a Big Ten team — rankles me, but the sport of college football is changing and the scheduling is changing with it.  Even though it’s August, I’ll be watching with interest tonight, to see if head coach Urban Meyer and his staff can once again blend new players with more experienced upperclassmen, replace a slew of talented Buckeyes who have moved on to the pros, and make another run at the college football playoff.

But Big Ten football, for the Buckeyes, in August?  I still shudder at the thought.

School Starts Too Early

Yesterday — August 19 — as I began my drive to work, I was surprised to see the neighborhood kids gathered at the school bus stop.  Unbeknownst to me, it was the first day of school.

It’s jarring to see school start in the middle of August.  It’s not the way it was when I was a kid, when school always started the Tuesday after Labor Day and ended right around Memorial Day.  That calendar left June, July, and August as idyllic, undisturbed summer months, when kids could play from dawn to dusk without worrying about homework or tests.

Why has the school calendar expanded to eat into the summer months?  At New Albany Plain Local Schools, our local system, the calendar is dotted with random days off — for Staff Inservice Days (in September and February), Central Day (in October), Potential Waiver Days (in October and January), Conference Makeup Day (in November), and a No School Day (in April).  Throw in a two-week Christmas break, a one-week spring break, and holidays like Labor Day, President’s Day, Dr. Martin Luther King Day, and Thanksgiving, and you’ve got the modern school calendar.

Why all the days off during the school year?  My guess is that it is a combination of teacher, administrator, and school board interests in building in breaks and allowing people to get away.  Some of the days are strategically positioned to create three, four, and even five-day weekends.

That might be great for teachers and parents — but what about kids?  We fret about overweight kids spending too much time sitting on their butts, watching TV or playing video games, rather than engaging in unstructured, creative play.  Summer is the best time for the latter, but the modern school calendar cuts two weeks out of that prime period.  When is a kid more likely to get some healthy outdoor exercise — in August, or during an “Inservice Day” on a wet and cold Friday in February?  And don’t even think about what it does to kids to send them to sit in classrooms during the broiling dog days of August.

Our schools should focus more on what is best for kids.  I think that means cutting out the random off days, compressing the school calendar, and letting August be the magical, outdoor summer month it is meant to be.

Houston’s Horrendous Heat

When we were in Columbia, Missouri last week, the temperature climbed over 100 degrees.  It was hot — but it was like luxuriating in cool comfort compared to what I experienced in Houston Monday and Tuesday.

The August heat in Houston is like a fist that punches you in the gut and a hand that slaps your face the instant you walk outside.  One moment you are sharp and dry in your crisp white shirt and suit; the next you are wet and wilted, with a wrinkled, sodden bit of cotton clinging tenaciously to your back and sweat rivulets beginning to crawl down your spine.  The combination of baking heat and high humidity sucks the energy from you in a giant whoosh, and you begin hunting cravenly for the nearest air-conditioned oasis.

There’s a reason why most people move about underground in Houston during the summer and my hotel offered a complimentary shuttle to take guests on trips only a few blocks long.  In Houston in August, the surface of the Earth is not meant for most melting mortals.

There may be hotter places than Houston in August — the middle of the Amazon rain forest, or perhaps the dense jungles of southeast Asia — but I don’t want to find them.