About Me

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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 61 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Monday, January 31, 2011

Love: The Power and the Joy**

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

*Chicago Tribune
February 11, 2011
as "Love: the power and the joy"

*Somerset Daily American
February 12, 2011
as "Love: the power and the joy"

Of all the memories that crowd our minds, there’s not one clearer or more arresting than that moment that we saw The One; that single human out of six billion that would turn us on our emotional ears, and change our lives forever.

It might have been in the house next door, in a park, on a bus, or across a crowded room.  Maybe our ears heard an endearing laugh; that one voice out of many, a sound that went straight to our heart.  For me, it was the distant sight of a dark-haired goddess across 32 lanes of a bowling alley. 

But wherever and whenever that moment occurred, we remember how it rocked us to our very soul.  It is a memory we will take to our graves.

Love is a hard thing to figure.  It strikes, often without warning, lancing through our emotional defenses to that secret place within that we share with no one else.  We know how it feels, but to try to pin down an actual definition is a goal that has eluded the passionate efforts of the best writers, poets, and minstrels.

Love inspires tremendous outbursts of written eloquence; words of power and knee-weakening emotion.  Yet in its presence we are rendered helpless, tongue-tied, brain-frozen and left feeling supremely foolish. Our thoughts are forever altered.  We cannot concentrate; sometimes finding that our gaze has fixed on some unseen point of focus while wearing a gentle smile of sweet remembrance.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Becoming a Great Teacher*

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat
February 13, 2011
as "Reaching for greatness"

Our middle daughter, Crystal,  is approaching a milestone.  In May, she’ll graduate from the University of Colorado-Denver with her teaching degree. 

She has always had a strong interest in math.  She was once an Electrical Engineering major until she hit a brick wall called “differential equations.”  It’s always bothered her that females are vastly underrepresented, not just in the professional field of mathematics, but through their participation in this subject in middle, junior, and senior high school classrooms.  Her mission is to make math cool for girls, convincing them that there’s no such thing as a “non-traditional field.”

A month or so ago, she sent out an email to a lot of people.  In it, she asked what they thought the characteristics were of a great teacher.  Note that she didn’t ask about an “average” teacher; or even a “good” teacher.  She wants to be a “great” teacher.  Mediocrity has, in many ways, become the standard, and not just in education.  Do just enough to blend in; don't stick your neck out.  For a teacher, especially, to adopt excellence as their standard is the kind of thing that changes lives in the classroom.

She got a lot of good answers back.  Several advised her to get to know her students as individuals, identifying their individual learning styles and tailoring her delivery thus.  She was advised to be humble, personable, even-tempered, and communicative; to not be afraid to show humor and have fun. 

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Optimism and Lighting the Corner of the World**

*Chicago Tribune
February 25, 2011
as "Make a difference"

*Somerset, PA Daily American
February 26, 2011
as "Make a difference"

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

Bookstores a full of them; infomercials fill the airwaves hawking them. All around us we hear the shouted mantra “Improve Your Life! We become so obsessed with fixing our flaws, we forget that even we can do good things.

It seems the only things we can think about are what we’ve done wrong. People are far from perfect. We are all human, and mistakes seem to be what we do best. But focusing solely on that aspect seems to me to be a little too cynical.

We seem to swim in a sea of sadness. The news that is reported to us is nearly all bad. Newscasters and pundits talk in terms apocalyptic; every cause will result in complete destruction. All around are wars and rumors of wars. Economies are struggling to survive, even in countries that were seen as invincible. I’m not saying we shouldn’t pay attention. This is, after all, a world rife with violence, injustice, pain and misery. But it is also a place where millions of acts of kindness occur each day, and rarely make the news.

Whether we want to admit it or not, all of us do a tremendous amount of good each year. We all have friends that like us, family that loves us. There are people who have come to depend on us, because when the chips were down for them, we stepped up to help. Perhaps we’re too afraid to think about it out of the fear of being too proud. Humility is a fine thing, yes. But when a person does a good thing, that’s something that needs to be celebrated.

Tech and the Effect on the Human Experience**

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey
Facts and research © 2009 by Karl Fisch and Dr. Scott McCleod

*Chicago Tribune
February 4, 2011
as "Tech and the human experience"

*Somerset, PA Daily American
February 5, 2010
as "Tech and the human experience"

That the world is accelerating is knowledge that surprises almost no one.  Yet, when one considers the facts in detail, the results are astonishing.

In 2006, two educators, Karl Fisch and Dr. Scott McCleod produced a video entitled, “Did You Know?”  The video, backed  by a driving, booming soundtrack reels off a number of factoids about the exponential increase in the power of technology and the effects on the human race.  They have since produced four updates, all available on YouTube. 

Reading these facts, I was stunned.  A long-time devotee of Alvin Toffler’s “Future Shock,” I’ve always known that humans were racing forward, but I was not prepared for how far or how fast.

Consider this:   China will soon become the world’s number one English-speaking country.

Another shocker: The 25% of India’s population with the highest I.Q.’s is larger than the entire population of the United States. 

Business is also changing rapidly.  The top ten jobs in demand in 2010 didn’t exist in 2004.  For the students training for those jobs, information is changing so rapidly that Fisch and McCleod estimate that what university students learn during their freshman year will be outmoded by the time they’re juniors. 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Kindling the Future*

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat
February 6, 2010
as "Taking digital for a test-read"

In recent years, we’ve seen the beginnings of the next big tech turning point. Digital readers have passed the novelty stage and have gone fully mainstream. Amazon’s Kindle, Apple’s iPad, the Nook from Barnes & Noble, and the Sony Reader are the big players that have hit the marketplace. And the shift from analog to digital marches on.

Star Trek fans recognize the genesis of these devices. In the 1980s “Next Generation” series, the Enterprise crew carried around a small flat device called a PADD (Personal Access Display Device). This gadget not only carried documents, but had fulltime wireless access to the ship’s computer. Nowadays, you don’t have to join Starfleet to own a similar device. The nearest Wal-Mart will suffice.

I bought my wife a Kindle for Christmas, and have watched as she has begun to download and read ebooks. For once in our lives, she has taken a tech step ahead of me. While I readily see the advantage of ebook readers, I’m still bound to tradition as far as books are concerned. I love the smell of the paper, glue, and ink; the feel of the binding and the cover. And that moment when I open a new book for the first time, then settling back in the cushions for an afternoon spent in another world.

In some respects, I’m kind of old-fashioned.  However, I don’t think of myself as a curmudgeon. I do like the idea of being able to pack around a number of books in a nearly weightless (by comparison) container. Having struggled through airports with a shoulder bag packed with 10 pounds of reading material, I understand the convenience. I also know that as more and more people make the switch, the demand for paper products, and therefore trees, will decline.

Snow Day*

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat
January 30, 2011
as "Warm memories awakened on a midwinter's day"

Copyright © 2007, 2011 by Ralph Couey

Outside the window, the Lake Effect Snow Machine was raging, piling up on the ground. The wind gusted, rattling the shutters and temporarily changing the trajectory of the snow from vertical to horizontal. I turned away from the window and put another log on the fire, trying to ignore the ache of restlessness. 

Looking into the flames, my thoughts began to wander.  I could see a blurred white line on a ribbon of sun-splashed asphalt.  Suddenly, perhaps rashly, I headed for the back door, pausing to don some warm clothes. I mumbled to my wife that I was going to the garage.  She looked at me and smiled slightly. No one knows my moods like this remarkable woman. 

The garage was utterly quiet, and in the silence I could almost hear the raspy whisper of the snowfall through the roof and walls. With a sharp click, the hum of fluorescent lights replaced the silence and bright light filled the space.  And there, standing patiently and faithfully was my motorcycle. 

Ostensibly, my purpose was to crank the engine over and charge the battery, those necessary things for an otherwise moribund piece of machinery. But on this day, when the mid-winter blues were deepened by the grim weather, I felt a deeper need. 
I opened both doors for ventilation and swung my leg over the seat, a movement made awkward by the heavy clothes and boots. I inserted and turned the key.  My thumb came forward on the starter. It took a couple of tries, but the engine finally roared to life. 

I closed my eyes, and the memories came flooding back.  Rides under a hot sun, through the cool mountains; on Kansas highways flanked by never-ending fields of wheat.  Twisting through the Colorado Rockies and the Arkansas Ozarks.   I thought of springtime rides, reveling in the return of warm sunshine; how marvelous the scent of new flowers and the rich aroma of freshly turned earth; to see the trees budding and the grass turning green.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Remembering and Learning From History*


Image from StephenGregory.blogspot.com

*Johnstown, PA Tribune-Democrat
April 10, 2011
as "War offers important history lesson"

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey
Words only

150 years ago this month, the first shots were fired in what would become America’s bloodiest conflict, and the most critical point in our nation’s history.

In January, 1861, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas joined South Carolina in seceding from the union.  These states, later joined by Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina formed the Confederate States of America.  And in April, when the South bombarded Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, the Civil War began.

From April 1861 to April 1865 in a conflict characterized by outmoded tactics against modern weapons, some 625,000 men died on both sides.  To put that in perspective, the combined American deaths for World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam total some 629,000.  Some researchers, citing the combat deaths of civilians caught in the crossfire, peg that number closer to 700,000, more than all the dead in all the rest of America’s wars.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Honor and Remembrance**


USS San Antonio (LPD-17 class)
Official U.S. Navy photograph

*Chicago Tribune
January 28, 2011
as "Honor, she will serve"

*Somerset, PA Daily American
January 29, 2011
as "Honor, she will serve"

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

The sea is seductive. It holds an indescribable power over the soul of a human.  It is a place of awesome beauty and fearsome power.  Yet, at dusk when the sun’s dying rays appear to sink into its depths, it also inspires quiet reflection and deep emotions.  As author Kate Chopin put it,

The voice of the sea speaks to the soul.
The touch of the sea is sensuous,
enfolding thebody in its soft, close embrace.

Standing on the deck of a ship, you look around you and behold a perfect world of water, unbroken from horizon to horizon.  Beneath you lies a tower of water many hundreds, or even thousands of feet deep.  At night, far from any polluting light source, the sky is crowded with stars.  As the bow cleaves the water, tiny creatures are stirred up in the wake, giving the foam a glowing phosphorescence as it trails out astern.  During the day, you are struck by the sheer size of the planet you inhabit; at night, the majestic infinity of the universe awes you.  Either way, you feel very, very small.

But under your feet is a steel deck.  The engines are turning and the Captain is on the Bridge.  In the middle of incomprehensible vastness, you find comfort in the solidity of your ship. 

A mass of haze gray steel floating on the water.  That’s what most people see in a Navy ship.  But to a sailor, it is a vision that ignites strong emotions. 

To outsiders, the love affair between ships and sailors is a mystery.  You have to understand that a ship is not an office building.  It is a workplace, to be sure.  But it is also the vessel that carries sailors across the trackless seas to places of wonder and duty.  They work there, sleep there, eat there, and if necessary, fight there.  Some die there.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Hopes and Dreams*


Diana discovers the world of the Big Sister

*Johnstown, PA Tribune-Democrat
January 23, 2011
as "The Beauty of Hope"

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

It was an eventful week.  On Monday, January 10th, after some 9 months of thoughtful consideration and introspection, I had lap band surgery.  This procedure places an adjustable band around the upper part of the stomach, reducing its useable size to about three-quarters of a cup. 

I went home on Tuesday, and during the overnight hours, our son and daughter-in-law gave birth to a son, who they named Ian Robert. 

As disparate as these two occasions may seem, they are both linked by a strong hope for the future.

On Wednesday, my wife poured me into our vehicle and we headed for Baltimore.  Arriving at the hospital, we found our new grandson wrapped in blankets and sleeping peacefully.  Picking up that tiny bundle of soft flannel and fragile human, I once again experienced the awe and wonder, and the joy, of a new life.

It was an emotional moment.  A little over a year ago in California, I had held another new life.  Our granddaughter Zoe, however, beset with multiple medical problems, passed away only five-and-a-half months later.  Our oldest daughter and her husband were devastated, and we have all tried hard to understand the meaning and purpose behind that loss.  But on this night, we once again celebrated the miracle.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Slanguage**

*Chicago Tribune
January 21, 2011
as "Cooking with slanguage"

*Somerset, PA Daily American
January 22, 2011
as "Cooking with Slanguage"

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

My grandmother was a marvelous cook, the kind who had an instinctive, almost spiritual connection with her recipes. Her daughters almost never saw her use measuring devices. She used her hands, palms, fingers, and even the crook of her elbow to measure the ingredients and for the outcome, relied on her eyes, sense of taste, and experience. She turned out incredible meals.

There aren’t many cooks like that anymore. Because of the busy nature of our lives, most of us rely on prepackaged, or at least preassembled meals that require a minimum of prep and cooking time. On those rare occasions when I try to cook, I stick as close as possible to the stated measurements, carefully using the measuring cups and spoons to get things right. Unfortunately, it still turns out to be a catastrophe casserole.

I asked my mom once how grandma cooked. She replied, “Oh, she uses a pinch of this, a dab of that, a dash of something else.” But over the years, the exact amount of those measurements seem to have escaped quantification.

We use terms like that outside of the kitchen as well. Iota, for example. We know it’s a small amount, but exactly how small? When I used to work cattle in New Mexico, I remember the other cowboys using the term “skosh.” “Jest back that thar trailer up a skosh.”

Freedom and "The Dream"*


The Power and the Passion
(and I still haven't found the original attribution for this photo)

*Johnstown, PA Tribune-Democrat
January 16, 2010
as "Decades later, King's words still echo"

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey


“I have a dream.”

Four simple words that when put together define the hope of every human.  But those words also define the life of a man; a leader; an American hero.

August 28, 1963 was a hot day in Washington, DC.  Some 200,000 people had gathered, surrounding the big reflecting pool at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial.  They had come to listen to a southern minister whose lyrical voice and powerful words had galvanized the civil rights movement.  There had been other leaders, but in his presence and passion shone a vision of what was possible; perhaps even inevitable. 

Dr. Martin Luther King led from the front.  On countless marches, he had boldly led African-Americans and supportive whites down streets in some of the most racially divided cities in America.  He had been arrested, even spent time in jail.  But southern whites were rapidly finding out that while you can imprison a man, you cannot imprison an idea.

In the torpid air of that humid summer day, he rose and began to speak.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Parenting Out On a Limb*

*Somerset, PA Daily American
January 8, 2011
as "Your actions will change the world"

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

Human children are unique, in that they are born completely helpless. But the capacity to grow and develop into a member of the dominant life form on the planet is an amazing thing.  A monkey is born with far more strength, agility, and independence, but at the end of his life the only thing he’s accomplished is to swing from trees and eat bananas. And although I’ve had days where I wished all I had to do was swing from trees and eat bananas, I know that we humans alone of all the teeming life on Earth have the intelligence, capacity and the ability to change our world.

Once, when I was very young, I was playing in some woods near my home. I found one of those “helicopter” maple seeds. On a whim, I broke open the seed cover, poked a hole in the ground with a stick, and put the seed in the hole.  Years later, I went back to the spot and was astonished to find that my seed had grown into a beautiful 15-foot-tall tree. In a moment of whimsy so long ago, I had started a process of growth and change.  That tree had defied the heat and wild storms of summer and the fierce cold of winter, all without any help from me.  In a very small way, I had changed the world.

As a father, I am familiar with the sensations of holding a new baby, that moment where we look at this tiny little human and ask, “Where will you go? What will you do?”