Here at the Times in the last couple of weeks, we started our own little lockdown due to COVID. After about 5 days of it, I started to think about how much we are responding to COVID and at the same time how many other current threats to our health we just overlook. I mean, COVID just happens to be all over the news and we hear about death every day. Did you know that in 2018 there were over 600,000 deaths due to cancer? According to the CDC website, "Overweight and obesity raise the risk for female breast, colorectal, esophageal, uterine, pancreas, and kidney cancers. After increasing over the past several decades, about two-thirds of adults and one-third of children are now overweight or obese. Except for breast and colorectal cancers, the number of weight-related cancers is expected to go up 30% to 40% by 2020."
So, we have lost about 288,000 people to COVID, and we are all scared and doing what we can to avoid getting ill. Yet, we stay in our homes stuffing our faces with corn syrup-filled products, fried food, and who knows what is in our pantries and in the food at restaurants. I guess since it isn't classified as a pandemic, no one cares?
I found out a few years ago that our bodies regenerate cells about every 7 years. That means what we put in our bodies makes us who we are. I am what I have eating over the last 7 years. I mean, if this is true, I should look like one big Milk Dud. So maybe, I'm thinking, I should do something more than just run from COVID.
I was thinking that if I take care of myself on a daily basis, make healthy choices, go to my regular doctor visits, and lower my stress then maybe when something like COVID comes along, I don't have to worry so much.
It's very difficult in our culture to make the right food choices. I have been seriously thinking about just going down to meat and greens and no processed food. It would be difficult because I love to frequent restaurants, but I am rethinking and maybe in January, I will have to make a new resolution to do something drastic.
It's funny, I buy the best food for my new dog Henry. He gets plenty of exercise, vet visits, and healthy treats, then I turn around, sit for a couple of hours watching tv, and stuffing my face with chips and sugar-filled treats. I'm thinking I need to at least treat myself as good as I treat my dog.
So, 2021 here I come. It will be hard, but I am going to feel great and not be scared anymore of the big bad COVID.
As the subject of their science research project, three middle school students from Niskayuna, New York, decided to take on this serious issue. In their work, Kai Vernooy, James Lian, and Arin Khare devised a way to measure the amount of gerrymandering in each state and created a mathematical algorithm that could draw fair and balanced district boundaries. The results of the project were submitted to Broadcom MASTERS, the nation’s leading middle school STEM competition run by the Society for Science & the Public, where Vernooy, 14, won the Marconi/Samueli Award for Innovation and a $10,000 prize.
What is gerrymandering and why is it a problem?
Legally speaking, political district boundaries are supposed to hold to “compactness and equality of size of constituencies.” However, the practice of gerrymandering is used to dilute the voting power of certain constituents, minorities, and other groups.
The term was originally coined in a political cartoon drawn in 1812. The then Governor Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts helped to enact a law that defined new state senatorial districts. The outline of one of the districts was said to resemble a salamander. Cartoonist Elkanah Tisdale, at the Boston Gazette then drew a picture of a disturbing creature that was divided by and labeled with the state districts. The paper called the creature a “gerry-mander” after the Governor.
The main criticism of gerrymandering is that it subverts the will of the people. It’s a tool that helps politicians get elected and establish a majority in legislatures without getting the majority of the votes.
Kai and his team’s solution
Though middle schoolers Kai Vernooy, James Lian, and Arin Khare are not of voting age yet, they decided to use scientific research to find a solution to this prevalent issue. First, they analyzed the problem by coming up with a method to measure the level of gerrymandering present in each state. They did this by identifying political communities and regions of like-minded voters. Then they grouped those communities together to form precincts. Each precinct was adjusted to include a compact or circle-like shape, a similar population size and a similar partisanship ratio. The result was a simple representation of where groups of like-minded voters live in each state.
These precincts were then compared to actual voting districts within the state. The comparison shows the percentage of people that are in the precinct but not the district, therefore illuminating the number of people that the district fails to represent. Using this method, they were able to give each state a gerrymandering score.
To help shed some light on this process we will use Alabama as an example. Kai explained that “Alabama is a good example of a state that has experienced partisan gerrymandering over the last decade. In the 2010 redistricting cycle, Republicans drew district lines to pack together several major Democratic communities into a single district, ensuring that Democrats were only elected to one seat. Alabama's District 7, shown here in yellow, reaches into several other districts' regions to pick out Democratic voters.”
Last week was the first week I spent with my new family. They feed me, give me treats, and play with me. I love my new family. My favorite toy is my new squeaky duck. I am learning to go get it and bring it back. I have been spending a lot of my time sniffing around getting to know my new home. There are many people that live in my home and have five humans that take care of me and play with me. I know I like them because every time they come into the room, I jump for joy.
My new family built me my own little home within the home. I didn't like it at first but now I feel safe. My food and water and my comfy bed are all set up for me. I really love my new home. Sometimes I get to leave my home and go to work with my humans at the Pleasant Hill Times. They even gave me a job to write in the Little Hillians section of the paper. I hope you read it and keep up with me every week. I might have my own video blog on their website. I will keep you updated.
This week is American Education Week and we are honoring what many teachers and administrators do for us in our community. For these people in our town, it is a labor of love. The money isn’t great, it can be thankless, and especially during this COVID season, many teachers and administrators are under a ton of pressure.
I, too, have had my own opinions about what the schools should do during the COVID pandemic. I have been frustrated with so many great arguments on both sides, but I have to say, I wouldn’t want to be the one having to make the decisions. Can you imagine? Thousands of kids in your care during the day while parents go about their business until their kids come home again. For a while, I was thinking that virtual learning would give the parents an opportunity to get involved in their child's education, but I am wondering if it is just making parents more thankful for what the teachers do every day.
I saw a picture posted by a husband of his wife in the kitchen at night pouring over some lesson plans. He expressed how wore out she was and that she really cared for the kids. She has to give extra hours trying to figure out how to reach her students through the world wide web.
This is a unique year. As they say, this too shall pass, but while we are here in this mess of 2020, I would like to think about the teachers and the administration and give them a thank you for caring. It is not easy to make these decisions and the responsibility they must feel is heavy, I am sure. Vulnerable staff, kids, and whoever is waiting for the kids at home. Could be grandma or grandpa who has health problems.
I spoke with Dr. Steve Meyers a week ago and discussed what the schools were doing and why. I could hear the stress in his voice and the care in his words. One thing that really came through in the conversation, is that our school has been able to open and stay the course on the same plan. Many other schools are changing the game plan and sometimes more than once.
As we go into the Thanksgiving season, let’s remember the teachers, the cafeteria workers, the volunteers, the administrators, and everyone that makes the public school run smoothly in Pleasant Hill Missouri. Soon this will all be over and we will be back to business as usual, and we will always remember the hard work put in by people that truly care about our kids and the community.
One of the perks of being the owner and editor of a newspaper is getting to know the most fascinating people here in town.
One afternoon, I was taste-testing a flight of coffees at Roosters Corner, yes that is a thing, when at the next table was sitting Helen Stewart, a fifth-generation Pleasant Hiller. As I was filming the experience, Helen and some others took notice and exchanged laughter from table to table. After a couple of weeks, she happened to be downtown with her daughter, Rachel, and remembered the event and laughter and decided to drop in. It was wonderful to get to know Helen and I told her I just had to have an interview.
Stewart graduated from Pleasant Hill High School in 1984. She lived in the same house most of her life, since her rearing was by her grandparents, Ray and Helen Alexander. She and her daughter reside there now but Ray and Helen have passed away. High school was a highlight for Stewart, cheerleading, dating Darren Stewart, and cruising Pleasant Hill in the car. She shared, "We put thousands of miles going up and down 7 Highway and going down the loop. We were ornery back then." She shared how they hung out with the locals like Steve Bricker and many others.
According to Stewart, next to the Western Auto used to be a huge bandstand and it stood tall. Pleasant Hill had street fairs and she and her grandmother would sit on the curb and enjoy all of the music. It was around 1970 at the time and the street fairs were a good place for the community to connect. The First Baptist Church of Pleasant Hill was a good memory of Helen's. She remembers kids would pile in four or five buses and head out for LandMark Skate, which closed its doors this week. She remembered the owner being Mike Straight and his motto being "Straights the name and skates the game." Stewart expressed that, "It was a big deal to get a Sonic", which happened around 1980. "It used to be where the Daylight Donut shop is now," she said. She reminisced that Guidos Pizza used to be across from where Daylight Donuts used to be before they built their new building. When they wanted their shoes fixed they were happy to go to the shoe repair shop downtown by where Willow Boutique is now and a guy named Tommy would fix them while he chatted. Stewart said, "I wish I would have taken pictures."
Stewart married her high school sweetheart, Darren Stewart, and had her daughter Rachel. She went on to college to earn her liberal arts degree from UMKC studying business, travel, tourism, and hospitality.
9/11 hit during college and her future plan was dampened due to the downturn in the travel industry but she later started working at the State School of Missouri for Handicapped Children in Lee's Summit, Grandview, and Harrisonville. She was called, "The Buffer" at the school since she was good with the troubled kids. Due to COVID, she isn't able to work at the school.
She currently takes care of a 95-year-old man and is starting a business that she feels is a need and will be a ministry to others. "When you help other people, you feel good", Stewart says. She was watching the trash company one day and had an idea. There could be a service for people that need help having their trash cans pulled out to the curb and back. She was thinking that she could be of service for five dollars a week. Her daughter is about to have a baby, and this was a great way to serve others and be at home to help her daughter.
A fun fact about Stewart is that her maternal grandmother's paternal uncle had the famous Dionne quintuplets, who were the first quintuplets to survive infancy. She is also related to Thomas Alexander whose murder was on the Unsolved Mysteries show.
Football Cheerleaders: Row 1: Shawna Wilson, co-captain. Row 2: Ruby Williams, Sammi Rogers, captain;
Helen Alexander. Row 3: LeAnn Boyd, Andrea Hurst, Terri Prewitt
Last spring our family lost our family cat to an attack by a couple of neighbor dogs while she was enjoying the morning sun on our front porch. Sophie was a calico cat and that we had for about 13 years. She gave our family a ton of love and enjoyment and we all shed many tears saying goodbye to our kitty friend. I swore I would not get another pet. The pain of losing this one was just too much. I mean it wasn't a person, right? But somehow, these animals give us so much more than we understand.
It was even more evident that there was something missing in our home as a bit of underlying tension or even a slight depression settled in. It seemed that a pet would soak up some of the stress of the day somehow. I missed sitting with Sophie on the front porch in the mornings and drinking my coffee and coming home to her and enjoying her sitting next to me while watching some evening shows on TV. I had started to get an allergy to cats and was at a loss at what animal to get. Maybe a bird or a rabbit. I don't know. I am not really a dog person. Never have been, but that was about to change.
Midsummer, Bob and I helped our son move to Goodland, Kansas for a job opportunity. My cousin lives there, too, and I was privileged to meet his dog Kona. Kona is a Havanese and I fell in love with this fluffy happy-go-lucky dog. The temperament was perfect and I also found out that they don't shed and are hypoallergenic. Bob and I made the decision to get a Havanese. We made the arrangements and ended up with a cute blonde puppy we named Henry. Henry was a little over four pounds when we brought him home and follows us around everywhere. We were able to get a kennel from my parents who lost their dog last year. We bought a bed, some toys, puppy food and treats, potty pads, and a leash. We were now ready for our adventure with Henry.
The first night was tough for Henry and there was whimpering and whining when everyone wanted to go to bed. My son slept by his kennel until Henry fell asleep. We all laughed because my son was really against getting a dog, but I believe he is bonding the most. Henry has been using his potty pad religiously to pee but we have some work to do on him pooping. We already feel like Henry was made for our home. He is fitting right in. His first twenty-four hours has been quite exciting and am looking forward to our future with Henry.
Bob and I frequently take walks through the older neighborhoods in Pleasant Hill. Bob has been borrowing the Times’ office to work from home, so it has given us some more time together. If there is a positive side of COVID this would be one of them as the commute to Overland Park took a good part of his day. I noticed last week while walking, that many of the trees had grown so much that the roots were lifting the sidewalks out of the ground. It made it very difficult and almost dangerous to walk, not to mention being an eyesore.
It’s a shame that there was no foresight when these trees were planted and the sidewalks poured. I mean, pushing a baby stroller down these sidewalks is impossible or a wagon or even riding a bike. They have to be a bit of a liability as well. What happens if someone gets seriously hurt on one of these sidewalks? What then?
I live in the country so I am not sure who even owns the sidewalks or how much it would cost to fix the problem. While walking down one sidewalk, one homeowner decided to re-pour their sidewalks and went around a tree that was too big. I guess they didn’t want to cut it down and I am glad they decided to keep it. It made it interesting to walk. It kind of felt like one of those roundabouts but for walking instead of driving. It was great to see that someone took some interest in making the sidewalks better.
One of the streets we were on the other day was so bad I thought I was mountain climbing. When I feel like I am scaling up a mountain, I am thinking it is time for someone to do something. It would be great if the city could help somehow. Maybe grants or a Go Fund Me for the city. I think it would be so wonderful to make our sidewalks great again.
I would have not really thought to even write about the sidewalks if it hadn’t been for a conversation I had with another Pleasant Hiller a few weeks ago. He thought that walking down the sidewalks of Highway 7 was horrible and that they could be taken care of so much better. He mentioned that it what everyone sees when driving through Pleasant Hill and thought it would be nice if it represented us better.
I know we have bigger fish to fry in this world right now, but maybe it all starts out closer to home. So that’s why I decided to bring the subject up. What do you think would make Pleasant Hill a nice place to be?
On October 30th the Chamber of Commerce held their annual Safe Trick or Treat event. We want to share some memories of the event.
Enjoy the Halloween photos. Which ones are your favorite?
Three Roosters will advance to the MSHSAA Class 3 State Championship at 3 on Thursday, Nov. 5 at Gans Creek in Columbia, MO: Landon Fatino, Tobin Wise, and Rustin Branstetter.
The results from the Class 3 District 7 cross country meet at Lamar, Mo from Saturday Oct. 31 are: Landon Fatino 16:26 4th- All District: Tobin Wise 17:33 7th- All District; Rustin Branstetter 17:53 11th- All District (PR); Maverick Crider 18:43 22nd (PR); Parker Elkins 20:04 40th (PR); Carson Case 20:28 47th; Johnathon Rivera 21:39 57th. The Roosters were 4th as a team.
Two Chicks competed with their times as follows: Avery Lawrence 23:57 30th; and Stephanie Conway 25:04 38th.