Wednesday, February 20, 2013


With practiced breath
and tuned ears
I went Inside the Taj Mahal
With Paul Horn

I slipped from the now
into memories
like gold in the crevices


Cross country skiing at Carson Pass
Up through the granite and pine
Glimpse Elephant Back
Then down the big bowl on skinny skis


The lot of us
will build each others houses
a self help group at Lake Tahoe
about to be home owners
we gather together to choose
our ground

12 people
12 different lots
We toured them all
and drew up
emotional lists
of places to live

There was only one lot for Jan and me,
we wanted North Upper Truckee

The time came to choose

12 slips of paper
numbered 1 - 12
placed in a hat
above eye-line
each couple drew

I took the last slip
It read 1
We'd drawn North Upper Truckee

As I kicked the spade into rocky soil
starting a foundation trench for our home
I thought how lucky we are
to have a place in the world

As we framed the walls
set the windows
shingled the roof
hammered home the siding
the reality
sunk in

That was our start.


The polished mahogany
and worn green velvet
on thickly padded seats
Taj Express
Delhli to Agra
Breathing the fumes of the Raj

Walking toward the Taj
The hot air thick with moisture
The crowds dressed up for a sacred place

Inside the warm marble
of the great dome
fingers laced
we found our future

If all the chosen people of India
have the courage to live their lives
why not us
who have so much

Let's have a baby


Fatepur Sikri
red stone fortress of the Shah
screaming parrots
thousands thick
jump up
and color the yellow green sky


My new daughter
in my cupped hands
blinks deep eyes
and smiles
first minutes of her life
teach me
to be


squares of light
numbered and named
dark for decades
slides before sunlit windows
peaks climbed
paths hiked
sunsets captured
with chilled hands
and my Rolei 35

work hard to find places
where you could not take
a bad photograph
captured squares of light
hidden in a closet
wait in a box


I'm an old man
Standing at the kitchen sink
preparing breakfast for my wife

the acres beyond my window
echo organic orange trees
stumped for lack of water
dry dead pegs mark the rows
where trees were
gone now or

I wouldn't be able to see down the valley

I wouldn't be able to see the blue arc of the ocean

when I stand at my kitchen sink

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Lillian Hall - Silent film actress

I came across an old scrapbook compiled by the silent film actress Lillian Hall  The are many pictures to share.   Here is a link to her IMBD page:

As you will see there are no photos of the actress on the IMDB page.  I haven't found images of her online either. So, I've scanned some of the images I have of Lillian Hall and post them here as a first step to getting the information into the IMBD database.  Many of the photos are from the 1920 edition of the film Last of the Mohicans.

From what my wife Janice recalls,  the link is via Glenn Tryon, father of the actor Tom Tryon, who apparently was a cousin of my father-in-law Sherman Kunkel.  According to the IMDB Tryon was Lillian Hall's stepson.  Tangled history here!

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Guide or Guided?

I breathe toward my still point

seeking the moment

distracted by memories that briefly flicker

Entering the water
at La Perouse Bay
the Maui warmth of the fish bowl
coats me with the present moment

Eastern sierra high meadow
fingerling golden trout
dart for cover

Central BC
old growth timber
tossed like
God's pick up sticks
before the peak

Forgotten fishing hole
I belly up
hoping for a glance
old trout in the cutbank shadows

laying on the surf line
up in the sand
where the last of the tide touches me
feeling the float of the moment

World of river worn rocks
small pebbles worked to sand
a universe caught in a river bend
miraculous salmon jumps

My stone bed
shelf of rock wide enough for
a young man in a sleeping bag
staring up
sleeping on the mountain

Red stone worked by artisans into
a chessboard for humans
Fatipur Sikri courtiers moved
feeling the Shah's
finger on their fate

Muddy creeks snake
the first Brahmaputra water
from the Himalaya
strained by the tea bag of Bhutan
to brown silty soup where
golden scaled Maheer roll
under the shadowed surface

A stark tree
branches weighed with leathery wings
satisfied vultures
settle over the shoulder of
the smiling police chief
serving tea.

Crowded Indian bus
air thick with dust
kids screeching
chickens squawk
beyond the dirty glass
other buses
at the bottom of the gorge
like dry overturned beetles
old tires rotting on bent wheels
bad road for buses
a hundred miles to Kazaranga

my life
like postage stamps
in a collection
rarely admired

Guide and guided

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Jack's mindful morning

cup of espresso

sip one
the foam stings
the tongue
sip two
the back of the throat
catches the soothe
sip three
the memories circulate
so strong I taste them.

What is it about mindfulness that fills me with sharp specific memories?

My thick handled coffee mug with the a blue script logo:

Since 1946
Bishop, California

The coffee shop hidden behind the Sierras on HWY 395 where

I'd come down from a self-imposed

epic sierra hike

to feast on a breakfast at


A week or two of crunchy granola,
brown rice and trout set me up for

a mound of hash browns
a 3 egg omelette stuffed with ham, peppers, cheddar cheese and onions
a side of bacon and a side of sausage

and keep the coffee cup full.

Bought this cup for my dad Jack (who started me in 1948).

It stayed with him until he was gone.

Now the cup,

and the mindful morning sips
of memories
are mine.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Where the values meet the tarmac

As a young teacher in my prime I was riding the wave of technology integration. I was passionate about thinking and writing with tech and lucky to be in a newly created position as Technology Coordinator in a small rural school district in Nevada.

Creating change was like swimming hard up fast river.  It was easy to give up and drown. Fresh from the classroom where I was passionate about my craft I had a lot of teaching spirit to keep me going. Doing professional development helped me live my values. However, as I learned the ins and outs of district politics I became disenchanted.  It seemed to me that my bosses did not hold students as their number one priority.  This stung and I was chewing on this values mis-match when I met a wise man with enormous institutional experience and a unique experiences in ultra real pursuits.  For a brief time he became my mentor. It's a an experience I've always treasured.

The man was Alan Bean. He was the fourth man to walk on the Moon.(Yes, I asked him about walking on the moon: "Like wading in thigh deep corn flakes".) As a graduate of the Top Gun fighter school and a carrier pilot Bean had been a remarkable aviator. His two months as Skylab Commander had given him a literal global perspective. (Myth debunked: You can't see the great wall of China from Earth Obit. The materials are too similar to the background colors of China and the wood smoke pollution ruins visibility from space.) As the director of operations and training during the Challenger Mission he'd seen his crew lost to disaster.  As a fine artist he still paints space exploration events he witnessed first hand.  In every way Alan Bean is a true explorer and a remarkable man.

I'd written a grant to bring Alan to my school district to give a series of lectures to our kids. My delightful job was to be his guide. I talked to him initially about his art. My father as well as my grandfather were artists.  I understood the process. I think my unorthodox approach (Bean's art first, his explorations second) help us connect.

At one point I opened up about my frustration with the school district.  I put kids first. I was very much a classroom teacher in a temporary administrative position.  I wanted my district to put kids first too.  Alan asked me where in the top ten list of priorities the school district placed students.   I answered about 6th on the list. (Values like personal power, prestige, appearences and money were well ahead of kids.)

Bean told me something that I took to heart: " If your top priority (value) is in the top 10 of the organization you are working in, stay with it. If not, time for a change."  

Sage advice from someone who rose in the Navy and NASA to the top of the pyramid (and literally all the way to the Moon).

So I ask you: how many of your top 10 values are shared by the system you work in? Listen to Alan Bean:  If you find values congruency, stay put. If not; change the culture of your workplace, or change your work place. This is just what I did more than a decade ago when student welfare slipped off the top ten in my district.

I did take a leap into private enterprise. I went corporate for a few years as a sales trainer and tech writer for a UNIX based networking company.  There I learned very hard lessons about what it was lto carry a shield for an organization where my values had no meaning. I'd traded a teaching career where I could follow my passions for double the salary, a sharp office, and a big title.  The value of these things came home to me as I was flying into Las Vegas in our corporate jet. I was on the way to Comdex with the company elite. There was typical small plane turbulence as we landed. I held my breath waiting for touchdown. Suddenly we slammed into the tarmac.  I remember thinking thank God we're on the ground. Next thing I know we're in the air sideways with the engines screaming and a Vegas hotel towering above us. I remember thinking "I'm going to die with people I don't respect."

Our pilot flew us out a it. I got off that plane very glad to be alive. I then spent the next 3 days of my life following the CEO of my company around as he paraded his ego up and down the vendor isles.

This experience helped me 'clarify my values'. Then the time came to make a choice;  follow a friend to a Silicon Valley start up, or take a pay cut or go back to the classroom.

I followed my heart. I was born to teach.  I returned to teaching and have never regretted the move.

As I think back over the last decade to the groups of educators I've worked and learned with with at the Milken Family Foundation, ISTE, the Illinois Science and Mathematics Academy, and the University of Wisconsin Stout I feel the strength of purpose and resonance that comes from spending my time with folks who hold common values.

I earned my 10,000 hours of expertise by passionately pursuing my dreams and living these values:
  • Put the student at the center
  • Learn and teach how to think
  • Empower students with technology
  • As a teacher, always be a student
  • Do good work
  • Be grateful for the chance to earn an living with your mind
  • Show up and give the best you've got each day
  • Be an optimist about the future
  • Help teachers become writing teachers
  • Help teachers become information fluent

If I'd stayed in the Silicon Valley game I doubt my list would look like this. I'm proud to be a veteran teacher and lifelong learner. I'm endlessly excited to be alive and thinking in these revolutionary times.

I've learned that to preserve my teaching spirit I need to live my values.

~ Dennis Thomas O'Connor
January 29, 2013

Peach in the mist

I've just mediated with the help of Karen Sother's touching guided imagery: Peace in the Midst, a brief guided meditation from her CD Sacred Pause.

I have this on my iPhone, but oh Apple, the iPhone calls this mediation Peach in the Mist...

I start by imagining myself to be Machupuchare, the great fish tail peak in the Annapurna range where my sweet young bride Janice and I spent part of our honeymoon.  I'll never forget that mountain and how the twin peaks scratched the jet stream and split racing clouds thousands of feet above us.

Now when I mediate my mountain self, I return to Machupuchare and just breathe.

Fine way to start the day... before the sun rises... meditating and breathing,
once again for the moment, young, hopeful, in love
and in the Himalayas.