Is it enough?

I often think about the ones that got away.  Not fish – this is not that kind of story.  And not lost love, mainly because I found the right one to occupy my thoughts.

I think about the students that quit, failed, or disappeared.

I’ve had several of those over the years.

Students that didn’t have time to study, weighed down by other life pressures—work, parenting, sometimes unimaginable trauma.  Some I knew their stories.  Most I didn’t.  And, despite my efforts at intervention, it just wasn’t in the cards for them to be in school at that time.

So I wonder about those students sometimes.  I’ve had a lot of them, so I don’t always remember names.  I’d like to say I rarely forget a face, but I forget those too sometimes.

Others stick with you.  Maybe I’d had a very memorable conversation, or I’m just unlucky enough to not forget that unimaginable trauma I mentioned.  Those I remember… at least the face, or the situation.

Those situations…most of them would break your heart.  Abuse.  Addiction.  More abuse.  Failed relationships.  Violence.  Loss. And on and on.

Stephen, I remembered.  He had showed so much hope.

I met Stephen when he was lucid and sober.  He had proudly been about a week clean when he came to excitedly enroll at Heald College. He was going to change his life this time.  He was going to get an education, a good job, and maybe reunite with his baby son.  He was fresh from detox with inspiring goals.  He showed early to my Success Strategies course to shake my hand and meet his classmates.

“Success Strategies…” I remember him saying. “…I sure need that!” He grinned.  He was genuinely excited about this new path, this new plan.


This past Sunday, we held a Graduation ceremony for the class of 2019 at Warner Pacific University, where I work now.  I arrived to the venue early and walked down to the faculty prep room.

“Mr. Kirby?”  I heard from a distance, “Is that you?  Wow!  Mr. Kirby! One of my best teachers ever!  And tallest!”  It was Stephen.  He stuck out a hand with a huge grin.

“You taught us about the world’s best peanut butter sandwich”, he said shaking my hand.  He referenced an object lesson I would use in my unit about Values—where I would talk about how my version of a perfect peanut butter sandwich might differ from anyone else’s.


Stephen attended the first two weeks of class much like the first day.  Arriving early, he would unpack his notebook and text, and line up his highlighters.  He diligently took notes.  He was eager to learn.  He sat up front and actively participated.

Soon though, he would miss a class, or show up late.  When he was there, I would notice he was wearing the same clothes as the session before.  He mentioned he had lost his place to live.

Then one day, he was there, but he had the nods.

If you’ve ever experienced drug users, especially those who abuse opiates, they get the nods.  Some students are just tired, but you can quickly learn to tell the difference.

I took a risk and decided to ask him about it.  He had been so open the first couple of weeks, I figured I’d give it a shot.

“Hey…” I said after class, getting his attention. “Are you using again?”

At first I could see he wanted to be defensive.  Then he looked ashamed.

“Yeah.  I slipped up.  But I talked with my counselor! I’ll make it…hey, I got to go. I’ll see you next week.”

Then Stephen disappeared.  He stopped attending class and he was withdrawn from school and I thought I would never see him again.


Fast forward to last Sunday.  Here he was, shaking my hand again, even more fervently than a decade prior.  He was surprised to see me, he explained.  Stephen worked for the venue hosting us.  In fact, he was the one who was unlocking the doors for us to get in.

He looked healthy.  Strong.  Sober.  Thriving.  Working.  In control. Happy.

“Thanks, Mr. Kirby.  Thanks for teaching me—you were one of the best!” he exclaimed.

I didn’t get a chance to talk much more to him…he was busy, and I had somewhere to be, but he looked so good.  I already knew some of his story…he had gotten clean, and looked to have stayed clean for a good while.  I felt relieved.  I finally had a happy ending to one of those stories that I wonder about.

Sometimes I worry that I didn’t do enough for students like Stephen.  It hurts to know that there are some you just can’t reach.

I thought about that.  And I thought about seeing Stephen, and I thought about perfect peanut butter sandwiches.

Sometimes, you may not even know it, but what you do is enough.  And if you try and you love hard, “enough” might be all the difference for someone.

For Camille


Dogs smile.

Those of you who grew up around dogs know this.  In fact, you may have taken it for granted.  It just never really occurred to me that dogs smile until I moved in with my wife Amanda and her dog Camille.

Camille died two years ago today.

We came home from a football game and thought she was having a seizure.  We gave her medication, including a rectal injection, and it didn’t stop.  We took her to Dove Lewis (where we were met with professionalism and compassion) and they discovered it wasn’t a seizure, but rather some neurological thing with a name I can’t and don’t want to remember, and it wasn’t likely to stop.  We decided to end Camille’s suffering.  No one can prepare you for that decision.

Back to the smile…

Years earlier, I had just moved in.  I had a day off, and Amanda was working.  “Maybe you can take her for a thing to the place…” she suggested as she left.  Sounded like a good idea to me, so after brunch, I grabbed Camille’s leash and she barked her agreement that she thought it was a good idea too.  Before I clipped it on her, she took a brief sniff search and found a ball, so I grabbed the Chuckit!, a curved plastic device that let you really launch a tennis ball.  Her tail looked like it was going to wag off her body.

I had been to this park and used this chuckit with Camille before, but always with Amanda.  This was the first time it was just us. She was so excited that she pulled on the lead all the way there, and immediately dropped her ball at my feet when we reached the edge of the old softball diamond, way out beyond center field. I undid her leash, picked up the ball with the chuck-it, and let it fly.  She took off in a flash, almost getting to the spot it landed before it got there.  She jumped and caught it on the first bounce, and sprinted back to me.  She dropped it at my feet and yelped twice.  This was her way of saying “More!” although she always said it twice: once slightly to the left – “More!” and again slightly to the right – “More!”  Of course, I obliged.  Usually, when we go with Amanda, we would do 4, 5, or maybe 6 chuck-its.  I lost count that day, because she kept demanding “More! More!”  I made a game out of it for myself: could I make it bounce on second base? Could I hit home plate? Could I hit the small Parks & Rec sign attached to the backstop?  We kept going, and going, and going, 20, 30, maybe 40 times.  She kept sprinting and asking me for more.  Finally, she walked back instead of ran.  She didn’t drop the ball at my feet.  She was done for the day.  And her panting showed it.

“You ready?” I asked her.  I didn’t even put the leash on her, as she was at my side the whole walk home, stopping only to do her business in one of her favorite patches of the neighbor’s grass.  When we got inside, she drank like 5 gallons of water, and collapsed into her bed.  Only a couple minutes later she was snoring loudly, contentedly.  She stayed knocked out like that for a couple hours…until Amanda came home from work.  Amanda came in and Camille popped her head up, but didn’t get up to greet her like normal.  “She’s pooped”, I said.  Amanda kneeled down and pet her, cooed, and asked her, “Did you guys go to the place?”

Camille got up, stretched, and looked over at me, remembering our fun like it was a secret just for us, and it was at that moment when I absolutely fell in love with that dog, because she smiled the biggest, goofiest, and most sincere grin at me, for me.  I’ll never forget it.


Thoughts on working at a school the day after a school shooting

I was meeting with my boss, the campus president. Routine stuff, and some joking around.

An instructor threw open the door and came into the office. He had a look of urgency as he said: “There is an extremely emotionally distraught student downstairs. And he’s talking about hurting someone.”

Instinctually, we both jumped out of our chairs and ran downstairs. The student wasn’t there. Other students in the classroom looked confused and had expressions ranging from worried to fearful. Within 2 minutes, we located the student. He was crying, almost hyperventilating. His fists were clenched, his face red, his eyes narrowed. He could barely talk, but when he did there was hatred and intense anger. This student, who normally was a jolly class clown, who always respectfully said hello to me with a chuckle, was indeed emotionally distraught.

But luckily and thankfully not violent.

When we pulled him into the office, and after he had calmed down a bit, he told his story. He was experiencing a deeply intense personal situation involving his family, and after talking more, found out it brought out deep emotions from his own childhood. We talked with him, encouraged him, gave him some resources, and he left the office feeling better, and certainly less distraught.

It wasn’t until a few minutes after that I realized what my response was, how quickly I ran into what could have been a horribly ugly situation. Especially while I was reeling from a school shooting 10 miles east of here the day before, which left 2 students dead and a teacher injured. Why did I react so quickly and run toward the problem instead of locking the office and hiding under my desk?

Earlier that day, another student came into my office, almost equally distraught. She was on the verge of tears, but was trying to be strong. She was extremely frustrated. In all her classes, but especially her math class, she had perfect attendance, and she did all of her assignments on schedule, but was still failing the class. She told me that when a test was placed in front of her, her mind went blank. Despite hours of preparation, all of the formulas, mnemonic devices, and steps she had studied disappeared. She was frustrated and ready to give up.

I smiled as I encouraged her. I told her that “test anxiety” was very common among college students and she wasn’t alone. We talked about confidence, communication, and preparation. I shared with her some relaxation techniques. I reminded her of on-campus resources, and gave her some things to read about test anxiety. “Wow,” she said, “I had no idea…I thought there was something wrong with me.” She left with more confidence and a smile on her face.

I love spending my time at work like that. It’s the reason I do what I do.

I HATE that today I have to spend time planning what we call “Active Shooter Training”.

I HATE that I am responsible to dream up a contingency plan for gun violence.

I HATE that I will have to pull faculty and staff away from educating students for over an hour so that they can prepare for what to do if we have an Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold, or Adam Lanza on campus.

(I HATE that I know those names off the top of my head.)

I HATE that we have to distract students from learning with a “lockdown drill” and later another “evacuation drill”.

I HATE that I have to train school personnel, who likely have no prior combat or tactical training how, in the worst case scenario, to take on a gunman face to face with their bare hands (or hopefully a book, chair, or computer monitor).

I would much rather spend that time training school personnel how to more effectively engage students, more effectively teach them lifelong literacy skills, or help students with test anxiety.

I am proud and very respectful of the heroes who have taken a bullet for students, or saved students from being in harms way. (I HATE that I don’t know those names off the top of my head.) Those teachers saved your sons and daughters, but they have sons and daughters too, so I’m not satisfied at all with that outcome.

So, while you debate guns, discuss mental illness, place blame on psychotropic drugs, misogyny, video games, a lack of empathy, and all the rest, I’ll plan how to train teachers to take a bullet for your sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers.

While you post pithy internet memes and link to heartwarming stories about heroes and scary news accounts of other shootings or the frequency of school shootings, I’ll walk around campus to identify physical security risks determining primary and secondary emergency escape plans.

Instead of thinking about how to inspire better, more effective, and more spellbinding learning, I’ll spend time preparing for a statistically unlikely event.

I saw that distraught student this morning, down the hall as I came in. He gave me a nod and a wave and a HUGE grin. He’s feeling better.

If only I could exhale a huge sigh of relief.


Money-saving homemade laundry detergent

Inspired by several friends, I decided to investigate how to make homemade detergent.

When I googled it, lots of different methods returned.  I looked at them all, and this recipe is an amalgamation of them, but it mostly resembles The Duggars (yes, the weirdos with 20 kids that have the reality show) recipe found here. We’ve gone through an entire batch, and our clothes are clean and didn’t fall apart.  I can’t say it performs better than the store bought stuff, but it certainly doesn’t perform worse.  It’s what you expect: laundry soap, except it costs pennies on the dollar.  I estimate the total investment is about $1.75 + about 4-5 gallons of water + about 90 minutes of your time (working slowly, spread out over two days) .  It yields approximately 8-10 gallons of laundry detergent, depending on how much you want to stretch it by diluting it.  It pays for itself even after the initial investment of equipment and ingredients, and after that it almost seems free.


10-12 used detergent bottles.  Save ’em, beg your family and friends for ’em, swipe ’em from your neighbors recycling bins (just kidding, ask first!)

5 gallon bucket, clean, really clean.

A stick to stir with

A cheese grater (I bought one at the dollar store to use just for this so I won’t have soapy nachos)

A pot to melt soap in (again, I picked up a beat up old pot from Value Village)


INGREDIENTS:  (note: these all were found on the laundry aisle at the grocery store, I would think they are widely available)

4 cups hot tap water

1 bar of Fels Naptha Laundry Soap (some of the recipes called for any old bar soap, others suggested saving soap slivers and using those, although I can’t vouch for the effectiveness)

A bunch more water

1 Cup Arm & Hammer Washing Soda

1/2 Cup Borax

(optional) Essential Oils for scent, lavender or Tea Tree Oil (I didn’t do this, the natural soap scent was fine with me)


Grate the Fels Naptha and slowly add to the 4 cups hot tap water in a pot over medium heat.  Stir constantly until soap is melted.  Fill bucket half full of tap water and add melted soap.  Mix well.  Add Washing Soda and Borax and mix until granules are dissolved.  Fill the bucket with water and stir, stir, stir until well blended.

Cover and let sit 24 hours.  This will gel it up.

Next day, stir, stir, stir.  It will be difficult at first since it gelled, but soon will be smooth and have detergent consistency.

Use the funnel and fill each bottle 5/8 full. (All of the recipes ranged from 1/2 to 3/4 full, so I declare a 5/8ths rule!  Fill it 5/8ths! Or dilute it more to make it last longer, or less to make it stronger.) Fill bottles the rest of the way with water and shake, shake, shake until well blended.

You’re done.  You just saved a bunch of money and you have a bunch of laundry detergent.  And except for the Fels Naptha, enough ingredients for several more batches.


Shake, shake, shake the bottle before every use.  Homemade detergent tends to gel and separate in storage.  That’s OK! It’s fun to shake it up!

Use 5/8 cup per load.  (Again, I follow the 5/8ths Rule I created.  It just works for me. It’s the right amount.  But use more if you want, it’s cheap. Or, Maybe you’re cheap, so use less.  Whatever.  I don’t care.  I’ll use 5/8 cup.)

This soap is not real sudsy.  That’s OK.  Suds are marketing.  Suds don’t clean.  The chemical make up of the soap, Borax, and washing soda clean.  Trust me.


Enjoy your new soap.  Get creative and make labels for your new soap.  Give it as a gift.  Use it as underarm deodorant. Why not?  It’s cheap.  With the money you are saving, you should buy me a beer.

If you never had a big sister…

…Man, you are missing out!  Big sisters are (usually) awesome!

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Sometimes they’re bossy, and they have a tendency to tattle.  A lot.  But, all in all, they’re pretty swell.

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Early on, big sisters are useful for reaching the good stuff, high up (they ALWAYS share):

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Although, I soon caught up…and passed…and kept going.  I’m the big little brother and she’s the little big sister.

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Big sisters will always wake you up on Christmas morning…

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…even if it is to uncomfortably and impatiently pose for a picture in front of the tree.

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Big sisters ALWAYS share, even Easter treats, whether plastic eggs…

kk 011Okay, seriously, look at her face.  I know that face.  I know it well.  She’s about to slap, shove, or tattle.

…or real eggs.

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A big sister helps you build the best snowman…

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…and will teach you what cold really is…

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…but will be extremely gracious when, years later, you get her back, in the face.

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In the summer, a big sister lets you have the prime sprinkler spot:

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Best camping buddy?  Big sister.  Hands down.  Even the fine dining in the back of your uncle’s truck.

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Big sisters also serve as great Disneyland guides. (They will have always been there one more time than you.)

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Big sisters are just the best for Trick or Treating:

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…Playing Atari with:

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…and just being bored with (she’s about to get that look in this picture…slap, shove, or tattle…)

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So, from these memories, I see I owe some gratitude.  To my sister, on her 21st 21st birthday, I thank you for:

…always letting me drive, whether car or stagecoach…

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Thank you for always crashing my birthday parties…

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…and letting me crash yours (and apparently be the funniest one there)

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Thanks for letting me be the cool one:

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…and for making me a proud uncle…

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…THREE times!!!

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And even though I somehow came in third in this board game:

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You always…

…pray for me without ceasing

…answer a late night call

…offer wise advice

…keep me accountable

…provide a valuable role model to me

…and have my back and hold me tight, even if it seems I don’t want it…

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and all I can offer in return is my love, my gratitude, and my promise to return the favor and carry you…

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…if you ever (and I mean ever) need it.

Love you, sis.  Happy Birthday.