Seeking Approval

Happy Hump Day, All!

Yes, it is Wednesday once again, and …. the last day of the month. December is also the last month of 2011. We have been blessed enough to have been given another year of life as we know it. Now, I am not going to get metaphysical today though I wonder sometimes where we go when this all ends, but I must say that I appreciate the form I have been given along this journey …

While each of us attempts to handle our own issues, be they financial or physical, familial or health related, some of us face more devastating roads along this journey. One person I think of today after his doctor was convicted of the charges of medical negligence is Michael Jackson. The trial seemed to expose everybody’s “dirty laundry”, so to speak, and much of it is still out on the “lines” looking filthy! Being famous like MJ must be difficult …. can’t sleep at night and have to handle the personal issues as well as professional development …. just to mention a couple. Dr. Murray was found guilty but it will never … ever bring MJ back. The judge’s sentencing words pierced my ears as he reiterated how Dr. Murray had lied and concealed …. and lied some more …. and manipulated the truth and lied some more! That was some serious “tongue lashing” that he gave to Dr. Murray who still seemed unmoved … Was Dr. Murray seeking anyone’s approval? Did he have a higher power or higher standard of living to which he held himself?

One other person who has weaved an extremely “tangled web” is Herman Cain. Woman after woman have come forth to state that they had a relationship with him or he sexually abused them or he paid for this or paid for that …. and his wife stands there trying to hold up next to him. Well, this latest claim of a relationship of thirteen years is the icing on the cake. If true, you mean to tell me his own wife had no idea of his shenanigans?! Do you think Mr. Cain had a higher power or held himself to a higher standard of living? Now each of us face the same but most of our lives never make it to the headlines and multi-media so nobody ever knows … or do they?

In closing, and as the end of another year comes in with Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza and the New Year comes in, may we take a closer look at what we do? Do we seek anyone’s approval in our behaviour or are we just “buck wild” with this precious gift we have called “life” until the end?

“A man (or woman) cannot be comfortable without his own approval.” – Mark Twain

…. and that may not be enough ….

Today, I will nourish a relationship with myself by facing my own disapproval and growing toward greater comfort. (TOUCHSTONES November 30th)


John I. Cook, Director

‘T is The Season ….

Happy Monday, All!

Now, I don’t know about you, but I am all amped up to give thanks for the rest of my life! Sounds corny?! Well, in thinking of these past few days, including sharing Thanksgiving Dinner with my sister and her family in Port St. Lucie, FL, all I can do is count my blessings! I don’t even have time to acknowledge any complaints I MIGHT have had about ANYTHING! Perhaps, it is maturity and appreciation for this present I have been bestowed with called “life”!

Yes, this is the last week of November 2011 and I can say that over the years, I have witnessed and experienced “the good, the bad and the ugly” things in life. Just watching “60 Minutes” last night brought home some realities even I’ve had to face. There was a segment that focused on “Homeless Students” in FLORIDA! That’s right, I believe the statistics revealed that this state has more homeless school children than any other state in the United States of America! As they interviewed some of the children, there was a wide array of emotions and sentiments that they expressed from having to live in cars, and one single parent male headed family had his two children living in a truck with him. The maturity level of those two kids compared to the broken heartedness of some of the other less fortunate ones was astonishing.

One family of five had left Washington, DC to come here and start a new life …. and ended up homeless and living out of a car. The stories continued on and on … Peace be still. Yet, there is a woman who has started an organization to assist these families with school aged children in acquiring relief through monies, food, clothes, hotels and some training for the adults responsible for caring for the children to make the adults more employable. One young yet mature girl commented, “It makes me sad when I see kids arguing and disrespecting their parents in stores and public places because they don’t appreciate what they have . . . and they don’t realize that tomorrow, they might not have it!”

I received (and sent) many notes regarding Thanksgiving, messages on my cell phone, e-mails and was elated to see former students with their families on Facebook enjoying Thanksgiving and preparing for Christmas. One young man, the son of a friend from White Plains, had just closed on a house! I received some memorable e-mails from friends who are part of this e-mail family, and I thank you! I hope he doesn’t mind me mentioning but I even got an e-mail from my former roommate at Princeton, Armond Hill, assistant coach for the Boston Celtics! Now that NBA basketball stands a better chance at beginning Christmas Day, my hopes of seeing him again have risen.

I am thankful for the humanizing effects of my relationships with the many many “wonderful” people I have been fortunate enough to meet along this journey!

Love and Peace,

John I. Cook, Director

Happy Thanksgiving

Hola, mis amigos y familia!

I am sure y’all know what those words mean in Spanish, so, Happy Hump Day, too!

How often do we use the words “happy”, “thanks” and “giving” in one title?! Must be pretty special, right?! It is …

As a teacher trained with a specialization in American History, I always enjoyed the Thanksgiving Holiday not only because of the days we got off from school and the fantastic food that Mom always prepared, but we always have a a big Thanksgiving Day football game back in my home town. You know, between seeing so many people including alumni and parents, kids and athletes from various sports, even teachers – past and present – the ambiance was always rather special at that game at the old Highlands Jr. High School where I attended school for 7th through 9th grades before going off to boarding school!

There were bands playing and cheerleaders cheering and hot chocolate and pretzels being sold and consumed and a bunch of happy happy people! Home is where the heart is …

May we each and everyone of us, including those families who have received turkeys and foods from the numerous organizations and agencies as well as friends and relatives give a special thanks to the Native Americans whom, one could say, perhaps paved the way for such a bountiful celebration.

“We shall not cease from exploration. And at the end of all our exploring; Will be to arrive where we started; And know the place for the first time.” – T.S. Eliot


John I. Cook, Director

Being Selfless

Happy Monday, All!

Here’s to hoping your weekends went well. Between fighting a cold and organizing things at home, even having a chance to visit church and watch football was in the radar for me yesterday! This week is Thanksgiving and so many families are coming together from far and wide to spend some time together and give thanks. What a wonderful world ….

I wondered what the “Occupy Movement” people will do on Thanksgiving. I wonder what their families will do …. I myself have no elaborate plans, being that I am single and have only one family member living not too far away – Port St. Lucie, FL … to be exact! Now my sister’s family will be with her there but I haven’t decided whether I will go. I have a friend who has a friend who also lives in the Fort Lauderdale area and does not have any concrete plans either. Maybe, we will get together to eat someplace here in Fort Lauderdale and be like a “spiritual family” ….

Yet, in pondering the reasons of this season, I found that Bob Coy aka Pastor Bob kind of illustrated it best in service yesterday. After continuing a series which he started a couple of months back called, “More Than Just A Word”, he introduced the word “holy”. He also identified the uses of this word in the Bible and compared to our everyday uses like “holy cow” or “holy moly”. He distinguished what God called “holy” or sacred in the Bible as well as their realms including sacred, physical and spiritual. Later, after discussing the similarities and differences, he displayed three “eating vessels” or plates, though the first one was a bowl for dog food! The second was an everyday plate and the third was a fine China plate that most people use only when guests like the in-laws come over for Thanksgiving! Needless to say, he compared our lives without a spiritual base to that of the “heathen” or the dog bowl. He further elaborated that our every day “religious lives” could be compared to the “everyday plate”, which is routine. Finally, a life with a firm spiritual base was compared to the fine China plate which he coupled with his definition of “holy” meaning sacred and separate from the everyday “person”, so to speak, who might be selfish. Well, in case I’ve lost you, I’ll try to bring it back home with the following quote.

“For the trouble is that we are self-centered, and no effort of the self can remove the self from the centre of its own endeavor.” – William Temple

It’s the kind of thing that makes you go “hmmmm”!

I am grateful for the healing which comes when I stop being so self-centered in my efforts. (TOUCHSTONES November 21st)

Have a wonderful day, all!


John I. Cook, Director

The Spirit of Giving … Thanks!

Happy Friday, World!

Yes ma’am and yes sir, T.G.I.F.!

I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t start the day off sharing with you all one of my favorite simple prayers …. “Thank you!” Believe it … or not!

One of the reasons I love these Holy Days is because we are often challenged to come out of character. Most people, based on the survival mode common in modern society, want to GET THINGS! New car, new clothes, new house … new new new new! Yet, we each are maturing or “getting older”. The funny stories about kids who can’t wait to grow up juxtaposed with adults who never want to grow old is as old as “ying and yang”, if you will! In other words, life is inevitable … one day, we must give it up, too, as we know it!

Before moving forward with this communication, I wanted to say thank you to those of you in my e-mail family who have been so supportive and made time to read my “anecdotes” and “stories”, if you will. As well, I do track the number of visits to Educational Excellence’s blog and website which I post on Facebook, and the numbers have been steadily rising. Now I just want to reach people with my writings not ONLY because I love writing but I love to share. Sometimes, I think I am in love with LOVE and PEACE, which is cool for me today as I continue to mature along this journey and gift I’ve been bestowed with called LIFE! I really really love you gals and guys … truly … thank you!

Last night, after hunkering down to some clam chowder and tea from the wet weather here in South Florida, I listened to some music …Isaac Hayes and Cafe del Mar … amongst my favorites which include Kevin Toney and Jay Z. Quite a menagerie, right?! I traveled back through time with some pictures of me when I used to work for ACORN and trained in foreclosure prevention in Nashville, TN two years ago. I even viewed some photos of the grave sites of my grandmother, Mattie Yhuman Cook; my father, Isaac H. Cook; and my sister, Barbara Ann Powell (Cook) which I had occasion to visit a few years ago! They have beautiful burial locations in Kensico Cemetary in Valhalla, NY. I have promised myself that I will get something nice for my mother, Marietta D. Cook, who is also buried in the same family plot area. Oh be patient with me, mother, as you always have …. Peace be still …

So in closing my scattered thoughts, it behooves me to mention that as we approach Thanksgiving and the Holy Days, as well as the end of another year, thank you God, I re-evaluate my life and propose some new “New Year Resolutions”. Maybe you might find this beneficial as we journey together. People like Jimmy Carter and his wife and the work that they are doing in Haiti as well as the “Occupy Movements” world-wide are indications that we all have something good to contribute.

I love you all … and thank you all!


John I. Cook, Director

Love At First Sight ….

Happy Hump Day, All!

How do you feel each morning when you wake up, maybe splash your face off and look at yourself in the mirror? Many times, if we haven’t slept enough, our faces don’t look so appealing. And, of course, the more mature we get (older!), there may be more wrinkles and stress lines on our faces that may not be so attractive. Peace be still ….

Yet, these are the days of a very special season. Next week is Thanksgiving and I often look forward to seeing family and friends with smiles on their faces. With the excitement of Christmas and Hanukah and Kwanza looming in the background, kids are asking parents for special gifts as part of the “spirit of giving”. The last time that I saw the face of a child with the looks of excitement and joy on their face, it became contagious for me! May we feel the joy of being alive, being grateful and just “being” and share it with others.

Yesterday, two men arrived on the shores of Boca Raton, FL after being stranded on the Atlantic Ocean in a dinghy for three days. These two men were on a water craft sailing way out in the ocean near the Bahamas or some other islands and the water craft began taking on water. The two men, realizing that this was a life or death situation, abandoned the boat and took off in the small dinghy to battle the ocean’s waves with the determination to reach land. They said that they rowed relentlessly for 72 hours until they saw the shores of land at Boca Raton’s beach! Can you imagine being in their “shoes”, so to speak? In their interview, they both said that they thank God … and their “lucky stars” … for their arrival on land. You think it was “love at first sight”? One gentleman proposed to his girlfriend immediately upon seeing her, probably after realizing that he had been given another chance at life. Peace be still ….

Have a great day … and look for love in all the right places!


John I. Cook, Director

In Brooklyn ….

Happy Monday, All!

It seems that the weekends always go by so fast. Yet, I am glad to have a place to work and a good number of friends to hang out and talk with.

Something occurred in a Brooklyn neighborhood where cars were set on fire and swastikas painted in different locations as well. Needless to say, it was a Jewish neighborhood. And this is occurring in today’s America! What might this symbolize? Are there some misdirected individuals or is this some sort of group consciousness being manifested in the same city where the events of “9/11” took place ten years ago?

This type of violence is frightening not only because of the symbols used, but no one seems to know “who done it”, so to speak. During these days, may we seek to find a “higher road” to travel and implement a level of wisdom, couple with peace and tolerance for others around us. Nearly a year has gone by since me and EE promised to advocate peace and attempt to awaken the love that many of us have in our hearts. May we continue our personal efforts in “Stop the Violence” as these Holy Days approach and learn to accept and appreciate our lives … and each other.

Have a great week!


John I. Cook, Director

Freedom Means …

Happy Friday, All!

Gracias a dios, hoy es viernes! Entienden? Bueno … T.G.I.F. then!

Today is “11-11-11”. Does it hold any significance for you? I’m just asking . . . For me, it is another very important Veteran’s Day. Now, I have never served in the Armed Forces of the United States of America (or any place else, for that matter), but through friendships and co-workers, business practices on my job and long time friends who enlisted and went off to serve in one of the branches or more, I have learned the importance of their jobs in maintaining a young nation’s freedom.

Many American’s take the way of life here for granted. Others don’t understand the relevance of the youngness of our nation in comparison to countries of Western Europe, Asia and China. Many of these countries have histories of a thousand years or more, especially the Middle Eastern ones, whereas the year I graduated from college – 1976 – was the 200th birthday of the USA! So, we are relatively “young”. Having been a teacher trained in American History, European History and in some cases World History as well as African History, I have grown to understand the meaning of history. This term “freedom” has been something that people from all places over the years of human existence on Earth have struggled to attain and maintain. Even today’s movement of “Occupy Wall Street” has undertones of the world’s peoples desire to acquire a type of freedom closely tied to economic institutions and practices of ALL nations!

Some of us may have struggled to achieve personal freedom from the omnipresent successes and failures that most humans experience in the world today. Okay, a bit on the philosophical side now, but I just can’t help but address these things from time to time …

“Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you’re a man, you take it.” – Malcolm X

While these words rang true for one of modern history’s well known figures that many related to violence, if you will, the concept can even be found in the life and times of people like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. In other words, there may be different ways of “taking” your freedom. Nevertheless, today, may we honor the women and men of the United States Armed Forces for their service and attention to maintaining still a great nation’s freedom deeply inculcated into our way of life.

Today, I will not wait for others to set me free. I will do what is within my own power to be a free man (person). (TOUCHSTONES November 11th)

Have a great weekend.


John I. Cook, Director

Transformed Heart

Happy Hump Day, All!

Already, November has taken off and our preparedness for the Holy Days will soon be in motion. Thanksgiving is right around the corner with Christmas, Hanukah and Kwanza on its heels. These are the “family days”, so to speak, where much communing with family, relatives and close friends takes precedence in our itineraries. How nice!

Yet, there are often those amongst us who may need some additional help with food, clothing and shelter. I recall some days a few years ago …. maybe 10 or more …. when I struggled through this season nearly alone. It was a time of serenity, prayer and hopefulness. Here in South Florida, a woman who calls herself “Big Momma” seeks to make Thanksgiving and Christmas very special for the needy. Her motto has been “No family shall starve in South Florida” for her turkey drive and her efforts to feed the less fortunate. Some of us may agree that this, too, was part of the message of the historical Jesus Christ as he preached and prayed during his days.

It is six years ago this week that my mother, Marietta Dolores, expired in hospice after her fall during the aftermath of Hurricane Wilma. She will always be my own “Big Momma” as she was to many many people in White Plains, NY. Remembering her can often be emotional, yet, I strive to remember her message. Even in her last days, I discovered a Bible she had been reading, unbeknownst to us, and inside was scribbled the words from John Ch. 14, 1-2 “Transformed heart”.

May we continue, and acknowledge, the power of silence, prayer and meditation and transforming our own hearts during these Holy Days.

“Silence is the element in which great things fashion themselves together.” – Thomas Carlyle

Today, I will remember the importance of silence in my growth. I will set aside some of my busyness and be still. (TOUCHSTONES November 9th)

R.I.P. Marietta Dolores Watkins Cook (May 20th, 1917 – November 9th, 2005)


John I. Cook, Director
Educational Excellence
ps – Happy Birthday to my friend and neighbor who is like a big brother to me, Robbie Williams!

Going Through Them Changes

Happy Monday, All!

Here’s to hoping your weekends went well. Now that we’ve entered the month of November, the weather and seasonal characteristics in the leaves and landscapes across this country, and the world, continue to change. One of the most beautiful things about the states North of Florida during the Autumn months and early winter is the changing colors of the leaves on the trees. Now here in The Tropics, while it rains a bit more and the temperatures drop a bit and it seldom snows, the leaves don’t change colors so much.

This past weekend was nice here with temperatures in the low 80’s and high 70’s and again last night I enjoyed sleeping with the windows open, as they are right now this early Monday morning. I enjoyed a football game by the University of Miami Saturday as they routed Duke’s Blue Devils at Sun Life Stadium. Saturday night here in South Florida, it rained a bit … like off and on all night. Sunday morning was splendid though we still experienced some sprinkles amidst the partly sunny skies. In the shadows of the fact that there may not be any professional basketball this year, many of us have been enjoying football as I have also had occasion to do.

After enjoying the SunTrust Jazz Brunch with the Bobby Rodiriguez Orchestra at the River Walk, I watched a couple of games at a regular hangout on the beach with two good friends. The ocean literally lapped on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. And even on the way home, as the skies turned to evening a bit more quickly due to the end of Daylight Savings Time, I noticed along A-1-A that the waters had ebbed onto the road carrying seaweed and sand from the ocean’s edge. Yet, people continued to enjoy the ocean and the beach as many of us drove through the little streams of water that coated the road! Mother Nature rocks, y’all!

“If the Great Spirit wanted men to stay in one place He would make the world stand still; but He made it to always change, so birds and animals can move and always have green grass and ripe berries, sunlight to work and play, and night to sleep.” – Flying Hawk

God, help me accept the changes in my life. (TOUCHSTONES November 7th)

In honor of Nature, our Creator and the Native Americans, may we enjoy Native American Heritage Month … and each other! May we pray for the earthquake victims in Oklahoma as well.


John I. Cook, Director

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