Monday, August 31, 2009

Fourth Graders in Make-Up?

So, this is the girls' 8th day of school. We've known this new phase of life was coming for a long time and wondered what it would be like for them. Some interesting things we've noted so far. For one, they are both sounding a lot like typical school kids already -- they don't want to go to school. But they didn't ever feel like doing homeschool when 9:00am rolled around either, so this is no surprise.

Both of them have commented that it seems like they do the same things every day. Leslie says it feels like they don't get much of anything done in a class period (of course, their class periods are only 45 minutes long). I remember hearing that comment from other homeschoolers whose kids had gone to school later -- that the kids said they were frustrated at how much time in the school day was wasted with classroom management and review.

Both have expressed concern with whether or not they are catching all the instructions and information they are supposed to be getting from their teachers. That surprised me a little -- it's not like they haven't been in situations where blanket announcements are made to the group that they are expected to listen to and digest. I think maybe they're just expecting it to be harder than it is. Or they're just more nervous about the direct accountability here--as in, I'll miss something important and get a bad grade later. Plus, Eastin in particular is not used to having to maintain this kind of attention for so long. She leaves home a little after 8 and gets off the bus at 4:20pm -- that's a long day. She's wiped out.

They also are both struggling to make real friends. I know -- that just takes time. They know that, too. But it's still hard to be the odd man out at the lunch table or standing around before class. Eastin made an interesting observation: she said everyone in her class seems either so much older than her or so much younger than her. Leslie has made the remark before about public school kids being more mature than homeschooled kids, so I wanted to probe what they mean by that (because that has NOT been my observation).

I asked Eastin, in what way do those kids seem older? Her response? They watch PG-13 movies. They wear make-up (in 4th grade? Really??). They look and talk and act like teenagers. Ah. So they put on the outward trappings of kids older than them.

That's what I thought.

Apparently, the issue is, my girls have spent most of their time with kids who act their age. They haven't yet had enough experiences with 9-year-olds in make-up with teenage attitudes to find out that underneath all that, these kids are still 9-year-olds -- and probably rather immature ones at that.

So, these are those lessons that public schools are supposed to teach better than homeschool. Hmmm.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

More on the Nehemiah Institute Thing

The Nehemiah Institute divided their 20 statements on their Biblical Worldview test into five categories. I'm going to address those in the "social" category today, because they call me Biblical (and I agree with them) on most of those. I know that means I don't have a fuss to make here, which may make for a boring post, but I thought some of you might be curious to hear what they were anyway. And maybe one of you has a fuss to make about one of them--which I would be curious to hear! So here we go . . .

The first two I can deal with quickly. Statement #2: Human nature, because it constantly adapts and changes has an unlimited potential for progressive development. I disagree. The problematic word here is unlimited. We have tremendous potential for progressive development, but it is not unlimited. Only God is infinite in his power. I will say, though, that we are so far from our limits in our potential that perhaps it wouldn't matter that much if we did believe this . . other than the unbelievable chutzpah it reveals . .

Chutzpah . . . what a great word I picked up on the east coast!

Statement #7: The major obstacles to social progress are ignorance and faulty social institutions. I disagree. Ignorance and faulty social institutions are certainly obstacles to social progress. But the major obstacle to social progress is sin, our unwillingness to believe and act on what God says about us and our world. We don't progress because we try to do it our way instead of God's way, as if we know better. But that fact doesn't excuse us from trying to elimination ignorance and faulty social institutions in our society as well.

Statement #15: Social reform should be designed and enforced to correct inequalities in schooling, housing, employment, and recreation. I found this statement rather confusing. By "social reform", I assumed they meant action taken by the government, although that wasn't necessarily clear. And by "inequalities in . . .", do they mean inequalities that are the result of specific unjust discrimination? If so, then I might agree. But if they mean just general inequalities -- you have a nicer house than I do and that's not fair -- then no, of course not.

It may sound silly to think they might mean the latter, but I think a lot of "socialist" measures start to inch awfully close to that. They are an effort to level out all the classes, eliminate the categories of rich and poor. But NI points out in their explanation on this question that the Bible says "there will always be a segment of society identified as 'the poor'; some will be poor of their own doing; others may be poor because of the Lord's doing (for reasons known only to Himself) . . "

Actually, that was rather thought-provoking to me. That God, "for reasons known only to Himself", has designated certain people to be poor and certain people to rich. Some to be beautiful and some to be ugly. Some to be brilliant and some to be slow. Some to be athletic and some to be clutzy. One thing that says to me is that we shouldn't consider any of those situations as somehow more or less blessed than another, for they are all ordained by God.

Many years ago, I was driving somewhere with a particular friend who was always in difficult financial straits. We happened to drive by a neighborhood with huge expensive houses, and she remarked how she felt sorry for those people. The comment struck me as odd at the time; living in such a neighborhood now, I find it remarkably insightful.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this . . . I think it's that while we should always be ready to help someone in need, we shouldn't assume that an inequality automatically implies a need -- or an injustice that needs to be righted.

The last of the four social statements on the test was the homosexuality one -- and I already expressed my outrage about that. I'm still trying to decide if I need to open that proverbial can of worms here. I suppose if anyone out there has any real desire to hear my feelings on that, you can let me know so in the comments section.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Looking to Hire

I have decided I need to hire somebody. Someone to do the stuff that I don't do well. (Now, Keith would probably gleefully supply a task list for said employee, but housework is not what I have in mind here.) I'm thinking of research. There are a lot of topics that interest me (in case you haven't noticed). I like to know a lot of things in a lot of areas. But I don't always know how to find that information.

For example, I was wondering the other day how exactly the poor were taken care of in different societies in history (this question came out of reading one of those Nehemiah Insititute papers). How would one go about finding that out? There may be books written on the subject. In fact, I think they mentioned just such a book in World magazine last month, a book I thought at the time I should buy and read (I really need to get a job to support my literature habit). But consider the people who write these books -- where do they get their information? Scientific research? University libraries? Some unknown secret recesses on the internet?

That's what I'm not good at -- finding information. Once I have the information, I love to devour it, analyze it, synthesize it, evaluate it, reformulate it, spit it all out in a new and enriched format . . . but I need raw material to work with.

So, as I said, I'm hiring. A personal research assistant. I'll email you with a question I need you to get answers to, and you have to get back to me with as many resources as possible within 24-48 hours. Okay, maybe 72. But the time frame there is important. You can't say, "Oh, okay -- I'll have something for you in a month or so." Because in a month or so, my frenetic mind and I will have moved on to something else entirely.

And I'll pay you. Well, in caramel popcorn, anyway. And seriously, folks -- people rave about my caramel popcorn. Or maybe in homemade salsa. I've been getting good reviews for that lately, too.

You may submit your resumes to my comments section (yes, I know, there's supposed to be an accent mark over one of those e's -- if you can tell me how to type that on my keyboard, put that in my comments section, too). And be prepared, if accepted for the position, to begin immediately with that question about the poor in paragraph two.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Recommended Reading

I was asked to do the book review at our homeschool group's Mother's Night Out tonight. I was a little hesitant because, being new, I don't know what books have already been talked about and I don't want to be repetitive. But the woman who asked me said if they're good books, it will be good for the group to hear about them again. So, I scanned my bookshelves to see what I wanted to share with the group and found a theme emerging. I picked four books that I tend to come back to review, sometimes yearly, to remind myself of the big picture -- of who we are, where we're headed, how we get there, and all that.

So, is anyone interested in the books I picked? Hmm? Well, I'm going to tell you anyway.

The first is Discover Your Child's Learning Style by Mariaemma Willis and Victoria Kindle Hodson. Figuring out my kids' learning styles probably made more difference in our homeschool than anything else because they each think and learn very differently than I do. There are probably many other books about learning styles, but I like this one because it is very thorough. It's not just about audio/visual/kinesthetic and all. For example, I learned from this that Leslie likes to learn by drawing pictures. So, I often incorporated that into projects for her; like, the last few multiplication facts that she had difficulty mastering she drew crazy pictures to remember. I review this information frequently, for one thing, because I need to remember how they learn so I continue to teach them effectively.

More than that, though, I know that eventually they will be in a classroom where no one will give a flip about their unique learning style -- so I need to teach them to learn to adapt to the dominant teaching style of our age. So with Leslie, for example, early on I had her draw pictures of what she was learning. Then I had her draw pictures and explain the concept behind the picture. This year she'll be writing notes and drawing little pictures beside them . . or imagining the pictures in her head. The idea is to affirm how her brain works but also help her figure out how to adapt that to the typical classroom.

My second book: The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise. If it didn't sound so sacriligious, I would call this my homeschooling bible. I heard Susan Wise Bauer speak about classical education at a state homeschool convention and was sold on the concept. This is a MONSTROUS-looking tome of about 800 pages that would frighten away many people but it is full of invaluable information. It has excellent overviews of the three stages of classical learning (grammar, logic, rhetoric) and what to expect and require of a student at each stage. It also has very thorough lists of resources the authors recommend. The main reason I check this book out again every year is for the book lists; they recommend classic books from every historical period and specific editions that are appropriate for each age group. A homeschooling essential.

Next: Life Skills for Kids by Christine Field. The author has chapters on all the various kinds of life skills a person needs -- money management, people skills, space organization, spiritual habits, etc. -- and suggestions for when and how to teach them. I skim this book regularly just to remind myself of what my kids still need to learn. Then I usually pick one or two skills a year that I'm going to be intentional about working on with them that year.

And finally, The Family Manager by Kathy Peel. The author talks about managing your family and household as efficiently as you would manage a business. She divides a Family Manager's duties into eight departments and discusses all the different things to consider in how you run each department in your own home. I use to re-read this book every January when the girls were tiny -- because the girls, and therefore our family's needs and routines, changed so frequently when the girls were tiny, I was constantly needing to re-evaluate how I did things. It's not as cold and left-brained as it sounds -- it's very light, easy, practical reading. I would recommend it to every wife and mother, but particularly to every mother of young children.

So, there you go. Four more books to put on your to-read list. Because I know you all are freakish bookworms with burgeoning to-read lists like me, right? Of course, you are. Why else would you have read this post? :)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

How to Respond to the Swinging Fist

Alright, let me start in on the Nehemiah Institute and their Mini-PEERS test. (See my earlier post "What Did You Call Me?" if you're confused.) One of my biggest beefs I have with the test is how poorly it seems to be written. Take question number nine -- probably the worst offender, in my opinion. Here is the statement: Individuals should be allowed to conduct life as they choose as long as it does not interfere with the lives of others. This sounds to me like the typical libertarian view of things. (I dated a guy in high school who was a rabid libertarian. He would say, "Your right to swing your fist stops where my nose begins.")

For the record, I answered this with a "TA" (Tend to Agree) -- with the available choices being Strongly Agree, Tend to Agree, Neutral, Tend to Disagree, and Strongly Disagree. There are situations, such as those when individuals are under the authority of another who is responsible for their well-being, when it behooves one to interfere in the life of another. I'm not completely sold on the libertarian philosophy, but I certainly lean that way more than the other; thus, my response.

However, Nehemiah Institute indicates that a Biblical response would be to disagree with the statement. I wasn't completely surprised, but I was puzzled by their explanation for why we should disagree. "We are all accountable for helping our brother not sin," they say. They quote familiar scriptures about reproving each other when we are doing wrong. It is a loving thing, they argue, to warn people when they are on the wrong track.

Well, yeah. One for the duh file, as Jay Leno says. And when we do confront people, we hope and pray they turn from their erroneous ways. But if they don't . . if they hear our warnings and still choose to continue in their sinful behavior . . well, what then? Do we not then "allow them to conduct life as they choose as long as it does not interfere with the lives of others"?

I mean, unless they're breaking the law, what else would we do? Beat them over the head with a brick? Shame and humiliate them? Cry and whine and blubber until they give in to shut us up?

We can't force them to do the right thing. God doesn't even do that. I think that's a basic tenet of the gospel, isn't it? God wants us to choose. He doesn't force our hand. He wants us to obey him out of love and trust.

The concept in the original statement (people are allowed the freedom to choose wrong as long as others aren't harmed) and the concept in their explanation (we should lovingly warn someone we see choosing wrong) are not incompatible Biblically, as far as I can see. Warning someone of the dangers we see coming doesn't deny them their freedom; acknowledging they have freedom to choose isn't being unloving.

Either their explanation doesn't fit the statement, or it is a very simplistic response to the issue. Either way, I'm not impressed.

Am I wrong, friends? If so, please point it out. Lord knows, I don't want to be a secular humanist unawares.

I Have A Dream

I have a dream.

I have a dream that one day, I'll be able to lie down in my bed and drift into a peaceful slumber within a only few minutes. I have a dream that I'll sleep for a full eight hours without waking once. That in the course of those eight hours, my mind will cycle through all the appropriate sleep cycles and that I will awaken in the morning rested and ready for the day. I HAVE a dream.

I have a dream that I will walk through a day awake and truly alert. That I will have the energy to do my daily tasks without having to forcibly will my body to move when it is sitting still. I have a dream that I will be able to relate to my family without peering through the heavy fog of fatigue that makes me fight irritability on an hourly basis -- a fog that has been a constant in my life for so long, only recently has it occurred to me that maybe nobody else's brain feels like this.

I have a dre-e-eam, bruthahs and sistahs.

I have a dream that I will drive errands on a sunny late afternoon and not worry that the warm air and the late hour will lull my eyes closed and the cars wheels out of the lane I'm driving in. I have a dream of arriving home and sitting on the sofa without thinking about lying down . . just for a minute . . just for . . a minute . .

For years, I could never understand how I could be so tired all the time when I slept so much. So when I had my sleep test done last fall and the doctor told me the results (that I was unknowingly waking up an average of 28 times an hour and rarely if ever getting to stage 3 or 4 level deep sleep), I was fascinated and relieved. THAT explains my tiredness, my forgetfulness, my needing stuff repeated to me, my occasional lack of motivation, my irritability, my constant tiredness, my frequent depressive episodes, my over-sleeping, my little stupid mistakes, my never-ending inexplicable tiredness . . . I'm not a lousy excuse for a human being after all. I'm just seriously sleep-deprived!

Now, if my doctor and I could just figure out how to fix this problem. Because I just am dying to see how different life will be when I'm genuinely awake. Maybe I'm kidding myself -- maybe it won't be that different after all. But I can dream. Maybe the fog will be lifted and people's words will actually register when they're spoken to me, so my live conversations can be as coherent as my email ones. Maybe I'll have the mental wherewithal to hear my teenager's rantings, analyze them, check my own emotions, formulate an appropriate response and execute it all in real time. Maybe I'll have the energy to get my daily work done AND enjoy my family at the same time.

Maybe there's a magic pill somewhere, or a secret technique, something that will free me from this sluggish prison I feel trapped in. That would be so cool. I've had rare moments when I've really felt awake -- it would be great to feel awake for several hours at a time. Awake. Awake and free. Free at last. Free at last . . .

Saturday, August 22, 2009

What Did You Call Me???

Many years ago, when I was first starting to homeschool and getting exposed to all sorts of new things, I heard about Nehemiah Institute and their work with Biblical Worldview training. It sounded very cool. Somebody spoke about it at the local homeschool group last fall and piqued my curiosity again. I wrote down the website and put it on my to-do list to look at. Obviously, I have a full to-do list and it was low in priority because I just got around to looking at the website a few weeks ago.

There was a "mini" assessment test on the website for $3.80, one you could do online and get the results in the mail. I thought that would be interesting. I wasn't necessarily up to spending fifteen bucks or so on the full test right now (I'm buying too many books on education these days, you know). So I pointed and clicked my way through the twenty questions and waited for my results.

As it turns out, I'm a secular humanist. Who knew.

Actually, as it turns out, the Nehemiah Institute needs some help, in my humble opinion. Even as I was taking the test, I was shaking my head at the statements they were asking me to agree or disagree with. All too often, I had to say, "Well, it depends . . " or "Well, in what context . . ?"

But the last statement was the final straw. It read: Homosexuality is a criminal offense against society. Persons caught conducting a homosexual act should be tried and sentenced in a civil court of law. Seriously? Seriously?? I have gay and lesbian friends who read this blog. They know I love them dearly. They also know I believe their relationships are not what God wants for them. But "a criminal offense against society"? "Tried and sentenced in a civil court of law"?? Oh, heavens. I don't think so.

I went back to the website and ordered their booklet of position papers on the questions in the mini-test (so, yes, I ended up spending more money after all ....) just to see how exactly they justified their stances Biblically (very Berean, I am). And I spent much of yesterday evening laughing and growling and pondering and ranting and pontificating and otherwise emoting my way through the booklet. I expect to be blogging about it more, because I'm quite all up in arms about this.

A secular humanist. The very idea.

Friday, August 21, 2009

"Real" School and the Essentials of Development

So, the first day of "real" school has come and gone. And all was good.

Eastin's teacher's name is Mr. Dickman. How unfortunate. But he really is a very nice man. Every kid and adult we know from Sunnyside Elementary has said, "Oh, you will LOVE Mr. Dickman!" That's a good sign. Her first day seemed to go very well. She made friends . . . she liked the chicken patty sandwich at lunch . . . she has a locker (without a lock). . . she enjoyed riding the bus . . . she had three recesses . . . she had to struggle to decide who to play with at recess among all the kids who wanted to play with her! Really -- a good day!

Leslie's half-day of school seemed to go well, too. Her first quarter music class is her favorite. They're learning to play the guitar (which she's very excited about) and the piano (which she already knows, so that's at least an easy A). And apparently, they're going to divide into groups and make some kind of CD together? Anyway, she thinks it sounds like a lot of fun.

She's in a neighborhood carpool with three other girls. As it turns out, there's a friendly 8th grade girl in the carpool who is in her science class and homeroom AND whose locker is right next to hers. Jonte even opened Leslie's locker for her. That turned out to be her only real "crisis" of the day. Not until Leslie had her locker combination in her hand and was standing in front of her locker did it occur to her that she had no idea what to do with these numbers.

Only I saw the irony in that. When we met the Golden family in Springfield, the first homeschool family I knew, I was thoroughly intrigued by the whole idea of teaching my kids myself at home. However, I remember saying to Cindy, "But ..... my kids would never have a locker..... " I knew even as I said it what a ridiculous statement that was. As if my children would be societal outcasts -- unable to function or contribute to humanity -- because they never used a locker. (Kind of reminds me of the comments people make about how homeschooled kids will never be able to function in "the real world" because they've never been in school -- as if school has any resemblance to the real world!)

Right at that moment, I was finding myself an interesting psychological study: the fact that I apparently considered such a truly meaningless experience as using a locker to be so essential to a person's development made me stop and consider what really was essential to a person's development . . . and whether or not school was the best place to get that. It was actually a pivotal moment for our family.

Anywho, I do hope Leslie was able to get her locker open today.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


I used to wonder when I read the Little House books at how the Ingalls parents would scold their children for "contradicting" someone. Now I have a teenager. Now I get it.

I specifically remember when my eldest started with the arguing-for-the-sake-of-arguing routine. And actually, I regarded the new behavior with a bit of fascination. I could tell she wasn't necessarily trying to be rebellious. She was just moving into the abstract thinking stage of development. Suddenly, her horizons were expanded. Suddenly, she could see that there were more ways of looking at this situation than mine. And it was something of a thrill for her to point out all of those perspectives for me. Usually, when I acknowledged and affirmed her thinking, but let her know that my perspective would still stand in our family, she was fine with that.

Gone are those days. She is honing this debate skill to an art and making use of it to try to assert her will on the rest of us. Yes, this was to be expected. The question is, how to respond?

The easy response is to give in, stop fighting and let her win. However, when the inevitable day arrives that the surly, spoiled young woman I've created starts battling us on more life-threatening issues, life will no longer be easy. Relax, folks -- I'm not that stupid.

The correct response is probably to hear her out on her arguments, give her credit for the good ones, counteract the poor ones with my counterarguments, and stand firm on my final decision. Yeah. Easier said than done. She's just getting too good for this. She finds the counterarguments to my counterarguments . . and I do the same for hers . . and soon we're in a major stand-off. This strategy only works if her motive is increased knowledge and understanding of her mother's thinking. No, no, reader -- her goal is to win the debate.

So, all too often, the only strategy that seems to be effective is to assert my authority to shut off the debate. No arguing -- my way or the highway. That's not a satisfactory solution either. It makes me feel like an ogre. But then, none of the other options feel good either.

What I really want is a heart change in my child. A willingness to submit. When she asks why, I want to be able to say, "Because I'm the mother. Because in your heart of hearts you know how much I love you and you know I have more knowledge and experience than you. Because even though I'm imperfect and will make many mistakes, you know I act with your best interests in heart. Because in the course of your life many situations will arise where you need to submit whether you like it or not, whether you understand it or not, and you may as well learn how to do that now with the small things -- because you can trust me."

Oooh. That just sent me back to Andree Seu's blog. Tantrums with God. "Why, God? Why?" Because I'm the Father. Because you know how much I love you . . .

Ouch. Shutting up now.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Six Days and Counting

One week from yesterday, school starts. Leslie will be at East Middle School from 7:45 til 9:45 (leaving earlier than that on the bus). Eastin's day at Sunnyside Elementary goes from 8:30 to 3:30 (plus bus time, again). This is our last week home together, the three of us. Sniff.

Several times this summer, some activity came to mind that I wanted to do with the girls this year and then I remembered -- oh, yeah. We can't. Our time is no longer our own. We'll be tied to the school's schedule. No getting ahead in school work and taking a field trip for a day. No learning science at the nature center. No doing history at the local museum. No being able to run to a friend's house and sit with her kids while she deals with an emergency that has come up (no, I can't do that alone, because I'll need to be back to get the girls when school is over). No heading to Hyllningsfest in Lindsborg a day early. No more long afternoon playdates (at least not for Eastin), because she'll have to get homework and piano practice and all done when she gets home from school after 4 or so. No reveling in the first snow of the season the minute it falls. No playing around with our agendas when a day comes along that just seems to call for cuddling and reading on the couch all day long.

I'm sure I sound like a whiner. I mean, this is reality for the vast majority of families in America these days, I know. But I have definitely become spoiled these past several years with being my own boss of my own household schedule. And I can't help but feel a bit resentful at giving up that role to someone else whose primary concern (if we're all brutally honest about it) is not what is best for my child, but what is most convenient and efficient for the running of their organization.

That's not meant as a slam to teachers and administrators. Most of them are great people doing a great job at what they're doing. I remember when I started homeschooling, someone asked me, "Do you really think you can do a better job than a professional 2nd grade teacher?" I responded, "Do I think I can teach a room full of 2nd graders better than a professional 2nd grade teacher can? No, absolutely not! Do I think I can teach my one 2nd-grade daughter better than a professional 2nd grade teacher can teach her in the midst of a room full of 2nd graders? Absolutely."

What schools do, they often do well. But I have no illusions that what they do is going to necessarily meet the needs of my individual child.

I digress. I was whining about not being able to be with my kids so much this year. Funny how while homeschooling, I often lamented my inability to have time alone to get things done on my own schedule. Maybe our time is never really our own. Maybe, when the day comes that I have complete freedom to spend my day however I wish, I'll bemoan the fact that I have nothing meaningful left to do and nobody important to me around to spend it with.

It always comes back to not having what you want, but wanting what you have . . .

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

"Back Round To You"

I know I point you all to Andree Seu's blog fairly frequently. And I'm doing it again: But this time, I'm going to actually cut and paste it here, too (don't know about the ethical issues of doing this, but I'm giving her full credit, so surely I'm good?). Every once in a while, Andree just speaks my heart and this is one of those times. I have SO been right here before . . .

This morning I had a tantrum with God. That word sounds almost cute, but it wasn’t cute. I went for my usual walk down the sycamore-lined cemetery road, where it is my custom to rhapsodize him. This time I went out there just to not speak to him. Emphatically, like a surly wife. When I broke my silence it was to pour out a gunnysack of complaints and charges:

“I want to believe and please you, but you don’t make it easy. Everything is always so ambiguous. Your Word is confusing. You seem to challenge me to greater faith, and to embolden me to put my weight fully on every jot and tittle you wrote—and then I do and you don’t answer. I need to know what the deal is. I don’t think this is fair. And how does it glorify you if I am in this condition? Don’t you know that I am dust?”

. . . Even then, he is silent. I had vainly thought to elicit a miracle by this near blackmail, but all I hear back from him—or is it the sound of my own voice—is
“Without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”

Then I am terrified because I see where this is leading. At the end of sulking you still have to make a decision, and the options are bleak. Islam is a nightmare, and Buddhism and Hinduism make no sense. And there is no such thing as not choosing, because despair is also a choice. One imagines that giving up on the faith will be a relief, but one finds there is no relief at all in unbelief; it is the frying pan exchanged for the fire.

The Bible says that God can do all things. But the only thing he cannot do is believe for you.

If God is a Father, he is a very strict one. He lavishes his gifts daily, even the very breath with which I rail against him, as I sit on his lap and swipe at his face. But when it comes to the terms he laid for relationship—
“believe in the one he has sent”—he won’t budge at all. And so no matter what I say, Lord, no matter what I do, I always come back round to you.

Amen, Ms. Andree.

Monday, August 10, 2009

"Are You Ready to Watch Some Cars Get Smashed Up?"

Eastin and I were reviewing last night all the firsts she's had this year. First basketball team. First drama camp. First professional baseball game. First rodeo (that she remembers). First county fair. First day of school coming up.

And last night the girls and I shared another first: our first demolition derby. (Yes, Julie -- I hear you laughing.)

The Woodbury County Fair ended last night with a demolition derby, and Keith wanted us all to experience one. Now, we all know I am just about the prissiest of all prissy little things, but I went with a good attitude. I'm all for new experiences.

And this was an experience. The announcer started things off with, "Are you ready to watch some cars get smashed up???" I wasn't sure how to respond. I don't know how one prepares for such a thing.

But smashed up they got. And many of them apparently had already been smashed up. Really, it's pretty amazing what a licking those vehicles take and they keep going. I leaned over at one point to ask Keith what exactly was the goal to this exercise. He said, "To be the last one still moving." Like a gladiator. Hoo-ah.

It was dirty. It was smelly. It was loud! SO loud!! Lawd amighty, the testosterone was thick like a pea-soup fog. Not that there weren't women involved, but this was most definitely a guy thing. But I suppose I can see the appeal. Even I can imagine the catharsis one could experience in ramming your vehicle into someone else's -- a la "Fried Green Tomatoes". Face it, girls -- I'm older and I have more insurance!

I may have enjoyed it more if I'd known someone involved to root for. Although I did have a momentary connection in one round. You see, all the cars were "decorated" for the event -- which generally meant they had names painted all over them, of personal friends (I assumed) or of businesses they wanted to promote. But one black truck had painted on the side in large yellow lettering: "IOWA THEATER". Real-ly! Keith and I wondered how many Iowa theater supporters were present in the stands. No matter -- I now had a dog in this race. I silently cheered for the black theatrical pick-up and he ultimately was first runner-up.

Keith said, "If a car comes out that says, 'Sioux City Ballet' or 'Miss Prudence's Finishing School', I'm leaving. That just ain't right."

We left after three hours and it wasn't quite done yet. Frankly, I think the entertainment value for me was exhausted in the first hour. The girls said they enjoyed it, though. I'll let them go with Daddy next time. I'm not sure it was a full ten dollars worth of enjoyment for me.

I'd love to meet the guy in the "Iowa Theater" truck, however. Hoo-ah.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Educating in the "Pre-Grammar Stage"

I've always felt pretty strongly about kids being home with their mother for their early years. I understand a morning or two at a preschool at age 4 or 5 perhaps. But it makes me really sad to see a little one spending all day long in a day care setting while both of their parents work. Yes, some families desperately need the income. But I bet that if a lot of those families really analyzed their budgets and how much money they would save with the mom staying home (and other areas where they could cut), they could make it happen. An awful lot of the time, it's not about finances -- it's about priorities.

And I say that as a mom who is not a kid person. It was hard for me to be home with my kids when they were young. But I knew it was the best thing for them.

Since I've homeschooled, I've begun to feel similarly about the first couple years of "traditional" school. In the classical education model (which I'm partial to), they would call this the pre-Grammar stage. Kids are learning constantly at this age, but they're not quite ready for formal schooling.

Now, I'm a homeschool advocate -- but I definitely think that every child is different and you need to examine each child's specific needs on a yearly basis (thus Eastin's upcoming entry into public education). However, if I were to be dogmatic about homeschooling, it would be for the early years. I don't know a lot of 5 and 6 year olds with good parents and healthy home environments who are really better off for being pushed into a school environment that early.

There are a lot of social pressures in a classroom, even in kindergarten. In fact, I think the kids who spent the most time in day care and preschool before kindergarten are the biggest factors in that. Kids that young simply do not have the wherewithal to manage the social complexities of such a group setting. Even with the best of teachers and the best of programs in the best of neighborhoods in the best of towns . . school is harsh. We all know it. If I were to have another child (not happening), I would feel very strongly about homeschooling them until age 8 or so.

I say all this, actually, to preface an idea I read about recently -- in another book about how to radically fix a broken education system. The author talked about how much more effective good children's museums are in reaching kids than most classrooms are. They are geared to how young children learn--actively, kinesthetically, with bright colors and sounds. He recommends a hands-on, mentor-type children's museum program for all young kids.

Man the place with lots of knowledgable, kid-friendly folks who can guide the children into actually digesting and integrating the information there. Rotate the displays on a regular basis. Have the kids learn about history in mini-Living History exhibits. Have them learn about science by doing hands-on experiments in a science exhibit. The Franklin Institute in Philly has a giant walk-through model of a human heart -- one of Eastin's favorite places in the world. Fabulous learning tool! A parent can't do something like that at home; neither can a teacher do it in a classroom.

I always operated on the principle that there are two major goals for me when teaching my kids history and science at that age: 1) that they learn a few major facts about the topic that they can hang more information on later, and 2) that they come away thinking, "History is COOL!!! Science is AWESOME!!!"

I know, they won't be learning their three R's in such a setting. But most good parents are already teaching those to their kids at that age. And if activities at the museum employ those skills, the kids will have more motivation to want to learn them. Maybe attach a place like this to a library, with their story-times and such? I just see LOTS of possibilities here . . .

And lots of hang-ups, of course. There always are. Such as, what about the personal one-on-one interaction that young kids need? And what about the kids who don't have good parents who teach them the three R's at home? I know, we have to do something with them. Just brainstorming here. I really like this idea . . .

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Pigs, Pies, and Cow Chip Bingo

My first blog in August. Can't believe it's already August.

We drove up to LeMars Sunday afternoon for the Plymouth County Fair. The girls' first county fair. They've been to the Kansas State Fair with us, but really, it's not quite the same beast. Keith and I went to the Kansas State Fair every year when we lived in Hutchinson (that's where the fair is located, for my non-Kansan friends). But our visits were mostly about the food (jaffles . . mmmm) and the -- well, the non-agricultural events. I'm not that much into crops and livestock.

But at the county fair level, it's all about farm-life. We did eat lunch there, but it wasn't as unique or as good as the fair fare that I'm accustomed to. There were rides, but only Eastin was really excited about them. And there were various "commercial displays", as they were labeled, but they weren't as interesting and unique as what we saw each year in Hutch.

This was a 4-H extravaganza all the way. Showing your animals and having them judged. Showing your monster watermelon you grew and having it judged. Showing your quilt you stitched and having it judged.

We ran into some homeschooling friends there who were participating, and that gave us kind of a different perspective on it all. They were about to do the "Pride of Iowa" event, where a kid makes up a recipe using ingredients that were grown or made in Iowa and gives out samples to the crowd and judges. Our friend Julie said that of the 120 points possible, only 20 were for the taste of the food they prepared. The bulk of it was for their presentation, their display, their poise, their explanations, etc. Gotta like that, really. The older 4-H kids we saw there were very comfortable speaking to people and very well-informed on their topics.

By far, however, the most fascinating event of the day for us was Cow Chip Bingo. My New Jersey friends will think I'm joking about this. They fence off a small piece of land and draw a grid on it, labeling each block with a letter and number (like when you play Battleship). People pay for a certain block (or several), and the money is all put into a pot (I think a portion goes to charity, actually). Then they let a cow loose inside the fence and wait until it poops. Whoever bought the block where the poop lands gets the pot. No lie.

It was a hoot. At 2:00pm, they brought in a cow and for an hour and forty-five minutes (maybe more, we left the fair then), people stood around watching this bovine graze, waiting for it to deliver the goods. Sometimes people would slap it around if it got close to the fence, trying to get it to another part of the grid. Leslie took pictures with her cell phone to send to friends back in the East. "This is how Iowans entertain themselves." Cow Chip Bingo. Seriously.

Next weekend is the Woodbury County Fair (that's our county). We've heard it puts Plymouth County to shame, so I guess we'll stop by. And later in the month is the Iowa State Fair, which apparently is the Mother Of All Fairs. A book we bought Keith for Father's Day about the 1000 places you must see before you die lists the Iowa State Fair in the 1000. But it doesn't look like we're going to make that this year. Maybe next summer.

I hope they have jaffles. Jaffles. Mmmmmmmm.