Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Getting Involved

The topic on my mind today is Political Involvement, in two respects.

1) A woman shared in our homeschool moms' meeting last night about how she got started getting involved in the political process. She had been living in Pennsylvania and started homeschooling after seeing some great models of families doing that. (This was back when Pennsylvania was an easy state to homeschool in -- no longer that.) When they moved back to Iowa, homeschooling was illegal. Thus began their venture into the political realm.

She gave us all a Ron Paul pamphet -- not necessarily to promote Ron Paul, she said -- but to point out that one generation ago, people in Iowa were being arrested for homeschooling . . . and today, presidential candidates are specifically promoting themselves as "homeschooling champions". What a turn-around! And it's families like this, who were willing to sacrifice so much to fight for what they knew were their constitutional rights, who paved the way for the rest of us. I'm very grateful for them.

And I'm convicted of the need to make similar sacrifices myself today. I'm very concerned about the direction our country is headed. And I suppose the only way anything will change is if individuals like me all across the country step up and do something. That's one of the things that makes America great -- an insignificant housewife in Iowa can actually make a difference in the governing of the nation.

2) Is anyone else just appalled at Congress these days? Just appalled??? How is it possible that a group of 500-some reasonable, intelligent people are incapable of being financially responsible? For that matter, how is it possible that 500-some reasonable, intelligent people managed to get our country into this outrageous debt situation in the first place?? Trillions of dollars in debt! TRILLIONS, people!! We've heard the numbers tossed around so much, they simply have no meaning for us anymore.

The tipping point for me was when I realized that this Super Committee who failed so miserably wasn't even, if they succeeded, going to reduce spending. They were just going to reduce projected increases in spending. Are you kidding me??? This has gone beyond all reason.

My husband rants that the whole body, and everyone who served on the body for the last couple decades, should be tried for treason and thrown in jail. The damage they've done to the country is incalculable. I'm starting to agree. This simply has to be fixed . . . but how . . .

Monday, November 28, 2011

Decking the Halls

I've been decorating the house for the holidays this weekend. This is one of those holiday activities that I don't have a problem with. For one thing, I don't let it stress me out. I give myself plenty of time so I can afford to take my time. I don't feel obligated to put out every decoration I have every year. When I start getting tired or grouchy about it, I take a break.

But also, my Christmas decorations add to the meaning of the holidays for me. I've learned to decorate with the mantra, "If it isn't beautiful, useful, or meaningful, I don't need it." And most everything I have now fits that criteria.

I have a small collection of Nutcrackers I put out. These are meaningful to me -- I took ballet for about 8 years and was in the Nutcracker all but one of those years. The Nutcracker is a significant part of the holidays for me.

I also have a collection of small tomtes I set up around a Swedish Christmas tree on the dining room tables. Tomtes are Swedish elves that are said to live in the barns -- the kids put out food for the tomtes on Christmas to bribe them into not playing pranks on the family the next year. These are a connection with my own Swedish background and my husband's upbringing in Lindsborg, Kansas.

We also have a Christmas in Lindsborg collection of ceramic buildings from his hometown. Again, a connection to our past -- and they're beautiful.

I have a small tabletop tree that I decorate with several sets of felt ornaments that my mother made, a different set every year. There's also a nativity set in almost every room of the house.

And of course, just about every ornament we put on the tree has a story behind it.

There are a few things I would get rid of -- and I weed something out probably every year. But the house decorating is a holiday tradition that passes my Scrooginess test and stays.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Brightening a Blackened Holiday Season

Is it just me, or has Black Friday reached a new level of insanity this year? My husband was heading to Walmart at midnight last night hoping to snag an inexpensive laptop (we need another now that his work computer is gone). But I told him an FB friend said something about getting "tickets" earlier in the evening for something, so he headed over at 11 to see what that was about. He was grumbling this morning about Walmart not making things clear . . . what a madhouse . . . lines up and down aisles, out doors . . .

That FB friend described fist fights over the xbox games she wanted. Insane. Do you remember the craziness over Cabbage Patch Kids one Christmas way back? Seriously, what is wrong with people?

Readers who've read my blog for a while will probably roll their eyes at my Scrooginess cropping up again this year, but here it is. I really don't like what Christmas has become. The stress, the craziness, the checklist of celebratory duties that we force ourselves through with no sense of meaning behind any of it. The stupid, formulaic Christmas movies on every night. The countdown TO the 25-day countdown to Christmas on the now inappropriately named ABC Family channel.

My family was way late this year getting our Christmas lists to family. I really wish we could give up writing out Christmas lists altogether. A friend just commented, "If you want your kids to focus on giving at Christmas, stop asking them what they want." Duh. It seems ridiculous to me that every year, we make our kids write up a list of stuff they want someone to give them. And when they can't think of enough things (as is the case with my kids sometimes), we get out catalogs, have them search the internet, watch more TV commercials . . . to have them beef up their list of wants. Ridiculous!!

I may just completely rebel next year. Refuse to do Christmas as usual. If we move and are doing Christmas in a new place, that may make it easier. It's time to redeem the holiday season.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving Rest

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Our family is staying here in Sioux City, just us. I'm not cooking; we'll eat out somewhere. We have absolutely nothing special or significant planned other than relaxing and enjoying each other's company. And I am thrilled.

I realize that sounds kind of bad to say I'm happy to not be spending Thanksgiving with extended family. I feel a little bit guilty saying it. Really, it's not a statement about my family and how much I love or enjoy them. It's just a statement about Thanksgiving.

The ten years we lived in New Jersey, we were never with family for Thanksgiving. Because we were going to be traveling back to Kansas a month later for Christmas and staying for a while, we couldn't justify spending the money for Thanksgiving, too. The first year, I think I tried making a traditional dinner and quickly realized the silliness of that -- neither Keith nor I are crazy about turkey and interested in eating the leftovers for weeks, and Leslie being only two didn't make much of her own dent in the feast.

So, we started our own Thanksgiving traditions. We'd hang around in our pjs all morning long, watching the parades on TV. (Yes, we did actually take the train up to NYC to see the parade live . . . once.) I made a leisurely breakfast of waffles or pancakes or something and then we just hung around until we got hungry for lunch. Then we'd usually head over to Cracker Barrel for our feast, come back home and be lazy the rest of the day, maybe ending the evening with a Christmas movie on TV.

We always spend time casually talking about all the things we are thankful for. One year, when Creative Memories had just come out with a paper punch in the shape of a leaf, we punched lots of little red, orange and yellow leaves, wrote on them things we were thankful for, strung them up and hung them on the fireplace for a couple months.

Thanksgiving became one of my favorite holidays in New Jersey. No stress. No expectations. Just a quiet day with me, my family and God, truly taking the time to appreciate our blessings. It was a great way to prepare for the crazy holiday season that I refuse to allow to start until the next day. I wish I could find a way to redeem ALL of the holidays like this and make them something that adds joy and meaning to my life more than stress and hassle.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Evil. Really.

I'm not sure why, but I read the Grand Jury report from the Jerry Sandusky hearings. It was horrible. I was particularly haunted by the testimony of the then-graduate assistant who walked in on Sandusky performing an unspeakable act on a 10-year-old boy in the showers at night and was so disturbed by it that he . . . left and called his father.

Really. My first thought was just that: really?? You saw this happening, you saw that they saw you seeing them, and you didn't stomp in there and pull that monster off of this child? But then I thought about it more. I put myself in the man's situation. And I'm stunningly afraid that I might have done the same thing.

I've never been exposed to violence and abuse like that. I can imagine walking around the empty locker rooms at night, hearing the noises, turning the corner and seeing that sight -- honestly, it had to have felt absolutely surreal. I can imagine doubting my senses, even my sanity. I'm sure I would have needed to step away and pull myself together, question whether I had actually seen what I thought I saw . . . and by that point, it would have been over, my word against his, and my word based on my shaky perception of the reality of it all. I might not have had it in me to step into the situation either.

I knew a man once who was a former Satanist, and he talked about how so many of us sheltered, comfortable Christians really only conceive of evil in the abstract. We'll say, "Yeah, I know there's evil and there's a Satan," and he'll tell them emphatically, "No, no -- you don't understand -- there is EVIL . . . there is SATAN . . ."

I know there is evil. But do I know it enough and believe it enough to recognize evil when it's staring me in the face? Or do I question my senses, my instincts, the Spirit within me, and call it something more benign? Or walk away altogether, not wanting to test whether or not He that is in me is really greater than he that is in the world?

I'm not sure I wouldn't have responded the same way this graduate assistant did in that situation. But I am sure I would have been haunted by my response for the rest of my life.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Skill and the Art

There are the skills of acting, and then there is the art of acting. Likewise, there is the skill of writing and the art of writing. I find that I'm pretty good at teaching skill but pretty clueless about how to teach the art. There's probably a way to do it, but I don't know the way.

That's why I think, if I go back to teaching, I want to teach at the middle school level and/or teach lower level students. When I taught the honors kids, I had many kids I just didn't know how to help progress any further. They were enjoyable students to work with, but I didn't feel like I was doing them much of a service.

My first year of teaching in Blue Springs, Missouri, I had three classes of "regular" Junior English and three classes of kids who were all having to repeat Sophomore English. It was a challenging assignment for a first year teacher right out of college, and I think I did pretty well for a first year teacher right out of college. But I'd love to have another shot at those kids now, with the experience I have today.

In fact, if I could just create my own job in the schools, I would say, "Give me 30 students -- in two different classes. 30 kids who try hard but consistently struggle in English class. Give me the freedom to teach them whatever and however I want to, and let me see if I can get them to a point of being able to function successfully in a "regular" English class . . . and function even better in their other classes."

I would love that challenge today. I'm just not sure the school system has the flexibility to let me do something like that. My principal in Hutchinson, Mike Wortman, awesome administrator that he was -- he would have found a way. But not all administrators are that awesome.

Someone told me yesterday I should just start my own school. Right.....

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Blind to Sin

Some Pharisees . . . asked, "What? Are we blind, too?"

Jesus said, "If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim to see, your guilt remains." -- John 9

A good friend in junior high attended an Apostolic Pentacostal Church for a while where not only were they not allowed to dance, watch movies, or listen to rock music, but the women were not allowed to wear pants, cut their hair or wear makeup. Her mom thought she was in a cult and forbid her to go, and she started going to church with me and ultimately cut ties with the other church and its beliefs.

We had some interesting conversations, though, about that church and its people. If a woman in this congregation genuinely believed that cutting her hair was sin, an act of rebellion against God, and she cut her hair . . . did she sin? We concluded that she did -- she was choosing wrong over right, rebellion over trust. It was a matter of the condition of her heart toward God.

Of course, this then begs the question . . . if someone has a right heart toward God and commits a sin not knowing that it is a sin, did they sin? The passage I quoted earlier from John 9 seems to imply not. I remember a woman in Bible study in NJ very innocently telling us all how couples really do need to have sex before they get married to be sure they are "physically compatable". A new believer, and quite apparently ignorant that the traditional Christian stance against sex outside of marriage was not a matter of tradition but a command from God in scripture. (An easy mistake, actually, for one who doesn't know the Bible well -- there are many church traditions that have come to have the weight of scriptural mandate in some communities.)

Then, of course, this begs the question . . . why tell people that they're sinning if, in their ignorance, they are also innocent? A valid question, and a tough one to answer in the abstract. I actually do think there are situations where we are probably better off keeping our mouth shut and allowing the Holy Spirit himself to convict a person of their sin. As Pharisaic as my tendencies are, I would rather trust the Spirit to do his job there than overstep my bounds and condemn another of a "sin" that I'm mistaken about.

But the fact about most sins in the Bible is, the reason God tells us not to do these things is because he knows how they will hurt us. He made us and really does have the right to tell us how we should live our lives if we want to be happy. He knows that saving sex for marriage makes the sex thing so much better and our marriages so much stronger -- and he knows the "physical compatability" thing all works out in the end.

So, confronting someone regarding sin in their life (something we are instructed to do with fellow believers) is a delicate thing. Something to be done with humility, love, discernment . . . with the right condition of the heart. And once again, the condition of our heart will determine whether our confrontation is an act of sin or an act of compassion.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Joining the 9%

Blue Bunny Ice Cream is eliminating the food service marketing division -- that's my husband's division. Which means he's spent the past couple months transitioning his people into new spots and preparing himself for the new management job they were creating for him in Sales. But in light of the high prices these days of dairy products (from which ice cream is made) and corn (by which dairy cows are fed), the Board decided costs needed to be contained.

Which means they would not give approval for any new positions to be created. Like my husband's new position in Sales. And his old position no longer exists.

Which means my husband is now unemployed. Which sucks.

I try to keep this in perspective. There are thousands of people out of work these days, and most of them are not have not been the obsessive savers that we've been over the years. Many of them are not as very employable as my husband is. Many of them are not as healthy as our family is.

But it still sucks. Mainly because it will probably mean another move, and we like it here. I'm not done with this place and the life we've made in it.

I wrote about a month ago about Phil Vischer learning to hold everything in his life with an open hand. And here I sit. With my house, my church, my drama teams, my friends, my kids' schools, my activities, my sweet comfortable gig I have here . . . all clutched in my hand as I slowly pry my fingers open.

You give and take away . . . my heart will choose to say . . .

Friday, November 11, 2011

Bouncy Brain

The eldest and I had a spat last night. It built up from small infractions over the course of the evening, each of which was forgiven and let go of, I thought, but seeing how my frustration increased over time, I guess I didn't let go of them that effectively. And most of them had to do with her forgetting something I told her to do.

We made peace before bedtime, and I went to bed pondering the situation, as I am wont to do, because I have an inborn need to analyze the problems in my life to find the source and take care of it.

I think her forgetfulness -- which has run rampant lately -- is connected with her right-brainedness. If I had her tested, I bet she'd be diagnosed with ADD. Not ADHD -- no hyperactivity involved. She's the lost-in-thought daydreamer whose brain bounces from one topic to another in a heartbeat. This means, when I leave her room at night and give her instructions to pick the stuff off her floor before she gets in bed, that idea connects to ten other seemingly unrelated ideas in the next five minutes and the stuff on her floor is completely forgotten until I mention it again the next afternoon.

So, I don't think it's rebellious behavior, although there may be an element of not taking seriously the things that she just doesn't want to do. But there seems to be a need for training here more than for discipline. She needs to understand how her brain bounces like that, determine what things are too important to allow her brain to bounce away from them, and develop strategies for keeping certain facts and instructions in her working memory as long as needed.

On a positive note, I was pleased that our tiff last night ended so quickly and amiably. That hasn't always been the case. Not sure if that's a sign of maturing on her part or on mine.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

No Establishment

A friend posted this quote from Jon Stewart on Facebook the other day:

I have to say, as someone who is not a Christian, it's hard for me to believe Christians are a persecuted people in America. God-willing, maybe one of you one day will even rise up and get to be president of this country -- or maybe forty-four in a row. But that's my point, is they've taken this idea of no establishment as persecution, because they feel entitled, not to equal status, but to greater status.

A few personal words to Jon.

Agreed -- Christians are NOT a persecuted people in America. The Christians out there who whine about persecution apparently don't know what persecution is. They need to spend some time in a Muslim or Communist country where people are imprisoned or killed for practicing their faith.

Agreed -- there are Christians out there who think because Christians are the majority in America and because the nation was founded on Christian principles that Christianity deserves a "greater status" than other religions here. They are wrong. But let me contend that, although that group of believers may be loudmouths, they are not necessarily representative of Christianity in America.

Let me also contend that you may be misunderstanding the "no establishment" situations that you are referring to. Any public bickering I'm aware of concerning Christians and the no establishment clause deal with things like . . . the Ten Commandments being displayed in a courthouse. (I'm not including the gay marriage debate because that is a much bigger, more complex issue dealing with more than religious belief.)

Here's the thing: if I was living in, say Saudi Arabia, I would understand that the vast majority of people there live their lives by the principles in the Koran. I would understand that Islam and the Koran is a significant part of the culture and heritage of the country. I would fully expect to find scripture from the Koran on display in public places -- I would expect community celebrations, even those promoted by the local governments, to be centered on Muslim holidays and beliefs -- I would expect Muslim teachings to come up in the schools, even if they are run by the government (which I don't know if they are . . . ). None of this would qualify to me as "establishment of religion", even if they make me uncomfortable or make my life inconvenient. Sometimes faith is uncomfortable and inconvenient.

Now, if I were required to participate in these religious activities, if I had no choice but to put my children in schools promoting Islam . . . now we're talking about establishment of religion. And if I had rights or freedoms taken away from me for practicing Christianity, now we're talking about persecution. I don't believe we are there in America, for any faith or non-faith group.

Understand, Jon, that sincere believer of every religion want no establishment of religion in the United States. But no establishment does not have to mean we put a cloak on our religious practice and hide it in a closet for fear of making someone uncomfortable.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Two Things

ITEM 1 - Last Friday was the homeschool play for the young 'uns. "Not Your Ordinary Sheepfold". It went very well. The kids looked adorable, and many of them stepped up their performances remarkably for the big show.

I think this is the only show we've done yet where I haven't come to the last week or two of rehearsals and thought, "I can't wait for this to be over." I always enjoy it, but it gets very hectic and stressful toward the end. I didn't have that feeling, really, until the cast party between shows. And that was just a matter of being tired of being around noisy, hyper children for so long. Great kids, but they're still kids, and that many kids can grate on me after that much time. . .

I'm so grateful for the opportunity to do this! I'm still amazed when I look back at how far God has brought Kim and I with this program. If anyone had told me two years ago that at this point, we would have done five plays together, and done them as successfully as we have, I would have been stunned.

ITEM 2 - Last Saturday, we went to the Roller Derby. :) Yep, the Roller Derby. Yet another new experience for me and the girls. (I assume Keith had been to one before -- not only was it his idea, but he explained the rules to us when we got there.) Honestly, I was expecting something more violent. There was a lot of bumping, but it wasn't as rough as I thought it would be.

I was also not expecting to enjoy it much, but I did! It held my attention -- I was amazed at how quickly the time passed. I couldn't understand the strategy a lot of times, and I wasn't always sure why some bumps earned fouls and some didn't. But it was sure interesting to watch.

Hubby and youngest decided we need some Roller Derby nicknames like the ones they had. Fun Size. Leggy Gaga. D'Naile Inya Coffin. Gotta work on those now . . .

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Goal is LEARNING

Got some insight the other day into my eldest's 1st quarter grades. Apparently, her "Marking Period Exams" that she took in her core classes are tests that are given district-wide to every student in those classes. And apparently, almost all the kids do poorly on them.

I'm struggling with how I feel about these tests, as a parent and as a teacher. I understand why they do this. They want each teacher to be accountable for teaching the content the course is supposed to cover. They want uniformity in results across the district. They want an A in Mrs. Jones' Geometry class at North High to mean the same thing as an A in Mrs. Smith's Geometry class at West High.

However, Mrs. Jones and Mrs. Smith have different students, coming from different starting places, with different learning styles and different life situations . . . it really is very hard to make education uniform and make it quality as well. That's when teachers end up "teaching to the test", rather than teaching the child.

The problem with this system, I believe, is the time factor. An effective teacher, I think, should be able to get almost all of his students to the point of passing a district-wide established "Marking Period Exam" . . . but they may not get all of them there in nine weeks. Some kids will be there in three. Some will take a full semester.

Now, it's true that at some point, kids have to figure out how to accommodate someone else's schedule -- if it takes Joey longer to figure out his Geometry than the rest of the class, he has to put more time into it outside of class. But that time will need to be with a teacher if it's going to help him, and so teachers need to have the flexibility to give that extra time.

Good teachers already give hours and hours of their "personal time" for their students. But I think there should be a way for them to be compensated for that. And a way to make it more feasible for students who need extra time to get it. In an effort to manage masses of students going in and out of their doors, schools have had to set up artificial boundaries and time schedules and guidelines that have little to do with effective learning.

Case in point: when I taught in the at-risk student program at Hutch High, we wanted to arrange things so that a student who finished all the requirements for a class early in the year could stop coming to school for that hour. We knew that would be a huge motivation for these kids. But the law states that, to get credit for high school Geometry, you have to not only complete the required coursework, you have to sit in the classroom for a certain number of hours . . . whether you're learning or not . . .

Let's remember, folks, the goal here is learning . . .