25 July 2011

Lessons Learned From a County Fair

During one of the hottest weeks ever here on Iowa, I was sent out on special assignment by the newspaper I work for (that summer job).

Last week, I traveled out to homes or the county fair, interviewed various 4-H families, and wrote up a nice little feature on each one.  The paper would then include a full-page spread each day of the week, complete with pictures I'd taken during the interview.

The more interviews I did, the more people I talked to...the more I wanted to enroll my children in 4-H.  Why?

1.  Most the interviewees were prompt, on time, and very accommodating.  While I know this isn't probably a 4-H thing, it was still very refreshing.

2.  While not always the most articulate at times, all of the interviewees (ages 7-18) willingly spoke about their projects.  And they were always respectful.

3.  There was a pervading sense of responsibility among these young people.  Many of them were showing livestock, which required waking up early to feed, water, groom, etc.  These *are* teenagers, by the way.

4.  Many of the interviewees had a sense of humility.  They were without the obnoxious attitude of self-entitlement.  They understood the meaning of hard work.

There's more, I'm sure, but what parent wouldn't want to enroll their children in a club that easily and naturally promotes the above ideals and attitudes?

14 July 2011

Carmageddon or the Coming of the Messiah?

I know I live on the edge of Tornado Alley.  I know the wicked wind sweeps across the frozen Iowa tundra in January.  I know my state's weather can turn on a flash-flood dime.  I know we've got endless cornfield and cows.  I know it seems like there's nothing to do here.

I sometimes grow exasperated with Iowa, and its conundrums and squabbling and backwardness.

But then...I realize I don't ever have to deal with this:


Headline #1

Headline #2

Headline #3

And so on.  A ten-mile stretch of some well-traveled highway is being closed down around Los Angeles this weekend for construction.  Huh.  Road construction happens every 2.3 seconds in America, and it's nothing radical.  But, in this case, it is a very big deal.  In fact, I've seen the following words used in the literature I've scanned:

End of the World
Impending Doom

Would I find these same words in the Book of Revelation?

12 July 2011

Morning Epiphanies

Two things...

First, I am taking a two-day class located in a town about a half-hour from where I live.  So, there's roughly an hour every day where I can, as the music group Depeche Mode says, "Enjoy the silence".  A kid-free, enclosed-in-my-lovely-automobile silence.

Usually, I listen to music.  However, I've found mornings are the worst time to do so, because of the slew of morning talk-show radio programs.  Not that I'm against talk-radio, but my experience has been that music stations have ridiculously inane morning talk-shows.

So, this morning, finding nothing satisfactory on my preset music channels, I turn to National Public Radio.  I know, I know.  Many of you long-time NPR fans out there are welcoming me to the light, and are wondering why I'd never tuned in before.  I *knew* NPR existed, but I dunno, I just never got the bug.

But I might have this morning.  It occurred to me, as I'm listening to discussion about Italy's failing economy, rebellion in Syria, and a vegetable co-operative in St. Louis, that there's a whole other world out there that I know nothing about.  Talk about perspective.  Diabetics in Syria are having troubles getting necessary medication because of the border clashes, and I'm worried about writing an American Lit syllabus?

Here's what I'm glad of this morning.  I have access to food, shelter, gas, and medical attention.  Many people in the world do not.  As much as I lament about my relationships (all of them), at least I don't have to worry about anyone I care about being blown up by a land mine.

I'm lucky.  I need to start being more grateful.  Epiphany #1.

As I rushed out the door this morning, I forgot to pack the piece of fruit that allays the mid-morning munchies.  A stop at the gas station rendered nothing.  Sure, there was plenty of sweets and carbs for sale, but no wholesome fruit.  I was desperate.  I spotted a bottle of Muscle Milk on the cooler shelf, and thought, what the heck, milk could be a snack, right?!

Wrong.  On the bottle of the Muscle Milk Light I purchased, in small print, were these words "Contains No Milk."  Whaaaaaaat?  Surveying the list of ingredients turned up such gems like: Digestive resistant maltodextrin, sodium hexametaphosphate, medium chain triglycerides.  This is complicated chemistry at its best.  I should have stopped right there, set the bottle on fire in protest, and run screaming from the store to contact my congressman.

But, I did not.  I read the clever marketing message on the side of the bottle, with the final slogan: Drink. Evolve.  And that hit me where it hurt.  Of course I want to evolve.  So I buy the Muscle Milk.

Epiphany #2.  Not only is Muscle Milk a weird chemical hodgepodge in milk's clothing, it also tastes sweetly horrible.  It's the arsenic-sugared cookies from the book "Flowers in the Attic".  I was strongly reminded of those heinous protein/Atkins bars...cardboard dipped in corn syrup, rolled in some nut-like protein binder, and coated in a chocolate-like caseinate substance.

So now I know.  And now you know.

11 July 2011

Some Summer

The summer of 2011 is half-over!  And I still have so much to do!

I did resign from the high school, so that Yearbook job is now off my plate.  I told you all that, right?

Anyway, I have three syllabi to rework/create for the college job.  One is for an Early American Lit class, which I am looking very forward to teaching...once I create the syllabus.  One is a freshmen Composition Lab, which the department has restructured, and that means I just need to tweak my syllabus.  The other class is a Composition 2 class, and for that, I need to read "The Paradox of Choice" and work it into my already existing syllabus. 

I'm also writing for the newspaper this summer, taking classes to renew my teaching license, developing my son's homeschool curriculum, and trying to stay afloat with various writing projects.


Yes, stress.

Anyway, here's the thought that will carry me...at least for today.

Now that I will not be at the high school in the fall, I will have two leisurelyish mornings before I start at the university to cook a nice, big, nourishing breakfast for my children and establish a routine for my homeschooled middle schooler.

Life is good - today!

04 July 2011

Decision to Homeschool: Informing the Grandparents

As a public school educator, homeschooling never entered my list of educational options.  Growing up, I knew no kids that weren’t public school-educated, and homeschooling was something reserved for the uber-religious.  As an adult, the handful of homeschooled kids I knew seem to be quiet at best, painfully maladjusted at worst.  Usually, us teachers would be a little offended…if public school was good enough for us, why wasn’t it good enough for those kids?

Then came the news that my sister-in-law was going to pull my niece out of school.  Talk about hitting a little closer to home.  I checked my sister-in-law’s homeschooling journey with interest, and I admit, a growing skepticism.  Then, my Air Force-serving brother received new orders, and the entire family relocated to Alaska.  My niece was enrolled in public school, and I figured the homeschool phenomenon was over.

Then, last fall, concerns over my niece’s education and social life grew to the point that she was pulled out of the public school yet again.  And again, I watched the entire process with smug suspicion.

But then, towards the end of this last school year, my own sixth-grade son expressed a desire to be homeschooled.  I was stunned, but eventually chalked it up to end-of-the-year fatigue. 

However, the seed had been planted, and I looked forward to my Alaska vacation with a newfound interest – I’d really get the ins and outs of homeschooling.

And, boy howdy, did we ever.  Not that I can recall every single conversation we had with my brother and sister-in-law, but it certainly made a lasting impression.  The idea gained momentum in our household, and soon, there I was, making a decision I thought I would never, ever make.

We were going to homeschool our middle schooler.  Yikes.

Our decision to do so came as no real surprise to my mom, who was privy to many of the Alaska conversations.  When we informed my dad of our choice, he only had one question: How’s he going to learn about real life?

My response: Dad, what “real life” do you mean?  The cheating-on-tests, getting-drunk-at-the-Senior-Picnic, dating-drama, jocks-and-skanks real life?  I think I’m okay if my son misses out on that stuff and just goes to school for the sole purpose of academics.  There will be plenty of other “real-life” opportunities for him long before college (school extra-curriculars, part-time jobs, clubs and organizations).

After that, there have been no objections from that parental corner (so far).  This weekend, we told my husband’s parents.

Father-in-law:  I dunno.  I just don’t think I’d be qualified to teach my own kids.

My response: Really?  You teach them to ride a bike, to catch a fish, drive a car?  You teach them manners, respect of their elders, what’s right and wrong?  And you feel ill-qualified to homeschool them?

Mother-in-law: Well, I guess it makes some sense.  You both have educational degrees.

My response (all internal): I won’t read too much into that comment.  Otherwise, I might take it to mean that you’re only okay with us homeschooling because we’ve got the right “education”.  If we didn’t, would we be unqualified?

Mother-in-law: He’ll miss out on socialization, won’t he?

My response: No.  He’s in the school orchestra, soccer, and after-school theater.  Socialization is actually the last thing I’m worried about.

And after that, the issue died.  So, while neither set of parents is hip-hip-hooray excited for this new turn of events, neither of them is throwing up huge hissy fits about it, either.  Which, ultimately, is pointless, since it’s our life, our children, and our choice.

03 July 2011

Big Changes Coming

I have been absent for several days.  My humble apologies.

In some ways, I've felt as if I have nothing important to say.  I have no major epiphanies, no major insights, and my summer so far (halfway gone now!) has passed by in such an uneventful manner that your IQs would decrease immensely if I were to blog about it here.

But I think today I may have something to report on.  Today we attended church (two Sundays in a row!), and the service was titled "Freedom = Slavery".  Usually, when I am listening to the pastor speak, I try to fit the sermon's message into a context that means something to me...because frankly, the Bible usually doesn't.

So, during the service, I began to think about everything I consider a freedom that might also be construed as an enslavement.

1.  Food.  So many supermarket choices to the point of stress.
2.  Clothing.  It's great that I get to wear what I want, but I am also limited by my gender, my age, my profession, etc., and the limitations that accompany each.
3.  Speech.  Yes, I can say what I want, but it comes with conditions.
4.  Cell phone/cable service/insurance company etc.  Ooh.  Companies competing for my business, and I have the freedom to choose.  Awesome.  However, having freedom to make all these choices mean I have to research the best one.  Suddenly, I am a slave to information.

And there are many more, I have no doubt.  The issue is very complicated, because no, I don't want to give up my freedom.  But, the word 'freedom' has lost its meaning, and people bandy it about meaninglessly.  Here are two specific examples of how I am meeting 'freedom' head on.

* We are back on the no-restaurant kick.  First of all, we've spent far too much money on eating out.  Second, Brent and I have not lost those extra pounds we gained in Alaska...so maybe omitting restaurants will provide the impetus for weight loss.  It's time to get back in the kitchen and the habit of meal-planning.  So, yes, we're taking back a little control of our nutritional health.

* While I've enjoyed the freedom of educating my children in the way I want, I have not taken full advantage of what that really means.  As a public school educator, I always wondered what happened to students (especially males) between elementary (when they were so excited to learn) and high school (when they definitely were not).  Now, as the parent of a middle school child, I knew.  The non-rigor of a middle school classroom.  My son had two study halls a day, which he did not need.  He was a grade ahead in math, but was bored silly in some of his other classes.  He was frustrated at the time he spent in a seat, all day long.  He was frustrated by classmates who did not take academics seriously.  Frankly, he was becoming mediocre.  The public school system is set up to meet the needs of the students in the middle...not my son's.

And really, we have the time, we have the financial stability, we have the resources, why shouldn't/couldn't we do something about it?  The laws here in America allow me considerable freedom to educate my child - so why am I letting someone else do it?  It concerned me (now more than ever, really) that my son disappeared into a brick-and-mortar for eight hours a day, and I had no idea of exactly what happened in there, academically speaking.

And so, in light of all these questions and discussions and ruminations, it is very highly likely we will homeschool our oldest son next year.  Who better to educate him than I and his father?  I can't say what will happen for sure or how long we'll do it, it's just going to be one year at a time.

There, that's my bombshell.  I've actually wanted to blog about it here several times in the last couple of weeks...but I wasn't feeling it.  I don't know why.  Perhaps admitting it here now really, truly makes it a reality...instead of a hypothetical situation.

Scary stuff, this being free thing.