Monday, May 28, 2012

A few thoughts from my oldest daughter

I am publishing below the full and unedited version of an article written by my 14-year-old daughter, Mindie.  She wrote this entirely voluntarily and in fact without my knowledge until after the fact.  The thoughts are her own.


Home-schooling and Un-schooling: What They’ve Done for Me

Recently, my parents decided to pull my sister and me out of my eight year life at public school to home-school/un-school us. This was, of course, a big change for us. Many things would have to be different about our lifestyle from now on.
First, there was the issue of socializing. My sister isn’t as social as I am, but she has friends she enjoys spending time with as much as I do. We had friends that were also home-schoolers, and they invited us to many group activities and field trips they took as a home-schooling group. We still had friends that went to public school, and we wanted to keep in contact with them. For some friends, we could simply email or text message when we wanted to hang out. They didn’t live that far away, and as long as they were free, we could meet up. We do spend time with friends from our area, but we also have friends that it isn’t possible to just meet up. We have friends that live in other states, and we can’t just meet somewhere and spend time together. For these friends, we usually use online messaging programs, like Skype, and social sites, such as Facebook, to chat. We can’t see each other in person, but we are still good friends. Socializing hasn’t been that big of a problem for us.
There’s also the issue that not all of our family and friends were completely on board with us home-schooling at first. Since we started, they’ve mostly gotten used to it, but at there’s still many questions every time they see us. They are, of course, still unsure of how everything works for us, since even our schedules have changed drastically. We manage to make everything work, and we answer questions as best we can. I’m glad to see that they can support our decision in full.
I really feel like home-schooling/un-schooling has helped our family a lot. We no longer deal with abuse and bullying that happened in public school. We don’t have to adjust our schedules to the school’s anymore. And, for my parents, no more taking that drive twice everyday, or more.
Mainly, I think that home-schooling/un-schooling has helped my sister and me socially, mentally, and emotionally. We both no longer feel forced to be social, since we aren’t around a crowd of people 24/7 anymore. My sister had more problems with bullying than I did, and she’s gotten so much better. I think she feels she can express herself now without fear of ridicule. She states her mind, and gives opinions much more now. She’s been more free to explore her likes and interests, and has done so.
I think that home-schooling/un-schooling has helped me in several ways. For example:

I get what sleep I need, and I generally feel much more rested and happy most of the time.
I feel like I can actually like what I like now, and I’ve discovered more of what I like.
I’ve learned more about the world around me than I did in school. I’m slightly more involved with my community now.
I don’t feel like I have to live up to everyone’s expectations all the time, so I do it more.
I have more time to spend with friends and family, and to myself.
You can even ask my friends on this one, I am more social, and less shy around new people now. I talk more and make friends quicker, and easier.
I’m not having knowledge I don’t feel I need shoved into my brain, and therefore, I’m even more eager to learn.
I’m not spending 4 hours pouring over schoolwork now. I don’t get headaches as much, as I often did while doing homework.
I feel like I’m allowed to take more chances. Even if they don’t always go well, I’m experiencing even more now, I think.

I don’t think that college, or my future will be a problem. I think of it as, as long as I’m eager and trying, I’ll be able to do what I want with my life. I’ve already looked a little into what I want to do later in life, and colleges I might want to go to, but I’m also taking things at my pace. I like that I don’t feel rushed to do something with my life.
I would recommend home-schooling/un-schooling to anyone who is seeking a change in they’re child’s school life, or they’re own. I honestly think it helps everyone at least a little. I would love to see more people looking as happy as I feel now.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

What's in a name?

"That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."  - Juliet Capulet

While it's true that names are somewhat arbitrary, they do have meaning.  The Bible is full of people who changed their names to describe new life circumstances, new perspectives, and any number of other things.  Naomi, in the book of Ruth, returns to her homeland with her daughter-in-law following the death of her husband and two sons.  She announces to her former friends and relatives that her new name will be Mara, which means "bitter" because God has taken everything from her.

I'm not someone who has ever given too much credit to the meanings of names.  One day, though, I got on a hot streak and looked into the meaning of all my children's names.  It was surprising to say the least.  These were names we chose without giving a single thought to the meaning of them.  And yet each name says something amazing about that child.

I was 19 when I had Rebekka Marie.  Her name means "tied to bitterness."  Not exactly a flattering sentiment and yet her birth was tied to a great deal of bitterness.  Her adoptive parents changed her name to Stephanie Nicole, which means "crowning victory of the people."  Certainly a much more uplifting name and again very fitting.  What, for me, was bitterness was victory for the family that longed to have more children and achieved that by adopting her into their family.

Not quite two years later life had changed significantly for me.  I had met the man I planned to spend the rest of my life with and together we created Mindie R'nea.  Her name means "beautiful rebirth" or "beauty reborn."  She marked a turning point in my life, a rebirth if you will.

Not quite two years after that we had a second child together.  Shannen Makayla means "God is gracious; who is like God?"  God was gracious.  I wasn't supposed to have Shannen at all and came close to dying while giving birth to her.  Who is like God?  In some ways, Shannen is.  Obviously she's not *like* God but through her amazing heart for God and all of God's creation, she has revealed to me some incredibly important truths about my Creator.  Truly, Shannen is one of the few people I know that I feel embodies naturally what it is to live for God and through His son.

That which we call a rose, by any other name, might still smell as sweet but it's funny sometimes how well a name fits a person.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Life on the Prairie

There's an ebb and flow, a natural rhythm to life, that I think most people have gotten away from.  But nothing jerks you back to nature like farming.  Today is a slow, lazy day at our house.  It's steadily raining outside and this is our planting rain.  In a day or so family life will explode like a run away train moving 180 mph as my husband hustles to put cotton seed in the ground while the earth is still wet enough to nurture the seed.  And around here, that clock ticks by fast.  So today we're taking it easy, marshaling our resources, and just enjoying the sounds and smells of the rain.

A listed field, ready to be planted.
Life is very much like this for the farmer.  There are periods of near-frenzied activity, times of dogged endurance work, and times of rest and restoration.  We're never sure exactly when these times will be though we know the general seasons.  From February to sometime in May is endurance.  We work slowly, steadily, to prepare the land.  Sometime in May we'll get a planting rain if we're lucky.  This is at least 1/2" of rain that ideally falls over the course of a day or two so that it can soak in.  During the planting rain we rest, storing energy for the big push ahead because once the land is dry enough to run a tractor over we will be frantically working for a few weeks to get the seed in the ground before you lose the moisture.  We will work long hours, rising before the sun and working after its setting.  This portion of the year is a sprint against Mother Nature.

Once the seed is in the ground we return to an endurance race.  We work steadily to maintain conditions for the seed.  Weeds must be removed, insects must be kept at bay, the emerging plants must have soft soil to break through, and sand must be reduced to protect baby plants from being sandblasted to nothing in our punishing winds.  The summer months will primarily be about this steady pace but occasionally we will get a thunderstorm at the wrong time and suddenly we're back to sprinting, racing to "chicken pick" the ground or incorporate the sand back into the soil (known as "sand fighting") before it can damage plants.  Every significant rain in the early summer heralds one of these brief dashes.
Flash flooding is another danger to crops in the desert

At last sometime around late August or September, as summer fades to fall, the plants are mature enough that they don't require the constant coddling and protection of the farmer.  But his work is not done, nor is his crop assured.  Even now a hail storm could destroy the work of the past year.  This is a time of anxious waiting, like a set of parents anticipating the arrival of a new child.  We will continue to work to keep weeds under control but it must be done with tools that will not interfere with the now-large plants.  We will also be preparing for the harvest.  Strippers must be made ready, module builders and boll buggies dragged out of storage.  It's not unlike the expectant parents dragging crib and swing out of the attic for their new child.  Also like expectant parents, frequent checks on the progress of the offspring will occur.  Every day the farmer will anxiously drive by his fields, examining the condition of the cotton plants, to determine if the cotton should be left to ripen a while longer or if it is time to "induce labor" with chemical defoliants that will hasten the final maturation of the crop and simulate the effects of a freeze.

Defoliated cotton ready to be removed from the plant
Eventually either through defoliant or by nature's defoliant, the hard freeze, the leaves will dry up and begin to drop off, the bolls will fully open, and the entire plant will turn brown with bright white cotton bolls.  And again begins a headlong sprint.  This race with the weather and the plant is to ensure that the cotton is off the plant and protected as quickly as possible.  Ideally we will be done stripping the plants of their precious white bundles before the first snow falls and before the first ice storm comes to coat the world with crystal.  We're also racing the plant itself because the longer the cotton stays on the plant the lower the quality of the cotton lint.

We and many helpers will work long hours in late November and December to get the cotton off the plants and into a condition to be ginned.  If we're lucky we will be done by Christmas.  If we're not, we may still be stripping cotton in February.  Wet weather halts us until it dries.  Very windy weather will also stop us for a time.  Freezing cold doesn't even slow us down, though.  We want calm, dry weather as much as possible.  But not too dry because the cotton lint and especially the seeds are combustible.  Spontaneous fires in dry weather may reduce portions of our crop to smoldering ashes and even damage equipment.

During the harvest portion of the season we often find ourselves half-wishing for a light rain or high winds, though.  Harvest is long and the pace is crippling.  If we aren't sleeping, we're harvesting.  Thanksgiving dinner is usually eaten in the field.  We take Sunday mornings off for church sometimes but even then we're back at work as soon as church is over.  It's an exhausting time.  But as with birth labor, our arduous work will be well worth it in the end.

View from atop the module builder.
In fortunate years we're done with the harvest by Christmas and we have six or seven weeks to rest and recover before we return to the work of preparing for the next crop.  This time of rest is valuable and our family very much enjoys the time together to relax.  This is when we can vacation together (whoever told you that school calendars are designed around farm families lied; public school is anything but farm-friendly in their schedule), hang out together, and share the house with each other.

That's the ebb and flow of life in our farm family.  Modern inventions like the tractor, the stripper, and chemicals have made it easier and less manpower intensive but this is, essentially, the schedule of any agrarian society in history.  Life centers around nature's schedule for the plants and, in most instances, plants have a pretty universal schedule.  Do I feel somehow "holier" or more "connected to the earth" for working on this schedule?  No.  In fact, it feels weird.  I feel like a salmon swimming upstream.  This is not how most of the Western world lives today.  But this is the reality of my life.  I do feel a little more "in tune" with my ancestors, perhaps.  At least I have a frame of reference to sympathize with a few of their hardships.  And I feel a lot more connected to God.  I have no doubt there are atheist farmers but I don't know that I could do this without a great deal of faith in the providence of a benevolent Creator.  So much of our life now depends upon things over which no human has any control.

15 Years

Together at a wedding shower
Today is my 15th wedding anniversary and I'm feeling a little nostalgic.  So let me share a slice of the life I've shared with my husband.

On our first official "date" we did a group hangout thing with a bunch of my friends.  Poor Ben.  He was subjected to bowling, bar-hopping, and after-drinks "breakfast" at IHOP.  I, in my infinite self-destructive wisdom, had not eaten a bite all day and ingested something like half a box of over-the-counter appetite suppressants.  Then we went out, got incredibly physically active, drank large volumes of alcohol, and finished it off with a carb-heavy meal.  At which point, I was shaking and miserable but determined not to ruin my date. After breakfast we retreated to his apartment to talk.  I walked in his front door and puked my chocolate chip pancakes all over his light blue rented carpet.  Let's count my mistakes so far in the evening: 1) dragging an extreme introvert out with a dozen or so noisy strangers to crowded public places 2) the revolutionary "stupid diet" 3) drinking too much 4) ruining his chance of recovering his security deposit.  All things considered, not a great first impression.  Luckily, not only is my husband forgiving, he's also very much a gentleman.  He helped me clean up my mess, soothed me, and settled me onto his sofa since I was in no condition to drive home.

Fire and Ice rose
On our wedding day, Ben presented me with a surprise bridal bouquet.  It was made up primarily of Fire and Ice roses, a favorite of mine.  Fire and Ice roses remain a special flower between us and we each get them for the other occasionally.  The only Valentine's Day he ever got me flowers, they were Fire and Ice roses.

On our first anniversary we ate from the preserved top layer of our wedding cake.  I don't know who the hell came up with that "tradition" but it's stupid.  Iced cake doesn't preserve well for that long.  Ours was freezer burned and awful.   We ponied up the cash for a babysitter that year (we've hired babysitters twice in our kids' lives) and went to see Pleasantville at the dollar theater.

Over the years, most of our anniversary celebrations have been more than a little peculiar to outsiders.  There was the year we happened to be in San Antonio for our anniversary so we took advantage of my sister's willingness to babysit and went out to a restaurant we just couldn't eat at back home: Jack in the Box.  Yes, seriously.  We had "dinner" at Jack in the Box and then hopped over to the multiplex to catch X2.  This year he worked like a dog all day and came home exhausted so I got him Mickey D's for dinner and he's been listening to the Texas Rangers baseball game and unwinding.

Witchblade figure - and no, boobs don't work like that
Ben isn't a romantic in any sense that most people understand.  He's not given to making grand gestures and he's not big on holidays.  He's given me exactly three "romantic" gifts in our 15 years together.  The bridal bouquet, the Valentine's Day flowers, and the pearl cocktail ring he buried in my stocking one year for Christmas.  But the truth is that he's exactly the way I want him to be.  This year when he asked what I wanted for our anniversary I didn't hesitate to answer, "A food dehydrator!"  Yes, I asked for a practical gift and he was happy to give it to me.  It's just one reason we're so good together.

Our idea of "quality time" is me watching him play a video game that I don't have the patience to play myself.  We argued over who got to read the Harry Potter books first when each new one arrived at our door on release day.  Today, just for me, he posted a bunch of pictures of a scantily clad Witchblade figure because I said I wanted more pictures of his figures.  Instead of singing songs or playing License Plate Bingo in the car on vacation, we listened to historical radio documentaries together.  We've half finished a kit model of a Citroen DS 19 together.  And we argue about comic books.

Our idea of a good time
Ben took this inside Carlsbad Caverns
We're both geeky, awkward introverts who would rather spend a quiet evening pursuing our own interests than get together with friends or do "exciting" things together.  But where I'm so flighty I've been told my head would float clean away if it wasn't tethered to my neck, he's reliable and dependable.  When I want to charge on, guns blazing, at every new situation he holds back, reads the wind, and makes a plan before he does anything.  We're good for each other, we moderate one another.  I remind him to have fun and he keeps me from getting goofy enough to be arrested.  He likes baseball, I prefer hockey.  Yet somehow our crazies meld beautifully.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

They Call Me Bond - Hugh G. Bond

There's a school bond issue gearing up for the vote around these parts.  Actually there are two.  And one non-bond that I'm going to throw in for comparison.

The large local district is trying to get voters to approve a $40M bond to tear down the old high school and build a new one in its place.  The thinking is something like this: the school is in bad shape and will be expensive to bring up to current standards.  So let's skip that and just build a new one.  That will be wonderful.  The political argument being put forth in favor of this is: our school is ranked in the bottom 1% of Texas schools and our local economy sucks and the entire county is shrinking at an alarming rate and all of these problems will be magically fixed by building a new high school.  If you're like me, you're laughing at the non-logic of this argument.  The economy sucks so let's burden taxpayers with higher property taxes.  The school isn't teaching kids what the state says they need to know and this will be fixed with a fancy new building.  The county is shrinking but if we build it they will come.  The slogan of the campaign is: Vote YES for Lamesa.  Vote YES for kids.  Vote YES for Lamesa ISD bond.  Oh. my. gosh.  Did they really summon "But think of the children!" to this issue.  YES they did.  I'm not so sure the bond will pass, though.  In every issue of the local bi-weekly newspaper for the past month there's been a pro-bond full page ad and there have been 2 anti-bond full page ads plus a half page ad and a quarter page ad.  But to help secure the bond, the school district has "generously" offered to host early voting IN THE SCHOOL that's being voted upon rather than in the usual City Hall location.  Hmmmm.  Something's rotten in the state of Denmark.

One of the smaller local districts is also floating a bond before voters.  Theirs is a much more reasonable $4M bond to build a new collegiate sized basketball court/gym and weight rooms and locker rooms.  Because a school with 200 students (total - that's pre-K through grade 12) desperately needs a THIRD gym.  Yep, you read that right.  They already have two gymnasiums, neither of which will be shut down.  They also have a new weight room and locker rooms at the new football stadium across the street that was paid for with the LAST bond, which won't be paid off for another 12 years.  That's right, the previous bond won't even be paid off until this year's kindergarten class graduates, but the school desperately needs another one to build that third gym because the first two just aren't up to scratch for the basketball teams anymore.  And besides, two gyms aren't enough to meet the needs of the various athletics teams that need them for practice.  Some team or other is always being left out in the cold (specifically, the general PE kids are always being left out in the cold - literally - because during winter, aka basketball season, the girls' team works out in one gym and the boys' team works out in the other, leaving the general PE kids to either watch movies in an empty classroom during their physical education time or to run laps outside in the snow).  The argument for this bond is: but it's only $4M which is hardly any money at all and besides the kids need a bigger gym because that will prepare them for college PLUS this will further put off when the district has to resume making "Robin Hood" payments to the state for being a "wealthy" school district.

And now, for comparison, let us consider the proposal of a third small local district.  Their enrollment has been growing (as more and more kids are pulled from the big district by their parents and moved to a district where little Johnny might get taught to read) and their building is wearing out.  The school board's proposal is to use already allocated capital funds from the county (the county sets aside a certain percentage of their budget to be divided equally among school districts in the county to be distributed any time a district requests them for capital improvements - ie buildings and long-term equipment like buses but NOT educational materials like text books or classroom furnishings) along with the district's own "reserve fund" (aka SAVINGS) and, utilizing local contractors, make the repairs needed to bring the building up to standards.  They don't need to go to the voters about this because they're not asking the taxpayers for any money.  They're using money that's already there and designated for just such instances.  They're not planning any athletic facilities.  These improvements will be made to the science classrooms, the ag classrooms, and the social studies classrooms.  The intent of the improvements is to increase safety and improve structural integrity.

Guess which of these districts I would send my kids to if I were forced to put them back in public school?  Yep, the third one.  Even though it's the farthest from our home, makes the least effort to be "accessible" to out-of-district students (ie no "transfer" bus runs to town to pick up out-of-district kids that attend), and has a reputation for an "aloof" and "snobby" student body.  They boast no exceptional athletics programs and offer very little in the way of "options" to students, not even the options I personally value.  By way of "enrichment" they encourage participation in state-sponsored (and funded) programs such as academic UIL.  But at least they respect the taxpayers in their district enough to not burden them with additional taxes for things outside the purview of the public school.  And they respect their students enough not to burden THEM with bonds that the students will be paying for long after they graduate.

For the record, I only get a vote in the first bond proposal I mentioned.  And I think you can guess how I'm planning to vote.  I would vote the same way if my kids attended the school in question.  In the words of one of the anti-bond ads, "Surely a school originally built to house 900 students can be refitted to serve 400 for something less than the cost of building a multi-million dollar sports stadium."