The thing about public high schools…

is that they don’ t seem to work for a lot of kids. Why is that? I know that the trend in U.S. education is to try to make it all more standardized, to get rid of the gaps between the “great” schools and the barely-functional ones that may be doing more harm than good. But from another point of view they are also becoming “one size fits all” – we are putting our youth in a box that suggests all humans are the same, during a zeitgeist of increasing demand by adults for individuality?

It’s a volume business. Providing our children with enough individual attention that they could strive for personal academic goals, capitalize on their strenghts, learn coping strategies for their weaknesses… sounds great. And would take (at a stab) about five times as many well-trained, committed secondary education teachers as we currently have in the country. In the world of shrinking school budgets and urban population expansion, providing an actual high quality education for our kids is at best a logistics nightmare.

In a way the bad news is an offshoot of the good news. Compulsory education for all is a relatively new, relatively “wealthy country” concept. Back in the “good old days” when only wealthy boys went to school at all, wealthy girls and middle class kids had governesses or were home-schooled, and lower income kids just got jobs when they were old enough, those who did get an education at all generally got a pretty good one. Exceptions, of course. But generally.

A lot more kids are getting educated now. And there are lots of good logical reasons why the schools, the curricula, then teachers in place are doing the very best that they can.

But look at our teens. Many many are bright, motivated, inspired, committed to go on to college or vocational training and acheive their dreams. Many, many more are not. Start with the dropout rate, sure. That’s a nice easy statistic. But there’s more to it than that. How many 16 year olds give up on their dreams because they have to slog through algebra without ever understanding how algebra will matter? Or because they got a C- in Literature Appreciation and it blew their GPA and now they think they just aren’t smart? Not so measurable. And, of course, different from school to school, from region to region.

So what do we do? I respect homeschooling parents tremendously – what an amazing calling that is! But (back to those hard logistical realities) we can’t all do that. Even if we could, not all parents are suited to. I am the first to admit that I do not have the appropriate temperment to teach young children. In a perfect world, my boys would have had a governess until high school, and I would have taken it from there. My world was not perfect, and they went to public schools.

My oldest was the kind of kid that our current public school system was built for. Industrious, detail oriented, ambitious – I think he would have excelled even in a middling-to-decent “regular” public high school. He got lucky, in his freshman year our district piloted a really well designed high-end vo-tech high school. He excelled brilliantly.

My middle son was a different kind of kid. Smart, but not ambitious. He excelled at things that caught his attention. He ignored things that didn’t. Most of high school didn’t. He did not accumulate enough credits to graduate in his allotted four years, so he went out into the world without a diploma. Where, by the way, he DID excel, because the kid has a work ethic that would embarrass a Nebraska farm kid.  As long as he’s getting paid, he works his butt off. Employers love him. He went back and finished his credits when he was good and ready to, so that he could get into the tech school program he wants to get the job that he wants. But it had to be on his timing, to meet his goals and interests. Not the school boards goals. He couldn’t care less about what the school board thinks is best for him.

My youngest fell out halfway between the two. He graduated. And hated it. Loved his business classes and vocal music. Hated math and English, barely scraped by in it. Liked history okay but only the parts that he liked – WWII yes, the Roman Empire not so much.

Enough illustrating the problem. What do we DO about it? The “voucher” idea has some merit, and a lot of painful controversy… but at least it would force schools to compete, if parents had the option of taking their kid and their money to wherever the best education could be gotten. Still, though, that would assume that there were choices. In my particular town there is the public high school, an ultra-conservative and very small private Christian school, and a tiny charter school that works well but carries the stigma of being “where the bad kids go” as well as relatively low academic standards.  Not all counties have even that many choices. What we need, I fear, is an educational revolution that shakes the entire public secondary school system to it’s core. I’m not really the earthshaker type. But I do love high school kids, and I do NOT think they are getting a fair shake, for the most part. And attempts to make it better are often making it worse (NCLB, for example.)

I don’t know the answer.  I do know that I will keep looking for an answer. One that includes:

  • Self-paced options for kids who function poorly in group-paced environments
  • Group-paced options for kids who need structure
  • Vocational/functional emphasis – forget about quadratic equations because someone somewhere said all 9th graders should learn quadratic equations. How about algebraic equations as they apply to  medicine (calculating dosages based on bodyweight) or mechanics (finding the horsepower increase of an engine when you bore the cylinders .0020 over) or design (how much extra energy will it take to heat/cool this building if we increase the floor space by 10%?)
  • Community mentors

So, yeah – I like the West Florida model, and others like it. I think it needs some alterations to be tenable on a broad scale. And the logistical equivalent of the Augean stables. But it has to be done, unless we are willing to keep sacrificing half of our children on the altar of standardization.

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New gadgets that I love

Okay, I’ve posted some negative stuff on here. Honestly it is more likely to occur to me to blog when I am mad as heck about something than when everything is peachykeen… I do like to rant, after all. So, now that we’ve established that Chan doesn’t like: misinformation campaigns, spreading of unsubstantiated fear rumors, or child labor slavery in the chocolate industry – well, maybe it would be nice if I took time to mention some things that I do like, very much.

Oh, and I should get some geek points for this. It’s pretty gadget heavy 🙂

My iPod. Yeah, I know, everyone loves their iPod. Honestly I loved both of my Zunes, too. But when I had a Zune, I never ever looked at iTunes for anything. I downloaded music and other stuff from all kinds of other sites, but never iTunes. So when I got the Pod, and iTunes installed itself on my computer for the first time ever, I finally understood the concept of…..
<drum roll>

iTunesU 

I know, I know, people have known about iTunesU for years now, right? Big deal. Hey, yeah, it is a big deal, because NOBODY EVER TOLD ME!!!! How could you not tell me that you can listen to entire semesters’ worth of university courses FOR FREE? Seriously. Coolest thing ever! I am going through a course right now on The Prophets from Dallas Theological Seminary. Yes, folks, a full semester of a theology professor’s lectures on Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, Obadiah, Joel, Habbakuk, and all their friends – FREE!  Wow. WowWowWowWowWow!!!!!!!!!

And that’s without even getting into podcasts.

And then there is my Griddler.

It’s a grill. It’s a griddle. It heats fast. It cooks beautifully. I honestly think we have eaten as much grilled food in the past three weeks as we did in the whole seven years we owned the outdoor gas grill. It’s just so EASY!

Oster BLSTPB-WOR My Blend - White Base/Orange Vessel

The Oster MyBlend blender.
Smoothies. Blender pitcher converts to a sport bottle. Dishwasher safe. Do I need to say more?

The Shark steam cleaner. I have sons. I love them. They have now all moved out. I have to clean their bathroom, after 5 years of use. I will be nice and NOT describe this in detail. Let’s just say that a) I forgot my grout was white until I went after it with the Shark, and b) the “tigers in the rainforest” wallpaper border came right off, no trouble at all.

They work for the government; They are here to help.

First disclaimer… I am NOT going to push Paleo, low-carb, or any other food/lifestyle philosophy on ANYONE. Everyone has different blood chemistry and food sensitivities. I react badly to processed carbs, it took me decades to figure that out, so I just don’t do them anymore. That’s just me. I know tons of healthy vibrant people including my own parents who are successful with a vegetarian lifestyle that includes bread and pasta. I am hardly going to accost them with data on why they need more steak and pork roasts in their diet; I’m not in that big of a hurry to get disowned 😉

What I WILL advocate for, to anyone who will hear me and many who won’t, is CLEAN eating. As in – reducing the quantities of preservatives, pesticides, flavor-enhancers, softeners, texturizers, weed-killers, fillers, starches, and other STIFF (stuff that isn’t freakin’ FOOD) in our food.

So this just pisses me off. Pardon my language. But I am angry, and there is a soapbox to go with it. Who here is surprised by that? Bueller? Bueller?

The Alliance for Food and Farming is an “information campaign” – FUNDED by FEDERAL GRANT MONEY (as in, yes, your tax dollars) – designed to convince the American public that pesticides and herbicides are perfectly safe and harmless.  Yes, that is their purpose. They do not want to see us “waste” our money on the “silly” fad of organic produce, and they definitely do not want us to try to reduce our gluten or processed foods consumption. And don’t worry about contamination or buying local – e. coli and salmonella are apparently wildly unlikely in mass-grown, mass-shipped products! Anyone want to look at some beach properties I have up for sale in Wyoming?

They even have an “interdisciplinary educational unit” lesson plan for 5-7 graders, provided to teachers for free! If the X-geners are going to keep up this “organic, sustainable, local” silliness, at least agribusiness can set itself up for megaprofit for the next decade, right?

Now – before I get slammed with a million comments about how “the American Farmer” needs to catch a break so I should  get off his back – let me clarify. The AFF website packages and phrases its garbage information to make it look like they are representing all of the farmers of the U.S. Nothing could be more misleading. They are representing ConAgra and other agricultural mega-businesses – the ones who are growing the wheat for Wonder Bread and Twinkies and the corn for high-fructose corn syrup. The local farmers who supply your farmer’s markets and nicer restaurants, that many of you have relationships with and buy from directly, are NOT represented by this garbage. Many of them are working very very hard to supply the increasing demand for organic local produce. The ones who financially cannot make those changes yet are absolutely willing to do so as the demand increases further. That is EXACTLY what agricultural mega-businesses are trying to prevent.

Focus Pocus

Sidetracked. Scattered. Random. I am all of the above,

stops, thinks for a second about where she is going from here, goes downstairs to get a banana, decides to do this as a stream-of-consciousness post and see what happens

and some days it is worse than others. The past couple of weeks I have been really driving myself nuts with this. I have raised procrastination to an art form, and I am making it worse by continually promising myself that I will do my homework early in the week, I will organize and standardize all my faculty folders, I will actually have a time management plan and stick to it. I annoy me.

checks facebook and email

My favorite motivator, FlyLady, says that procrastination is a form of perfectionism.

that didn’t count as scattered, I had to go to that website to make sure I had the URL right

I agree, a big part of why I don’t do some things is because I don’t have time to do them “perfectly.” I also tend to put off homework assignments if I can’t “see” the finished product. The class I am in right now requires us to read several chapters a week and then make a project – PowerPoint, lesson plan, handout, spreadsheet, whatever  – directly related to one or more of the chapters, and turn it in along with a written summary of all of the chapters. Some weeks I read the assigned material and think “oh, wow, I have a GREAT idea for what to do with this.” Those weeks are the ones I tend to get my homework done before the deadline.

reads another e-mail, pets cat

Most weeks, though, if I don’t have one of my brilliant ideas, I just… wait. For the inspiration fairy to bip me on the head, or something, I guess. I know my Greek mythology, I know there was no muse of homework, but still… I’m just sayin’, it’d be nice. (~Agnes, Despicable Me)

In the game Mystery Manor (which I’ve played two rounds of in the time I’ve been on the computer this afternoon “studying”) there is a big magnifying glass that moves with your cursor. It’s a hidden object type game, and everything inside of the magnifying glass area is, y’know, magnified – also lit up, in the parts of the game that are in “night” mode. The reasonable thing to do would be to sweep the cursor systematically over the room and look carefully inside the magnifying glass part, right? Yeah, right. What I actually do is sweep the cursor around randomly while my eye looks everywhere, inside and outside of the cursor, for the various objects. The cursor tool is a focus device.

goes to the tab where Blackboard was already open, navigates to the site we are supposed to be writing about this week in our discussion boards

goes downstairs to refill water bottle, decides to get a couple of cookies, has conversation with husband

I don’t remember once, ever, in my lifetime, focusing on just one thing at a time. I know a lot of people are very proud of their ability to “multitask” and I admit I am one of them. But truth be told it is a terribly inefficient way of going about daily business. I just haven’t figured out what to do about it yet.

remembers that kid texted earlier needing his social security card, goes to look for it, reads another email, debates whether to text kid now or wait until later, decides on later

My mother likes to quote the Zen proverb, “Chop wood, carry water” to me. When you are chopping wood, just chop the wood. Don’t do anything else, don’t think about anything else. When you are carrying water, JUST carry the water.

Nice idea. Anyone have any great ideas about how, exactly, one would go about doing that? Because seriously, folks, I need some help here.

How green is my dishrag?

I wish there was a trustworthy list somewhere on the big magical information-net of all the cleaning products and what chemicals they contain. There is not. And cleaning products are not required to list their ingredients.  “Green” cleaners are, generally speaking, more “greenish.” There’s a spectrum, not a black-and-white roster. I don’t know everything about green housecleaning and I won’t pretend to. Here’s what I do know.

As a general rule, most of the stuff that you can buy in the cleaning products aisle is safe – if you use it exactly as directed and don’t mix it with anything else. As an equally general rule, a lot of it is potentially very dangerous if you use too much of it, too concentrated, in an area with bad ventilation, or mixed with other products. As far as how it impacts the environment – well, phosphate is pretty darn bad, bleach is less bad but still not great, and most stuff honestly has not been studied or cataloged for long term impact.

I am really interested in using the gentlest chemicals that work for me mostly because my youngest son and I are super-sensitive to chemical smells. Using perfectly ordinary cleaners (409 or Fantastik, for example) will give us horrible headaches. I can’t even stay in my office when the Marines in my building go all crazy with the floor-wax stripper and the high-speed pine cleaner. (Another good reason for me to not be a photographer – walking into my husband’s darkroom makes me sick. Literally.)

So let’s be honest, if we all really wanted to be “all the way” green and totally safe with our cleaning products, we could use vinegar, plain bar soap, baking soda, and salt for almost every last one of our cleaning needs. It would work fine. Hot soapy water kills bacteria just as well as anti-bacterial specialty products, and it doesn’t have the extra chemical (triclosan) that makes normal germs want to mutate into superbugs, and “may or may not” be a carcinogen. I could scrub my dishes with baking soda, sterilize them with boiling water, and they would be restaurant health-code safe to eat off of. Plain cheap vinegar works better than any window cleaner I’ve ever tried.  But I’ll confess, I’m spoiled. If I’m going to put effort into cleaning my house, I don’t just want it “acceptably hygenic,” I want it to smell pretty and look sparkly. That means at least some measure of specially-designed cleaning products.

The badger favorite is the method line of products. Perfectly green? No, probably not. There is simply no database of all the possibly harmful chemicals out there. And I’m sorry, call me paranoid, but I don’t really buy their claim that you can safely eat any of their products or at least lick any surface you’ve cleaned with them.

Greener than most? For sure. They have a pretty extensive list of “chemicals we will not use no matter how cheap and effective they are” which includes all of the worst known and suspected human and environmental toxins. Their products work really really well, and they smell wonderful.  And they don’t give me headaches at all, even when I use them to clean a tiny bathroom. The main drawback is that they are kind of expensive. On the other hand, I don’t really buy off on the hype that I need one product to clean my kitchen counters, a different one for my bathroom sink, and another one entirely for the top of my appliances. I pretty much only buy their wood for good furniture polish and their multi-surface cleaner, so it isn’t a huge investment every spring cleaning season.

Bonus info you didn’t ask for 😉 – if you want to see how your favorite cleaners stack up in the environmental, social, and toxicity departments, there is a website for that.  The only drawback is that they can only go by chemicals that are already known to be toxic. Still a good resource, though. Check out their “worst household chemicals” page – it’s a bit scary how many of the most poisonous things on that page are hand soaps. If that doesn’t make you stop biting your nails…

Let’s Talk Chocolate!

I’m not a big fan of Valentine’s day, personally. That’s a different rant altogether, though. Fact is, the chocolate is out in force this weekend, so I want to tell everyone about my FAVORITE chocolate. I also want to introduce the Badger, while I’m at it!

The busiest grocery in our little town is the WalMart. I just came from a quick errand there. While I was in, I dropped by the “fancy chocolates” aisle. It was crowded, of course. But I managed to pick up a bar of every single brand that they had for sale there, to check it for a “Fair Trade” seal. Not One. Not one single chocolate bar of their really huge selection carried a fair trade seal.

The good news is that a Fair Trade certification is not the only way to be reasonably confident that your chocolate is not supporting human trafficking. I was concerned about the matter, so I emailed the company that produces my personal favorite chocolate bar, Firecracker by Chuao Chocolatier. This is the response I received:

Dear Chandra Rambo,
 
Thank you for contacting us, regarding our fair trade status. Our products are not fair trade certified as there is currently no fair trade certification available for Venezuelan cacao. However, our chocolate is responsibly sourced.  Venezuelan cacao trades at 2 – 3 times the price of world cacao, which assures us our farmer’s receive fair price. The Aguasanta Growth Initiative is our vehicle for social responsibility in Venezuela, allowing us to contribute time and funds to La Fundación Proyecto Paria, a local Venezuelan NGO (Non-government organization) devoted to the growers of cacao in the Paria Peninsula (the location of the Aguasanta farm).
 
I appreciate that you have already taken the time to review our Aguasanta Growth Initiative, and sustainability commitments. I have attached the sustainability link, as well as the link with additional information about the founders, if you are interested in reviewing these again. As natives from Venezuela, and with family still living in the area, our founders are dedicated to revitalizing one of the world’s finest cacao growing regions.
 
Sustainability:  http://www.chuaochocolatier.com/sustainability_project.html
 
Founders:  http://www.chuaochocolatier.com/about_founders.html
 
Thank you again for contacting us, we appreciate our customer inquiries and feedback. Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can assist you any further.
Sincerely,
Nichol Vann
Customer Service Representative

 Chuao Chocolates are sold at WalMart, also at Whole Foods (for those of you lucky enough to have one nearby – I’m jealous), and a variety of other retailers, as well as on their site. They are pricier than your average Hershey bar, but they are amazingly good, rich and full-bodied with no hint of bitterness even in their very  dark varieties. Their flavor combinations are unique; if you aren’t ready for chocolate with chipotle pepper (the Spicy Mayan bar, super yummy) then try something milder, like hazelnuts and almonds (the Caracas). Every variety that I have tried so far is wonderfully good, and I trust this company’s transparency and commitment to both environmental sustainability and slave-free cocoa harvesting.

Enjoy Chocolate!

And welcome to my new category, The Finicky Badger. I thought about making it a whole new blog, but I’m not sure that is necessary just yet. Maybe in the future. The thing is, I am a research FREAK. I love to do research. Is that weird? You don’t have to answer that. I love badgers (one of my top three all time favorite animals, along with barn owls and American Pit Bull Terriers), and I think the image of something tenacious, that will dig until it finds what it is after, suits the kind of research I like best.

I also love to find companies that are socially and environmentally responsible, who produce and sell really good products. So the Finicky Badger is my voice to tell my friends the happy news when I run across such a product. Hope you like it!

All I wanted was a cup of chai…

and it snowballed out of control from there.

My office is smallish – about 10′ x 10′ – but it has rather a lot of largish furniture in it. I have a horse-shoe desk with a big hutch on one side, two bookcases, a wall locker, a big poofy comfy chair, a smaller less poofy chair on wheels, my desk chair of course, and a large coat rack. It’s, y’know, cozy. A nice feature is that I am not capable of walking around my desk without bumping my thigh on a corner of it. So on the days I am too befuddled to remember if I made it to work or not, I can just check my thighs for new bruises.

Another interesting feature of my workspace is that my building was built in WWII. Electrically it has been retrofitted to some extent. At least, it has three-prong outlets. But the wiring I’m not so sure about. And because of the extraordinary furniture:floor space ratio of my office, I had access to two outlets. One was next to my desk (handy). The other was behind my door (less handy). So my computer, monitor, and speakers were plugged into a surge suppressor strip in one plug of the outlet by my desk.  My space heater (our HVAC system is also an antique) was in the other. I have Hot Shot, a teeny-tiny little appliance that heats water for tea, and the only place left to plug it in was into the surge supressor. Well, technically I guess I could put it into the outlet behind the door, but I would have to set the boiling-water appliance on the floor in the path of traffic. That seems unwise.

Most days it works just fine. The Hot Shot takes about 60 seconds to heat water for tea, and then shuts off automatically. It’s a good little gadget. But yesterday was just One Of Those Days. Yesterday I poured the cup of water into the thingy, pushed the button, and every computer and appliance in my office and my clerks’ office next door turned off. 

Thus ensued a 15-minute hunt for a person who knows the circuit breaker panel location. I looked first in the building and grounds division. The building maintenance people were largely missing in action, and the one guy who was present was not familiar with my building. It took one of my own wonderful clerks to rescue me, identifying not only the panel location but the appropriate breaker quickly and efficiently. I do love my team, have I told y’all that before?

Okay, so the Hot Shot has to go in another outlet. Must find another outlet. Not the one behind my desk, me and five strong guys couldn’t move that desk. That leaves the one behind a bookcase. But the bookcase is really heavy. No, wait… bookcase is light – books are heavy. Take the books off, then move the bookcase, plug in the thingy, move it back. Yay!

Well, I started taking books off of shelves, and realized that even though I dust between and around the books semi-frequently (yeah, okay, couple times a year) I don’t really dust behind the books. Ugh.  That’s gross. Find the Swiffer!

Then I took the plant, machete, and picture of Roy off of the top of the bookcase. Just for good measure, best run the Swiff up there too, right? Good in theory, scary in practice. Once again I dust the accessible part from time to time, but the back – behind the stuff – not so much. Once that was done, I went to pull the case out from the wall just a little to plug in the Hot Shot. But there were leaves and rabid dust bunnies and general grossitude behind the bookcase, too. So I pulled it all the way out to the center of the room and went to hunt down the vacuum. Which was not in the cleaning supplies closet. Apparently we store it in the Admin division office now. Go figure.

Vacuumed that whole corner, plugged in the Hot Shot, and found that the cord was too short to go from that outlet to either a bookcase shelf or the windowsill. Now what?

Okay, we’ll just move the bookcase to the corner, bring the wall locker over in front of the outlet, and set the Hot Shot on top of it. Like so, see? (The other black thing on the top of the locker is my trash can. It didn’t stay there, I promise.

CHAOS

CHAOS

 To make a long story … uh … slightly less long, suffice it to say that by the time I left yesterday afternoon, every piece of furniture in my office was cleaned, organized, and in a different location than it started. Except the desk, which I really need a trained elephant to move unless I disassemble it first. I even moved my hutch and computer to another leg of the desk – partly to reduce the glare on my screen, partly to keep everybody and their uncle from looking over my shoulder and commenting on my work every time they poke their head in the door. 

I am sore from my hairline to my toenails from moving furniture alone (drat my independent streak). But I like the new arrangement. On Monday I need to take in a screwdriver so that I can swap the desk drawer and the keyboard tray, and then I will be done, and my office will be hopefully a little roomier and more functional.

And yes – I DID make and drink a nice cup of chai!

Not Exactly Resolutions but

I’ve never been big on New Year’s Resolutions per se – but I am at the beginning of some, and well into the middle of other, attempts to form healthier habits. Here’s what I’m doing… how about you?

In no particular order:

  • I have not had a cigarette since November 2.
  • I have kept my sink shined for a week (if you don’t know what that means or why it is a big deal, see www.FlyLady.net )
  • I have reduced my sodium intake by about 25% – not enough, but a start. I am starting to get used to the taste of Mrs. Dash.
  • I have spent at least 30 minutes a day in some combination of prayer/meditation/Scripture reading for well over a week.

That is enough for me to tackle at one time. One thing about having made the same mistakes over and over again for 44 years is that I am starting to be able to see them coming – and one of my “biggies” is trying to change EVERYTHING I don’t like about myself at once every time I happen to be struck with that magical combination of time, motivation, and energy. This will do.

I am happy about being a non-smoker. I noticed that my immune system is starting to come back – my husband still catches just about every cold or virus that happens by, and I have (by the grace of God) managed to skip the last 3 that he has caught. It used to be an absolute given that if he got sick, I was going to get sick too.

The FlyLady “shine your sink” thing is… well, let’s just say I am NOT a habitually great, effective, or efficient housekeeper. I don’t live in health-hazard quality filth (I have, at times, just ask my mom about the “clean-your-room” fights she and I used to have, ugh). But I do live in a pretty perpetual state of clutter, disorganization, and piles of stuff that I don’t really know what to do with it. My husband, when we met, was an extremely tidy and organized man. He lived in a very clean house – as a bachelor!!!! (Sorry, unfair stereotype flag on that play.)

About a week ago my friend J posted a link to the FlyLady site on her Facebook status. Now, I had tried the FLY system before without success. I had also “sort of” tried the Messies system developed by Sandra Felton (www.messies.com) – unsuccessfully.  These are both really great, effective, well-thought out systems for improving cluttered lives, they have each been used successfully by many of my friends and thousands of other people. So why no success for me? Remember what I said earlier about making the same mistakes over and over again? I tried to change everything at once. Big giant effort, huge expenditure of energy and motivation, rapid burnout, and I quit.  This time I am just doing as prescribed. And it is working well so far.

My diet is pretty healthy. I generally have my fats and proteins in a rational proportion, eat a lot of complex and very few simple carbs, have my cholesterhol under control, and avoid most preservatives and artificial colors. My dietary downfall is salt. Not only do I love to sprinkle it in large quantities on virtually everything I eat, even my favorite (otherwise pretty okay) processed foods have sodium contents off the charts! Campbells Cream of Pototo soup has over 62% of the RDA in ONE CAN! Lean Cuisine frozen meals have tons as well. I started paying attention after I read an article in Shape magazine that said too much sodium can cause your kidneys to work too hard – leading to chronic fatigue. Well, chronic fatigue I got, so cutting back was worth a shot.

The last habit speaks for itself, I think.

In general, I can safely say that I feel observably healthier, happier, and more organized now than I did two months ago. It is not a dramatic change, but then again the dramatic ones are precisely the ones I have never been able to sustain.

How about you? Did you make any resolutions? Or are you working on developing any new habits?

Jehovah Jireh

So after years and years of hearing about it and having it on the “you must read this!” list of several people whose judgment I trust, I finally started Experiencing God by Henry & Richard Blackaby. I read Spiritual Leadership by these authors a few semesters ago as a text for an Ed Leadership class, and really admired their writing and the way they support their positions scripturally, I just had not “gotten around to it” yet.

Today I read the section on “God will provide” (Jehovah Jireh) in the first chapter about the names of God. We were waiting for the “kickstands-up” time for the Polar Bear ride to kick off, and I went to sit down for a few minutes because my back hurt. So there I was sitting in my car, reading on my phone (that Kindle app is going to be my most used app *ever*, I see that coming) and thinking about all the times that the Lord has provided exactly what I needed when I had no earthly idea how my needs might possibly get met.

For those of you who don’t know my testimony, I am a survivor of an abusive marriage to a drug addict. When my ex and I split up he left me in a horrible financial position – I learned that he had not been paying the household bills for months, so all my utilities were on the verge of being cut off, plus he drained the bank accounts and pawned everything of value in the home before leaving. I had three small children, it was February, we lived in Oklahoma City, and it was an extra-specially cold winter. Getting our gas heat shut off would have been – probably not a death sentence, but really bad. The ex pawned his own vehicle and then took off in mine, by the time I got the mini-van back it was unsafe to drive for a variety of expensive reasons.

Unexpectedly and out of the blue, a coworker offered to let me drive her truck for a few weeks until my van could be repaired. This was not a close friend, in fact I barely knew her. I don’t even know how she knew that I was having problems. I was able to walk to the auto-parts store from my house, and do most of the repairs myself, but some things are necessarily a two-man job. My boss offered to come over and help me bleed the brakes on the van after I changed the cylinder.   The gas company found a clerical error that resulted in them crediting my account over $100 dollars, giving me an extra month to get caught up on my payments before they shut off my service. Then my sons’ day care gave me about five bags worth of canned foods (they told me we had “won a drawing” but I think they had gotten an idea of my financial position somehow).

Fast forwarding about 9 years, I have remarried, left the Navy, married my Marine :), and have a great job with Raytheon – and then the time comes for Bo to transfer from Florida back to NC. So I had to give up my job. As soon as we got here, before I even started looking for a job, he got a phone call – instead of deploying to Afghanistan 4 months later, as planned, he was deploying to Iraq practically immediately.  To help ease the transition for my kids, then in middle school, I decided that it would be better if I did not look for a job right away and instead stayed at home so I would be there when they got off the bus.

This was, honestly, a financially foolish decision despite being a wise parenting choice. We had just purchased a home, and our mortage was considerably more than our rent had been in Florida. Utilities were higher as well, and neither his truck nor my car was paid off at the time. Yes, he was getting combat pay and family separation allowance, but that was no more than maybe 2/3 making up for the income that we had lost when I left my job. And yet, things worked. Many, many months I don’t know how they worked – but just when the month came that I had NO earthly idea how I was going to pay the electric bill (for example), I got a notice saying that we had held the account in good standing long enough and they were crediting our deposit back.

Now, I know for a fact that God does not provide magic-wand miracles every time one of His children faces a financial burden. At least, not the kind that I am describing. And I am not going to pretend to know why He does that sometimes, and sometimes He lets faithful, praying believers (and many many other people) deal with eviction, homelessness, repossession of vehicles, etc. I have no idea and if I was arrogant enough to pretend to understand it, I hope you wouldn’t read my blog. Seriously. But I know that He has a plan. And sometimes it is a really really good one. For example, I was evicted from my apartment in Florida in 1999. I had already made the decision to get out, it was only a few months before my Navy career was going to end, so I was not going to be in the area long enough to fulfill a lease on another apartment – and three BR apartments were scarce as hen’s teeth in that town anyways.

So I asked my mom if the boys could come and stay with her for the school year, since I planned to move to Denver anyways. Then I moved into the barracks and got a second job part time as a cashier in a grocery store to fill my empty time. Then I met Bo. Honestly, if I had still been living in that apartment and spending all my free time with my boys, I don’t know if I ever would have dated him. Maybe I would. I’ll never know. But I don’t think so. I prioritized my time with my sons way higher than dating at that point. I’m very very glad that I allowed him to fix me dinner that first night, though.

So – tell me how the Lord has provided for you. I have a lot of friends right now who are facing obligations they can’t meet on their own, who need to hear your stories.

Lighting, glass, and make-up

So, Bo got a new lens not too long ago. This lens is specifically supposed to be awesome for portrait photography – high quality glass and something that I don’t understand about the focal length. I’ll be honest – there are two reasons it is difficult sometimes for me to be married to a photographer. The first one is that photographers love to techno-speak, and I glaze over whenever Bo and one of his photobuddies start talking about things like depth-of-field and bokeh. It’s not that I don’t understand it. I am actually fascinated by the math and physics involved in bending light rays to your will. It is just that my artistic “eye” does not encompass that level of detail. When my Bo shows me one photograph taken with a pretty good lens, and a similar one taken with an awesome lens, and says “see the difference?” … I don’t. They look of equal quality to me.

The other, more frustrating reason that I struggle with being married to a photographer is that I despise being photographed. Really, really, would rather have a root canal most days. I don’t think I am particularly vain or insecure – I don’t have any trouble looking at myself in the mirror, and mostly I’m more concerned with whether I am neatly dressed and “put together” looking than any conventional standard of “pretty.” But in photographs of me it seems to me that every blotch, wrinkle, and the bags under my eyes are magnified and enhanced, until it looks like someone took a picture of bags and wrinkles, and there happens to be a girl in the background. For the most part pictures of me don’t look like me. Remember in “Men in Black” when the farmer’s wife described the alien as something “wearing Edgar… like an Edgar suit?” Most pictures of me look to me like a skeleton wearing a Chandra suit. The camera doesn’t just add ten pounds – on me it adds about twenty years as well.

There are exceptions. The admin chief at my school took a shot of me and Bo at the ball this year that I really really like, it actually looks like us. I am using it for my FB profile pic now, in fact. And once in a while Bo will catch me off guard and some magical combination of the lighting, my expression, and his skill will produce a shot that looks like me. But for the most part, I avoid cameras like superstitious sailors avoid red-haired women.

So, did I mention Bo got a new portrait lens? And when he has new equipment and he wants to experiment with it, “get a feel for it,” and find out what it can do, who is the most logical person for him to ask to model for him? Yeah, his wife. I try to be supportive, I really do.

So this afternoon, doing my make-up for a shoot, I was remembering back to my drama team days in high school. The drama department, with our amazing teacher LG, was responsible for my surviving high school. I was painfully shy as a teen, and had the social skills of a hibernating badger, so I was not exactly in the running for homecoming queen. But I could act, and I loved it. And being on stage, pretending to be someone else, got me through the most awkward and painful four years of my life. Almost all of my few decent memories of adolescence have  heavy make-up on, the kind that changes your apparent bone structure and makes you look older or younger or more evil or more innocent. I just looked at a few of the pics from today’s shoot. I look like me – 44 years old, with a few wrinkles. I love them (the pictures, not the wrinkles – but I really don’t mind about the wrinkles either. I earned ’em.) But in person today I looked like Tammy Faye Bakker on a bad day. It seems funny to me that I have to look fake in person to look realistic on film.

Thanks to that drama team, and the speech-debate team that went with it (same teacher/coach), I did make it to adulthood without that paralyzing fear of public speaking that many people suffer from. All the credit for my success as a teacher and public speaker can be traced back to that greasepaint, and to my love for pretending to be someone else. Today, while Bo was shooting me, I was “playing” Heidi Klum. It kept me sane. In fact, it was his idea. When I teach, or even do the opening briefs, in front of 100+ new students, I am not really “me” – I am Lincoln, Reagan, Churchhill, any or all of the great public speakers that I have studied and admire.

I don’t really know if that is dysfunctional or not. Does anyone else do this?

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