Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.
~ GK Chesterton

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Garden Views: End of November

No use in complaining about weather and climate.  Each season, each month, has its own beauty. Certainly, I have my favorites, but I make certain I seek out the characteristics that are unique to every season.

The last photo isn't pretty.  I have a problem with manoeuvrability. That tire gouge out of the earth happened last late winter/early spring.  My intent is to take that section at the end of the drive and get rid of the grass, plant a sun-hardy plant or two, and mulch the entire area.  I never got around to doing it this year.  Mind you, a pretty patch of garden won't stop me driving where I shouldn't drive, but at least it will look nicer when it happens.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

This is not a typical poem one would hear at a Thanksgiving blessing, I think.  But in choosing a poem to feature for this day, all I could think of was the "And I am glad" words of Edward Roland Sill.  Since this is a day to cast a look back at the graces of the previous year, it is appropriate to think about what we will be grateful for at the end of our days.

Edward Roland Sill

What am I glad will stay when I have passed
From this dear valley of the world, and stand
On yon snow-glimmering peaks, and lingering cast
From that dim land
A backward look, and haply stretch my hand,
Regretful, now the wish comes true at last?
Sweet strains of music I am glad will be
Still wandering down the wind, for men will hear
And think themselves from all their care set free,
And heaven near
When summer stars burn very still and clear,
And waves of sound are swelling like the sea.
And it is good to know that overhead
Blue skies will brighten, and the sun will shine,
And flowers be sweet in many a garden bed,
And all divine
(For are they not, O Father, thoughts of thine?)
Earth's warmth and fragrance shall on men be shed.
And I am glad that Night will always come,
Hushing all sounds, even the soft-voiced birds,
Putting away all light from her deep dome,
Until are heard
In the wide starlight's stillness, unknown words,
That make the heart ache till it find its home.
And I am glad that neither golden sky,
Nor violet lights that linger on the hill,
Nor ocean's wistful blue shall satisfy,
But they shall fill
With wild unrest and endless longing still
The soul whose hope beyond them all must lie.
And I rejoice that love shall never seem
So perfect as it ever was to be,
But endlessly that inner haunting dream
Each heart shall see
Hinted in every dawn's fresh purity,
Hopelessly shadowed in each sunset's gleam.
And though warm mouths will kiss and hands will cling,
And thought by silent thought be understood,
I do rejoice that the next hour will bring
That far-off mood,
That drives one like a lonely child to God,
Who only sees and measures everything.

And it is well that when these feet have pressed
The outward path from earth, 't will not seem sad
To them to stay; but they who love me best
Will be most glad
That such a long unquiet now has had,
At last, a gift of perfect peace and rest.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Thanksgiving & Retail, Part 2.5

I was very happy to have found this:

If you shop on Thanksgiving, you are part of the problem

Matt Walsh hits everything that bugs me about this.  Allow me to highlight this:

I admit, it’s easy for me to forgo Black Thanksgiving. Stay home, eat food, and drink beer, or wait in long lines at dreary shopping malls, fighting with strangers over half priced Blu-ray players? Not exactly a tough decision in my book. But even if I stumbled into some demented parallel dimension where the prospect of shuffling like a dead-eyed zombie through Target on Thanksgiving suddenly seemed appealing to me, I’d still pass. If for no other reason, this reason is reason enough: I’m not going to force some single mom to ring up my worthless purchases instead of enjoying Thanksgiving with her children.


I read the first handful of comments.  Interesting to hear from people who work retail.  Apparently, if the anchor store at a mall decides to open, all the small stores in the mall must open, as well.  Even those who do not offer "Black Friday" (or "Black Thanksgiving") discounts, such as bridal stores.

So, the greed is far-reaching.

I saw a comment from someone who says his/her family always went to the movies on Christmas, never considering that people had to haul themselves into work that day in order for them to do it.  Hurrah!  They've seen the light and will stop this custom!

Let us live more intentionally, my friends.  We cannot stop contributing to the problem unless we realize there's a problem in the first place!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Thanksgiving & Retail, Part 2

Thanksgiving Shopping

So, what is to be done?

Most importantly, let’s stop shopping on Thanksgiving!  Don’t feed the beast!  If anyone I know felt the need to run to a store on Thanksgiving for something they might be purchasing for me, I would rather they didn’t buy anything for me! 

While we’re at it, stop patronizing businesses on Christmas!  And any other national holiday, for that matter. 

[Don’t get me started on the whole Sunday thing.  I read a lot of books – and blogs – about Americans’ adventures of living in Europe.  Even people who are not specifically religious grow to appreciate the slower pace of life in general, on Sundays in particular.  Nothing raises my hackles more than when I read about European retailers (and even workers!) who rebel against the Sunday trade bans.  I know the bans no longer seem applicable to a secular society, but remember the rallying cry that “even atheists need a day off!” I’m no economist, but I think our own country’s economy was doing better in the previous century when we were still closing businesses on Sundays than it is now, when we are running on all cylinders 24/7/365.  I digress.]

Where I spend or donate my money is an important issue to me.  I intend to be ever more intentional in my shopping habits in the coming weeks.  Retailers are always doing their best to thwart me from wanting to be their customer.  I do shop at Target and Kohl’s, but I am not happy with their decision to open on Thanksgiving.  If I have a child requesting an item from one of those stores, I’ll buy a gift card and encourage them to use it after the holidays, so we are not contributing to their holiday bottom line.

As far as Christmas gifts go, I plan to support local businesses as much as possible.  If I need something that cannot be obtained at one of those stores, I am sure my needs can be met at Sunday- and holiday-closing Hobby Lobby.  (Nordstrom and Costco, who are bucking the Thanksgiving trend, are kind of far for me, so I’m not sure how to support them.)  One could argue, perhaps even successfully, that it’s kinder to spend money on the local Target than purchasing online . . .  but I’m sure I’ll be supporting online businesses.

My fantasy would be to avoid purchasing anything and instead to swoop the family away to some secluded location for the holidays.  (Some place with a kitchen, of course, so as not to expect anyone to open restaurants on holidays.)  However, we aren’t overly effusive in our gift-giving anyway, so spiriting people off somewhere for some R & R in lieu of gift giving would not be a trade-off but an expensive venture.

I don't want to sound ungrateful for those who give gifts to me.  Thanks to my family's thoughtfulness at Christmas and on my birthday,  I am able to own books I will read multiple times, I am able to expand my garden, and I am able to buy new clothes.  I'd just rather go without things, if it meant that getting gifts caused my loved ones to feel they had to hit the stores on national holidays.

I’m rambling now.  I don’t feel I’ve answered my objections to the Thanksgiving retail bonanza in a satisfactory way.  Maybe I should cut out all the words after:

Let’s stop shopping on Thanksgiving!  Don’t feed the beast! 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Thanksgiving & Retail, Part 1

Back in the 1990s, I remember removing a full-page ad that Nordstrom placed in the newspaper.  I stuck it to my refrigerator with magnets.  It was my way of highlighting Thanksgiving, putting off Christmas until the proper time (the season begins on Christmas, of course), and showing the family my appreciation of at least one retailer who still believed in standing on principle.  You see, the ad promised that the retailer would honor Thanksgiving by holding off on putting any Christmas decorations in the store before Black Friday.  Apparently, they are still keeping to this tradition. 

Back in the 90s, the biggest retailer nuisance was pushing Christmas d├ęcor a bit too early.  Nowadays, I find it a greater nuisance that retailers want to eliminate the purpose of Thanksgiving altogether by turning it into the New Black Friday.

I’ve been following articles for the last few years about the insanity of what retailers have been doing on the major holidays.  What follows are the pro-retailer arguments and my responses!

1)  It’s what the customer wants.

I’ve worked retail and I know the customer can have some fairly unreasonable demands.  Examples?  Hmm.  How about when they want to make a return, for cash, on a piece of merchandise they admit they’ve purchased from another store?  How about the customer who gets an item from a thrift store that originally came from your store, and they want cash for a return? 

Sorry, no.  The customer isn’t always right.

There are two local restaurants our family frequents that are closed on Sundays.  Hobby Lobby closes on Sundays.  You know what?  These establishments do not lose my business because of it.  I simply choose one of the other six days to do my business at these places.  Not only that, I respect them for their stance and that does earn my loyalty.

Similarly, so what if a large number of people do not put thought into how their shopping habits impact those who work retail?  No need to cater to their thoughtlessness by opening on a major holiday to scoop up a few bucks.  Dollars they will spend the next day, if you are closed on Thanksgiving.

2)  Some people need to take advantage of the sales during this tough economy.

B and S.  If my children were starving, what kind of a parent would I be “saving” 20% on a flat screen at Best Buy by getting in line on Thanksgiving, rather than waiting until Friday or Saturday and paying full price?

I know thrifty people who chase bargains for the fun of it.  I know people who shop wisely because money is super-tight.  I know people who are frugal because they are saving for the future.  Whatever the reason, they are clever at finding bargains and they do not need to imposition the minimum wage employees who are forced to come in on a national holiday.  A holiday meant to be about being grateful for blessings small and blessings great, not about squeezing as much as one can do in a frenzy of shopping.

3)  No one forces the employees to come in that day.  Whine, whine, they have to work – what about police and nurses?

First of all, yeah . . . you are kinda forced to come in that day.  There isn’t a lot of choice in the matter for minimum wage employees who need to have a job.  Yes, they knew what they were getting into by applying for jobs in the retail sector but there’s not always a lot of choosing to be done in the kind of job one must take to pay the bills.  And even if it were such a noble endeavor to be at Wal-Mart on Thanksgiving, I wonder if the Board of Directors finish their dinner in a hurry in order to meet the masses crushing through the door.  I’ve never seen the likes of it.  The highest ranking employees working retail on a national holiday are typically those who are the lowest on the management totem pole, in my experience.

Second, I cannot believe that I have actually come across discussions in comboxes about nurses and police.  First responders and hospital staff are doing something noble for the good of humanity.  That is why we are grateful to them for the jobs they do.  It’s why families bring cookies to the nursing staff when they have a loved one in ICU over the holidays.  It’s why scouts sing carols at police stations.  It’s why thousands send Christmas cards to the troops abroad.  I’m sure there’s a good deal of “lowest on the totem pole” at work in those sectors, but what they do should be appreciated.  They are our heros.  Despite what the sales-chasers might think, the likelihood is slim that anyone will die from being unable to buy something from Target or Kohl’s on Thanksgiving.

4) Some workers like it/want holiday pay/are atheists/don’t have children.

As a college student, I worked retail with the understanding that I’d be a relief for those who have children at home, grandchildren to visit, etc. Whatever.  While I hope I was polite to the customer, inside my head I was wondering why they didn’t have a life that they needed to be in a store on New Year’s/Fourth of July/Christmas Eve.  (Two decades has tempered the bitterness, but I still find it sad that one would rather run to a store than relax at home.  Or, if it is necessary to go out, to take a walk in the brisk November air.)

I don’t think people really like to work all hours of the day, every day of the week.  How many times have you see single people interviewed in a “workplace happiness” sort of article about how they resent the implication that it’s okay for them to stay late or work weekends since they don’t have kids’ soccer games to get to?  I’ve seen it!  Just as a Dad shouldn’t have to rush out of a holiday meal to get to his (non-essential to survival) job, a single person with siblings or parents 2500 miles away shouldn’t be expected to want to work on the holidays, either.

As for those who don’t celebrate the big holidays . . . what? They never get a day off? My rallying cry, whenever a loved one wants to bop into a store on a Sunday, is “Atheists need a day off, too!” 

This is not just a rant.  I have solutions.  But this post is already very long, so I’ll continue this theme in the next day or so.

Friday, November 22, 2013

7 Quick Takes: Thanksgiving Edition

~  ONE  ~

Driving through the neighborhood, I noticed someone's lawn care service blowing grass clippings into the road.  Note that our municipality does not come take care of that.  All that is happening is that the lawn detritus is being pushed from one place to another.  It reminded me of when my children are doing decluttering by passing along things they don't want anymore to a sibling, when they cannot bring themselves to throw it away.  Just shifting the problem on to another person.

~  TWO  ~

Life with children is fun, though.  They come up with the strangest, most random things that make me smile.  Like magneting chow mein noodles to the refrigerator door.

~  THREE  ~

Child 6 enjoyed Halloween more this year than last, when she was still pretty young.  Her favorite thing seemed to be pumpkins.  She acquired one at a museum we visited, a small one she carried around in a plastic bag for a number of days.  And she noticed pumpkins everywhere.  Or, at least, reasonable facsimiles.  We were driving by a Chili's, where they have a gigantic (fiberglass?) red chili sticking out of the earth in front of the restaurant.  An excited voice called from the backseat:  Mommy!  Pumpkin!

~  FOUR  ~

I saw this the other day:  13 Skills Your Grandparents Had That You Don't.  First on the list?  The ability to write legibly.  Ouch.  I have a sample of something my grandfather wrote when he was in his twenties.  His penmanship is a work of art.  I think I need to work on this.

~  FIVE  ~

I am grateful that I live in a world with central heating and running water.  Don't think for a moment that I would take that for granted.  Having said that, I have a small complaint.  I strongly dislike that moment after the shower, when I must open the door/pull back the curtain to get my towel.  The shock of cooler air on wet skin is dreadful.  I wish there was a way to dry off before having to open the door/pull back the curtain.

~  SIX  ~

I'm getting very grumpy about all these retailers opening on Thanksgiving.  I am just as grumpy that people are actually shopping that day.  Such a lack of respect for one's family or the employees who work in the retail sector.  I think I will be blogging about this in the coming days.

~  SEVEN  ~

This is that last Friday before Thanksgiving, so the last 7 Quick Takes before Thanksgiving, I will share my biggest item of gratitude.  I am grateful for the things I have observed in family close and near, friends close and near.  I won't give specifics, I won't link to anyone's blog (not everyone I'm thinking of blogs, anyway).  I just want to say that I have noticed so many people I know have grown and changed in such positive ways over the years.  [Not that they were horrible and selfish years ago, of course.]  There are such amazing things done by the people in my life.  Small acts of virtue, big acts of virtue. . .   I cannot judge who is most heroic.  I am just impressed and grateful to be surrounded by special people.  People who have forgiven past hurts, people who were raising difficult toddlers who have become fantastic young adults, people who are working to make their homes and/or communities happier, people who are making a greater effort to be there for others.  The list is exhaustive.  I need to keep this moment of gratitude before me, when I get discouraged by a lot of the upsetting things that go on in the world.  No matter what ugly things do happen, it's probably better to fast from reading the news than to waste time feeling discouraged.  Because most people out there are decent.  And a whole bunch of people I know are more than decent.  I am grateful!!!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Indoor Running Pet Peeve

What is so complicated about paying attention to this simple instruction?

Stay to the inside of the track.

Says it all.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

If you like your curriculum . . .

“If you like your curriculum, you can keep your curriculum.”

I saw that witty saying online, obviously a jab at the Obamacare fiasco.  It illustrates beautifully the dangerous road we travel with the coming of Common Core.  I think that this is the original source of the quote, as I do not want to deny the one who coined the phrase.

I’m not a fan of the Common Core. There should be universal alarm at the fact that, amongst those who worked to develop the Common Core Curriculum, only the bureaucrats have signed off on it; the mathematician and the language arts professionals on the panels don’t like it.  It’s my guess that the lure of federal dollars attached to the adopting of the CC outweighs common sense for school administrators, public schools and private schools alike.

I am a home educator.  While I could write in criticism of modern schooling practices, I am not anti-school.  I home educate for pro-active reasons, not to shield my children from whatever goes on in the schools.

I have firm ideas about what an education should be, but I’ve never been able to say it in a few short words.  A few weeks back, I read a good post by Amy Welborn (I’m a fan of her blog and her books!) in which she summed up very well what I believe the best education should attempt:

So, yes, that’s what I wanted.  A way that’s sort of Classical – Montessori- Charlotte Mason – Catholic – Unschooly Roamschool.   There’s no such school around here, not even close, not even half of that.   So although  I really didn’t want to, I took a look at life, saw the space that was there, and sighed.  If that’s what I wanted, if that’s what I knew was the right thing, I guessed I’d just have to start one.


Yeah!  What she said! Classical – Montessori – Charlotte Mason – Catholic – Unschooly Roamschool. Perfect! That’s me, except that part about “I really didn’t want to,” as I enjoy doing what I’m doing and have always wanted to home educate, and even wanted to be home educated, although not many were doing it when I was a kid.

I believe in a fairly rigorous academic framework, with lots of unstructured time to explore personal interests that might be an extension of what we are studying at the time, or might be something entirely different.  This is what I wish for all children. That’s why I’m not anti-school: I’d start up my own school, if I had unlimited capital.  [And I believe that I’d earn more societal respect for my efforts if I were doing for other people’s children what I do for my own. It reminds me of GK Chesterton, “How can it be a large career to tell other people's children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one's own children about the universe?"]

I think government involvement in the education process has gotten a lot of things wrong, under the administrations both political parties. There’s a push to have everyone receive a college degree, which is only de-valuing the effect of such an endeavor, if everyone is doing it. At the same time, overall standards seem to be sliding.

In my education utopia, future auto mechanics should be introduced to Shakespeare and future ballet dancers should do some math.  Those with dreams of being a CPA should learn home economics and future engineers should be exposed to Jane Austen.

However, I don’t believe that the college-bound should have their academic preparation dumbed down with informational texts replacing classical literature or with math instruction that includes credit for partially correct answers. At the same time, I do not see the point of those who are not mathematically- or scientifically-inclined being forced into taking four years of high school math, as many places around the nation now require.  Do dance majors, German language majors, or poli sci majors really need calculus?

Does this seem I am contradicting myself? So which is it: do you want high standards or do you want a less-rigorous curriculum for those who cannot handle the tough stuff?  Well, I don’t want a one-size-fits-all education.  I don’t want the highly diversified population of the US compared with populations of a more culturally homogenous nature, as teaching and learning work differently based on those factors. I don’t want the bureaucrats, lobbyists, and special interest groups in Washington, DC deciding the curriculum that is used by children in yet another round of non-funded federal mandates.  I don’t want a curriculum that is financed or inspired by Bill Gates.  Stick to computer engineering, Bill, and lay off the social engineering!

Bottom line: haven’t we learned anything from the mess that politicians have been making of this country?  Both Democrat and Republican!  Look at the lies we’ve been told about the ability to have choice over our health care decisions.  Kind of ironic that so many school districts/systems are adhering to federal guidelines . . . while simultaneously assuring everyone that they’ve only agreeing to standards, not adopting curriculum (yet?).  Given the way that politicians play the low-information, sound bite society we live in, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to hear some Department of Education or National Education Association spokesman state boldly: if you like your curriculum, you can keep your curriculum.  Thanks, but we are doing just fine without your help, as it happens!