Thursday, January 9, 2014

Student Government, Homeschool-style

Participating in student government can be difficult for a homeschooler. "Vote for me for Class President!" Congratulations to the decisive winner in a 1-0 landslide.

Several months ago, our town advertised for youth delegates to the actual city government. Most committees and the city council itself were accepting high school juniors and seniors to join them for the upcoming year.

Our 16-year-old son decided to pursue a slot on the Advisory Cultural committee. After completing his application essay, he wanted to submit it to the email address listed. I received the full eye-roll from him when I explained it would be better to drop it off in person at the city office building. Matching his eye-roll with my steady gaze, I added that he would drop it off wearing decent clothing. Not jeans. A shirt with a collar. His heavy sigh lost out to my, "I will brook no argument on this" raised eyebrow. Off we trotted.

Long story short, and as you probably already expected, the kid ended up meeting the mayor while dropping off his application. No eye-roll or sigh when I told my son that now it was time to run home and email the application as well with a cover letter telling the mayor how much he enjoyed meeting him today.

If this had been the only experience connected to our foray into city government, I would have been well-satisfied with the lessons learned.

Much to our delight, the kid landed a spot on the committee. Not only did he sit through the initial meeting, but he was given real work to do. This committee has 91 applications before it with requests for $3.2 million in funding. The committee actually has $2 million to disperse.

Watching our teen evaluate every application and hearing some of his thoughts about them fascinated me. He railed against vague assertions in some of the written grant proposals. He recognized and flagged some concerns for project aspects that conflicted with his Christian beliefs. No, none of those hot-button issues, something more surprising. I could not have been more proud to see him forego a simple response and honestly wrestle with what it means to be a representative who is a Christian and one who also believes in diversity of viewpoints.

After many hours of work, he completed all 91 proposals. To his dismay, he was also a half-million dollars over budget. I watched and continue to watch his cutting procedures and priorities. His criteria definitely gain sharpness and focus with each round of cuts and each corresponding result of still coming in over-budget. This, I tell him, is how fiscal conservatives are born. This, he tells me, is agonizing. Welcome to the real world, young man.

The last committee meeting in the spring will allow public comment on the board's funding decisions. The kid will hear from some disappointed people.

One common argument against homeschooling is that it keeps our kids in a bubble, locked away from the real world. I don't know about that, but I do know that without the efficiency of our homeschool, our son would not have the time to serve on such a committee. Traditional student government in a high school certainly offers kids a meaningful experience. I have a hard time envisioning how it could be more real than what we found to fill the niche of student government, homeschool-style.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Tuesday Tea Time Poem

On Tuesdays after lunch, we eat treats and read poems aloud to each other. Mostly, we select poems in anthologies to share. The three year old chose a math poem, "Gazintas" every week for about six months straight. Today, Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow, he finally moved on to a new selection. Occasionally, one of the kids will choose to write an original poem rather than select one from our various books.

Eldest son wrote this today--thought you all might enjoy it:

Endless motion
Never frozen
Defining life
Bringing death
Forming mountain
Creating town
Only to bring them crumbling down
Resolute, marching on
Bringing both night and the dawn.

What am I?

Tuesday, July 9, 2013


It was the fact that he used his deliberately calm voice that completely freaked me out. No parent wants to get a call that their kid is hurt. When that call comes from your husband, and he's using that deliberately calm voice and both your husband and son are in a foreign land, one that suggests special vaccinations and malaria medications prior to going, one that speaks a different language, one that requires two airplane flights and a three-hour bus ride to get to, there is only one word to describe the reaction.


Panic, followed by prayer, followed by the realization that you need a lot of people praying, and pronto. Praise the Lord for Facebook. Praise the Lord for family and friends who conduct your neurotic google searches faster than you can and send reassurances: "modern hospitals, not shamans," "most kidney lesions heal on their own." Praise the Lord for insomniacs who read posts at 2 a.m. and pray. Praise the Lord for friends asking others to pray, resulting in strangers praying for your child. Praise the Lord for friends who know when to distract with joking, juicy tidbits of stories and when to focus on Scripture.

More prayer, leading to peace, a dribble of additional information leading to panic, leading to more prayer, leading to peace.

Reading the official version of the event on the mission team's website today seemed odd to me. While by any objective standard their accounting is true and their praises justified, it totally misses my subjective reality of what happened.

Experiencing it in real time as a mother separated by nearly two thousand miles from her son, it felt different. My son hurt and really hurting. My husband detailing some extremely worrisome symptoms in our kid. Agonizing hours of silence. Another call at midnight. Rather than an all-clear, this call has words like internal trauma, bleeding, additional testing. An eternity later at 2 a.m., another call. Yes, bleeding, but not so much anymore. Yes, trauma and a lesion to the kidney, but a 1 on a 1 to 5 scale. Yes, concern for a jostling ride back to camp, but a day in the hospital for rest and observation first.

Objective summary and subjective experience are both realities in the Christian walk. Objectively, we know God wins; God is in control; Jesus loves us. We know that, really know that, to the core of our being. Subjectively, we go through things that scare us and hurt us. Christians operating in the objective reality show the hope that we have. Christians operating in the subjective reality show that we're human, you know, just like everybody else. Operate only objectively and people wonder if you can relate to them, to their very real troubles and pain. Operate only subjectively and people wonder why bother with faith if it makes no real difference.

Panic, prayer, peace. It's not a once and done. It's a moment-by-moment as we navigate life toward its conclusion and fulfillment in Christ. We need the objective summary, the end of the story from the perspective of the One who writes the story, for hope. We need the subjective to remind us of how much we truly need our Savior.

On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf, for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many. 1 Corinthians 1:10b-11

photo courtesy of Emily Neal

Sunday, July 7, 2013

My Awesome Chore System

Need an awesome chore system? You may want to visit my friend Emily at her blog. How could you not take advice from someone whose chore charts look like this?

When I enthused over her charts, Emily replied that I, with five kids, surely had some wonderful organization system I was withholding from her and the rest of the world.

She found me out. I've been keeping my superpower secrets from you all for far too long. Here it is, in all its glory. You may need to hide yourself in the cleft of a rock and not gaze directly, lest the majesty of it be too much for mere mortal eyes.

For those who could bear no more than a glance, let me enumerate a few of the differences between Emily's approach and mine:
  • Emily's charts have her kids' names at the top. Apparently, my children are named A, B and C.
  • Emily has a chart for each of her children, even her non-reading preschooler. I lost steam after "C" and haven't gotten my mojo back although I am now on "E."
  • Emily's charts cover the whole house and more. Mine is for kitchen clean-up only.
  • Emily's charts are on clipboards. I had to dig mine out from behind the calendar. Note: I mean my non-personalized, paper calendar we get free from the city each year. This one (Emily would know how to rotate it to be viewed properly):

Not a calendar like Emily's created on a fancy website and color-coded by family member:

You get the gist.

Emily also likes washi tape. I don't want to disparage her efforts, so I've kept that area of my life hidden from her as well. Emily's creation: 

That's fine, as far as it goes. If you're into aesthetics and good taste and all that. I'm slightly more, ahem, utilitarian and low-tech:

Surely there's more to life than chore charts and washi tape. Take cooking, for instance. Every mom knows that cooking for a family of hungry kids requires a fair amount of effort and talent. Emily has got that covered for you. Take your pick of links to Emily's varied thoughts on food whether that be meal planning, crock pot adventures, or exactly what to do with 15 pounds of ground beef. 

My cooking is also legendary. Not to brag, but friends gave me this sign for my kitchen: 

While they have no idea how I kiss, it's a safe bet to give a person like me a sign like that. What did I tell you? Legendary, baby! An entirely different friend posted this on my Facebook wall because it reminded her of me: 

Why I need different friends will be the subject of a future post. When I do give cooking advice, you'll note that the recipes come from websites with names like "All Easy Recipes" or are associated with appliances not normally thought of for food preparation. Dishwasher salmon, anyone?

Despite it all, we manage to keep the house reasonably picked up, the kids have routine chores even if they don't have a snazzy system, most of my decorating attempts are more successful than my pen jars. No one has yet starved, though the fact that Mr. Wonderful and the kids are all thin may have something to do with that missing delicious-ness component of many of my meals.

I am mostly ok with all of this except for when I really am not and weep at Mr. Wonderful about my inadequacies and failings and general worthlessness. This happens with a disheartening predictability that could be covered in a blog post Mr. Wonderful--who is no fool--will never write, "The Joys of Living with a Perimenopausal Psychopath." In my deeper and less hormonal moments, I remember A.W. Tozer and his explanation of the "hyphenated" self sins. Tozer warns that both self-pity and self-confidence contribute to the veil around our heart that keeps believers from the face of God. 

"I keep looking at all the people around me, and everyone else seems to have it so together." That would seem to be an entirely fitting conclusion to the evidence I've presented in this post, wouldn't it? Surprisingly, that quote comes from my friend Emily. Yes, I almost spit my coffee across the keyboard when I first read it too. I know what you're thinking and I completely agree. If this is how Emily, Emily of the charts and the washi and the cooking feels, what hope do the rest of us have?  

And this is why I love Emily. Because she gets it. You can read her whole conclusion, but **spoiler** Emily understands it's not about us, it's about God. He uniquely makes and equips us. Great charts, great crafts and great cooking are not how God equipped me, though I may do well to improve in those areas. And with Emily's help, I just might. 

Friday, June 28, 2013

Mr. Wonderful Never Stood a Chance

There's been an unfolding drama in our house over the past couple of months. The backstory includes: 

* DD7 stating she wanted a hamster.
* Her dad stating he never wanted a smelly hamster in the house. Never. There would be no hamsters.   Ever.
* Her dad taking her to the pet store just to look around.
* Said daughter coming home with a betta fish, completely thrilled (I chalk that one up to Mr. Wonderful's 22-year stellar sales career).
* Our friend asking us to hamster-sit their rodent Oscar while they were on vacation.
* Love at first sight for DD.
* DD wondering how long betta fish live? And she wants a hamster when her fish dies. 
* Our friend letting us borrow Oscar the hamster for a few more days.

The story reached its pinnacle last night. The princess called a meeting with her dad, kicked me out of the living room-"It's private, Mom"-and presented him with her written magnum opus:

Why Dad Should Let Us Have a Hamster
Some hamsters are very nice, like Oscar. Just look at him. He is so soft and kind. Watch how he eats from your hand. Isn't he lovely? They're so furry and live in cages. Isn't that nice?

When I questioned Mr. Wonderful later, he characterized the talk as a "sincere request." He told me, though he hasn't yet told her, that he'll let her get a hamster "but not until after our vacation in September." I fully expect this timeframe to shorten and that we will have a hamster ensconced before Independence Day. 

Mr. Wonderful is a man of strong conviction, but he is no match for the cuteness and sincerity of his one-and-only baby girl. He never stood a chance.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

A Bag of Tools

One of my teens picked this poem to read during our weekly yummy goodies and poetry reading time. It's my new favorite:

A Bag of Tools
     by R.L. Sharpe

Isn't it strange
That princes and kings,
And clowns that caper
In sawdust rings,
And common people
Like you and me
Are builders for eternity?

Each is given a bag of tools,
A shapeless mass,
A book of rules;
And each must make--
Ere life is flown--
A stumbling block
Or a steppingstone.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Probably Not the Letter They Expected

My local school district sent the following plea this morning. Their information did prompt me to write my state Senator, but I'm guessing the district won't be pleased with the content of my thoughts. I've copied my letter after the district note.

Dear District 204 Community,
We need your help. You may have seen in the news that 18 school districts in the area received a proposal from Virtual Learning Solutions to operate an online charter school in all 18 districts. District 204 was included in this proposal. The online school would be open to students in kindergarten through grade 12. Funding for the online school would come directly from state dollars that normally go to fund our districts. We find this problematic at a time when state education funding is challenging at best. The proposal calls for Virtual Learning Solutions to receive $8,000 in state funding for every District 204 student who enrolls in the online school. If the student drops out of the online school and wants to return to District 204, the funds remain with Virtual Learning Solutions.
In addition to a loss in state funding, there are also serious concerns about K12 Inc., the for-profit company that is contracted to run the online charter school. At a public hearing in March, our Board of Education questioned a representative from K12 Inc. Based on K12 Inc.'s responses at that hearing, we have concerns about the online school's curriculum, quality of teachers, support for students with special needs, low test scores, lack of extra-curricular opportunities, and graduation rate. 
In Illinois, charter schools must be approved by local school boards. If they are not approved, the charter school can appeal to the Charter School Commission, which is operated by the Illinois State Board of Education. Although all 18 local school boards voted down the proposal, Virtual Learning Solutions has said it will appeal the decision with the Charter School Commission. The Commission may supersede local control and overturn the decisions made by local school boards.
Legislators in Springfield have already started the process of placing a one-year moratorium on the establishment of new virtual schools through House Bill 494. If passed and signed into law, this bill would allow Springfield to study and gather as much information as possible before approving these controversial online schools.
HB 494 has already passed the House and is expected to be voted on by the Senate very soon. This is where we need your help. We are asking parents to call Illinois Senate President John Cullerton and your state senator to ask them to support HB 494. If you decide to email your senator, a suggested message is below.  
You can find your state senator's contact information online  where you can enter your home address and you'll get a list of your elected representatives. District 204 is served by four state senators: Linda Holmes, Mike Connelly, Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant, and Jim Oberweis. You can call Senate President John Cullerton at 217-782-2728.
It's not that we don't support online education; it's that we don't believe that the for-profit K12 Inc. and Virtual Learning Solutions provide a better educational opportunity for our students.
Thank you for your support.
Kathryn Birkett, Ed.D.
Sample message to send to your Illinois State Senator:
As a constituent in your district, I'm asking that you support HB 494, which proposes a one-year moratorium on creating new virtual charter schools in Illinois. Time is needed to investigate the effect of virtual charter schools, including evaluating student performance, online charter school costs, and regulation governing virtual charter schools. As a taxpayer, I'm concerned about state funding being diverted from my local school district to pay for students to attend a virtual charter school. I'm also concerned about the quality of the education and level of support provided to students who would attend a virtual charter school. Please support HB 494 so that we can assure students in our community are best served. 
Members of the Illinois State Senate serving District 204:
Linda Holmes, 42nd District,
Mike Connelly, 21st District,
Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant, 49th District,
Jim Oberweis, 25th District,

Dear Senator Connelly:

As a home educator, I'm asking that you vote no on HB 494, which proposes a one-year moratorium on creating new virtual charter schools in Illinois.  As a taxpayer, I'm concerned about state funding being tied to local school districts rather than following the student. Parents know best what will fit their child and education is not one size fits all. I'm also concerned about the quality of the education and level of support provided to students in schools that face no effective competition. Please vote no on HB 494 so that we can assure students in our community can choose options that are right for their family.