31 December 2008

Two Years Ago Today...

It's New Year's Eve. For most, this is the time for reflecting on what has been while determining, to the extent that it is in our power, what also will be. I have always been a bit sober on this day, and it's never gone particularly well for me.

Except for two years ago, when I gave birth to the most perfect baby in the world {admittedly overdue and I looked approximately eleven months pregnant at the time} who has seemingly {if you overlook last year's severe food poisoning} broken the New Year's Curse.

We have a lovely evening planned, and not a drippy nose in sight.

I do not exaggerate when I say that she was Perfect. I know, I know. Every mommy thinks that her baby is perfect. But this is not what I'm talking about. I'm not saying I'm in love with her and everyone else should be, too, though of course I whole-heartedly believe this. I'm saying that she was, objectively, the Perfect Baby.

Q. was the sweetest baby you ever met. She only spit up once. Ever. I'm not kidding. She was self-burping. All you had to do was sit her up and the deed was done. She was impeccably clean, all of her own accord {until she discovered the taste of dirt, but I digress}. To this day, she wants a napkin with which to wipe her hands.

She was the epitome of the Merciful Third Child. What I mean is, God knows that adapting to having three is Hard Work. For the first twelve months of Q.'s life, I felt like I couldn't sit down, couldn't leave my house, couldn't do anything but stay on life's treadmill and run as fast as I could. It was as if I was juggling a million balls and, if I stopped, they would all fall down and I'd never get them picked up again.

I have heard that this is unique to having a Third Child. Having a fourth is a piece of cake compared to having a third. Ask me how I know.

And yet we survived. We survived because Q. was Perfect. She was easy. She rarely cried, and when she did she was trying to tell us something. If we could figure it out {and usually we could}, we fixed the problem and the crying stopped. I can imagine how unbearably hard the transition would have been had Q. been a difficult baby. But she wasn't, and so we made it and lived to tell about it. This is what I mean by Merciful Third Child.

This past year of Q.'s toddlerhood has been an absolute joy. She is a petite little thing; we often call her a Sprite. She seems like magic as she runs around in her high heels, smiling all the while. She fears for her possessions, as she has grown up having to worry about her earthly goods being taken from her if she turns her back, so she piles everything in a baby stroller and pushes it around. This is the reason for her second nickname, The Transient. I once entered a room upon hearing her screech "NO!" at the top of her lungs. Her brother was attempting to steal said stroller from her, and he was lifting it up in the air, and she was clinging to the handles with all of her strength, refusing to back down.

This girl will never be a victim, despite her tiny size.

As is our tradition, Si and I spent time writing a blessing for her before she was born. The time of writing a blessing is time spent dreaming not of the baby, but of the grown person that baby will someday be. During our time dreaming of Q., this verse came up so often that we tacked it on her birth announcement:


Blessed is the one who finds
wisdom
and the one who gets understanding,
for the gain from her is better
than gain from silver
and her profit better than gold.
She is more precious than jewels,
and nothing you desire
can compare with her.
Long life is in her right hand;
in her left hand are irches and honor.
Her ways are ways of pleasantness,
and all her paths are peace.
She is a
tree of life
to those who lay hold of her;
those who hold her fast are called blessed.

Proverbs 3:13-18

I know this seems like a large passage to pin on such a tiny person, but the meaning of her various names {first, middle, etc.} are nestled in there, and frankly one of my greatest prayers for all of my children is that they will be wise. In this day of abrasive, unfeminine, angry women, I took joy at this vision of a young woman with pleasant, peaceful ways.

For now, I and my husband are the ones who hold her, and we consider ourselves blessed indeed.

19 December 2008

Christmas Break





I wasn't planning on writing much the next couple weeks, what with Christmas Eve, Christmas, Baby Q.'s second birthday {yes, I stop calling them "Baby" at age 2} and New Year's to celebrate. And then there is the visit from my sister's family that we are anxious for. It will be a good time.

But it'll be bittersweet now.

If you remember a while back I mentioned that my uncle and father had brought over a bulldozer to work in our yard. We had some fencing sunk into concrete deep into the ground, and a bulldozer was better than a shovel in this instance. The older children ran around and enjoyed the show while the men did the job. I mostly watched from a window while nursing Baby O.

There is still a pile of concrete out there waiting for my uncle to pick it up. He had wanted it for some sort of water filter or something that he was trying to rig up at his ranch.

Only he won't be coming, and there are a thousand things we thought he'd do that he never will.

My uncle died in a farm accident yesterday afternoon.

Even as I type that, it is hard to believe. Didn't I just see him?

My uncle wasn't a traditional sort of uncle, meaning a blood-relative. Rather, he was a friend of my dad's from way back when. High school...maybe earlier. My dad and mom and this aunt and uncle have been best of friends my entire life. It was only natural to call them by family names, much in the way my children sometimes refer to Mr. and Mrs. MPL or their beloved Auntie Grace. Over the years, some people become like family, even if there are times when you don't see them very often.

So next week, right before Christmas, we'll be saying goodbye to an old friend who really wasn't all that old.





I'll be back sometime soon.

18 December 2008

Geography of Nowhere: Outlawing Poverty

When we were first married, we found a cozy {and cheap!} apartment in Uptown Whittier, a historic town that is technically part of the greater city of Whittier in L.A. County. Whittier {especially uptown} had retained a lot of its original design as a Quaker settlement named after the great Quaker poet, John Greenleaf Whittier. We enjoyed our location, which was within walking distance of all the cute shops and, more importantly, Starbucks.

Incidently, the summer after our oldest was born was exceedingly hot, and we didn't have air conditioning. Right before the hottest part of the day, I would grab my stroller and walk the shaded streets to Starbucks. If it wasn't crowded, I always felt obligated to buy a drink, which I did, the cheapest on the menu, which probably means it was some sort of iced tea. Anyhow, I drank my drink while taking full advantage of the "free" air conditioning. This is only important because my constant companion during these days was an aging homeless man who looked uncannily like Santa Clause.

'Tis the season, you know.

Ahem.

Throughout most of the year, a nearby street was closed to traffic on Wednesday nights, and a farmer's market was set up. Even when we didn't buy anything, we enjoyed strolling the streets and listening to the live music.

We hated the idea of raising children in Whittier. There were the typical L.A. issues there, like gangs, violence {we had two murders uncomfortably close to our home while we were there}, and traffic caused by TMC {too many cars}. But it was charming, and we could admire it not just for what it was, but what it had been, and what it should have been.

While living in Whittier, we were, technically speaking, poor. I suppose I felt poor, in the woe-is-me-because-I-can't-afford-to-eat-out-and-buy-a-margarita-anymore sort of way. I'm not sure that I felt poor in the I-require-food-stamps sort of way, though we easily would have qualified. Our apartment was an over-the-garage, back-alley dwelling originally constructed in 1915. The doors were short, the windows opened like doors, and the one bedroom was so small that we swapped it out and put our bed in what was supposed to be the living room. The bathroom had been remodeled, and it was huge, which was convenient since it meant a baby swing could fit in it while I got myself cleaned up in the mornings. It was all of 595 square feet, though it had a 200 square foot deck which doubled as our dining room.

The living room {which was supposed to be the bedroom} had been painted green, and so I loved it.

There was no dishwasher, little counter space, and we had to climb stairs all the time, which was painful after my C-section.

But it was just lovely and I will always have fond memories of the place.

Our landlords lived in the front house on the property. The apartment had been constructed first as a place for the owners to live while constructing the larger house. I didn't often venture past the living room and kitchen of that larger house, but it, too, was delightful. Our landlords were wonderful Christian folks who had adopted six children. They had homeschooled, private schooled, and also public schooled. We learned much from them during our early months of marriage, and I learned even more when the wife invited me to a small Bible study she hosted in her home.

So why am I telling you all of this? Allow a quote from Kunstler to explain:
The existence of back-alley dwelling allowed poor people to live throughout the city--not just in ghettos reserved exclusively for them--cheek-by-jowl with those who were better off, who were often their employers and landlords. They were part of the neighborhood and accepted as a presence there. The children of the poor saw how sober and responsible citizens lived. They saw something tangible to aspire to in adult life. And mixed into a neighborhood of law-abiding property owners, who knew them, the poor did not indulge in the kind of tribal violence that plages them today.
There was a woman at our church in Whittier {a real, old-fashioned downtown church} who brought a whole gaggle of welfare babies to church with her. Because of the makeup of the neighborhood, the type of mixed housing available, this respectable woman lived right next door or across the street {can't remember now} from a woman who had literal welfare babies. What I mean is, she had as many children as possible, on purpose {though unmarried}, so as to collect greater compensation from the state. I even remember one of the little girls telling me that her mother kicked her older sister out when she turned 18 because she could no longer collect money on her.

Now as horrible as all of this was, the makeup of the neighborhood offered a bit of redemption in this situation, for the faithful lady from church stopped by their house every Sunday and offered to walk with them to church. Sometimes they filled a whole row. Sometimes just a couple little boys came, wiggling in their pews. I can't help but think that there was so much hope in the situation because of the church's involvement.

For people who haven't experienced older neighborhoods like this, it might seem that all city planning has always followed the postwar layout of income segregation. But in fact what I described in Whitter {which might have changed by now...while we were there many estate homes had already been purchased by developers and then divided into a messy series of rentable rooms} was once the way cities were built. It wasn't common to purposely and intentionally relegate the poor to certain areas.

Kunstler writes:
The ultimate way to protect property values...is to zone wealthier neighborhoods against the incursion of those with less money who are apt to build less grand houses. So today it is common for zoning codes to dictate that houses in a given neighborhood must be single-family dwellings and no smaller than, say, 3000 square feet. Since such a house cannot be built for less than half a million dollars, the neighborhood will be restricted to only those persons in a high income bracket. Garage apartments, or any similar auxiliary use that would attract other kinds of people, are strictly forbidden...This segregation by income group extends downward, with each group successively outlawing those in the groups below them, until we arrive at the level of public housing, which no suburban towns want to have within their limits, and which are therefore relegated to the decrepitating inner cities, where property values can't get any lower.
My dryer is breaking. Si suggested stringing me a clothes line out back until we find a used one with the right price on it. I told him I wouldn't object to it, but I think that technically it is against our zoning restrictions. Line-drying clothes is a sign of poverty, you know, or at least being lower-middle-income class, so it is automatically ruled out here. In fancier neighborhoods, there are rules against washing your car in your own driveway and so on. All of these rules are really a way of maintaining the income level of the neighborhood.

In light of the current economic crisis, I am guessing that some of this will need to be rethought. However, I don't want to miss the larger question here, which is whether or not it is really better to have the poor localized the way they are. However tacky Kunstler might sound when he writes of "tribal violence," I'm not sure we can deny the truth there. Perhaps the earlier model of rich living near poor, and the elevation of manners that happened within that model, was superior to what we are doing today.

When I was great with child and just returned home from a long day at work, I remember that I collapsed on my couch near tears. I was so tired. I felt almost panicked about dinner, wanting to have it ready for Si when he returned, but feeling like my last ounce of strength would be used up by the mere effort of standing back up. It was then that I heard a tap at the door. It was my landlord, with a silly grin on his face, holding two plates of food. I was just grilling here in the yard and thought maybe you'd like some, too, he said. It was all I could do not to burst into tears. I said thank you a thousand times as he made his way down our stairs and back to his own home, just footsteps from ours.

That night, I needed to receive. I had not. I had not the energy for the task. Possibly, I also didn't have the food, but I don't remember. There is also a chance that that night, there was a family who needed to give. When you live in mixed company like this, a service opportunity is just a backyard away.

17 December 2008

Family Traditions: The Great Christmas Extravaganza

This year, we are kicking off a new tradition. It is actually an expanded version of something we've been doing for a while. We hope this tradition evolves as our children grow up. Basically, on the Saturday before Christmas, we have an all-Christmas activity day.

Here is this year's agenda:

  • Kids wake up painfully early
  • Breakfast/large pot of coffee
  • Make gingerbread house
  • Lunch
  • Nap
  • Have Granddad and Granmama over for dinner
  • Take a bath and change into PJs
  • Stuff the Suburban full of people and go look at Christmas lights
  • Come home and put kiddos to bed
  • Watch a movie with the 5 and over crowd {only one kid for now}


Gingerbread House

This year is Gingerbread Construction Training Camp. We plan to cover all the grammar-level issues surrounding gingerbread houses including, but not limited to: What is gingerbread? How does one best construct a gingerbread house? How does one make the frosting? How do the scraps taste? How does one decorate a gingerbread house? And so on and so forth.

Classical education is so helpful.

We plan to follow directions for a gingerbread house for the next few years so that they get it down. Then they will be making them on their own. Then we will have a contest. Then we will invite some of our good friends from church and have a contest with all the kids.

It'll just go from there until Si and I are very old and hosting Gingerbread House contests for our 49 grandchildren.

Dinner

Soup {kielbasa cabbage...my own recipe} and homemade buttermilk biscuits, of course. Simple, warm fare for simple, warm folk.

Movie

This year we are watching this:




Miracle on 34th Street


I tried to get this:




Noelle


Noelle may or may not have been fitting. I've never actually seen it, though I've heard very good things about it. Netflix tells me it'll be a "very long wait."

Incidently, Si and I watch this:




The Family Man


Every year. We own it...on VHS. I love VHS. And I miss it.

Yes I do.

Other Traditions

There are millions of little things we do, right? Like that turkey-on-sourdough-with-lettuce-onion-tomato-and-mayo that I ate every day for just under four year during college. Some of our little Christmas things include brown paper packages tied with the prettiest ribbon I can find. I buy it on clearance every year on the day after Christmas, and I save it all year long. I also save all the ribbon that survives to use for the next year. Brown packages with big glittery bows sparkling under a tiny tree lit with white lights...it really is beautiful.

Speaking of tiny trees, ours is about four feet tall. We put it on a card table covered by a velvety drop cloth thingie {I think there is an official name but it escapes me right now}. No child under two can reach it, which keeps me from having to play goalie for five weeks. All the gifts are on the table under the tree. The tree is fake. I'm sorry for that. I insisted on a real tree for many years, but last year they raised the price $10, and we were only buying tiny trees and yet it cost twice what the fake tree cost me. We decided we couldn't afford not to. Anyhow, I do miss going to the tree lot on the day after Thanksgiving.

What about you?

What are some of the little things you insist on doing every year simply because they feel Christmasy?

16 December 2008

Family Traditions: We Three Gifts

I wrote a post with this exact title last year. Our family tradition still stands. Jesus received three gifts, and so do our children. As the children have gotten older, they really connect with that idea, which adds some depth to the concept.

In addition to this, we have also added a stocking tradition. I love, love, love the pretty stockings made of velvet and embroidered with something shiny. Unfortunately, these aren't cheap. Last year, I tried shopping for some at after-Christmas sales, but didn't find anything which matched what was already going on with our Christmas decor. I wasn't in a hurry, since Si and I had already decided that we would simply add one stocking each year until everybody had one.

Trust me. The one-year-old and the three-month-old just aren't going to notice that they don't have a stocking.

So back to the three gifts. I sort of consider the number three to be a bit symbolic. For instance, there are the verses that speak of Jesus growing in strength, wisdom, and grace and also in wisdom, stature, and in favor with God and man.

It is the latter verse which has become a sort of theme for the children's education, an encouragement to me to make it well-rounded and not ignore any facet of humanity in favor of another. In strength or stature, we see physical growth and improvement. This would include good health and nutrition and also increased physical performance. In wisdom we see not only the ability to know right from wrong and choose what is good, but also the ancient concept of "wisdom" meaning skill. Wisdom involved arriving at mastery of a task. The child grows into an adult who has certain proficiencies. And then there is favor, or grace. The child becomes a man who lives righteously before the Lord and lives well with his fellow citizens. I am sure that could be expounded upon endlessly.

I always see these gifts as working toward accomplishing some or all of these aims. Just as the Wise Men from the East gave gifts that had true meaning for the Lord, so I hope that our gifts have real meaning for our children, that they are useful and encouraging.

We have never been in the position to be very extravagant, especially considering that there are four little ones to buy for {though our tradition is also that babies only receive one gift, the first book of their library, for their first Christmas}. However, after reading Sallie's post today, I think it perhaps fitting to mention that God is sometimes very extravagant in His generosity toward His children, so I don't think that Christians need disdain the occasional Christmas lavishing in the name of avoiding materialism.

I'm just saying.

Anyhow, I always love the gifts we end up purchasing for our children. I do not like meaningless gifts, and seek to give thoughtful gifts, no matter how small. This year is no exception. Typically, our gifts fall into three categories: an article of clothing, a "toy", and a book. I am going to have to work on finding a better word than "toy" as they grow older. Usually, this gift is focused on developing a skill or a hobby or enhancing something they have been working on. Something like that.

So here is what is in order for this Christmas:

Clothing

This year, the three older children will be receiving some winter dress clothing. The girls are getting sweater-dresses that sparkle and white cotton tights. Since Baby O. has a nice sweater already, we decided to buy E. a nice sweater and hope to get a good family photo before winter ends. E. enjoys looking nice for church, so I think he will enjoy a sweater similar to what his daddy sometimes wears.

"Toys"

I don't usually make their gifts the same, but this year we went with it since they are all sharing some interests right now. The two little girls are getting lap desks (I finally found some simple ones that don't have Dora plastered all over them) that have side compartments which we're stuffing with washable crayons and markers. E. is ready to graduate to a more mature art, I think, so we found a beginning artist's set that has pastels, water colors, and also some nicer colored pencils (he prefers pencils). We also invested in some nice watercolor paper so that he can paint without soaking the paper.

Books!

I think it is probably no secret that this is my favorite part. The children get one book on Christmas and one on their birthdays. I usually seek out hardbacks, though this year I couldn't find hardback copies of the books I thought were best, so we went with paperbacks.



Richard of Jamestown: A Story of Virginia Colony
by James Otis


We recently read Pilgrim Stories By Margaret Pumphrey and also Johnny Tremain. E. has really been relishing the tales from early America. Incidently, in Johnny Tremain, a Son of Liberty named James Otis {perhaps the author's namesake?} gives a riveting speech concerning human liberty.




The Secret Garden
by Frances Hodgson Burnett


Every library needs beautiful copy of The Secret Garden, right? We are actually giving a slightly different edition than the one pictured above, but I think it will be perfect for this particular child {daughter A.}, who likes to touch things. The cover is velveteen, and also very pretty.




Miss Rumphius
by Barbara Cooney


I have never read Miss Rumphius, though I adore Barbara Cooney. I am told that Miss Rumphius believes a person should make the world more beautiful, and near the end she does this by planting flowers. I think our cheerful little sprite, Baby Q., will love it.




Island Boy
by Barbara Cooney


This focus of this book is really the life {from infancy to death--a complete life} of the youngest son of a homeschooling family who lives a self-sustaining life on an island. It has a Little House on the Prairie feel in terms of their farming life. It shows a working family economy, an essentially old-American life. The illustrations are beautiful, which is fitting for such a winsome tale. Something about it reminds me of Virginia Lee Burton's The Little House. I love that this youngest son sleeps in his parent's bedroom as an infant and then there is one big bedroom, separated by a curtain, in which his eleven older siblings sleep. Baby O. sleeps in our room, which is our tradition concerning infants. Can you tell I connected with this book? Our older children did, too, when we read it in a bookstore a while back.

Stockings

This year, there are two children receiving stockings. Both will contain some special snacks I bought at the grocery store, and also rolled-up pajamas. They both need warmer pajamas, but I've been putting it off so that they can enjoy receiving them on Christmas morning!

One Last Tradition

I think it worth a parting mention that I always do laundry on Christmas. This way, everyone can wear their new clothing right away. Sometimes I do it in the morning, sometimes in the evening, but I always make sure it is done.

What are you buying for Christmas?

I'd tell you the rest of what I'm buying {or making}, but too many of the adults in my life read my blog...

15 December 2008

Geography of Nowhere: Picking on Suburbia?

A wonderfully logical, basic question {or comment which infers a question} came up in the comments yesterday:
I never have understood why the target is suburbia.
My reply at the time was that my guess was that Kunstler didn't consider suburbia a place because he has a fairly strict definition of the word. During my reading last night I found the answer:
[C]onsider...why the automobile suburb is such a terrible pattern for human ecology. In almost all communities designed since 1950, it is a practical impossibility to go about the ordinary business of living without a car. This at once disables chidren under the legal driving age, some elderly people, and those who cannot afford the several thousand dollars a year that it costs to keep a car, including monthly payments, insurance, gas, and repairs.
I have occasionally run across people who cannot drive due to various factors, such as epilespy, and I do see how they are at a disadvantage in an automobile-driven society. Kunstler goes into a lot of detail at this point in the book, discussing how the width of streets in residential areas encourages driving speeds that aren't safe for pedestrians, mostly small children who are endangered by the presence of the streets in their neighborhood.

However, Kunstler's book is a bit outdated. My own "suburb" {technically it isn't a suburb because it isn't a separate city that exists purely for commuters, but only a part of a larger city that is reserved for mostly residences} has done some things to combat the disadvantages that Kunstler was decrying back in the early 90s. For instance, parking is allowed on the street {this slows down traffic near the houses}. There is landscaping along the streets, including trees that, in a few years, will offer shade for pedestrians. Small marketplaces were planned into the area so that there is a place to run if you need a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread. Apparently, earlier suburbs didn't consider such things.

However, Kunstler still wants a "place" to contain more than my own zip code contains. His ideas are good ones, I think, at least in an idealistic sort of way. He writes a bit about a "sense of place":
...the idea that people and things exist in some sort of continuity, that we belong to the world physically and chronologically, and that we know where we are.

The extreme separation and dispersion of components that use to add up to a compact town, where everything was within a ten-minute walk, has left us with a public realm that is composed mainly of roads. And the only way to be in that public realm is to be in a car, often alone. The present arrangement has certainly done away with sacred places, places of casual public assembly, and places of repose.
I have spoken with many people who feel like there are separate lives within their own life: there is the work life, the running-errands life, the home life, the church life. Part of the reason for this, I think, is due to the literal, geographic separation between "lives." I won't likely run into someone from the neighborhood while visiting my husband at work because his work is thirty minutes from our house. And there is a chance that my neighbors, even if they are Christians, won't attend the church I attend because churches are no longer tied to geography. With the advent of the car, Christians were able to choose their favorite flavor of church without regard for its proximity to home. Not only is our community fragmented by such a lifestyle, but our internal self begins to show some splits, as evidenced by the talk of the different "lives" I mentioned before.

Of course, one thing we might need to bring up at this point is that humans aren't always engaged in dignifying work. We certainly insist that prison guards commute to somewhere far from here, and none of us want the local factory to locate itself across the street just so we can all feel like our lives are one unified whole.

This is probably a good time to bring up an example of the ideal, worked out by thoughtful folks living in our own time. This is a project Si and I have kept our eyes on for a couple years now. The place is called Simpler Times Village. Their website explains:
Simpler Times Village is unique because residents will be able to live, work and enjoy agriculture all in one place. You can open a bed and breakfast, own a simple vacation cabin or build a fine estate. You can have gardens and chickens in your backyard. You may hang up a pretty sign to say that you sell pottery from your home! There will be plenty of open space for recreation, pasture, gardens and orchards. There will be more than 50 acres of forest to explore. Walking paths will connect everything. And home will be at the center of it all.
This is a true place within Kunstler's definition, for it contains all the aspects of life, public areas, private areas, and ability to intersect work and home, walking distance to everything, safe for pedestrians, room for little ones to safely roam, places to relax with others, and so on. The town places an emphasis on beauty, reminding me of times when folks understood the ability of external factors like music and art to uplift the soul.

The Broken Window Theory of crime, by the way, would express the exact opposite, that the indignity of an environment is a magnet for all sorts of seedy activities, that ugliness not only reflects back to society a level of uncaring, but actually encourages a spiral into darkness.

But I digress.

My real point was made in the beginning, which is to say that Kunstler picks on suburbia because he doesn't consider it a place.

I, on the other hand, am undecided. I certainly prefer where I live to living inside a city. I would probably prefer even more to live in the country since I value intangibles like room to roam, connection to the land, being able to see the stars at night, and so on. But I certainly think it is going too far to say that God doesn't have room in His great world for both the City Mouse as well as the Country Mouse, and also this new-fangled thing we call the Suburban Mouse.

14 December 2008

Classical Education: Liberating the Enslaved

On Wednesday night, I saw a dear friend. This is one of those friends that I wish I could see more of and for some reason it just doesn't work out. We all have friends like that. As I inquired about her family, she heaved a big sigh and groaned, "Public school..." She went on to detail the painful education her children were receiving. She described her daughter being given ditto after ditto without any concept learning going on at all. This particular friend of mine was once a teacher herself, and she was heavy on concepts; dittos were extra, something to occasionally supplement, but mostly for substitute teachers.

I bet my friend was a very good teacher, though I never got to see her in action.

Anyhow, I'm praying for this friend, who has a deep longing to do right by her children in the area of education.

The philosophy of classical education, which mostly describes our philosophy here at the homeschool, is completely antithetical to the idea of The Ditto.

I've spent a lot of time here at Afterthoughts working out why exactly we do what we do. So often when we talk about homeschooling, we discuss the benefits. These benefits are many and vary by family and personal esperience. Unfortunately, sometimes the benefits are mistaken for reasons. This is why I wrote my post Why We Homeschool, where I tried to separate out these benefits and focus on the true, timeless reasons.

Benefits change; reasons should focus on more permanent things.

In fact, it is the existence of Permanent Things that has caused our family to pursue Classical Education, using Charlotte Mason's methods when appropriate. I quoted James Taylor quoting John Senior in my post Dewey, Real Education, and the Child With a Soul before, but let me repeat it:
John Dewey taught that schools are instruments of social change rather than of education, and that is one reason why Johnny neither reads nor writes nor dreams or thinks; but real schools are places of un-change, of the permanent things.
This is why dittos will never effectively educate a child. Dittos are change in action, a thing that catches the eye and delights for the moment {or perhaps doesn't...}. Dittos are the newest thing, the latest, coolest subject.

Unchange. This would be symbolized by the books which reach through the past into the present, which cultivate our moral imaginations, which push us toward virtue.

I do not pretend to be an expert in Classical Education. My journey has only just begun, and I have eighteen more years {minimum} ahead of me. However, I believe that the foundation of Classical Education could be considered the one unchanging truth that the child has a soul. The personhood of the child {compared to Dewey's view that the child is "an organism, a Darwinian species"} is central to understanding what is properly meant by the idea of education, and most especially a Classical Liberal Arts Education, which is to say an education which liberates, which makes free.

Andrew Kern hit one out of the ballpark today when he posted Educating People for Slavery over at Quiddity:
Speak all you like about the conomic and political ideals of the contemporary school, the education they provide is an education for slaves.

[snip]

The free mind is the mind that sees into the nature of things.

[snip]

Your goal is to set them free, and that means giving them eyes to see.

[snip]

The modern school is an education for slavery. Why would you expect its approaches to work for free people?

If you read the entire post, you will catch a vision for teaching algebra to a free people. But the vision is for more than just algebra. Kern dares to ask one of the most important questions regarding education:
If you were educating them to be and think like free people, how would you teach differently? To think that through, you have to ask this question: How does a free person think?

11 December 2008

Birth Control as an Idea: Margaret Sanger Meets Charles Dickens

We {my oldest and I} are having a grand time reading through Dickens' A Christmas Carol for the first time. We are reading a few pages each day, just enough to give us something to chew on for the day.

I was shocked to see a 19th-century refutation of Margaret Sanger's philosophy nestled in its innocent pages. Given that it precedes Sanger by almost a century, I can only conclude that no idea is really new, not even if it more effectively imposes itself on one generation than another.

If you are not rich and have more than the allotted 2.1 children {and a dog}, there is a good chance that someone has insinuated to you that you should not have done so because you cannot afford it. This concept, that children are a luxury reserved for the rich, is an extension of Margaret Sanger's ideas, which is to say that birth control and abortion {which is the ultimate form of birth control} were both intended as a form of negative eugenics used to eliminate the poor, minority races, and also what Sanger called the "feeble-minded" which even included epileptics. This was a form of Social Darwinism, where Sanger aimed to eliminate certain genes from being passed on, certain families from continuing their lineage.

Sanger even discouraged gratis maternity care for needy women because she believed their unborn children did not deserve to survive, or that such benevolence would encourage them to continue procreating in the future. These women, Sanger reasoned, should be discouraged from having children to the point that we did not offer them charity, even when they were already pregnant.

In her work, The Pivot of Civilization, Sanger wrote:
Eugenics seems to me to be valuable in its critical and diagnostic aspects, in emphasizing the danger of irresponsible and uncontrolled fertility of the "unfit" and the feeble-minded...
This is the viewpoint of none other than Mr. Scrooge himself who, when confronted by two men gathering alms for the poor on Christmas Eve, replies concerning the poor: "If they would rather die, they had better do it and decrease the surplus population." Later, during his visit with the Ghost of Christmas Present, Scrooge's heart is beginning to soften. He expresses concern for Tiny Tim, the youngest child of an extremely poor Cratchitt family who has been bountifully blessed with numerous children. When he worries aloud about Tiny Tim's future health, the Ghost rebukes him with his own words, asking Scrooge why he would be concerned for, "if he be like to die, he had better do it, and decrease the surplus population."

Scrooge's response to this correction was a Christian one:
Scrooge hung his head to hear his own words quoted by the Spirit, and was overcome with penitence and grief.
This wintry day, it is worth pondering the teaching of Christmas Present:
"Man," said the Ghost, "if man you be in heart, not adamant, forbear that wicked cant until you have discovered What the surplus is, and Where it is. Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die? It may be, that in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man's child. Oh God! to hear the Insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust!"

10 December 2008

An Open Letter to my Grandfather

Dear Kind Sir,

It was with great delight that I received your phone call offering to bring me a special treat. It isn't everyday that someone calls me from Starbucks, you know. When you said that you were just going to drop by for a minute, hand me a drink, and go, I said sure. When I hung up, I remembered that I have four children, three of whom would be determined to make you stay as long as possible.

I didn't hear your arrival. You weren't announced by a knock at the door. No, I knew you were here when children began to pour into the living room from all corners of the house and also inside from outdoors. I really don't have that many children, but I was reminded of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, where he wrote,
The noise in this room was perfectly tumultuous, for there were more children there, than Scrooge in his agitated state of mind could count; and, unlike the celebrated herd in the poem, they were not forty children conducting themselves like one, but every child was conducting itself like forty.
Indeed.

I don't know what I was happier to see, the smile on your face, the cheering of the tiny multitude, or the Salted Caramel Signature Hot Chocolate in your left hand.

The children didn't make you stay too terribly long, but I got to thinking that there might come a day when you are truly in a hurry and need to sneak in and out. So, I came up with some handy suggestions:
  1. Park down the street. The biggest tip-off for children playing in the backyard or the garage is that combination of sight and sound. They hear your car drive up, park, and the door open. This makes them look through cracks in the gate. When they see you, their suspicions are confirmed, and they come running. Parking two or three doors down should keep your arrival a secret.

  2. Tip-toe. You don't want to defeat the purpose of parking down the street with heavy footsteps. A combination of tip-toeing and walking, Indian-like, across the grass, shouldn't draw much attention to your arrival.

  3. Wear a disguise. If you came walking down the street dressed as a cowboy, a clown, or even a doctor, and if you walked with a limp or otherwise changed your gait, chances are you wouldn't be recognized by anyone looking through the aforementioned crack in the gate.

  4. Use a distraction. You know those cats you are always trapping on your property? Bring them with you. Throw them over the fence, and watch the children chase them off, never noticing as you slip through the front door.
That is all I can think of for now, but you might have some ideas yourself that will compliment this list. Thank you again for coming and bearing gifts. It is always a pleasure to see you.

Your Loving Granddaughter,
Brandy

Geography of Nowhere/Death by Suburb: Critical Introduction

My promiscuous reading habits have gotten the better of me. I was planning on an Ayn Rand marathon. I even published such a declaration on the blog here, which is the equivalent of writing in ink on a dayplanner. But before I could begin, I got a wishlist match on PBS. It was James Howard Kunstler's The Geography of Nowhere, a book that has been on my master list for years. The fact that I was already reading Dave Goetz's Death by Suburb made the timing seem all the more perfect.

So far, Kunstler puts Goetz to shame, in the sense that Goetz is revealed to have very little understanding of what suburbs are really all about, or why they were invented at all. I know that Goetz was writing more for the layman, while Kunstler is social critic writing about architecture, but it still seems that Goetz is lacking a certain foundation and understanding, evident in the almost silly prose he uses. I don't want to be heartless here, but generally the writers within the Spiritual Formation Movement {guys like Dallas Willard excepted, of course} are like certain political figures I've discussed here before: they sound impressive, philosophical even, until you realize they are completely lacking in substance.

Goetz's main problem is his inability to grasp metaphor and symbolism, while Kunstler has the ability in spades. What we create in the world--art, achitecture, song, etcetera--has meaning attached to it. There is something that is being said, some idea being represented. Suburbs aren't just suburbs. We don't need Kunstler, but just some time spent in deliberate thought, to understand that suburbs represent all sort of things--a desire for the rich to be separate from the poor to the extent that they never have to see each other, a desire for an environment that is safe and controllable, and so on. Kunstler sums some of this up when he writes, simply, "[Suburbs] arose from the idea, rather peculiar to America, that neither the city nor the country was really a suitable place to live."

I'm not close to finished with either book, so perhaps there will be a surprising turn-around at the end. I am completely open to that.

I will, as usual, be sharing quotes as I go along. In fact, here is something we read just last night, which is a basic explanation of why socialism breeds ugly architecture:
With [the Bauhaus'] utopian-revolutionary program, it presumed to represent the interests of the workers; its only client was the state and it soon got into the business of designing public housing projects. In the Bauhaus scheme of things a worker was someone with no aspirations, who had no dream of rising to a "better" position, because in the coming democratic-socialist utopia there would be no such thing as a better position. All positions would be equal. A Faguswerk janitor would be as esteemed as an architect, and perhaps equally remunerated. It was an absurb belief, and naturally it put the utopians in a box, which is exactly what Bauhaus architecture looked like: boxes.

The aesthetic-social dogmas of the Bauhaus were wildly reductive. Anything but a flat roof was verboten, because towers, cupolas, et cetera, symbolized the crowns worn by monarchs. Anything but an absolutely plain sheer facade was show-offy and, worse, dishonest, because it disguised a building's true structure. Ornament was a voluptuary indulgence only the rich could afford, and in the coming utopia there would be no rich people, or everybody would be equally rich, or equally poor, or something like that, so ornament was out. Color was banned. The postwar avant-garde scaled new heights of puritanism.

Update (i):

I spent some time re-reading {this post was a scheduled post, not something I whipped out this morning after four cups of coffee} parts of Death by Suburb yesterday afternoon. I'm going to have to do a number of posts on where it falls short. However, I thought I'd add a bit here, to round out my criticism of Goetz a bit. I don't mean to imply that he has no understanding of suburbs. After all, he lives in one, experiences it daily. But he seems to see the suburbs though a one-way lens. What I mean is, he sees only the effect of the suburb:
[T]he environment of the suburbs weathers one's soul peculiarly. That is, there are environmental variables, mostly invisible, that oxidize the human spirit, like what happens to the metal of an ungaraged car.
And later:
The suburbs tend to produce inverse spiritual cripples. Suburbia is a flat world, in which the edges are clearly defined and the mysterious ocean is rarely explored.
The problem is that Goetz goes on to throw his hands in the air and surrender the issue before he has explored it:
The muddy river of suburban life cannot be stopped. It simply is. The muddy river of illusion cannot be escaped, really. There's not much use in moralizing about it...
Goetz is treating the idea of suburban life as a given, a fact of nature. But if one reads the first few chapters of Kunstler, one immediately realizes two important facts that make suburbia very much worth "moralizing about" and critiquing: {1} the idea of suburbia is less than one hundred years old, making it a new concept, the consequences of which we are just now able to observe, and {2} culture is not a one-way street. Kunstler has a thorough understanding of how the worldviews of architects have been expressed in the types of buildings we build, the types of cities we plan, and so one.

Suburbia begins and ends with an idea. It is not like a desert or a rain forest, which God created, and so we discuss how to live within what already is. I'm not saying it is wrong to try to survive suburbia. I am not saying that suburbia is sinful. I am saying Goetz begins in the wrong place. He doesn't begin with the idea of suburbia, and so I'm not sure that he can fully develop his solutions, even if they are good ones, for he will lack an appreciation of how they relate to the underlying problem.

In essence, I restate my assertion that Goetz is lacking in a certain type of depth. Since he is the Christian, and Kunstler is the secularist {from what I can tell thus far}, I was more than slightly disappointed.

09 December 2008

Book Review: Same Kind of Different As Me

I have motives for always demanding requesting book reviews from Si. First and foremost, I like to know what the people I love are reading. Hence the interest in Si's reading, since he is the person I love first and foremost. I think that learning together ties people together {a natural benefit of homeschooling, by the way}. But there is a secondary purpose, and that is the potential benefit to my readers. Si tends to read different books than I do, and so his reviews give Afterthoughts some breadth.

I have to admit to being jaded about the homeless. During a short stint working with homeless people on 3rd Street in Santa Monica, I found that the homeless who were not mentally ill were often homeless by choice. I will always remember a man named David, who had left his wife and child to fend for themselves so that he could pursue an untethered existence on the beach in Santa Monica. The climate was such that sleeping outdoors wasn't much of a burden, and the generous groups {like the group I was with} made sure he didn't starve.

I am sure that he suffered much less than the wife and child he had abandoned.

So when Si told me what his book was about, I have to admit I was a little pessimistic. However, he is a better person that I am, and I am proud to present to you his review:
What do a millionaire art dealer and a criminal hobo have in common? To the casual observer, nothing at all. Both were born poor; both led a godless life; and both believed that each should remain on their designated side of the tracks. But to the woman who brought together the two men with godly love and prophetic vision, theirs was a story that could only be written by God Himself.

"But I found out everyone's different--the same kind of different as me. We're all just regular folks walkin down the road God done set in front of us." These words ended a true story of how a rich Texan man and his wife befriended a modern-day slave from Louisiana. They were on opposite ends of the socio-economic spectrum--and quite happy that way. Yet God used the life and death of the woman to show that the two could become one in Christ Jesus ... but not without much humility, trust, kindness and a genuine love that made the rest believable.

The book alternates between first-hand accounts of the two storytellers: the rich, white, Texan art dealer {Ron} and the homeless, black man {Denver}. I liked the stark contrasts in the writing styles, grammar and perspectives of the chapters, which ultimately converged as the men's lives intertwined. Ron become a Christian before Denver, but more often than not, Denver became the spiritual mentor through his unpretentious observations and words from the Lord. Though not a sensationalist by any means {I'm open but cautious}, I confess the book has lent credence to such things as words from the Lord, visions, visitations, etc. Again, more open than before, but still cautious.

In the end, though, the chief lesson I took from the novel was to view folks, including the homeless, as real people who have something to share with those of us on the other side of the tracks. God can perform truly amazing things through believers whose hearts are fixed on His divine gaze toward humanity. We can become instruments of God's common grace to others.

Denver concludes: "The truth about it is, whether we is rich or poor or somethin in between, this earth ain't no final restin place. So in a way, we is all homeless--just workin our way toward home."

08 December 2008

The Darndest Things: Work Before Play

This lesson, that we work before we play, is one that I have been emphasizing here at the microhomestead. It is amazing to me that children can fit things in using one order, but the reverse doesn't work so well. What I mean is that if children are asked to do their chores before they play, everything gets done {including the play}, but if they play before working, the work suffers.

Last week, early one morning, I reminded A. that we work before play, and so before she began to play, it was imperative that she dressed and made her bed.

Later, right after breakfast, she appeared in her pajamas asking if she could please have a piece of candy. I told her that she couldn't have one right then, but she would be allowed to have one later on, right before she went outside for Playtime. Then I sent her on her way, reminding her that it was Work Time and that she should be sure and do her work.

Twenty minutes later, I found her, in her pajamas {bed also unmade}, playing dolls with Q. I pulled her aside, and said to her, "A., you are playing. But it is not time for that. What do you do before you play?"

She gave me the Thoughtful Look, eyes earnestly searching the ceiling for the Right Answer.

"Ummm...We eat candy?"

07 December 2008

The Darndest Things: Animal, Vegetable or Miracle?

I just love the age of three. This is where the fun really gets going as far as language is concerned. Three-year-olds are able to tell you almost exactly what they're thinking, and what they are thinking is generally very funny because their perceptions are a bit skewed by their own inexperience.

My current three-year-old has been hilarious lately.

During Circle Time this week, we were discussing Petrus Christus' The Nativity. I always let A. speak first because otherwise she parrots exactly what she heard her brother say. I ask her simple questions, usually beginning along the lines of what she sees or what she likes. Here is the painting:






So, first she announces that she doesn't like this painting at all. She usually likes everything; this was new for her. I asked her what she saw. She points at the picture, "I see angels, I see people..." She trails off, so I point at Baby Jesus and ask her what this is. She looks thoughtful for a minute. "Ummm...tuhtaytoes?" {potatoes}

05 December 2008

Real Menu: Eternal Chickens

Every blogger eventually has to publish their personal version of Stretchy Chicken. It's a rite of passage. Roast chickens are great in the winter. Slow-roasting in the oven adds some warmth to a chilly house, and it's nice to wake up to simmering broth on the stove top. Also, this is a great way to pinch pennies in order to grow a Christmas budget at the last minute. If you do a stretchy chicken the right way, it can cut a grocery budget pretty easily...unless you eat this way all the time...in which event I cannot help you, but you could probably help me...

Here is basically how I stretched a double-fryer chicken pack from Sunday evening to Friday evening, including sending a meal to another family:
Sunday
For dinner, I served a basic roasted chicken, and reserved the necks and giblets in a bag in the freezer for later use. We ate Thanksgiving leftovers for side dishes. This included dinner rolls. After dinner, Si cut one cup of chicken off and put it in the fridge and another cup and a half off and put it in the freezer.

Monday
For lunch, Si took the last of the Thanksgiving leftovers, since there was only enough for one person. For dinner, we ate roast chicken, more of the leftover rolls, and salad. This was essentially the end of the first chicken, save just enough meat for Si's lunch and the carcass, which I placed in a gallon-sized freezer bag and tossed in the freezer for later use.

Tuesday
For lunch, Si took the last of the meat from the first chicken, plus a few sides I put together, and my mom was kind enough to bring us lunch. Tuesday was also what I call Bean Day. This is where I boil four cups of some sort of bean {usually pinto, black, or kidney} totally plain. I use these beans in place of canned beans because they are cheaper and don't contain preservatives, plus I can soak them to make them easier on tummies and more nutritious. I freeze the beans in pint-sized mason jars and defrost them as needed.

Anyhow, Tuesday was black beans. I froze about a quart total because I used most of them right away to make homemade refried beans, a big skillet full of them. {Refried beans are easy*: incorporate fat into the beans using a potato masher--I used Spectrum Shortening. Then season using some combination of garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, chili powder, cumin, salt and ground red pepper...I am heaviest on garlic, salt, cumin and chili powder here at the microhomestead.} Once the refried beans were done, I finely chopped the cup of chicken Si had reserved on Sunday and threw it in, stirring until it was heated up. I used this, along with a slice of real Monterey Jack cheese to stuff burritos that I then fried in olive oil. Frying burritos keeps them from falling apart when little hands are learning to hold them. Plus we like them like that.

Wednesday
For lunch, there were enough burritos left for the children and I. Si ate leftovers from the lunch that my mom had brought us. One child only ate half of a burrito, so I saved this for Si's lunch on Thursday.

For dinner, I boiled rice, using a bit of real fermented soy sauce to give it some kick. I also reheated the second chicken, which had hardly been touched yet, and Si was kind enough to wash some spinach and cut some more Monterey Jack while I was nursing Baby O. Si dished up dinner, and he made it look like a big warm salad. It was really good. Rice with shredded chicken, chopped spinach leaves, and little cubes of cheese. We topped it with some of my homemade balsamic vineagrette.

At this point, I was able to get to the carcass of the second chicken. I removed all of the remaining meat and put it in the fridge. I removed the carcass of the first chicken from the freezer, plus another chicken carcass that I'd been saving for a couple weeks. In my huge five-gallon stock pot, I put all three carcasses, any chicken necks I had saved, three and a half gallons of water, a quarter-cup of vinegar, and tons of onions, celery, and three carrots {I ran out of carrots}. This is what it takes to make a basic, no-nonsense chicken bone broth, which is better than electrolyte solutions if you ever have the flu. This was brought to a boil, and then, with the heat reduced, left to simmer overnight.

Thursday
Sometime during the morning, I removed the broth pot from heat and let it sit to cool. For lunch, I heated up the rice and chicken leftover from the night before, and basically served something identical to what we had eaten for dinner Wednesday night.

Separating the broth from everything else can be a big process, but I find it so efficient to make as much broth as possible when I make it. It uses the same amount of gas to simmer overnight whether I make one gallon or four. Throughout the day, I spent time pouring gallons of broth through a strainer. The now-floppy bones and mushy veggies were tossed out. Making broth this way saves me so much money. I always insist on buying organic broth when we purchase it, not because I have to have everything organic, but because most regular broths contain so many preservatives, not to mention MSG. But let's just do a calculation for this particular dinner: I used 1.5 gallons of broth for a soup this night. With each quart averaging $2.15, and yet the broth costing me about $1.00 in vegetables and gas total to make with bones I already had, I essentially saved $12 in broth.

Anyhow...

Thursday's dinner was something I had to use the Monster Stock Pot for because I was also making enough soup to send to friends who just had a baby. I made the Chicken and Brown Rice Soup from Nourishing Traditions. I used the 1.5 cups of chicken Si froze on Sunday, plus all the giblets I had reserved. Many cultures consider giblets to be a priceless meat and save them for pregnant and nursing women to eat because of their extra nutritional needs.

The amount of soup I made was an exact tripling of the recipe. This made enough for us to eat for dinner {along with some homemade buttermilk biscuits}. It also made enough to fill three quart-sized Mason jars to send to friends {Si is dropping it off today}. And this also was enough to send some with Si for lunch and retain a big potfull for lunch today. And after lunch there will still be a bit left, though not enough for the whole family.
Stretching chicken is a great way to save money, but that is only true if you make the broth with the bones. Otherwise, using boneless chicken would be a better deal. However, I make so many soups in the winter, that there is really nothing better.

Oh! I forgot to mention that I still have over a gallon of broth in my fridge that will be going into the freezer this morning and saved to use for a soup I'm making next week. These two chickens really are eternal...


Kimbrah tutored me in this method.

04 December 2008

December Hillside



Above is one of my favorite photos, taken of my oldest two last December. We went to a local area that is quite lovely this time of year and attempted to take photos of the three children in their Christmas outfits to give to relatives.

We never did get a perfect shot.

Q. was only 11 months then, and how she fussed! And to think that E. was five and A. was two. It all goes so fast.

Today was our first baking day of the season. I just took some fragrant raspberry brownies out of the oven. We will frost them later on, and have a treat with Daddy in the evening.

The world declares that it wants change. Me? I think it wise to cling to the permanent things: the rythym of the seasons, the simplicity of a day spent baking, the growing up of children. Technology may come and go. Politicians may come and go. Children climbing hillsides? Now that's a Permanent Thing.

03 December 2008

Your Future: Tyranny, Courtesy of George W. Bush

Okay, I was planning on doing a full analysis of this today, but it turns out that had to take Baby O. to his three-month well-baby check {I still can't figure out why we have to go to this appointment when it was invented for the purpose of vaccinating, which we don't do, but I call it Humoring the Doctor and go along}. So I'm not going to have the time to do all that I planned. However, I am a firm believer in the intelligence of my readers.

You can figure it out.

Yesterday, Drudge was sporting headlines about the deployment of 20,000 troops inside the United States. Here's a little excerpt from the Washington Post:
The U.S. military expects to have 20,000 uniformed troops inside the United States by 2011 trained to help state and local officials respond to a nuclear terrorist attack or other domestic catastrophe, according to Pentagon officials.

The long-planned shift in the Defense Department's role in homeland security was recently backed with funding and troop commitments after years of prodding by Congress and outside experts, defense analysts said.
My first thought, of course, was whether this was even legal. Well, that and to get really nervous. I mean, remember that one time someone sent troops to help local law enforcement? It started a little thing I like to call The Revolutionary War.

But of course times have changed. Now is different. Yada yada yada.

Forgive me for not bowing to chronological arrogance.

The first law to consider is the Posse Comitatus Act:
Black's Law Dictionary defines the term “posse comitatus” as:
the power or force of the county. The entire population of county above the age of fifteen, which a sheriff may summon to his assistance in certain cases as to aid him in keeping the peace, in pursuing and arresting felons, etc.
The Posse Comitatus Act, 18 U.S. Code, Section 1385, an original intent of which was to end the use of federal troops to police state elections in former Confederate states, proscribes the role of the Army and Air Force in executing civil laws and states:
Whoever, except in cases and under circumstances expressly authorized by the Constitution or Act of Congress, willfully uses any part of the Army or the Air Force as a posse comitatus or otherwise to execute the laws shall be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.
One important thing to take note of: when the sheriff needed backup, calling on citizens as backup was not only common, but expected, in times of real emergency. This is one of the reasons for the Second Amendment. The right to own a weapon had nothing to do with hunting. It had to do with defending not only oneself, but the Nation.

This mindset still governs the Swiss, who have one of the highest rates of gun-ownership in the world:
Since independence in the 14th century, the Swiss have been required to keep and bear arms, and since 1515, have had a policy of armed neutrality. Its form of government is similar to the one set up by our founders — a weak central government exercising few, defined powers having to do mostly with external affairs and limited authority over internal matters at the canton {state} and local levels.

[snip]

Gun ownership is a matter of community duty, for the Swiss consider national defense too important to be left to professional soldiers or those who join the army to learn civilian job skills.

Every able-bodied male from about age 21 receives 17 weeks of military training, and for the next thirty years engages in decreasing increments of mandatory training amounting to about one year of direct military service. He then serves on reserve status until age 50 or 55. Enlisted men take home automatic-assault rifles and officers their pistols, ammunition, and necessary equipment and supplies. Voluntary marksmanship training is common. Almost anyone can purchase surplus machine guns, antiaircraft and antitank weapons, howitzers, and artillery pieces, as Americans could at one time. Yet the crime rate is so low, statistics aren't even kept.
I'm not writing about gun ownership here, but I do want to point out that, in the past, there have been perfectly legal ways to support local government in law enforcement. A lot of folks get nervous about the idea of everyone owning a gun. I think we should be more nervous about soldiers, commanded by one man, owning guns when we don't. That has gotten many a nation into trouble.

Moving ever onward...

Another law to consider is the Insurrection Act of 1807. Wikipedia's basic summary says this:
The Insurrection Act of 1807 is the set of laws that govern the President of the United States of America's ability to deploy troops within the United States to put down lawlessness, insurrection and rebellion. The laws are chiefly contained in 10 U.S.C. § 331 - 10 U.S.C. § 335. The general aim is to limit Presidential power as much as possible, relying on state and local governments for initial response in the event of insurrection. Coupled with the Posse Comitatus Act, Presidential powers for law enforcement are limited and delayed.
Bush has been whittling away at this law, with the help of senators such as Patrick Leahy, and I didn't even realize it. The original Insurrection Act limited the President's ability to declare martial law to basically one purpose: putting down an actual insurrection, a violent overthrow of some part of the government. That was all. For other potentially major issues, action was to be taken by the governors of the states in accordance with individual state laws. But in 2006, Bush signed a law revising the Insurrection act to include "natural disaster, epidemic, or other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident, or other condition."

I wonder what qualifies a condition as "other."

Besides individual gun ownership, there used to be other legal means for keeping the peace during emergencies. The most obvious would be the National Guard and the Coast Guard. These Guards were at the command of the state governors when they were in need. But no more. According to Senator Leahy's website,
the President now does not have to contact or collaborate with any state agency in taking control of the Guard and injecting federal military forces, to carry out patrols or make arrests. The President has to notify but not explain to Congress that he or she believes that states cannot handle the situation.
Of course, this is talking about the National Guard, but apparently this will be built upon by ignorning the Posse Comitatus Act and actually deploying troops.

In fact, on the Homeland Security Website {H.S. was created by Bush, please remember}, Posse Comitatus is called a "myth":
The erosion of the Posse Comitatus Act through Congressional legislation and executive policy has left a hollow shell in place of a law that formerly was a real limitation on the military’s role in civilian law enforcement and security issues.
I understand that terrorism is real. I understand that America has real enemies, some of which may actually be living within her borders. However, I cannot help but wonder: at what point does "protecting" freedom require Americans to give up so many freedoms that she herself becomes a hollow shell, a sea to shining sea where the everyday experience has everything to do with security and nothing to do with liberty?

This is yet another example of the doors being opened wide for a tyrannical leader. Sometimes I think Bush forgets basic theology, namely the depravity of mankind. The reason for such restrictions on federal government was that early lawmakers understood the dangers behing putting such power in the hands of one man. Having the power in the hands of a good man might make us all more comfortable, but how do we know how subsequent leaders will use it? Where is the line between martial law and creating a police state?

02 December 2008

The Darndest Things: More Rules I Never Thought I'd Have

Every now and then I get the urge to post the ridiculous rules that childrearing has forced upon our household. Did my parents need to have crazy rules like mine? I don't remember, but I like to think my experiences aren't peculiar.

Today was one of the days when I have to make a new rule. Here it is:

Don't lick anything that isn't food.

This could almost be a nevertell: The children go outside to play. When they return, Mom feels compelled to make a new rule which states that they must never lick anything that isn't food. Why?

But then I don't think you really want to know.

In other news, it was fifty degrees outside this morning so naturally the children decided this day was the day for running in the sprinklers when Mom wasn't looking.

Ob*ma and the Rule of Law

Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:

"I do solemnly swear {or affirm} that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

-Article II, Section I of the United States Constitution
When I said yesterday that I felt compelled to give some lessons in basic civics around here, I meant it. This isn't because of any of my dear readers, but rather because of the constant misinformation I see spewing from various news sources on the internet, television, and even the radio.

But before I begin, let's talk a bit about the rule of law in the context of getting a new job. For instance, let's say Man X applies to be a doctor somewhere. What needs to happen as Man X navigates the process? Well, first of all the hospital needs to make sure he has the proper credentials. To be a doctor, there are requirements of schooling, insurance, and testing, just to name a few. If Man X hasn't met the requirements, Man X cannot properly be called Doctor X, nor can he work at the aforementioned hospital as a doctor.

Regardless of how charming Man X might be, he is not above the credentialing process.

For the sake of argument, let's say that Man X is fully qualified. Now, we can call him Doctor X. And let's say Doctor X is so fully qualified that he wasn't just hired as a regular doctor, but as Chief of Staff. And let's say that Doctor X needs to hire himself a personal secretary. And let's say the hospital has a written rule against nepotism. And let's say Doctor X hires his sister to be his secretary.

Regardless of how charming and competent Sister X might be, and regardless of how charming her brother, the fact remains that there is a rule forbidding such a hire from taking place, and they are not above the rules simply because they are charming and competent.

If you were the hospital, or a board member of the hospital, it would be your job in this instance, regardless of how much you like or dislike Doctor X, to inform Doctor X that he cannot hire his sister because he is in express violation of the written hospital rules.

And if Doctor X ignored you, then I think we would all know how much Doctor X respected the rules of the hospital, or even rules in general, and we would anticipate much rule-breaking at the hospital.

But now the story is carrying me away a bit.

Ahem.

The primary job of the President of the United States of America can be summed up in the oath he takes: namely, to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution. The President must master the Constitution and be mastered by it, just as a Christian must his Bible.

From day one, Mr. Ob*ma has done exactly the opposite. He has chipped away at the Constitution already, and is doing it even now, and most of us don't even realize it. He seems to believe he has been elected Emperor, to invent and twist laws at his will. I didn't fully see this at first, but my eyes are open a bit wider each day.

Let's go through the three main Ob*ma-related issues being overlooked by the media today.

Ob*ma May Not be Eligible for the Presidency

I say may because I think he might also be fully qualified. By qualified, I mean according to the Consitution, which, by the way, doesn't require all these newfangled qualifications fabricated by the media such as "experience."
No person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty-five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.

-Article II, Section I of the United States Constitution
Now, I'm sure you all know that there were rumors circulating about both candidates back during the election. Back in February of this year, the New York Times questioned whether John McCain was a natural-born citizen due to his being born in the Panama Canal Zone. At the same time, the Times tries to redefine "natural-born citizen" by saying that there was "scant explanation" of what the phrase means.

I'm thinking my readers are smart enough to figure out what it means.

It means that the person was born a citizen. This would be in contrast to being naturalized. Apparently, where you live is evidence of alliances, as the person must not only be a citizen, but a citizen that chooses to reside in his own country for over a decade.

However, Mr. Ob*ma has yet to produce a Birth Certificate. Now, before you all blow me off as a crazy person, just stay with me for a moment. Ob*ma's marketing squad produced a Certificate of Live Birth. My understanding is that a COLB is something that is commonly used to register a birth that took place abroad, or at least not in a hospital. These certificates can be issued up to one year after the birth. Or at least this is what I've read. {If I'm wrong, by all means send me a link and I'll correct the error of my ways.}

All of this is to say not that the COLB is fraudulant, but that it isn't any sort of official evidence of the place of birth.

There is more to this topic, and I don't have the time to get into it. However, since the media isn't really covering this story, you might find it interesting to know that there have been a number of lawsuits filed concerning this issue. One of them, Donofrio v. Wells, was referred to the Supreme Court by Justice Clarence Thomas. There will be a conference on December 5, 2008, which is in only a few days now. Please note that this case doesn't just concern Ob*ma's eligibility for office, but also John McCain's and a guy named Roger Calero's, all of whom were on the New Jersey ballot for president, and all of whom the petitioner claims are not natural-born citizens. I already explained the situation with McCain. Calero was born in Nicaragua and Ob*ma's place of birth is considered yet-to-be-determined.

Ob*ma is Not the President-Elect

Presidents aren't actually elected by the people. Not directly, anyhow. They are elected by electors, who are members of the Electoral College {yes, they are real people}. Electoral votes are not cast on the night of the election, even though the members of the media like to pretend that they are in fact authoritative enough to cast electoral votes in place of the actual citizens whose job it is to do so.

The electoral votes haven't been cast yet at all, as the E.C. does not convene until December 15, 2008.

If you are really interested in the process, you might find it interesting to know that they don't convene as one huge body, but each state has its own convention. Also, the electoral votes are not officially counted until January 6, which is the day that the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate will meet in joint session for this purpose.

Article II, Section I of the U.S. Constitution says:
Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.
The 12th Amendment clarifies how the E.C. is to work in practice.

It drives me crazy to see Ob*ma out there touting his "Office of the President-Elect" insignia, and the media chanting the title away, when the title is not yet his. This reveals a total lack of respect for the Constitution, the very document he is scheduled to swear to preserve, protect, and defend.

Ob*ma Cannot Legally Appoint Hillary Clinton

WorldNetDaily explained this beautifully today. In a nutshell, the Consitution in Article II, Section I says this:
No Senator or Representative shall, during the Time for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil Office under the Authority of the United States which shall have been created, or the Emoluments whereof shall have been increased during such time; and no Person holding any Office under the United States, shall be a Member of either House during his Continuance in Office.
Now, I didn't actually know what an "emolument" was, so I looked in my trusty Webster's 1828 Dictionary, and this is what I found:
The profit arising from office or employment; that which is received as a compensation for services, or which is annexed to the possession of office, as salary, feels and perquisites.
Hillary Clinton is therefore forbidden from appointment to the Ob*ma administration because she helped give the position of Secretary of State a raise. The Consititution is explicit: if you raise the pay for an executive position, you can't take that job in the near future, because this would create a conflict of interest. This means that not just Clinton, but also all members of Congress are ineligible for this position in the Ob*ma administration until they finish the individual terms for which they were elected.

See the Wall Street Journal Law Blog for details.

It seems that a President, who should specialize in the document he must defend, as I keep saying, would check the law before making flippant appointments. And one would also think that the media would do some basic fact-checking before running away with their stories.

Overall Disrespect of the Constitution

All of this begs the question: Can an elected official with such obvious disregard for the Constitution really be expected to uphold it? My answer to this question is no. Which leads to another question. What exactly will America look like in four years?

*I'm trying to limit Google searches by altering the name. There have been many problems with attacks on blogs, and I'm trying to avoid it here.

01 December 2008

The Darndest Things: Welcome to the Real World

One evening last week, I was having what I thought was an interesting conversation with my eighteen-year-old brother-in-law, who we'll call L. He and I were discussing the merits {or lack thereof} of text-messaging. I, naturally, became quite passionate about the subject.

Me: You know what I don't get?

L.: What?

Me: Those couples! I see them out on dates and they both have a cell phone and they are both text-messaging instead of really talking to each other.

L.: [grunts]

Me: I mean really, don't they want to be together? I wouldn't have stood for that when I was dating Si.

L.: [grunts again, followed by a chuckle that grows into full laughter]

Me: What's so funny? [looks suspiciously at L.'s book in his hand] Do you have a cell phone under there? [gasps] You are kidding me. Are you text-messaging right now?
The irony isn't lost on me.

Welcome Back!

What a lovely first day of December, no? We had a wonderful Thanksgiving week. I do not exaggerate. It has taken me years to not get nervous when Si's family visits. I guess I just spent too much time worrying that they would think I wasn't taking good enough care of him or something. Anyhow, I believe I've turned a corner and am finally secure in my position here at the microhomestead.

Si's mom arrived last Sunday evening. His youngest brother {almost nineteen} arrived late Tuesday night {college kids still prefer to drive at odd hours}. My mother-in-law left early Friday morning, and my brother-in-law didn't leave until yesterday evening.

The kids soaked up the time with relatives without getting spoiled. That has always been a battle before. But this time was different. I don't know if it is just a matter of being older, or the reality of always having to share now that there are four of them, but they were altogether enjoyable without becoming rotten, even with lots of extra attention.

How refreshing!

Of course, my favorite part of the week was that Si took the whole week off. I believe this is called a staycation.

My mother-in-law is a public school teacher, so I asked her if she would bring a craft project related to Thanksgiving and do it with the children. She brought a number of them! I think my favorite was when they stuffed pinecones with feathers and used clay for a head and pipecleaners for feet and ended up with something that strikingly resembled a flock of turkeys. It was great.

I wrote a Thanksgiving civics test {which I just might post later this week...for fun} and quizzed everyone aloud during dinner one night. {Doesn't that make you never want to come to eat at my house?} It was grammar-level facts for the most part, but at the same time it covered details that are usually passed up by primary children's textbooks. Anyhow, it was exciting to watch our oldest keep up with the adults, and once again the power of learning from living books rather than text books was reinforced to me.

And, believe it or not, dinnertime quizzes are actually quite fun, especially when guests clap for each other when correct answers are given.

Friday evening, we got out the tree. We drank hot cocoa. We trimmed the tree and hung stockings. We listened to Christmas music and generally transitioned into the season of Advent. It was great. We spent time building up to Thanksgiving, and it felt richer because of it. I am hoping that DecemberTerm has the same effect on Christmas.

How was your Thanksgiving?

This coming week, I'm going to have to give a couple of civics lessons, I think. The media is perpetuating certain inaccuracies that I intended to ignore, but have decided not to. In other news, does anyone have a list of good winter reads for adults? I'd love to hear what you are all reading this season in the comments. I'd like to say I'm going to be festive, but actually what lies ahead is an Ayn Rand marathon: Anthem, The Fountainhead, and Atlas Shrugged. How about you?