Thursday, March 31, 2011

The 'Journal' Blog

I am a homeschooling mom.   I have been at it now for a coon's age, and we are pretty comfortable in our methods and our abilities, but there is always room for improvement.  I spend a fair amount of time looking for better, more interesting, more efficient ways to educate my children.  I seem to be slipping steadily further out into unschooling as we go along.  I don't hold to the theory that there should be no structure or restrictions and that everything should be child led and interest driven.  Interest is key, but I think it is necessary to cultivate interest in different things.  If my child led all of his own education he would probably study games and snacks!  He needs a bit broader interest spectrum, and I can guide him in that.  I believe structure is necessary.   Simple or complex, there has to be structure. 

I do not believe everything needs to be the same for every child.  Each of my children responds differently to different things.  They all learn in different ways.  I do not believe every child has  to have stacks of textbooks and workbooks and test pages and quizzes.  I believe that if a child learns to learn, and learns to love to learn, he will learn and he will understand what he has learned. 

I am a poor salesperson.   If  I do not have confidence in what I am selling I will not be able to convince you that you should have it.  I want to satisfy my own need to understand why things are important to know before I teach them to my own children so that there is some underlying passion present. It helps me create that atmosphere of interest and I can 'sell' it.  For instance, I think teaching my children "the three 'R's" is necessary.  I also believe that logic and reasoning is more important than simply teaching them facts and figures and acceptable answers for them to commit to memory.   Citizenship, character, integrity and honor come before many things that state sanctioned schools teach such as P.E., music, art, or theater.  That is not to say my children wont receive any instruction in those areas, but it is to say that the emphasis will be on the other more important ones.  I believe in this, strongly.  My kids know that, and they receive it.  

I said all that to say this: I saw that some of the kids at the public high school were using journals, but I disregarded it, thinking that I would hit the highlights of it in high school English class someplace along the way.  I misunderstood its purpose. For a long time I thought it was little more than a glorified planner.  I was wrong.  This is something that I have not taught my children to the degree that I think they need to know it.  I have been looking into journaling.   

I decided the time had come to research it and teach it to my children.  I have come away from my time studying its merits with a new understanding.  It is horribly underrated.  There is tremendous value in keeping a journal. I hope I still have the time to impress on my kids the importance of it.  

Through a journal you can experience the many benefits of writing on a regular basis. Here are just a few of them:

Who couldn't use a little more discipline?  Whether doodles and sketches or intense times of purposeful writing, whether weekly or daily, a commitment to journaling on a regular basis will establish a dedicated routine and contribute to a more disciplined life.  As you grow into a life of journaling your level of discipline will grow as well.  

There is a wonderful sense of self-fulfillment and satisfaction when you write something you are happy with.  There is also great satisfaction in looking through a journal and realizing that with the passing of time you have gained in skill, or knowledge or understanding in some area, or in accomplishing a certain goal you had laid out for yourself.  Many times they are things that could have gone entirely unnoticed without a written record. 
Keeping accurate accounts: 
We always think we will remembered what we planted in our gardens, and where, or which materials we set aside for which projects.  We always think we will remember which child said what, or which year some event happened.  The truth is, we don't.  The memories get foggier as the years go by.  Whether it is a progress journal for a garden, a child's learning journal, or a historical journal such as a chronicle of your own daily life, a journal will keep it all straight!  Your family will thank you some day.

Organizing or clarifying your thoughts:
When I am emotional, confused, excited, distracted, overwhelmed, or if I just have too many projects going at one time, journaling helps me see things in black and white.  I can gain some perspective and clarity.  I can gather my thoughts and organize myself.  Sometimes the results are so dramatic that I can find solutions to problems almost immediately just by seeing them written down.    

Goal setting:
A journal can be a very valuable tool in tracking your progress from day to day.  The very act of writing it down can help keep you motivated, too.  An example would be a Bible reading program.  Writing down your progress as well as what you may have learned from your daily reading can be a record of goals as well as achievements.  A prayer journal, a weight loss or exercise journal, a child's yearly home school journal, any plan or goal you make can be recorded and followed in a journal.  Over time many discoveries can be made about your accomplishments or your shortcomings through the process of journaling.
You can learn a lot about yourself by journaling.  You will see and understand things not only as you write, but also when you go back later and read what you have written.  You can begin to see patterns and recognize thought processes and habits that you were never aware of, both positive and negative.  You are going to become more aware of your own thoughts and feelings.  
Greater understanding:
There are so many areas to gain greater understanding in when journaling.  You will learn about the craft of writing and being a wordsmith as you progress, and grow more proficient in grammar and composition through practice and habit.  You will tend to do more research as a result of topical journals.   You will expand your skill and style as you progress and experiment with new ideas while journaling.  

Comprehension and observation skills:
Writing changes your understanding of things.  The very act of articulating what you have experienced makes you think harder, analyze things, contemplate, and find depth in an ordinary situation that would have been overlooked in the mundane business of the day to day had you not stopped to write it down.  Over time it will help develop a habit of seeing things in a more meaningful way.    

This is only the beginning!  I believe that journaling is an important skill to learn and to teach to my children.  I never learned it in school, and actually I found it pretty intimidating.  I can't really explain why.  I think it had something to do with feeling like messing it up would be unredeemable.  Like the artist's fear of the blank canvas, it seemed like a mysterious thing, "a journal," and I wasn't sure what it's purpose was.  Now that I know I can not stress enough the importance of teaching it to our children.  It's never to early or too late to begin journaling!  I'm sure that opening our children's lives up to journaling at an early age will be a benefit to them for the rest of their lives. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Another One On the Endangered Species List

Part II
Preparing for Emergencies

When I was a little kid at my grandparent's house, for some reason it always seemed like something special to be woken up while it was still dark outside.  Usually, we'd only be up early because we were going on a long trip or some other exciting, non-regular activity. I remember the smell of coffee dripping and bacon frying like it was yesterday.  Grandad would roll me up in my blankets and sit me in a chair in front of the old Stokermatic until the room was warm, then he'd fix me a plate of scalded toast.  I loved it.  Those are some of my fondest memories.

My grandad and I were buddies, and we did a lot together.  I always liked doing whatever it was he was doing just because it was me and grandad.  One thing we did a lot that we both loved to do was to stand outside on the porch and watch bad weather roll in.  Big storms would be brewing and we'd stand out in them until it was just too nasty to remain or until grandma was so frantic that she was 'standing on her ear' wanting us to come inside and get into the basement.

I can remember when I was really small we didn't have a basement.  There was a community storm cellar.  Once in a while, on the worst stormy nights, grandad would come quietly and quickly, grab me up covers and all, and we would head outside into the rain, headed for the shelter with others in our little community.  I don't remember a whole lot about it except for the excitement of the moment.  Adrenaline and excitement and thunder and lightning and waking up in the dark; my favorite things all in one action packed adventure!

There was nothing much in the shelter.  I only remember benches along the two long walls, sort of dark and musty, with dim light.  I think it was flashlight lights because people smoked out in public in those days and I remember the cherry red fires in the ends of the cigarettes and the swirling smoke in the beams of light. I was never afraid but I could tell some of them were.  I remember thinking they were silly.

Sam and Helen were always there.  I think it must have been their property the shelter was on.  They were the owner/proprietors of the local store in our little town of about three hundred or so people.  They were older people, always good to my family.  Sam's sister Mary, Helen's brother Ward, sometimes Bart Carroll, whose face was permanently stained in the creases by his mouth from years of tobacco spit, a guy named Mud Hen who always rode a bicycle and carried a fishing pole everywhere he went, along with our family, all huddled together in a narrow cellar, waiting the storm out.

Why am I telling this story?  Partly because it is a wonderful memory.  Partly because it is a picture of a time gone by and I want to tell it before it, too, is lost.  Partly because I think it is an example of something we need, something we've lost, and an answer to a problem that most people don't even realize exists.  The loss, the death of, no -- the execution of an endangered breed: the extinction of the good neighbor, and the loss of his natural habitat, the community.

I'm not all that old, not even half way through my time on this earth and I can well remember days when neighbors looked after one another.   It was natural.  It was normal.  It wasn't demanded or legislated, it was just done by decent folks because it was right, that's all.  We had too many tomatoes to eat so we sat bags of them on our neighbor's porches.  They had too many zucchini or too much corn and we'd find a bag or two on our porch some mornings.  If someone was needy we all ponied up.  If someone was 'laid up' we filled in and helped them until they were able again.  Grandad took food boxes to shut-ins and checked in on the old folks, and when my grandma was old and alone people checked in on her, too.  They shoveled her driveway in the winter, brought her mail and her paper to her, and made sure she was okay.  I am so thankful they were there for her.

Her town was a small town, but I don't think that is the reason the people there did things the way they did them.  I  think it may be part of the reason they are still able to do it today, though.   Not because those mean ol' city slickers are bad folks, it just works out that some of those kinds of things get re-arranged and shoved to the edges in larger population centers.  In cities people tend to segregate themselves. Wealthy homes are on one side of town,  usually  away from the noise and congestion of the inner city.  If you had the money and lived in a city wouldn't you prefer to be away from all of that, too?  Lower income people wind up getting squeezed into more affordable but less desirable areas.  Poorer people are left with whatever areas they can afford to rent and sometimes they aren't the best places to be.  The rich can't see the poor and their needs.  The poor feel shoved to the side and hopeless.  The middle classes feel like they are bearing the burden between two worlds, trying to reach one and avoid the other.

In a rural setting these same people co-exist side by side, as neighbors, and they know one another personally. As a rule they are available to each other in times of need.  They don't build privacy fences between subdivisions and freeways to bypass certain areas, so they see the plight of their neighbors.  Problems are usually dealt with as they arise, and if something goes seriously wrong or something gets badly out of hand, neighbors will step in and help.  Neighbors help their neighbors in communities.  That's how it is.

Why would I bring all this up in a blog about preparedness?  Because in a time of crisis, if cities and rural areas alike are subject to some large scale emergency, it is the cities and the suburbs that are going to fare the worst.  I believe they have lost the awareness that they need one another to be neighbors, and that could well be the most valued and sought after asset following a disaster.

Some of the problems people will face in areas of large population concentrations should be obvious: lots of people, limited resources, poor or nonexistent communications, inability to resupply, lack of order, lawlessness.  Japan is to be commended in that the people have performed admirably in the aftermath of the devastation.  Unlike the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, there has been no noteworthy lawlessness.  No looting, stealing, rampant pillaging, murdering or raping, or the strong victimizing the weak and helpless.  These things were possibly some of the greatest threats to the survivors of Katrina.   

One of the things that is beginning to come to the attention of the world right now, just two weeks after the catastrophe, is the shortage of retail goods.  Grocery store shelves are empty in cities hundreds of miles from the hardest hit areas.  There are shortages of fuel, mandatory restrictions on energy and water consumption, and all the while communication is still unreliable.  What must it be like in coastal towns or at the epicenter? 

Do we want to survive a disaster only to face a fierce and barbarous environment in the aftermath as they did in Katrina's wake?  I would prefer to think we would work toward the common goal as in Japan. I would rather find camaraderie and relief and be available to offer the same without fear.  What have we come to and what can be done?  Why have we stopped expecting folks to be decent and begun to expect the worst of them?  They have not disappointed!  We have taught a generation to be selfish and dependent and now we are reaping what we have sown.  What can we do?  I hate to think it would take a calamity, but worse, I hate to think that in the event of a calamity they still would not rise up.

Much, much more can be said about this, but I want to try to zero in and keep it to one topic if I am not too late already.  One of the important lessons I have learned by being outside looking in is this:  community is everything.  I have also  learned that even though life in the larger population centers is most vulnerable, it is not too late to cultivate a sense of belonging and responsibility, and that good neighbors are still among us, they just aren't obvious. Maybe they are overlooked, or afraid to be noticed, or maybe they are unaware of it themselves.  They may be few and far between, but they are there and when the call is made to come to the aid of their community I believe with a little preparation and encouragement, they will turn out.

In my little home town if there was ever a disaster you could bet it would be met by everyone.  Naturally we would see to our own, but as soon as we possibly could we would come to the aid of our neighbors.  We would give of our time and of our provision, and we would continue until the need was met.  Family or friend or stranger among us, it is right to do, and we would do it.  It is our practice throughout our lives and our "preparation" if you will.  It is expected and we rise to the expectation; not like Katrina but more like Japan.

So if you can't go right out and buy food and water to last for a year, or a years worth of medical supplies or whatever you might need to plan for an emergency, here is something you can do right now and it will cost you nothing, but it is worth so much.  Practice being a good neighbor and a decent individual.  Prepare yourself to be part of the solution for when the problems come.  We have to regain that sense of being our brother's keeper.  We must.  Let it start right here, with me.

to be continued.....

Monday, March 21, 2011

What Next?

I hesitated to blog about this, mostly because almost every blog I have read lately is talking about the same thing, too; the Japanese disaster.

So much can be said about so many aspects of what's happening; the pain and suffering, the loss, the cost of rebuilding, long term effects and the fact that someone somewhere is facing the idea that they may never be able to go home because their home may become uninhabitable.  Then, there's the effect it will have economically on the rest of the world, a world that is already facing some pretty uncertain financial times.

I have my thoughts and feelings and opinions, however I'm sure you have heard them all from someone in some form or another already, so I'll spare you.  It sounds so hollow in the face of the enormity of it all anyway.   Needless to say I am deeply effected, and like most everyone else, introspective after such an event.  What would I do if it was me?  If I survived at all, how could I continue on?

Japan, particularly the more modern cities, was as prepared as any nation could be for earthquakes, but the outlying areas and rural dwellings were not as able to withstand and were laid waste.  All the coastal areas were indiscriminately decimated by the power of the rushing sea.  And now, after horror we can not even imagine, the worst is yet to come.  Nuclear disaster, radiation poisoning, long term homelessness; they are facing the possibility that they will never return to life as they knew it if they survive it at all.

The physical effects are hard to comprehend, but the emotional toll and the effects on the mind would be at least as bad, possibly more debilitating in the aftermath than the even physical destruction.  No one can say what reaction they would have in such circumstances unless you have been there.  We should be using this situation to learn all we can about facing catastrophes ourselves.  It could well be the only good thing to come from all this. 

What could they have done ahead of time to prepare for such large scale devastation?  What would have been the most helpful asset to those who survived?  What is the greatest need now, and what will it be two, or six weeks; what about six months or a year from now?

This disaster is huge, widespread, covering miles and miles and miles.  Some areas were completely destroyed without one structure, field, even landmark remaining intact.  Yet people survived to see the devastation not knowing where to turn or where to go.  They were lost.  Their loved ones were missing.  Hopelessness surely prevails in the hearts of the homeless survivors.

One thing we can learn from this is that the government will not be able to help you.  A short look back in history at Hurricane Katrina should have been enough proof for us here in the United States, and by comparison it was small potatoes.  Death and destruction, looting and violence.  People missing and never found. Weeks and months passed and many were still in emergency shelters.  Many abandoned hope of ever returning.  Years have gone by and life is far from normal there.  

Japan is looking down a very long road to recovery. If those who had survived the disaster had prepared with food and water it might have eased the immediate problems of broken supply lines. If they had prepared first aid they might have been able to hold on until help arrived.  Very few people ever expect to face an emergency of such proportions.  It looks so hopeless.  Does this mean that we should not bother to prepare for it?  

On the contrary.  Certainly we could encounter a disaster beyond our capability to cope.  A meteor could fall from the heavens this very moment and crush us where we stand.  If we were to use that rationale in everything then there would be no need for a driver's safety course.  There is a good chance that you are going to be involved in a car accident in your lifetime, so why prepare?  With cancer, diabetes, heart disease and all the other big killer-offers, we're not going to get out of  this life alive, so no more silly annual physicals at the doctor's office!  

Savings accounts?  Retirement funds?  Insurance?  What is that if not preparing for the future's uncertainties?   We prepare in advance for so very many things in life, and yet most people completely overlook preparing for disaster.  We start saving early, regular doctor visits early, before anything is actually goes wrong, for "early detection".  We begin retirement accounts early.  We invest early.  We prepare for things early.   I suggest that we add preparing for disaster to our list.

I think I'm going to make several blog entries about this subject.  I often say I'm going to blog about this or that, and then I don't get back to it, but this time I think I will.  Preparing for emergencies needs to be a front burner issue, and so many  people who are dear to me just don't consider it.  There are so many reasons that they should.

Stay tuned for part II.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Justice for Westboro Baptist Church?

Well, the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas.  Am I surprised?  Yes and no.

I expected the Supremes to make an example of the "Christians" and use it as another stepping stone to take rights and freedoms away from churches.  That seems to be the way things have been going.  From Jerry Springer to the hallowed halls of Congress, it is generally these 'shining examples' of Christianity that they tend to showcase in order to further their argument, so, yes, I am surprised.

On the other hand, no, I am not surprised.  Our country's most hand's off, taboo, tickedy-boo subject is free speech.  I have, however, seen them deny free speech to groups before, and if they were inclined to do it again I would have thought it would be a (so-called) Christian group, but in this instance their anti-war/anti-American  leanings are just what the powers-that-be are looking for.  I'm not surprised at this decision because of these two factors.

Am I personally happy about it their decision?  Yes.

First, I'd like to say I am not an anarchist, but at this point I would almost campaign for an anarchist-in-charge (now there's an oxymoron for you!) knowing that things would never get that far, just to see things halt in their tracks and turn completely around for awhile.  Think of it as you would an out of control car careening off of a freeway; jerking the wheel a little too hard could possibly be overcompensating, but it is almost the only thing you have left to do.  It could help, it could fail, but the way we are headed now is certainly wreckage anyway.  

I think the courts, the government, the powers that be, whatever we want to call them, already have their noses in far too many things.  I would be delighted if this hadn't gone to the Supreme Court at all, and if nothing ever did.... because in truth, I know that wont happen, but if that were the understood goal, maybe the number of cases brought before the courts would at least be reduced. Maybe then the number of ridiculous rulings and case laws would be reduced.  Maybe then some of the remaining freedoms we enjoy wouldn't go up on the chopping block under the guise of protecting some one else's rights, or what ever they bring it before the court system masquerading as.  

If the courts hadn't legislated all the free out of freedom, the families of the fallen could defend their own rights and would be justified in doing so.  

As for this specific case, in a more perfect world these invaders would be beaten (more) senseless by the families of the fallen, right there graveside, the first time they did something that hateful, heartless and utterly ridiculous.  It probably wouldn't happen many times before they would just give up their nasty little campaign.  Case closed.  Unfortunately, this is not 'that' world.  

In a real world with intelligent people running the show they should have been locked up and the key thrown away.  This is not that world, either.  In our litigious society full of backward, corrupt,  politicians who would rather win the game than be on the side of right, I am glad they opted for free speech.  It's the least they could do, and a right decision if a decision actually had to be made.  It should never have gone this far.  

Now, if they will rule that it's lawful for the families of the fallen to kick the dog snot out of the turds that are protesting, it will be right for the rest of us, too.