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Sunday, January 15, 2017

What does it mean to be honest?

I listened to part of a Fresh Air interview with Daniel Handler, the author of the A Series of Unfortunate Events books yesterday, which got me thinking about honesty.  Handler was discussing how his books have been banned and that some people have complained because his villain does terrible things.  Here is an excerpt:

HANDLER:  And, also, I'm at a loss for how to construct a villain who isn't doing villainous things. If Count Olaf were only doing things that no one would object to, then he really wouldn't be much of a villain. So I'm somewhat nonplussed by that kind of criticism - that, boy, Count Olaf is sure a terrible person. And so I always have to write back and say, well, yes. Yes, he is (laughter). He sure is. Let's catch him.
GROSS: (Laughter).
HANDLER: And a woman once in in Oregon came up to me at a bookstore and said, you know, in one of your books, you teach that it is sometimes necessary to lie. And that seems like a very disturbing lesson to me. Can you name one time when it would be absolutely necessary to lie? And I was so happy that the answer came to me right away, instead of, you know, as it usually does when people say something to you. And then you think three days later, that's what I should've said. Instead, it came right away. And I was able just to turn to her and say, nice sweater.
GROSS: (Laughter).
HANDLER: I'm just really proud of that.
GROSS: (Laughter) What was her reaction?
HANDLER: I think she said thank you.
GROSS: (Laughter).
HANDLER: I'm not sure that the lesson was taught. But at least I was able to sleep at night, knowing that (laughter) I'd been able to say something in response. I mean, of course, you have to lie. And I can't imagine that you would want to teach your child never to lie under any circumstances. That's not going to serve the child well when the child goes to a birthday party and is forced to say whether or not he or she had a nice time.

A short time after hearing this interview, someone came up to me and said, "I know you're honest...." and then asked me a question and wanted my viewpoint.

And these two things got me thinking more about our President-Elect and his tweeting every single thought that comes into his head, which some have suggested is proof that he is honest.

I think honesty is a good thing, but I don't always tell the truth.  I don't tell people exactly what I think of them because sometimes it is not good.  I don't tell people exactly what I think all the time because sometimes I am wrong and only later come to that realization.  I don't always tell the truth because sometimes that would hurt people's feelings and not have the benefit of making anything better.

Next week, I'll be having my high school cottage students compose a persuasive piece on the choice that George makes in the book Of Mice and Men regarding Lennie.  I was uncertain as to how to phrase this assignment because some parents, depending on their level of fundamentalism, would look at his choice as entirely wrong, end of story.

(I'm not saying what his choice is on the off-chance any of my high schoolers have discovered my blog and because if you don't know his choice, then YOU should read Of Mice and Men.)

In a vacuum, his choice is wrong.  There is no question.  It violates a commandment.
But in a world in which sometimes we have nothing but a series of unfortunate choices to make (the presidential election is an example that many people recently experienced), what least bad of all bad choices does a person make?

How do you justify your choice, especially to yourself?  How do you justify your choice if you are discussing it with someone who probably disagrees with your choice?  How do you live your life as a decent person if you only have bad options from which to choose?  How would you explain to God why and how you made your choice?

There are so many issues around which people make hard-line statements---never and always statements.  Such-and-such is always an evil choice.

Abortion is always wrong and evil, for example.  But I know someone who was carrying a pregnancy that very nearly killed her and left her no choice but to terminate it so she could still be a mother to her young child.  I know another woman who had an abortion because her child had such profound birth defects it would not have lived.  I also know another woman who decided to carry her pregnancy to term even though her son had profound birth defects and died 9 hours after delivery.  Each of these women made the best choice they could under the worst possible circumstances.  There wasn't a best choice because all of these women ended up heartbroken, no matter what choice they made.

If I believed the women who had abortions were evil and wrong (which, for the record, I do not believe), being honest with them would be the absolute wrong thing for me to do.  Honesty would do nothing but stir up their pain.  It doesn't really matter what I honestly think because it is not my life.

Being honest doesn't mean being unkind.
Being honest doesn't mean hitting someone in a tender spot with my opinion.

If I am honest with myself, I admit that I do not and cannot know what is right for everyone in all circumstances.

If I am honest with myself, I know that the greatest thing I can do is to treat others as I would like to be treated, and sometimes that means not entirely telling the truth if it does nothing but hurt.  

Friday, January 13, 2017

Test scores might make zero difference and tell you nothing

Parenting multiple children would be immensely easier if they were all exactly alike.

Alas, they are all different, sometimes vastly different, and what works for one doesn't work for the others.

We got G's AP scores back, and he was accepted into the program.  His score on the test was higher than N's score (all 3 times she took it).

I don't think it will make one bean's worth of difference in school choice for him unless his personality undergoes a dramatic change in the next two years or someone comes up with a cure for OCD.  The small middle school that is close to home will likely be the best fit.

Of course, that assumes that he doesn't continue to develop more and weirder OCD symptoms that interrupt his ability to function in a public school setting.  Or any school setting.

(I will homeschool him if I have to but, given how he and I butt heads, I really, really, REALLY hope I don't have to.)

A part of me is not surprised by G's score, although I think that I hedged my feelings because I worried that his anxiety would hinder him.

It makes me wonder about the IQ test he took at age 6, which showed him as average.  Did the results of that test make me doubt his ability to do well on the AP test?

Does the gifted and talented test at age 9 make the IQ test from age 6 less valid?  Or does the IQ test from 3 years ago make the AP test from now less valid?  Or maybe the tests have no bearing on each other?

It makes me wonder how useful either test is if one told me G is average and the other that he is gifted?  What are they both actually measuring?  I consider myself a fairly intelligent person, but I'm sure I don't really know the answer to this question.

It makes me wonder why I'm spending that much time at all thinking about test scores especially since his personality and his mental health are the driving factors in many of the educational decisions I might consider making for him.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Advising another parent and now living it myself

Any number of years ago, a neighbor asked me if I could tutor her 7th grader in math.  Her concern stemmed from the district's online grade checker, which she often inspected.  She noticed that her daughter's daily work was fine, but she often bombed tests.  The mom worried that her daughter wouldn't do well in college because a college course's final grade might only be the combination of a couple tests.

I completely understood her concern and agreed to help.

My "tutoring" of the 7th grader was mostly therapy.  I asked what the girl didn't understand, and she proceeded to tell me her version of the problem, including that her mom put too much pressure on her about grades and other insights about her family dynamics, including a lack of disciplinary consistency which the 7th grader resented.  (Yes, children actually want consistent discipline.)

I knew I was way out of my league, and that math was not the real problem.  I let the mom borrow a copy of Parenting Teens with Love and Logic.  I don't know how helpful this was to her.

Now, some years later, I am in that mom's shoes.  N's grades are fine, as that 7th grader's grades were, but similarly, N doesn't do a bang-up job on her big tests.

So what do I do?

I do nothing, other than say, "Well, you didn't do too well on that test."

I let N get further along in her education and discover on her own that if she bombs tests, she will deal with consequences that are likely worse (and more powerful) than any nagging I can do.

I refuse to take responsibility for my children's dumb-assedness.

I also refuse to get too worked up especially when I know that in some classes, she is given meaningless busy work each week and 100 questions on a test that is basically regurgitating stuff.

I admit to recently checking the grade portal often, mostly because she had no grades in math and no math papers have come home during 3rd grading period, which gave me zero indication of how she is doing at all, whether it be great on homework and sucky on tests or the opposite.

On a side note:  Yesterday I checked the portal again and saw that a grade had been entered.  Just a grade...no actual assignments. Her grade is an A so I can assume the following:
1. She actually deserved an A.
2. The teacher saw how many times I was checking the portal and just gave her an A to avoid issue with me, even though I just want to know her actual grade, whether it be an A or an F.

If I do decide to email the teacher, this will be the 2nd time in 3 grading periods that I ask him about not showing assignments in the portal.  Not sure at this point.  Might be the subject of another blog post.  

Monday, January 2, 2017

How to make a recipe the Carrie way

Tonight I am making this recipe.

I am not a very exciting cook and generally avoid making recipes that involve more than 5 ingredients.  I'm ok with soups because they are one-pot operations.

If a meal involves cooking many things separately with the goal of any of them to be done at or near the same time, I can assure you it will not happen if I'm in charge.

My MIL says I'm a better cook than what I give myself credit for.  My husband usually says things I cook are "pretty good," which seems complimentary but may also be a kind way to say it "mostly sucked."

It doesn't matter to me because I do not like to cook and figure it's got a good side effect of not making us overly heavy.  I don't cook rich meals or use heavy cream or loads of butter or any of those other things that usually result in delicious meals.  (I'm also far too frugal to agree to eating out more than once a week.)

Nobody in this house has starved..... yet.

Whenever someone complains of being hungry, I usually yell, "Grab a cheese stick!" or "Grab a handful of nuts!"

Anyway, the above recipe is now baking in my oven, but I realized that if I were going to write down the steps of how to make any recipe the way I do it, I'd have to add some steps.

Like this:

Step 1:   Chop the onions and put them in the pan with olive oil.  Saute until translucent.
Step 2:   Become distracted by something you're reading.  Forget the onions and then rush over and stir them just in the knick of time before all of them burn.  Charred marks add a little texture.
Step 3:  Only actually use 3 cloves of garlic instead of the recommended 6 because the grocery has been out of garlic for 2 weeks and you don't want to use all the garlic you have.  And also, it is a pain to get the garlic peel off.  

More steps....

Follow other steps somewhat accordingly, but only add 4 eggs because you didn't use 2 lbs of spinach, and don't bother whisking them in a separate bowl because it is all just going to go together anyway, so just throw the eggs in with the spinach mixture.  

More steps...

Use some dried marjoram and thyme because you didn't want to buy fresh, so add a teaspoon of those because aren't dried herbs supposed to be more potent?  How old are these dried herbs, anyway?  Maybe they are less potent the older they are?  

Step 43:  Layer the filo dough in any old random way and then smush the filling onto it.  Layer more filo dough randomly on top and kinda tuck the sides in. 

Step 44: Put in oven at 375 for 35-40 minutes.  

Step 45:  Keep checking the oven because you didn't set the timer for 40 minutes and worry a little that the top of the spanakopita looks a little too brown, but let it go because you don't want food poisoning from undercooked eggs.  

This, in a nutshell, is why I never, ever invite people over for home-cooked meals.  

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Driving (or living) with the check engine light on

My check engine light came on yesterday, which is maddening.  The car is telling me there is something amiss, but it doesn't tell me exactly what.  I am an anxious mess whenever this happens because I don't know whether I am safe to drive because the check engine warning isn't really something dangerous or if I should anticipate my car exploding en route to the grocery.  

It could be either scenario, but I can't decode the message the car is giving me.  

Right now, a large portion of my life feels a lot like driving with the check engine light on.  Things are amiss but I don't know exactly what and I don't know the extent and I don't know how to fix.

It occurred to me today, while driving 40 miles from home and back again, that just because the check engine light doesn't come on doesn't mean everything is peachy.  Things could be going awry but the check engine light doesn't come on.....the vehicle simple putters out.  Something quickly snaps, and the driver is stranded on the side of the road.  

We think, or at least I do, that if no warning lights are on, then everything is fantastic.  I'm able to suspend my disbelief that shady things might be going on under the hood.  I'm not being warned, therefore all is well.

I think I tried thinking this as an attempt to make myself feel better.  
I think I failed to make myself feel better.  

I guess it was nice to be reminded that I can and do often live in la-la-land, able to forget that life might be utter chaos just beyond the bounds of my hands stretching outwards.  Chaos might be pulsating inwards towards me at all times, but I am able to feel in control of things.  

Until a warning light comes on, and I am reminded that I have no control and am at the mercy of mechanics and movements far beyond my understanding and scope.  

I don't doubt that I can get through it; it will just be an unpleasant part of the drive.  

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Grieving and guilt

I have been thinking about Papaw a lot.  Not in a crying way, or even in a teary way.  Just in a thinking about a lot way.

Of course, a few days after his funeral, I went to the grocery early in the morning and did become a little teary seeing all the old people doing their shopping.  I have such a sweet spot for old folks.

I began to feel guilty because I didn't do this when D's dad died in 2004....or at least I think I didn't.  I've had 12 years to forget how sad I felt then, so maybe I did feel this way and just don't remember.

When D's dad died, it was a complete shock.  He was only 58 years old.  We were all stunned to the core.  That made a difference in how we processed everything, I think.

And I was in the thick of my own mental health breakdown then, so I don't know that I felt anything accurately.  By the time T passed away on Dec 8, I was on medication (though considerably under-dosed) so I think I just felt a sad numbness.  Whatever I felt grief-wise probably got mixed in with what I was feeling or not feeling anyway--it was just a terrible time.

When T died, N was only 9 months old so we'd had very little time to develop a relationship with T as a grandpa.  He was very independent.  He and my MIL went on vacations with their friends and had their own active lives.  As a result of T dying, we enveloped my MIL, having her come to the house one night a week for dinner and going on vacations with us.  I'm certain we'd have a good relationship with my MIL even if T hadn't died, but I'm not sure it would be as tight as it is now.

I think after T died, we all pulled in as a family.  Papaw became the especially special grandpa because he was the only one on that side of the family; he was already loved, but I think in a sense he became revered in T's absence.  For the longest time, my kids didn't understand that Papaw wasn't married to Mamaw; that he was her daddy.  While we only had 9 months of Tommy as grandpa, we had 12, almost 13, years of Papaw as grandpa.

D and I were married 6 years when T passed away; we were married 19 years when Papaw passed.  In addition to 13 years of having him as grandpa to my kids and developing those memories, I knew Papaw almost 3 times as long as T.  That was 3 times as many Christmases and Easters and summer Sundays eating meals together.

I didn't come up with all this explanation on my own.  My feelings of guilt were really bothering me because I felt like I was dishonoring T so I talked to both D and my MIL about it, and they were the ones who kinda went, "Well, duh....this explains it."

Friday, December 23, 2016

Maybe paying off the house early isn't a financially smart goal

After my last post on personal finance, I got $20 in cash every time I had a big grocery run, set it aside, and when I had $100, I put it on the mortgage principal.  I did this from August through November.  

Good for me.

But then, a week or so ago, I sat down and actually used a mortgage calculator to figure out how much this $100 a month would mean in months taken off our mortgage loan.  

And it was nothing.....not even a year.

So then I figured out how much we'd have to pay off on the principal every month to see a sizable difference in loan reduction (like 2 years).  

It was something on the order of an extra $800 A MONTH!

Um, we don't really have $800 a month floating around doing absolutely nothing.  We don't live paycheck to paycheck, but we also save money in various accounts to help pay for car repairs and house repairs and Christmas expenses and medical expenses and travel.  It would be irresponsible for us to move our cash savings into the house, where it is stuck, and we can't get to it.  

I apparently forgot that in getting a 15-year-mortgage, we had already shaved off 15 YEARS of a mortgage, which is great.  I just wanted to shave off more.  

It was N's orthodontic visit, during which we got the go-ahead to have full braces put on (and the bill that went along with that that), that induced me to really run the numbers.  And I sorta realized that the $500 I had put on the principal might have been better funneled into our medical savings account...

because that is 4 months of braces paid off or over a month of weekly occupational therapy appointments for G.  
It is years of monthly viola rental payments paid off.
It is a little over what I just spent on tires and a coolant flush for my minivan, which really needs to last us another 5 years.  

Security has always been one of our primary financial goals.....having some wiggle room for the unexpected things that come down the pike.  As it happens, when I took the time to look rationally at the numbers (instead of emotionally at the numbers....which is what paying off the mortgage is for me...an emotional desire), it seems that at this stage in our lives, that is not the smartest, most secure financial decision.