Friday, November 16, 2007

Out of the Rut

Today was not an ordinary day. Nothing really exciting, but it took me to places I don't usually go and I found it all extremely pleasant. Especially because it was warm enough today to be out and about without a coat.

Jack woke up on his own this morning and got dressed before my alarm went off. That has happened maybe twice before. Maybe.

I had an appointment with one of the sixth grade classes at Jack's school to interview them for the next issue of our PTA newsletter at 9:40 (when recess was over). When I got to the school I discovered that all of the students were attending an assembly. Could I come back in half an hour?

So to kill a bit of time I took my guitar to get new strings. I bought the guitar in a small shop on Center Street in Provo--The Great Salt Lake Guitar Company--so I took it there. It's one of those small businesses that reflects the owner's passions: making guitars and making people happy by selling them guitars. (Just for the record I don't have a hand-made guitar; he sells factory-made guitars as well).

He said my guitar would be ready in an hour so I drove back to Jack's school to meet up with the sixth grade class. Perfect timing; they were just coming in from recess after the assembly. A really great group of students and a really neat teacher (I hope she's still teaching sixth grade when Jack gets there). Six of the kids in the class are working on redesigning the school website. They actually had to apply for specific "jobs" by submitting resumes and interviewing with the teacher.

After I was done with the sixth grade, I stopped by Jack's math class to give him a hug (he's still okay with that, but would have seriously protested if I'd tried to kiss him too) and then spent way too much money filling up the gas tank in our Jeep.

I had a bit of time to kill before my guitar would be ready, so I stopped by the Waldenbooks at the mall. I found both of the books I was looking for (Peter and the Starcatchers and Three Cups of Tea). I also made a very satisfying impulse buy: Firstlight by Sue Monk Kidd who wrote The Secret Life of Bees. Firstlight is a collection of some of her early autobiographical spiritual writings.

Back to the guitar shop just in time, and the new strings sound fabulous. I spent half an hour talking to the owner about the best and worst parts of being a small retail shop owner. We both love developing relationships with customers and hate paying property tax on fixtures and supplies.

Then I stopped at the grocery store for some provisions and to satisfy a new craving I bought really good bread and tomatoes along with some mozzerella to make paninis.

After lunch I picked Jack up at school and took him to Representative Chris Cannon and Senator Bob Bennett's offices in Provo to do some research on a trip we're hoping to take to DC. I don't think either office was used to having constituents drop by. They were very nice to us, but mostly referred us to their website and their DC offices. Did you know that you now have to arrange a White House tour six months in advance and get a security background check? Luckily, visiting the White House is not on our priority list.

On the way home we picked Johnny and Benny up from the China Cafe, but instead of going home we went to the park. Who knows how many more coatless days we'll have?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Pajama Day

Jack went off to school in his pajamas today. The school is having a big pajama party in conjunction with a read-a-thon.

What's especially funny is that Jack did not go in the pajamas he slept in. He thought it would be a bit embarrassing to wear his regular Spongebob pajamas. And he wanted to wear something clean and fresh. So he wore his black pajama bottoms that look like sweats and a comfy red long-sleeve t-shirt.

I also had to promise him that I'd take him home to change into regular clothes if we didn't see any other kids dressed in their pjs. Luckily we saw lots of kids looking like they just rolled out of bed.

Ah, he's growing up and becoming more self aware. Pretty soon it will be excrutiating for him.

I was talking to one of my friends this morning about how I read to Jack just about every night, sometimes for up to an hour. It's been such a good thing on so many levels, but I especially love the way the books we read spark discussions about really important stuff.

For now Jack is addicted to our nightly ritual. In fact, he'll step up and do just about anything (like, say, brush his teeth) if I threaten to send him to bed without reading time.

But one day he's going to grow out of it. That will be excrutiating for me.

Monday, November 05, 2007


It is with a bit of a heavy heart that I will be tuning in to my little secret pleasure tonight--Dancing with the Stars. Yes, I'll confess I was curious about why it is such a big hit, so I started watching it at the beginning of the season and am now completely sucked in.

Since I'm not a voting viewer, I can't really complain, but last week the person I thought would win it all--Cheetah Girl Sabrina Bryan--was voted off. I was outraged. Really outraged. You can ask Roger. But even so I probably won't become a voter. I don't want to be that caught up in it all!

But I will be voting in the "real" election tomorrow. I've done my homework on the people running for our city council, and I think I've made up my mind on the whole voucher issue. At the end of the day, I've got to base my decision on my firm belief in the value of separation of church and state. So I'm going to vote against a program that would use public money to pay for tuition at religious schools.

And regardless of the outcome, may schools across Utah--both public and private--have a moment of silence in honor of the not-so-honorable battle.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Still Undecided

I'll let the subject go after this, but I just had to laugh when I got the mail and there were two anti-voucher program mailings in the box today.

So for equal time on the issue (see yesterday's post), here are two bewildering statements from today's mailings.

Quote 1

"Should Utahns fund unaccountable voucher schools instead of improving our public schools?" This question is misleading for two reasons.

(1) Voucher schools would not be entirely unaccountable. For example, students would be required to take annual performance tests. The anti-voucher campaign could claim that they don't think voucher schools would be accountable enough, but of course that is too subjective to be persuasive.

(2) The statement sets up a false dichotomy. Funding voucher schools and improving our public schools aren't mutually exclusive, and in fact voucher advocates argue that the voucher program will actually help improve public schools. Plus, I'm guessing that if the legislature matched the voucher program funding with an equal amount of additional funding for public education, that wouldn't resolve the issue.

Quote 2

"Referendum 1 would divert $429,000,000 of our tax dollars away from public schools, according to the State's Impartial Legislative Fiscal Analyst."

My understanding (based on a conversation I had with a neighbor who is a public school counselor) is that this statement refers to the $429,000,000 that would be pulled over the coming years from the state's general fund and put into the state education budget specifically to cover the costs of the voucher program. And if Referendum 1 doesn't pass and the voucher program ceases to exist, that money will go back into the general fund.

So the statement could be technically correct if it read that "Referendum 1 would divert $429,000,000 of our tax dollars away from the state education budget." But even then it's misleading, because the only reason the money is there is to fund the voucher program. It can't be used for anything else.

The bottom line for me? I'm still undecided, but I'm also not sweating the outcome of the vote. I think both sides have very compelling--albeit mostly theoretical--arguments. It would be interesting to see if the voucher program does pass how things actually play out--no one really knows at this point, it's all conjecture.

I just wish both sides would have trusted us voters enough to put their arguments out there in a straightfoward, honest way. Instead we got a whole lot of emotional manipulation and half truths. Blech.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Truth of the Matter

Aaagh! I have been spun silly and now I officially believe that it is impossible to know the truth about anything in our society anymore. Take this article about the Jena 6, which basically reduces that whole situation to a media frenzy with little substance (and this is off my topic today, but it drives me crazy when we aren't careful about the battles we pick--it ends up being very counter-productive, working for the very things we are fighting against or vice versa.)

Anyway, today my beef is about all of the spin surrounding the school voucher program Utah voters will be voicing an opinion about on election day. Let me just preface my remarks by saying that I'm undecided about how I will vote. While I'm an avid supporter of public schools (does that make me a socialist?), implementing the program could be an interesting social and economic experiment. And using our tax dollars this way could pry open people's minds to consider, say, seemingly radical solutions for our health care crisis (yes, apparently I am a socialist).

That said, I'm going to quote from two pieces of mail I received today, both of which happen to support the voucher program. I'd quote a bewildering statement from an anti-voucher mailer too but the dozens of mailers we've received in the past few weeks have gone the way of the recyle bin.

Quote 1

"In addition to saving taxpayers thousands of dollars per child, vouchers do not take one penny from public schools. Instead funds from the voucher program comes from the state's general fund--leaving all money for public schools intact, but reducing the number of students to be educated." I'm sorry, but I don't understand how you can save all of those taxpayer dollars and increase actual spending at the same time.

The point about taking children out of public schools without reducing spending per child is well taken, but to start the sentence out with the phrase "saving taxpayers thousands of dollars" is extremely misleading. On the other hand, I do believe that the program may ultimately save taxpayer money because in my mind there is nothing to stop the Utah legislature from reducing public education outlays in the future or failing to increase education outlays as the population in our state grows.

Quote 2

In a letter from former Miss America Sharlene Wells Hawkes, she delivers one of the emotional arguments I've heard many times over these months: "Unfortunately liberal east coast unions are spending millions to ensure that parents don't keep this ability to choose."

It really gets under my skin when people use the word "liberal" to (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) imply "bad." (It also bugs me when people use the word "conservative" the same way.)

While I have issues with the role unions often play today, they have played an important role in making America a better place for many workers. And darn it! Public school teachers need and deserve to organize and advocate for frivolous things like, oh, a living wage and adequate health insurance.

And don't even get me started on the east coast bashing. Personal issues aside, whether anyone likes it or not, public school teachers all over the country have a vested interest in the outcome of Utah's vote. We're naive if we think we're living in a vaccuum.

So I wasn't even listening to her by the time I got to the last part of her sentence about a parent's ability to choose. Which is actually the main strength of the pro-voucher movement. (Do you think voucher supporters would mind if I started calling them "pro-choice"?)

I don't want to leave you all feeling as despondent as I do at the moment, so here's a tiny bit of light. For anyone reading this who will be voting on this issue here in Utah, I recently heard one seemingly rational discussion among local journalists who have been working hard to get to the truth of the matter (click here).

Jack's Fall

Jack has completed his first term in 3rd grade! His first report card of the year was fabulous--all top grades except for math, in which he got a very good (he had a 98% average on tests, but managed only to get half of his homework turned in--we're going to work on that!). I'm so proud of him because he'd rather not be in school, but he's stepping up to it.

His PE teacher gave us his scores on the Presidential Fitness test. They'll administer the test again in the spring, so we're going to work on boosting his numbers. Every night when we get in pajamas, we're both going to do situps and pushups. I think Jack will be surprised at how much he'll improve with consistent daily effort. And it won't hurt me a bit to do it alongside him!

Here are some fun fall pictures, including some with his good friend Rex. It's already snowed twice so far, but we've also had many days of spectacular autumn weather.