Thursday, January 29, 2009

Enduring to the end

As I was shoveling the snow and using all of my strength to try and get Katie's car to move yesterday (I'm now sore and coming down with a cold, by the way) I couldn't help but think about the hell this year school year has been for me in so many ways. Going in it seemed pretty straightforward: go to school for a full, intense year, graduate, and get a job. Simple enough. But like just about anything in life, it hasn't exactly gone quite as planned and potential roadblocks still linger off on the sides. Not only do I need to successfully complete student teaching (which as I mentioned has gotten off to a fairly good start in my view, so I'm not too worried), but I still have to resolve the grade issue I blogged about in December. Now, I will start off by admitting that I waited a little too long to get back in touch with my professor in regards to meeting once break was over to come to a decision. It was mostly because I felt a bit overwhelmed with student teaching started, but even then I could have easily e-mailed her and set up a time. Well, as I started student teaching Monday my cooperating teacher asked me about an "outstanding assignment" (outstanding meaning incomplete) of mine that my professor, who is also in charge of student teaching for the School of Music, let him know about. So I had to explain what happened since I could tell he was somewhat concerned. I found out today she had said more as he had asked her if there was anything he needed to do. I e-mailed my professor on Tuesday, but didn't get a response back until today when I resent it from my account. This is what I said:

Hello [professor]-
I hope you had a restful and enjoyable break and are off to a good start this semester. I need to schedule an appointment with you to meet about the issues surrounding Elementary and Secondary Music Methods. I do not know what your schedule is this semester since I am only on campus once a week, so all I can let you know is that I am available after 3 PM except on Wednesdays as school is done at 2:25 and I need at least 20 minutes to get back to Kent.
Please let me know when you have available times in that timeframe or any other options.

I did send you an electronic copy of the article reviews back in December shortly after I realized I had failed to turn in the hard copies. Also, for future reference, I would appreciate you e-mailing me directly in regards to any class issues rather than going through [my cooperating teacher]. This is a private and internal matter and is none of his business.

After sending it again today from my KSU e-mail account (I e-mailed someone else on campus the other day and they said they never got it, so I'm suspicious) I got this response:

Hello Jon,

I can meet with you on Monday (February 10) or Tuesday (February 11) between 3:00-4:00 PM. Whether or not you student teach is indeed [cooperating teacher]'s business; we can discuss in person. Please be advised that had I recorded the grade you earned rather than the grade of Incomplete, you would not be out student teaching this semester. Courtesy on your part would be appreciated. Please make an appointment.

Rather than rattle off a long response, I simply stated that I would like to meet on Monday February 10 at 3 PM. There is so much going through my head right now. Am I wrong to feel like this is a threat? How bout the "grade I earned?" Earned? Earning would imply that I didn't do the work and/or didn't show a high enough level of comprehension to warrant passing. That is what a grade is for, to let the student and others know where they stand in their understanding of a certain subject. Unfortunately, as I mentioned in a previous post, many teachers, college professors in particular it seems, use grades as weapons; weapons of submission, power, and belittlement. Not only did I do the work in question, but after realizing I hadn't turned it in I sent her an electronic copy, which she has yet to acknowledge.

There are other e-mails that I received from my cooperating teacher in regards to this that he forwarded me. I don't feel like posting them all. I do question why he had to even know (and for the record he has been cool about it). True, there is a small chance I could be removed from student teaching if her grade would stand, but why concern him with something that isn't likely to happen? (And if I were removed from student teaching you can bet I would be taking some serious action.) I could tell he was concerned when he mentioned it, plus I have no idea how it has affected or altered his perception and/or opinion of me. I just want to graduate so I can move on with my life. It's just one thing after another on top of having no money and the house situation to add to it, hence enduring to the end and not blissfully gliding to the end!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Snow day!

Wow I've been student teaching all of two days now and I already have my first snow day! It started snowing sometime before 6:30 yesterday evening and is just about done snowing now. It was enough to not only close every school district in the area, but also Kent State. I only have classes once a week, but in a wonderful coincidence, today is the day I have them! All I can say is it's about time I got a break like that! I can't tell you how many times classes have been canceled and it's either on a day I already don't have classes or comes after my classes. KSU actually opened this morning, but decided to close beginning at noon. Both of my classes are evening classes (from about 4 PM-9 PM). And in case you're wondering, yes, the picture above was indeed taken this afternoon when I went out to shovel the sidewalk by the back door. There was easily more than a foot of snow on the ground, most of which fell in this storm. As I write this, we are currently under a level II snow emergency in Portage County, meaning non-essential travel is highly discouraged. Level 1 is basically a caution about the bad roads and level III bans all non-emergency road traffic (those are pretty rare).

I just had quite the time with Katie getting her car up pur driveway. We have a driveway that is somewhere between 150 and 200 feet long. What tools do we have to clear it? 2 snowshovels. That's right 2 snowshovels. Nothing else. We have the longest driveway on the street and the least amount of ability to clear it. Fantastic. The last major snowfall we had our neighbor was nice enough to use the snowplow on his lawnmower to plow the driveway. This time we weren't so fortunate, though we didn't really know how bad it was until Katie got home just after 4. Not only was there over a foot of snow on the driveway, but the old snow that melted a few days ago when we got up to 42 degrees F turned into a nice sheet of ice, so pushing the car proved difficult. Not only was there little traction, but the amount of snow on the driveway did a great job in killing momentum as the car would work its way up. It took an amazing effort to get it halfway up (our neighbor helped push for a little while...thanks Mr. Collier!), then it got stuck and Katie did her best to come up the driveway fast. She got just past the back door before it got stuck again. Once there we had an awful time getting it any further even with attempts to give it traction. We finally had mom come out and Katie and I pushed. Somehow we were able to get it in the garage and then I helped Katie turn it around (with lots of pushing), so she'll be able to get out tomorrow. It ended up taking almost 2 hours. All the while I'm thining how much I want to get a snowblower or a plow for the lawnmower (or a pickup truck!). What a life.

Left: the scene that greeted me when I opened the back door this afternoon; Right: my car totally buried.

Left: view from the front door showing how the snow is level with the front porch and nearly covering the well. To see what this looks like in the summer (from a different angle...look at how tall the well actually is), check out my blog post from July 4th; Right: After shoveling the back door sidewalk and attempting to do the driveway...would you want to shovel all that (plus the rest of the driveway not in this picture)??

Student teaching, so far, hasn't been too bad. Granted, it's only been two days, so still a long way to go. My first day didn't go badly, but it wasn't what I wanted in terms of the class I taught. I am starting out with just one class full time; 6th grade general music. Eventually I'll have at least 4 classes by the time I finish in April. In the other two general music classes I am simply there watching and helping where I can (like yesterday I graded some quizzes and entered them on the computer). Anyway, my second day I took care of physical warmups (known as "muscle movers") and the sight-singing exercises in all four choirs and then had a much better lesson in 6th grade general music as it was planned out much better. I'm by no means perfect, but I feel like I'm improving even after one day. Mr. Suzelis has been giving me feedback on everything I've done and has been very constructive and helpful. One of the things he said that was really good that was different than a typical undergrad student teacher was how I would identify problems and actually stop and address them rather that be worried about getting done in a certain amount of time. I'm glad I do that too. Mostly I do it because I believe comprehension is the most important aspect of education, so if they don't understand, why move on? Experience as a choir director at church has helped, but also remembering my own experiences as a student have helped too.

Oh, I also started a new blog just for the classes I'll be teaching at Southeast. I'm planning on using it as a tool to let parents know what is going on and to be a resource for students if they forget an assignment or concert date. I named the blog "Middle C" and it can be found at There isn't much there besides an intro, but hopefully this weekend I can update it for the classes.

Friday, January 23, 2009

True character?

I was driving home this evening from a boys basketball game and heard an interesting bit of information as I listed to the radio on Cleveland's WTAM 1100 AM. They were doing the 10:00 news and mentioned that several Republican lawmakers had expressed problems with President Obama's and the Democrats' latest economic "stimulus" package. Honestly, I can't blame them for having problems since I think this is the exact thing NOT to do to help the economy. Well, the person reporting the news stated that there was a White House meeting on the subject with those lawmakers and that while Obama said he'd "listen" he also said that didn't mean he'd actually do anything about it. OK, good start, I thought. At least he's listening, right? At the very least he can hear other viewpoints and at least feign the appearance of bipartisanship and "working together." Well, the next sentence was the kicker. "Obama reminded the lawmakers who won the election in November." Yes, we ALL know the Democrats won pretty handily in November, not only the presidency, but also picking up additional seats in Congress. The fact that he even said that, to me, shows his true colors. What, does he honestly think they don't know they're in a minority and that they KNOW they don't have the votes to stop it? That's why they came to express concern and to make sure their voices are heard. Why does Obama feel like he needs to add that?

I'll be the first to say the Republicans basically did the same thing in 2004 after Bush got re-elected by a larger margin than anyone thought and the Republicans gained additional seats in Congress. While I was happy with their victories in '04, I wasn't happy with how they handled themselves after it. When stuff like that happens we start hearing words like "mandate" and "will of the people." Funny, when the majority chooses something liberals don't like (like, say, supporting Proposition 8 in California) then they instantly jump to the defense of the minority. When the majority supports their side, however, then the minority conservatives just need to "accept" the will of the people. Truth is, neither 2004 or 2008 was an overwhelming majority victory for either side, so it hardly represents a broad consensus or anything close to a unified electorate. Further, when will politicians understand that winning an election does not mean voters give them a free pass to do whatever the heck they want to? Voters expect those whom they support to fulfill campaign promises and work to benefit as many people as possible in the areas those politicians represent. For a party who harked so much on the public disdain for the Iraq war as a reason to end it, why aren't they paying attention to the public disgust with all this bailout and stimulus nonsense? And all this talk of unity, as I mentioned in November, sure sounds nice, but rings hollow. When a party owns a clear majority, they don't need unity. Again, where were the Democrat's calls for unity in 2004 when they were on the losing end of the elections? Anytime a majority power calls for unity-- whether Republican or Democrat-- that really translates to "submission." What better way to quash opposition than to make it look like they're not willing to work together and are fighting "unity?" Come on politicians...I don't care what party you are a member of; I just want you to do what is best for the country without thinking about how it will benefit your stupid "party."

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Inauguration hoopla

I, for one, am happy that the inauguration of Barack Obama as our 44th president is over. Over the last few days, but especially yesterday and today, I have felt like it's been shoved down my throat. Just today our local newspaper had something like 15 articles related to the inauguration. I've never really gotten into any inauguration, though I am fully aware of the historical significance of this one. Even with that, the event wasn't all that significant to me, so being in class as it was happening was no big deal at all. Some of my classmates watched via the Internet during our lunchbreak, but I passed. Pretty much everything President Obama does will be historical and there will be tons of "firsts." While I am happy that we have at least appeared to reach a point in our nation's history where someone can be elected without regard to race or gender (I guess we're still working on electing a woman...), I don't think we're quite where we need to be, nor do I think this election was some kind of turning point. Blacks have tried to run for the presidency before, particularly recently. Alan Keyes and Jesse Jackson come to mind right away. Unfortunately for them, all who had run up to now weren't popular enough to become serious contenders. Was it purely because of racism that they were unsuccessful? I don't think so as there are many reasons why they weren't elected (personality, idealogy, etc., just like all the white guys who also ran and didn't make it out of the primaries), though I'm not naive enough to believe that racism has disappeared from American life (from ALL races, not just whites) or that it didn't affect the choices of some voters. Nothing has been stopping blacks from running, but we just didn't have one who was very charismatic or far-reaching beyond a small pocket of voters. I mean, come on, if Jesse Jackson is the best you can do, you have some major issues!

Now it is true that I did not vote for Obama, so that added to my lack of interest in the inauguration. Call it sour grapes or being a sore loser, but just remember: I voted for Bush in both 2000 and 2004 and did not watch the inauguration for him either. One big reason I really wasn't interested is because more and more I get the feeling that many who voted for Obama did so because of his race. I'm getting that from all the emphasis on his race-- versus his qualifications-- in him getting elected. People seem to be more proud of him being black than actually being qualified to be president. Sorry, if it's wrong to not vote for someone because of their race, why is it OK to vote for someone because of their race? Now, let me state again that I truly hope I am wrong about his qualifications and what lies ahead. So far I haven't been overly impressed with Obama, but I haven't been overly bothered by his actions either. He seems to at least give the impression of someone who wants to do what is right for everyone (a more "centrist" stand) and appears less concerned with going along with the far-left that seems to be controlling Congress. Even with that, his silence on the recent Israel-Gaza conflict was deafening. What's interesting is the Arabs now aren't so warm on Obama (he's already had efigys of him burned in the Middle East!). I think Obama is quickly learning that 1) you can't please everyone; and 2) it's one thing to campaign, but it's an entirely different thing to govern and fulfill campaign promises.

I think the deepest reason I wasn't into this inauguration specifically (besides having it shoved down my throat on a daily basis) was that it represents something entirely different to me. During the campaign, I remember seeing people who didn't support Obama labeled as racist as if the only reason to not support Obama's bid to the presidency was simply because of his racial background. It couldn't possibly be disagreements over ideology or lack of national or executive experience, no, people who didn't agree with Obama and supported McCain were just close-minded bigots who hate and oppress black people. With that in mind, I wonder how much that will carry over into the presidency. Will any dissent instantly be labeled as racism? Are we allowed to disagree with President Obama without being labeled as anti-black? I wonder. I also found it ineteresting that liberals were the ones always bringing up the race issue in accusing supporters of McCain of simply being anti-black. I remember reading an entire blog post after the election that analyzed voter trends and "experts" concluded it "proved" racism even without anything beyond simple demographic data of which groups supported each candidate this election and last. Maybe it was racism, but maybe it wasn't. And no, white people are not the only ones capable of being racist. Some of the most racist things I have seen in my life have been towards white people.

I've seen a lot of optimism lately-- at least from liberals-- and that is good psycologically. Lately all we've been getting is bad news, so it's only human nature to hope for and want better things down the road. But with that I've also seen unbridled idealism and people completely out of touch with reality. Seriously, how many people were already saying what a great job Obama was doing when he hadn't DONE anything? I have read some articles talking about the incredibly high expectations Obama is coming into and that he's "sure to disappoint." I see it as a lot of people are willing to look past it. After all, many were easily willing to look past Obama's lack of experience not only in the Senate, but also his complete lack of ANY executive experience. I see many simply seeing the magnitude of the situation and will kind of give him a "free pass" for much of his first term. Heck, most have been blaming Bush for everything under the sky that's bad for the last 8 years, what's another 4? What people need to realize is that the President of the United States is not God, nor is he a dictator or monarch. He has powers, but many limitations. As extraordinary as the circumstances are that Obama steps into, so too are many of the circumstances President Bush had to deal with which no one seems to give him a "free pass" on and that he is somehow to blame for. You know: terrorist attacks on American soil and the War on Terror,Hurricane Katrina, and not to mention economic trials from around the world. No, the trials we face as a nation and a world are no more the work of one man than they can be fixed by one man (outside of Jesus Christ himself!). I hope people will understand that and judge both Obama and Bush according to the circumstances and not simply use hindsight or assume that a president can simply order whatever they want. It doesn't work that way. No one is perfect.

OK, the inauguration is over and no, I DO NOT care about every movement the Obamas make! Can we just move on and get to business?!?

God Bless America!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Feeling like Rexburg

The last 2-3 weeks of weather is really bringing back memories of being in Rexburg, a place I lived in the better part of three years while I attended BYU-Idaho. For anyone who is currently experiencing this winter here in northeast Ohio and has experienced one in Rexburg, you know what I'm talking about and I have mentioned it to several friends and family members already. For those who don't know, it has been very cold here for about 2 weeks, especially this weekend. Friday morning the temperature was right around -10 F (-23 C) with wind chills around -40 and the high barely got above zero (of course I was in Bloomington, Indiana that day where it was a whopping 5 degrees). While sub-zero temperatures certainly aren't unheard of in these parts and we usually get a few each winter, they aren't that common and double digit sub-zero temps are actually pretty rare. The last time I remember it getting this cold was in January 1994 when the low temps bottomed out at -24 F (-31 C) with highs not even reaching zero and wind chills at night as low as -55 F. This lasted about 3 days in an event that has been referred to as the "deep freeze."

Now, how is this like Rexburg? In Rexburg, during this part of the winter the temperature will stay below freezing for an extended period of time (a month or longer at times). Seemingly every night new snow will fall; an inch here, 2 inches there so after about a week near a foot of snow is on the ground. The three years I was there we never got anything more than 4-5 inches of snow at once and most nights it was just an inch or so; enough to make the roads (which were rarely plowed) slippery. So, for a month or longer it's freezing and usually there's a week or longer when the temperature is well below zero with a nice strong wind to make it even more painful. Such has been the case here. Although we got the bulk of the snow over a week ago (about 8 inches from the storm on January 9-10), we have gotten more and more, just a few inches at a time mixed in with some more extreme cold and no days above freezing. Usually we'll have a week or two where it gets very cold and snowy and then we'll have a brief warmup and all the snow will melt before the cycle starts again. So far that hasn't happened with this latest snow and there doesn't seem to be an end in sight, though we may get close to 32 F (0 C) sometime later this week, but not before more snow and temperatures in the single digits.

The garage on the can see how much snow is on the roof and the windows are all frosted; At right, the old air conditioning unit behind the house is a good measure of how much snow is on the ground! I also can't help but notice how much heat seems to be leaking from the walls as evidenced by the low snow cover closest to the house.

The picture on the left was taken today; the picture on the right was taken after our first major snowfall back in November (which I blogged about). Note the bushes and how weighed down they are with the latest snowfall, not to mention how the porch seems level with the top of the snow! The large amount of snow on the roof is actually a great second insulator! On the far right of the latest picture you can barely see the top of our well sticking out. It's about a foot to a foot and a half tall.

I took a few pictures of the house in the snow. In case you were wondering, yes, that is indeed the flag of Israel flying on the pole my Ohio flag is usually on. I have a growing collection of flags and recently acquired the flags of Israel and Australia. In light of the current situation with Israel (tentative ceasefire is on), I thought it would be my way of showing support and expressing my opinion rather than shouting anti-Hamas slogans at a rally, holding a picket sign, painting my face, or burning a Hamas flag in public. And I do have to say; the flag of Israel looks really nice flying!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Live from Bloomington?!?

Even though I'm about ready to head back to Kent, I thought I'd blog from Indiana. I'm visiting with my friends Rochelle and Ben Mathews and their one year old son Grant. I knew both Rochelle and Ben when I was at BYU-Idaho and haven't seen them since early 2007 (right before I left BYU-Idaho). Ben is doing graduate work at Indiana University, so I figured now would be a great time to make a road trip down here as it's only a 6-hour trip and I've been itching to get away from Kent for a few days. This is the first road trip I've gone on since last March when Katie and I went to Washington, DC for my Spring Break, so I totally need it. Now, if only I could find a way for Katie to get some time for a quick trip...I think she needs a break from us and home for a few days more than I did!

This is my car in front of the Mathews' yard (foreground) in Bloomington. Virtually all of the white stuff is from salt on the roads! Time for a car wash!

I have enjoyed my visit here. Can't say I did a whole lot, but in all honesty, I really didn't come here to sightsee (hello? I'm in Bloomington, Indiana!); I came here for a break and that's what I'm getting. I've had a great time catching up with Rochelle and Ben while finally meeting Grant, who has to be one of the happiest kids I have ever met. He always seems to have a smile and when he doesn't, it's pretty easy to get one out of him. He has a great laugh too! And let's not forget how awesomely cool Ben and Rochelle are. I am continually amazed how much we agree on things! Oh and I also saw the movie "Across the Universe"on Friday...very interesting. If you like the Beatles, you'll love this movie as it uses arrangements of I think 23 Beatles songs as the soundtrack, most of which are sung by the characters in the movie. I found the arrangement of "Let it Be" to be pretty cool.

Left, Grant with his mom getting attacked by an orange orangutan; at right, it appears the orangutan lost!

Left, Grant always seems to have a smile. If he doesn't it's easy to get one (sorry for the blur...he moved his head as I was taking it and I didn't use a flash because he kept closing his eyes)! On right, me with the awesome Mathews family: Grant, Rochelle, and Ben!

Left: me with Grant after the third try with him actually looking at the camera! Right, Grant vacuuming the kitchen...he really loves that toy, which his mother got for him so he wouldn't be so scared of the real vacuum. Good call Rochelle!

The trip down here was somewhat eventful as the morning I left (Thursday) it was near zero degrees Fahrenheit (-18 C) and while some snow had fallen the previous night, it had ended fairly early. The problem was that since the temperature was so cold, the salt being used on the roads was largely ineffective in eliminating the ice so there was still quite a bit of black ice on the roads and people were going slow (I saw several cars along the sides of the road along the way), not to mention typical rush hour going into Akron. It took me about 30 minutes to get through Akron (usually takes about 10) and then had to take it slower even along I-71 on my way to Columbus as parts of the far left lane (much of 71 between Cleveland and Columbus is three lanes) weren't even cleared and the cleared lanes still had ice. There were a few times I felt the car start to skid, but luckily nothing happened. I hit a small patch of ice on a bridge of I-70 near Dayton and from then on it was smooth sailing outside of being constantly sprayed with that lovely winter mix of salt and mud and having to clean off the windshield! Wipers don't work as well when you're going 65-70 mph (yes, the speed limit in Indiana on the interstate highways is 70) or when they get ice on them (even with winter wipers)!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Eh, I guess not

It doesn't look like I'm going to go through with this TV and phone plan after all. Thanks for all the comments for those of who you posted. In the end, it just doesn't look good, plus money is so tight here we should be trying to save as much as possible. It certainly isn't a case of me not wanting to get the TV or the phone service because I definitely want them. I have always enjoyed watching sports and more and more of the teams I enjoy watching can only be found on cable or satellite (except the Browns since the NFL has rules about games being on free TV). On top of that, most sports in general are on networks like ESPN and Fox Sports Net, so for now when I want to watch something, I have to drive over to my grandparents' homes. It isn't that far, but it's hardly convenient. There are other shows I enjoy watching that aren't on free TV and the phone service working with the TV looked pretty sweet, but in the end, even though I think I could afford it, it falls under "just because I can do something doesn't mean I should do something." And yet again, this is a "when I have a job..." kind of thing as much of my life has been...looking forward to that seemingly ever-distant time when I actually have a stable and decent income to be able to get some of the things I want to when I want them. I know being poor financially has its benefits (like learning how to spend wisely, working within a budget, being humble, etc.), but after being like that my whole life and always having to worry about money, it sucks! I'm tired of it! When does this madness end?

Speaking of madness I feel like I'm in Rexburg as far as the weather is concerned. It was all of 3 degrees this morning when I went outside and it's supposed to drop down to zero or below tonight. On top of that it's been snowing all day, so the roads are in pretty bad shape. We easily have a foot of snow on the ground as the 8 inches or so we got Friday night and Saturday has been added to by additional snowfalls during this week and no warm enough temps to melt anything. We did get enough sun yesterday to help create some pretty extensive icicles along the sides of the house. Usually we don't get much in the way of icicles because of the gutters but the snow on the roof is thick and is covering the gutters, so it made making icicles easy. I'll have to get some pictures even though I have a seemingly endless supply of pictures of this house.

Speaking of the house it appears we will have our first looker this weekend. On top of that the mortgage company has deemed they need interior pictures, so the realtor is coming sometime soon to get those. Talk about invasion of privacy. Not only that, but the mortgage company wants them in two days and just happened to pick a time when none of us are going to be home much during the day. Gee thanks! How sad that a property is worth more than a family's well-being. Makes me sick just to think about it! I did find out some interesting info on the county's website. It lists EVERY property in the county and who owns it along with pretty detailed info about each property. One thing that stuck out to me as I looked over the records for the houses on our street as well as of my family's homes in the area, our land is worth more than anyone else's on our street or in our family. It's the house that is worth so much less so the overall property value is the lowest of all the ones I looked at (also the smallest square footage). I wonder what makes our specific lot worth more than any other on our street (it isn't the largest lot). I will say the land our house sits on is pretty good. It's the house that has the biggest problems!

Do you like how this post seemed to flow right together? I even impressed myself how it's all connected! Woo hoo!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Call me crazy...seriously!

I received an advertisement from AT&T for their U-Verse TV and phone service and am seriously considering doing it. We already have AT&T high speed DSL and local phone service, so adding something else wouldn't be hard, but at the same time I'm torn since I don't know the future and money is tight. Part of me wants to take advantage of a pretty good offer (at least for a year), while the other part of me doesn't want to waste money or even appear to be spending above my means. So basically, I need someone to tell me "this is a terrible idea! Don't do it!"

Here are the reasons TO go ahead and do it:
  • I can afford it. I pay the phone/Internet bill and could absorb the extra $20/month adding TV would bring. Each of us pays a certain amount of bills to keep the utilities on and my responsibility is phone and Internet. The current phone/Internet bill is just under $70/month which includes very limited long distance phone service since we have cell phones (well, Katie and I do!). With the U-Verse phone, we would have 1000 long distance minutes plus things like caller-ID so Mom wouldn't have to use our phones when she has to make long-distance calls (which she does pretty regularly for church stuff). The three together (TV, Internet, phone) would be $90/month.
  • Come February 19 (unless President Obama has his way), we will no longer receive our analog TV signal like the rest of the country when the switch to digital TV takes full effect. While I do already have a digital tuner, I was less than happy with it as our antenna basically needs re-aimed and even that is no guarantee our picture will improve. It was annoying enough that I disconnected the tuner a few months ago and opted to use the analog signal until the last day!
  • Having U-Verse would mean I have things like ESPN and other sports networks (and Nick @ Nite!!!), something I've always enjoyed having and watching.
OK, now for the drawbacks:
  • While I can afford it now, I worry about graduation and the potential for a time when I don't have a job or help from my grandparents. Me getting any kind of job this summer would solve that problem, but still...
  • It doesn't look good when you're in a house about to be foreclosed on and you're ordering life's extras like TV service, especially when the house is on the market! Along with that, if the unthinkable happens and some crazy person DOES buy this house, then what? While highly unlikely, it is not impossible. Granted, even if we cut every non-essential, we still couldn't afford the mortgage payments, but it still doesn't look good.
  • Of course we don't really need any of this as we seem to be functioning quite well without extra TV channels or 1000 minutes of long-distance. Mom simply uses my phone for making any long-distance calls and when we want to watch something that is on a cable channel like ESPN, we simply go over to either of the grandparents' houses, both of whom have AT&T U-Verse TV (and HD TV's at that!).
  • I'm not sold on Internet phone, which is basically what AT&T U-Verse Voice is. My main worries would be an extended power outage (which we had late this summer) and in dialing 911. One of the biggest reasons I like having a landline is due to what happens when you dial 911 on a cell or Internet-based phone. It doesn't go straight to your local emergency dispatcher like a landline would; instead it either goes to the nearest dispatcher to the call tower you make a cell call from (which may or may not be in the right jurisdiction) or it first goes to a call center that redirects the call to the local dispatcher, which can add time PLUS is dependent on making sure they have the correct current address. Granted, I have had to dial 911 once in my life (incidentally, it was done on a cell phone, so I know that one for sure), but you never know.
As you can see, I have reasons to go either way. Chime with additional insights and recommendations as you feel fit!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Useful information

A friend of mine passed along some a very useful information about a YouTube channel for any of you who would like to get Israel's side of the current conflict in Gaza. The channel is run by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Spokesperson's Unit. Most of the videos are in English with a few in Arabic with English subtitles. In the e-mail my friend sent (he currently lives in Israel and has joined the military), he ended with a quote I thought was oh-so-true: "The moment those terrorist groups and extremist Arab nations will decide to put down their weapons, there will be peace in this region...The moment Israel will put down its weapons... there will no Israel." I couldn't agree more and it's about time the rest of the world figured this out. Below is one of the many videos. I highly recommend checking the channel out when you have a chance, especially if you value getting both sides of the story. It can be found here: IDFnadesk.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

You mean people READ this?

I got an e-mail from this week letting me know that their editors had reviewed my blog and gave me a "very good" rating (7.3 out of 10) based on a number of criteria like frequency of posts, site design, relevancy of content, and writing style. I had to look up just what was anyway and it turns out it's a blog directory site combined with a social networking site. They review thousands of blogs and add them to the directory. I placed the rating on the right side column of this blog below the list of all my friends' blogs.

Every time I get an e-mail or a comment from someone who reads my blog that I don't know I'm always surprised. I enjoy comments period, but when comments are made by people I don't know it's like "wow...I wonder who has actually seen this blog?!?" Of course my blog is public so anyone can read it, plus it shows up in search engines, but the Internet is enormous, so it is a small miracle to me any time someone not only finds my blog, but then actually reads it and comments on it. I've only had a few of those types of comments (or e-mails), but still, you never know who is reading what you write (well, unless you have a private blog...)! I certainly didn't start my blog with the intention of having it rated and evaluated, but it's nice to know at least someone who isn't already a friend or relative thinks my blog is decent! Mostly I started my blog as a means to communicate with friends and family as well as an outlet to express my opinion on things I think are important. The more people that read it (and comment) the better as far as I'm concerned. I make a point to not include things that are too personal (that's what personal journals are for). So, to all of you "regular" readers, thanks! I appreciate all the comments I get!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Thoughts on Israel

With all the news about the situation in Gaza, I thought I should post some thoughts on it all because the more I read, particularly reactions of some people, the more I'm convinced people just don't really understand the culture over there. Just today I saw a Facebook group that wants people to write to the US Congress to pressure Israel to stop the invasion and many of the protests directed at Israel ignore the underlying problems that led to this latest offensive

The most important thing to realize is that Islamic extremists, which Hamas is part of (Hamas is currently running Gaza), have as their goal not the defeat of Israel, but the eradication of Israel. This is a view shared by many in the Arab world; no peaceful coexistence. While I'm sure there are radical Jewish groups who feel the same way about the Palestinians, it has never been the policy of Israel to eradicate the Palestinians. Argue all you want about the policies of Israel and how they have affected the Palestinians, but in the end, if Israel wanted to simply eradicate the Palestinian nation, they could've easily done so on multiple occasions. That is why statements that "Israel needs to show restraint" demonstrate a complete lack of understanding of history and of perception of weakness in that area. The fact Israel hasn't eradicated Hamas shows a great deal of restraint given the history of Hamas' dealings with Israel. Hamas has been firing rockets into Israeli territory for some time now; not towards any specific targets mind you. Even more troubling is the fact that many of the rockets have been fired from civilian areas. How convenient! Fire them from civilian areas so that Israel either doesn't respond or, if they do, claim the murder of innocent civilians. So far, many in the world are buying this ploy. If anyone should be under fire for the deaths of civilians, it's Hamas, not Israel. How sad the world's media seem so gullible to fall for this disgusting and inhumane tactic.

I know a lot of people, particularly here in the United States, think Israel should take the "higher road" and not be what appears to us so reactionary and irrational. Unfortunately, as ideal as such a solution would be, it would be unlikely to achieve the goal of peace or satisfy Arab extremists. Again, those extremists want the eradication of Israel. Israel doing nothing about that simply makes it easier. For all those people calling on Israel to "show restraint" where were the calls before when Israel made it quite clear that the continued attacks from rockets would ultimately lead to this. I guess some of these guys in Hamas have the same mentality as many in Saddam Hussein's regime who were convinced no U.S.-led invasion could be successful in overthrowing the government. Not only was it successful, but it was done in a matter of months (it's the reconstruction that's taken so long). Seriously, one of the high-ranking Hamas officials was killed in his own home with 4 of his wives and 11 of his children. Obviously there's a cultural difference between us, but if it were me and I was the one being hunted, I certainly wouldn't be hanging around my family in our house; I'd go into hiding and send them somewhere else like out of the country. Maybe they all decided they'd face it together. Who knows? The main point is that while Israel is hardly blameless in the deaths of Palestinian civilians, there would be far less if Hamas didn't basically use civilians as shields and operate in heavy-civilian areas.

I have mixed feelings about the blockade that led Hamas to start firing in the first place and to not renew the ceasefire. While I understand their frustration as well as that of the civilian population, blockades, whether for good or for bad, are designed to strain a government by straining the population. It's also the result of the legitimate fear by Israel of Hamas using the open borders to acquire weapons, something Hamas has already demonstrated they have and will do. What's interesting is that Egypt-- a predominately Islamic country that also shares a small border with Gaza-- has also been blockading the border with Gaza, so it isn't just Israel. Now, could Egypt and Israel do a better job in letting humanitarian supplies get into Gaza to avoid a crisis? According to most humanitarian organizations the answer is yes. If that is true, I hope Israel does what it can to avert a major amount of civilian suffering, but as I already mentioned, Hamas operates right with the civilians, so it makes sorting the innocent from the bad guys difficult.

As much as anyone I'd love to see both sides be able to calmly sit down and work this out and just live together in peace. Unfortunately, such a thing is not possible given the current mentality in the region. Until both sides value compromise and respect of the other side, diplomacy is useless. Peace cannot exist as long as one or both sides do not value human life or respect the right of others to believe differently and as long as hatred is bred at such a young age. As Americans living in the 21st century, we need to be careful in our quest to understand and respect other cultures (both past and present) that we don't apply values and standards to other cultures who do not (or did not) hold them. Just because we value compromise and respect doesn't mean everyone does.

Monday, January 5, 2009

What's the deal with Santa?

I thought about blogging on this topic before Christmas, but never really got into it. I was first inspired by a post from a friend of mine who was concerned about teaching her children about Santa Claus due to it not being true (well, the whole North Pole-living, elf-employing guy) and the genuine worry that it takes the focus off of the true meaning of Christmas. I ended up discussing it with a few of my family members over the holidays and didn't think anything more of it until I got a nice Christmas letter today from a friend who has decided to avoid altogether mentioning Santa to her child. These two mentions are hardly the first; they're just the most recent, so no, I'm not targeting anyone specifically! =)

Now, first off, I am not trying to tell people how to be parents especially in light of the fact that I do not have kids yet. That said, while I lack parenting experience, I do not lack the experience of being parented. In other words I know what worked on me and why. So, from there I looked back on my own childhood, which did involve a belief in Santa Claus. I don't remember my parents really promoting the idea much at all, but on the flip side, they never discouraged the idea either. At the same time I do remember the mentioning of the birth of the Savior constantly, so it was definitely a part of my Christmas celebrations, but as a young child there really wasn't much to that story beyond a baby being born. When we got presents on Christmas Day, most of our presents were from our parents and a few (if any) would be from "Santa" (Even now we still get an occasional present from "Santa."). We even did the cookies and milk thing for years. Now, here I am at 26 years old and somehow I still believe in the importance of remembering the Savior at Christmas, am active in Church, served a full-time mission, and have come to really enjoy the non-material aspects at Christmas like giving and spending time with family. My belief in Santa? Well, I'm not exactly sure when I stopped believing, but it wasn't a huge event for me; it was more of a gradual realization as I got older and used logic. It certainly wasn't a traumatic event since I don't even remember a specific point where I suddenly found out. It just happened.

The first thing to understand is that if you are active in church, your kids will be getting the religious aspect of Christmas, plus most of us are not completely void of religious symbolism or talk in our homes (like a nativity scene or religious Christmas music). Most of the familiar Christmas carols also are religious in nature; in fact most of the secular songs are just that: songs, not carols. One important thing my mom told me was that when she thought about all this before she had kids one thing she came to understand is that Santa and his role of giving is a simple concept that young children can understand. As wonderful and important as the Atonement of Jesus Christ is, it is not a concept that a young child can really grasp yet. And as I mentioned previously, I was more than aware of the Savior's birth at Christmastime and that Christmas was celebrating that event. Even with that knowledge, it was little more than surface knowledge simply due to how old I was and how much I could understand at that age. Let's also not forget the historical context of Santa Claus: Saint Nicolas. Santa Claus evolved from an actual person who gave gifts to those in need, a trait that is hardly something we should avoid and a trait that is very Christlike indeed.

Second, Santa Claus is a part of our culture. Is it "unethical" or wrong to "teach" children about something that isn't totally true? Perhaps, but if you're going to fault that tradition, then you better stop celebrating Christmas altogether on December 25th. While you're at it, don't get a Christmas Tree either. What??? Yep, as Latter-day Saints we believe Jesus was born April 6th anyway, plus contemporary evidence suggests he was born in late March or early April as well. What we do know is that he was almost certainly not born on December 25th. The most likely reason for celebrating Christmas on the 25th is simply the blending of Pagan traditions (winter solstice holiday) with Christian observances in the early development of the Christian Church after the Church emerged favored, protected, and as a political power in the late Roman Empire. The same goes for the Christmas Tree. While we actually don't know much about the origins of the Christmas Tree, it is likely they have nothing to do with the birth of Christ. Oh, and let's not forget those nativity scenes that have the three wise men. Not only do we only assume there were three wise men (only three gifts were presented; the Bible does not say how many people brought them) but they were certainly not there the night of his birth. In fact, it is estimated the wise men did not show up until Jesus was around 2 years old.

Do you see how this could get carried away? I am certainly not opposed to the many traditions that our culture has adopted in relation to Christmas because I recognize them for the part of our culture they have become as well as their lack of harm. We had a Christmas Tree, a nativity scene, and most definitely celebrated Christmas on December 25th. Can the secular and material aspects of Christmas be taken too far? Absolutely, but just remember, all of us will have to deal with them eventually, whether it be with other family members, at school, or in the community. That doesn't mean we need to totally embrace them, but we shouldn't be ignorant of them either, nor are they all bad. As Latter-day Saints and also as Christians, we still need to be "in" the world. How can we have influence for good over those around us if we don't understand their traditions or we are regarded as "weird" because we shun them? There is nothing wrong with a child using his or her imagination to believe in Santa Claus. In fact, using the imagination is a vital part of a child's development. It's really no different in them "believing" in or emulating a fictional superhero or anything like it. And buying gifts? My experience as a kid buying gifts was an excellent lesson in thinking about someone else and learning how to stay within a budget. Please tell me how that is bad.

Anyway, that's my rant. I believe there is nothing wrong with letting kids believe in Santa Claus and even playfully encouraging it. Should kids be led to believe that all their gifts come from Santa? Hardly, but allowing them to use their imaginations for such a brief time in their lives won't hurt their religious convictions nor will it hurt their trust in their parents in the long run. Like with most things in life, even all the aspects of Christmas-- the secular and sacred-- need a balance.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

So it begins

The real estate company our kind-hearted mortgage company (none other than the latest bailout recipient GMAC) has hired in an attempt to sell our house has wasted little time getting things ready to market it. The agent came over on the morning of December 31st with my dad to just walk through and take notes and then was here again yesterday afternoon to take pictures of the outside, get measurements of every room but the bathroom and basement (we took those for him while he took the pictures), plus he also placed the "for sale" sign in the front yard. Lovely. I was told by my mom that he's a really nice guy and that he likes our hardwood floors (which desperately need finished again!). He's also willing to work with us in terms of visits so that we are here when (IF) he brings someone who wants to see the house. I haven't been able to find the listing online yet.

I'm sure the guy is a great guy and in a way I feel bad for him since he has to deal with this kind of thing (trying to sell a potential foreclosure). However, the bottom line is that his ultimate goal (selling the house) and our ultimate goal (staying in the house) clash unless we somehow bought this house, so like you would root for a favorite player on an opposing team to do well except when he's playing your team, that's how I see this agent. I wish him the best, but not on this sale. If he accomplishes what he's after, we're out of a home pretty quick. Basically, we're not on the same team! I felt like I was working against myself by cooperating with getting the measurements. About the only thing that got me through it was realizing that this agent is simply that: an agent. He isn't the source of our problems, though he does kind of represent them at the moment. Mom told us he has advised us to answer questions to any perspective buyers, but not to "volunteer information." Gee, I wonder why not. I was also somewhat irked to find that we're considered "tenants" in this house. TENANTS! We've lived here for 26 years as of this month and we're just mere tenants. It's insulting and humiliating at the same time, like we've been renting all this time. The only thing more frustrating is not having the power to be able to do anything about it until at least May, and even then it would be unlikely to do much until the late Summer or early Fall. The good news for us is that a house down the street (which is bigger and in MUCH better shape than ours) has been on the market now for almost a year, so the chances of this one selling are actually fairly low. There's another house in the neighborhood that I'm pretty sure was foreclosed on before the summer and has been unoccupied since at least last Spring (the wild overgrown lawn for most of the summer gave it away) that is also on the market. This house will be on the market for 90 days, so basically through the end of March/beginning of April. I'm so glad I won't have anything important to worry about in the meantime. Oh wait...

Notes on pictures: 1. The "for sale" sign in the front yard...ugh; 2. The sign at the end of our street directing any interested buyers to our house (not that it's hard to miss...there are all of 5 houses on our short street).