Saturday, August 29, 2015

Cap In Hand

In this article about high school sports we are told that kids will learn some crucial skills from participating in sports. They list advantages such as positive mentors, leadership skills, a success mindset, and the importance of the "3 P's"--persistence, patience and practice.

Remember these things as you read the following story...

This morning, on the way home from Church, we saw a string of bouncing teens holding up poorly written signs advertising a car wash to raise funds for a sports team. We assumed it was for football since that is the sports-god around here.

Aside from the signs (with their guilt inducing appeal to community loyalties),  and the fact that a combination of our exorbitant property taxes and the parent's pocketbooks can't seem to finance the sports scene around here, our initial reaction was "at least they are working hard" (and at least the girl's were not wearing bathing suits, as far as we could see).

Then we got to the next major intersection.

Standing on the medians were two men (probably fathers) and on the corner one very sober and uncomfortable looking adolescent. They were all holding signs and cups. The signs said "Please Donate to Our Team" or something like that.

There was no name of the team (I presume I was supposed to know it) and the "our" was most likely meant to include you and I. These sports teams belong to the whole community, right?

The irony of the whole situation hit me.

We are told that our kids should play team sports because they will learn how to work hard, push themselves, work in a team situation, they will gain self respect and responsibility, yada, yada, yada.

Irony. Ten miles closer into Houston you will see people standing on the medians with other sorts of signs, cups in hand. Or brandishing spray bottles on towels while they offer to wash your windows for a buck. Or even the grown ups waving large colorful signs, and dancing to unheard music while they advertise for a nearby business. All of these people struggling to make ends meet.

Yet, here on the corners of our relatively affluent neighborhood they stand, signs and cups in hand, imploring help from passing cars. Apparently, the publicly funded school sports teams need extra money* to buy whatever (uniforms, equipment) and rather than have the kids come up with a plan to WORK for that money, we teach them to stand on a corner and BEG for it.

It is all too easy to imagine the sight of that adolescent, cup in hand, as some sort of foreshadowing.

And what about all the benefits of school sports?

Persistence? Well I suppose. Patience? Yes, definitely. Practice? Practicing what?

Success mindset? Don't think so.

Let's try a few other words. How about ENTITLEMENT, HANDOUTS, MISPLACED PRIORITIES.

I have a sinking feeling that my property taxes are being wasted at the local schools.

Can I ask for a refund?

But seriously. I could (or someone could) write a book on all the implications of this scene, and all the causes that lead to it:

  • Why do after school sports trump after school jobs? 
  • Why can't kid be found to mow lawns, spread mulch, power wash the walls, chop the wood, move the rocks? When and how did these become jobs for adults? 
  • *What do kid's learn from having a $58 million football stadium built for them? 
  • Where do they go from there? To university life, where things are handed to them again. And then to REAL life where it all has to be paid for, whether in the form of student loans or in taxes. 
  • And student loans! Another form of handout, especially since so many can't ever pay them back. 
  • Actually, if we are questioning the value of high school sports, we need to question the value of college sports. Often the high school sports are touted as the way to get the kid into college, but what is end point of college sports? To feed into professional sports? Life time fitness? Money? But if college sports bring so much money into the universities, why do tuitions keep increasing at such astronomical rates? 
  • What about the FAITH we put in institutions to form youth into mature individuals who are self reliant enough to support themselves and generous enough to share with others? 

What about an antidote? I have two ideas as a start. One serious. One MOSTLY serious.

1. Read this book as a family. His story is inspiring. His mother is remarkable.


2. Learn to sing this song and teach it to your children (said with tongue in cheek...sorta):


Cap In Hand by the Proclaimers
Another irony: this song comes out of the birthplace of Adam Smith, author of The Wealth Of Nations, and lyrics describe Scotland's descent into socialism.  

Sunday, August 9, 2015

On Debate Questions Asked By News Personalities



Scott Walker informs Megyn Kelly: Abortion is not necessary to save a mother's life

I don't mind hard questions being asked, I don't even mind BAD questions being asked. I just keep hoping that candidates will learn to recognize the difference between a BAD question and a hard question, and respond accordingly. 

Asking candidates to explain their demonstrably controversial statements, or their political/business decisions or failures is par for the course....they better be able to explain or they have no business on stage. I don't expect even FOX News personalities to baby the GOP candidates. 

But when they are asked BAD questions...the ones with a faulty premise, or those with the implied answer in the question (When did you stop beating your wife?")... I expect the wizards of smart to recognize it and be able to parry gracefully. In this day and age (with youtube and 24 hour news cycles, twitter and Facebook), a politician worth his or her salt should be able to do this. 

To me, the glaring example of a BAD question in Thursday's debate was asked by Megyn Kelly to Scott Walker. While I think his answer was good, he did not address the false choice that she put up there. 

Megyn Kelly asked: Would you really let a mother die rather than have an abortion? 

I know we can make the argument that abortion is almost never medically necessary to save the life of the mother, but that would be accepting the premise of the question...then you are stuck with "Well if it WERE medically necessary, then what?"

But lets instead rephrase the question.  

In other words: When the life of the mother is in danger are you really going to make her husband watch her die rather than end the pregnancy and go home? 

Or in still OTHER words: Shouldn't the doctor be forced to choose the life of the mother over the baby? 

Or in STILL OTHER words: Shouldn't the doctor be forced to choose the life of the human who is wanted, who has an advocate in the room, who can be seen and heard, over the one who isn't wanted, advocated for, or seen? 

Should we pass laws that tell a doctor which patient to save in an emergency situation in which he must choose to save the life of one patient over another? 

Is there such a law? What if one is male and one is female? What if one is old and one is young? What if one is black and the other hispanic? One a legal resident and the other an illegal alien? Would any of these people support a law that told the doctor which of his patients he should save in these cases? 

Oh that would never happen you say? But WHAT IF IT DID? What is the doctor to do? 

I believe it was Mike Huckabee who set the discussion on the right track. What does science say now about the beginning of life? Is the organism at conception a unique human organism with separate DNA from the mother? Is there any scientifically identifiable point at which that organism becomes MORE human....is there a point before which the organism might turn out to be something other than a unique human person with unique DNA? If not, then we must accept conception as that moment and treat that human being as such. All other moments (from leaving the hospital back to the point of viability) are not decisive in the identification of the organism as human. 

So, the dilema: 

Life of the mother VS Life of the baby

is no different from 

Life of the (name the minority) VS Life of the (name the non-minority)

Once we begin seriously asking the above questions we have truly lost our own humanity. One life is not greater than the other life. All are precious and deserving of the protections of any decent society (Constitution or not).


Sunday, June 21, 2015

We The People He Has Fathered

Thirty six years ago....honestly, I can't believe I did anything that long ago!....so, 

36 long years ago, my siblings and I made this certificate for my Dad on Father's Day. 


Well, Dad, we were blessed to be fathered by you for 31 more years after that Father's Day. 
We can't believe you have been gone from this earth for five years now. 
Maybe that is because you are not really gone. 


In our hearts, in our memories, in our imaginations you live on. 
We still share Steve Puccio stories, 
we still learn from the memory of your life spent in love and self sacrifice for your family and friends.

I can still see you coming home from work after a long day, 

I can still see you Saturday mornings, under the car fixing it yet again, behind the washing machine or out in the yard. 

I can still remember the sound of Vin Scully on the radio as you listened to the Dodgers while doing all that work. 

I can still see you taking such good care of your cousin Marian. 

I can still see you sitting on the end of my bed apologizing for losing your temper, and I still learn the great gift of forgiveness from that act. 

I can still see you vacuuming out my car quickly before I went back to my little apartment in Redondo. 

These days we picture you sweeping the front porch of heaven and reassuring St. Peter that the yard will be in tip top shape before the next saint comes through the gate. 

--------------------------


And now, my own kids honor their father on Father's Day. And I thank God, and the example of my own Dad, that I had the wisdom to choose such a great father for my kids. 
Jim, the decision to say "yes" to you was the best one I made in my life. 
Thank you for almost fifteen years of marriage and almost fourteen years of parenthood. 


UPDATE: I failed to tell the story of how I came across the 1979 Certificate. I found it about 6 months ago in a frame that I was getting rid of. It was behind several layers of photos. For all I know it has been there since 1979!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Great Allowance Experiment

Even though I promised Mary (in the comments below) to write her homeschool plans for the next year, I thought I would write about our allowance experiment. Sorry Mary! Maybe next week.

We have never before done allowance in the Kennedy house. The kids have gotten money to spend once or twice while on vacation and that usually ended up resulting in anguished decission making processes which culminated in the purchase of a piece of junk that promptly broke.

Then I read a book.
So many things have changed in our life because I read a book.
Not all of them good.

The book that changed things this time was this:




(full disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate which means if you click on the above link and buy that book or something else I get a little money.)

When I read this book I realized that allowance was not about chores (which are done inconsistently around here and so connecting allowance to work would be too difficult to navigate). Chores are about the work that must be done to live. They are service, not paying jobs.

Allowance is about learning how to handle money. Allowance is a curriculum plan for financial education. And learning how to handle and use money is an absolutely necessary life skill that many college graduates never learn till they get their first real job (and by then it may be too late). Now, when they are young, is the time to distinguish between "want" and "need" and figure out how to get all that we need and some of what we want.

These concepts prompted us to try allowance as our financial-education curriculum.

So I thought I would share our experience over the last two months.

Here is what we did: 

We decided on $10 a week per child. Though the book recommended calibrating the amount to the age and giving yearly raises (timed to birthdays), we decided our kids could all start in the same spot and if we give raises they would be tied to Jim's raises at work. In other words, when the family income increases their spending power increases.

Each child has three jars. One for saving, one for giving and one for spending.

Each week they must put at least $4 in their savings jar. To use their savings jar they have to set a goal (not too far off---so saving for a car or college is not the point here, we're talking something more short term--an amount that would require anywhere from one to six months worth of saving time.) The goal can be an amount, or a thing (approved by parents) they are saving to buy. They can also dip into savings when buying gifts for others.

Each week they must put at least $2 in their give jar. This money is meant for charity. They can put it in the basket on Sunday or donate it to some worthy cause (chosen with our guidance). So far a few dollars have gone into the Sunday basket and "big" plans have been made to send money to the Pope, priest friends, and other worthy causes, but none of that has happened yet.

Each week they can put $4 in their spend jar. This money can be spent on (almost) anything. We give them guidelines, but the point here is to waste their money.

Yes, I said the point is to WASTE their money. Here you want them buying that junk they are always begging for, and then regretting it later.

The guidelines we give for this money is that they can spend it on toys, art supplies, food, clothes, etc. I will no longer buy those things outside of what is needed.

In fact, one particular area that is "want", not "need" is Starbucks. I am in the habit of stopping and getting myself an iced tea, which had led to the habit of getting them snacks. We no longer spring for those snacks (unless we are out as a family outing). If we are running errands I try to have some healthy snacks on hand as an alternative and then they can use "spending money" for anything else they want (within reason--I do control portion sizes and take into account what other sweets they may have had).

Here are the challenges: 

Coming up with cash each week is a challenge. I am not used to having cash in my purse and when I do it isn't $30 dollars. That being said, after the first few weeks (and once the kids began really using their money), the bank (the extra jar with change etc.) was often full enough to pay out the weekly allowance.

Do the kids carry money with them? Not usually, unless there is some planned spending going on. But I front the money and they pay it back. They need to have a fairly accurate idea of what they have in their spend jar, and for some that isn't a problem at all. I have to remember to have them pay up when we get home.

Here is what we have learned: 

I have learned that two out of my three kids really don't care that much about treats at Starbucks, or any snack foods for that matter. When it is up to them to pay, two of my kids ALWAYS pass. The other one (the one who is my mini-me) will always choose a snack.

I have learned that my kids are really generous when it comes to gift giving. They love to spend their money on their siblings and parents. I was surprised at the things they have come up with to buy for each other. So far, we have had one birthday and one baptismal day (in which the one celebrating buys small gifts for everyone in the family).

I have learned what toys/supplies/junk they REALLY want. In fact, they seldom ask for things anymore when we are at the store. I can get through Target without hearing how some kid "desperately NEEDS" some item that they never knew they needed before that moment. Of course, I, on the other hand, do NEED those things I buy! (tongue firmly in cheek)

Which brings me to the last point: Far from making my kids focused on STUFF, the allowance experiment has tended to focus us all on what we really need and only the best of what we want.

So far, so good.

UPDATED: I understand some people have not been able to see the link above. The title of the book is The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who are Grounded, Generous and Smart About Money by Ron Lieber. 





Saturday, June 6, 2015

We DID NOT run off to Scotland!

I thought I should post and assure my blog readers....both of them....that we did not run off. 

I am still here. 

I have lots of things in my head to write about, but have not done so. 

Where is my teacher giving me deadlines and grades and stuff so I can get some writing done????



Thursday, February 5, 2015

{p,h,f,r} Robert Burns Edition

I started this post last week, and then we were hit with the second bout of sore throats and stuffy noses for this year. So, a week later than planned, I present the Robert Burns Supper Post:

{pretty}

Sunday, January 25, was the birthday of Robert Burns and so we had our first annual Burn's Supper. In case you have never heard of it, a Burn's Supper is a Scottish tradition to celebrate the life and poetry of Scottish poet Robert Burns. 
Step one was decorations. The kids colored pictures and then set the table. 

The Flag of Scotland was a gift to Jim from his Uncle Tom years ago. It was given along with a sword (which you will see D holding below)


Next, the guests and the food is piped in (which means there is a bagpiper playing as they enter). The tradition is to serve Haggis at a Burn's supper, but we are not that brave hearted. 
What is Haggis? 
All I can gather is that most people really don't know, though there is rumor of sheep's stomachs. 
No thank you. 
It is also traditional to recite Robert Burns' poem "Address to a Haggis":

Fair and full is your honest, jolly face,
Great chieftain of the sausage race!
Above them all you take your place,
Stomach, tripe, or intestines:
Well are you worthy of a grace
As long as my arm.

We didn't do that either. But the kids, having an affinity for processions, took care of the other tradition and marched in with D at the lead. 
D was holding Jim's sword (you can imagine his creativity in coming up with reasons to bring out the sword) and since no one knows how to play the bagpipes, this recording played in the background:




The Kennedy Family Crest and Tartan.

{happy}

And what is food, if not happy!
For us, a Scottish meal means mince and tatties (ground beef with gravy and mashed potatoes), peas (not mushy), and of course HP (the bottle of "brown sauce" in the foreground)
Trifle for dessert. This is my gluten-free version, we used the trifle bowl for the rest of it. 


And the food was declared to be good. 

{funny}

"Can I just eat in peace? Why must my entire life be recorded?"

"I am being really patient here, but my trifle is calling me!"


{real}

A certain member of the family, who shall remain nameless, STILL does not eat peas. 

"Shhh....don't tell my mom!"

After dinner there was reciting and singing. This being our first year, we had only one poem memorized (at least in part) and that was only because Jim memorized it as a young boy and still recites it: 

My Heart's In The Highlands

1789

Farewell to the Highlands, farewell to the North, 
The birth-place of Valour, the country of Worth; 
Wherever I wander, wherever I rove, 
The hills of the Highlands for ever I love. 

Chorus.-My heart's in the Highlands, my heart is not here, 
My heart's in the Highlands, a-chasing the deer; 
Chasing the wild-deer, and following the roe, 
My heart's in the Highlands, wherever I go. 

Farewell to the mountains, high-cover'd with snow, 
Farewell to the straths and green vallies below; 
Farewell to the forests and wild-hanging woods, 
Farewell to the torrents and loud-pouring floods. 

My heart's in the Highlands, &c.

We also sang the famous Robert Burns song: 

Auld Lang Syne
1788

Should auld acquaintance be forgot, 
And never brought to mind? 
Should auld acquaintance be forgot, 
And auld lang syne! 

Chorus.-For auld lang syne, my dear, 
For auld lang syne. 
We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet, 
For auld lang syne. 

And surely ye'll be your pint stowp! 
And surely I'll be mine! 
And we'll tak a cup o'kindness yet, 
For auld lang syne. 
For auld, &c. 

We twa hae run about the braes, 
And pou'd the gowans fine; 
But we've wander'd mony a weary fit, 
Sin' auld lang syne. 
For auld, &c. 

We twa hae paidl'd in the burn, 
Frae morning sun till dine; 
But seas between us braid hae roar'd 
Sin' auld lang syne. 
For auld, &c. 

And there's a hand, my trusty fere! 
And gie's a hand o' thine! 
And we'll tak a right gude-willie waught, 
For auld lang syne. 
For auld, &c.

And we read aloud from a few more selections: 

A Red, Red Rose
[Hear Red, Red Rose]
1794
Type: Poem


O my Luve's like a red, red rose, 
That's newly sprung in June: 
O my Luve's like the melodie, 
That's sweetly play'd in tune. 

As fair art thou, my bonie lass, 
So deep in luve am I; 
And I will luve thee still, my dear, 
Till a' the seas gang dry. 

Till a' the seas gang dry, my dear, 
And the rocks melt wi' the sun; 
And I will luve thee still, my dear, 
While the sands o' life shall run. 

And fare-thee-weel, my only Luve! 
And fare-thee-weel, a while! 
And I will come again, my Luve, 
Tho' 'twere ten thousand mile!

A Grace Before Dinner, Extempore

1791

O thou who kindly dost provide 
For every creature's want! 
We bless Thee, God of Nature wide, 
For all Thy goodness lent: 
And if it please Thee, Heavenly Guide, 
May never worse be sent; 
But, whether granted, or denied, 
Lord, bless us with content. Amen!


A Grace After Dinner, Extempore

1791

O thou, in whom we live and move- 
Who made the sea and shore; 
Thy goodness constantly we prove, 
And grateful would adore; 
And, if it please Thee, Power above! 
Still grant us, with such store, 
The friend we trust, the fair we love- 
And we desire no more. Amen!


We declared this First Annual Kennedy Family Burn's Supper a success and decide we should do more of these sorts of celebrations. 
How about an Adam Smith Celebration of Economics? 
(did you know he was Scottish?)






Saturday, January 17, 2015

Reflecting On A Happy Death

Back in 2003, shortly after the crash of the Space Shuttle Columbia, I wrote this short article about the Catholic teaching on death. It was brought to mind this morning by a tragic event in our local Parish. Yesterday afternoon, Deacon Mike Mims lost his life in a helicopter accident. Though we did not know him in a personal way, he was obviously a man who knew, loved, and served God in this life. We know only the barest of facts from the tragic crash that claimed his life, but the circumstances suggest that the Deacon may have had some awareness of what was about to happen to him, and this gives us some hope, as I have explained in the article that follows. As we mourn the loss of his presence in our parish and we pray for the comfort of his family, we can also reflect on our own impending death. 


“60 seconds of fear”

When I saw the headline declaring that the Columbia crew may have had as much as one minute knowing what would happen before their ship exploded, my Catholic mind sighed with relief. But this was not the response of the writer of the article, or of the world. Why is this? Is it because I am some sort of masochistic fanatic who wants others to suffer? Or is it because the world has little idea of the importance of those last sixty seconds before death. 

Happy Death


Catholics have a habit of praying for a happy death. For a long time, growing up, I thought this meant a painless death, one with little suffering. But this is far from the truth. The truth is closer to what a good friend used to say: the best way to die would be on a plane you knew was going down sitting next to a priest. In the Catholic mind, a happy death is one in which we have the opportunity to meet death with a willing heart, and a recently cleaned soul.

Suffering is Good


It is common for the loved ones of those who have died to console one another with the fact that the deceased “didn’t suffer”, “went quickly” or “died in their sleep”. And in many ways these phrases can be comforting. No one wishes that a loved one will suffer. However, imagine that loved one has things in his life that he regrets but has never asked for forgiveness. Or perhaps he has behaviors and habits that turn him from God and he has stubbornly held onto them. 

Let’s face it, none of us is without sin, and all of us have neglected our relationship with God in some way or another. It is only in this life that we can freely turn to God and ask for healing and forgiveness. Once we have died, our fate is sealed. 
We all know that we will one day die, but seldom do we have a chance to know ahead of time when that will be. Most of us imagine, or at least hope, that we will die at a ripe old age, after those final years of contented retirement during which we spent a lot of time in contemplative prayer. 

Necessary Things


However, our death could come today, tomorrow, in ten years, 30 years…or in 60 seconds. Think of the great gift of one small minute when an untimely death comes upon us. In that sixty seconds I can quickly bring to mind the ways in which I have offended God, and ask him for forgiveness. I can recite the Act of Contrition—a perfect formula for getting right with God. I can even offer my suffering, both mental and physical, in reparation for my sins or for a loved one whom I will leave behind. 

Sixty seconds could be enough to get me a free pass straight to heaven, without a moment’s lingering in purgatory. Not only should we thank God when others have had those final moments, but we should pray that we, too, have the gift of time to face death willingly, and with true contrition for our sins. And perhaps a little final suffering would come in handy…but only if necessary. 

Dear St. Joseph, Patron of a Happy Death, pray for us