Wednesday, August 20, 2014

First Day of School

Today was the first day of school for Eddie and Peter. It is Peter’s first time at a brick-and-mortar school, but seeing as how we moved two months ago, it is a new school for both Eddie and Peter. Peter seemed totally fine when I dropped him off this morning. Eddie got emotional, choking back the tears. The biggest display of emotion actually came from Creegan, who sobbed after dropping off his older brothers. He was sad to have his best friends leave him behind. It’s not that Creegan wanted to stay at the school. He was just sad to know that Eddie and Peter aren’t going to be with him all day long. This was heartbreaking for me.

I’m really hopeful that something will happen during the day to make Eddie feel happy and excited about school. I hope that by now, two hours into his school day, he has had some fun and is more of his normal self. He did so incredibly well adjusting to school last year. He seemed instantly comfortable and very happy with going. But change is hard on him, and this is starting over. And one huge disadvantage this time around is that his best friend in the whole world isn’t in his class to help him adjust. He literally doesn’t know any of his classmates. That’s going to be rough.

I’m not sure what to expect of Peter. I think he might like traditional school, but I think there will be challenges. He gets distracted easily, and is frequently off in his own little world. Today, when the teacher started to lead his class inside, Peter just stood there, not following the line of students. He just wasn’t paying enough attention. I had to call to him and tell him to go. I think this is probably a sign of what’s to come. But I’m more optimistic than not.

I have to admit, it was nice to be the one to take my boys to school, especially on their first day. I haven’t usually been available for such things. It’s nice that we live near enough to the school to walk. It was a gray, crisp, and very mildly rainy morning, and I loved it. Eddie and Peter complained of being cold. They wore jackets to school. So crazy. That definitely wouldn’t be happening in Florida, probably for another four months. Anyway, here are some of the photos taken this morning:

Three brothers, prior to leaving Grandma's.

As you can see, Eddie's spirits were much higher before getting to the school.

If you know Eddie, you know he's making an effort here and isn't feeling quite so optimistic anymore.

Peter, going with the flow.


The end ... of the beginning!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The One in Which Everyone Gets Schooled

With August well under way, school is quickly becoming the focus of my family’s lives. Each of us, in our own way, is concerned with school: Where will we be going? When will we be going? Will we be going?  The answers vary from one person to the next.

Let’s start with the kiddos. As of today, Edison and Peter are officially enrolled for school. This will be Peter’s first foray into a brick-and-mortar school after doing virtual school in Florida. It will also be both Eddie’s and Peter’s first time attending school in Utah. It’s exciting, but also a tiny bit overwhelming. The structure will be good, but it requires all of us to be more disciplined. Plus, Eddie loved his school in Tallahassee, and I’m not sure his Utah school can compare. I also secretly worry about the impact Utah culture will have on my boys. You can confront a lot of closed-mindedness in Utah, and sometimes kids are among the worst perpetrators of such things (though the attitudes expressed almost certainly fall back on what they are learning from their parents). It will be an interesting experience for us, I believe.

Next up: Melanie. As of today, Melanie is employed as a Kindergarten teaching assistant. Yes, an assistant. We have mixed feelings about this. Our main goal, of course, was for Melanie to get a full-time teaching job. We were quite confident that this would happen. But Melanie hasn’t been teaching for eight years, and her license is officially considered expired. It can be renewed, and schools can hire her while she works on renewing the license. But it turns out many schools have been leery of that, or so we assume. I think because she’s been out of the loop for a while and doesn’t have a currently active license, she’s getting passed up by most people. Only a couple of schools have interviewed her. The good thing is, when they do interview Melanie, they love her. Sadly, one of the schools that interviewed her is a “Title I” school, and they have certain requirements imposed on them concerning whom they can hire. Melanie doesn’t fit those requirements, precisely because of the lapsed license. The principal at this particular school seemed disappointed that he couldn’t hire her, and he’s even offered to keep Melanie somewhat involved in his school’s events (including professional development opportunities that will help Melanie renew her license). He’s really being generous about helping her, and it suggests that he might want to keep her around so he can hire her next year when her license is again active. Alas, the only job offer that presented itself to Melanie was to be a part-time teaching assistant. Obviously, this sucks because it is a lot less money. However, it will be enough for us while we’re living with Melanie’s parents. It guarantees we’ll be living under their roof until at least June, but we’ll be fine. The assistantship position will also work toward Melanie’s relicensing requirements, which is a huge perk. On top of that, the school is incredibly convenient to us. I think that will end up being even more appreciated than we may now realize. And finally, it’s admittedly kind of nice for Melanie to have a part-time job to ease back into this sort of thing. It won’t feel like such an abrupt change, and she’ll be able to remain quite involved in the kids’ lives and schooling and whatnot. Yes, we’re choosing to look at the bright side here, but there is plenty on that bright side to admire.

And then there’s me. (I guess it should be, “And then there’s I.” But how snooty would that sound?) I’m facing a bit of a dilemma. I will be having carpal tunnel surgery within the next couple of months, but no sooner than five weeks from now. My insurance requires me to go through a bunch of other treatments first, so it doesn’t matter that doctors feel surgery is inevitable. What that means is, shortly into the fall semester, my right hand will be put completely out of commission. It will remain so for about a month, at which point my other hand is likely to receive surgery and be unusable for a month. I am highly unlikely to produce much on my dissertation during that time—but that’s most of the semester. This has thrown a bit of wrench into things, because my main goal upon moving to Utah was to wrap up my dissertation during the fall semester. Now, there’s little chance of doing so before the spring. And really, that’s not such a big deal. The problem is that, my school does not allow you to remain un-enrolled for two subsequent semesters. I was not enrolled for the summer, and so if I don’t enroll for the fall, I will be breaking their rules. What that means is, I will then have to reapply for admission to the school. Almost as if I were a brand new student. “So, just sign up for a couple of dissertation hours and don’t worry about putting them to use!” Perhaps that is what you’re thinking. Well, yeah, that’s one very expensive way to handle this. But that gets to the heart of the bigger problem—money. How can I afford tuition, especially tuition that won’t really help me because I won’t really be getting much work done, when we don’t have much of an income? As I said above, we’ll have enough for our basic needs and bills. But my plan to remain enrolled in graduate school was based on my assumption that Melanie would be working full time. “And why can’t you work, too, Benjamin?” Maybe that’s your follow-up question. Well, I’ve considered that. Originally, that was not the plan because the whole point of me being here and not continuing as a TA in Florida was that I could focus 100% on the dissertation. My dissertation chair has advised me not to try to work while I wrap up my dissertation, and I think that is very good advice. But there’s also the issue of the carpal tunnel! That’s likely to hinder me from doing any temporary job I might consider getting. So, anyway … it’s all a bit crazy. And right now, I’m not entirely sure what to expect. I may just skip the fall semester and reapply for the spring. I’m under the impression that I’ll pretty much be guaranteed to get back in without a problem, but there are some questions I need to have answered before I feel totally secure going this route. Stay tuned.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Sunstone

Last Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, I attended the 2014 Sunstone Symposium. The Sunstone Symposium is affiliated with the magazine Sunstone. (No surprise there.) If Sunstone magazine is to heretical Mormons what the Ensign is to traditional Mormons, then I suppose you could say that the Sunstone Symposium is the heretical Mormon equivalent of General Conference. (I kid. Sort of.)

This was my first time attending Sunstone. It was a really cool experience. One of the neatest things for me is that I was able to meet many wonderful people whom I had previously known only through online resources, such as Facebook groups. This includes several behind-the-scenes people who work with Exploring Sainthood, the website and project for which I am a blog manager. (The site is currently undergoing a transformation and rebirth, so stay tuned about that.) These people have been very meaningful in my life over the last couple of years, especially as I’ve gone through quite a faith transition. (A transition that leaves me Mormon but with a changed outlook on many things.) I have a great deal of love and respect for these people, and I was thrilled to become “real life” friends with them. It was incidental to my attending Sunstone, but it was still the best part of my experience.


I didn’t have it in me to attend three full days of lectures, presentations, devotionals, and discussion panels. Had I wanted to, I could have been at Sunstone from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. all three days. That was a bit much. I stuck around until 6:30 p.m. on my first day, but bailed at 3:30 on Friday and Saturday. That was plenty for me. I was worn out by the time the three days were over.

Some of the talks I attended were better than others. I was drawn to several theological talks, but those typically ended up being a bit more dry. The standout sessions, for me, ended up being those where people simply shared their own personal faith journeys. This includes famous excommunicated Mormons such as Paul Toscano, D. Michael Quinn, and Lavina Fielding Anderson (who comprise half of the so-called September Six), all of whom remain at least somewhat committed to Mormonism, and people who converted away from LDS Mormonism to other faiths (such as Universal Unitarianism and the Community of Christ). I feel a love for people who share their personal stories, and regardless of where people ended up or how they interpret their experiences within the LDS Church (be they good or bad), I find that listening to them with love and compassion only inspires me to be a better person, a more Christlike person as I understand the term. I also find myself well aware of how absurd it is that so many of my fellow Mormons would consider these presentations to be heretical, when the values being promoted are following Christ’s example, following what the scriptures say, loving one another, seeking the fruits of the Spirit, avoiding idolatry, and other such “heretical” ideas.

My Sunstone weekend was capped by two gatherings with my fellow Exploring Sainthood peeps. On Saturday night, Melanie and I took the kids to someone’s house for an open Exploring Sainthood social gathering. And then, on Sunday, I went to a “work” dinner for those of us who are, for the lack of a better term (and definitely with the lack of any kind of paycheck), the “employees” of Exploring Sainthood. We talked about the direction we hope to take this project. I hope some of our ideas can come to fruition, because ES has been a labor of love for me. Some of our aspirations are quite big, but I guess that makes things exciting. The dinner was also nice in that I met a few people who hadn’t been at Sunstone. And my fellow Exploring Saint Lisa DeLong (whom I did meet at Sunstone) was generous enough to give me a couple of prints of her amazing art. If you check out this online gallery, you’ll get an idea of the style of prints I chose.

And that’s that. The end!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Cousins

A week ago today, two of my nephews (from Melanie’s side of the family) flew into town to stay with their grandparents—and hence with us. Eddie, Peter, and Creegan have been having lots of fun with their cousins. Kyle and Jeremy are 9 and 7, which works out quite well with Eddie being 8 and Peter being 6. At 3, Beegy is nevertheless keeping up with them and their shenanigans quite well.

Aside from playing Minecraft and jumping on the trampoline, which seem to be the two major at-home activities, there has been a lot of other fun over the last week. July 24th is Pioneer Day in Utah, celebrating the arrival of the Mormon pioneers back in 1847. It’s basically a repeat of July 4th, but with a greater emphasis on Jell-O. Banks and the state government close down, there is a local parade, and fireworks rule the night. Melanie’s parents took us all to an all-you-eat-buffet, which the kids find extremely exciting. This buffet even had cotton candy, which was a big hit with the kiddos. After that, we came home, hung out for a little while, and then did our own fireworks at the end of the driveway. ‘Twas very fun.



A holiday wouldn't be a holiday without someone in their underwear.  Thanks, Beegy!

Cousins!

Beegy, excited as hell about Pioneer Day.

The next big to-do was going to Hogle Zoo on Saturday morning. It was hot, and Melanie and I both got headaches, but aside from that, it was great. Melanie’s parents bought an annual pass that allows you to take several kids and a couple of guests with you at a time, so we’ll probably make use of it again when it’s a bit cooler. As it was, we only saw about half the zoo, if even. We pooped out by noon-ish, after making sure to ride the carousel and the train. The kids were more excited about that than the animals. In fact, they don’t get very excited about the animals. The strange thing is, I know if I let them watch a YouTube video of a monkey fumbling around in a cereal box, they’d want to watch it over and over again for an hour. When we see the same thing in person at the zoo, they can’t move on quickly enough. Sheesh.




Eddie was super excited to ride the praying mantis on the carousel, mostly because he knows those are my least favorite bug and give me the creeps.

I'm actually quite pleased with how the carousel photos turned out, because I was taking them from somewhat of a distance and zooming in all the way.

Peter studies the map.  (My kids get more excited about complimentary maps at theme parks, zoos, etc. than they do about the place itself.)






On Monday, we went and saw Rio 2 at the nearby dollar theater. And, crazy enough, this dollar theater actually costs only $1 per ticket! On Mondays, they have a “family special” where groups of three or more can get $1 tickets. (I think $1.50 might be the normal price.) The previous Monday, we saw The Amazing Spider-Man 2, but that was before our cousins arrived. So, this time around, it was a bigger family affair. I slept for varying lengths of time at varying intervals throughout the movie, so maybe my judgment isn’t quite fair, but I thought the movie was rather mediocre. But I think the boys had fun.

As for today, we went to a place called Jump Around Utah, which is a warehouse full of bounce houses. It’s basically like Zoinks, which we used to frequent in Tallahassee, only there aren’t any arcade games. The kids quite enjoyed it. We even got them to try out a hurricane simulator, which is like an enclosed tube you can stand in that blows nearly 80mph winds at you. I’ve included a video of this after some photos.



Creegan took this photo.



And that’s that. Kyle and Jeremy will be sticking around until next Wednesday, so we’ve got a good week left with them. I’m not really sure what’s on the horizon, plan-wise. There’s a carnival at our church on Friday night, but I’ll be spending Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at the Sunstone Symposium at the University of Utah. (It’s basically a conference for Mormon intellectualism.) I’m also happy to report that I have a doctor’s appointment for Monday, which will put me at about six weeks of having a numb right hand. I don’t know what hoops I’ll have to jump through before we can get me in for surgery, but here’s hoping it will come soon.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Free Parking

With almost zero money but a decent amount of time on our hands, Melanie and I have been making use of the many parks that are available in Utah. Not having lived here in eight years, our kids aren’t that familiar with the parks, so it all feels new and fun to them. What follows are some of the photos we’ve snapped during our escapades:


I was trying to get a good photo of the sky here, while also capturing Peter on the playground equipment.  Can you see him?



Rolling down the hill.

It is not a park, but my parents have a swimming pool at their apartment complex.  It's outside, and it's free for us, so that's park-ish enough for me to include it here.





And the nearby skate park:












The end!