Friday, February 27, 2015

Thank Goodness I'm Not the Governor

I stink at budgets.


You would think, since I like things to be orderly, tidy and uniform, that I could stick to a budget.

But, nooooooooo.

I'm terrible at keeping track of my spending. I'm very YOLO (did I really just use that term?) when it comes to expenditures. Pottery Barn? You bet! Need a new pair of shoes? Go ahead! Grocery budget? We need food.

Good think I'm not running for a public office of any kind any time soon, especially in this great state of Illinois.

Strike that, maybe I COULD run for office in Illinois! For the past, well, as long as I can remember, our great state hasn't had a balanced budget. Evidently, living in the red is simply living in Illinois. We even have a couple of governors in jail, so the fact that I can't seem to follow a budget doesn't seem to be that big of a deal. There you go, Emily Webel, 2018!

Anyway, our state is in dire straits. Friends of ours who live in Iowa, North Dakota, Texas, etc., are all baffled by Illinois' history of corruption and poor fiscal responsibility. Where's Dave Ramsey when you need him? When can Illinois finally have financial peace?

Well, with financial peace, comes a big, icky conversation with the population. Kind of like the one I get when the credit card bill comes. While I know that when you're living on a budget, cuts have to be made, leaders in our great state need to consider carefully what and where to cut.

This is where I would make a terrible governor. One cannot YOLO (Twice in one blog!) oneself through a budget crisis.

However, education is one budget line where I cannot stand to see cuts be made. Drive around the Illinois countryside, and you'll see nearly every school has one of those electronic, scrolling signs (maybe that's a good item to cut. Does anyone else hate those things?). Each one, I guarantee, will have some sort of dollar owed amount. When we first moved here, our district's amount was around the $200,000-$300,000 mark. Currently, we're over one million dollars owed to our district from the state. And our district is in the BLACK! We're doing a lot with a little, but we're still not getting our fair share of the deal from the state.

Now, I know that money cannot be poofed into an account, believe me, I've tried to pray for it.

It doesn't work.

Belts have to be tightened. Certain programs need to be reevaluated. Staff needs to be addressed. Uniforms should be worn a few years in a row. I get that. But to have a school experience where there's no extra, no opportunity for students to shine outside the classroom, to grow as artists, agriculturalists, athletes, actors, is just ridiculous. From my very basic education classes in college, we were taught to teach students, the whole child: not just the reading child or the math child, but the child who loves to sing. Loves to move. Loves to run. Loves to grow things and make things and make people laugh.

Sending a child to a bare bones school is cruel. These are CHILDREN we are talking about. Children need to express and explore.

One specific line in the Illinois budget that is on the governor's list of "to go" is the Ag Education line item. I obviously have a soft spot for Ag Ed in my heart, but am especially aware of its significance because Joe used to be on the state staff for agriculture education. He and four other supervisors traveled their particular section of the state and supported teachers, offered guidance and wisdom and opportunities for growth as an educator. The framework for Ag Education in the state of Illinois is something to marvel. Teachers, from first year to nearly retired, are kept abreast of the latest trends and topics thanks to the ongoing professional development and support by the FCAE (Facilitating Coordination in Agriculture Education) staff. This staff is also supported by the ILCAE committee, a committee of professionals with the best interest and finger on the pulse of agriculture, to keep this facet of education up to speed. It's truly something to admire.

So cutting something that builds teachers up and ultimately betters student outcome and performance seems wrong to me.

This is another reason why I wouldn't want to be the governor. He'll have to mess with me, and a whole bunch of other disgruntled folks should this line item be cut.

Education is a hot button topic during the election, so don't mess with it. Find another way to trim the fat. I get it, you have to make tough choices in government, but shouldn't a greater investment in education equal a better return ultimately? If we have better schools with more opportunities and happier, better performing kids, we'll have better citizens. Ones who are less likely to be convicted felons or become unemployed. They'll leave school with a skill. They'll leave school with confidence. They'll graduate thinking they can do something to make a mark on this world.

So, please, Governor Rauner, and all you other government officials who have to make tough choices, think about the long term. Think about your life. Think about who you would have been would you have not been able to be a part of a team, had a teacher who felt supported, or had the opportunity to learn a skill that would be a job some day.

Would you have turned out to be the governor?

Monday, February 23, 2015

Celebrating FFA

If you follow any ag blog, have a friend who is of the agricultural persuasion, or have a person in your life who was ever in FFA, you already know that it's National FFA Week.

If you don't have any of those, your life probably has marched on without knowing that it's FFA week, but you should be aware, because, in my 36 years of life, a large portion of friends and acquaintances who have been involved in FFA sing its praises.

From their good jobs.

With eloquent words.

Seriously. I scoffed at FFA in high school...and my dad was a college ag teacher, and a former FFA advisor.

Pfft...why would I need to be in FFA? It's just the ag kids. I don't have time. I don't need it, and I don't think navy and black go well together.

Did that sound ridiculous?

Now navy and black are ALL OVER THE PLACE.

Seriously, not having any experience in FFA, and then coming into my marriage with Mr. FFA leads me to a different relationship with this organization.

No longer do I view it as a hick club. No longer do I consider the time spent in FFA activities as less important than sports or music or whatever. No longer do I p-shaw at navy and black paired together. Bless their hearts, it WAS 1928...the folks probably didn't have but one pair of pants anyway.

National FFA Week is a big week here for my family, as Mr. Webel is "celebrating" it with his students by pizza parties, contest practices, workshops, etc. In other words, I'm a single mom. However, that's okay. This organization is time consuming, on both sides of the coin. The teachers spend countless hours prepping their students, attending trainings, contests, and planning lessons for class as well. The kids, however, is what has amazed me in my new relationship with FFA. "Kids" is a relative term, too. These high school students are some of the most mature, well spoken, focused kids I have met. They balance work, school, and duties in a club that's not just another club to be put on their resume. It's a club that's prepping them for a career path.

I'm not joking. Some of my best friends, professionals I look up to, and just great people are FFA alumni. The training and time management and people skills these students receive by participating in FFA are beyond what you'd learn being a part of a team or on a stage. Now, I'm not discounting other extra curricular activities, as I am a believer in athletics and music and art, but FFA is more career prep oriented by nature. Grounded in agriculture, it began as the Future Farmers of America, but has morphed into a club that prepares students for business management, public speaking, defending their choices and beliefs by prepared and extemporaneous responses. Joe's Parliamentary Procedure team is not just preparing to win a contest, their prepping to be board members and know how to follow the correct procedure a meeting should follow.

It's pretty amazing, really.

So, while I'm not an FFA alumni, I have a house full of former and future FFA-ers. Long ago, I thought it was just the ag crowd that needed to be a part of this group. I was absolutely incorrect. Tractor driving and cattle and crops are a part of FFA and its tenets, but, as my friend Katie so eloquently put it in her blog, "Cows are not required."

Happy National FFA Week, friends. If you're not celebrating yourself, find a friend who was impacted by FFA and ask them about their experience. I assure you, it will be more about the friends, relationships, and skills acquired than the surface, snap judgement I once made.

However, I am going to ask about maybe getting a nice caramel color to replace the black pants.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Presents vs. Presence

Today's the day.

It's Farmer (Teacher) Joe's 40th birthday.

We've already read the cards, unwrapped the gift, had the cinnamon rolls for breakfast. Is it ironic that I got Joe a FitBit Charge, but made him cinnamon rolls for breakfast? Diet picks up again tomorrow!

Anyway, I could list forty things that I love about him, but then I'd just be another blogger who writes in list form. I prefer narratives. Call me crazy.

Ten years ago, as Joe embarked on his 30th decade, we were a young couple, married just shy of two years, ready to embark upon parenthood (read: I was ready to pop with Anna). We had a nice, quiet dinner. I can't remember if I got him a present.

Probably because I was pregnant. Without any other children.

You know, really busy.

Anyway, Joe is not a present guy. Don't get me wrong, he appreciates nice gifts, thoughtful gifts, practical gifts, but really he's not jazzed by things.

This is not my way.

I know this may come as a shock to you, but I LOVE PRESENTS. Big ones, little ones, sparkly ones, thoughtful ones, frivolous ones.

All presents. All the time.

So when Joe's birthday comes around, I find myself in a conundrum. Do I get him something that's practical like underwear or socks, or something fun and flashy, because he'd never buy it for himself? There were times this Christmas that he proclaimed the flooring or the doors or the door knobs for our basement would be just fine for his gift.

I never uttered such a proclamation, and enjoyed my Chanel perfume and bracelet like the good little consumer that I am.

This is why Joe and I work well together. While I love all the flash, he's more concerned about presence than presents.

I know, I married a good guy.

This is something I have had to learn to appreciate. When you're young and starting out, it's fun to shower each other with flashy, fun things. You have time to shop. You have time to have a quiet dinner together. You're spending your energy on each other, because when you're young and in love, that's what you do.

Twelve years together and six kids later, it still is nice to wrap up something shiny. That's actually easier to let Amazon do the talking for me through a gift. It's easy to buy a gift. It's easy to give a thing. It is satisfying to give something to someone.

However, at this stage in our life, we need to be present with each other. The quiet dinners can happen, by moving heaven and earth, hiring a babysitter, and praying it doesn't snow. In this stage of our lives, it takes more time and thought and effort to be present, not give a present. So, we've been talking about Daddy's birthday for weeks, planning how we will best be present for him. I'm working on my girls to appreciate presence, like their dad. I do have to admit, Amelia was horrified Joe only had one present to open today. She's her mama's girl.

So today, it's all about presence.

While he was able to unwrap a gift, we're working hard to be together. Since taking his new position, Joe is gone all day. Even though it's February, Jack and I are still getting used to this. As long as we've been parents, Joe has been flexible in his employment. We have had lunch together, shared preschool pick up together, given each other a break at 2:00 if necessary. I realize that there are many things I don't miss about Joe farming full time, but the in and out and pop-in visits during the day is the one thing I miss the most. Jack especially misses his daddy. So today, we're celebrating with our presence: Jimmy Johns at the "big school," and some time together as a family tonight.

Happy birthday, Farmer (Teacher) Joe! Here's to many, many more happy years ahead, and to being present with each other.

And presents...don't forget presents once in a while (especially April 15th).

(and August 2nd)

(and Christmas)

(and Valentine's Day)

Thursday, February 12, 2015

A Tiny Twinge

The other day as I was running down our road, I had the weirdest feeling. A tiny twinge of sadness. A wave of weirdness.

I had hit the point in my run where I was at the very end, the bitter end. Coming back after having twins has been hard, but this is not a post about running. I use landmarks on this particular route to keep me going. At the end of this one, actually every one as it's right before our house, I have the timber, the Price Pasture, the junk buildings and the big pasture and then I'm done. So, as I rounded the corner onto our gravel road, I started repeating: "Timber, Price's, Junk Buildings, Big One." If I can make it to the Big One, I'm home free.

Only as I repeated it a second time (no, I'm not OCD...just DYING), I had this twinge.

None of this is ours any more.


I felt the twinge a little as I drove Anna to a lesson or practice or something in town, but ignored it. She noted the pasture's gate was open.

"They left it open, Mom."

"Mmmhmmm." I answered, oh so eloquently.

"But that doesn't matter to us, right?" she finished.


"Nope. I guess it doesn't."

It's weird, friends, this not farming thing. I think maybe it's a little weirder to me, as I have been home bound for the past four months. Joe has his new job, which he loves and fits him well, and gets to work our show calves with Anna, so his farming itch is somewhat scratched.

Mine is not.

Did I just say that? Do I have a farming itch?

I guess so, and here's why. Farming is not just a job. It's a complete lifestyle. The whole package. It's your schedule, your bankroll, your identity, your circle of friends. You learn how to grow and how to understand death. You learn how to work really, really hard only to watch things fall apart thanks to nature. Those are stressful times, and ones that I don't miss, but my identity as this farm wife has shifted. Our address is the same. I'm essentially the same, but one year ago, everything, and I mean everything, was different.

So there's this twinge.

I'm not saying that I want things to be different, because we're in a good space, it's just a twinge. Weirdness. Strange feelings.

Plus, this has been a mild winter, so we haven't had the chance to rejoice that we're not choring in the subzero temperatures!

I still identify myself as a farm wife, farm mom and I have farm kids, but there's still this undercurrent of identity crisis that rears it's wonky head once in awhile.

I'm sure I'll get over it.

Remind me of this waxed-poetic post when Joe decides to buy more cows, okay?

Monday, February 2, 2015

Snow Day, Hot Topic

It snowed last night. While it didn't snow as much as it could have, it was a nice wet snow for the kids to play in earlier in the day...for about twenty minutes. Why do I see all these Facebook pictures of perfect snowmen and smiling children, and all I see and hear is whining and complaining of cold? Maybe I just have summer kids. Or maybe some of you are better at making snowmen and posing your children around it, and I'm a deadbeat who just wants to take a shower while the kids are outside.


Anyway, it snowed, and then it started to blow. Cars using our road for alternative routes home thanks to the Super Bowl (and the beverages, I'm assuming) seemed to slow and chug by our house, fighting the crummy roads. The girls were placing bets not only about the winners of the Super Bowl, but whether or not they would have school. By 11:00 PM, we had two people in the ditch, and, Joe, being the good Samaritan, went out to pull the girl's car out and her boyfriend's, too (even though I begged him not to, because I have been watching Scandal and there are evidently a lot of people who want to kill each other...but's so good.).

By 5:00 AM, we wondered about school, and received the call, later than usual, but were not surprised:

School cancelled.

Here's what is surprising to me, and I'm sorry if this makes folks irritated.

If school had not been cancelled, everyone (okay, the maybe just the loud people on Facebook...can you be loud?) would have been yelling about the safety of the children, etc.

However, when school is cancelled, parents are irritated about the time frame, posting road conditions and griping about finding places for their displaced kids to go. News flash: Have a plan B, and C, and/or keep your comments quiet so that people like me who had to quit her job to stay with my gaggle of children won't become high and mighty and post a snarky blog post about snow days.

I admit it. I used to complain too.

I was a teacher in one town, and lived in another. I had to take my little Cavalier through treacherous roads to get to work. However, it was all on city streets and Interstates. I never considered the bus factor. The side road. The country kids who have to bump along in a bus on a regular day, let alone one where roads are less than favorable.

Then we moved out here.

Our road drifts in three places. From our house from the "hard road" is just shy of a mile. It drifts in THREE PLACES in that one little mile. Three PLACES. Friends, when the wind is howling and your road commissioner is doing his best to tend to all the little side roads in the township, you can't keep up with drifting snow. It's like me trying to keep my house orderly on a snow day. Not going to happen.

Until we moved out here and had school aged kids, I never got it. Snow days are no joke out here. They are inconvenient to those of you in town. They are scary to those of you who still have to drive to work. And I'm certain (and although seemingly not thanks to this post's tone...I do empathize) that they are logistically a nightmare to get your kids where they can be entertained, safe, and not at your desk during a conference call. However, if your school district is a rural district, you're at the mercy of your road conditions at exactly the time that the buses need to be rolling out. Snow routes could be employed, and we could try to get the kids there ourselves, should the school decide to not run buses, but what's the harm in one day off? In the grand scheme of life, is one day off of work or school that hot of a topic? Sheesh.

I would never want to make that call.  Ever. No one is ever happy or satisfied or pleased. Ever.

However, on days like today when I want to tear my hair out with the bickering and constant in and out of the snow and wet gloves and snotty noses and hot chocolate (did I mention our oldest has the stomach flu too? Good times.), I am thankful to have received the call that school was canceled. Our kids' safety would have been at risk, had they ridden the bus today. It was nasty out here.

So calm down, everyone. Go out and make your beautiful snowmen with your children, and take your picture and #makeyourmemories. But don't come road tripping out here to see what our drifted road is like. I may hold my good hearted husband back. You might be an axe murderer. I watch Scandal, you know.