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The Public Historian
The great debate over Social Studies curriculum standards for Texas continues.  And folks, it's not pretty.  The gigantic headline in yesterday's paper is: "Texts won't cover Tejanos at Alamo."
Yes, only 9 of the 180+ who died at the Alamo were Tejano.  I almost understand the comment from one of those educator types about how students shouldn't have to list the individuals who died at the battle.  And yet, this burns me up on so many levels.
#1  There are a lot of Hispanics that live in Texas.  A lot.  And most of them are in public schools.  Wouldn't it be nice for them to learn about something besides white men?
#2  The Texas Revolution wasn't Hispanic vs. White.  It was Texas vs. Mexico.  This may seem like a minor detail, but it's really, really important.  Something historian types have been working for decades to correct.  Juan Seguin and Jose Antonio Navarro were both really crucial people during those years.  Heck, Seguin spoke at the burial of the Alamo defenders.  In Spanish.  Somehow, I don't think that little story is making it in.
#3  Shouldn't we all just get over the Alamo?  (somehow I think that's not ever going to happen here)

And if that wasn't enough to make me yell at my newspaper, there was this letter to the editor.  Just for fun, I'm going to share it in all its glory.
"The State Board of Education is vigorously debating the future curricula of Texas public school students.  Will history textbooks include the likes of Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony and Cesar Chavez?  Will students learn social studies or socialist studies?"

Yep.  This is where I live--a state where there are folks that think people that fought for civil rights are socialists.  And I think this letter is really what sent me over the edge this morning.  This guy is why we need to teach history in as balanced a way as possible.  And the State Board of Education isn't doing us any favors in that particular struggle.

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So, it's been a while since I've posted here.  In all honesty, I've been thinking hard about what to do with this particular spot in my internet life.  There has been much that is happening (particularly with work), but not much that I feel I can talk about publicly.  Rest assured, I'm here, but facebook is winning out for those fast updates.  And the new blog is usually winning out when I get the itch to write.  Except, of course, when I'm seriously upset and/or excited about something.

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Contrary to popular belief, I am alive and online.  I'm just, well, tired.  All the time.  The whole furlough thing continues to have ripple effects, and the process of catching up is taking far longer than I ever imagined.  Last Thursday was the first day when my to-do list no longer froze me in my tracks.  But I have a feeling there will still be plenty of "oops, I haven't gotten to that yet" or the freezing-"where-to-begin" process at the beginning of the day.  Once I get started, I can fly like the wind, but deciding where to start can be a challenge.
This is also my first two-day weekend at home in a month.  Granted, day two is a Monday, but still, it is amazing the difference taking two days off in a row can make in one's life. I watched movies, read books, got out fall clothes, and did a few other house-related projects. 
But the real spark for this particular posting is to share one of my new favorite book openings.  On Saturday, I was part of (well, sorta in charge of) a musuem sponsored bus trip to Thurber, Texas.  Thurber was once a company town and now is, well, not much.  But there's a lovely museum there, all about industrial history.  Consequently, they are interested in other Texas industries, like Shiner beer.  They're having an event next week, featuring Shiner's history, so they had some lovely books available for purchase.  I haven't been a beer drinker for too long (but ask my dad how excited he is that I now drink beer with him!), but Shiner is my default.  They also happen to be celebrating their centennial this year and of course, there is a history of Shiner book now available: Shine On by Mike Renfro.

People, it is a great book.  If you've ever had a Shiner or six or more, you should totally check it out.  Lots of great pictures, and it's written in this great chatty, breezy style.  Plus, I learned that Shiner was the first, and for many years, the only, brewery run by a woman.  Back in the 1950s.  How cool is that?  It makes me love Shiner even more!  Anyway, here is the opening that had me giggling and just very excited to read the rest of the book.  Which was finished the same day.  Can't think of the last time that happened with a grown-up book (though there are lots of pictures)
Just for grins, turn off the air conditioning off for a few days.  Throw away your bug spray, all sunscreen and don't pay your electric bill for a while.  Cut off virtually all contact with friends and family and give a large sum of money to a group of strangers to take you out into the middle of nowhere and summarily dump you.
Next, resolve to live among unfriendly natives, scorpions and all manner of snakes on hard ground that is prone to drought, flood, fire and pretty much every scourge and weather severity known to man.
Mix thoroughly with a dash of hindsight and a hearty serving of homesickness and you've got yourself a taste of what the first German and Czech immigrants to Texas encountered upon arrival.
Given all that they faced, you can easily see why one of their highest priorities--once the basic questions of survival were dealt with, anyway--was to figure out a way to brew some beer.

Awesome.

And if you happen to see my dad between now and October 27, please don't mention the amazing Shiner book.  It's his birthday present.  And yes, I read it before giving it to him, making it technically a used copy.  But haven't you done the exact same thing?

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Not that long ago, the state of Texas revised science standards.  And we were in the national news a bit, since evolution was definitely a part of the discussion.  And now, history standards are being revised.  You can read the complete article here
There are definitely some partisan politics going on in the committee, and  a conservative few are trying to rule for the moderate majority.  Check out some of the suggestions:
Delete Henry Gonzalez (a politician) and instead add John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart or Cecil B. DeMille in a section on "significant political and social leaders."  Umm, I'm all about Hollywood history, but I don't see why any of those folks need to be a part of state standards.
Fifth graders would be studying the Great Awakening.  Honestly, I don't think fifth graders would understand the Great Awakening.   However, it's such a great opportunity to show how Christianity was part of the founding (and uniting) of the nation.  Not exactly, but that's just my professional opinion.
Rush Limbaugh and the NRA would be added to a list of important Conservatives.  I guess this makes sense (not that I'm happy about it or anything, but it just seems like Rush shouldn't be in the history books just yet.
Sigh.  I'm sure that most of the things that make my eyebrows rise won't pass, and yet I still worry that such things are even being proposed.

In other "Ain't Texas history grand?" news, controversy surrounding the management of the Alamo continues.  The latest--the Board has decided that maybe they can't insitute a gag order on all former and current employees.  Yeah.  That's one of those things that just doesn't come up in the non-profit world.  The whole saga has been kinda fun, in that groaning, good grief, thank goodness it's not me, kinda way.

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Once the news of a half-time furlough for the month of August sunk in, I started making lists.  The first list, the more comforting list, was a projects list.  The second list, the one that scared me, was a budget.  But the budget just about broke even (well, at least I'm not any deeper in debt), so I turned my attention to the projects.
When I found out that I could work for dad, the project list took a backseat.  But I pulled it out tonight, the eve of my final furlough day.  And honestly, I did pretty good, even with the working for dad. 
On the list:
Read! Status: finished 6 books, a good way into two more and have almost conquered my backlog of magazines and job-related journals)
Organize kitchen cabinets and closets.  Status: some kitchen cabinets are better.  The closets I had in mind haven't been touched.  Still in that shove everything in and get it out of the way mode.
Clean out old bedroom w/mom: Didn't touch, much to mom's disappointment.  If I hadn't worked with dad, this totally would have happened.
Sew laundry room cutrians.  Status: hung up tonight.  See!
              

Start history/kidlit project.  Status: also started today.  Yes, I have launched a second blot here.  this one isn't going anywhere--it will be a bit more personal and a bit more museum-y.  I think.  Can't imagine neglecting it much more than I have over the last few months, but we shall see.  The new one is all about the intersections between children's literature (specifically semi-autobiographical and those contemporary works that have become historical fiction) and history.  I'm excited about it, in my dorky way.

Clean-up and back-up computer.  Status: the inbox is much better.  haven't done any of the rest of it, though that is a good tv project.

Visit Amon Carter and Sixth Floor Museums.  Status:  Not even close.

Movies.  Status: saw The Hangover and Julie and Julia in the theater.  Caught up on a few via netflix, though that list is completely out of control still.

Quotes for exhibit.  Status: got some work done on that, but mainly at work.  So I'm not sure that counts as a furlough project.

Revise clubwomen article for publication.  Status: not even touched.

So not too shabby, considering how much I ended up working with Dad.  It won't be a huge paycheck, but it's money I can put towards debt, which makes me feel better.

The furlough certainly could have been worse, but I'm still glad it's over.  My boss and I had a beer together on Friday and clinked glasses to the following toast: "To the end of the furlough.  And a new fiscal year!  It's got to be better than the last. . ."



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The furlough month is just about over.  For the last week or so, I've been working rush with my dad at the bookstore.  I've worked with him before, and there's something really special about working side by side with him.  We have pretty similiar personalities, at least when it comes to customer service.   And whenever someone says something about my crazy good memory, I just have to look at dad and how he can remember the color of a book and exactly where it is on the shelf when a student asks.

On the other hand, I really don't know how he's managed to survive rush after rush.   For over 30 years.   It is physically exhausting work.  My primary task has been to give out the online orders.  I work with a bunch of tall fellows and something the towers of book boxes are a bit tall.  And somehow it seems that a lot more boxes are on the bottom than the top.  I needed new tennis shoes before this gig began, and my feet have been telling me that I really need to get on that.  My back has been killing me today, so I'm sure tomorrow is going to be all sorts of fun.  I have random bruises all over my legs and odd scratches on my arms.  I have never needed a manicure more.  Dad has been fighting a cold this week as well.  On the bright side, at least this means he's leaving work when he's supposed to!

It is also mentally exhausting work, especially when it's a struggle to not say what you're really thinking.  No, if you ordered your books this morning, they are not ready this afternoon.  There are about 100 people in front of you.  You mean you can't pick up your books on your own?  Mom or dad has to do it?  Or Mom has to order the books?  How are you ever going to survive?  And don't tell me how you're going to avoid paying full price for things.  If there are used books available, they're on the shelf.  Yes, we know the prices are ridiculous.  But the college textbook conspiracy has many players, and the bookstore is just a minor part of that.  You don't want the bookstore to profit off of you?  Then don't spend $700 on apparel.  Or buy all of your school supplies here.

Honestly, though, the students seem a lot nicer than they were 5 years ago.  And I haven't actually gotten angry (invisibily, of course) with a customer.  So that's something.

Today was the first day of classes, which I missed because today was one of my days at the Village.  But I'll be there tomorrow, limping along with the rest of them.  Part of me wishes I had never said anything to dad about helping him out.  But on the bright side, the month has flown by and at the end of it, I'll be able to throw a bit more money at the credit card companies.  Plus, I can start to pay off a small part of the non-monetary debt to dad with all the help he's given with the house.  Not that we'll ever be even.  I think that's the point of family.

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About a month ago,  I was sitting in a conference room in Mankato, MN, listening to a presentation about the local Syrian community.  The main source about ethnic communities in Minnesota just happened to use Maud Hart Lovelace as a historcial source for information on the Syrians.  My jaw dropped just a bit.  And the following thought flashed through my head: "Everything I really need to know about history, I've learned through children's literature."
Now, I know this isn't precisely true, but since my favorite eras are late 19th century and early 20th century, I'm always finding connections between the history I do every day in my job and books I've read over the years.  For the last exhibit, I combed through various children's books, looking for quotes that related to domestic arts.  They weren't hard to find, and I felt like they added a nice personal touch to the exhibit.
Earlier that week, I had a conversation, maybe even more than one, about ways to increase Lovelace's visibility.  She certainly has her rabid, faithful fans but when folks list classic children's literature, she's never on the list.  There are many reasons why I love her Betsy-Tacy books, but as a historian, I love them because they're semi-autobiographical and not about the pioneer/frontier era.  So in this conversation, I stated that I believe that historians should start considering certain works of children's literature as primary sources--books like Little House and Betsy-Tacy and All-of-a-Kind Family and Roller Skates.  Yes, they're fictionalized, but they're all semi-autobiographical.  And it's not like the memoirs that historians currently rely on are pure--the writers have also twisted and turned their memories, or the memories have just gotten fuzzy.

As all of these thoughts kept gathering in my head, I realized that this could be my new project.  I've been searching for some kind of writing project for a while now.  I miss writing.  I miss research.  I need something that has nothing to do with my house or my job.  So, here's what I'm thinking: start a new blog, using that tagline "everything I really need to know about history, I've learned through children's literature."  I'd limit the books discussed to those that are either semi-autobiographical or that were written as contemporary fiction but have now been around so long they have become historical (think Alcott and Montgomery and some others).  My focus would be on books in print or easily available.  Though there is lots of great historical fiction out there for kids (I'm thinking Richard Peck and M.T. Anderson and others), using them would defeat the literature as historical source angle I find so interesting.  I would take some sort of historical idea, use some incidents from a kid lit book, and then dive a little deeper in the historical background.

Now, this idea combines two of my greatest loves, so I think it's a great idea.  But would anyone else be interested?  And is there someone doing this that I'm not aware of?  It's not that I'm looking for thousands of readers, but I would love to get a conversation going about children's fiction and history.  I do talk to myself occasionally, but I'm trying to get out of that habit. 

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Officially, the half-time furlough is now half over.  Here's what I've discovered about being on furlough:
  • The days off are both busy and not busy.  I made a huge list of projects.  Only a few have gotten done so far.  And yet, the days have been pretty full.  Errands I've neglected.  Birthday celebrating.  Movie watching (at the super cheap places).  Etc.  Reading.  Will I catch up on the backlog of magazines?  It's possible.
  • The days at work are freaking weird.  Coworkers are all on edge (myself included) because there is quite simply not enough time.  We keep our nose to the grindstones, are avoiding meetings, and yet we talk to each other all the time because a)we have to cram a week's worth into not much at all (no one has exactly the same schedule) and b)the world goes on and we still have to keep moving.  So in a way, I feel like I'm chatting too much, and yet, it's all necessary.
  • I almost freeze at work--there is so much that needs to happen (school still starts next week, whether or not we're on furlough) that I almost can't function.  Prioritizing is almost impossible.  My plan for this week has been to work on one big project in the mornings and another in the afternoons.  And try to respond to e-mails.  Are either of the big projects done?  Nope.
  • I'm trying very hard to not get depressed about it all.  Part of it is simple money worries--I have enough to cover my bills, but I seriously don't like how high my credit card balances are right now.  I feel like I've just been bleeding cash since I bought the house--much of the bleeding was planned (and oh, how I love my kitchen!) but the car thing sure wasn't.  There are some signs at work that are making me cautiously optimistic about our budgetary future, but so much of it is completely out of our hands.
  • Any plans to complete my furlough project list are just about gone.  I'll be working rush at Dad's store the next two weeks.  I am torn about this--will be glad to get the money, but wouldn't mind the time at home either.
Been quiet here because I honestly just don't know what to say.  That, and I think the Uverse is probably consuming too much of my time.  It's so easy to lose myself in television or a good book.  Perhaps it's exactly what I need right now.

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I've never claimed to be an entirely normal person.  And sometimes, things get me excited or emotional that makes no sense to others.  Some incidents from the last few weeks:

Thrilled to take a trip to Minnesota.  Minnesota is usually not a state at the top of people's must-see destinations.  And I even had multiple reasons to be excited:  #1 Finally visiting the Minnesota History Center, a museum that I have long admired from afar and #2 Two literary pilgrimages for the price of one!  Yes, I paid my respects to both Maud Hart Lovelace and Laura Ingalls Wilder last week. 




And if I need to explain the literary references, well, let's just say you have a lot of catching up to do on classic children's literature!

But the bigger thrill was the family-reunion aspects of the Betsy-Tacy Convention (yes, it was a whole big party, not just me paying my respects!).  See, I've been on this e-mail list about the BT books since 2000.  These women have seen me through 3 states, two degrees, and a whole host of other things.  It's almost like having lots and lots of older sisters (somehow, I'm one of the younger ones on the list).  So yes, I was hanging out with these people I "just know from the internet," but at the same time, it's much, much more than that.  I had people coming up to me saying "How's the house?"  or "How's the museum after the flood?"  And this was the beginning of our conversation--none of that getting to know you stuff, since we all aready knew each other so well.  I laughed and lauged and got so many hugs and it was just fabulous.  I can't wait for the next get-together, whether it's in Mankato or somewhere else.

Museum angst:  Like most non-profits, we're taking a financial beating at the museum.  Last week, the board made the very difficult decision to put all full-time staff on a half-time furlough for the month of August.  Which means half a paycheck--and also, quite the scramble to get things done that really have to get done.  And figuring out the priorities, since some things just aren't going to happen.  But I'm not really worried about myself.  I can make all my bills, and it really just means credit card companies are making money off of me, which I usually don't allow them to do.  However, I am deeply worried about my institution.  Though I am optimistic that we will get through this, I'm just worried at how much more we might have to cut.  And I love the place, more than I probably should. 

Hendrix Friends:  I am getting positively giddy about the upcoming mini-reunion this weekend.  Three dear friends are coming to Texas, in part to celebrate my birthday (30.  gulp.)   But we will also be playing with a baby and just catching up.  There are no major plans, other than eating and talking and drinking.  There's always something special when a couple of Hendrix folks get together--the house might explode when the 4 of us are together again!  So the 30th birthday celebration will both be very low-key and extremely special.

So that's what's been on my mind lately.  Along with a couple million other things.  So much going on!

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Yesterday, I sold my Altima and officially became the owner of a 2007 Honda Civic.  I'm really starting to love the new car, even as I miss my old car.
The Altima has been with me a long time--since the summer before my senior year of college (9 years!).  It was with me through the end of college, grad school in North Carolina, and back to Texas.  I can't tell you how many road trips--but I can tell you how many bumpers (4--I've been backed into 3 times!).  It was a really great little car, one that I enjoyed driving.
But it's been having one problem after another for the last six weeks.  And the latest issue, the car guy couldn't quite figure out.  So I sold it to carmax, took the money and ran.



The timing of all of this is less than ideal--I knew I would be needing a new car soon, but I was hoping to start looking in January.  Financially, I wanted more time to rebuild my savings.  But the timing was also bad since I really needed a new car (you can only shuffle 2 cars between 3 people in 2 different households for so long).  Plus, I had a kind of deadline to get all the logistics worked out due to my departure tomorrow to Minnesota.  But it all got done--even though it took way too long to get the loan figured out yesterday.
Before I drove my car for the last time, I said to Mom "It shouldn't be ending this way."  She looked at me kinda funny, but somehow I felt that  since the car that had been with me for so long deserved a better send-off.  And perhaps I'm just getting reflective because of the very close birthday--the big 3-0.  Or perhaps I'm just so stressed over everything that I've just gone a bit soft in the head.

But I got a great deal on the new car (it was owned by a family friend).  Alas, it is not the blue or green I was hoping for in a new car, but it's zippy and cute and I'm starting to have visions of road trips dancing in my head.



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Leaving on a jet plane tomorrow for the great north.  Not sure if I'm so giddy because I so desperately need a vacation or because I'm excited about the trip.  Probably a bit of both.

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This past Monday, my city had the first of two scheduled furlough days for this fiscal year, an attempt to save some cash in a horrifyingly bad fiscal year.  I feel for the employees that are losing a day's pay (though I'm still trying to wrap my head around someone losing $200-$300 for missing one day of work.  Personally, I wouldn't lose quite that much. . .)

But on Tuesday, there was an article in the paper that just about sent me over the edge.  Various citizens were interviewed about all the inconveniences that the day caused them, since they didn't know city offices would be closed.  The following comment had me yelling at the paper.  This was said in reference to the libraries being closed: "I don't think the public ought to suffer like this"  The quote was said by a homeless woman.  You know, someone who doesn't pay taxes.  Which enables things like the library to be open.  And have books and computers in it.

The economy is in bad shape.  We all know that.  And government budgets are certainly taking a big hit.  My city is looking at a $190 million shortfall.  And I know that I'm part of the problem, in a way.  Last year, my house was appraised at $21,000 more than what I paid for it.  I protested and am being taxed at the sales price (even though the improvements that I've made have probably made it worth that initial appraisal value, if not more).  But I also chose to live in the city, where the taxes are higher, rather than a suburb, because I love the library.  I love the rec centers.  I believe in my city, even as it keeps disappointing me.

At the museum, we get about 20% of our operating budget from the city.  We have an unusual agreement with the city, in which they own the structures and the land on which we sit, while we operate the museum.  Right now, the current budget proposal has the department through which we get our funding dissolving and becoming a part of the libraries.  Now, as I said above, I love libraries, but libraries and museums are very different animals.  We're also looking at a huge cut--probably six figures, or close to 10% of our budget.  In a year in which our two biggest fundraisers performed far below budget.

And folks continue to complain.  We regulary hear people commenting about the state of some of our buildings.  And I agree, we need more maintenance money (technically the city's responsibility).  It's not happening.  Or they talk about the "good old days" The conversations that start "You guys used to. . . why don't you any more?"  Well, the days when everything was like that were the same days when the city funded between 80% and 85% of our budget.

So to all those people that are confusd as to why city services aren't automatically there, I'd like to say the following:
Get used to it.  It's about to get much worse.  The libraries are about to have their operating hours cut in half.  311 hours are being cut.  Your cultural institutions are about to have their budgets gutted.  These services you've come to expect are not a right, but a privilege.  A privilege that we have to pay for.  I'm not a fan of higher taxes either, but these things are important to me and so I'm willing to pay for it.  And the people that complain the loudest are probably the same ones that have been fighting any efforts to balance the city budget.

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Last week was a busy programming week for us.  We had day cares visit the museum.  We had two outreach programs.  The first was at Head-Start.  I was reading "John, George, Paul and Ben" about the founding fathers and one little girl asked me "But where are all the girls?"  I stammered something about "They're in a different book," but thought to myself "Oh honey, when you're older, I'll explain. . ."
At the library program, there was a mom and two kids.  I invited the mom to make a tri-cornered hat with her kids.  She hesitated for a few minutes, but then gave in, got on the floor, and made the most amazing hat.  I said something to her about her inner child and she replied "I guess when they're doing craft projects, I'm used to having to clean up so I never have fun."

And on Saturday, we had our Old-Fashioned Fourth event.  It was hotter than Hades, but it was a great day.  We had a few families set up a spot in the shade that stayed all day--sometimes their picnic blankets were crowded, and sometimes there were just one or two people there.  We did a stick pony rodeo--one family came at both 11 and 1.  Apparently, the little boy kept asking "when can we go back?" in the interim.  He must have run the rodeo 15 times--in 100+ heat.  We had folks visiting with our interpreters, cranking ice cream, playing games.  We had a huge turnout of junior historians there to help--and two of them turned out to be old friends who were able to reconnect through us!

It was one of those weeks that makes my little educator heart very, very happy.  We're doing some really good things, but money is making it much, much harder.  We've built things up so nicely over the last few years, but I'm afraid the economy will crush all of our growth.  And who suffers in the end?  Everyone.  So all this success is very bittersweet, because the future looks so grim.

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