Sunday, August 18, 2013

Book Review: Walden on Wheels by Ken Ilgunas

I first heard of Ken Ilgunas's vandwelling experience from an online news article, and the basic premise sent me running to the library website to put his book on hold. For those not familiar with it: Ilgunas spent over a year living in his van in one of the parking lots of Duke University in order to complete his post-graduate degree debt free.This in itself is an amazing story, but it's only part of his story.

After graduating from the University at Buffalo, Ilgunas was left with a mountain of debt and few job prospects beyond his part time work at Home Depot . He eventually landed work in Coldfoot, Alaska, home of "The Farthest North Truck Stop". Living an austere lifestyle, working whatever jobs were offered to him, (Including dishwasher, cleaner, garbage burning, trail guide, and night cook ) and hitchhiking back to his home in New York, Ilgunas managed to pay off $32,000 in debt in roughly 4 1/2 years. Along the way he also spent time as a voyageur, did clean up work in the post-Katrina Gulf Coast, and fell in love. When Ilgunas decided to seek a Master's degree and was accepted to Duke University, his determination not to go back into debt led him to purchase a Ford Econoline van and live in it while studying for his degree and working almost full time as a tutor.

This is an important book that asks important questions. We always here that debt for college is "good debt", so we rarely question if students actually NEED to go into debt to get an education. We don't question that young adults, most still teenagers, are given insanely large loans without being told of the implications of that debt. We are trained not to think of the fallout from our consumer lifestyle, not to wonder if the jobs we take to support that life (while paying off exorbitant loans!) are ethical, and to not seek an authentic life.
Igunas's story is that of questioning those "American" values, of seeking an authentic life on the road, in the wilds of Alaska, and on the water...and in the process not only paying off his debt in an unprecedented time frame, but discovering how little a person really needs.
I've just said this is an important book, and I think it's important enough that I will require my 9th grader to read it this year (and strongly urge my 11th grader/first year college student to do so, also). I would say this book should be read by ALL kids in 9th or 10th grade. I'll note that there are language and a couple of situations some would object to kids that age reading about; however, by the time a kid turns into an adult, it's almost too late. They will already be on the path toward high debt and  a job that may not feed their soul, may not relate to their degree at all, and might not even  pay well to boot.  Ilgunas's experience is proof a person can pursue an education, a debt free life, and satisfying work- and not have to choose between them.

You may be wishing to ask me: "You know, Jenna, it's really easy to admire this in someone else's kid, but what about yours? What if your kid wanted to work in the wilds of Alaska? What if your kid wanted to hitchhike to New York, or live in a van while going to college?"
And here's the truth: I would admire them. I would want them to be careful, but I would encourage them all the same. It's risky, but not as risky as people have convinced themselves, and much less risky than living a stale life, chained to a job they hate to they can pay off their mountain of debt.

You can read Ken Ilgunas's blog here: it's well worth the read.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Random meanderings: organization

I am a firm believer that you have failed to put your socks away properly unless you pair them and ball them so you can find a proper pair. My family does not agree, which results in chaos and discord. I do my best to properly sort my kids' socks, but I have a basket in my room that perpetually has a dozen orphans. This week I had to schlep through my growing 11 year old's closet in search of clothes for camp, and I may be able to pair half a dozen of those socks. You have no clue how this relieves me.

All summer, I have been listening to CDs while I work out. I can't really do that during the school year, because kids are doing school. With the exception of Michael Feinstein, it's all been rock and roll ( which makes the yoga cool downs I've added for pain-avoiding reasons much more enjoyable! I know, I know....) While I'm not on any "each CD only once" plan, I'm trying to not listen to the same things over and over. It's good for me to rediscover old music (much of it "Greatest Hits" collection I got back in the Columbia House days) and also good not to listen to "Dark Side of the Moon" every.single.morning. Today as I was sorting through I came to the conclusion that our music falls into three categories: CDs I bought, CDs my husband bought, and a random assortment to CDs people bought or burned for us because they *think* we should like them, but that we never listen too but my husband won't let me get rid of because someone gave them to us.* (Whilst I was looking my daughter snuck the debut album from Walking Papers into the CD player. Good rock!)

*Let me use a real conversation to illustrate the extent of my husband's "We can't get rid of that!".

Me: "This pillow is ripped, can we get rid of it?"
Husband "No, someone in my family made it."
Me "Really? Because it looks manufactured. Who made it?"
Husband: "I don't know."
Me: "So you cannot confirm that it's home made OR made by anyone in your family, but we can't get rid of it because you THINK it MIGHT HAVE BEEN?"
Husband: :yes."

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Evening drive conversations with my kids

The Police's "Roxanne" comes on the radio
11 year old: "I've never understood this song."
14 year old: "It's about a prostitute."
Me : "and the man is in love with her and wants to take her away from it...kind of paternalistic, don;t you think?"
16 year old;" I think the general assumption is that people don't go into prostitution if they have a choice."
11 year old: "You know what Halo and Star Trek have in common?"

Geek sibling trash talk: "You will never be a Spartan, you didn't get into Hogwarts, and you don't have what it takes for Battle School."

11 year old: "But why is Greece having a financial crisis?"
16 year old: "They didn't sell enough of that fancy yogurt."

Why I won't share your political action, or give you money

It might surprise some people to know that I take a lot of online actions, on a daily basis, on a variety of topics that matter to me. It might surprise you because with rare exception I don't email you about the action, or share it to my facebook wall, despite the fact that the group initiating the action so desperately wants me too.
I'm not going to share it, because I figure that if you care about this topic too, you've already taken this action or a similar one. If you feel differently from me, you probably don't WANT to see my "TAKE ACTION post. In fact, if too many of them showed up in your feed, you might get fed up and hide me, and then how would you know what I'm making for dinner?

As for donations? I've pretty much taken to sticking with cash donations. This pretty much means the church offering plate, and happily I go to a church where I trust how they spend my money, and can direct money to various efforts, like world hunger, without sharing all my information with someone. Because I DON'T want to be bugged for years to make another donation to you. I don't want a full e-mail box, and I certainly don't want paper mail asking for money. If a group sends me so much paper mail that I feel the donation I made, or could afford, is spent begging people for no money- they are off my list. This goes double for "environmental" groups, because-seriously, using paper to as for my money so you can save trees?

So yes, I care about many things. I'll assume you do, and that you're already doing something about it, and don't need me to tell you to.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Things to do this month

And yes, this post is a bit of a space filler as I have not gotten up the energy to blog lately.

-Make double sure Turbo's lesson plan schedule for the next school year is complete, and print it

-Wait for a letter from the school or the arts OR decide at what point I will stop waiting and plan curricula for the girl next year. Next year, unless she gets into SOTA, I will be flying solo with her so if I have to stagger the start of subjects I can.

-Pray the district will consider the homeschool Running Start teen enrolled enough to qualify for lunch so we don't have to pay for his college text books. Failing that, buy books.

-Finish both a our deal a meal scheme (that's another post all on it's own!)  and standard printed shopping list. This year looks to be even BUSIER than previous ones, at least in some ways, so I *really* need to be able to put less thought into these things.

-Confirm my MOPS work schedule for next year...which may just be doubled or tripled!

-Get at least the body done on this commission sweater.

-Bring the following blog posts to you:

     -Taking Kids to Conventions

     - Boycotts (in progress)

     -Why I Love Organized Religion (in progress)

     -Why I won't Share Your Political action or Give Money to Your Cause

     I also need to design and start knitting a Wonder Woman pullover for the girl. Sh!