Inspirational educators

by Sheep Farmer

DD’s high school has what they term the “Wildcat Inspiration Awards program.” Seniors have the opportunity to nominate local school employees from elementary, middle, or high school who have had a positive impact on them. The PTA sponsors a ceremony where the students present awards to those whom they nominated. Last year’s group included a high school Latin teacher who helped a student overcome her dyslexia, a guidance counselor who helped a senior secure scholarships, and an elementary school teacher who nurtured a love of history in a student. Not only is this a great way to honor the educators, but it is also great opportunity for the students to let the teachers, coaches, and counselors know the positive influence that they have had on the lives of their students. Did you have any teacher, coach or professor that truly inspired you?



by Sheep Farmer

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I am the owner of a new cat. Mamma Cat, as she is now known, decided that my barn would be the perfect place to raise her family of three kittens. Lots of feral cats have shown up on our farm over the years. I have never fed any of them and most of them disappear after a few weeks. That all changed with our new arrival. Mamma Cat had been hanging around for a several months, always running away when she saw us. Last month I noticed a litter of kittens in a corner of the barn. DH and DD convinced me that I needed to feed her. She no longer runs away when she sees me, but she still keeps her distance. I now feel responsible for her, so she has an appointment in a few weeks to get spayed and get a rabies shot.. Have any of you adopted a stray that has shown up at your house? Is anyone planning on getting a new pet this year? If so, what type? If anyone is thinking about getting a cat this year, I know where you can get one!

Paying for college

by Sheep Farmer

High school seniors are excited about college acceptances, and their parents are worrying about how they are going to finance the next four years. DD will be attending an Expensive Private College (EPC) starting in August. Luckily, she was awarded a merit scholarship that cuts tuition in half. Both sets of grandparents have generously contributed to a 529. I plan to pay the rest out of pocket. We have talked to her about working during the school year, but I told her that she could wait until after the first semester before deciding whether or not that is something that she wants to pursue. What are others doing to finance their children’s education, especially ones that will be attending EPCs? Have any of your kids considered the ROTC route? Are you going to encourage them to work during the school year? Are you willing to pay the full fare for an EPC?

College tours

by Sheep Farmer

DD and I recently spent a cold and windy Saturday touring UVA. The tour and information session are both led by UVA students. I was disappointed with both, especially considering the reputation of UVA. We first went to a general information session. The UVA two students leading the presentation were frequently not able to answer basic questions posed by the parents (and almost all the questions came from the parents). We then went on a walking tour of the campus which was led by a different student. Instead of giving us new information, he just basically repeated what was said in the earlier talk. What new information he did give focused on the social aspects of the college. The guide spent ten minutes talking about the tradition of streaking across the lawn. Personally, I would much rather have heard him talk more about academics and less about silly college pranks.

This was only our third college tour, so I am definitely not an expert on the subject . The tour that has impressed me the most was at WPI. The session was led by staff from both the admission and financial aid offices. They were able to answer every question from the audience. I liked the fact that they gave information concerning average starting salaries for their graduates, what percentage have jobs already lined up by graduation, etc. I realize that UVA is much larger and has many more majors than WPI, but UVA still could have managed to give us some of this same information.

For those of you who have already been on college tours, what schools impressed both you and your kids the most?

Hot political issues

Today’s post includes two submissions, both offering the writers’ perspectives on what they consider crucial issues surrounding this year’s presidential election.


by Sheep Farmer


Our recent discussion on health care made me realize how important this issue is in this year’s election cycle. For me, it will probably be the deciding factor as I head to the polls for my state’s primary next week. My family has benefited greatly from the Affordable Care Act, and I would hate to see it dismantled. The ACA is a great start, but as shown in our discussion last week, health care in this country is still too expensive and complicated. It is an issue that needs to be addressed. The economy, government spending, social issues, foreign policy, and immigration are all issues mentioned regularly by the candidates. If you are headed to the polls in the next few weeks, what issues are driving your decision?


By Mémé

Why I fear a Republican President

I put this post off for a long time because I didn’t know how to say what I meant clearly without giving possible offense to other members of our online community. But after a couple weeks of pointed political discussion in our new and less timid iteration of the Totebag, I have decided to go ahead.

It comes down to one word. Religion. The conservative religious supporters of the GOP have been loyal for 30 plus years and have received little or nothing in return. The bill for services rendered will be presented to a Republican President and Congress and it will be paid. (The Supreme Court without Scalia, even if the new Justice is appointed after the election, is always a wild card. We could get a corporatist or even a true libertarian.)

So why do I care? Plenty of economic but not social conservatives, including non Christians, are not particularly bothered by the idea that so-called individual religious liberty will become the first criterion in determining the hierarchy of civil rights when there is a conflict. That government will be forbidden to enforce any law or regulation that anyone objects to on religious grounds. Social moderates often assume that the inability to enforce will lead to lifting of legislative and regulatory mandates, so that the market and common social norms will be decisive. It will require adjustment from people (usually not “people like us”) whose current rights and freedoms (many of which were established over the past century, bit by bit) will as result no longer be guaranteed. They will gradually take their business elsewhere or move to more hospitable localities or home school or find workarounds or accept the conditions that their forebears endured – after all, many of the things the social conservatives want to see changed resulted not only from changing social standards but also from government granting and enforcing rights that the conservatives consider immoral or that impinge on their personal freedom. And this does not even take into account the likelihood that the legislative legacy will not be entirely libertarian/reduced government, but will also include new morally inspired restrictions (and more government interference) on personal freedom that is deemed to have crossed over into immorality or socially destructive behavior.

Ross Douthat, in a column on Islamophobia sets out the terms of the ideological conflict from his conservative religious point of view. “[C]osmopolitan liberals… are also convinced that many conservative Christians are dangerous crypto-theocrats whose institutions and liberties must give way whenever they conflict with liberalism’s vision of enlightenment.”

I really don’t see how a requirement to serve all comers in a public business or gay civil marriage or Season’s Greetings means that anyone’s institutions or liberties are being constrained. Please, conservative Totebaggers, explain this to me. I do from my own people’s experience see how religion has been used for millennia as an excuse to limit personal and property rights or worse – periods of acceptance/inclusion/honor alternating with periods of actual persecution, so I don’t buy the argument that the march of progress and economic power means that it won’t happen again.

‘Odd’ Jobs

by Sheep Farmer

The many different ways people make a living fascinates me. Most of us who read the Totebag have predictable jobs-lawyers, professors, engineers, etc,, but what I find interesting are the unique ways that people have found to make a living. For example, DH has a friend who is an apiarist. He makes his money not only from selling the honey and the beeswax. but also from selling bees to those who want to start their own hives. DD has a classmate whose dad has a business making large fiberglass sculptures for theme parks and other road side attractions. Totebaggers, what jobs do your friends and family have that you find most interesting? Do any of you have any unusual business ideas that you hope one day to pursue?

Who Inspires You?

by Sheep Farmer

Several years ago, when my family was on vacation in Ohio, we made a stop at the John Rankin house. Rankin was a staunch abolitionist in the 1800s. He lived in a small house on top of a hill on the outskirts of the town of Ripley, just across the Ohio River from the slave state of Kentucky. Rankin was instrumental in the abolitionist movement. As a Presbyterian minister, he preached about the horrors of slavery; he helped runaway slaves cross the river into the free state of Ohio and he fed and housed them before they continued on their journey north. Here was a man with everything to lose and nothing to gain by helping complete strangers, yet he felt that it was his moral duty to do so. I find his story inspirational and I keep a picture of his house on my desk. Totebaggers, who do you find inspirational and why?