Saturday, March 31, 2007

Teaching Your Own: The Next Trend?

Here in Chicago, it’s time for the Auto Show*. For the next two weeks, it will be relentlessly promoted on radio and TV until we’re sick of it. Already this morning, my radio/alarm clock woke me to the radio personality’s excited announcement that this year’s show will be honored with a visit from none other than Rachael Ray.

Now, if it weren’t for my daughter, I wouldn’t have a clue who Rachael Ray is. But in the bookstore where my daughter works, Rachael Ray is a big name, because she apparently has a television cooking show, and more importantly, sells a ton of books. In an era when people are reading less than ever, someone who writes best-sellers, no matter what the topic, is famed among booksellers.

Of course, Rachael Ray is just one of a herd of famous cooks that are selling books, cookware and probably even the kitchen sink these days. A little research reveals names like Paula Deen, Bobby Flay and Sandra Lee, and of course, Martha Stewart, who I have heard of (I haven’t completely withdrawn from society…..not yet, anyway).

I find this cooking trend to be amazing. I grew up at a time when women were urged by society to throw off their aprons, run from their stoves and embrace the business world, where they would find True Fulfillment. When I graduated from college in 1980, most women knew how to cook but weren’t about to brag about it, because it was not a very cool thing to admit. But now, after several decades of fast-food meals in place of home-cooked ones, people are evidently ready to give up processed foods and embrace real, from-scratch cooking again.

I find this so interesting! Do you suppose a trend is starting where all the true home arts that were traditionally the province of women come back? Now that I think about it, the recent resurgence of knitting and scrapbooking could be additional signs of a revival. I shouldn’t get my hopes up, but if it’s becoming socially acceptable for women to cook, and knit, and scrapbook (and even, according to Martha Stewart, keep a clean and fashionable home), isn’t it possible that one of the most time-honored traditions of them all will come back…..raising and educating our own children?

OK, maybe I’m stretching a bit here, but if cooking can become such an honored activity that its proponents get invited to appear at none other than the 99th Annual Chicago Auto Show, can’t I hope that some bubbly brunette will eventually spring forth with a television show about having children and raising them yourself? She could teach about pregnancy, and giving birth, and nursing the baby, and introducing solid foods….imagine the possibilities!

And once her show is all the rage, generating books and products galore for new moms to buy, her producers will look for a spin-off idea that will generate even more tie-in books and products to promote. That will be the perfect time to introduce her new show about raising preschoolers. None of that preprocessed preschool education for her! This show will present all the ways women can educate their preschoolers at home, from scratch. She could bring on her mom friends and they could demonstrate how to let your three-year-old finger-paint at home (without an art class!), how to let your preschooler run in the rain, how to set up a sandbox and let your little ones spend happy hours playing in it with no interruptions for group bathroom breaks, instead giving them the freedom to decide when they need to go potty …..all the things those poor kids locked up in daycare can’t experience.

After a few years of this, our bubbly brunette will really have the attention of advertisers everywhere. Celebrity actresses will appear on her show to give viewers all the dishy details about how they quit gallivanting around the world hitting fashion shows with Madonna once they discovered the joys of spending more than one day in a row with their little ones. A new line of books and products promoting the show’s theme of “Keeping your children home where they belong!” will spring up.

And just as her fame has reached a level equal to Oprah’s, our bubbly brunette (our Mommy Icon, if you will) introduces her newest show, the equivalent of grad school for moms: Homeschooling! After all, once you’ve put in the time and effort having your children, nurturing them and teaching them up to age five, why stop now? Putting them in school after all that would be like Rachael Ray giving up cooking to eat at McDonald’s every day. So there’s the next trend….television shows will spring up with high-profile guests like Mary Pride and Laurie Bluedorn. Homeschool catalog companies will be overwhelmed with inquiries. Homeschool conventions will require larger venues because of the demand. Soon it will become apparent that anyone in the know teaches their children at home, and the biggest names in homeschooling appear everywhere, like Rachael Ray, even at the Auto Show…..

Uh-oh, here’s that d.j. harping on the Auto Show again. I must have hit my snooze alarm. All that stuff about mothering and homeschooling becoming de rigueur was just a dream. But aren’t we homeschooling moms fortunate that we’re living the dream? Let them have their business trips and their designer shoes….we know where the real fulfillment is.

In our society, we hear endless talk about the importance of education. But we somehow manage to forget that the primary place of education is the home. Chesterton says, “If education is the largest thing in the world, what is the sense of talking about a woman being liberated from the largest thing in the world?” In other words, if education is really as important as we say it is, then certainly domestic life is more important than we currently make it out to be, and everything else, especially public life and commercial life, is less important than we hold it up to be.

Dale Ahlquist in Common Sense 101: Lessons from G.K. Chesterton

*Note: this post was first published in January 2007 for "The Imperfect Homeschooler" newsletter's January 2007 issue. Free subscription here.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Time Together All Year Long

As a small publisher, I spend a lot of time at the post office. After my visit there yesterday, I walked past our dentist’s office, just a few doors down, and noticed that it was closed up and dark, which is a strange sight in the middle of a weekday afternoon. Then I remembered that this week is Spring Break around here, and our dentist always takes his family on a trip for Spring Break. He has a wife, two teenaged stepchildren and a small son, and it’s a good time for them to bond as a family; the rest of the year, they are each busy with their own schedules, and there’s not much time to be together.

It’s got to be hard to create family time on such an infrequent basis. That’s why we homeschooling families are so fortunate to have as much time together as we do. Our teens and tiny kids have the opportunity to grow close despite the gap in their ages. My adult daughter regularly calls her younger siblings and hangs out with them. Would that have happened if we hadn’t been home together for so many years? I wonder.

The concept of homeschoolers having more family time was a theme in the recent movie “RV,” which we watched on DVD last week. I don’t normally watch Robin Williams’ movies because he becomes so frenetic that I want to shoot him with a tranquilizer gun. But he wasn’t as bad in this one. He plays the father of a family whose members are too busy with their own concerns to spend much time together, and he sees that he needs to do something about it. So he takes his family on a long trip in a recreational vehicle (there’s another reason for the trip, which is part of the plot, but I won’t go into that here.)

While on their travels, they meet another traveling-by-RV family that they find quite annoying…you guessed it, a homeschooling family. That family lives in an RV, homeschooling as they travel. The family’s members are portrayed as out of the mainstream, compared to Williams’ family. But over time, Williams’ character sees the closeness in that family and decides it’s what he wants for his own.

We homeschooling families are blessed to be together every day, and even though it gets hard sometimes (financially, personally or both), we have to remember that we have something rare and precious in this world: time together. Seeing how the rest of the world, like my dentist or Robin Williams’ character in “RV,” lives can help remind us of that. I’m so glad I never had to wait for Spring Break to have time with my kids!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

"Special" Soap

I know I'm probably wandering into curmudgeon territory with this post, but I'll take that risk. I was flipping through some coupon supplements today when I learned that there is actually such a thing as special hand soap for children, complete with a blinking lighted timer shaped like a hippo's head on the top, so that children learn to wash their hands until the timer stops blinking (about 20 seconds).

This must be a pretty new product, because I searched for a picture of it online (I'm embarrassed to admit I don't know how to scan the picture in the coupon flyer to post here), but I only found this one, which does not have the blinking hippo head.

Why should children have special "just-for-kids" foaming soap dispensers? All four of my kids learned to wash their hands with a bar of soap. If they didn't wash long enough, I sent them back to do the job again. Yes, they pulled all the tricks I pulled when I was a kid: using water only, or getting the towel damp so it would seem like they had washed their know the drill. Eventually, though, they learned to wash their hands in the proper way and at the proper time.

As if we weren't already overwhelmed with choices in today's stores, we now have many other products designed just for kids. Special toothpaste, special bandages, special yogurt, special frozen dinners.....the list goes on. Maybe this explains why so many young people grow up spoiled these days.....they've become accustomed to "special" everything.

How To Make Parenting Difficult

Columnist Deb DiSandro writes about family issues, and often with humor. But some of her best columns are the straightforward ones, such as today's column about why parenting is hard. I don't think parenting has ever been easy, but she hits on several areas where today's parents are certainly guilty as charged: overindulging, over-identifying, over-explaining (one area I've had trouble with), overcompensating, over-thinking, over-controlling, over-involving and overprotecting.

I think most parents will find something of themselves in Ms. DiSandro's's worth reading as a wake-up call if parenting is overwhelming you lately.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Know Thy College

Homeschooled teens are not only being admitted to colleges and universities in record numbers, but in many cases they are being wooed by them. This can be very flattering to the parent who has worked hard to teach a child. But beware, homeschooling parent, not all colleges are worthy of your child.

Columnist Walter E. Williams recently mentioned something all homeschooling parents need to know:

"For decades, college administrators and professors have sanctioned or participated in an attack on traditional American values. They've denied campus access to military recruiters, promoted socialism and attacked capitalism, and instituted race and sex quotas in admissions and in the awarding of scholarships. They've used their positions of trust to indoctrinate students with anti-Americanism. Despite this attack, taxpayers and private donors have been extremely generous, pouring billions upon billions of dollars into institutions that often hold a generalized contempt for their values."

Dr. Williams has written about this many times before; in this particular column, he is warning donors, not parents. But it cannot be said enough: do not send your homeschooled child to college until you know the values promoted by the specific college or university that your child has chosen (or that has chosen your child). Do you really want the child you've worked so hard to raise and teach to risk brainwashing by people with values in direct opposition to your own?

Blaming the Test Instead of the Course Content

In Washington state, legislators and educators are scuffling over how to change the math and science portions of a state test so that more students will pass it. This particular article includes a quote from an education expert that really cuts to the gist of testing:

End-of-course exams "make more sense to educators," said Jack Jennings, the center's president. "What they find is that it's better to test kids right after they finish a course than to try to test them at a later time across many subjects."

Why do you get better results when you test right after a course? Because the information is still fresh in the students' minds. They have not yet forgotten it. The resulting higher scores make the students and their teacher look good.

Here's the thing, useful can this information be if it's so easy to forget? We all hold lots of information in our heads without effort. How long does it take you to memorize your new address and phone number when you move? Not long at all, because you need that information all the time. When you bought your last car, did you keep forgetting where the headlight switch was? No, because you needed it right away. The subsequent regular use of that information keeps it in your head.

I yanked my homeschooled teenagers out of a popular satellite school once I realized that they were reading the assigned information, memorizing it for the test, and forgetting it soon after they'd passed the test. That's what I did in high school, and what I didn't want for them. It's a waste of time.

On the other hand, I learned a quilting technique in a one-day class I took over ten years ago, and I have never forgotten it. I've used it many times. I consider it a very valuable piece of information. But I didn't need to memorize it. I gained the information when I needed it, and it was useful to me, so my regular use of it cemented it in my brain.

If students are forgetting what they've learned soon after a course, how to test them is not the problem. Instead, we need to question the value of what was taught in that course. If it was something that would prove useful or interesting to them, they would still remember it, even if they were tested quite a while later.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Poisoned Pet Food: Why We Must Be Concerned

Today it's reported that the recent rash of pet illnesses and deaths linked to a certain pet food may have been caused by rat poison. Either tainted wheat gluten is the cause, or else someone purposely put the rat poison in the food; in either case, we have a problem.

If the wheat gluten was indeed tainted, we are seeing a vivid illustration of the dangers of imported grains. This particular wheat gluten came from China, a country with far different standards than ours when it comes to many things, from air quality (Chinese factories are belching out pollution with few restrictions) to human rights. We'd be naive to assume they would adopt our stringent policies for food safety.

On the other hand, if the poison was added to the pet food, we have to consider the possibility of terrorism. First pet food, then human food? It's possible. It's been suggested that the recent run of cruise ship viruses may be due to terrorists. Why wouldn't they want to try poisoning our food supply? Maybe the Christian Agrarian movement is on to something: grow your own food, and you'll know where it came from (and what's in it!)

Offenses and Rationalizations

Parents who push their kids to go to college need to be aware of the social atmosphere that awaits the children they've worked so hard to raise. Consider Harvard University, where the "revolutionary" idea of promoting celibacy has taken an awful lot of criticism. Founded by two seniors, True Love Revolution has created all sorts of controversy on campus, partly because of its existence, and partly because of its "revolutionary" actions, such as sending all the freshmen on campus a valentine last month that said "Why wait? Because you're worth it."

Hard to find that offensive, but some did, including one freshman who complained that the group's members "perpetuate an age-old values system in which the worth of a young woman is measured by her virginity.” More from this article:

"She also argued that “the very name TLR essentially invalidates the relationships of sexually-active, nonmarried couples, as if to suggest that abstinence is the only way to find true love.”

The last thing we would want to do is offend sexually active, nonmarried couples!

And as long as we're trying not to offend people, let's not offend actor Mark Wahlberg by suggesting that there's anything wrong with his claiming to be a devout Catholic while not marrying the mother of his two children. His justification?

“Divorce is a bigger mistake than living with two children, not being married,” Mark justified. “My parents are divorced, her parents are divorced, so we want to succeed.”

Once people start making their own rules instead of following God's, they can justify pretty much anything, at least to themselves.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The End of the Maytag Saga

You'll be relieved to know that our Maytag saga is over, lol. As I predicted last time, that repairman never did get back to me. But, early the morning after that third canceled repair appointment, our parts (turned out to be the entire inside door panel) arrived via FedEx.

So I called the repair place, only to be told that I'd have to call Maytag. Even after I told the repair place that we'd had three cancelled appointments because of the missing parts, they blew me off. So I called Maytag, and got a message saying, "We can't help you just now. Call back another time." Geez.

That was two weeks ago. I ended up calling back a few days later, insisting on the first appointment they had available (which was today), and lo and behold, the guy showed up, and he fixed the dang thing. We no longer have to worry about the dishwasher imploding. That's nice to know. Just the same, I won't be buying another Maytag dishwasher. After six weeks of goofing around with this, I've had it with them.

We Call It The Junior Hooker Dept.

I'm one of those moms who says things to her dd15 in the dressing room like, "Sorry, that top is too low-cut," or "Squat down so I can see how low those jeans go in the back."

Apparently, I'm old school, because I can't even relate to the kind of mom columnist Margery Eagan describes here.

Yet somehow what she says rings true. I guess when I'm in the store complaining, "Who buys this junk?" (or this), I'm talking about those moms. After all, somebody's buying this garbage, or the stores wouldn't keep selling it.

Arresting Dropouts

Apparently, paying kids in England to go to school is not enough incentive, so now the British government has decided to try penalizing anyone under 18 who drops out of school or job training:

"Breaching an attendance order will be a criminal offence, punishable by a £50 fixed penalty or prosecution. Ultimate sanctions include community sentences or fines.... The names of all 16 and 17-year-olds will be added to a database held by local authorities so that they can track their participation in education or training."

Those payments to kids for attending classes will change, so that now they'll be rewarded for showing up, and paid extra for actually participating:

"The education maintenance allowance of £10 to £30 a week, which is paid to 400,000 youngsters from low-income families to encourage them to stay at school, will be replaced with a new "training wage".

This is likely to include a basic allowance for those who turn up to training, and "bonus" payments for those who gain qualifications and demonstrate progress."

It seems like if you have to bribe and threaten kids to go to school, something is either wrong with the system or wrong with the kids. All I know is, I'm glad we don't live in England!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Will History Repeat Itself?

It's practically a law among homeschoolers that you study our country's founding, and our family was no exception to that. My kids and I learned all about American life in the late 18th century, including how much our forefathers relied on goods shipped over here from other countries. For many years, early Americans purchased goods such as fabric and books from overseas. Once we had a stable industrial base, however, we were able to make such products here on American soil for purchase by our own people as well as export to others.

These days, it seems as though we are in reverse. I got to thinking about this today as I was cleaning out a storage area in my house, where I stumbled upon what was left of the plastic tableware I bought for a party ten years ago. Specifically, I found about a dozen sturdy blue plastic spoons. They were in a cardboard box marked "Made in the USA." Try finding anything like that now. So much of what is available to us is cheaply made, cheaply bought, and made in China.

The women who lived in early American times made their own clothes, often using imported fabric, but that was long before American fabric mills sprang up in the East and South. I don't have much time to sew anymore, but I'm aware that very little fabric is being made here in the U.S. It's made overseas, and the quality is not as good. The thread count is lower, and I'm noticing that the clothes we buy, particularly knit shirts, do not wear well. They get nubby very quickly, and the shirts become shorter and wider after several washings. That's because they're cut so that the manufacturer can get more items out of a certain amount of cloth.

If something were to happen (say, a war) that prevented all of the imported goods we rely on from getting here, we would be just like the ladies in early American times, pining for the latest bolt of fabric from Europe. It's like we've come full-circle. I think that's called regressing.

Books for Teenage Girls

I spent some time at the public library today, trying to find some fiction for dd15 to read.

She had already attempted this search, with upsetting results. Last week when she was there with her dad, she found two novels that looked interesting. The one turned out to be so full of foul language that she stopped after the first chapter. The other held her interest throughout, but it ended with the main character's best friend committing suicide. Lovely.

Dd told me that she had looked for quite a while, and those two were all she could come up with. Thus my visit today, where I learned that she was not exaggerating. The "Young Adult" section, as our library calls it, should be renamed "The Cesspool." I flipped through book after book, finding pure junk. They very much reflected today's culture: an obsession with Hollywood and becoming a "star," massive name-dropping of designer clothes and other products, and plenty of foul language...and those were the least of my objections! Many were also liberally sprinkled with obscene language and descriptions of sex acts. Themes included rejection by parents and self-mutilating behavior. It took me 30 minutes to find two books, which appear to be relatively clean, if not literary masterpieces. We'll see if they, too, turn out to be duds.

Dd isn't big on reading, so I'm trying to find something that would change her mind about it. She would prefer something that takes place in the present day, rather than in the past. She has tried Christian fiction but finds it to be kind of preachy, or self-congratulatory in terms of the character's assessment of her faith. (Admittedly, she hasn't read a lot of Christian fiction, though.) Is it too much to ask for something written specifically for young women that's clean and interesting? Anybody got any suggestions?

Saturday, March 17, 2007

What's He Thinking?

The governor of Ohio has removed that state's EdChoice voucher program from his budget, saying that he believes the voucher program is "inherently undemocratic" because it uses public money, but taxpayers can't see how that money is being used, since not all the schools are under the direct control of publicly chosen Boards of Ed.

The EdChoice programs gave over 2800 students in poorly performing public schools the opportunity to attend private schools instead. Now that they've lost that opportunity, I can't help but think about how much harder it will be for these kids to go back to the schools they escaped. How demoralizing would that be to a young person?

Something said about Illinois' governor (by his opponent) in the recent gubernatorial election applies to Ohio's governor, too: "What's He Thinking?"

Reading Aloud: Not Just for Toddlers!

I'd never heard of Joe Hill, author of Heart-Shaped Box, a novel so promising that its movie rights were sold six months' prior to its publication. But apparently he is the son of well-known novelist Stephen King. He chose to use his first and middle names as his pen name so that he could break into writing without riding on his father's coat tails (or his mother's---she's writer Tabitha King). His younger brother is also a writer, and his older sister is at work on a non-fiction book. So, how did they all end up to be writers? According to this article,

The King children's interest in books and writing took root early on. "It sounds very Victorian, but we would sit around and read aloud nightly, in the living room or on the porch," Hill recalled. "This was something we kept on doing until I was in high school, at least."

This is a good lesson for those of us homeschooling parents who think our older children and teens are too old for read-aloud family time: it obviously worked for the King family!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

How to Get Your School Day Started Early

We got an early start on school today. This is not normal for us. I used to get 'em up bright and early, but nowadays I take longer to ease into the day, and the kids don't mind waiting until I'm ready. But we had a house showing appointment scheduled for early morning, so we had to get it together earlier than usual.

Realtors aren't crazy about us being home when they show the house, but we just can't leave for every showing. My dh would never get any work done, and we wouldn't get much school done, either.

I always wonder what people think when they see us in the house on a weekday. I imagine we cause a lot of people to scratch their heads. There's Dad in his office, working on his computer. And over in the dining room are Mom and the kids, schoolbooks spread all over. Do visitors think we're weird? Judging from the questions I've had in the past, it's very likely that they wonder if we ever get tired of being home together every day (the answer is no, btw).

Do they wonder if we homeschool because we don't like the public schools? So far we haven't had any questions like that, but I'm sure somewhere along the line, someone's going to ask us why we homeschool. My answer would be that we were homeschoolers before we came here, and we'll be homeschoolers after we move. It's just what we do. If they're worried about the schools, they can go talk to my neighbor, whose six kids have attended local schools over the 19 years both our families have lived here. One of her sons just graduated from college as a music teacher, and another is about to finish medical school and start an optometry practice. They've done pretty well so far.

Being on the market when you're homeschooling and running two in-home businesses is no fun. You have to drop what you're doing to pick up the clutter and drag out the vacuum cleaner every time a realtor calls to show the house. It gets old real quick. But it's what we have to do so we can move on.

We Love Easy Art Projects

When I first began homeschooling my children over 20 years ago, we did a lot of art projects. Naturally, I taught my children the artistic techniques I had learned in my own youth. One of those techniques was to color a piece of paper with a number of different crayons until the entire page was filled. Then we painted the paper with black paint, and once it was dry, used an opened paper clip to draw designs, which "magically" appeared. You can see the technique demonstrated here.

That kind of project was a lot of fun for my first three children and me, but I've never done it with my youngest, who has Down syndrome. It would take him a looonnnggg time just to color an entire page. Add in the painting and etching, and it would become a multi-day project. But that doesn't mean he hasn't been able to enjoy this technique. His best friend, who also has Ds, gave him a Crayola Color Explosion kit for his birthday last week. He's been having a great time using the "magic" marker to draw on the specially treated black paper and reveal the color underneath. The kit also comes with stencils, so he can quickly shade them in and achieve the same result as any other child, and almost as quickly. For someone who has to work very hard at most of the things he does, this kit has been a real source of enjoyment. His friend's mom is very good at finding cool things for these guys, and she's done it again with this gift.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Homeschool Tedium

Dsds14's developmental delays can make homeschooling a bit tedious for me. Unlike my older children, he progresses at a rate that can be very slow at times. In fact, "progresses" might be the wrong word to use, since he is often on a plateau and occasionally backslides. He is trying as hard as he can, but he's got a lot of baggage that makes learning difficult for him.

Having homeschooled three "typical" kids first, I'm used to throwing challenges at my kids. But with this one, I've had to learn to be really patient and wait for him to catch on to things. Even now, though, I get kind of antsy at times as he slowly prints a paragraph or computes a math exercise. But the thing is, if I let him go at his own pace, he will eventually pick up what he needs to. It's just that I'm wanting to move things along.

One solution that has worked for me, in terms of making me more patient and less antsy, is bringing an acrostic puzzle to the table where we work. There's a great one in the Chicago Tribune Sunday magazine that is challenging, yet not so demanding that I can't stop whenever I need to in order to help my son. This may not be something that most teachers would approve of, much less be allowed to do, but for us it seems to be working. That's one of the best things about can do what works best for your child and you.

Time Abuse

A very busy couple of days left me with no time to blog. Then, when I tried to post last night, Blogger wasn't working! Thankfully, it is, on with the post.

Scott Burns laments the changes he's noticed at the Home Depot in recent years, changes that have caused him to avoid a store he once loved. I think we can relate to his comments, even if not about Home Depot.

Today's consumers are often left to fend for themselves in enormous stores with little or no help to be found. Big discount stores offer rows of cash register lanes, but never open more than four or five at the most (I'm convinced many of those cash registers are fakes, and they have to dust them every day because no one ever touches them). Meanwhile, department stores have crammed their aisles full of clothes and other goods, but try finding a cash register with a sales clerk near it---good luck! The best way is to look for a line of people.

Burns' point that these stores are committing "time abuse" is an excellent one. Despite all of today's time-saving technology, we consumers often find that our time is being wasted, not saved. We waste time wandering around a store trying to find something because there is no one around to help us. We waste time waiting in line, seemingly everywhere we go. We waste time when the scanner fails to give us the sale price on an item vividly illustrated in the sale flyer we're holding, because the checker can't change the erroneous price until the manager finally arrives to do an override.

Businesses with an online presence are reaping the benefit of our anger at having our time abused. It's so easy to buy something online. No crowds, no lines, no searching for clerks. The only problem is that you can't hold the item in your hand. You can't flip through the book or try on the shirt. But if you're sick of retailers committing time abuse, it may seem to be worth the trade-off.

Some retailers are a bit more savvy about how to treat today's consumer. I was in a store called Coldwater Creek yesterday. It's a women's clothing store. The prices are pretty high, but the quality is good and the service is excellent. There are plenty of knowledgeable, friendly store clerks. What they don't have in the store you can order online while you're there, and it will be delivered to you free. I ordered a dress in two sizes....I can return the one that doesn't fit (or both if I don't like the dress at all), and if I bring them to the store, I'll get free shipping on the returns.

That impressed me right there, but it gets better: when I placed the order, the clerk typed in a code that took $25 off my total. That made me very happy :)

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Our Tax Dollars Hard At Work

Just received one of the many puff pieces our local school district sends out in an effort to justify its existence. After spending years on our state's financial and academic watchlists, it needs all the good PR it can buy. This particular quote is from the principal of one district school that recently "transformed itself":

"Over the past few years, XXX School has transformed itself," says Principal John Doe. "There is a palpable sense of the good things happening at XXX. We have embraced the philosophy, 'If the horse is dead, get off of the horse.'" (emphasis theirs)

(As Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up. Hat tip to dd15, who encouraged me to put the quote on this blog.)

Friday, March 9, 2007

And We Wonder Why They Play Video Games All Day

Yet another cause of the infantilization of young people in our culture: the results of a recent survey show that while teens are willing to work part-time jobs, business owners are increasingly refusing to hire them. In fact, summer employment for teens is at an all-time low.

What a shame! Teens can learn so much from part-time work. I touched on this in the recently expanded version of my book, Life Prep for Homeschooled Teenagers:

Some homeschooled teens are fortunate to already be part of a family business. They have been learning and earning since they were fairly young. But even these teens can learn something new by obtaining a part-time job away from home. Working for a boss who’s not related to you is a lot different than working for your parents.

So for all homeschooled teens, from those who have never worked for pay to those who have been an integral part of the family business, a part-time job can provide money, some independence, and valuable life skills beyond what they have learned at home. When teens become employees, they learn skills they’ll need in future jobs, such as:

· getting along with customers
· following their employers’ instructions
· making good use of their time on the job

They’ll also gain specific skills, from working a computerized cash register to making hamburgers and fries. Then there are the intangible benefits, such as learning:

· humility (from having to wear an embarrassing uniform)
· persistence (from sticking with a dull chore like stocking shelves for three hours straight)
· patience (from dealing with demanding customers)
· promptness (from being required to "punch in" on time)

(Admittedly, parents are more likely to view these as benefits than teens.)

My first part-time job was at an ice cream shop. I worked there for six months; after the first few months, I earned a 10-cent raise, which brought me up to a whopping $1.40 an hour. I also earned a right forearm much larger than my left, because I scooped with my right hand. Subsequent jobs included cashier at a hardware store, window clerk at the community pool's refreshment stand, cashier at McDonald's.....I even spent a summer working in a perfume factory. The lessons I learned from these jobs were not those you learn from books, but from real life.

My two adult children began working part-time when they were teens. Now dd15 is almost 16, and we've discovered that the nearby chain grocery store has upped its minimum age for employees to 18. This is the same chain that hired my son at 15. Since dd15 is getting tired of babysitting, it looks like we will have to hire her to do work for our business. But as I stated above, there are certain lessons you can only learn by working for someone outside of your family.

If you're wondering why few businesses will hire teens anymore, the writer of the article blames "increased job competition from newer immigrants, workers aged 55 and over, college students and young college graduates unable to obtain jobs in their majors." Welcome to the service economy, where there are lots of minimum-wage jobs for everyone except those who need the experience the most: teens.

The Maytag Saga Continues.....

Recently I wrote about our recalled Maytag dishwasher and the difficulty we are having getting Maytag/Whirlpool to fix it. Well, today was our third scheduled repair appointment. Last night, we got a call reminding us that there was a repair appointment today between 1 and 5 pm. And sure enough, shortly before 1 pm, we got that last minute call asking us if the parts had arrived yet. Of course, they haven't, so the repair appointment was cancelled. The only difference this time is that they did not make another appointment. They just said they'd get back to us. Sure they will.

Note to self: never buy another Maytag/Whirlpool product again.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Burned Out and Fed Up

A reader writes that she is totally burned out on homeschooling, is about ready to put her child in middle school, and asks for my help. It's the end of a very busy day, and I'm probably not as articulate as I could be because I'm tired, but here's what I wrote to her. Maybe it will hit the spot for you or someone you know:

Burnout means you need to take a break from the way you're doing things, and think about where you're going down the wrong path.

Not all kids want to "do school." Sometimes the problem is that the schoolwork they're doing is boring. Other times the problem is a rebellious child who doesn't want to do what she needs to do. Which is the problem in your house right now? (I've experienced both, sometimes simultaneously!)

A teacher friend of mine calls middle school a box full of raging hormones. It's not something to be taken lightly. Putting your child there could turn out to be a case of jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Think seriously (and if you're a Christian, pray!) before you make this decision.

When I've felt burned out in the past (I mean major burnout, not just "I'm tired of this"), I've found that taking a break from the materials we're using can help. Sometimes we need a few weeks of museum days and doing things at home like sketching outdoors, baking, sewing, etc. to rejuvenate our spirits. And if it's a rebellious child, there's nothing like taking a week off to clean the basement or attic to make them appreciate school.

Hope that helps. Hang in there, and know that this homeschooling thing is not always an easy road, but that it will pay off in the end. My first-born, the rebellious child who is to blame for much of my gray hair, is now 23 and has thanked me more than once for homeschooling her. Who would have thought the kid who said I was torturing her by making her do school would eventually thank me???

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Hot Off the "Press": the March "Imperfect Homeschooler" Newsletter

Just sent out the March issue of my newsletter, "The Imperfect Homeschooler." It has two new articles plus one from the archives, some special offers, some good links, and as always, a free project. Enjoy!

Try Doing This Alone

We homeschooling moms are busy people. We're reading, teaching and playing with our kids in addition to doing our jobs around the house: cooking, cleaning, purchasing/making the items our family members need, consoling, counseling,.....I'm getting tired just thinking of all the things we do in a day.

But there's something harder than being a homeschooling mom, and that's being a single homeschooling mom. Imagine adding to your life the burden of being the sole breadwinner. Imagine no other adult to talk to in your household. Imagine the loneliness of being without your husband.

If you know a single mom, you might wonder what you can do for her to help her with the challenging task of doing all this alone. Blogger MaggieRaye has just the thing for you: this fantastic post (written by her friend Lizzie) that suggests dozens of ways you can help a single mom....right now.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Paul Harvey Plugs Homeschooling

Today, radio broadcasting giant Paul Harvey gave homeschoolers a huge plug on his radio show. You can hear what he said (do send this link to any disapproving relatives you might have) by going to his Web site, scrolling down to "Listen Now," and clicking on his Tuesday noon show. His very positive remarks about homeschooling begin 8 1/2 minutes into the show. Enjoy!

(Note: you'll need to use Windows Media Player to hear the show. There's a link on that page so you can download it for free.)

The Carnival of Homeschooling is Up!

This week's Carnival of Homeschooling, hosted by Tami, is packed with thought-provoking posts from a variety of homeschoolers.....don't miss it! And yes, you'll recognize at least one of the posters ;)

Monday, March 5, 2007

Who's to Blame for Bored Teens?

Recently we had a terrible tragedy in our area. Nine people, eight of them teenagers and the ninth a 23-year-old adult who was driving (and was allegedly drunk), were packed into a car that crashed in the middle of the night, killing four of the teens. A fifth died a few days later.

It turned out these kids were out looking for 2 in the morning. A local reporter who is the father of five children has written several columns about this terrible event. In the first, he suggested that parents need to crack down on their kids, and that there's no need for them to be out at that hour. In today's column, he shares a message he received from a 19-year-old reader, who says kids are out running around in the middle of the night because they're bored, and because today's adults won't provide them with places where they can hang out with their friends. He goes so far as to blame today's adults for the accident.

Obviously the accident was the fault of the driver, not adults who won't let them go tobogganing (an example the 19-year-old uses). But the point he makes about there being "NOTHING to do" says more about some of today's youth than anything we adults could say about them.

At 19, I was in college and working to pay for college. So was my husband. My father was in the Air Force at 19, my mother was in nursing school, my father-in-law was in college and my mother-in-law was working as a secretary and planning her wedding. We were all too busy to need to be entertained.

Isn't it ironic that with all the entertainment we have available in today's world, there are young people who demand to be given something to do? What has made these kids think that the world owes them anything, much less entertainment?

This young man also says, "That’s why so many kids do drugs and drink and set things on fire etc.; they’re all just bored!" Being bored is no excuse for doing those things, and in a world where there is so much work to be done, there is no excuse for being bored.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

The Maytag Saga (so far)

About a month ago, I read in the newspaper that Maytag had just recalled thousands of its dishwashers because of a little problem they had.....occasionally bursting into flames. That got my attention, because I have a Maytag dishwasher.

So I visited the Maytag recall Web site, where I learned that mine was indeed one of the spontaneously combustible models. The site instructed me to do two things: 1) disconnect the potential bonfire, and 2) call a certain toll-free number to arrange for someone to come and fix the thing.

DH did not want to disconnect the d/w because it's a pain to do so; he decided instead that we would use it only during the day, when we're awake and home, rather than at night when we're asleep, as we usually do. So we didn't disconnect it, but I did call the number given. I waited twenty minutes on hold (with the usual horrible music playing in the background on a five-minute loop), and finally got a message that said....."Sorry, but we cannot take your call right now. Please visit our Web site for further instructions." Click.

Grrrr. So I went back to the site, which instructed me to call that same darn number. Instead I wrote a rather sarcastic email to Maytag, and was rewarded a day or two later with an appointment with a repairman on Feb. 19th between 1 and 5 pm.

Fair enough. The night before the appointment, I got a call reminding me of the appointment. An hour before the appointment, I got a call from someone asking me if the repair kit had arrived yet. What repair kit? I asked. The woman said the repairman could not repair the d/w without the repair kit, and rescheduled the repair appointment for March 1 between 1 and 5 pm. Sigh.

Two days ago, shortly before noon on March 1, I got a call from someone asking me if the repair kit had arrived yet. I told her no, and she cancelled that day's appointment and scheduled a new one for March 9. I expressed my displeasure, and she informed me that my repair kit was due to arrive March 7, so things should work out this time. Right.

This has me thinking of the inconvenience my fellow combustible dishwasher owners must also be facing, but their situation is worse. We are fortunate that we both work at home. Many of them would have taken the afternoon off work twice for nothing. Then there's the safety issue. So far the d/w hasn't self-immolated, but we'd prefer not to wait until it does; we wish it had been fixed back on Feb. 19th.

I share this long and somewhat repetitive story to illustrate that the age of technology and this global economy we now live in are not all they're cracked up to be. I can't figure out how this company (which I believe is actually Whirlpool now) can survive when it is run so inefficiently. Some of the calls I got from them may have been from offshore call centers. Why have calls coming from all over, appointments scheduled and rescheduled, repairmen sent in one direction and then another, for weeks on end? How do they afford it?

I guess I'm getting old, because I'm thinking of the good old days, when I would have called Maytag directly, and a real-live receptionist would have taken my call and transferred me to the repairs department, where someone would have said, "We're sending out a repairman with a repair kit tomorrow." Life really was simpler before, wasn't it?

Friday, March 2, 2007

Not Exactly Fond Memories of School

What's your earliest memory of school?

Mine is that very first day. I remember it so clearly. I was not quite five, but had been reading for quite a while, so my parents decided I needed to be in school asap. Since our neighborhood public school (located right behind our house) did not offer kindergarten, my parents found a kindergarten offered at a church about a mile away, and signed me up.

I recall my nervousness as we approached the multi-sided building with a cross on top. It looked like a space ship, so I suppose it must have been fairly new, a reflection of early 1960s architecture. When we entered, a sick feeling came over me, because I could tell my mother was not going to stay with me.

Soon my fears came true. Mom said she'd be back in a while. The teacher offered me a seat at a nearby table, but I ran after my mother. When I tried to push open the door, it wouldn't budge. My mother was holding it shut on the other side. All these years later, she says she remembers feeling bad that she had to do that, but that it was for my own good.

I eventually got used to going to school. I even liked it for a while. But I soon grew bored. I occupied my mind with daydreams to pass the time.

Another clear memory: the day school let out for the summer at the end of second grade. I was wearing a light green dress with a collar trimmed in lace, and as I balanced on the railroad ties lining the school's parking lot, all I could think was, "I'm free!" I planned my summer as I walked home that day....playing, reading, more playing.....freedom! What an incredible feeling!

That was a long time ago. It makes me sad to think about that little girl. To be seven years old and longing for freedom.....I guess I never could bear for my own kids to have that trapped feeling, and so I never sent them to school.

I wonder how many people choose to homeschool because they don't want their children to feel like they did when they were kids. If you're a homeschooler, did your own school experience have any bearing on your decision to homeschool? Anyone feel like sharing? As Dr. Frasier Crane would say, "I'm listening!"

Thursday, March 1, 2007

An Inspiring Article

While in the middle of writing an article for my upcoming March newsletter (click here for a free subscription!), I found an inspiring article written by my friend and fellow parishioner Bobbi Bandy about her son Rob, who was born with a rare chromosomal defect. Don't miss it!