Sunday, December 18, 2011

Painless Ways to Save

Before making a purchase, check Plastic Jungle.  This legit site sells gift cards at a reduced price.  Average savings is about 7%.  When you create a profile, you can set alerts for only the cards you want to follow and for the minimum discount you want to be notified of.  For example, you could ask to be notified anytime a Kohl's gift card comes available at 10% or more discount off the face value.

When you buy something online, NEVER go to the website directly.  Always go first to Ebates and see if the store is listed there.  Simple click the store link through the Ebates site.  You will get to the same store page with same identical prices, but ebates will send you a refund check.  The percentage varies by store.  Yesterday, we looked at a Lowes store here in town for a dryer.  I'd already determined online that Lowes had the lowest price on this model in comparison to Home Depot and Sears and Mr. Wonderful had cross-checked with Consumer Reports at the library to make sure it was a decent model.  We then went home to order this Maytag dryer because we knew Lowes online offered a 10% discount on appliances not offered in the stores.  We accessed the Lowes site through Ebates, which gave us an additional 5% off.

As always, we googled for a promo code to see if there were any other discounts floating around cyber space.  No luck this time.

Had I had time, I would have ordered Lowe's gift cards through Plastic Jungle to pay for our purchase and to save another 7%.  With five kids and an average of two loads of laundry generated daily, I don't have two weeks to wait for gift cards to arrive in the mail to pay for my dryer.  I need a dryer by Monday, so I skipped that discount.  If Lowes offered an ecode on Plastic Jungle rather than physical cards, I would have bought it and used it immediately.  If you're in the market for appliances, be advised that Lowes offers free next day delivery and free haul away of your old appliance through January 3.  

What are your favorite easy savings techniques?

Disclaimer:  Plastic Jungle, Lowes, Ebates, Kohls, Consumer Reports and any other stores or sites mentioned in this post have no idea of who I am and have not compensated me in any way to blog about them.  I wish they had!  I'm passing along these tips out of the goodness of my heart, not any affiliate marketing program.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Three Crazy Things I Believe

Everyone is nuts.  Of this, I am virtually certain.  This evening, thanks to a homeschool forum with moms freaking out about PSAT Merit Scholarship cut-off scores, I began ruminating about some things I firmly believe *even though* I know most of the world finds them ludicrous.

Three crazy things I completely believe:

1. Intensive ACT/SAT/PSAT test prep is crazy, not to mention expensive.  Skip it.  Acquaint your kid with the basics of the test, practice a few timed essays and let the chips fall where they may.

2.  Dinosaurs coexisted with people.  I put this in the biblical, not crazy category, but I realize much of the world might disagree with me.  So be it.

3.  Soda is low class.  I blame my mother for planting this one.  I don't even know how she managed to instill this thought and I don't remember her ever saying a word about it, but somehow I just know that my mom is responsible for me thinking this.

What are three insane things that you totally believe?  

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Old Mom, Albeit with a New Trick

A new mom friend queried Facebook, asking for forward facing car seat recommendations.  The first responder suggested Britax.  I've never heard of Britax and I've had kids in car seats for 16 years now.  How surprised I was to see the next 8 or 9 comments all praising Britax.

From this, I concluded--as if being a 44 year old mother of a two year old wasn't conclusive enough--that I am an old mom.  Britax must be a new brand dazzling the 30 and under crowd.  I remembered back to when I was a young mom and the ancient-of-days 40 year olds all wanted to tell me how they put their kids to sleep on their stomachs.  Had I become that person?

Turns out, I'm not.  It's way worse than that.  In researching Britax for this little post, I learned that they actually began selling car seats in the U.S. within a couple of years of when I started turning out mini-clones of Mr. Wonderful.  Why had I not heard of them?

Not because I am old, but because I am cheap.  The Britax model the moms most seemed to love will set you back about $280.  Don't let the cute leopard pattern, fashion forward material fool you.  These seats are quite safe, routinely garnering top awards in crash tests.

Wonderful, I thought, not only am I cheap, but I am an endangerer of my childrens' welfare by stuffing them into I-don't-even-know-what brand of car seat.  My primary definition of a satisfactory seat is one which the kid can buckle himself into by age four with a material that doesn't show poop.

But wait!  Nimbly, I shifted into what John Ortberg categorizes as our "staggering" capacity for self-deception.  If I remember correctly, didn't Freakonomics conclusively demonstrate a few years back that car seats are no better at preventing fatalities than seat belts in children over age 2?  Ha!  See?  Problem solved.  I am a good mother and a wise steward of limited resources to boot.

Not quite.  Deciding I should fact check Freakonomics before hurling it into cyberspace, I discovered that while Freakonomics did indeed assert that and while it may even be true for fatalities, it is most assuredly not true for injuries.  Kids in boosters get injured less often and less severely than those in seat belts.

Drat.  I was back to the unflattering image of myself as cheap and wildly unsafe.  My Ortbergian self soothed me, "At least you're not really all that old."

Feeling chipper, I ran into that new mom, who asked me to present our family's Christ-focused Christmas traditions at the monthly women's ministry gathering.  Me?  Traditions?  Having a tradition means that you've done something over and over and over for a number of years.  Hey, I don't like where this thought is leading!  I am old!  I cursed myself for ever telling that young thing that I jog in a sweatshirt older than she is.  Not all truth needs to be spoken.

I rushed to speak first at the gathering this morning, certain that the real experts--those with children functioning as capable adults in society as compared to my endearingly awkward and still dependent teens--would share all my ideas before I could.  Then I'd just be sitting there all old and clueless, like in the Britax conversation.

I needn't have worried.  God arranged the chat perfectly with one mom passionate about evangelism sharing all the fun outreach activities they did, another mom talking of how one can use even non-Christ focused Christmas objects to point people toward God, and I shared our Adore-naments and Jesse Tree ornaments and devotions.  Few in the group had heard of a Jesse tree before and I was secretly thrilled to send them a $5.99 link to purchase their own set after the talk.

Maybe being old and cheap isn't so bad after all.


Sunday, November 6, 2011

Lion's Den

"OH!  Look at you! LOOK at you! You look fabulous--LOOK at that necklace!"  With a shriek and jumping up to hug me, my friend Emily, the very person who had picked out and forced me to buy that necklace, ensured that an entire lobby full of people stopped their own conversation, turned to me and stared, each performing individual fashion autopsies.  As they reached the "nothing unusual, just another middle aged woman" conclusion, conversations slowly bubbled back to life.

I decided to count this as desensitization training.  In just over an hour, I had to walk into a room filled with strangers and all eyes would be on me, performing a different type of autopsy.

Dead woman walking.  Those who easily speak in public really can't understand the anxiety I felt all week leading up to this presentation.  Or how I tried to wriggle out of it, contacting the gentleman who invited me, wondering if his agenda had filled and if he might prefer me to provide a written comment instead?  "Of course not!" came his quick reply.  "Come whenever you can, we will work the meeting around your availability."


How bad could it be?  I mean, yes, it's a State Board.  But's it's a State Board of the Science Olympiad competition.  That must mean teachers, right?  Maybe 10?  Sitting around a table informally discussing what-ever-it-is that sciencey people discuss?  I could do that.

"How many folks should I prepare for?  Can you send me more particulars?"

About 30 came the reply.  Ok, more than I bargained for, but not an unmanageable number.

"...people from all over the state.  Associate Chancellors, deans of colleges and universities and some regular classroom teachers too."


"You can't even spell chancellor," my (former) BFF who has known me for 26 years asserted.  "You have no business speaking to this group.  What are you talking about again?"

The homeschool rule.  I launched into my reasoning as to why the rule was unfair and the chilling effect it was already spreading to other organizations that included home schoolers.

"Oh, rules?  Homeschool?  You'll be fine.  You love to talk about that stuff.  Just don't be antagonistic and self-righteous."


"Praise God!" shot back another friend when I wrote of how I wanted to throw up just thinking about talking to these highly credentialed people.  "Look who God is putting before you.  Step out in faith and see what He will do."  Maybe she had a point, but seeing as she directed training seminars and used to be in charge of a whole continent for a large corporation, speaking to groups probably didn't require quite the same leap of faith for her extroverted personality.

"Oh, and spend some time telling a bit about yourself to build rapport.  Don't just complain.  And stick to the point.  Don't veer off into controversial areas.  Remember, people get defensive over educational choices.  Be careful in what you say."

Beginning to sense an unflattering theme as to how my usual talk strikes those who know me best, I became even less sure I was the woman for the job.

The rapture didn't happen on my drive to the meeting, despite my fervent prayers.  I neither fainted nor puked during my presentation.  I didn't speak nearly as well as I had wanted to nor nearly as poorly as I expected I might.  The sciencey folks were for the most part warm and polite and moved to ask Science Olympiad to reconsider their national rule vis a vis Illinois.

Most importantly, God saw fit--wouldn't you know that friend of mine was right!--to place in the audience not just State Board folks, but a Science Olympiad National representative.  Not just a representative, but the man who will be in charge of all of Science Olympiad next year.  Whatever I said, God pricked that man's ears.  The grand poobah followed me into the hall, gave me his card, said he wanted to speak to me more about this and it was definitely something that needed attention.  He thought perhaps we should get together for lunch.

Food?  One on one?  Talking about homeschooling?  This I know how to do!

Yet, when I think I know how to do something, that's usually when the trouble starts.  Perhaps you should pray that God continues to keep me a bit off-kilter.  He seems to do his best work in those circumstances.


Monday, October 17, 2011

Would You Hire This Missionary?

I blogged about this once before on my old blog, but recently ran across this note again.  Our son, back in 5th grade, had an AWANA assignment to write a letter asking to be a missionary and explaining his qualifications for the job.

Here is that kid's letter, verbatim:

I think that I would make an adequate missionary.  I do well at persevering but to be honest I still might back out.  I do posses the fruit of the light and of the spirit, I believe.  I believe that I can pursue problems until the very end.
I have some cons too.  I will get angry on a normal bad day.  I also am normally optimistic but I do have those days.  I am interested in most things and am practically a mathematic genius. (Not to brag.)  
I hope you take me into minor consideration. ( I am not sure I want to be a missionary.)

Friday, October 14, 2011

Why Read History?

Why read history?

History interests me for many reasons, not the least of which is that I am a gossip.  Reading history is an honored way for a good Christian woman to receive gossip with the gloss of academia and acceptability applied.  There are other reasons, but the most honest one is that I'm nosy busybody not content to know merely what my contemporaries are thinking and doing.  I want to know what all people, everywhere, at all times were up to.  And why.

This evening, I began Andrew Jackson v. Henry Clay:  Democracy and Development in Antebellum America by Harry L. Watson.  This girl knows how to have fun on a Friday night, hunh?

I'm only a few pages in and it's the type of book best read with highlighter in hand.  Thoughts of inflicting it on unsuspecting home schooled teenagers begin to surface.  Visions of essay questions dance in my head.

Tea parties and Wall St. Occupiers are so 1831.  Don't think so?  Take it from my dear Watson:

Jackson and his supporters tended to think that the growing wealth and power of the business community might erode the equality and independence of ordinary citizens.

Sound familiar?  How 'bout this:

Henry Clay and his followers often wondered if strict deference to the uninformed opinions of ordinary voters might somehow undermine the businesses that generated U.S. prosperity.

What do you think we've learned in the ensuing 180 years?

How well do you think most folks know their history?


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Disney Tickets for Less

Hat tip to Chicago Homeschool Network for setting me on a journey that saved my family hundreds of dollars on Disney tickets.  CHN mentioned homeschool days at Disney and I set off to investigate.

Are you aware of Disney Youth Education Programs?  There are homeschool specific days, but also many programs that any child can participate in.

Here's the kicker:  your entire party can get discounted tickets if your kid does one of these programs!  You can't purchase more adult tickets than you have kids participating unless you are a family with an only child.  I placed two of my kids in a program--we chose Everyday Chemistry offered at Epcot--in order to get two adult discounted ticket packages.  A family can order up to four discounted packages for kids regardless of how many children you have doing the program.  Whatever first program you select per child is included in the package price.  Additional programs are available at $28 each.

Are my two kids ecstatic at the thought of devoting three hours of their Disney time to a class?  Not exactly, but  knowing Disney, this will not be any ordinary boring class.  I explained the savings and the necessity of them taking one for the family in the name of thrift.

You can explore all the programs and pricing here.  Before I knew of this program, we typically purchased discounted tickets through the reputable Undercover Tourist site.  Their prices always beat Disney's official site and they tend to have better savings the more days purchased.  With the special Youth Education program pricing however, tickets for a 5 Day Park Hopper package were $181.53 each, tax included.  I needed six tickets as Mr. Mischief will only be two when we go to Disney and under 3s don't require a ticket.  If I had purchased the tickets on Undercover Tourist, I would have gotten a six day, one park entry ticket.  We find that it's less expensive to purchase more days at Undercover Tourist rather than get the park hopper.  As long as you buy more days than you will be at the parks, you can use two tickets in a day if you decide to park hop.  Those tickets would have been $261.95 for five of us and $239.95 for my one under age 10 requiring a ticket.

What does all that mean to me?  $460 in savings by purchasing through the Disney Youth Program packages.

It's a magical day!


Monday, September 19, 2011

Why You Should See the Play Copenhagen

If you live in Chicagoland, you are lucky.  You can still see the Tony award winning play, Copenhagen, at the Vex Theater in Elgin this upcoming weekend.  And you should.  I might even venture that you must.

My compliant, if not altogether eager, teen sons and husband and I took in the play this past Saturday evening.  It's easy to miss the Vex Theater, located on the 8th floor of the 1920s restored building housing the Elgin Art Showcase.  Old-fashioned dials with hands that point to the floor the elevator is on sit over top of the elevator doors.  "Just like Tower of Terror!" the boys enthused, affirming my conviction to broaden their cultural references beyond Disney.

The theater is a high ceiling-ed room.  In the center is an impossibly small stage.  Three rows of seats, 7 or 8 per row, ring the stage on three sides.  A slightly elevated black platform and three chairs comprise the set.  Seeing the intimate setting, I am nervous.  To be facing the stage head on, we take front row seats approximately six inches from the end of the stage area.  We joke about this being an audience participation play, but truth is, I am nervous for the actors.  After all, this is Elgin, not Chicago and if they are atrocious, I will blush and they will see me blushing in the front row and they will feel more nervous and perform even worse and then my face will flame and it will be an endless awful cycle.

I needn't have worried.  I love Niels Bohr, played by Steve Blount, from the first moment.  I think I am supposed to.  His wife, Margrethe (Susan Able Barry), provides just the right soothing insight and needed reminder that the two sides in WWII were not morally equivalent.  Geoffrey Maher brings both the eagerness and the arrogance to the role of Heisenberg that the script requires.  I am not sure I like him.  I am not sure I am supposed to. 

The small, minimalist stage and set works well for this three character play.  How interesting that a simple gesture, the tilt and angle of a chair, a turn of head, a spotlight, can signify so much.  The creativity involved in using little but using it well intrigues me in the exact same way I am intrigued by Sarah Susanka's Not So Big house books.

In a play about the end of a friendship and building the bomb during WWII, one wouldn't expect humor.  And yet there are moments of it.  Some obvious and played for laughs and some subtle, feeding our inner snobbish Frasier Cranes, wondering if others caught the reference as it flew by.  This is not a play that talks down to the audience, but neither is it one that assumes a working knowledge of or interest in physics or fission.  If you've ever had a friend, you'll find something to relate to in Copenhagen.

One does need to pay attention.  There's hardly a big issue that this play doesn't touch upon--the nature of friendship, the nature of science, the nature of philosophy, the nature of existence, the lost son, the history of WWII, the history of science, nuclear fission, the role of religion in the world, the role of man in science, betrayal, honesty, good vs evil, motive, and above all, uncertainty.  In a play featuring Heisenberg, it's too tempting not to formulate a theme around uncertainty.

The history teacher in me loved that the play left unresolved exactly what transpired between Bohr and Heisenberg on that evening in 1941 in Copenhagen.  Our kids need to see more of the mystery and what ifs and messiness that any human story involves, but too often history is presented with an air of certitude and inevitability that kills any curiosity on the part of student.

The overarching message of the play, sadly, is one of existential meaninglessness.  Be glad you are alive and at least have uncertainty, the players intone.  One day you won't exist, you will be dust, your children and their children will be dust, uncertainty and all knowledge will be gone.  

It is perhaps to the actors' credit that the despair of this message hung palpably in the theater.  I know they were also trying to convey the warped hopefulness that existentialism struggles toward--you have today, go create meaning amidst the uncertainty.  Be happy you have today.

Should you see this play?  Yes.  It tackles meaty themes in an accessible way.  I think that perhaps it is especially our Christian teens who most need to see this play.  They haven't absorbed this message of meaninglessness, of human centeredness as well as many of their peers have and it's important to expose them and dissect the message while they are still in our homes.  Should you be angered by this play?  I was.  I am always angered when people are offered counterfeit instead of Truth.  

Uncertainty is not all we are guaranteed.  My faith informs me that this play has its message exactly backwards.  Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.  Rather than knowledge ceasing at death, now I know in part, then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

I almost wish I had turned this into an audience participation play.  Copenhagen's uncertainty needs an answer and people of faith, sure of what we hope for, need to be part of that conversation.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Thinkwell Homeschool Courses

Hi, all!

You may want to check out Thinkwell Homeschool.  Thinkwell offers courses in middle school math, a variety of high school subjects, various AP courses--the least expensive course for AP I've found that include full problem sets--and college level courses.

I've used Thinkwell in the past for PreCalculus and this year for AP Chemistry.

The video lectures are clear and hold a kid's interest.  The problem sets are immediately scored.  Videos and problem sets can be watched and worked as many times as necessary.  Test and exams can be taken only once.  The courses appear incredibly comprehensive--it took my extremely math oriented son a full year to work through PreCalculus.  He went on to ace the first three Calc courses at our regional four year college, so Thinkwell prepared him well.  This kid went straight from Geometry to PreCalc and Thinkwell's PreCalc included all the Algebra II and Trig he needed.

Subscriptions are valid for one year.  That year starts from the day you register the course, not the day you purchase it, so you can make advance purchases if you like.  I bought two AP Chemistry subscriptions so that my sons could take the exams separately, but it would be possible to combine kids in one course if separate exams were not a priority for you.  Printed course notes and the lectures on DVDs are available for extra cost.

If you use my email,, in the referral box when you order, you will get a $10 discount.  I, in turn, will get an Amazon $25 gift card.  Win-win!  I hope you enjoy these courses as much as my kids have.


Friday, September 2, 2011

Olly Olly Oxen Free

I find it fascinating that my little blog, which my own siblings have freely admitted they totally forget about, routinely attracts readers from outside the US.  In the past week, folks from Canada, Germany, France, Poland, Australia, the UK, Indonesia and Romania stopped by here.  Why?  How did they find me?  I have no idea.  Most weeks I have a reader from China and one from Iran as well.  All these exotic internationals seem to stop by whether I post new material or not.  If I had an extensive following, that would be one thing, but I'm guessing that my regular readers number in the dozens.

I'm calling Olly Olly Oxen Free.  I included the link explaining the phrase since that may be a strictly American idiom. I would love for the international readers to drop me a comment and let me know how they found this, why they like or hate this blog and what compels them to return.

Or maybe I don't want to know as I've developed some elaborate theories of my own.  The China reader, I'm convinced, is some government employee who purpose is to keep track of worldwide subversives.  The Iranian is amazed at our homeschooling freedoms.  The newly cultish following I have in the Netherlands stems from one trend setting family.  My German fans are US military stationed there.  The UK followers, it goes without saying, are Wills and Kate.  They have sensed my keen interest in them and are repaying the favor.  The Romanian found out about me through a Christian conference.  Australia is my cousin, but that is more educated guess than fantastical musings.  Interestingly, I never have readers from Italy where I do have extended family.

Where ever you are, I appreciate you taking the time to come share my corner of the world!


The Thangs We Don't Do

"Nuts" seems to be the most common assessment of our fall schedule, judging from the emails my friends sent.  I wholeheartedly agree.  Yet it's certainly not unique; most of my 40-something mom friends keep a similar calendar.

I strive for margin.  Those who know me know I'm an Owl-ish type at best with strong Eeyore tendencies on a bad day and Piglet-ish leanings during insecure times.  Stress makes me even more cantankerous than usual.  I want to be a Kanga, but so far the generous pouch up front is the closest I come most days.

My mom-to-many friends won't be surprised to learn that our schedule actually does represent what feels like a severe pruning to me.  If yesterday's post was The Thangs We Do, here is an incomplete summary of what we've chosen, not without some anguish, to forego.  These are only the activities that I actually gave serious thought to attending, not the 3 or 4 that come across my email every day that I dismiss out of hand:

Wonderful Beth Moore Bible Study led by our campus pastor's wife.

Small group involvement designed to further fellowship within the church.

Volunteering just "one hour, once a month" in the Sunday church kid's program.

Outstanding Community Bible Study with homeschool classes allowing all of us to be studying the same book of the Bible at the same time, each at their own level.

National Award Winning Homeschool Speech and Debate Team.

Additional Homeschool Co-op offering a Great Books curriculum.

Monday academic classes at yet another co-op.

No doubt excellent Critical Thinking club for high schoolers.

Homeschool Band.

Homeschool Skate, at least most weeks.  We strive to make it once a month or so.

Lark in the Park homeschool outings.

Talking on the phone.  There are two people I will regularly clear time for extended conversations with, but otherwise it is a luxury I've had to give up.  The beauty of email is that you can write it very early or very late.

This is why I have to laugh when my niece, who is young and teaches in the public schools, advocates that homeschooling must come under the authority of the public schools so that the community can have eyes on these home schooled kids.  I am quite certain my kids interact with at least as many adults in at least as varied settings on a weekly basis as public schooled kids.  While my evidence is anecdotal, I find this true of the vast majority of home educators I've met and it's been true over the decade plus and across the three states I've home educated in.

Things we forego without much anguish:

Made beds, at least mine, many days of the week.  If I can muster it, I tidy it up just before Mr. Wonderful returns from work.

Really clean bathrooms.  Clean enough has to be clean enough most of the time.  And when it's not clean enough, we call it a science experiment.

Dinners with more than five ingredients or taking more than 20 minutes to make.  Frankly, that would be the case no matter how clear our schedule.

Checking messages.  Can't get 'em on my cell phone and I forget to get 'em on the home phone.

Living like pigs.  Aforementioned foibles aside, it takes more time and energy to live like a pig because it's so hard to clean it up.  We have assigned daily chores and I would let school slide before I would let the kids' chores go.  While I won't agree with my beautiful niece that everything is relative, I do believe that is the case when it comes to housekeeping.  My "not a pigsty" standard, with five home educated kids here much of the time probably differs from the "not a pigsty" standard of homes without many kids or ones without folks in them much of the day.

I'd love to hear what others have chosen to set aside in order to accommodate the craziness of their own making!


Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Thangs We Do

Summer proved busy and satisfying with our three oldest boys putting on the full armor of God and of self defense.  All three olders are now black belts and baptized.  

Looking forward to our fall, I begin to understand why I am often up nights.  I am sure your schedules look similar.  How do you all keep it all together?  Our round-up, minus any mention of any actual homeschooling:

J will continue to take math classes at the local four year college and he will also be a preceptor (that's like a TA, I don't know why they call it that) for a precalc/calc class there.  He'll have his own office hours every week, which I find cute.  He's got feelers out to be a paid tutor and sounds like one neighbor may take him up on it.  He and his brother will be fall soccer refs  and he'll continue to be at the church at 6am sharp every Sunday to help his dad and brother do set-up.  Every other week he works tech during the worship service--he really likes the headset microphones the tech people get to wear.  He'll continue, along with his brother, to volunteer at AWANA every week.  His extras, again shared by his next oldest brother, include Science Olympiad  (and me as the club coach--eek!), math club, a gym class, an advanced art class, a lit group (Ender's Game, Ender's Shadow, A Tale of Two Cities, Jane Eyre, & Alas, Babylon are the fall readings) and youth group. 

N has all that jazz with J and he also takes a wood carving class and teaches an art class.  After sporadic classes this summer, always maxxed out because he only charged $5 each, a mom approached him about doing semi-private classes once a month or once every three weeks for her two sons for $20.  So, I think he'll do that provided he can squeeze it in.  

B has the karate and AWANA already mentioned.  I've also signed him up for piano lessons, the soccer, and a homeschool weekly swim and gym at our local Y.  He probably needs more, but I don't feel like I can swing it right now.  He is a bold guy.  As usual, even at the first soccer practice, I heard him calling out to other boys on the field, directing them.  Never mind the fact that he is the youngest kid on the two-year combined team.  

C will continue AWANA and I've formed a Fancy Nancy club that will meet at my house every other week.  After a decade and a half of Legos and guns, I am super excited about this.  Today, we are doing Fancy Nancy and the Fabulous Fashion Boutique.  We will play dress up, have a store to "sell" baubles, walk with bananas on our heads (as the girls do to achieve proper posture in the book), make a paper chain held up by fancy helium balloons.  YAY! for girl stuff.  I've capped that group at five girls total.  C will also take swim lessons, followed by gymnastics and ballet--in succession, not concurrently.

Baby M creates chaos out of order and danger out of safety.  He gives us delight and an almost equal amount of exhaustion.  

I'm continuing to moderate the local homeschool group.  We're up over 300 members and folks seem to like it as an information source, so that's gratifying.  I'm also continuing to make calls for the church, scheduling appts. for people who want to find a volunteer role.  It's easy for me to do from home because I have access to the church data base from my computer.  I'm heading up AWANA registration again.  I'm slowly learning a bit more computer stuff in that regard so I can run my own registration reports.  Thankfully, we have paid data people to do the hard stuff.  If I can scare up a middle school math club coach, I will continue to be the administrator for that club and now I am adding in the Science Olympiad coach duties.  Which is laughable, but I plan to put everything back on the parents and lure my friends who are engineers to come to one meeting each to help out.   

Mr. Wonderful is enduring through a very difficult job situation.  He has a new boss, the old one having been fired.  This comes after the boss above that boss got fired.  Another manager at Jack's level was fired on Monday.  New boss seems to be restoring resources that have been deprived to the state for years.  This should make it easier for Mr. Wonderful to do his job well.  He volunteers with the middle school/high school group at our campus of our church and seems well-suited for it.  Interestingly, Mr. Wonderful struck up a friendship with a homeless guy in Chicago (James, pray for him); an outgrowth of the work God has been doing in his heart toward the homeless as a result of the past two summer's weeklong missions trips.  Anyway, James asked Mr. Wonderful to be his legal guardian.  We're not going to do that, but I do think Jack will take on health care power of attorney for the man.  James is 62, has AIDS and his greatest fear is dying alone in a flea bag motel.  He's a former gang member, now just an old frail guy with no one in the world.  Very sad, but I'm glad Jack takes the time to talk with him on the days he works in Chicago.

That's my newsy update.  You all should consider it your Christmas card since I probably won't get around to issuing another one anytime soon.  

I'd love to hear what you all are gearing up to for the new school year though!


Wednesday, August 31, 2011

I Think I Like This One

Having a bunch of kids, I've been around more than my fair share of rec league sports coaches.  They've ranged from the brilliant positive one who shouted, "Way to be open for the pass!" to my timid little soccer player who, as I'm sure the coach knew, was merely trying to hide from the surging horde on the field to the awful one who had a two hour first practice in a cold wind for 8 year old baseball players and abandoned my son in right field for 119 of the 120 minute torture.  In the remaining minute, he got beaned by the pitcher.  We didn't return.

With some curiosity and no small amount of trepidation, I opened the email from the latest coach.  Even before opening, I was a bit put off by the fact that it was sent as urgent, showing up with a red exclamation mark denoting its importance.  Whatever 5th grade soccer is, it's not urgent.

Color coded charts of practices and games filled the inside.  The coach had taken the liberty of assigning our snack and beverage duties.  Practice would be twice a week--I thought this was rec league?--with an optional third practice this week since the opening game is just 10 days away!  I'm a bit of a control freak myself and while it just makes good sense when I do it, I find it quite annoying in others.  Was this another win at all costs coach trying to find the athletic glory that escaped him as a youth?

Nonetheless, I complied with the request to reply to let the coach know I had received the email.  When a second email arrived with a google maps insert and our practice field circled within it, I wondered what I was thinking in even signing the kid up for soccer.  I have five kids.  Count 'em, FIVE.  I can barely reply to my own thoughts acknowledging my own plans, let alone have the wherewithal to keep up with a coach who already wrote he has a tendency to "over-communicate."

Within four minutes of arriving at the field, I did a 180 in my assessment.  The coach and his assistant coach were both there, a few minutes early.  They started on time.  Can I get an amen chorus for the leaders who start on time?  We train others how to behave and the message here was unambiguous.  Latecomers were integrated into the drill with friendliness and ease.  I'd put money on the likelihood of fewer tardy players next practice.

Within 10 minutes, I began to think this coach might work out fine.  Even from the playground where I was entertaining my youngers, I could easily see that the drills were well-planned, purposeful and fun.

At the half way point, when he gathered the kids to talk to them during a water break, I began to admire him.  Of course it makes sense to run the boys ragged for a while and then sit them down to explain things while they are good and tired.  You'd be surprised how many coaches take a gaggle of wiggly little boys raring to run on a field and sit them down for an introductory talk.

At the parent meeting after practice, my buddy Coach Dan sealed the deal in my mind.  I am an official fan.  First off, he said that while it's rec league, the kids keep score and are happier when they win.  I deplore the everyone receives a trophy mentality, so I appreciated his realism.  He wants them to win too, but not at any cost.  Kids would get the same amount of playing time regardless of skill level.  I like the balance he expressed.  Secondly, he reminded the kids to think of a team name.  Team name?  We'd always been Team 2 or Team 4 in previous sessions.  Finally, he pointed out that at this age, the kids sometimes get adult refs and sometimes get teen refs.  He explained that these teens are taking on refereeing as their first job, that they are learning to ref just like the kids on the team are learning to play.  He said he's come to expect that there will be at least one totally wrong, game changing call per game and that's the way it is, so be kind to the teen refs.  He sent all the kids on their way with a rousing team yell.

Remember my five, count 'em, FIVE kids?  Two of them are first year refs in this league.  I love Coach Dan.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

'Comprehensive Education'

"The National Education Association believes that home schooling programs based on parental choice cannot provide the student with a comprehensive education experience." NEA Resolution B 75 (2006-07)

My nephew, who co-founded technology company KSplice after he graduated from MIT, sold that company to Oracle this month for an undisclosed sum.

His younger brother made Law Review this week at Washington & Lee University.  It is the family's opinion, though, that his greater achievement lies in having found a wonderful woman and possessing the good sense to make her his wife.

Not bad for a couple of home educated kids.  But pity, isn't it, to think of the heights to which they might have soared if only they had had the benefit of an NEA approved 'comprehensive educational experience'?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Lowered Bar

The pastor at our church campus is a young guy.  He and his lovely wife, who snapped back into pre-pregnancy shape in something like 10 minutes (I like her anyway.  I do.  I do.  I like her anyway.), are new parents to an adorably chubby-cheeked baby girl.  I love it when our pastor carries her around and sometimes he brings the baby up on stage for one reason or another.  Today being Father's Day, he had her with him.

He described their night time routine to us.  He prays for his daughter's eternal life in the Lord every night and for God to help him and his wife be godly and good parents.  This larger point was not lost on me nor on Mr. Wonderful.  We were both teary as our pastor had all the dads stand and led them in a prayer and left them with a charge toward their children.

Mr. Wonderful's dad role is what gives him the capital in Wonderful.  The guy is a great, great dad.  This is indisputable.

Please don't take it as any slight to my pastor that his admonition toward prayer and his charge to the dads was not was caused my husband and I to have whispered conversation in the middle of church.  No, it was our pastor mentioning that bath time began the nightly routine for his daughter.  My normally reticent husband turned to me with wide eyes:

"Every night????"

"First born," I whispered back to him.

I guess we probably bathed our first little baby every night.  Honestly, I can't remember, but it seems like the type of thing a good first-time parent would do.  Or at least should do.  So I hope we did.

What I can tell you with absolute certainty is that that did not happen with our fifth baby.  Not because we love him any less, but along the way, one's sense of what is important or essential or--let's face it--logistically possible changes as a family gets larger.

Parenting is an evolution.  I guess it's an open question whether we're on an upward path in matters of hygiene, but Mr. Wonderful gets all the big stuff right.  Happy Father's Day, honey!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Awesome and Intense

These are the words my 13 year old used repeatedly last night when I had a few minutes to chat with him.  He'd just finished taking his first shower of our church's mission/service trip week.  It's Day 4.  Their last shower opportunity will be today (Wednesday) and then it is a long, rank haul til they arrive home on Saturday.

That fact alone makes me fervently praise God that I got the "easy" job of single parenting a 19 month old determined to leap off tall tables in a single bound, a five year old and a nine year old all week while my husband chaperones our two teens and 38 of their BFFs in Nashville.  I'd already heard from Mr. Wonderful how the boys' sleeping quarters smelled so body odorific, sweaty-teen foul that they taped my two sons' bars of Irish Spring soap to the AC unit to waft that chemically fresh scent into the room.  A friend and I joked that next year, along with having memorized the assigned Bible portion, possessing deodorant should be a non-negotiable requirement in order to board the bus.

My thankfulness continued to overflow when I heard how the van broke down an hour and fifteen minutes outside of their destination and how the adults had to form shuttles with the remaining vans to get the kids there.  I kissed my queen size bed's pillow when I was informed that another group's housing had fallen through so now there were double the number of kids sleeping at the church in Nashville with our kids.  I debated which of the double sinks in our bathroom to use in the morning while thinking of how the kids at the church were sharing two toilets amongst 30 boys.

I wondered how I had the incredible good sense to know within two months twenty one years ago that I wanted to hitch my wagon to the man who would report all these facts with a laconic, "It's fine.  We just need to be very flexible in our plans."

From my teen, I heard none of this.  His excitement leaped through the phone as he told me about all the homeless people they'd encountered as they went on prayer walks in the city, passing out toothpaste and new socks.  The woman who overflowed with joy in the Lord even though she had nothing. "I mean, NO-THING, Mom."  The newspaper written by the homeless and then sold by them as an alternative to outright begging.  The surly man who'd seen lots of Christians come through and didn't want to hear it, didn't want to hear it, just wanted the toothpaste.  "But I guess we can pray for him."  The homeless amputee who lived under a bridge and shared that he really was contemplating jumping off the bridge because his 'friends' had stolen everything he had from him while he slept.  "That was really intense, Mom.  But Mr. W (another chaperone) went to his van and gave the man his own under armour soccer shirt.  And now I hope that man might know that other people really care about him and it might change the way he thinks."

"Oh, and Mom, I just had the BEST shower ever."


Thursday, May 26, 2011


I don't want to feel like I have to justify to my friends if my boys go out on a date.  Now, mind you, I say this with the comfortable certainty that that probably isn't going to happen any time in the immediate future.

While my friends outside my Christian circle think of me as very conservative and I've been called to the right of the John Birch society (pretty sure that's not a compliment), Christians don't know what to do with me.

Mostly they seem vaguely suspicious of me.  I am theologically conservative, yet my flat-out rejection of some of the more popular trends in the conservative home educating crowd flummoxes them.  They suspect I am a heretic or at least deceived and ill-informed.  The polite horror when I mentioned that my son was looking for a math themed Halloween costume to wear to his college Calc class for extra credit is but one indication that I too often stray from the current standard orthodoxy.

The courtship model causes me unease.  This article goes a long way toward capturing why.  The fact that I voice unease with the courtship model, with the patriocentric movement, with the family-integrated church movement causes my friends unease.

None of this should be reason for divisiveness.  None of these matters concern the nature of God or the way of salvation.  And the folks I hang with are too polite to make it a divisive matter.  But neither do they really want to talk about most of these topics.

Perhaps the comments here can be a thoughtful forum.  I'd be very interested in hearing others' thoughts after reading the linked courtship article.  How do you intend to guide your kids when it comes to dating?  I am sure I have much to learn from all of you!

"Break the conventions.  Keep the Commandments." --GK Chesterton

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Good News or Merely More Confusion?

Hi, all!

There is some potentially good news on the homeschool MathCounts team issue.  You may remember new homeschool teams were banned from competition this year.  We were fortunate in our region to have a coordinator who scored our kids' team on an "unofficial" basis and reported those scores to me privately.  They, by the way, "unofficially" won that portion of the competition and "unofficially" placed second overall as a team.  For their fantastic debut effort, they received nary a nod or applause or mention from the podium.  We were the only ones who knew of their achievement.  Great way to treat kids, hunh?

MathCounts just issued a new ruling for the upcoming competitive season.  I've listed it below, but some concerns remain.  For instance, my local middle school competes in one region even though the school draws kids from two different MathCounts regions.  I live in a town that straddles two counties.  According to the new modification, if a homeschooled kid lives just 10 minutes from where our team practices, he or she would have to drive an hour to the homeschool team in that region/county rather than 20 city blocks to our team.  Seems to defeat the intent of the ruling, which is clearly to restrict homeschool teams to a small geographic area.  Also, there is no such thing as a legitimately recognized homeschool group in my state.  Homeschools are legal private schools in IL.  This year, I had all our competitors' parents sign an affidavit saying they were in full legal compliance with the state code regulating private schools.  I don't see any way our state could require any more.  Or would our homeschool math team be considered a legitimately recognized homeschool group by virtue of our regular meetings and practices?  Who is the arbiter of legitimacy here?

I applaud MathCounts for relenting on their unreasonable rule of last season, but as long as we have magnet schools, private schools and public schools who are not in compliance with the rules below, the policy remains discriminatory toward a group of kids merely because of where and how they receive their primary instruction.  And in my book, that's just plain wrong.

Team Eligibility Rule Modification:  Coordinators were notified that the Homeschool/Small School eligibility rule will be modified for the 2011-2012 program year.  Homeschool groups will once again be allowed to register a team for the competition program.  However, all homeschool groups registering a team will be required to meet the following qualifications:  1. All registered members of the team must live within the same chapter they will be competing in and 2. Homeschool groups registering a team must complete a Homeschool Affidavit that identifies the school as a legitimately recognized homeschool group within the state and discourages the homeschool group’s students from registering independently should they not be selected to represent the homeschool group noted on the affidavit.

The rule prohibiting small schools from combining with other small schools to form a team still will be enforced for the 2011-2012 program year.

Although the MATHCOUNTS Board of Directors has agreed to modify the team eligibility rule for the 2011-2012 program year, the format of the affidavit is still in the development stages.  Additional information concerning the rule modification will be provided to coordinators when it becomes available, as well as in the 2011-2012 Coordinator Manual and in the 2011-2012 MATHCOUNTS School Handbook. 

Monday, May 2, 2011

Tornado Relief

The Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond, will pick four charities nominated by those who comment on her blog to receive $500 each.  Additionally, for each comment left this week, she will donate $.25 to relief organizations providing direct aid to the tornado victims in the southern US.  You can read her column here.  I've noticed that on most of her "give away" type posts, there are 30-35,000 comments left within 24-48 hours.  I'm praying that the completely altruistic basis for this one and the full week timeframe might spur even more.  Tell all your friends!



The marathon runners in Champaign weren't the only folks sweating and persevering this past weekend.  3000 mathletes, including 10 from the South Naperville Homeschool Math Team, descended on the University of Illinois campus for the annual Illinois Council of Teachers of Mathematics State Competition.  Student competing at the ICTM state finals must place or meet minimum qualifying scores at regional events held throughout the state in March in order to advance to the state finals.

Adair L's minivan squealed into the Illini Garage Mahal after an almost all night drive from a family vacation in Texas.  Adair, S. Nap's only freshman, contributed to the team's highest finish of the day, a third place in the Calculator Team contest.  The five person team included soph Jack R, juniors Julia N and  Ryan M, and senior Andy F.  After barely squeaking into the state competition on a minimum qualifying score, Jack R rebounded and bested 110 other competitors to finish a strong fourth place individually in the Geometry contest.  Charles S and Landon T concluded their high school math competitive careers by teaming together for a hard fought 5th place finish in the Junior/Senior Two Person Team Event.  Julia N and Ryan M led a capable junior class that included Jenny Y and Nathan D in the Algebra 2 competition.  Their four score combined total landed them in 8th place as a team.  South Naperville formed this year with the blessing, encouragement and support of Cornerstone Homeschool Math Team.  Cornerstone, out of Carol Stream, captured the Division 1A State Overall Championship for the fifth year in a row.

South Naperville's Middle School team proved equally stellar in their inaugural season.  The six person team faced down teams twice their size at the March Junior High Math Contest hosted by IMSA.  Rowan M, Joseph L, Hannah W and Zachary L took top honors in the 7th grade team contest while Rowan M captured second place individually.  Nathan R finished third in the 8th grade individual competition.  All half dozen kids finished in the top 50% nationally in the MOEMS ( math contest.  Nathan R also received a silver pin for being in the top 10% nationwide.  MOEMS is a once monthly contest held over five months.  Last year, 150,000 kids from 6000 clubs participated in MOEMS.

The middle school kids performed similarly well in MathCounts competition.  Last year, MathCounts banned homeschool teams from the team portion of competition.  After huge national outcry, they amended that decision and banned only new homeschool teams pending a full review of the policy for next year's competition.  The team competed at the Joliet chapter regionals held at Heritage Grove school in Plainfield, where chair Richard Sinnott graciously agreed to score S. Naperville's team results on an "unofficial" basis.  The four person team of Nathan R, Rowan M, Joseph L and Hannah W "unofficially" won that portion of the competition and finished the day overall in "unofficial" second place.  Homeschoolers are allowed to compete and advance as individuals and the Joliet chapter sent the two highest scoring individuals who are not a part of the winning team on to state competition.  Nathan R, finishing third individually and second in the Countdown round, earned the top individual slot to advance to state competition held in Matteson, IL on March 12.  He had a great time there.

Emily Sault, veteran homeschool mom and fixture in the Naperville home educating community, coached the middle school club this year.  Judi Newman ( assisted in providing individual support and coaching where needed.  Regina Macwan led the high school club and was assisted by Marla Sheldon.  The team takes a well-deserved break until mid-September when they will resume practicing on Tuesdays 2-4p at Book Rd. Baptist Church, just south of 104th St on Book Rd in Naperville.  All are welcome to participate and inquiries can be sent to Holly Ramsey at for the middle school team and Regina Macwan for the high school team.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Creative Cousins

"Can I have dessert?" queried my six year old nephew.

I told him he absolutely could, after he wrote or selected a poem for Tuesday Teatime.  It may be Spring Break, but there is always a time and place for stealth schooling.

The 13 year old cousins decided they wanted to compose their own poems, but weren't sure what to write about.  "Tap dancing spiders!" "Cousins being eaten by a dragon!" commanded the eldest girl cousin in that way of first-borns everywhere who are accustomed to getting younger siblings to do all manner of ridiculous or impossible task merely because the primogenitarily favored demand it.

And in the manner of second borns everywhere who are accustomed to performing all manner of ridiculous or impossible task without pausing to wonder, "Why?" and without so much as a "You aren't the boss of me," the two 13 year old cousins turned out the following in under ten minutes:

Allison's poem

Every night when I go to sleep
All the creatures come out and creep.
The spiders, they tap dance with flair;
The rats make nests upon my long hair.
The roaches play with the flies and bugs;
The mice crawl under the purple rugs.
And when the rooster crows in the morn,
The animals scatter as the sun is born.

Nathan's poem

Once there was the day
 my thoughts ran away.
  My cousins were
   eaten by a dragon.
    With golden scales
     like large hay bales,
      and teeth like fire and
       sharp as barbed wire.
Once there was a day
 when my thoughts ran away.
  My cousins were
   eaten by a dragon.
    So I set a trap in the
     depths of my mind to
      trap the gleaming evil.
       But alas, I had not the
        time, and came the golden
         dragon prime.  I tried to save
          but no chance he gave, and
           and ate them up in no time.
Once there was a day
 my thoughts ran away.
  My cousins were
    eaten by a dragon.

First borns may set the agenda.  But second borns get bonus cookies for originality and execution.



Sunday, March 20, 2011

Invisible Mom

I am 43.  I drive a mini-van.  I worry about the 20 extra pounds accumulated in the 50 pound, five time yoyo ride up and down the kid-bearing roller coaster.  I am invisible; I am every mom.

I found myself suddenly conspicuous last night when my 15 year old invited a group of friends over.  These are all kids he's gotten to know at church and several were on the week long missions trip with him last summer.  But still, they are not kids I know well.  And there were girls invited. (!!??)  And none of them are home schoolers.

I don't know in what nanosecond the sippy cups and arranged play dates stopped and my kid began selecting his own friends and asking them to come hang out.  Wasn't it just yesterday that no self respecting boy would sit on the "girl" side of the Sunday School room, let alone talk to one?

What is an invisible mom to do in times such as these?   If it were just a group of guys hanging out, I would have chucked them all in the basement with a bag of chips and been done with it.

As mom of one princess myself and extrapolating a decade into her future, I decided chucking into the basement with a bag of chips probably wasn't the way to go.  How to be omnipresent without seeming as if one is omnipresent?

I dispatched Mr. Wonderful to the basement to supervise the opening Nerf War and I bopped in and out a few times collecting the younger kids for bed.

After an opening warm-up war, the kids moved on to Risk, the ostensible purpose of the gathering.  I know, I know; if you have a group of kids willing to gather on a Saturday night to eat snacks and play Risk, they are probably not the rabble rousing variety needing constant, vigilant watch.  I recused myself to the front living room to read and listen to every word of their conversation without being seen.

Mr. Wonderful took up sentry at the kitchen computer.  The teens laughed and ate and played in the adjoining family room.  They seemed not to notice us a whole lot as we tried to thread the needle of being friendly and available without being an embarrassment to our offspring.

It's hard work being conspicuously invisible.  Being a parent of teens is a lot like being a good butler.  Anticipating needs, serving without drawing attention to one's self, aware of everything, revealing nothing.  Maybe invisibility is God's super power gift to the middle aged parent.  It sure is more kind to the midsection than donning a Wonder Woman suit.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Math Counts

Hi, all:

Regardless of whether or not your kid is involved in the middle school Math Counts competition, I hope you might take a moment to drop Math Counts program coordinator Chris Bright a note. Indications are that the Math Counts board is reviewing their rules for next year.

Prior to this year, homeschool teams were allowed to compete as both individuals and in the team competition. Math Counts then made a ruling banning all homeschool teams from the team portion of the competition. After great outcry and some HSLDA involvement, they partially rescinded that ruling. They grandfathered in teams in existence prior to 2010-2011 and banned only new homeschool teams. After that, pressure on the Math Counts organization greatly decreased as the older teams were happy and stopped calling and writing letters.

The time is now, I believe, to once again ask Math Counts to fully rescind their discriminatory ruling and allow all homeschool teams back in to team competition. Interestingly, there are some parallels in the rationale that MathCounts gave for their ruling and the rationale we saw from Senator Maloney for his IL homeschool registration efforts. Both parties brought up those who were not really home schoolers masquerading as such and causing problems. Obviously, the solution is not to punish/regulate the true home schoolers.

Even if you don't have a pony in this race, please consider writing a letter. This type of thinking is spreading--my sister reports similar rationale now being used by the Science Olympiad competition in NC to attempt to ban homeschool teams there.

My letter and Chris Bright's email address is below. I am not certain whether Chris is a man or a woman, which is why I used the first name.


Subject: Homeschool MathCounts Teams
Date: Tue, 1 Mar 2011 19:58:47 +0000

Dear Chris:

Richard S, our IL chapter coordinator, passed along to you my concern about banning new homeschool teams from MathCounts team competition. You may remember I also wrote to you about this issue this past summer/fall.
You indicated to Richard that the policy is still under review for next year.

As Richard told you, our team posed no administrative challenge or headache to him. He said MathCounts told him this was the reason for banning new homeschool teams. I told him that the original reason we were given was a concern over homeschool teams forming super teams from a wide geographic area. MathCounts allows science & math magnets and private gifted schools to compete, although these are by nature super teams pulling from a wide geographic area.

By contrast, our new team was formed purely within the spirit of MathCounts' intent--to encourage more kids to love math. Our "parent team" moved further north and our new team formed several suburbs and an hour's drive away. We knew this would make both teams less competitive, but we felt it would offer more home educated kids the chance to get involved in a club close to their neighborhood. Indeed, all of our kids live within a mile east-west radius and within an 18 block north-south radius. Our geographic pull this year was much more narrow than the local middle school team that advanced to states.

Our team won the team portion of the competition and finished second overall. Unfortunately, our team was the only ones who knew that because our scores had to be "unofficial" and hence, unannounced.

May I ask you to put yourself in the place of our students for a moment? They worked just as hard as any other team, meeting once weekly for two hours faithfully since the previous September. They applauded politely for every other announced team and individual award.

Does MathCounts really think that is a fair way to treat students based solely on how they receive their primary math education? I think it is entirely the wrong message to be sending to a group of youngsters--that no matter how well you do, you will be discriminated against because of the type of school you attend and you will be overlooked.

I urge MathCounts to rescind this practice that denigrates the efforts of home educated students and to return to the pre-2010 rule of allowing homeschool teams to compete as both individuals and as teams. It is the right thing to do.

Holly R

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Too Much Time on My Hands

Capitol Fax political pundit Rich Miller suggests home schoolers have time on their hands, which is why we can show up in Springfield today.

Seriously, Rich?

What Mr. Miller characterized as a simple registration requirement is not.  Even Senator Maloney is running from his own bill now, though sadly not from the registration concept.  What Senator Maloney attempted in SB 136 would give the State Board of Education broad, indeed unlimited power to craft registration requirements.  Curriculum approval by the state?  Certification required?  Why not?  Maloney noted to Cisco Cotto (890 AM), with some wistfulness, that others states have floated or implemented similar actions.  One HSLDA attorney joked that we do have a term for those government officials who think it a problem when the government doesn't know or control something:  megalomaniac.

Illinois Review rightly ridiculed Miller for his assessment of home educators.  I will leave you to guess who the anonymously quoted homeschool mom is.  :)


Sunday, February 13, 2011

SB 136 in the TribLocal section of the Chicago Tribune

I just posted a piece on the TribLocal portion of the Chicago Tribune.  The TribLocal site bills itself as the "citizen reporter" arm of the Chicago Tribune.  Sounds so much better than "glorified blogger," yes?

You can read it here.


Friday, February 11, 2011

They are Hearing, but are They Listening?

As it currently stands, it looks like the IL General Assembly Education Committee will be meeting on Tuesday, 2/15 to discuss registration of home school students, but without SB 136 listed as legislation for that meeting.

Perhaps they've figured out that there is a vociferous, voting and wait-for-it...informed citizenry in IL who finds this bill repugnant.  Maybe they're out to find a more palatable way to force home schoolers to submit to state intrusion.  Could they believe that if they just find the right way to phrase it, surely we will agree to their enlightened, assuredly benign reach into our homes?  Doubtful.

In a way, you almost have to feel sorry for Senator Maloney.  He appears to have stepped squarely in a big pile of dog doo here.  It would be like someone suggesting basic literacy--say, reading on a second grade level-- as a precondition to voting rights.  On the surface, that's not a bad idea.  However, only someone without any clue to our nation's history and the painful, discriminatory past of poll tax, literacy tests and the like used as unfair and blatant attempts to disenfranchise blacks would ever insensitively suggest it.

So it is with Senator Maloney and SB 136, I think.  Or at least, in my more charitable moments, I hope it is merely ignorance of the decades long struggle to legally affirm home school rights and freedoms that leads him to such an ill-conceived bill.  In my more realistic moments, I note that the IL Education Association was his largest campaign contributor in 2008, followed by money from both the IFT and the Chicago Teachers Union.  View his campaign contributors here.

Home educators are right to distrust any bill that rests power in the State Board of Education to prescribe any requirements, even registration ones, on home schools.

Any home educator worth their salt knows of the NEA's resolution of 2007-8 (B-75) which asserts their belief that "home schooling programs based on parental choice cannot provide the student with a comprehensive education experience."  State BOEs are filled with former institutional setting teachers and superintendents (7 of the 9 here in IL).  We know that the stated position of the NEA is that "When homeschooling occurs...instruction should be by persons who are licensed by the appropriate state education licensure agency, and a curriculum approved by the state Dept. of Ed should be used."

Can Senator Maloney really wonder why home educators view skeptically any power given to the State BOE to establish registration requirements?  Registration requirements are the gateway drug to curriculum requirements and licensure requirements.

Maloney's Democratic counterparts on the Education Committee have been, for the most part, silent about his bill.  Maybe they should contemplate that the IL Federation of Teachers 2003 Resolution #4 states that "IFT supports MANDATORY {emphasis mine} state and/or federal funded preschool education for ALL three and four year old children in the state of IL."  With at least one State BOE member proudly listing her affiliation with the IFT on her official biography page, home educators might rightly question what the State BOE position on say, a 12 year old who learns at home might be?

The IFT lists as key issues it continues to oppose as "attempts to weaken/reduce present student attendance requirements for the purpose of computing state aid" as well as "any effort to weaken the separation of church and state."  Now, these may be worthy goals for public education, but wouldn't these goals each potentially be undermined by the very presence of home schools?  Is it really a stretch to think that the State BOE, when dreaming up registration requirements under the broad umbrella of power SB 136 gives them, might have deeply ingrained in them a sympathy for Article 2 of the IFT Constitution?  Article 2, Sec 1 lists their purpose as giving "mutual aid and support to IL teachers."  Section 2 lists their purpose as promoting "the organization of teachers" and section 9 dedicates their purpose to "preserve and promote the welfare of the public school system."

By our very existence, home educators are a threat to the entrenched powers of institutional schooling.  The trend in our country is toward professionalism of the teacher and toward national standards.  Again, maybe not bad ideas for those within that system, but  the fact that any reasonable parent with a library card can successfully educate their kid is a scary idea to the institutions.  Scores of studies seem to indicate their fears are well-founded.  Homeschooled kids have higher achievement as measured by ACT scores and higher freshman college GPAs than their traditionally schooled counterparts.

What if this legislation evolves into home educators merely needing to give their names, address and kids' names?  Surely no reasonable person could disagree with that, right?  Let me leave you with the words from the IFT website section entitled "Rome wasn't built in a day":

Aim for consensus rather than "victory."  Be willing to settle for making progress toward your goal, getting the bill passed, and fine-tuning it in future sessions.

If Senator Maloney wants to introduce a bill asking the State BOE to emulate home educators' success in raising above average academic kids, ones who are less likely to be on welfare and more likely to be entrepreneurs than their public school counterparts, all at a fraction of the $11,000 IL spends per child on "free" public education, then we have much to dialogue about.

Otherwise?  The State has no business extending any control over a successful education venture to bring it to the level of mediocrity shown by the public system.

Contact info for the IL Education Committee members is in the next blog post below.  Please take a moment to thank Sen. Schmidt and Sen. McCarter for their opposition to SB 136 and to let the other Senators know you disapprove of this needless intrusion by the state on parental rights.

Links to the campaign contributors of the other Education Committee members listed below.


Thursday, February 10, 2011

SB 136

SB 136 has been referred to the Education Committee meeting on 2/15.  Please contact the following committee members and register your strong opposition by both phone and email.

Committee Chairman, Sen. James T. Meeks (D-Chicago)
Springfield: 217-782-8066
District: 708-862-1515

Sen. Kimberly A. Lightford (D-Westchester) 
Springfield: 217-782-8505
District: 708-343-7444

Sen. Gary Forby (D-Benton)
Springfield: 217-782-5509
District: 618-439-2504

Sen. Susan Garrett (D-Highwood)
Springfield: 217-782-3650
District: 847-433-2002

Sen. Iris Y. Martinez (D-Chicago)
Springfield: 217-782-8191
District: 773-463-0720

Sen. John G. Mulroe (D-Chicago)
Springfield: 217-782-1035
District: 773-763-3810

Sen. David Luechtefeld (R-Okawville)
Springfield: 217-782-8137
District: 618-243-9014

Sen. Kyle McCarter (R-Decatur)
Springfield: 217-782-5755
District: 217-428-4068

Sen. Suzi Schmidt (R-Lake Villa)
Springfield: 217-782-7353
District: 847-752-7004

Sen. Christine Johnson (R- Sycamore) *Will be sworn in on Feb. 14th
Springfield: 217-782-1977
District: 815-895-6318
could not find contact info for Sen. Johnson

Copy of the letter I sent to each committe member (with shameless academic bragging redacted for public consumption):

Dear Senator McCarter: 
SB 136 requiring home schoolers to register with the State Board of Education according to whatever requirements the SBOE establishes will be heard by the Education Committee on 2/15. This vague bill undermines parental rights and sets home educators on a slippery slope toward unnecessary government intrusion into their lives.  
I am an active voter and an IL home educating mother of 5. All my kids who are of school age perform well above grade level. My oldest, though only a 9th grader, currently has a XX% average at North Central College in Math 152 (Calc 2) and scored a XX on the ACT at age 13; my middle two sons routinely score at the XXth percentile or above on nationally normed standardized tests and my pre-K girl can read at the XX grade level. Somehow, I manage to educate them appropriately without any state intrusion or help and cannot imagine that anything the SBOE could dream up would do anything but hinder me in this endeavor.  
I am asking you to call on Senator Maloney to withdraw this bill and to publicly note your opposition to it. I do not think I can voice my opposition in any clearer terms than your colleague State Senator Suzi Schmidt already has: 
In its current form the bill would mandate all non-public school students (including home-schooled students) to register with the State Board of Education each year, which appears unnecessary, excessive, and provides no solution to a given problem in the public or private education systems. Additionally there is no available information regarding how this mandate might improve education for students, the number of families it will affect, or the anticipated additional cost to taxpayers it will create. Because the proposed legislation seemingly provides no added value to education and is unnecessary to student achievement, I do not support this bill. 
Thank you.