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, ohiohol@hotmail.com, 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!