Tuesday, December 27, 2005

What exactly IS the "working poor"?...

Well, I'll tell you, thanks so much for asking. ;)

The working poor is a class by themselves. They're a hodgepodge of different backgrounds all stuck in the same shitty financial situation. Sure, some of them are there because they're uneducated, possibly because their parents were uneducated as well. However, lack of proper education is only one reason, and there are many. Some of them have fallen into a string of hard luck; one horrible incident after another (such is the case with us). Some of them did something stupid and illegal when they were younger, and now find it difficult to get a decent job because of their legal background. Some of them had an unexpected child (or maybe even a planned child) that threw them into financial hell before they were even able to get their feet on firm ground.

The working poor aren't on welfare. Most of them are determined to work as hard as they have to in order to not require federal aid. Most of them find themselves barely keeping food on the table for their family of five while the state department tells them they make too much money to qualify for aid (yep, that's us again). Sadly, many people who are on welfare used to be part of the working poor, and finally gave up their attempt to make it on their own. I've heard many many stories of single mothers who, when faced with working and still being unable to feed their children, chose to quit their job and collect food stamps and federal housing. In a case like that, I don't blame them at all. You do what you gotta do to feed your kids.

The working poor are often overlooked, since they're not counted among the federal percentage of poverty-level families. As far as social standards, it's easy to judge them. It's easy to say their poverty would be eliminated if they didn't buy this, or subscribe to that. It's easy to say the unemployed spouse could get a job and solve all their problems. (Weekly daycare total in my area for my 3 kids based on state averages= $287.38. Average weekly income for a woman with no college education= $350. Wonder if I could cover my gas and lunches on 60 bucks a week?) I've had several nosy bitches tell me I would be a thousand times better off if I cancelled my internet access. Tell me something though: Would you be a thousand times better off with an extra $25 a month? What could you buy with it? Two days worth of groceries? A tank of gas? And what do you expect of these "wasteful" people? To sit at home staring at bare walls they shouldn't be spending money to paint? Twidling their thumbs because they shouldn't spend money on games or television? Most of us (well US anyway) never go to a movie. We never even eat at Denny's.

Think about what you would give up if you weren't making the bills each month. Cable television? Friday night dinner at a nice restaurant? The bar/nightclub? Aerobics class? Now imagine if you didn't have those things to give up. Imagine you never had them in the first place. Could you give up your cell phone? (I don't have one.) You car? (Hubby and I share a vehicle.) Imagine giving up your dental appointments for lack of insurance and inability to pay for the fillings you need - and imagine that tooth breaking and just dealing with the excrutiating pain. Imagine weighing your options, is it cheaper to buy tylenol or have that tooth pulled?

The working poor are everywhere you look. Maybe the mom in the grocery store told her kid to put back the cookies because they can't afford them. Maybe "those people" down the street are doing everything they can to keep their heads above water and that crappy POS they're driving is the best they can do. And sure, they could give up their internet (or beer, cell phone, salon nails, fill-in-the-non-necessity-here), but maybe, like us, it's one last thing they have keeping them from feeling like a complete loser. Maybe it's the one little thing that helps them remember people are supposed to be equal in this country. Maybe its the one thing that keeps them from saying, "Fuck it, I'm going on welfare." And in that case, its the thing that makes the difference between their working poverty and your tax dollars.

'Cause trust me, they don't want you to pay for them any more than you do.

Monday, December 12, 2005

The Obsession Train: Crochetting...

My mother tried to teach me to crochet when I was a kid. I never had the patience for it. The very idea of making something ONE. STITCH. AT. A. TIME. was just ridiculous to me. So my mother crocheted a thousand afghans, doll dresses, and coin purses for me. And sometimes I watched.

When I was 19, a friend of mine showed me again how to crochet. I guess I was finally ready to learn it at that point. For a few months, I crocheted afghans. Baby afghans for friends, a big afghan for my bed, and of course a few for my mom because... well you just can't ever have enough afghans, right? All of them were single-crochet stitches, back and forth, sometimes in stripes. That's all I had learned how to do. By the time I got around to learning double-crochet stitches, I was bored with the whole mess.

Well now I'm crochetting again. I bought about 50 pounds of yarn and several packages of different sized hooks. I printed off patterns from here, here, and here. I now have four crochet projects started at once: a cradle/purse for my youngest daughter, a tote bag for myself, an afghan for my friend's baby, and a tank top for my oldest daughter. I know damn well I will run out of steam on this roll well before I get through all the yarn I've bought, but I couldn't help myself.

I guess all that extra yarn will find a home in the back of my closet, with the rest of the yarn I've been hanging on to for years. ;)

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Ok, I Admit It... I'm a Geek...

Two days ago, Star Wars Episode III came out on dvd. I'd been waiting for Nov. 1st for months. We had intended to see it in the theatre, but waited until it was available at the 2nd run theatre ( $5 for ticket, small popcorn and a soda). We planned to go on a Friday, got a babysitter (which is rare) and called the theatre for the start times. Unfortunately, they stopped running Episode III just the day before. Arrrgh!

Two days ago I said to my husband, "Oh my gosh! It's the 1st! You have to go rent it!" He knew exactly what I was talking about when I said "it." I loved the movie. The kids loved it. We spent almost an hour after the movie was over telling them about the "next" three movies and how fantastic they would be, despite the difference in age and computer graphics.

So I went to the store today looking for episodes IV, V, and VI. I bought a box set for $48 (I'm sure I was ripped off) and came home so excited I could barely wait till my husband got home to watch them. So I'm a geek. Sue me. Episode IV (originally just THE Star Wars) came out the year I was born. The only Star Wars movie I've seen with much memory was Episode VI, Return of the Jedi. After watching Episode IV tonight, I am severely disappointed. Not because of the graphics, because I expected what I saw, but because of the lack of a storyline. I'm having a hard time understanding how anyone watched this movie in 1977, with such complicated politics that weren't explained whatsoever and lacking any kind of pre-story, could bear to watch The Empire Strikes Back. I'm thinking it had something to do with Harrison Ford.

Monday, October 31, 2005

I'm Not an Ice Cream Lover, But...

I just found the most fantastic ice cream I've ever tasted. I was wandering aimlessly through the local mid-priced grocery store this afternoon, which is kind of a splurge but I like the meat there, and literally bumped into a sample stand. I love samples at the grocery store! This time it was ice cream, so the kids all had to try too. "Double-chocolate please." I was already imagining the faces covered in chocolate and carrying around sticky napkins for the rest of my shopping. But it was fabulous.

Blue Sky Creamery, in Boone, Iowa has ice cream parlors and sells in grocery stores throughout Iowa and Minnesota. They freeze their ice cream with liquid nitrogen, in less than a second, so there are no air bubbles and no ice crystals whatsoever. This results in the thickest, smoothest, richest ice cream I have ever tasted. I bought a pint of double-chocolate and a pint of capuccino, which actually tastes like capuccino instead of some half-assed light chocolate-ish mush.

I'm already visualizing the new pants I'll be buying in about a month ;)

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Our Trick-or-Treating Adventure...

It took us longer to get ready to go trick-or-treating than it actually took trick-or-treating. My son was a mummy and we made his costume by tearing two white sheets into strips and wrapping him everywhere. With the help of some safety pins, it stayed completely in place for at least ten minutes. My 6-yr-old daughter was going to be a midieval princess, her costume from last year which still fits, but she couldn't find her crown. After rummaging through her dress-up clothes, we found an old dance costume that was mine when I was 10 or so, and dressed her up in that, over jeans and a sweatshirt since is so damned cold here in Iowa. My youngest daughter wore a puppy costume from last year (thank goodness we could only find one a size too big last year). All three costumes for free. :)

My oldest daughter made 3 trips to the bathroom in the 45 minutes we took getting ready, which meant 3 times redressing her in her costume and tucking the sweatshirt down inside the sequined leotard. On the way out the door, she said she had to go again. I asked her if she has actually been going at all every time she goes to the bathroom, and she told me, "only a really litte." Great. Probably a urinary tract infection. I told her to hold it and she would thank me later.

Ten minutes later, we made it to a nearby town where we planned to do our rounds, and my daughter tells me she can no longer hold it. We stopped at a gas station, where I helped her out of her costume and into it AGAIN. She only went a tiny little bit. We bought a bottle of cranberry juice before we left and I told her to drink it all before we got home. Ugh, I really don't want to have to take her to the doctor.

After walking around for what seemed like forever and filling gallon ice cream bucket each with candy, we called it a night. When we got into the car, we realized we'd only been out for half an hour. Oh well, the kids didn't even notice and we managed to get dinner and off to bed on time.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Good Books Are Sometimes Hard to Find...

Over the summer, I bought a set of books from a college student selling door-to-door. They're called Explore and Learn. There are 6 volumes about the human body, the history of civilization, space, technology, nature, and a world atlas. They come with a cross-curriculum list - detailing the science, math, language, etc. in each book - and a large wall map. I didn't buy them to use as a standard curriculum, but they could certainly be used that way. I just keep them on the shelf and the kids get them out at least once a week to read them. I love these books and at $100 a set, it was a very good investment. The company that publishes this series also sells software, audio cds, a large set of encyclopedias, and a fabulous set of K-12 (and beyond) everything-you'll-ever-learn-in-school kind of books. A homeschooler could build curriculum until their kids move out of the house with these books.

The problem is they only sell their books through college students door-to-door. Just like any other exclusive company like Avon or Mary Kay, you can only get the products through a "representative." Unfortunately, unlike Avon or Mary Kay, there is no way to locate a representative because since its a summer job to earn money for college expenses, the salespeople change every year and are only available in the summer. I plan to continue to check their website, just in case they do list contact information in the summer.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

What IS Halloween For Anyway?...

I was making lunch today and wondering how I was going to come up with money for Halloween costumes for my kids this year. Beggar's Night is a week away. I could make their costumes, if I could find materials that were cheap, and if I could think of a costume that was relatively simple to make that wouldn't make my children look like idiots. Not to mention the hour-long internet search of hundreds (if not thousands) of costumes with my son, while he complained about each one and continued asking for costumes that didn't exist or were just too expensive to make. In the middle of the second grilled cheese sandwich assembly, a song came on the radio about trick-or-treating. It was the kids' radio station, and the song was the old "Trick or treat, smell my feet," song most of us has heard before, but with lots of other lyrics. Like, "Give me something good to eat. If you don't, that's just fine. I hope you sit on a porcupine." Silly? Funny? I guess if you're 6.

But what a horrible attitude for kids to have, even in jest. I just keep thinking about the money parents spend on their kids' costumes. The candy bought by the neighborhood just to pass out to greedy, inappreciative, cavity-riddled children. Just like any other "holiday," Halloween is over-marketed, over-priced and widely misunderstood. Does anyone care about how this holiday developed? Do they care that it stemmed from religions most people don't practice and beliefs that no longer exist? Why do we continue to spend money on a "holiday" only celebrated by traditions we don't understand? My guess is because the heavily-stocked Walmart shelves tell us to, and because everyone else does. (Americans spend about $6.9 BILLION anually on Halloween crap, making it the second largest commercial holiday in the country.)

I really want my children to only celebrate things that are important to them, and by "important," I mean something other than the collection of candy. I don't want to be a big mean mom, but I want holidays to mean something, not just be celebrated because the Mainstream says we should. However, after mentioning to my husband I was thinking about calling off Trick or Treating and just having a nice night at home, my husband insisted I "can't do that to the kids." As if they'll be permanently damaged by not wandering around in the cold rain for two hours and eating two pounds of candy. *Sigh*

I bet a mummy costume would be easy to make...

Friday, October 21, 2005

Really Enjoying My New Freedom...

Since my husband started working at his new job, he's been given a company work vehicle. That means that for the first time since August when his work truck broke down, I am actually able to USE my SUV for errands and things during the day. I never noticed how wonderful this was until a trip to the library today (yes again, its a record LOL).

We wandered around the library for over an hour. My 2-year-old was a bit of a handful by the time we left, but we didn't leave because we had to rush home so Daddy could have the car. I didn't worry about how long we were there or what time we'd be home. I no longer have to plan doctor's appointments early in the morning so my husband can just go in late. I no longer have to wait for him to be home in the evening to run to the store for the toilet paper that's been out since 9am.

And awesome that since I homeschool, I don't even have to worry about being home to meet the bus.

Ahhh, I'd almost forgotten what freedom was like.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

A Day of Complete Insanity...

I love my children.

Let me say that again.

I love my children.

Several times today I wanted to run away and never come home. Days like these are becoming more frequent. Not a single quiet moment all day. And not just regular noise. I'm talking teeth-grading, nail-biting, hair-pulling, irritating noises. All. Day. Long.

Fighting between my older two children. Me trying to resolve the fight and becoming the target of the yelling from both of them. The 6-year-old taking things from the 2-year-old. The 2-year-old screaming her friggin head off like she was being murdered every time something didn't go her way. Liquids spilled, dumped and sloshed all over the house. Solid items broken, banged on or thrown. And after a friend played his ancient cassette of Peter, Paul & Mary, "Puff the Magic Dragon" being sung over and over and over and over.

I don't like to yell, but I've been doing it a lot. I just want five friggin seconds to read a paragraph, complete a sentence, finish a damn thought. I wish my children would learn just because I don't answer them the very second they say something, doesn't mean I didn't hear them and they should repeat themselves at least 10 times. I wish my 6-year-old would learn the household language instead of falling back on her native language of Whine. I feel like I'm suffering from PPD all over again, mumbling repeatedly, "ok just have this and please for the love of god leave me alone." Then the kids act hurt and rejected and I feel even worse.

Is it bedtime yet?

But I love my kids. Love love love them.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Happy Birthday!...

Today is my oldest daughter's 6th birthday, although we've been teasing her for months that it was going to be her 5th. We had a party for her at a local pizza place/arcade. We got off as cheaply as possible, telling the guests we weren't paying for pizza but would cover the cost of wristbands for all the kids to play in a gigantic climbing play area. We paid for wristbands for our kids, but by the time all our guests got there, the girl at the counter told me not to bother with wristbands since we were the only people in the place. Lucky us! We had pizza, the kids played in the huge play area, and the hubby and I played air hockey and lots of arcade games, and we only spent about 35 bucks. Yay!

I do wish I didn't have to be so cheap with birthdays, but we just can't afford the $100/hour party rooms at the fancy party places. We spent about $20 on presents for my daughter, but got away with several of them since purple nail polish and hair accessories are pretty inexpensive. I kinda feel bad that we weren't in a financial position last spring to give my son a good party, but he did get some great presents.

We played all night. The kids had a great time. Big bucks or not.

Monday, October 17, 2005

On My Mind Today: Child Abuse...

I remember staying the night with a girl I knew from school. I was about 12 years old, and I'd known this girl about two weeks. The house was the filthiest I'd ever seen. Dishes were piled on every inch of the countertop (one of the scraggly cats wandering around was covered in grease from a stacked-pans avalanche). The 2-bedroom house was shared by my new friend, her 2 sisters, her mom, 3 men who weren't related whatsoever to my friend or her sisters, and Grandma living in a small camp trailer in the back yard. We ate cold hot dogs for dinner because there were no clean pans or a microwave to cook them. This girl shared a bare mattress on the floor with her two sisters and the dog. I was eaten alive by fleas all night long, and ate dry cereal in the morning because there was no milk, and no clean bowls. I was so relieved to go home I almost cried as I told my mom about all the trauma I'd endured on my visit.

So why didn't she call someone? Knowing what I do now - that this girl dressed like a tramp when she was 12 and was often covered in bruises - and the conditions she lived in, the situation reeked of sexual abuse. At the very least, it was gross neglect.

I'm sure she thought it wasn't her business to get involved. Maybe she justified it by saying that some people might not like her parenting either, and it wasn't for her to judge. I've thought that several times myself while I live in this dumpy house, with a yard full of junk (told ya I was a redneck, y'all). Where is the line drawn between dicipline and abuse? Between laziness and neglect? Who am I, the average citizen, to judge someone else?

I don't know what the answers are. But I know there are lots of kids out there being abused daily while the neighbors mind their own business. And I also know there are perfectly decent parents who are misjudged and lose their children to foster homes for months or years. I know that a lot of parents are afraid to even set boundaries for their children because of the constant fear of CPS. Are parents safe in this kind of system? Are children safe?

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Pumpkin Day...

This morning I decided to bake the pumpkins from my garden. I bought the seeds for Baby Pam pie pumpkins from an organic seed company in the spring, grew them among the zucchini and acorn squash, and harvested them almost a month ago. Despite the fact that the pumpkin took over the entire garden, growing long prickly vines over everything and choking out my acorn squash, the plants produced pathetically small amounts of actual pumpkins. My acorn squash only produced 4 squash out of 3 plants before the pumpkin took over their roots and killed them all. But the pumpkins, also 3 plants, produced only 7 pumpkins. They're small, but perfectly fine for pies and other recipes. Bugs got to one pumpkin, and my children broke open another, so this morning I had only 5.

I split the pumpkins in half, per the online instructions, and baked them cut-side down on a cookie sheet for about 1 1/2 hours at 350 degrees. The kids had a great time scooping out the seeds and pulp, which I saved for toasting, and the whole process was performed with very little mess, most of which was the kids' hands and clothes.

I am now toasting the seeds, about 3 cups worth, coated with about 3 teaspoons of oil and about 3/4 teaspoon salt, baking at 300 for about half an hour now. The recipe says 45 minutes with a little stirring, but I think these will take much longer since they were so wet and gooey. I picked out as much of the pulp as possible, but I'm starting to think I should have rinsed them before coating with oil and salt, as they were pretty slimy. We'll see how they turn out.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Limits to Learning?...

When I discussed the subject of the Well Trained Mind and its recommended curriculum with my public school teacher friend, I was not at all surprised that she hated the idea. "Why on earth would they need to learn Latin?" she asked me, "And who cares what they're reading as long as they're reading and enjoying it." She does have a bit of a point. There are lots of adults from my generation who read for pleasure, and I think that's fantastic. However, what they're reading leaves a lot to be desired. They never broadened their minds to accept anything more complicated than Harlequin novels. When asked about reading something even slightly more complicated, like Mark Twain, they comment with things like, "I don't like that kind of book, its too boring." Not boring, they just don't get it. The classics, full of complicated terminology and large vocabulary words, are full of adventure, humor, unbridled passion. But if you don't know how to read it - more importantly to understand it - you miss all that. It's like reading a page full of nonsense words.

My sister-in-law once commented that she isn't going to teach her children most of the things she learned in school because, "I never used that information. They don't need it either." Sure, if you want your children to grow up to be unemployed, or work at Walmart or McDonald's, that's perfectly fine. But why wouldn't someone want to give their children as many options as possible? I would certainly rather my child be capable of rocket science but choose to work at Walmart because they enjoy it, than have them want to be a rocket scientist but lack the knowledge and skills to be anything but a checkout girl.

I have been (as well as most others still are) too focused on "he has to learn this to get through second grade." I've presented him with all the stories in his basal readers, given him all his worksheets, and when he was done we just did something else in our "free time." Most people never consider what else their children could learn, because "that's not something he does until 4th grade." We are raising a society of people who only want to learn the absolute bare minimum to get by. Few are the college students taking classes just because that subject interests them, they don't even want to take the classes required to graduate. In high school, the general attitude of the students (as well as myself) was just to suck it up and get through the class, and in a few years it would all be over. Learning is treated as something you have to get through to move on in life, not something you should actually enjoy. The result is a society of lazy, unmotivated people, content to leave their learning behind at 25 and spend the rest of their lives just going through the motions of adulthood.

Why do they need to learn it? Obviously they don't. But why would they want to learn it (or why would you want to teach them)? The same reason Boy Scouts learn to tie knots. Because you might use it someday. Because you might actually have better ejoyment out of life due to your knowledge. 20 years down the road you could buy a sailboat and already know how to tie off your sails because of a month-long lesson in Boy Scouts. And those who can see a benefit to learning throughout their lives could someday enjoy Homer, see a play in Italian, or even be a rocket scientist.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Well Trained Mind...

I became curious about this book from the Denim Jumper website I mentioned a few days ago. Most of these people came from something they called "the WTM messageboards," which left me absolutely clueless. The funny part was, even after I saw the book referenced, I didn't put it together. It wasn't until I borrowed the book from the library and saw the Well Trained Mind website referenced that I understood. I had read quite a few posts about kids learning Latin. Latin! I wasn't sure what to think of this at all. My decision to get this book from the library came just as much from curiosity about this strange practice as it did interest in what good points the book may have.

I have to say I am thoroughly impressed with this program. A whole homeschooling curriculum based on classic literature, history and reading, reading, reading. The authors of this book are big on reading original texts, hence the Latin lessons. The awesome part about this kind of program, however, is that it can be tailored to your needs or desires. I am interested in my kids reading the classics. And I'm not just talking Where the Red Fern Grows. I'm talking Shakespeare. I'm just not so sure the structure is what I'm going for.

My evil mind is imagining the reactions of family members at Christmastime. "What are you learning now?" "We're learning about the fall of the Roman Empire, and reading the Iliad, and .." Hehehehehe.

Monday, October 10, 2005

A Trip to the Library...

Ok, I admit it. I haven't taken the kids to the library in a long long time. Not that I haven't wanted to, or certainly not that I haven't intended to. I lost my library card. Maybe the dog ate it ;)

We live in the barely-populated triangular void made by three nearby cities. One of them huge, the other two fairly normal-sized (10,000 people, give or take). City #1 is too large and I honestly have no clue where the closest library is. Not to mention the recent kidnapping attempts and child sexual assaults that have happened at libraries there the last few weeks. I love the library in City #2, but have already lost my library card there once and had a replacement made, which I have now lost again. To spare my embarrassment, I went searching City #3 for their library. I drove around for almost an hour before I found it, and this was based on directions from a resident (sad, really). The library was too small for the number of books it contained. The play area, while very nice, was in the open and literally 4 feet from the adult section. I thought it would be best if I looked for the books we came for, so my son sat reading books to his sisters in the play area. The entire time we were there, I only found one book between taking children to the bathroom and dodging dirty looks from every adult in the place because of my "noisy" children. I ended up leaving the book and just getting out of there.

So today, I swallowed my pride and went back to library #2. Their children's section and play area are in separate room, with walls and doors to reduce any noise coming from there. They understand that children have only two voices - whisper and yell - and often use them at the inappropriate times. And they have puppets, which keep my toddler from yanking every book off the shelves. I turned my kids loose in the play area and headed for the "card catalogue," which is now located on the computer. Easier to use, but I sure wish I could find a real catalogue to at least show my children how to use it.

After hunting up The Well-Trained Mind and How to Reach and Teach Children With Dyslexia, and discovering my fruitless hunt for origami books was caused by my lack of ability to spell "origami," I walked to the desk and confessed my disorganization and irresponsibility to the clerk. She told me I could borrow these books today without my card, which gives me more time to look for it at home (yeah, right), and the replacement card if I need one would be $3.

Well, I wanted to support that library anyway. May as well be in fees.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005


Today while discussing our all-consuming game rental Mortal Kombat, my son called one character "Doom-Smoke" when the actual name is "Noob-Smoke." An honest mistake, really, except the whole time we had this game I was constantly correcting him about it. This by itself wouldn't be a big deal, the boy still says "merchine" instead of "machine" and I didn't think much of it all week. But this afternoon something made me think more about it. And I realized that he does this often when the middle letters are the same. He'll read "leer" instead of "reel" or "toob" instead of "boot." He's done this for a while.

So I decided to look for some symptoms of dyslexia, since I really know so little about it. Turns out dyslexics are notoriously bad spellers (as is my son), have difficulty remembering sequences or facts (like his multiplication tables), and often skip or change small words while reading aloud (which he does constantly). All these things may be coincidence. He might just be a bad speller and not so great at math and reads too fast to get all the words right. But from the list of about 20 symptoms, he had at least half of them.

I called the portfolio reviewer/ supervising teacher I am using, asking if she knew of any way to test for dyslexia. She told me she knew someone who was trained in testing for it, and also offered tutoring for dyslexic children. While I don't intend to schedule any tutoring with her if the tests are positive for dyslexia, its nice to know she at least knows what she's looking for.

In all honesty, I actually hope he is dyslexic. It would not only explain his spelling problems, but it would explain everything. And it would open a whole new area of training and methods to help him learn that I may never have considered before.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Nature vs. Nurture?...

This morning my husband and I had an argument. It started as a simple discussion, which I should admit I started. The question was: Are boys in this culture persuaded to a sexual obsession by their peers/media/ parents, or is there really such a strong sexual drive in males that causes them to be so preoccupied with sexual thoughts/ actions? My husband believes its strictly nature, that a boy/ man cannot help but think of sex almost constantly. I should have just accepted his answer as opinion, but the further we got into the discussion, the more I wanted him to simply admit that his attitude (as well as most other men I know) could have been at least partially formed by his surroundings.

With my obsessing about menstruation, I realized how much my opinion of myself and my body was tainted by advertizements and public attitude. Since I have some issues with bodily fluids, specifically blood (a little OCD possibly?), its quite possible I would have been bothered by having a period anyway. But I now understand that the shame and secrecy I've had my entire menstruating life was caused by negative public opinion and advertizement.

I think boys are raised around other boys, who are raised around fathers, uncles etc. , in a never-ending cycle of sexual obsession. I think when young boys feel the first twinge of sexual interest, they're welcomed into the sexual world with an expectation of ogling everything that walks past. They're ushered into adulthood with commercials, television programs, magazines and an internet websites that objectify women. Of course, as scientists say, men think about sex every 10 seconds. It's everywhere you look. I believe boys learn that this is the normal behavior of men, and they are somehow weird if they don't participate. (Possibly even gay, and what a social massacre that would be.) I shudder at the thought of what the other girls at school would have thought of me if I ever said, "I love my period! It's representative of womanhood." eek.

Am I way off here? Is it possible all media is filled with sex because men are obsessed with it inherantly instead of the other way around? I don't think my husband and I will ever agree on this.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Violent Video Games...

We just rented Mortal Kombat: Deception. We like it, would like to buy it, but the game is 30 bucks so that won't happen until I can find it for a reasonable price on ebay or elsewhere. Rent is 5 bucks ;) Hubby and I used to play the original MK on Nintendo, years ago and were looking for something we could do together. We rented it on a night when my parents had the kids overnight, and halfway through the second fatality combo I said, "The kids are gonna love this game."

Its funny that while I am so overprotective about what my kids watch or hear that I don't care at all about violence. Movies, music and radio are censored for drugs and sex at my house, but not for violence or gore. Of course I'm not going to let them watch Halloween, but that's scary, not just violent. I honestly don't believe violent media makes someone violent unless they already have violent tendencies. My kids know the difference between tv and reality. And they know why you don't kill people - not because the cops will put you in jail, but because its wrong. Even my 5yr old understands this. We don't kill anything we don't intend to eat. (It puts the lotion in the basket... lol eww)

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Back After a Long Hiatus...

So my phone and electricity were disconnected on the same day. Such is the life of perpetually poor people. We managed to get the electric back on, after borrowing a significant amount of money from a friend of ours - which I completely hate doing and fully intend to pay back before anything else. The phone took a while to get on again, since I refused to borrow more money. I apologize to anyone who actually reads this blog (but I doubt anyone noticed) for the lack of posts for so long.

I'm still looking for that Ultimate Home Job. You know, the one where I don't have to pay gazillions of dollars to get started or bother the crap out of innocent homeowners while running up my long-distance bill. I'm talking a real job, with a boss, and a W-4. *Sigh* Where IS that job?

Saturday, September 17, 2005

The Spelling Dilema...

For those of you (all, umm zero of my readers) who remember my issues with my son's spelling, I may have found a solution.

After trying Discovery Toys Think-It-Through Tiles Spelling, spelling games on funbrain, crossword puzzles designed for kids, and bazillions of spelling words drilled into the boy's head, a teacher sent me THIS. Scholastic's Spelling Secrets.

It may not be the answer to my prayers, but it sure seems like exactly what I'm looking for. This program addresses spelling concepts with actual spelling rules. After all the spelling practice, my son just misses the point of spelling.

My husband doesn't know how to float on his back. I've tried to teach him a million times, but after a few minutes I'm frustrated and saying, "You just have to lay there and float! How hard is that?" Similarly, I was always a fantastic speller and find it difficult to teach something that for me never really had to be taught. Hopefully (cross my fingers) this can help. I'll let you know (all none of you LOL).

Thursday, September 15, 2005

National Geographic for my Homeschool...

I recently acquired (source will not be named) a teacher's edition of National Geographic Picture Atlas of the World. The version I have is an older one, but thankfully I am still running Win98 on this computer. (Give me a break, we're poor.) Good luck finding such a cd-rom new, but I'm thinking ebay might be a good place to start. In the meantime, you can buy a Kids Picture Atlas from the National Geographic website, which might actually be much cooler than the one I have.

Mine shows a world map, and clicking on any country tells you population, topography, weather, and many other facts about that area, as well as photographs of the people and countryside. There are breathtaking landscapes and even examples of music from that area. My kids have spent hours learning about other places and cultures, and this has become a fantastic addition to our regular world studies.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Grammar Rock...

We had a combined garage sale at a friend's house this weekend. While the men were tending the sale, we ladies went shopping at other sales around town. What's the point in getting rid of all your crap if you can't buy some more crap to replace it, right?

I picked up a cd-rom called Grammar Rock for a quarter (score!), which is a Schoolhouse Rock product. I wasn't sure it would be worth much, considering where I got it (and how much I paid for it), but its fantastic! Bunches of language concepts: sentence structure, vocabulary, verbs & adjectives... you name it. Several fun games and activities. I couldn't be happier with it. You can find this cd-rom as well as a bunch of other learning-related games HERE.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Happy Birthday Noah...

Today marks the 7th year since my Noah was born.

I was 18 weeks pregnant when I started bleeding. Large bursts of bright-red blood. I was at work, terrified, I called for one of the ladies in the office to help me. The bleeding had stopped by the time I got to the doctor's office, and the doctor had no clue what had happened. I was on bedrest, with cramping and more bleeding for the next 4 weeks.

At 22 weeks, I was in the hospital being dosed with as much magnesium sulphate as they could possibly give me. After 5 straight days, my body reflexes were gone, I was delirious and my family was convinced I wouldn't make it through another day. They gave up the mag. sulphate and contractions started pretty heavily. I delivered my son at 23 weeks, unable to survive outside my body. He lived 2 hours.

I still mourn for my lost son. I still miss him terribly. But I rarely cry for him now. My journal entries said, "Thank you God for giving me a healthy child first, so I wouldn't kill myself when you took this one." Thank goodness for the healing powers of time. Now I can smile when I think of him, how sweet he smelled, how beautiful he was, and how lucky we were to spend even those two short hours with him. I will always love you, little Noah.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Regression Into 3rd Grade...

Turns out my son is just plain lost on many of the math concepts in his new 4th grade textbook. Last year, when the teacher gave me all the textbooks, she told me they would be replacing the math book and that I could go ahead and keep that one. Thank goodness I did.

I've decided to review last year's book with my son. If there is something he obviously totally understands, we'll skip on to the next chapter. I was really bothered by the fact that he might be behind (doubted my teaching abilities, doubted the homeschooling thing, got over it), but now I think it doesn't matter if he never gets through the 4th grade book this school year, as long as he understands the material we're covering. Unlike public schools, the fact that he gets it is more important to me that just pushing him along into the next grade. Sure he kind of gets it, but that's not sufficient to me. The first week of school was spent with him crying his way through math lessons, me insisting he knew this material, him declaring he was "too dumb" to do it. No more. Since we've gone back to the 3rd grade book, he happily does his lessons, ask questions about what he doesn't understand and he's learning. Whatever I did wrong last year, I've obviously figured it out this time.

Good luck to us, and to the portfolio evaluator understanding my predicament and finding "sufficient progress" in his work.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Back into the Swing of Things...

A couple of weeks into school and we are moving along smoothly. Mostly my son is reviewing last year's stuff, especially in math. There have been a few things we've just skipped right over, and some things we've had to go over a few more times. My son seems to have completely forgotten how to multiply, even though he did so much of it last year.

Still waiting on those manuals from the school for my daughter, but I have had her practicing some sight words and writing her letters. She knows them all, but I think she lacks the motor skills to write them properly.

The biggest warm fuzzy was my son reading his social studies book, writing about geography and the city he lives in, and telling me, "I like school a lot better now."

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Blogs Are Impossible to Maintain...

I'm starting to discover that maintaining a blog is very difficult. I don't have time every day to post, not like anyone is reading it anyway. I'm thinking those people who have blogs they post to daily, even several times daily, either have WAY too much time on their hands or are some seriously dedicated people.

But I don't do this for public viewing. I do this for me. This is a place for my thoughts and ideas, my complaints and rants. That's what its supposed to be for. I write as if someone is reading, but I don't write for the readers. So if you're reading this and are slightly annoyed at the gaps between posts, get over it. I have a life. And when I have time, I'll write about it.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Guess what??...

The teachers are in meetings all day today, and as far as the secretary is aware, will be otherwise occupied for the rest of the week.

Bitchy Secretary: You should have come in yesterday. They were here all afternoon.

Me: Why didn't someone let them know I would be picking the books up? They could have set them aside for me whenever they had time.

Bitchy Secretary: Well, we do need a little notice.

Me: I called the district office last week, and the woman told me she would be calling the principal to give her a heads-up I was coming.

Bitchy Secretary: It's only Wednesday. School doesn't start until the 22nd.
(that's next Monday btw)

Me: I have to have the books before then, I have paperwork due to the district by the 22nd.

Bitchy Secretary: I'm sorry, I don't know what else to tell you.

GAH I hate dealing with these people.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Tougher Standards for the 5%...

In Michigan, homeschoolers have one of the most relaxed homeschooling laws in the country. No registration obligation, no reporting requirements. I could pick this article apart, but the whole thing made me so angry I could barely get through it all. Read it for yourself here. I think for the most part, this article represented the failure of public school and the benefits of homeschooling quite well. It was the comments throughout that were so upsetting to me. Like this one:

"I believe that 95 percent of homeschoolers are probably better off at home than
in a school," said David Plank, co-director of the Education Policy Center at
Michigan State University.
"But the state's concern should be about the
other 5 percent. We have no information about what kind of education they are
receiving from their parents. Not finding out is a failing on the part of the
state of Michigan."

Five percent of Michigan homeschoolers aren't getting the kind of education they should. What percentage of public schooled children aren't getting a decent education? It's all relative, really. Convince me the 5% you're referring to are worse off than the 20-or-so% of children that fail miserably in public school, and then we'll talk.

I read the comments on this article and found myself even more irritated with the constant bickering between the homeschoolers and, well the anti-homeschoolers. Same old dry arguments as always: socialization (of course), lack of "varied opinions of teachers," etc. If you've ever read a homeschool debate then you're familiar with the banter. I don't understand why those homeschoolers get so upset with people. I personally couldn't care less what those people think of my ability to teach my children, or how much they think I'm damaging them by homeschooling. It's my right, and these are my children.

It is appalling to me that local government doesn't feel it necessary to check up on my child's nutrition, whether they get enough sleep, or what kind of television programs I allow them to watch. The government trusts me to monitor those things in the best interest of my child, and trusts that I will make the right choices because... well what kind of a parent would I be if I didn't make choices that were best for them? But I cannot be trusted to educate my children without them constantly checking up on me to make sure I'm doing it right. Why wouldn't any normal parent, buying the "best" clothes and seeing to the best nutritional guidelines, ensure the best possible education for their children, the most important things in their lives?

Saturday, August 13, 2005

An A in Athletics...

Recently, the local Board of Education held a vote on stricter standards for high school students participating in sports. They voted no, leaving the current standards for school sports participation at 4 D minuses and 2 F's. You can read about it HERE. Notice this is the fifth time in the last 3 years this proposal has been presented and then rejected by the very board constructed for the betterment of education.

Also, the governer of Iowa is now pretty upset about the rejection of this proposal. It never bothered him before if your high school student was practically failing everything in high school but winning at state athletic competitions, until this year when he is planning to enter the presidential race.

Damn it's nice to know my hard-earned tax dollars are teaching the future leaders of the world to play basketball.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Frustrated With the Schools...

Why am I doing this again?

I called the schools today to inform them I was dual enrolling two children this year and would need to pick up the books and other stuff ASAP. In this district, kids go to one elementary school through 3rd grade, and another for 4th and 5th, then middle school. My son is in 4th grade this year, and my daughter in kindergarten, so that means I have to pick up materials from two different schools this time. Apparently, I am some kind of criminal, either for the High Crimes of Homeschooling or just for theft.

Me: I need to pick up some kindergarten materials for my daughter.

Bitchy Secretary: Well, the teachers won't be here until next week, so you will have to call back then and make arrangements.

Me: The books aren't there yet? School starts in less than two weeks.

Bitchy Secretary: Oh, the books are here, but we can't just let you go rummaging through the classrooms unless the teachers are here.

Me: Can't someone from the office go and gather the materials for me? I can pick them up from the office any time this week.

Bitchy Secretary: I'm sorry, you'll have to talk to a teacher about what books you're allowed to have.

UGH. So I guess I'll have to wait until next week when the teachers are there to supervise me. Such a shame you can't trust anyone these days.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Don't Grow Old and Lonely! Homeschool the Grandkids...

I think this is the most ridiculous advertisement for a book I've ever seen.

If you helped homeschool your grandchildren, what a wonderful gift that
would be for your children, your grandkids, and most of all, yourself. Think
about it.

Umm... no comment. The stupidity speaks for itself. Yet another example of trying to capitalize on the homeschool market.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

When "Good" Teachers Go Bad...

This is an interesting article:

Teacher of the year fired over '4-letter-word' quiz

Particularly interesting is the teacher's rebuttal:

I also fed kids for 16 years that came to school hungry, baked for my students, bought them clothes, cared for them and listened to them when their parents didn't, couldn't, or wouldn't. Maybe some of you should just go in a high school and sub. Why do you think there is a teacher/substitute shortage? Because all the children use the very best manners they were raised with?

Translation: Because I am the friggin Mother Teresa of teaching, nobody should ever question my methods. You should just be happy you have someone to teach your obnoxious brats anyway.

Littrell, who was nominated in "Who's Who Among American Teachers" four times, says most of the students in her class "were non-readers – quite a few were felons," contending the whole issue was sparked by one disgruntled student. "She had a straight-F [grade-point average]," Littrell said. "She was a problem kid."

Translation: Repeat from the last paragraph, I'm so great, your kids suck. And also, this really bad kid started the whole mess by telling on me.

Lady, not only am I not convinced you're a good teacher just because you have bad students, but how about not passing the buck on who started the "issue," and actually take responsibility? Whether you were called on this behavior or not doesn't change the fact that it happened. I'm sure most of your "felon" students could tell you the "It's only wrong if you get caught," idea doesn't work in real life.

This teacher's attitude is what I would be angry about, not the (inappropriate) quiz she gave. Kids leaving high school for the real world are more damaged by an inability to own up to one's own mistakes than by a working knowledge of curse words.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

It's good to be Redneck...

Today it was good to be redneck. We were invited to a friend's house for a cookout. This guy is the biggest redneck I know, but he's also the most fun person I know so it was bound to be a good party. When we got there, Three of the men and one of their sons were shooting clay pidgeons that had been strategically placed around in the neighboring bean field with a .22 rifle. By the end of the day, my son and my eldest daughter both had to try this, as well as most of the other kids.

My friend sent my son to a tree in the "back lot" of his property with a hack-saw to cut branches to make sling-shots. There was about a 30-minute demonstration on how to make a good sling and how to use the device, and all the kids spent at least an hour shooting each other with small rocks and pieces of food. This was all fun and games until someone almost put out an eye. Yes, I'm serious.

We drank beer and told jokes and teased each other all over the place and laughed our butts off. The kids chased the chickens and caught frogs in the pond and climbed trees and poked a dead animal with a stick and left for home covered in dirt. I don't think we've had so much fun in a long time.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Taking a big step into homeschooling "solo"...

In Iowa, as in most states, you have a few choices when it comes to homeschooling. Here, you can either take your kid in for a standardized test every year, hire a teacher to oversee your child's learning, or submit a portfolio of your child's work for review. When I pulled my son out of public school, I had no clue what I was getting myself into. I leaned on the advice of some schmuck in the Department of Education and the "Director" at the school district office.

The Director handed me a paper to fill out and file, and he stood over my shoulder telling me what to write on each line. "Make sure you write 180 here," he said, "and here you list your subjects. Write: reading, math, science, social studies, and spelling." This went on through the whole document, including the part where I marked which of the three options I chose. The Director said, "You'll want to do standardized tests, that way you don't have to keep any records." I nodded, great idea. I marked the box. He said, "Mark this box for dual-enrollment. That way your son can use the books he's been using all year, and you won't have to buy any." I nodded again, saving money is good. He made sure to add, "Plus, you can enroll him for a few classes at school if you like. You know, art or music or something." I shrugged this comment off, since that bitch music teacher was part of the reason I was here in the first place. I had no idea the school got money for my child even when we were only getting textbooks from the school.

The rest of the school year went without a hitch, except that the principal called wanting the textbooks returned before the actual last day of public school, making us hurry through the last chapter in the Science book my son loved so much. When I dropped the books off in the office, the principal pulled me aside and in a most sincere tone asked, "How did the homeschooling go?" Thinking she was being helpful and kind, I was honest and said, "Oh, it was harder than I thought, takes a lot of organization." That nasty woman gave me a condescending look, laughed and said, "Kinda makes you appreciate real teachers huh?" Caught off-guard, I stumbled a bit before saying, "No. Not at all," and walking out the door.

This year was the first year my son was required to take the standardized test. I feared he would do badly as he's just not good at tests, no matter how well he knows the material. Just why did I have to prove my son knew this material? I knew he knew it, wasn't that good enough? And I was dreading taking him to that horrible place just to take a test. I had images of the teasing he would encounter from the other kids, the mistreatment he would get from teachers because they somehow took my homeschooling choice personally... I just didn't want to do it. So I hired a certified teacher to administer the test. Just as I feared, he didn't do very well on the test. He did so badly in fact, the teacher I hired told me he would not meet state standards in a few areas and could be subjected to examination by the district and possibly forcing some intervention. Like a tutor. Or re-enrollment in public school for chrissake.

Then this wonderful angel of a teacher (who taught in a public school before quitting to homeschool her own children) said, "Well, we can just submit it as a baseline test for portfolio prep next year." I had to process this statement. I had never considered using another reporting option. I told her I would think about it.

The idea of using a supervising teacher was ridiculous to me. It was as if I was publicly admitting my teaching skills aren't good enough and I need professional intervention. The portfolio option allowed me to do it all myself, keep records of only the most promising evidence of progress if I wanted. But it also required that evidence to be submitted to the district "for review." While a supervising teacher is required to check up on your child's learning 8 times per year, they aren't required to advise or interfere. And they aren't required to report a damn thing to the district unless your child is seriously behind. I decided having a former homeschooling mom check in on my kids once in a while was a heckuva lot better than having to have my every move scrutinized by the district, a.k.a. Them.

I called the teacher back and asked her to supervise next school year. So when I return these school books on Tuesday, it will be the last time I have government-supplied teaching materials, or the help of the public school at all. It's liberating after how much puppeteering went on with my homeschooling before now, but at the same time it's kind of scary too. It's the same feeling I had when I first decided to homeschool. I'm excited about all the possibilities I have, yet I'm overwhelmed by all the choices and am seriously stressing over which is the best. Bottom line though: I'm relieved to be actually homeschooling my children, without the "help" I've been not really getting all this time.