Friday, February 25, 2011

Why no snow days for the home schoolers?

Last night we all tumbled into bed with a gentle rain pattering down and the (mistaken) idea that we were going to have little to no snow accumulation, according to the posted Winter Weather Advisory. I woke up coughing at about 5:15 and when I got out of bed to get a drink, I couldn't help but notice how strangely bright it seemed in the room. With a feeling of foreboding, I peeked through the blind and sure enough - there was snow. A LOT of snow. And it was blowing horizontally.

"Whuzzerdoin'?" my husband asked me drowsily, burrowing his head into his pillow. Zuzu, sleeping beside him, turned over on her back with all four paws in the air and sighed contentedly.

"Looking at the snow," I replied.

That woke him up a bit. "Diddit znow?" he mumbled, eyes blissfully closed. "Ow mudge?"

"Oh, about FIVE INCHES AND COUNTING," I announced with weary bitterness. Really, this is just ridiculous.

That woke him right up. He thrashed around in the blankets and began spluttering things at me that sounded like this: ARRRGH!!! LITTLE TO NO ACCUMULATION!! SICK OF THIS FRIGGING WINTER!! WHERE'S MY SHOVEL??!! ARRRGHHH!!!! %$#&$!!!!

I silently started getting dressed, thinking that I know two other people who were going to have the same reaction: Meelyn and Aisling. There have been so many snow days for the public schools this year -- and today is another one -- I've lost count. I've mentioned several times on Facebook that we don't have snow days here at Our Lady of Good Counsel and keep on pegging away through snow, sleet, hail and gloom of stormy afternoon. Several people have expressed surprise that I am such a big meanie, so I wanted to explain my bit of homeschooling philosophy in a place that allows me significantly more words-per-post than Facebook does.

First of all, home schooling is a completely different animal than public or private schooling. It just doesn't operate the same way, being a lot more efficient in the way time is managed. We don't have travel time, for one thing, and that makes the girls very happy because they're generally just yawning their way out of bed when their public/private school counterparts are already gathering their books from their lockers and heading off to their first class of the day.

Another way that home schooling is more efficient is that we don't have passing periods between classes or those moments of unavoidable delay when the students are filing into the room and taking their seats while the teacher does the attendance count. And we never have to deal with delaying the start of a lesson because someone doesn't have a book and someone else doesn't have paper and someone else doesn't have a pen and someone else's boyfriend just broke up with her so that she has to sit there and cry while her friends try to soothe her. And we don't have the discipline problems that keep so many teachers from being able to conduct their business and actually get through a planned lesson. These things were enormously frustrating to me as a classroom teacher.

The girls work for about six to six and a half hours a day and that is just what they spend on schoolwork; public and private school kids are actually at their schools for about six and a half hours, but only a portion of that time is actually allocated to study -- the books in the picture above are Aisling's and they include one of our many SAT reference books for her prep course, traditional logic, French vocabulary and world literature....and that's only part of them.

Meelyn and Aisling take a lunch break somewhere around noon and spend half an hour eating and relaxing. Both girls do geometry and composition and classes that require writing downstairs at the dining room table, but for subjects that require a lot of reading (world history and world lit this year) they have their favorite places to go: Meelyn goes upstairs to her room, which is cozily outfitted with a comfy place to read and Aisling curls up in the chair in front of the big window. They're usually accompanied by the dogs, Dobby upstairs and Zuzu down.

They'll be working today when everybody else is having a break for this reason: public and private schools go until the end of the school year: home schoolers go until the end of the books. In other words, even with make up days, there's only so long public schools can convene. Sooner or later, they're going to have to turn the kids loose in the summer. From my own experience I know that every single teacher out there HOPES to come to the end of the textbooks used in his or her classes, but that rarely happens. There's too much interruption, whether it's because of winter weather or too short a class period or a spirit convocation or whatever. It is a constant frustration and worry. One of the most freeing things about homeschooling is that we don't have a break off point where we have to abandon the books and go: the class continues until the very last page of each and every subject.

This is where the superior education of the typical home schooler really comes forward. We know a lot of public school kids and none of them are big, unmotivated dunces; they're great kids and I don't think they're receiving a horrible education by any means. I just think that home schoolers receive a better education. We can do so much more with our six hours, including taking on subjects like logic that most public school kids will never get a crack at. My kids have also studied more than a dozen of Shakespeare's plays (and even been to the Stratford Festival a couple of times), compared to the three studied in public school. Our physical education classes are real workouts at a real gym. (If it's extracurricular activites you want, there's really nothing closed to home schoolers anymore. If my husband and I weren't adamant about having family time and a life free of the stress of constant running, the girls could be in just about any activity you could name, up to and including speech and debate, girls' volleyball - which we participated in for three seasons during their middle school years - and all sorts of other tempting offerings.)

So when it comes to snow days, we just don't have the time. The girls have a lot to accomplish each day and they have to get it done in a timely manner so that they won't wind up sitting at the side of the pool at the swim club finishing up geometry in August. Meelyn had that experience a couple of years ago with Biology I and that was not an experience she'd care to repeat. Aisling learned from that mistake and has kept up with her work diligently.

Home schooling's ways and means are just....different. Snow days are one thing for the majority of students in the area - they have a chance to have a day to sleep in and be free from their normal daily responsibilities. But for the home schoolers, it's pay now so that they can play later, with the knowledge that every single subject has been completed down to the very last sentence in each textbook.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Supermarket OUCH

I have a certain amount of money allotted to our grocery budget every week, probably much like the rest of you do. I do shop at Aldi, which nets me some significant savings, buying what I can't get there at Kroger. I usually spend about $120 a week, and that includes food, toiletries, cleaning supplies and pet food.

Also like a lot of you, I've noticed lately that my $120 isn't going nearly as far as it used to even counting back to last summer. Prices have risen a LOT, and the things that have become more expensive are, as always, meat, milk and fresh fruits and veggies. Sometimes when I swipe my debit card at the cashier's stand, I wonder if it will suddenly shout "OUCH! YOU ARE KILLING ME! STOP IT! STOP IT RIGHT NOW!"

I am not a coupon clipper - sorting through all those messy little papers while a line forms behind me at the check-out is just not my thing. I buy name-brand NOTHING. I am constantly getting sidetracked by BOGO offers (Buy One, Get One Free), although I work very hard to stick to the list.

And I do use a list faithfully, planning out our meals for the week and the ingredients needed, plus planning what we'll want for breakfast and lunch. Since the bulk of my shopping comes from a discount grocery, I'm not sure where else I can save, or even if I want to: we've had to make a good many sacrifices in the past few years due to recession woes and our food is something that I'm just unwilling to compromise on.

Feeding a family is one of those things that's hard beyond the shopping, preparing and the serving. The paying is a real pain.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Cityscape from my front porch

I took this from my front porch a few minutes ago with the wistful thought that it looked, maybe, just a little bit like Paris? Not the 7th arrondissement, which is home to the Eiffel Tower and the L'Hôtel National des Invalides, where Napoleon is interred, but maybe more like the 19th, where there are streets that look a lot like this one, as long as it's twilight. And I'm squinting. And humming something by Edith Piaf. I can see a little Paris on my street then, but that's the only time, and it is fleeting. All other times, it looks like home, which is not a bad thing at all.

Fainting from the painting

There's been a lot of this going on lately at our house. We've lived here for six years now and it was high time things were freshened up; when we moved in, the former owner had made everything all spiffy by covering it all -- chair rails, crown molding, staircase, doors, baseboards, everything made of wood or plaster he could touch with a brush or a roller -- in that shade known as Antique White. It's a buttery kind of color, very neutral and inoffensive, unless you choose that color in a very thin, flat contractor's paint which shows every finger mark, every nose print, every little bit of dirt that could possibly attach itself to a vertical surface. And it attaches in a manner that might as well have a very big sign with an arrow depicted in flashing yellow lights pointing at the dirt and screaming, "LOOK! HERE IS SOME DIRT ON THE WALL!"

It could just break your heart, especially since thin, flat paint is just about impossible to clean with Murphy's Oil Soap or Windex or water or even a little bit of spit. It all just comes off on whatever cloth you're using to wipe the dirt away, so that yes, you have managed to remove (some of) the dirt, but you also removed a splotch of your paint along with it, leaving the walls with a polka-dot appearance that I feel detracts from my home decor.

So we're painting with a lovely satin-finish taupe color (baseboards, crown molding and chair rails in a nice, crisp white) and I keep urging the dogs to press their yucky little noses against the finished walls so that I can have the pleasure of cleaning off the resultant marks.

But that, let me tell you, is the ONLY pleasure that comes from painting. The girls first showed a lot of enthusiasm for the project, an enthusiasm which flagged about an hour in on the first room.

"Painting crown molding is awful and this is just the first room!" groaned Meelyn from atop the ladder.

"At least you don't have to be all hunched over like a garden gnome painting twelve miles of baseboards," Aisling complained.

"My shoulder hurts," said Meelyn.

"My legs hurt," said Aisling.

"My legs hurt," returned Meelyn.

"My hand hurts," rejoined Aisling.

"MY EARS HURT," bellowed my husband, who was doggedly painting a very long wall attached to a very tall ceiling.

I myself was in the kitchen hallway, painting the louvered basement door, and for anyone who has ever painted a louvered door, you know that it's a good thing to start out when you're young and carefree and in the whole of your health because those louvers? With their finicky little hidden edges? Those things can BREAK YOU. Especially when they end up requiring three coats of semi-gloss paint.

We're moving along, though. This Thursday, my husband's day off, we have to start the dining room, which contains my desk, which has a hutch on top of it. And the china cabinet, another tall piece of furniture. A baker's rack, also tall although not really heavy, but loaded down with cookbooks and several bottles of wine and a number of decorative items. All those things are going to be a pain in the hindquarters to move, especially since all the china will have to be removed from the china cabinet.

But the real treat is going to be moving the three floor-to-ceiling bookcases. Fortunately, the ceiling in the dining room is only eight feet tall, compared to the ten feet in all the other rooms, but the books. Ohhhh, the books. I think there may be slightly more than seven hundred books in those bookcases, many of them wearing hard covers. I get a sinking feeling every time I see those bookcases sitting there, giving me a Mona Lisa kind of look.

Thursday may be a dreadful day. My only solace is that we can dust and re-organize everything as we're putting it back and thus accomplish an early spring cleaning. Because I am NOT moving all that stuff again. My nerves can't take it.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Reflections on different directions

Aisling went to the annual youth retreat for the Diocese of Lafayette-in-Indiana, Destination Jesus. We dropped her off at St. Theodore Guerin High School late on Friday afternoon and picked her up today at one o'clock, which was a very long time to live in an Aisling-free household, the rest of us agreed. When she climbed into the van, she began to talk in her exuberant way about the fun -- the skits, the conferences, the small-group discussions, the Eucharistic adoration, the music (so loud it made the chairs vibrate, she assured us), sleeping on the floor of the gym and even the long, long lines for the showers -- with the air of a person who has been transported by shining delight.

"It was so fun," she said, "doing hand motions to all the songs! And all the singing! And sitting in the bleachers with all my friends! And hanging out and talking before we fell asleep!I loved it! I loved every minute of it!"

"Aisling," my husband said solemnly. "I'm a bit unclear on this. Do you want to go back next year?"

She paused for a moment, obviously struggling with the truth, couched in diplomatic terms. "I'd like to go back right now."

I compared this joie de vivre with my own personality, which is not nearly so fun. My idea of a really inspirational spiritual retreat is to go to something like this, announced by the Our Lady of Fatima Retreat Center in Indianapolis:

“Come Away and Rest Awhile: Silent Reflection Day”

Join us for another opportunity for a silent non-guided reflection day. Relax in your own private room, read a book, walk the grounds, pray the labyrinth or the stations of the cross. The day is yours for reflection and time with God.

The cost is $25 per person and includes continental breakfast from 8:00-9:00 am, lunch at 12:00 noon, and a room to use for the day. The day concludes at 4:00 pm.

Now that's my kind of retreat. Quiet. Restful. No loud music. And definitely no hand motions.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

HOW TO: Be deliciously minty-fresh

Used to be that when you wanted to have fresh breath in the middle of the day, you'd have to put a tube of toothpaste in your pocketbook along with a toothbrush in one of those plastic cases and sometimes the lid would come off the toothpaste and it would squeeze itself all over your wallet and your keys and your cassette tape of "Listen Like Thieves."

Then, through magic or just pure genius, someone came up with the idea for the Colgate Whisper and MY LIFE CHANGED FOREVER. I really hate the way gum and mints feel in my mouth, so not for me the minty mid-afternoon freshness of the mint-popper or the gum-gnasher. Not unless I wanted to keep buying new wallets, anyway.

voilà! If you'll look at my little bitty toothbrush up above, you'll see that there's a dot in the middle. Before using the toothbrush, that dot is filled with a button of non-foamy gel toothpaste gel that you brush over your teeth without water. Seriously, I brushed my teeth while waiting in line at the bank's drive-thru, and although I did snare a few weird looks from the people in the cars next to me, I have to say that my mouth felt lovely and tingly fresh. You'd think those people would have been appreciative of my committment to oral hygiene, but no. Ah, well, Rome wasn't built in a day! Soon I'm sure that EVERYONE will be using up otherwise wasted time in drive-thru lines by healthily brushing their teeth.

So what a nice invention! I am sold! And if there were some way you could make the little tiny toothbrush disappear into thin air after using it, that would be even better. I hope someone is working on that, because I didn't happen to have any tissues in my purse or paper napkins in my glove box and I had to slip it into my coat pocket, which made me feel a little gaggy and almost made my whole clean mouth experience counter productive when I threw up in the car.

PURCHASE HINT: You can buy these tiny toothbrushes at place like CVS or Walgreen's or Wal-Mart for way too much money, like $3.48. But if you'll go to the Dollar Tree, you can buy the exact same deal for, yep, one slim picture of George.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Ode to Billy Ray

I woke up this morning to the news that Billy Ray Cyrus feels that allowing his daughter, the just-turned-legal Miley, to star in the Disney Channel television show Hannah Montana might not have been such a great idea.

I believe this soundbite was released by that press agency called the Department of the Obvious. No, wait, it was actually an interview in the March issue of GQ. In the article, he reminds readers that while he did play Hannah's manager on the television show, in real life, he's not her manager and "has no say in her professional life."

Really? Because she just turned eighteen at the end of November, three months ago. Back when she was fifteen, Miley made the parents of her adoring little fans clap their hands over their chillen's tender eyes when she appeared semi-nude with messy hair, clutching a rumpled bed sheet to her breasts in an Annie Leibovitz photo taken for the June 2008 issue of Vanity Fair. And then, when she was a ripe sixteen, she did a sweet and oh-so-innocent dance around a pole during a performance at the 2009 Teen Choice Music Awards.

In defense of her jail-baity, stripper-esque shenanigans, Billy Ray told Access magazine, "You know what? I just think that Miley loves entertaining people. She loves singing (and) songwriting. I always tell her to love what you’re doing and stay focused for the love of the art and not worry so much about opinion."

Aww. I see. No one needed to get all upset about that because it was "art." Is that what we're calling it these days, when underage girls open their legs and sling themselves around a pole, favoring the television cameras and the live audience with a bird's-eye view of her hoo-ha? Lucky she had on those BLACK LEATHER PANTIES, or it might have crossed the line into cheap porn, Dad.

But then Miley went on to her 2010 "Can't Be Tamed" video, where she gave the likes of Lady Gaga and Britney Spears a run for their money with her orgy-in-more-black-leather-dominatrix-gear choreography. She was at least seventeen in that one.

So this makes me grumpy. When Miley was doing most of this stuff, she was still a minor. And I just don't give a flip about Hollywood and "handlers" or even Satan (Billy Ray claims in the GQ article that his family is under attack by the devil.) A minor child is under the protection of her parents, and instead of prattling on uselessly about Miley's great love of entertaining and her garbage "art" and all that, why wasn't he rushing up onto the stage of the Teen Choice Awards and pulling her away from that pole, throwing his jean jacket over her body?

Where was he when Annie Leibovitz was taking those photos?

And what the hell was he thinking when his 17-year-old CHILD shot that hideous video?

Where was he when Britney Spears, 29, a former Disney darling, had to have her father act as her conservator -- a legal guardian for an adult -- because her life had spun so far out of control? And then there's Lindsay Lohan, 24, alcoholic, drug addict and weird klepto shoplifter: she's been slowly committing suicide for at least the past four years. These women are both a lot older than Miley and their problems have been brewing for years; couldn't a reasonable person have checked those two sad stories out and thought, "Boy, I sure don't want my little girl to go down THAT road. It would be a lot better if she just had a normal childhood and stayed away from all that child-star stuff."

Because he knew what she was getting into. Heck, I bet all the people reading this post have never had a brush with fame like Billy Ray's or Miley's and you know what Miley was getting into.

And unfortunately, I bet we all know right where she's headed, too. And that makes me feel very sorry for Billy Ray Cyrus, even though I think he's an complete idiot for allowing all this crap to happen in the first place.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Soundly chided

I have been taken to task by several different readers for Failure to Blog and I told them that it was for their own protection: If I'd written anything in the past week and a half, it would all center on the weather; the ice, the snow, the cold, the wind, the ice, the ice, the snow and the wind. It's been just awful and to prove how truly terrible it has been, let me just say that I, for the first time, TOTALLY UNDERSTAND AND SYMPATHIZE WITH Jack Nicholson in The Shining when he got all wolf-grinny and bug-eyed with that axe.


This picture was taken out of my laundry room window, which ordinarily looks out at the back of the two really charming houses behind ours. One is a dainty wee jewel box of a Queen Anne; the other is a Craftsman cottage that has climbing roses on the back in the summer. Both are half-buried, and although it's hard to tell from this image, the snow is waaaay too deep for any of our cars to park back there. Probably eight or nine inches. Plus an easy three inches of solid ice.

We may not be able to park back there until, like, JULY.

Things like this meddle with my sense of well-being.