Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Rambling Homeschool Planning Post

While I will still be working until the beginning of September, we will begin our homeschooling adventure next week so the girls will stay on the same schedule as the local public schools. Brave? Crazy? You make the call. I am not married to the idea of strictly following the public school schedule, but for this first year, I think the girls will be more comfortable starting school when everyone else does.

Right now, I am trying to construct a school supply list for the year while the sales are good. Here I will explain the general nature of my amorphous ideas and you, helpful friends, might help me construct a supply list.

For the girls


In the beginning, Math will be Khan Academy. I would prefer to move towards a book curriculum in the second semester, but for now, I only want to establish the habit of working on math everyday. I want them to use scratchpads for their work so they will have something like a math notebook.


Do you need supplies for this? I want to cover other subjects through reading and like the idea of a library checklist. What categories should be included? I have science, biography, history, and fiction.


We will be doing open-ended journaling daily for a set amount of time. I am thinking 20 minutes. Is that too much? I also like the idea of a copybook. How many notebooks do you need to get through a year?


We have the first level of the Memoria Press cursive curriculum. Handwriting is something that was only touched on minimally at school and we would all like to have better handwriting. Should I buy more "official" books or just use the book as a guide and keep the practice to a separate handwriting tablet? I do not expect to get to handwriting until LATER but I want them to have the materials available.


Another thing for LATER, but I was shown a handy grammar website today with lessons already divided out. I want to try to work these in for both girls. More paper?

Practical Life:

I want to especially focus on meal planning, cooking, and establishing a housekeeping routine. Do you need extra supplies for this? I don't think so, but let me know if you disagree.


A friend from church who has an art degree has just offered to teach a monthly art class. This is fantastic news. I know I will need to buy supplies for that, but what do I need to keep at home? Sadly, art has been a weak point in our household. Coloring and painting does not happen very often mostly due to logistics, but I am hoping with the establishment of a housekeeping routine, art will finally become a thing at our house. Should everyone get their own sketchpad? What else? Tape, glue, construction paper, colored pencils. We have four million crayons. I also want to buy one of those outstanding Dover coloring books just because I want one in the house. Should each child get an individual art supply box or does corporate property work decently?


I think I have this one covered. The only thing missing is uncovering the keyboard. If there is something specific that you recommend, let me know.


Sam will be added to this mix at some point. I only note this for purposes of quantity since I am trying to buy for the whole year. You only get a shot at 10 cent notebooks once.

For me

What do I need to make this operation run? I want a portable calendar--Google calendar does not work because I have a dumbphone--and something in which to record the day. I suspect a ream of paper would be helpful and a good pencil sharpener. A whole box of reams? We have a couple of small whiteboards so we probably need new dry erase markers. Sharpies? Ink pens? How many pencils considering we have them falling out our ears. Or do you just buy new pencils on principle to begin the new school year?

Regale me with all your suggestions.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Things That Annoy Me #5

I am a terrible speller. I don't know why. The sounds in my head have trouble transcribing into letters on the page. As a result I rely heavily on spell check and dictionaries. My spelling has actually improved a great deal since I began typing more than writing by hand. There is some part of my brain that activates when I have to press each individual letter key rather than scribble them on paper.

You'd think that I would have great pity and sympathy for those who post and publish misspelled words. You'd be wrong. I figure that I know I don't spell very well so if I can make use of dictionaries and notice the red-squiggle line underneath words, so can everyone else.

That being said, it doesn't bother me terribly when people misspell recieve or talk about there job or use it's when making a possessive. I have a general sense of 'ugh,' but it isn't baffling. There is, however, two words I see frequently misused that completely get under my skin. I do not even comprehend how these words are interchanged:



I see that it is easy as a typo to get the 'e' and the 't' in the wrong spot and unintentionally insert the wrong word. I also see that, since you have spelled a valid word correctly, spell-check will never flag it for you. It is one of those situations where your own self has to proofread and correct the typo.

Here is what I don't understand: How can someone use 'quite' over and over and over when he actually means 'quiet' and how can this same person use 'quiet' over and over and over when he actually means 'quite.' Obviously there is some confusion over these two words, but the slightest application of phonics would alleviate the problem. Just look at what you have typed and read it!

Why this particular misusage causes me so much angst, I cannot tell you, but it does. It does.

Do you have a similar grammatical issue that sends you around the bend?

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Stick Impolsion

The sticks. Oh, the sticks. It's been awhile since I updated you on the sticks. Sigh. The sticks have imploded.

We were doing fairly well with them until Dave's schedule got so busy around March that the ability to enforce the work was very hit or miss. We are basically living the lifestyle of two full-time working parents with the added bonus of having the kids home all day instead of at daycare. The house is woeful and we are too busy and too tired to fix it.

The main reasons I implemented the sticks were to control the socks all over the house and the chaos in their room. The house is in such a state that finding their stray socks is difficult. Since we were not inspecting daily, or even every other day, their room quickly descended into something that a quick pick-up would not fix. Since their room was a mess, I stopped even pulling the sticks.

I didn't exactly announce that I wasn't going to pay them for brushing their teeth and feeding the cat. I just pretty much stopped paying them. They would ask and I would say we would figure something out later. It's not later yet.

They still do certain chores when asked, like the trash, with less fuss than they used to because these particular chores are linked in their minds to the sticks. But the daily habit of completing a list of jobs without asking is pretty much gone now. Sigh.

I intend to revisit the sticks once we get settled again, but with the changeover to homeschooling and my resignation coming soon, the job list probably needs completely reworked anyway. At this point, I don't expect to even try to reboot the stick experiment until October at the earliest. In the meantime, if you come and visit my house, don't be surprised to find dirty socks in the living room, very full trash cans, and a girls room where the carpet is buried under piles of their stuff.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015


With the date I will submit my resignation coming closer every day, I am in a strange limbo at work. The old system I have been working since I began is no longer being updated. We still need to archive off the tables, but my work in it is essentially finished. I am still waiting to be brought more fully into the maintenance of the new system. My direct supervisor was fired for reasons related to performance and I substantially have no supervisor. The person next in line up the chain of command told me I should take direction from a particular coworker until they hired a new supervisor.

There is little evidence that my coworker knows that he is supposed to be directing my work. He gave me a report to build a few weeks ago and then told me this week that the way the system is designed makes this particular report impossible to generate. We are supposed to have a meeting to talk shop, but it hasn't been scheduled yet. Right now my job responsibilities include one weekly load job which takes about 30 minutes and building a report that apparently cannot be built. That's it.

As far as I know, nobody with any decision-making power over me is any wiser to my intention to resign. Every time the subject of my work in the new system is broached, I am assured that I will soon be very much involved. Soon. I have been told soon for months. Each time I think it can't possibly be put off for any longer, it is. At base the problem is that there are certain employees who are so busy, their ability to delegate is compromised. They are so busy they can't even ask for help.

On one hand this is their own doing. I should have been highly involved with this project since the beginning but have been kept on the periphery for reasons that have never been explained. On the other hand, I probably should jump in and bang on their doors trying to offer help. I'm not. My motivation is nonexistent. I am so close to being finished I can taste it. My desire to learn an entirely new system solely from intrinsic virtue is zero.

So for now, I commute every day wondering how long this farce of a job would continue if I weren't putting an end to it. I arrive and click aimlessly around the Internet for my requisite amount of time and fight traffic all the way home. It is entirely pointless and such a bizarre situation. But I am putting an end to it. Soon. Will they be shocked? I can't imagine, but maybe. Maybe nobody knows that I sit here all day with nothing to do. I have one foot in the office and the other one firmly planted outside the door. Twenty-seven working days.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

From the South

I considered myself quite cosmopolitan growing up. Most of my extended family lived in two rather rural towns and I lived in a city. Well, it was actually a suburb, but I went downtown frequently. One of the schools I attended was in a rundown area just south of downtown. I saw lots, probably more than I should have, and the vibe was very urban compared to those small towns.

My family also traveled around the country quite a bit. We were in New York City for the Statue of Liberty rededication in 1986. We walked the streets and rode the subway. It was exciting and different. I saw the Chrysler Building! That was important because Miss Hannigan expected the floors to shine just like the top of that building. We rode the ferries and walked up all the steps to the crown of Lady Liberty. We stayed with family and went to places away from the beaten path in addition to the regular tourist high spots. I was excited to hear Chattanooga make the list of exotic places for new immigrants as part of the rededication ceremony, but my New York family cheered for Brooklyn instead.

We went to Boston and Philadelphia and Washington D.C. and Maine. We hit all the major historical places and every trip came with a history lesson. We read maps, navigated, and were expected to dictate routes from a young age. Later we traveled West to Yellowstone and San Francisco and the Grand Canyon. Most of our vacations were attached to national parks or historical sites and I thought I was knowledgeable about the world or at least the United States.


In high school, my band was invited to march in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. I was excited, but also blase about the trip. I had been to New York before. It would be fun to go again, but I did not consider it the trip of a lifetime because it wasn't. I had been there and done that.

We were a large group of teenagers who obviously were not natives to NYC. Perhaps we merited more attention than your average tourists. It didn't take long for our accents to out our origins and I was horrified by what followed. Time after time, strangers on the street would ask about the availability of plumbing at home. They would ask whether or not we had electricity and about our shoes. They would ask if we had ever been in a city before and what it was like seeing multi-story buildings.

I don't know if they were kidding or serious. Maybe they were just being jerks. I was a self-conscious teenager and I couldn't imagine why they were asking these things or even joking about it. Why was it assumed that we were bumpkin hicks or thought funny to question us as if we were bumpkin hicks? I was mortified. What was worse is that my classmates reacted to this odd line of questioning by turning on the twang, full-blast. The refrain of "New York City" from the old Pace Picante sauce commercials would ring out whenever we were questioned. I wanted to crawl away and die.


The idea of the South being full of stupid and backwards people is not new, but it still shocks me. I have lived here my entire life and you will find the full range of people that you find anywhere else, but there is a link in the national mind that equates Southern with ignorant.

About a year ago, there was a controversy over the Oak Ridge National Laboratory offering a class to help local employees lose their accents. It was ultimately cancelled but it sheds insight on the general problem. 'You might be smart enough to be a nuclear engineer, but you sound stupid so let us help you neutralize your accent.' It was deeply offensive to many people to have the federal government come to the heart of Southern Appalachia and offer to help switch-off the local dialect. While I do not think the class had malicious intent, it touched both the pride people have in their origins and the wounds people carry from being judged by a stereotype. 

Believe it or not, my accent is of middlin' strength. I am a practitioner of code-switching although it is mostly unconscious. When I am around my rural family, my accent becomes much richer than in my day-to-day city life. To my own ears, I do not sound particularly Southern, but when I leave the South, I become intensely aware of my accent. My origins are signaled as soon as I open my mouth and I know it is likely I am being judged by my diphthong.


When I was a child, we ate a variety of food when eating out: Italian, Chinese, Mexican, whatever. It was pretty middle-brow "exotic" restaurant food. At home, we ate whatever my mother put together, although she would make an Italian dessert if it was to be had. There wasn't necessarily a theme. But at my paternal grandmother's house, we ate Southern food. Food like greens with hamhock, purple hull peas, fried chicken, fried pies, tomatoes, watermelon, sweet corn, skillet-fried round steak, catfish, and cornbread dressing. These are the foods I associate with the South. We all ate them.

As I grew up, I learned that a stereotype exists that connects black people with fried chicken and watermelon and it is offensive. I, being fairly conscious of not wanting to be offensive, would never make any offhand remark about any such stereotype. I received the knowledge and filed it away, but inwardly, I was confused. Why were black people especially connected with these foods? In the summer, we, my white family, would sit outside under the trees eating watermelon almost daily. On Sunday, the fancy meal usually contained fried chicken. We all ate these foods. I pondered this odd stereotype for years, never quite grasping why it existed.


One of the odd facts about America is that the South is known for Jim Crow and racists, but most of the more significant race riots happened in the not-South. This puzzled me. If the South was the place where the racists were, and by national acclaim it most certainly is, why did the North host the riots? 

When I was a junior in high school, I read Richard Wright's Black Boy which gives a stark picture of growing up black and poor in the Jim Crow South. In it Wright works for years to escape the South and migrate north. When he finally arrives in Chicago, he does not find the racial paradise he expected. The situation is superior in many ways--discrimination isn't hard-coded into the law--but he still finds the old racial attitudes which hinder him.

For me this was the key to understanding why the riots were a generally northern phenomenon. In the South, the racism was expected. The people were bowed down and a social order existed which was hard to buck, but, in the mind, there existed a Promised Land where, if you could just get there, all would be set right. The North was that Promised Land for many black people in the South. The most industrious, striving, and ambitious people in the South broke free from the limitations of home and migrated North. They wanted to make a better life for themselves and their families and would not accept the limits of society. It is a similar story to those who migrate from other countries into the United States. Only those willing to lose it all will make the journey. These people left their homes only to find the same ole problems in the Promised Land.

I think this is the spark for the riots: the absolute rage at finding similar attitudes and limitations even if they were not officially part of the law. The fact that the South had fewer riots is not evidence of racial harmony, only of expectations. When you expect it to be bad and it is bad, you are not surprised. When you expect it to be good and it turns out poorly, you get angry.


After pondering these things for years, I think there is a link between the Great Migration and the food stereotype. When these people moved North, they weren't eating "black" food, they were eating Southern food. The population that received them looked upon their diet with scorn and linked it to them racially instead of regionally. I am convinced that the South is not the source of this stereotype because it doesn't make any sense. Why would white Southerners mock black Southerners for eating the very same foods? Why would eating fried chicken be cause for distinction when you, yourself, are eating fried chicken?

I have been reminded of these old trains of thought in these past few months as the roles of race, region, history, and memory have been brought to the forefront of the national conversation. A few months ago, I read an article about how food binds and separates people in a way that other signifiers do not. It is almost Eucharistic how we can be joined through the experience of food if we are willing to open ourselves to the hospitality that regional food traditions offer. At the same time, food is a status-signal. We align ourselves with our preferred groups by the foods we choose to eat and the foods we mock. We can stab at the very core a person's being by deriding the foods he associates with home and family. I understood a very small taste of this derision as I tried to reason out why the foods of my grandparents' home were part of a nasty stereotype.


When any group of people are subjected to being judged by stereotypes, they react in a variety of ways. Sometimes there is passive acceptance of oppression; sometimes there are riots. Sometimes people try to pass as someone else and erase the vestiges of home; sometimes they purposely embody the stereotype. Sometimes they try to move past history, and sometimes they cling to an old flag.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Random Observations

We are in the middle of July in the South and our air conditioning decided to go on its own summer vacation. It is well north of 80 degrees in the house and hovering around 90 upstairs. We are all hot and sticky and generally uncomfortable. 

Luckily we have an appointment to get it looked at first thing on Monday morning. I suspect we just need to charge the unit with some freon. I hope that's all it is. The fact that the amount it would cost to replace the entire unit is about equal to the gap amount we have been trying to earn so I can quit my job is not lost on me. Please, no. Just no.

This small foray into life without air conditioning got me to thinking. People have lived around here for much longer than air conditioning has existed. It is true that their houses were designed to mitigate the heat and that they didn't live in the sweat boxes that we moderns do. But by and large, people were much warmer in the summertime than they are now.

Here is my question: Historically speaking, was there a discernible drop in the number of babies born in April and May compared to the rest of the year? Because, my goodness, I don't see how there couldn't be. 

Saturday, July 18, 2015


To homeschool in the state of Tennessee, you have to enroll with the school board and are subject to the requirements of the school system or you have to enroll with an umbrella school and are subject to the requirements of the umbrella school. I think, legally speaking, this is a fine arrangement to have. Parents can escape supervision of the state while the state delegates its due diligence to another party. That's the theory anyway.

In reality, the most popular umbrella school in the state imposes only the most basic requirements. You must enroll, declare your subjects and books, and at the end of the semester, report attendance and grades. You can declare the library as all of your books without specifying a single particular. Nobody checks on you. Nobody asks questions. Your entire interaction with the umbrella school can be limited to completing online forms. It is all based on the honor system which assumes you do what you said you would do.

This bothers me, but I have found, speaking to homeschoolers I know, I am almost alone in my concerns. Every time I have spoken about this concern, the general response is two-fold. First, nobody would bother homeschooling if they were not interested in trying to do the best they can for their children. Second, the only people they hurt if they lie about it is their children. My response to the first answer is that is probably generally true, but is not absolute. My response to the second answer is, um, yes, exactly.

I believe that parents have the right to educate their own children, but I also believe that children have the right to be educated. I think that if a parent with atrocious grammar wants to attempt to teach grammar, the right exists. I think that if a parent with the barest understanding of arithmetic wants to pretend to be teaching algebra, the right exists. Cringe, but you should legally be allowed to do it. But I think the child has the right for someone to be looking after his education. Most of the time when homeschooling that person will be the parent, but what about when it is not.

Evil exists in the world and begetting a child does not exempt you from being capable of evil. If we could count on parents to work for and protect their children one hundred percent of the time without exception, child abuse would not be a thing and laws punishing it would not exist. But it does exist. This is the hard reality.

Again, legally, I think the design of the law works fairly well in balancing the interests of both the state and the parents. I am only questioning the judgment of an umbrella school where anything goes. I do not think massive oversight is needed. I only feel like there should be a little more concern for those who might fall through the cracks. 

I think it would be wise for the umbrella school to touch base, either yearly or each semester, with each registered family to see how things are going. A simple fifteen minute phone call is all it would likely take. Experienced homeschoolers know what kind of answers to expect from the open ended "How's it going?" It would not be unusual for a first or second year family to answer with uncertainty and with lots of 'I don't know's as the family figured out what works for them. You would expect to find fewer and fewer of those kinds of answers the longer a family homeschools. 

These phone calls should not have the tone of authority and suspicion but of collaboration and cooperation. A real human interaction which would give the parent an opportunity to ask for help, if necessary, and the school the opportunity to offer help, if necessary. If everything is going well, that's great. But the umbrella school might have the opportunity to help a child out of a bad situation if the phone call yields that gut feeling that something just isn't right here. And, of course, the parent could lie through the phone call with no one the wiser, but it would at least be one more layer of protection.

This idea seems reasonable to me, but when I have mentioned it to a homeschooler I know, her response was that she would find another umbrella school rather than have someone call her house to ask a few questions. She was offended that anyone would suggest that parents need recourse to any oversight at all. She firmly believes that the parents are completely responsible for their children, any educational failings just have to be endured by the child, and any questioning or interference is an unjust usurpation of parental rights. 

Yes. But no.

So help me understand why my concerns are irrational and seem to only be had by me. Why doesn't the umbrella school have the moral obligation to verify that some semblance of what they certify to the state as happening is actually happening? Why should the only interaction between the umbrella school and the parents be the equivalent of ordering a book from Amazon?

NB: Because I am a paternalistic hypocrite, I am using this same umbrella school for exactly the reasons that make me uneasy. I can do what I want, when I want, and nobody is going to make it harder than it needs to be. But you can trust me, right?

Friday, July 17, 2015


I am the descendant of a slave owner.  I am the descendant of Italian Catholic immigrants. I am the descendant of a man killed in action at the Battle of Shiloh fighting for the Confederacy and buried in a mass grave. I am the descendant of the first baby born in the United States after the family had been separated for a decade by an ocean.

I am the descendant of a young war widow and mother whose home and land seems to have been confiscated by the Federal Army. I am the descendant of a man who died drunk in the snow and his dead body was carried back to his family. I am the descendant of the second wife after the first wife died too young. I am the descendant of the second husband when divorce and remarriage was taboo.

I am the descendant of a railroad man who died in the line of work. I am the descendant of an alcoholic. I am the descendant of a couple who married because they had to. I am the descendant of a small town Southern man whose enlistment brought him around the country, to the Pacific theater, and around the world. I am the descendant of a lineman who handled high voltage electrical lines.

I am the descendant of a man who would have never allowed his daughter to marry a Protestant if he had been alive to stop it. I am the descendant of a woman aghast at the notion of her son marrying a Catholic.

I am the descendant of a high school dropout because her mother needed her to work for money. I am a descendant of a wife who had to work to support her family when married women didn't work because her husband drank all his money.

I am the descendant of a man who spent his life in the integrated Army and whose children went to integrated schools and for whom integration was a material good. I am the descendant of a Southern woman who used the n-word in casual conversation, not out of active malignancy but because that's how you identified people. I am the descendant of a Southern man who abhorred the n-word and disallowed it in his house.

I am a descendant of a woman who paid her full tithe to the church even when her children suffered for it. I am the descendant of a man who rarely went to church. I am the descendant of a teacher. I am the descendant of an engineer.

I am the sum total of all these people. Some of them are sympathetic and some of them are horrid. I have some measure of affection for all of them. How can I not? I would not exist except for them.