Monday, March 18, 2019

The Kitchen and Sundry, Part 5

In early January, the insurance agent was called and consulted about whether the kitchen was claimworthy. She assured us it was definitely worth our time and effort to make a claim. She said our policy did cover water events such as these and that we should file the claim. I was pleasantly surprised. I really thought it would not be covered, but if the agent gives you the green light, you believe her, right? Ha!

We were now on the insurance company's timeline, but I was not too concerned. A professional could pull up and reinstall a kitchen floor in a day. It wouldn't be the week-long or more timeline of DYI so we didn't need move out for a week. Those two perfectly scheduled weeks in January came and went in the midst of all follows. 

The insurance adjuster arrived. We showed him the extent of the damage on the kitchen floor, behind the fridge, and under the house. After he left, Dave immediately said that he had a bad feeling. The adjuster said the rotted boards under the fridge indicated the problem had been going on awhile. He, the insurance adjustor, didn't think the policy would cover either rot or a problem that had been allowed to fester like this. 

We were dumbfounded. There was a pinhole leak behind the fridge that never pooled any water. How were we to know the flooring was slowly rotting under the fridge? ** We were just supposed to know. Because. 

Sure enough, the letter came telling us the insurance did not, in fact, cover the damage. In the denial letter was a copy of the exact verbiage in the policy that excluded any water damage from seepage or appliances. It was exactly what I thought I remembered reading. I was angry that our insurance agent was too incompetent to advise us properly, and we wasted several weeks and lost our preferred schedule. Beyond that, I didn't worry too much about it. I was cranky and decided we needed to change insurance companies, but there was no great hurry. We still had to replace the floor. I had expected to have to pay for it all in the first place. It was only the timing that was off now. We would have to figure out when we could work the floor replacement into our schedule.

Then the other shoe dropped. 

**Another friendly reminder to pull your fridge out to check for leaks. Do it. Really.

Saturday, March 16, 2019


Next year after four years of homeschooling, Grace will be returning to public school for high school. There are various reasons for this decision.

Primarily she is going because she wants to go. She has never fully adjusted to being homeschooled. The less structured nature of homeschooling has bothered her from the beginning, and she struggles with it. I have not been able to provide the scaffolding she needs to progress in the way that she is capable. I have too many other responsibilities and students. I probably bit off more than I could chew. I needed her to be immediately independent in ways that, if she had always been homeschooled, would have occurred naturally over time, but they did not come naturally after spending five years in a school classroom. I was too overwhelmed to adequately foster it in her after we already needed it.

Even if homeschooling had gone well with her, I don't feel ready to facilitate high school. While middle school can be bungled with no great lasting harm, high school counts. I have three other students, a toddler, and a house still reeling from the chaos of the decade of my working career. The house, even after five toddlers, still is not toddler-proof, mostly because it cannot be toddler-proofed. There are too many open areas that cannot be blocked. There are too many people living in this space with too much stuff that cannot be properly put away. The house is a cornucopia of toddler mischief. 

Even so, this particular iteration of toddler is extremely clingy. I feel like I spend more time wrangling her during lessons than I do paying attention to the lesson I am giving. It is constant interruption. I have no one to hand her to or anywhere to send her. She climbs on me, throws books out of my lap and into the floor, and demands to be held or nursed all day long. Or she is emptying the bookcases. Or climbing up the kitchen table. There is no good place for her to be. It has ever been such in this house, but having students trying to complete work magnifies this reality.

I don't have the margin to properly plan and implement high school right now. I don't have the margin to properly plan the 90 minutes of music classes I teach twice a month, which is a recurring source of stress for me as I pull lessons out of the air on the fly class after class. I do not want Grace to suffer academically by my misguided attempts to do what I cannot do right now. I have read too many horror show threads about 20 year old homeschooled high school sophomores who have thrown in the towel and are now trying to pass the GED.

Grace will be going to our zoned public high school. I have misgivings. It is a mediocre high school in a mediocre school system. The lunch room isn't big enough to accommodate the students so they spill out into the hallways. They only offer French or Spanish in foreign languages. I have heard other rumors of mismanagement and misplaced priorities. There are worse things, I suppose. We cannot afford a private school or a Catholic school and cannot afford to move into a "good" school zone. It is what it is. This is our only option for high school if I cannot teach it myself. 

My own high school experience was one of extremes. The school itself had both a terrible and an excellent reputation, and both were deserved. You could have a rigorous and demanding academic high school curriculum. You could also slack your way through nothingburger classes and get passing grades for breathing. It really depended on the student and his goals. The way my high school was arranged gave the student more control over his fate than any I have ever seen in a high school since, for good or for ill. If you didn't want to learn, nobody made you and nobody cared. If you wanted to learn, you could and get a fine education. I have a small hope Grace can scrape such an educational opportunity out of the mediocre reputation her high school carries.

However I learned this week the high school will be moving to block scheduling next year. I cannot adequately express my disappointment. I loathe block scheduling. If you are unfamiliar with the term, block scheduling as will be implemented here means that the school day is divided into four classes instead of the traditional six, and the year long credit classes are condensed into a single semester.

Thus you could take Freshman English in the fall for a full credit, not take English in the spring, not take English in the fall, and take Sophomore English the spring after for another full credit. The loss of continuity in the core classes is devastating to the overall education conferred over the entirety of a high school career.  It also handicaps music and art programs because the student cannot afford to spend 25% of his class time in band. There are too many requirements for the other three class slots every semester. I have also heard rumors certain math classes will remain full year classes. I do not know how they handle the old semester long classes I used to take. Surely they don't cram them into nine weeks, but maybe they do? The distortions introduced into what should be a well-rounded education are many.

They claim the same amount of material is covered due to the intensive hours spent during the single semester. I do not believe this for one moment. Dave has taught in block-scheduled high schools. What actually happens is the attention span of the students is spent in the normal amount of time and the rest of the class period is study hall. The amount of material covered for the full credit is significantly less. The real "benefit" of block scheduling is never having homework. Now I hate homework with the best of them, but I realize this is the trade-off.

It feels helpless to send a child into an educational morass that you know will not provide what you hoped you could give, but we will have to make the best of it.

As it happens, I am hosting the bookclub this month for the upper elementary set. The book we are reading this month is _From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler_ by E.L. Konigsburg. Towards the end of the book, I discovered a paragraph that exactly expresses why I find block scheduling and the compression of classes so objectionable:

     Claudia said, "But, Mrs. Frankweiler, you should want to learn one new thing every day. We did even at the museum."
     "No," I answered, "I don't agree with that. I think you should learn, of course, and some days you must learn a great deal. But you should also have days when you allow what is already in you to swell up inside of you until it touches everything. And you can feel it inside you. If you never take time out to let that happen, then you just accumulate facts, and they begin to rattle around inside of you. You can make noise with them, but never really feel anything with them. It's hollow."

I believe in the slow, bite-sized integration of knowledge over time. It is how I arrange my homschool. Block scheduling feels hollow to me. It is the opposite of knowledge integration. It seems designed to cram information for the end of term test with no real concern about retention or long term knowledge. The long and steady laying of a foundation to enable life-long learning is tossed in favor of the box-checking rat race. The slow soak is out of style.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

The Kitchen and Sundry, Part 4

Water, water everywhere. We discovered as we pulled out the refrigerator that some of the boards invisible under the fridge were in various states of rot. Our initial response was panic. I would have to take all the kids and go to my parents and somehow fit it Christmas shopping and all the activities of December and rip out all the floors and install new ones. And who knew how bad the rot went. Was it rotting out our floor joists? Just how bad is this? Panic.

The next day--the next few days?--we reassessed the state of things. We had immediately turn off the water to the fridge so the problem was not getting any worse. A quick inspection under the house revealed a good bit of wet wood and, um, we shall it fungal growth, but no signs of rot anywhere. The problem looked fairly contained. The water had obviously been leaking a good while so waiting a few weeks to get through Christmas wasn't going to hurt anything.

I looked at my calendar and found two weeks at the end of January where we only had one outside school commitment for the entire week. It would be easy enough to temporarily move to my parents' house an hour away, continue with schooling there, and only have to venture long distance over the road for preexisting commitments once a week. We settled on that timeframe to pull up the floors and fix the kitchen.

Of course the reason we decided to wait six weeks to address the problem is because Christmas was staring us in the face. Over Christmas, just about every person we told about our predicament said the same thing: You need to submit this to your homeowner's insurance. Frankly, it had never occurred to me to make a claim. I had the vague idea such calamities were not covered, but didn't have a copy of the policy to check. (Have I mentioned our paper problem?) But person after person, all who have owned property for far longer than I have, recommended making a homeowner's claim.

Dave, who saw an opportunity to maybe having someone else do all the work since we couldn't really afford to pay for installation unless the insurance was buying, decided that inquiring into the insurance was a good idea. I agreed since ripping out and installing floors in the main living area is a ton of work.  I was still dubious the insurance would actually cover it, but decided it was definitely worth the phone call just in case I was wrong. If the insurance agent agreed our policy covered this type of event, we would file a claim.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

The Church Budget

Once again, I will gingerly touch a third rail in Catholic life: money and the Church.

My 15 minute timer is running so I can't promise complete coherence, just a few things on my mind surrounding church budgets, what is prioritized, and what is not.

Back in the fall, I had a rumbling of a complaint, but never quite put it to words. The parish had just finished its annual Sunday School registrations--yall, I'm in the South and I'm gonna call it Sunday School. The fee associated with registration was $30 a child. I understand this is rather cheap as far as Catholic CCD classes go. With four kids eligible, our total was $120, which frankly I did not have on hand in August so I registered my children and sent them to class and paid my fee later in the fall when the checking account looked happier. And to be certain, no one gave me any guff about it. Nobody once asked why I hadn't paid any money yet and the kids' registration was not contingent on paying the money.

As I said, registration had just finished, and at about the same time, the Men's Club of the parish started a fundraiser. It was a reverse raffle. For $50 a ticket, you had the opportunity to win up to $3000? $5000?--I can't quite remember now. a chunk of money--and every fourth ticket won something. Prizes ranged from $10 on up.

We had to decide whether to buy a raffle ticket. Well, no. We still had $120 outstanding in Sunday School Fees. Something clicked, and rankled, in my mind. Parents are given the opportunity to give more money to the church and in return get to send their kids to class, which is somewhat required. Non-parents are given the opportunity to give more money to the church and in return get a chance to win a pile of cash. The discrepancy was glaring once I saw it. I am not saying the money for classes isn't worth it or that I resent paying for my kids to go to Sunday School or that they should fundraise anything like that. I am only noticing the difference in monetary expectations.

I live in a majority Protestant area. By majority Protestant, I mean the number of Catholics in this area has probably doubled in the last ten years and we now make up nearly 4% of the population. 4%!! Man, you run into Catholics everywhere now. Given this density, you get a pretty good idea how differently church budgets are treated in Catholic and Protestant churches.

So in most Protestant churches around here, Sunday School is free. It's just part of the church budget. Vacation Bible School is free. Retreats are free. The expenses are carried by the entire church instead of cordoned off to be borne by parents.

What brought this back to the forefront of the mind now is that Grace went on a large diocesan retreat this past weekend. While registering her for it, I discovered the diocese charges $60 a kid for this retreat. $60?! Really? And that didn't include an extra $15 for the retreat T-shirt. Our parish picked up half the cost so this retreat cost me $30 out of pocket, not including the T-shirt.** They did provide three fast-foody kind of meals, so $15 in food, $45 for retreat, maybe?

And again, I'm not really complaining about paying for Grace's retreat, but I do notice what (and who) gets charged. Why does the diocese think it's okay to charge $60 a head for a retreat aimed at teenagers? It feels incongruent that a pro-life/pro-family religion sticks it to parents financially. I know that you can ask and get charitable waivers, but friends, it gets old continually having to tell people you don't have the money. Why isn't the expectation that you give what you can to the church and the church covers the expense for all the kids, whether the child's family is rich or poor. No awkward, 'hey, I'm actually poor' conversation required. I don't really understand why it's unreasonable to expect a diocese to look after its own people instead forever nickel and diming parents, who are expected to give charitably and then pay fees on top of that, without a whiff of a raffle drawing in return.

** When I registered Grace, I asked if she wanted a T-shirt. She said no. I breathed a sigh of relief because this has been a stupid expensive run of weeks and keeping an extra $15 in my pocket would not hurt my feelings at all. After the first night, she said everyone had T-shirts. I internally sighed and gamely asked if she wanted a T-shirt now that she saw everyone else had T-shirts. She said no, because $15 is too much money to spend on a shirt she knows she will only wear over this one weekend. Right? Yay! But it also grates the conversation even had to be had.


I totally blew through my 15 minutes, but I have a sleeping baby on my lap so I couldn't go anywhere anyway. This is more like 45 minutes. Eek.

Friday, March 1, 2019

The Kitchen and Sundry, Part 3

A few months after the attempt to fix the roof went nowhere and we had essentially forgotten about it, we noticed that slowly, over time, the kitchen floor was losing its quality. The main symptom was that the top layers of polyurethane were flaking off, exposing the wood. I assumed, since the floor was over eleven years old and was not ever quite the quality it claimed to be, that we were just reaching the end of the lifespan of low-end engineered flooring. The kitchen is the most traveled area of the house. It is the main hallway, entry to the garage, entry to the laundry room, kitchen, everything. So when the floor began to pucker, I did not initially think much of it. Then the area of damage kept growing. And growing into areas outside the walking area. It took weeks and weeks, as the floor changed almost imperceptibly, for us to be convinced that SOMETHING had to be happening aside from normal wear and tear. But what?

One night in late November, I went to the pantry and could barely get the door open. The floor was so swollen, the door scraped along and would not give way without a significant push. Now, over the years as the humidity waxes and wanes, the floor changes too. I have noticed this phenomenon. But never has the humidity expanded the door and floor in such a way that the door required force to open. Never. No, swelling like that could only mean one thing: water.  And what was only two or three feet away? The refrigerator.

I insisted that we pull the fridge out that very night. Off came everything stored on top and out came the fridge from the wall. We peered into the corner to find that everything back there was soaking wet. Where was the water coming from? We stared and stared. We looked at the bottom of the fridge, but nothing pooled. We checked the water line entry into the wall, but nothing. We stared. We grabbed a flashlight and stared some more.

Then, in a moment, the flashlight gleamed off something at eye level. Dave ran his hand up the water line and there it was, barely perceptible to the eye. A tiny pinhole leak in the water line sprayed a tiny, but constant stream of water. It was so tiny, we could barely see it even while looking at it, but there it was. Water. Constant water. Not enough to pool and alert us to a problem, but enough to for the floor to soak it up and up and up. And it had been dousing the floor in water likely for months. 

(Go check your water lines, friends.)

Saturday, February 23, 2019

15 Minutes

Do not be alarmed. We will return to the kitchen drama shortly.

Since I decided to commit to posting more often by limiting my typing time to 15 minutes, I have discovered how infrequently I have 15 uninterrupted minutes. Several times over the past week, I have sat down to type and immediately had to abandon the attempt. Even now, Ella is trying to wrestle the laptop away and clear the spot next to me to climb up. I expect I'll have to hit pause on the timer a time or two even now. Constant interruptions is the season.

It's not that I never have 15 uninterrupted minutes alone, it's just I am already doing other things. I have 15 minutes and more uninterrupted while grocery shopping, but I am grocery shopping. I have 15 minutes alone in the shower, but I am showering. And on.

Yesterday, I put on a pair of noise-cancelling headphones to listen to a podcast to distract from the horror of dumping everything that has died in the refrigerator during our month-long kitchen exile. I had someone attempt to talk to me every two or three minutes, in a round robin, for a solid hour. I can't hear you. Can't you see I am not in a conversational mood? No. Everyone needs to say something. Wash hands. Remove phone from pocket. Hit pause. Remove headphones. Yes, what do you need? Yes, I know you need an eye appointment. Put on headphones. Hit play. Put phone back in pocket. Continue cleaning.

On ye old FB, this article about focus came to my attention. What he has to say is well and good and I am sure well suited to office life. It is good to limit social media and distractions while diving deep into a focused project. However it's hard to drain the shallows when your whole life revolves around wading knee-deep. I don't know how to limit shallow work with a constant stream of tiny minnows nibbling my ankles.

 (Yes, in these fifteen minutes I did have to hit pause to look at flood pictures, hit pause again to nurse a baby suddenly ravenous, and wrestle back my laptop from said baby twice. I'm not complaining, exactly. Just noting reality right now.)

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The Kitchen and Sundry, Part 2

Sometimes even 15 minutes is hard. It's been a whirlwind since last I posted. Torn up floors, trashed house, travelling to get the baby out of the way. Fun times!

When last we met, you'll recall we had spurned laminate flooring because I am a snob and lived to regret it.

Fast forward, oh, about eleven years. In the summer of 2018, we had several strong storms with hail blow through and we lost shingles off the roof. After storm season was finished, we called a roofer to evaluate the roof because it seemed like the reasonable thing to do. The roofer came out and thought there was significant enough damage to make a homeowner's claim since the roof was supposed to last 30 years and was visibly breaking down after only 14. The developer of our neighborhood did not excel at roofs. They were installed poorly, not allowed to vent heat, and as a result, almost every house around us has had to prematurely replace their roof. We didn't think we were doing anything out of the ordinary.

We called the insurance who told us we could make the claim and if the adjuster decided there was not enough damage to merit a claim, we could withdraw it at no penalty to us.

This, my friends, is known as a lie.

The adjuster came out, said the roof had at least five or six years of life still in it, said we needed to replace the lost shingles, and said if the claim proceeded, it would likely be denied. Okay. Well, we tried right? We withdrew the claim and proceeded on with life, not thinking much about it.

You may wonder what in the world this has to do with the kitchen floor. Oh, it's relevant. Trust me, it's relevant.


For those of you keeping track at home, the math book was behind Sam and Marian's bedroom door where Marian threw it after getting mad that Olivia and Sam set up a Valentine card operation right in the middle of where Marian wanted to play by her bed. Olivia was trying to do math and make cards at the same time. Or something? And then nobody remembered where the book went for about five days until it was discovered on a laundry hunt. It's like this at your house too, yes?

Thursday, February 14, 2019

The Kitchen and Sundry, Part 1

Let's see how blogging on the regular goes. I have the timer set for 15 minutes. Right now, Sam and Marian are wrestling loudly at my feet, Ella is yelling and keeps pulling my laptop away, Dave is ripping out flooring, and I am not looking for Olivia's math book which has inexplicably disappeared since Tuesday. Onward.

I said the kitchen floor is being ripped out. Why? you wonder. This story starts awhile back in 2007 when we bought the house out of foreclosure. The previous owners used our house as a rental. The renters had animals. The animals left messes. The owners were foreclosed on. They didn't clean up the animal mess. The floors in the house were trashed and all had to be replaced (and all the subfloors scrubbed and primed). Well, we had just spent all our money buying the house. It was at the top of our affordability range. We didn't have much left for remodeling, and yet we needed to do a bunch of remodeling. 

Inexplicably, the kitchen was half carpet. I had dreams of putting hardwood down in the kitchen. But we were poor and could not afford hardwood. I may have been poor, but I was also a snob. I was not buying laminate, I sniffed.

We searched out a flooring that wasn't quite hardwoods but certainly wasn't laminate, and ran into engineered flooring, which was sold as being the best of both worlds. The look of hardwood with the ease of laminate. More expensive than laminate, but cheaper than hardwood. I was sold. Dave and his father installed it themselves.

Soon we discovered we had made a stupid, stupid mistake. The floor did not wear well at all. The top clear coat peeled at the slightest contact with water. It was obvious the floor would have to be replaced before we moved, but we weren't moving anytime soon so we did what everyone does when you don't have money to replace items. You just live with it. Besides we had a gaggle of children who took no particular care so may as well let them destroy the floor we have before putting in something shiny for whomever gets the house next.

Time is up. To Be Continued.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The Blog Revival

Why u no post? Once again I shall begin again. 

This post at Catholic Conspiracy has been floating around the last few days reliving the glory days of the blogosphere and whether it can be revived in this brave new world of Facebook and Twitter. There was a discussion, ironically on FB, killer of the blog, about attempting to get a group back in the blogging groove, maybe as a Lenten exercise. I'm going to try. (Do or do not; there is no try.) 

For me Facebook is easy and mindless, but blogging is hard. I feel like I've said this before. My biggest hang up is that I see blogging as a long-form narrative concept and I just don't have time these days. A baby is always hanging off my appendages. I think I shall attempt the 15 minute minimally edited post and see where that gets me. And I have just the story that can be told in easy installments!

So we are replacing our kitchen floor. For reasons. Stay tuned. (Yes, everyone on FB has heard most of this, but the blog mojo has to be restored one way or another.)