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Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Hello, again.

Well, well, well...  Where were we?

Sarabelle has just finished her first year at college.  Proof that an eclectic education doesn't completely screw you up.  She's happily pursuing a degree in communications and working on the local radio station.  Next year she will have a regular show of her own and will be the station's music director.  She established the first strings ensemble at the college and has been invited to join the city's community orchestra.  This month she is New York City interning at a major record label and basically living her dream.

Grice has finished all her dual enrollment college classes for this year and just has a few more weeks of her last high school class:  Algebra 2.  She was inducted into the college's honor society and is on track to graduate high school next year with her full Associates degree.  We're trying to pin down a university for her to follow her interest in zoology.  More proof that this works.

And I'm still homeschooling Elle.  For our spine, covering American history, we're reading Howard Zinn's A Young People's History of the United States.  We're using Saxon Math 5/4 and plan to jump ahead to the 8/7 book when we finish because, according to the great State of Florida, she should be in sixth grade this year.  Though, if you have been following the news of the horrendous state of our educational system, Florida is apparently no expert on that subject.  Easy Grammar Plus, which is suitable for high school students, was a good follow-up to the First Language Lessons series.  Elle wanted to work on her spelling, so I picked up an appropriate level of Spelling Workout, and since she likes workbooks, Building Thinking Skills was an easy way to start working logic in.  We were nearly through Latina Christiana I when I came upon William Linney's Getting Started With Latin and his continuing education website:  http://www.linneyslatinclass.com/ and changed course.  Again.  I was comfortable with the religiosity in the Latina Christiana/Henle progression, that was how I learned Latin, but now prefer to skip that and move on to purely secular studies.  And especially ones that can be done without purchasing another series of books.  The lessons are very short -- Charlotte Mason's 15 minute suggestion is in play for my little Miss Short Attention Span --  and so far it is all repetition, but Elle likes it and is feeling pretty confident in her abilities.

In other homeschool news:

I've had to drag out my copy of Queen Bees and Wannabes for another reading.  Elle has been taking ice skating lessons this year.  The group of three girls her age were welcoming at first but have turned into a bunch of mean girls.  Since the group is predominantly Christian, her lessons have become less about skating and more about hypocrisy.

Thanks to the current political atmosphere, I have discovered I am a feminist.  And an angry one at that.  Elle has had the benefit of overhearing the podcasts and news reports I listen to and has a grasp of current events that probably rivals most of the adults she knows. We've been to a few local Occupy events, protesting Citizens United, etc., and Elle really likes these as I count her participation as a full school day.

With my ability to work remotely, I am beginning to plan a summer trip up to Boston.  It may be evolving into another Colonial America/Revolutionary War road trip.  Elle was too young to get much out of our last trip other than correctly identifying George Washington in the Capitol's Rotunda.

Our little town recently announced plans to build a marine research and tourist attraction just three blocks from our house.  It will be a great boost to our local economy and just imagine the opportunities for a high school aged homeschooler...

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year of Homeschooling

Just received an email from the charter school's administrator advising us that at the board meeting this coming Tuesday, she is going to announce her recommendation to close the school.

Disappointed.  But looking forward to rejoining the homeschooling world.  Working full-time but now with the added benefit of a brand new iPad, I should be way more mobile and able to let Elle participate in more of the outside physical activities she craves.

I have already had some negative feedback from family, but when has that ever stopped me?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

All Apologies to Nirvana

While updating my 2011 Reading list, the date of my last post sat there taunting me, so here's a quick update:

The whole Progressive Democratic public charter school thing is imploding. Parents who claimed to have been at all the introductory meetings where the unconventional aspects were explained kept wondering when their kids were going to bring home some worksheets or a report card, teaching their children a valuable lesson about the importance of listening carefully. The dissatisfied parents tried to change the school to something more to their liking, were shot down, left en masse (including all PTA officers), and made disparaging remarks to the local newspaper about the administration and daily goings-on.

A new PTA was formed and a week later there was another mass exodus after some discipline and safety concerns arose and were not resolved to the liking of many. This time several staff members pulled their kids and gave their notice.

Will the school still be there after the holiday break?  Not if the charter gets revoked.

I still think it's a great idea.  And we're still in for the time being.  In this day of instant gratification, people are going to have to understand it doesn't happen all at once; it's going to take time and a lot of effort. But the administration is going to have to immediately address the safety concerns and disciplinary procedures. "Zero tolerance" does not mean a second or third chance.

Elle tested 12.6 (twelfth grade sixth month) in English and 3.5 (third grade fifth month) in math.  Peer pressure has successfully pushed her out of the habit of being a lazy speller and without being assigned the task, she wrote and typed up a three-page essay on Kurt Cobain, in "Party" font (earning her, in her college sister's eyes, 45,972,482 cool points.)

Her old school books are still on the shelf next to my bed, taunting me...

Read me
Read me, my friend
Read me
Read me again

Thursday, August 11, 2011

I am an Opportunist

Just when I was liking the idea of Elle being tutored, and Elle was actually cooperating, along comes another twist. Years back, right after Hurricane Charley, Elle attended pre-K at a nearby school. Set in a beautiful rural environment, it was meant to provide the kids opportunities to garden and raise small livestock. Theoretically it was great. Practically it never came to be, and a few years later the school eventually closed.

Now, however, the county has taken the property over and is reopening a small, "progressive democratic" public charter school. The progressive part comes from the mixed age groupings, portfolio reviews versus report cards, and focus on mastery. The democratic part is that every student and teacher has an equal say in decision making. The curriculum is project based, working closely with 4-H, and will feature Florida history. All produce raised at the school will be used in the food service and any extra is to be sold to the public. There are peace studies with each family required to attend a 6-hour conflict resolution class as part of the admission process. Right now it only goes up to Grade 7 but they will bump it up each year until it ends with Grade 12. It was no surprise to hear from the director that many area homeschoolers have expressed interest in enrolling.

Elle has mentioned several times since we've been back from Australia that she really misses being on a farm. And since that's no longer part of our plans (as much as I ever really plan anything), she is thrilled with thoughts of dressage, raising a steer for the fair, and having some chickens and rabbits to care for.

And I am thrilled with thoughts of traveling and incorporating it into a school project. We didn't have the time to wander the Smithsonian the last time we were in DC, so I'm looking at building a visit around the Reason Rally in March and working it into her studies.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

TAM 9!

The Amazing Meeting, the James Randi Educational Foundation's celebration of science and skepticism was such a blast I can hardly wait until next year. It is hard to imagine how they will top the line-up. This year the get together, themed TAM 9 From Outer Space, featured such big names as Neil deGrasse Tyson, Richard Dawkins, Bill Nye (who, I am not too proud to say, I stalked until I got a photo), Phil Plaitt, and of course The Amazing Randi. I got to meet some of my blog heroes: PZ Myers and Hemant Mehta among others. Penn Jillette hosted and performed at his private Rock-n-Roll, Bacon, and Doughnut Party, and then offered discount tickets to Penn & Teller's magic show as a fundraiser for the JREF. Paul Provenza presented his Satiristas! comedy show where I was introduced to the adorable Jamie Kilstein. Aside from all the fantastic talks, especially a workshop on "Defending Evolution in the Classroom and Beyond" by Dr. Eugenie Scott from the National Center for Science Education, the best part had to be meeting fellow skeptics, some from Jacksonville, Gainesville, and Melbourne, Florida, and Sydney, Perth, and Melbourne Australia, and even a homeschooling mom who works for NPR in Washington DC.

For a look at the full schedule go here and for a list of all workshops click here. Then consider attending TAM X.


Me with Bill! Bill! Bill! Bill! and Dr. Eugenie Scott in the lobby of the Rio Theater after Penn & Teller.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Atheism is Entertaining!

Sarabelle and I took a quick trip up to Boston to see Tim Minchin earlier this month. If you get the chance to be within range of one of his appearances, GO. Sarabelle, already a fan of his wickedly clever lyrics, spirited piano-playing, and flat-out hilarity, summed it up when she gushed, "I love him more than ever now!"

Last night Elle and I watched The Ledge. I really liked this. It's worth the download. My kids are rather squeamish about sex scenes and Elle found her notebook doodling much more interesting than the two on-screen encounters. It amuses me that some parents are more likely to censor a movie based on sexual content rather than on violence. Make love not war...?

Counting down the days until The Amazing Meeting! I decided this year, instead of reading about how informative it was and how much fun everyone had and wishing I had the chance to go, that I would go.


The more things change...whatever.

"Homeschooling" is a thing of the past in our home. Not only due to the fact that Elle has an attention span somewhere between ten front flips on the trampoline and four consecutive episodes of iCarly and I cannot keep her engaged long enough to complete one lesson, but because I have the private school set up so we are officially "private schooling." Even that is a bit of a stretch though.

Working full-time, even from home, especially from home, while trying to manage everything else is not for me. I can chew gum and walk at the same time and can even drive and simultaneously yell at children, but that's about the extent of my multi-tasking talent. Add to this major traumatic changes in our private lives (I am still living in the same house as the last time I posted, which may come as a surprise) and it's a wonder I get anything done at all.

I had been faced with increasing pressure from grandparents and Jorge to step up Elle's education. It had been pared down to what I considered bare bones: math, grammar, and history, leaving her a lot of leeway to follow her own interests, but they were unimpressed. She needs constant attention to insure she does not wander off at the first opportunity and I am unable to provide that at this time. It was suggested that a teacher, some dominant authoritarian figure, would command more respect and focus, so I looked at the only secular private school in the area, the one Catholic school nearby (figuring she has been properly immunized), and even the local public school. No. Hell no. And over-my-dead-body no.

We limped along. And the hits just kept coming.

Then it occurred to me: In Florida, tutoring is only legal for homeschooling with a tutor properly certified in the specific subjects a tutor is requested to teach. But! Private school teachers do not have to be certified in anything! Not even teaching!

So we got ourselves a tutor.

Two hours a day, my next door neighbor/formerly-homeschooled-now-college-student/good family friend/Sarabelle's roommate/idol of Elle comes over and supervises her lessons. We even added vocabulary back in (Vocabulary From Classical Roots) after dropping Latin. It ends up costing less than half the price of the private and parochial tuitions, I retain control over the curriculum, there is room for flexibility in the schedule, and I will never get stuck having to buy and sell chocolate bars and gift wrap. Yay, me!

Where there's a will...

Tuesday, February 08, 2011


We finished First Language Lessons Level 4, which is good since we should probably be somewhere in the vicinity of fifth grade by now. I'm moving Elle right into Easy Grammar Plus from here. It's considered junior/senior high school level, but we'll take our time, and at the rate we're going she'll be on track to complete it by the end of grade 12. Just kidding.

I hope.

I was lucky to catch a screening of Waiting for "Superman" at our local college. It's thought-provoking and well done, though it does not tell the full story. As an independent educator, I occasionally found myself snickering out of sync with the room full of pros, but everyone was pretty much in agreement: The system is not working; something has got to change. There were few dry eyes by the end of it all. It'll be out this week on DVD.

We're celebrating Darwin Day, February 12, with a visit to Dinosaur World along with the group Humanist Families - Greater Tampa Region. Coincidentally, I just happened to receive Inherit the Wind from Netflix for a nice tie-in. "Coincidentally," I say, because if your queue is anything like mine, it's frequently altered without your express written consent. I'm never quite sure what exactly will turn up in my mailbox. Our local theater company is doing a production of Inherit the Wind as well, and Elle has expressed an interest in seeing a live performance.

Happy Darwin Day!

And now a word from our sponsor...

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Schola Classical Academy's Insane Field Trip

Grice and her Young Republican friend, J -- who had overheard our plans on the way home one afternoon and was beyond excited to join us and Keep Fear Alive, and whose parents must be as nuts as I am to actually let him go with a virtual stranger -- were picked up when school got out at 1:45.   Good-byes were said, a last minute iPod auxiliary player was located and borrowed, the car fueled, it was 2:30 PM and we (Sarabelle, her roommate A, Elle, and I) were on our way. With only four gas/snack/bathroom stops, we drove straight through the night and were parked in the garage at Ronald Reagan International by 6:30 AM.


After a short delay fighting with a Metro ticket machine, we finally arrived on the Mall about an hour later. We could have set up right in front of the stage, it was still that empty, but spread our blanket out a little ways back, up against a First Aid tent so nobody could crowd us.

Here's the view from our spot:


Then, while I held our ground, the kids, all armed with cell phones, headed out to find me coffee and to do a little sightseeing. And boy, was there a lot to see.






Elle wanted to see the Washington Monument and the Reflecting Pool, and when we got there she wanted to press on and see the Lincoln Memorial. It was getting close to showtime and we had already walked quite a way, but being the awesome homeschooling mom I am, how could I possibly say no? Plus, my iPhone said there was a restroom there.




We hoofed it back down the Mall to our place and that's when the drama began.

We had been fenced out of our primo location. A volunteer offered to go let my kids inside the fence know where we were, because by then, for whatever reason, there was no cell phone service. He came back to tell me there were only two kids there. Which ones? He didn't know. So I'm missing two kids. Great. And they were still not going to let us in. We waited patiently for someone to exit, "one in, one out," but nobody seemed to be leaving. Elle was with me and the others were in pairs, wherever they were, so I was not overly concerned. But I wanted my spot. The spot I had staked out at the crack of dawn. Speaking to the cops was no help. Until, after watching another mother's success, I too played the hysterical mom card. Elle and I got in and found Grice and A at our blanket. Sarabelle came wandering up a few minutes later. Alone. She and J had been waiting at another "one in, one out" gate to get back into our area, but he opted to find another way in while Sarabelle held her spot in line. J is a clever, resourceful, and highly independent kid, wants to be an admiral in the navy one day, so we knew he'd be okay, and might even end up appearing on stage as his mother warned, so I was still not too worried, just hoping his view was at least as good as ours. The opening acts were through, the announcer had begun his intro, "...and now, please welcome your host..." and suddenly J appears at our side. So while the crowd is wildly cheering the entrance of "...Jonnnnnnnn Stewarrrrrt!" we were wildly cheering the return of J.


The show was fun, funny, over the top, and I was ready to hear Jon get serious at the end. "We live now in hard times, not end times..." "If we amplify everything, we hear nothing..." Yes! But I was a bit disappointed that he claimed not to be here to ridicule the Right and people of faith, among others. That's what he does so wonderfully on his show. And since then, watching Keith Olbermann, Bill Maher, and Rachel Maddow discuss the matter of false equivalency, I'd have to agree with them, that while all the media tends to be shrill and sensationalist, one group is particularly egregious and dangerous, and maybe Jon did miss an opportunity. But he's a satirist, not a politician after all, and he does what he does so well.

We made it out back to our car in just over an hour, which was amazing considering the crowd at the Metro, and were back home by 9:30 AM, time enough to go to breakfast, take a nap, finish costumes, and get ready for trick-or-treating.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


Everybody deals with death differently. My brothers and I tend to find levity in serious situations and this can be a comfort to us but discomfiting to others. And, of course, my mother tends to be one of those people we are always unintentionally offending.

She did not appreciate our sincere suggestions to dress my dad in one of his favorite Guy Harvey pocket t-shirts, khaki shorts, and boat shoes, the 'uniform' he wore nearly every day since retiring some twenty-odd years ago. The idea to use one of his hideous but treasured Garo Yepremian neck ties, since we had to go formal, was seen as a mockery. She pursed her lips at my brother's suggestion to print on the bottom of the prayer card, "Brought to you by [his company's name]" as an excuse to write it off as a business expense. Heads would have rolled if she had noticed the script printed on the ribbon of the floral spray, "Love the Grandchildrens", purchased from a local ethnic florist. But my dad would have laughed.

When assembling photos for a slide show to play in the funeral parlor lobby, the best photos, and the bulk of the ones I contributed, showed my dad hamming it up with the grandkids. My mother thought many of them disrespectful, but we gently reminded her that we too had lost someone and this is who he was to us.





The night before he died, the priest had been called. After privately taking my dad's last confession, Elle, Grice, and I, being the only ones present besides my parents, were invited in for prayers. Elle flat-out refused, Grice and I bristled but conceded. We rotely spouted the Hail Mary and the Our Father for my dad's sake, all the while I was hearing the prayers in a new way, wondering that I had never doubted the lunacy of them before. We then had to go around the very small circle and tell my dad what we loved about him and what we were grateful for. I thanked him for always sticking up for me, remembering in particular a high school situation when I got into enough trouble to be threatened with expulsion before final exams and he convinced my mom it was only a minor indiscretion, peer pressure, bad judgment, nothing to worry about, and another occasion where on the spur of the moment he jumped in a car to drive cross-country and rescue me from an abusive relationship. I thanked him for my wanderlust and then inwardly smirked that I'd praised at least one deadly sin in the presence of the priest.

The next night my brother was trying to fill the funeral Mass roles designated by Father Everyone-Must-Participate. I was chosen to do the second reading. I knew now, after performing a wedding, that I could do it if I focused intently on the material, ignored the audience, and occasionally inhaled. I could read Psalms, they were literary, poetic, I reasoned. Instead something from John had been selected, and regardless of the choice, it would have to be concluded with the line I worried I might actually choke on, This is the Word of the Lord...

My dad knew about my atheism. He was very angry about it. He publicly criticized and insulted me for it. And I still would have done the reading out of respect for him, though the majority of the people present would know of my apostasy and know I found the whole thing disgusting and some might even think me hypocritical, except that the memory of that episode, dredged up from almost exactly one year before, when he most certainly did not stick up for me, suddenly overwrote all the good memories. I could not do it. I did not want to have that memory of my father at the top of my mind. I called my brother to explain and could hardly speak for the sobbing.

As my dad was taking his last breaths, my niece reached over and put a homemade SpongeBob on his chest. Papa loved to watch SpongeBob with (and without) his granddaughters and the girls had all made him one for his birthday years ago. It sat in a place of honor on his desk. In an effort to make the scene more solemn, my mother reached over and put the crucifix they had received as a wedding gift on his chest as well. From my place at the foot of the bed I commented that it looked a little sacrilegious, SpongeBob and Jesus holding hands... We all cracked up. And that's the memory I prefer to hold on to: the sound of laughter, and the view of SpongeBob and Jesus escorting my dad out.


Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Circle of Life

That was last week.

My dad finally succumbed to the degenerative lung disease he’d been suffering with the past four years or so. While we knew it was coming, eventually, it still took us by surprise -- he was only home for two and half days with hospice care -- though he held on long enough to give everybody a chance to get home and say goodbye. There was a military burial. We only found out about two months prior that my dad had won a Bronze Star for valor in Korea, a war he was too young to be in (my grandmother artfully altered his birth certificate allowing him to enter the service just after his 16th birthday.) I have mixed feelings about it. Pride that he saved many troops by bravely pulling out of position and driving his landing craft through a Chinese boat armed with machine gunners attacking the shoreline camp; horror that my dad was a killer; sorrow that I obviously never knew him very well.

The day after the funeral I was on a plane to Boston for the Saturday wedding of a cousin’s son, a trip I had written off when it became clear my father was rapidly deteriorating. It was a joy to see many of my cousins and celebrate the marriage of my aunt’s eldest grandchild, a sharp, handsome kid in the State Attorney’s office, with, what I’m guessing, is a promising political career ahead of him (think JFK Jr. with better morals.) It took me by surprise each time someone would come up and say they were sorry to hear about my father.

Sunday I headed up to New Hampshire for the surprise baby shower of my high school best buddy and her wife. Only when my friend asked how Aunt B was and I explained that she was actually down in Florida keeping my mom company did a few unexpected tears come to the surface. Those were quickly brushed away so as not to dampen the cheery occasion.

And now I'm home, having come full circle, feeling a bit dead on the inside.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Road Scholas

Show your children democracy in action, rather than democracy inaction: Take them to a political rally!

Perhaps rather insensibly, but with a great sense of spontaneity and duty, I've organized a road trip up to Washington, D.C. to attend Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity. Sarabelle, Grice, and another friend are all licensed drivers which will make the trip so much easier, and we still have room for one or two more.

This should be great fun. And so educational!

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Rally to Restore Sanity
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
March to Keep Fear Alive
Colbert Report Full Episodes2010 ElectionFox News

Monday, August 02, 2010

Grade 4 - The Plan Redux

I didn't plan on it, but Elle ended up getting the summer off. I prefer going year-round so that we can slack off as needed, not according to the dictates of the county school board, but this year, with the shift to the temporary house and then the shift to the newly renovated house, it just sort of happened. It concerned me that we would fall behind. So while Elle is busy tearing around with the neighborhood public-schooled boys, I'm getting to know them, asking them how old they are and what grade they're going into, and I come to find out that Elle, if she were enrolled at our local elementary, would this year be entering fourth grade.

Did I just climb out of some space-time wormhole? Or have I just watched Donnie Darko one too many times? Didn't I do this already?

Well, then, that just makes planning this year so much easier, doesn't it?

Forget the Foster books. Elle liked it when I printed out the illustrations and she colored them, but other that that the books did not capture her fancy. And now I know why: She was too young for them. They're more middle-school level. And she's not. Lucky for me I still have The Story of the World and the activity book handy. For all my guilt about giving up our time-tested history spine, here I am, right back where I started. Last August.

We'll keep chipping away at Level 4 of First Language Lessons and when she finishes with that I've got Easy Grammar ready to go. We did a couple lessons in Write With the Best Volume I and I need to make more of an effort to include that on a regular basis. Same with Latin. Elle has shown an interest in learning French, and I'm open to that, but that will be in addition to Latin, not instead of it.

Math? Saxon. We're still in 5/4. Heh.

Gymnastics, lyrical dance, hip hop, and jazz made up her physical education for the past year. Now we have a great local county facility that offers gymnastics, swimming, taekwondo, and even fencing. Her homeschool girlfriends play soccer and softball and she is very interested in horseback riding (but not formal lessons, just Western-style, or bareback like she did in Australia) so we have plenty to keep her busy.

Wow. If planning last year was easy because it was simply a case of Do-the-Next-Thing, think how easy it will be this year when we Do-the-Same-Thing.

Ready...set...DO OVER!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Calling it Done

Aside from a few odds and ends: a vent cover or four, ceiling fans, closet doors, and my whole my back bedroom and office, we're finished with the renovation and are all moved in. Here are a few before and afters. Please forgive the quality of the shots, with my iPhone so handy I hardly bother to drag my real camera out anymore:

I just cannot believe how small the living room looks in the Before...





Seems I didn't bother taking any Befores of the two bedrooms as both were vanilla boxes with drop ceilings, though Elle's floor had been covered with the overspray from a hasty cosmetic coat of white latex, but here are some Afters.

Here's a peek in Grice's room...

(I'm particularly proud of this closet, it was my first time using power tools unsupervised.)

...and the attached one-day-to-be-shared-with-my-bedroom/office dressing area and closet space...

...and here's the room I'm currently sharing with Elle...

Not a closet door or curtain in sight. Everything on display. And like Meg, this rush to get the majority of the house done was spurred on by the appearance of house guests.

Acta est fabula. -- Caesar Augustus