Category: Education

From preschool to college and beyond. I am a big fan of online learning.

How to Make Your Own Anything

Short Answer: YouTube

Long Answer: About ten YouTube videos, because someone is giving bad information and you have to make sure the “amazing” recipe you find is actually going to work so you need to find multiple people using the recipe and at least one review of the recipe and if you’re really lucky a before and after video using the recipe.

Back in the day, there weren’t 75 videos on how to make your own dish soap. In fact, back in the day I couldn’t find ONE video on how to make dish soap for hand washing. Okay, the exception was people saying to wash your dishes in Castille soap and I had many, many cuss words for those people when I tried it. Turns out that’s a super-gross way to try and do dishes.

This time? I went to find out how to make dishwasher soap and there was a whole section of videos on how to make regular hand-washing dish soap. YouTube becomes more magical by the day.

We used to buy Charlie’s Soap. A giant bucket of the stuff. We spent in between $90-$120 depending on where I bought it and what kind of coupon code I could scrounge up. Do you want to know when I last bought laundry detergent? July 20, 2013. It was $90.69. That’s a grand total of $1.81/month on laundry detergent. I had found the promised land and it was GOOD, I tell you. SO GOOD.

Now we are running low and I checked the price and – lo and behold – the first thing I found is they no longer make the bucket. So sad. Now there are bags. You have to buy four of the big bags to equal a bucket. Four bags will cost you $173.82 on Amazon.

That’s a hell of an increase from last time! I mean, sure if it lasts the same amount of time we’re looking at $3.47/month on laundry detergent which still seems a great deal compared to your name brand soaps at the store but it’s serious sticker shock and I’m not sure it’s the best deal anymore.

So now I’m considering making my own laundry soap. Has anyone I know actually done this? It seems like a good idea but I’m still wary. Let me know your experience if you have one!

School Fees (or I Was Not Prepared Even Though I Thought I Was)

You all saw I set aside cash money for school supplies. “I’m a bigwig now!” I thought. “I can buy them shoes whenever they need them!” I walked around the house practically looking like Mick Jagger I was chicken dance-walking so hard around my living room.

This is NOT Jimmy McNulty from The Wire

Then we registered the children for school.

$281 in fees later my school supply budget is at closer to $70. (We don’t actually pay the $31 in fees to the Kindy until next week, I think but I’ve included it in the total because it will be paid next week.)

Which makes me feel very confused and strange.

On one hand: Hooray!! We were prepared and paid school fees in a new neighborhood (in the last neighborhood being poor waived fees – here you get a $75/kid discount on textbook rental only) and have money left over!

On the other hand: Damnit!! I finally thought we were ahead and here we are, barely making it, yet again.

I’ve resigned myself to feeling a combination of both feelings, because both are true. If I hadn’t been budgeting my tail feathers off, who knows how much spare cash we would have had for registration. We might have been caught short and had to make payments. Or, worse, write checks for money not in the account and then go find money somewhere to put in the account.


At least I didn’t write the checks and then put something else on credit cards to cover the “emergency” … which is probably the most likely scenario for how this would have gone down before having my to-the-penny budget.

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The Pros and Cons of Online School Shopping

school-suppliesWhen I was young, I had to be bribed to go shopping.

I hated trying on clothes. I didn’t like or understand fashion, and looking cute was never something I cared about. (Yes, this turned out exactly as you’d expect. I was horribly teased most of my life. Now? Surprise! I know fashion like you wouldn’t believe and have three daughters who love fashion. Nature? Nurture? Who knows. I still don’t care about fashion and basically live in Old Navy v-neck t-shirts, jeans, and capri pants & jeans.)

All this to try and convey how much I hate shopping.

Mr. Brickie does all the grocery shopping for the house. Yes, all of it. Even now that he works 58 hours a week. I am incapable. The rows of stuff overwhelm me and cause me to end up standing in the middle of some random aisle just trying to catch my breath and minimize the overwhelming panic. He, of course, is a saint for being willing to do the shopping for a family of five.

Also, funny little sidenote….no one has ever looked at him funny or said anything when he used the EBT card at the register. They’re also really nice to him when he goes into the public aid office. He gets pats on the back and support from the workers. I shit you not. Maybe it’s because he’s really polite or maybe it’s because he doesn’t seem defensive. Whatever it is he has done a much better job navigating the government than even I have and I thought I was doing a bang up job back when it was my responsibility. (Another post is coming soon about grocery budgeting because since he’s working now we’re about to lose our EBT benefits. As we should. I’m not complaining but it will be a reality that the extra money we have right this second is about to go straight toward groceries.)

So, taking all that shopping mess into consideration and pretending I didn’t just spend a paragraph talking about EBT use and public aid this post is about school shopping. As an Amazon Prime member, there are two times of the year I go nuts on and those times are school supply time and Christmastime. The world gets shipped to my door. The picture in the header isn’t everything. We got three more boxes and six mailers in addition.

We also got the biggest frustration I’ve ever dealt with on when I checked my credit card balance and saw that I was somehow double-billed. I went into the online chat and asked what was going on and eventually found out there was more than one of certain things in her list. I realized I needed to open all those boxes and check them against the orders.

Now, I’m a savvy Amazon shopper. I check quantities and delete things that aren’t fulfilled by Amazon whenever possible. I want to make sure I can make returns easily if I need to.

I was double charged and double fulfilled on multiple items and there was one order listed that was $278 that was entirely a duplicate except for one item. Now, when you order on Amazon you have to actually go through and hit the order button so I’m still not sure how this happened. After talking to the customer service people I realized I was going to have to return all this extra stuff.

Unfortunately, with returning so much stuff I couldn’t say it was defective or was in addition to what I purchased. The only return reason that made sense was, “Accidental order.”

So I’m going to end up paying something (probably) for returning all that stuff. Shipping charges. I will probably call and try to get that charge reversed but won’t even know what it is for a few more days.

Also, even though I personally remember removing all those “Not fulfilled by Amazon” choices there they are on my kitchen table with their own very specific and annoying return practices.

I’ve decided to keep them. I mean, can you really have too many Crayola products in your house? We had an art box but it’s been around a few years and there are a lot of dry markers and broken crayons. As for the loss of money that this will entail the time and gas and frustration saved by not wandering aimlessly into Target or Walmart to pick up everything on the school supply list is worth the mistake.

Next year I will make smaller orders over time. I have a feeling such a large order is more likely to have a mistake happen (although I have no proof or actual evidence to believe that) and fixing it is difficult and annoying. Being on a chat and having someone list off almost fifty items in the space of an Instant Messenger chat box? Straight up rage inducing.

Again, maybe that says something horrible about me that I would rather people not know but even at a straight up $50 loss it’s still better to order my stuff online and have it delivered than go to the store and shop. Especially with the pros that enjoy nabbing the last package of crayons or the last pink eraser. I just don’t have it in me to fight people off like that.

So here is my new art supply stash. I had no idea there were Ultra Clean markers now. Since the 4yo will be using them on the regular, that might come in super handy when she decides to use the red as lipstick again. (Yeah, maybe she won’t. Let’s live the dream together.)


Six washable markers

Two packs of colored pencils

….and a partridge in a pear treeeeeeee!

Mr. Brickie had a great idea. He says other than the one pack for the young’un we should put the others up for next year. They won’t go dry if you don’t open them, right? Either way, there are things we can do with markers, so if I’m going to have stuff in my house I can’t return, let it be things that are used to make art because my girls all love art and coloring.

I mean, hey, it could have been filler paper, right?

How do you go about buying your back to school supplies? I know some people were shopping at a particular retailer because they were donating money to kids who didn’t have school supplies. Maybe I should just ask the girls’ teachers if there are any students who don’t have markers or need colored pencils and then use this as a way to give.

I’ll figure something out. Of course, now that I mentioned the giving that’s what I’m going to lean toward because I love donating money, it makes me feel special.


How and Why One Mom Started Vaping (an e-cigarette love story)

After re-reading this post for typos and grammar, I feel it sounds like an advertisement or “sponsored” post for vaping or a vape company. It is not. This is an unpaidfor piece based on my experience for the purpose of helping someone who might be int he same position I am right now and wondering if the change is possible and how difficult it might be. I purchased (and was not reimbursed for) the products I talk about owning in this post.

I have been trying to quit smoking for years.

Even during this horrible winter, I’ve stood in front of my house or right at my back door in flip flops and a coat shivering while I puff my way down another dumb cigarette in a couple square feet of shoveled out clear space. I’ve hated myself, I’ve sworn I’ll never do it again, and I’ve tried to keep it as secret as possible. People tell me awful, private stories of their dead loved ones as I wonder how to get out of the conversation without being completely insulting because it seems like I’m the only one in the conversation that knows I’m not going to become a born-again non-smoker from detailed stories of cancer deaths. I mean, seriously, if horrible stories and pictures were going to get me to quit, they would have already.

Then I talked to a super-amazing Facebook friend about Chantix. I talked to her about the side effects and how they affected her and the people she knew who had used it to quit. She felt – even when she got the prescription – no hope it was going to work. She had accepted she would never quit. As we talked about it, she shared she was over 40 days smoke-free and doing fine.

I decided this was the solution. I became absolutely ecstatic about it and convinced Mr. Brickie to join me on this amazing journey to clear lungs and a non-smokey life. He was really supportive and almost immediately joined me in my hopeful feelings about quitting smoking with this wonder-drug. We made doctor appointments and looked forward to getting our new prescriptions and starting our new lives.

The day of our family appointment (we took the kids in for flu shots and immunizations in addition to the magical non-smoking solution) the weather was insane. It took us almost two hours to get to the appointment that should have been about 25 minutes away. We drove past cars in snow banks and a half-turned-over mini bus (all receiving aid already) on what I was thinking of as an Epic Journey to Stop Smoking (I was like Odysseus of the Chicago Suburbs) and when we got there everyone felt like we had just gone though this harrowing journey. The girls talked about how difficult it was to see through the windows for the snow and we held hands on our way into the office and the warmth and salvation that would be inside.

“What?” the doctor asked when I told him I wanted a prescription for Chantix. His immediate reaction was a puzzled, “What?” and when I went to repeat myself he interrupted me mid-sentence to say, “I heard you, I just…why would you want that?” I told him I couldn’t quit and I was just so done and I needed to stop. He told me there was a black box warning on Chantix and that it made someone schizophrenic and that even if he was still handing out prescriptions for Chantix (which he was most certainly not) he wouldn’t give them to me because I would probably kill my family.

“Uh….I wouldn’t kill my family.” I said.
“Like a mama hamster.” He said.


I got a little sniffly because I’m sure he didn’t realize he was dashing my very important dreams. Like telling a 12 year old she won’t ever meet, much less marry, Justin Beiber. I totally interrupted him in the middle of his whole “people with anxiety absolutely cannot take that medication even when it didn’t have a black box warning” to whine like a frustrated child when I said, “Then what am I going to do?”

“Get an e-Cig. They have the same quit rate as the Chantix anyway and they won’t make you kill everyone you love.” (My doctor is hilarious and a totally decent human being and even kept me from losing my children and getting arrested that one time. I know I’m making him sound like a jerk but he was laughing when he said the stuff about killing everyone. He didn’t (mostly) really think I’d kill my whole family.)

I was all, “You mean like a blu?” and he was like, “Yeah or whatever, just get the nicotine in without the other crap and even if you can’t quit doing that it’s a hell of a lot better than regular cigarettes.”

I had tried an e-cig years ago when they first got all popular and they looked like cigarettes. It was heavy as all get out, you couldn’t hold it between your fingers, and you had to sort of unscrew the two pieces to be able to take a drag that was remotely near the way it works with my regular smokes. I blew out atomizers (the little heating elements that turn the nicotine liquid to vapor) and it became an unsatisfying, expensive hassle really fast.

I did some research and found that the new e-cigs (or e-cigarettes) have a little hole at the tip to allow for the airflow so you didn’t have to partially unscrew them and you wouldn’t blow out the atomizers as fast. They were a little lighter and with some finagling I could hold one between my fingers.

This is When the Whole Thing Gets Interesting

I was searching for tips and tricks (like I do with any new product) and found out people were replacing the absorbent material in the little cartridge with Lipton tea bags so they would hold flavors not offered by blu. I was curious so I did some YouTube searches on this e-Juice he was talking about in that video.

It was like being dropped into the middle of some Alice in Wonderland scenario where people are puffing clouds like the caterpillar and talking about flavors like Afternoon Tea (flavor: black tea, cream, and sugar) and Unicorn Blood (flavor: strawberry & milk) with the option of having multiple levels of nicotine.

People are smoking out of things that look like mini-hookahs. It’s crazy. The colors and the styles and the YouTube videos of people making their own coils and modifying these things like Xzibit on that show where they put Xbox consoles and big screen TVs in Honda Accords.

Here is one of the beginner videos I saw that made me feel like I might be able to do this thing:

I gotta tell you, there is a ton of lingo and learning it all is tough. But the cig-alike is what a blu is and he shows a lot of different styles and there are a lot of links in the comments so it might help if you’re looking for that kind of thing. Also, you can search YouTube for vape, vaping, vaporizers, and then just put “review” or “beginner” and you can find information that’s helpful.

Back to the multiple levels of nicotine. I think it’s important because when we tried this a few years ago we got the “High” level of nicotine and it gave us headaches (and him a stomachache) almost immediately. It was really a rousing non-success. They even come with no nicotine at all in order to be able to wean yourself off of the drug. I think they came with no nicotine back then, too, but it wouldn’t have mattered because you have to get the vapor in order for your brain to stop bugging you to smoke a cigarette. The smoke, for me, is more important than the nicotine.

One of the most prevalent arguments I’ve run into is that with the fruity, candy flavors they are targeting kids. You know, the way being able to buy whipped cream and birthday cake flavored vodka…oh, wait….that’s right, they aren’t. Also, while I’m not going to tell you that when they’re 18 I want my kids to start vaping (I don’t want them to put anything unnatural in their bodies) but if it’s a choice between tobacco and it’s thousand grody ingredients and vaping there really isn’t a choice.

I was talking to my cousin last night and asked her to visit a vape shop with me (A vapor lounge, it’s called…so chic…lol) so I could check out the flavor bar and try some new flavors. She was a bit hesitant because she kind of got the vibe like I was trying to get her to quit smoking (I wasn’t) but I had a thought and said, “No one likes the taste of tobacco. It’s comforting, it’s what we’re used to, but man, if I could snap my fingers and make my analog cigarettes grape flavored, who wouldn’t do that?”

So she’s at least willing to go with me, so that’s cool. I just don’t like to do new things alone. Mama hamster anxiety levels make it pretty much impossible.

We started with a kit that included a complete little setup and Mr. Brickie and I chose a grape flavor to start our journey with. Try it out without telling anyone so if we hated it we wouldn’t be seen as failing at quitting yet again.

This is the video I’m going to be looking into next if we decide to move on from the eGo-T we are currently using. We have three tanks running right now.

  • The iClear 16 tank has an 18mg nicotine grape flavor in it.
  • The Kanger Pro Tank has a 6mg nicotine level cherry in it.
  • The Kanger Mini Protank II (v2) has a 0mg nicotine-free watermelon flavor in it.

The only one I can smoke as long as an analog cigarette is the 0mg watermelon. The others would give me a headache far too quickly. We got the three levels so we can switch as necessary to make it through the cravings we are anticipating (but may not happen) more easily. The key to success is being prepared, right?

As for Mr. Brickie’s tummyaches, they are gone now. It might be due to how the eJuice is made now or it might be because it has a higher Vegetable Glycerin (VG) content to Propylene Glycol (PG) content. (Video on PG vs. VG | Good description I found on a Website)

So You’ve Been Poor and Smoking? You Awful Person!

I know that being poor and smoking makes people mad.

Many people have done their best to tell me what’s what about how much I spend. I even have a couple apps for that, even though it’s in my budget and I already know the amount.

First, my habit costs Mr. Brickie and I less than a dollar a day … combined. I have been rolling my own for years. For us, quitting means spending more money than smoking. Either in munchie food, soda pop, a nicotine alternative, or whatever other thing we do. Unless I was perfect and amazing and just quit and nothing else changed, even temporarily.

Yeah, if that were possible I would have done it already. Trust me, I tried.

For me, for my husband, we started young and there’s this thing called “addiction” that is so easy to ignore if it hasn’t been personally experienced. Some people can quit and be a little bugged and persevere and suddenly think everyone else can, too, because they did.

But now that’s changing. We feel really good about this. When we took our first few puffs of the grape flavor we didn’t touch a regular analog smoke for over an hour. It was a revelation. We were satisfied without smoking. From here out we will probably only buy the 0mg nicotine because we only have the two with nicotine for the occasional craving to just get past it. We have this all planned out for maximum potential success.

That being said I can’t wait to order the juices that taste like Swedish fish and Starburst. You don’t have to be a kid to love candy, just ask anyone who looks at a martini menu!

Other Resources

If you are considering vaping, try to find a local shop by searching Yelp for Vaporizer (You are going to run into a lot of head shops, y’all…just roll with it. Nice people, even if you look like the a minivan driving mom like I do.) and I cannot recommend the E -cigarette Forum highly enough. I’ve learned so much in a short time with them and they are so nice. Seriously. Great people.

The YouTube channels of IndoorSmokers, GrimmGreen, and pbusardo have been so helpful. I’m sure there are others I just haven’t found yet.

On Twitter? Look for #vape #vaping or #ecig #e-cig to find some more information.

Last But Not Least

There are a lot of vaping stores online. Some are good, some are bad, some sell legit stuff, some sell clones or knockoffs. Make sure you know what you’re looking for or do a search for the store name and “review” to make sure you are ordering form somewhere legit that will ship before the turn of the next century. These searches are how I originally found the e-cigarette Forum in the first place. Lots of reviews, lots of people helping people.

There are a few published studies I also read before making this leap. I do not plan on listening to any voices who make their money from tobacco, because I have no use for that kind of bias in opinion. (Of course, if someone from the ACA, the AHA, or the ALA published the results from a scientific study I would totally read it and listen.)

If you would like to check out an extensive list of the studies that have been published on vaping and e-cigarettes, you can visit that site which has links to all of them. If you would like to read up on current policies, legislation, and myths you can find that kind of thing over at

I don’t plan on taking this thing into stores or restaurants. There is too much controversy and not enough knowledge for me to take that kind of risk. When I go somewhere, I will just leave it in the car and have it outside the car if that’s necessary. I have a sneaking suspicion it won’t be necessary for very long at all.

I really think this is going to work. I am so happy and relieved.




“Teacher Gifts” would Bankrupt Me!

Last night my kids wrapped teacher gifts for their teachers.

One gift for the main classroom teacher and one for each math teacher because they both go to math for an hour a day. Also because they are math teachers and I think that deserves a yearly prize because it’s awesome.

My kids were wrapping and having fun and using all my Japanese Washi Tape (<– Look! I figured out how to use Amazon affiliate links!) and I was starting to feel bad. I knew they had more teachers and here I was only taking care of one more than the bare minimum. In what I can only call a moment of total insanity I got all bubbly and asked the kids, “Hey kids…how many teachers do you have a week?”

They went down the list and it looked like this:


I left off room moms and the other volunteers because I was like, “Oh, let’s not go all overboard, now.”  I also only added the one vice-principal because I’ve interacted with her many, many times. I totally left off all the main office workers and the janitor (who gives out Pokemon cards and really kind of deserves a gift because he’s a cool dude.) There are probably at least twenty people not on this list who I could give a gift card and they would feel they were getting recognition they deserved for their hard work!

So if I wanted to get everyone the bare minimum (A $5 Starbucks “Have a cuppa on me” card) I would have to buy the Super Size Value Pack with (hold on, it’s early and I totally need a calculator, I’ll be right back) 32 gift cards.

HOLY CRAP! That’s $160 in gift cards! 

I can tell you right now I didn’t spend that much for both of my kids on Christmas gifts this year. I’m sure as hell not going to plow out that kind of cash on people I’ve never met but happened to apply for a job that got them in front of my kid. Who is spending hundreds of dollars doling out gift cards like Santa? I cannot even imagine.

The thing is…I wish I could. I think it’s an important job and it is important to recognize the job these people do with children every day. Celebrate the gym teachers, because they play games like Pass the Bacon with the kids. No, I’m not kidding, that’s a real game. Celebrate the art teachers because deciding to be an art teacher these days is pretty much akin to buying a lottery ticket and hoping for the best because of how school budgets are all over the nation. Celebrate the computer lab teacher because she saves you from having to try and teach a child with the attention span of a hyper puppy how to use a mouse without yanking the cord out of the computer.

The librarian at my 2nd grader’s school is honest-to-goodness one of my favorite people on this EARTH. I adore her. I’m pretty sure when I’m 90 and someone tells a story about a random librarian, she is the one I’ll be picturing in my mind. She is everything I’ve always dreamed of in a librarian and I have a total mental crush on her.

Your (and my) Tax Dollars at Work!

I got notes home from both classrooms. If you have kids, I’m sure you’ve gotten these notes as well. “It’s that time of year! Please send in money so we can buy a gift for the teacher!” This year both notes had the amazing distinction of not having an AMOUNT of money to send in listed. So I guess you just send in whatever. I spent a few minutes wondering what the lowest amount of contribution I could make would be to get a signature on the group gift, but then I asked my 3rd grader if she knew what her teacher liked.

“Cheez-Its and M&Ms!” was the immediate reply.

I saw the clouds part and heard the angels sing! You don’t have to send in five bucks for some totally unknown gift when I can (oh yeah, are you going to pick up what I’m about to put down here?) use the Food Stamps to score my kid’s teacher gift. So I got to be that fat mom people hate in the line at the Walmart using her EBT card to buy MFing Cheez-Its and M&Ms. If you were behind me in line you probably thought I was a horrible person and that my big plan was to go home and eat that madness while watching some reality TV and washing that box down with Diet Coke while putting down those reality show women like it was my American DUTY!

Or maybe you’re a decent human being and had no opinion on what I was buying. 

Either way…those Cheez-Its are wrapped and on their way to a (hopefully) pleased teacher.

Our tax dollars being used to make a teacher feel appreciated.
You’re welcome. 

Come to find out her math teacher loves granola bars. I was straight gleeful at that point.

The other kid had a tea drinker and a 100% blank slate of, “She doesn’t ever talk about anything but math.” (but she doesn’t talk about math enough to know what kind of math-themed gift to get, either.” So they get tea sets because if the one teacher doesn’t want it it’s in nice packaging so she can regift it. I couldn’t use Food Stamps on the tea sets (duh) but I did manage to spend a lot less than if I just started sticking five dollar bills in all the room mom envelopes.

I hate participating in the group gift no matter what condition my finances are in. The room mom sends out one envelope, gets all this money back and then buys the gift and presents it to the teacher like it was her gift. I remember the one time one of my kids had a great room mom. Yeah. That was nice. Now it’s a contest to see which helicopter mom can make her blades whir fastest to get the gig.

I was a room mom once. For five minutes. I was told the woman who didn’t get the gig (first come, first chosen, this was not by merit or I’d have never gotten near it) was crying. I was like, “Oh, wow, I do not even want to do this and only did because I was worried no one else would. If there’s someone crying over this she is welcome to it.” What I saw as an obligation this woman saw as…I don’t know what but losing it affected her. Not being room mom affected me too. A huge weight was lifted from my shoulders knowing I would never have to plan a craft.

Until Pinterest delivers, I’m not your go-to woman for crafts. In case you hadn’t figured that out yet.

What level of teacher-gift madness do you subscribe to? Do you give something to everyone? 



Homeschooling the Preschool Child

school-deskI have been on a six month saga to get my daughter into a preschool.

The local programs are state funded by this really cool preschool for all grant. The thing is, there are risk factors. If there is low competition for spots, financial risk can get you in. It makes sense, because a child that grows up in a financially unstable is at higher risk for mental illness, among other things.

We are actually very lucky, because only having financial instability (without other risk factors) and being hyper-aware that can be a problem, I make it a point not to stress out around my kids or get them stressed out or tell them they’re poor or make them feel like they can’t have something because it’s too expensive.

I might not be able to enroll her in dance class right now, but I can make certain I’m not complaining about not being able to in front of her. It’s the little things.

Come talk to me in twenty years, though, because who knows where my butterfly wing best intentions will be then. Of course if I can just make sure she has a good head for business she can be a drug lord. That would be something, and maybe I could help her with her offshore accounts. Family bonding time and whatnot.

But there were fifty kids trying to get into 25 spots in this school. If they’re all poor (or if more than 25 are) then they have to look for additional risk factors. Namely, they give the kids a test and you have to score low but not too low. Things are weighted based on factors I couldn’t figure out and I got a lovely letter in the mail.

Thank you for your participation in the recent preschool screening at The School. Multiple areas of development are assessed during the screening: speech and language, cognitive skills, fine and gross motor skills, and social skills. At-risk factors are also considered in determining eligibility for the preschool program.

We are happy to share that your child’s performance indicates that development in all areas is appropriate for your child’s age group at this time. For that reason, your child does not meet the criteria for our program. 

They were ever-so-kind and enclosed a preschool directory for my convenience in finding a program that was not funded by a grant for children who need a little extra help.

I have to tell you, however, the letter I wrote was a stunner.

Which makes me pause and really wonder how many children are under-performing for age level (I know, math whizzes, at least 25). I was sure that based on the criteria my daughter would get in.

Don’t think I’m being totally ungrateful, here. I’m happy my daughter is doing well for her age. In fact, I specifically asked if being gifted could be considered a developmental risk and they said it was not under the terms of the grant. I understood and I swear I was totally super polite through the whole thing. I could only do what I could do, which is my best to make sure I’ve covered all the bases I can.

I looked at some websites from the local preschools and, unfortunately, they’re all just too expensive.

I still have my fabulous workbook I purchased from good old and will go through it with her when her sisters are in school. I also have this old copy of My Baby Can Read that I can play for her. If they’re going to leave her with me, I’m going to do my best to educate her at home.

Maybe it was because I mentioned in the letter that our situation is only temporary. Of course, no one wants to read about a chronically impoverished family that doesn’t ever make steps to improve. It’s imperative if you want people to be understanding and not judgmental to learn to put yourself forward as someone who is only temporarily displaced from the middle class.

Even before Mr. Brickie changed careers and we had no hope in hell of being able to better our life circumstances I found something to cling to so when I needed help I sounded like someone that was going to be on the upswing soon.

I probably sounded like a con artist.

Or maybe I’ve never been quite as bad off as I’ve thought.

An interesting conundrum. I guess it all depends on who you compare yourself to. Who do you compare yourself to?

How to Keep Up With Math in the Summer on the Cheap

math-basics-2nd-gradeMy two older kids are going into second and third grade.

They were both in accelerated math last year so when they were in first grade and second grade they were doing second and third grade math. Now that they’re going into second and third grade, they will be doing third and fourth grade math.

I could calculate statistical data to six sigma without breaking a sweat, but saying that sentence up there out loud breaks my brain.

I pretty much took an hour figuring out what kind of workbooks the kids needed. First I had to figure out what grade level was “review” – was it the actual grades they were in, or would it be the grades they were working on? Last year, they both had a pull-out math class twice a week for an hour. This year both of them will have the advanced math class instead of the current math class.

So I decided I needed to make sure their skills were solid in what they were working on last year because they’re working on the next level of math next year and I don’t want them to fall behind or struggle with previous concepts they may not have encountered yet considering they only did it twice a week last year.

I don’t know, maybe it’s just me but this all seems a bit complicated. I do have a tendency to over-complicate things, though, so there’s that.

More than anything I just don’t want them dropped from the track they’re on. Public school kids are tracked from very early on, and I’ve been very aware – and completely paranoid – about this since before any of the kids stepped foot in a school. I kind of just assumed the kids would be in that middle track where they didn’t go into advanced classes or remedial classes. I pictured them skating through and getting by. It was kind of my dream, because anything else comes with drama that y’all know I’m not a fan of.

So the first place I started when looking for workbooks were a couple of the homeschooler’s favorites: Saxon Math and Singapore Math. Well, let me tell you, those are all well out of my price range. I get angry when I see a 40 page workbook at Target for $8. I huff, and I puff and I exclaim, “I could do it cheaper!”

Of course I never do, but just the fact that I could do it keeps me from spending that kind of money on a slim workbook.

Then I had (thank goodness, I was getting desperate) an epiphany about how to search for workbooks. Instead of searching for a brand of workbook that was applauded and praised by all the big thinkers and the homeschoolers and the academics and the people with wicked-high standards, I just searched for “2nd grade workbook” and “3rd grade workbook” and found a bunch of results.

My 8yo has been having a sketchy time with math and both girls could use a refresher with money, so I got all fancy and searched Amazon for a time workbook. I got this 352 page bad boy that covered both time and money for ten bucks. I was like, “This is my workbook Nirvana.” and kept on adding things to my cart.

I have a workbook for the preschooler (because she hates being left out) a printing/handwriting practice book for my 7yo, a cursive book for my 8yo, math books for both girls and a bonus word problems for grades 3-4 workbook because at these prices why not.

A total of 8 workbooks for $40 and of course free Amazon Prime shipping. I’ll have them in two days and will be happily passing out daywork to my girls so they can earn their screen/electronics time instead of just going between playing with ponies and playing with electronics.

Of course the ultimate bonus for me isn’t something for them to do, it’s knowing they will be prepared when school starts. My deepest fear is they will hit the Math Wall of Death™ where they think their smarts have run out and they just give up on math. One way to keep them from hitting that wall is keeping them prepared and well-schooled in the basics they need to know.

You know, giving them a foundation to build on and whatnot.

Oh, another thing about tracking of public school students….supposedly the Common Core standards coming into play in public schools are supposed to raise the bar for all the kids and, thus, there will be no more tracking. This is not what I am referring to. When I’m talking about the “track” my kids are on, I’m talking about what will eventually be the High School Honors track. I am loathe to call them gifted because it’s just the next grade level of math, they’re not Doogie Howser or anything.

But I am kind of a fanatic about math, because I didn’t discover I had a natural affinity for math until I was about 36 years old. I had always been told our family was not good at math, and I believed them. Obviously I want something different for my girls.

Any suggestions on how to keep kids engaged and learning during the summer? How do you do it?


Universal Class Review (It’s Falling A Little Short of My Expectations)

She is blown away by learning!

Maybe I want too much.

Maybe I’m greedy.

Maybe nothing is ever good enough for me.

Whether or not any of those things apply, I have a problem with the way Universal Class is being run. I’m currently in three classes:

My library subscribes to the Universal Class service and so the classes are available under that subscription. If you wanted an unlimited yearly membership and your library isn’t subscribed it’s $189. Classes are mostly taken at your own pace and there are 13 lessons per class. I was able to get through five lessons in one class in one day. So in 15 days I could get through three classes. Two classes a month, 24 classes per year….I could see you getting a lot of knowledge for $189. It’s a good deal, overall, if you’re going to learn something.

The next classes I take – if I take more classes – will be more tangible, like a math class where opinion-based assignment feedback is less necessary. Right now, I’m in classes where it’s all creative writing, opinion, and essays and I’m getting perfect scores and no feedback.

I know, who whines about perfect scores and no feedback, right? But you see where I”m coming from, don’t you? It feels like someone is just phoning it in to get paid, rather than helping a girl learn something. I mean, if I’d paid for these classes I would be angry. That makes me wonder…if I paid for the classes and wasn’t part of a library subscription, would I be getting feedback then? Is it because the instructors know my classes are free?

Or is it just that there is no feedback to give? Is it that good? I mean, I’ve got an ego on me and everything but not even I think I’m going to be perfect with no opinion in three classes. I don’t care that I’m usually a straight-A student anyway even in brick and mortar schools. Maybe that is the point and I’m missing something.

See, I could spend all day speculating and it’s going to do me about zero good. Really, it’s my own fault. I could email any one of the instructors and ask them why I’m not getting feedback, or ask a question, or start a dialogue. I don’t. I have nothing to say, so why should they?

I have started something and I’m going to see it through to the end, because I’m tired of being a quitter. I want to be  a person who sees things through. The problem is, I don’t quit things because I’m lazy, I quit them because they’re crap. Try to tell me that when I’m up feeling awful about myself and my quittin’ ways at 3am, however, and I will explain (in the very best overtired-crazy-logic way) why I am an awful person who quits everything and has no stomach for seeing anything through.

So, basically, these classes don’t bother me unless I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about them. Then they become a very real, very big problem in my life.

I can be so silly sometimes.

When I take my next round of classes, I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, if you’d like to follow Universal Class on Facebook and check out some class intro videos, they’re pretty interesting.

How Do I Determine Reading Placement for My Daughter? (also, kid anxiety is sad)

books-with-appleIt’s an old far side joke, I know, it’s cheesy and silly and right now feels accurate.

This morning, just to keep the kids entertained I gave them color-in worksheets from Super Mom Moments and they really had fun coloring them in. They had to color the verbs, nouns, and adjectives different colors. Is that homeschooling, or is that fun?

I guess it’s both but I’m still so unsure.

My biggest problem has been going overboard when I do things. In my mind, I just want everything to be “right” … you know, the way it should be. In reality, I fear that I might push my kids too hard and try to teach them too much.

I mean, I have no training in this.

For example, I am trying to find a starting point for my 2nd grader (S) and don’t know how to measure that. The closest reading placement I found was at the National Right to Read Foundation. Is that a legitimate site? I’m not sure. I gave her the reading competency test and it basically told me she was reading at a high school level. Is that true? I don’t know what a high school reading level is, not really. I know the things my great-grandmother used to say about the newspaper being written at a fifth-grade level so it was more accessable, but then the website said that 100 years ago the 6th grade level was equivilent to high school level today. All that to say: I have no idea where to start her reading education based on that placement test.

It’s all very, very confusing.

Also, it seems my 1st grader (A) – who has been doing just fine and is really enjoying her experience at public school – is getting jealous that her sister is going to have me for her teacher and learn (as she puts it) “more stuff” than she is.

So homeschooling of both children will begin in earnest this summer. I’m going to try and let A finish the year because she loves her teacher and hasn’t had any of the problems S was having at school. I’d like her to finish.

This is not what I pictured for my kids.

I was always the it will be a cold day in hell before I homeschool my kids mom. I’m not super-excited about it. I have almost every book from the library and can’t stop researching everything online because I don’t want to break my kids or make them into mutants that can’t have a conversation or, worse, can only talk about Ray Bradbury and dice games. Don’t get me wrong, I’m fine with those being part of the conversation toolkit, I like those things, but I want them to be able to talk about other things too. I’d like them to have a range of things to talk about so they can communicate effectively with a range of people.

Of course, school was never going to give them that in the first place, so I’m not sure if it even fits with this whole train of thought. Well, I guess it fits in the sense of finding out new things from other kids. They won’t have that except through me and while I am into current pop culture more than anyone I know, I’m still not up on trends like a 2nd grader. Or a 6th grader. So how do I help my kids talk with other kids? I’ll probably just end up spending time on the Disney Channel website or something. Not that they’re into those shows now, they’re not. So maybe that was never meant to be in the first place.

Maybe I’m borrowing trouble and S will want to go back next year. Maybe she will be done with mom-as-teacher and want to try again to go the public school route. Or, maybe by September we will have an option C and she can go to a private school I was looking into a few months ago. It’s possible. I just don’t know where we will be then financially. Private school is expensive and I’m still not sure I can’t do it better myself.

In the meantime, I’m going to take it one day at a time, one worksheet at a time, one story at a time.

Oh, one thing I wanted to tell you. This morning when I had them do the coloring worksheets, S brought hers to me when she was done and immediately apologized because once she had finished the perfectly colored pieces of the heart she also drew around the heart and on the back of the paper. She sounded really stressed when she apologized and told me she “forgot she shouldn’t do that.” I looked at her – shocked – and said, “Babe, this is just for fun. You got all the answers right. I don’t mind if you color the rest of the paper however you want.”

She was visibly relieved. Like, her little shoulders fell two inches. They must have been crazy-tense. Poor thing.

What are they doing to her at that school that she’s got anxiety on spring break doing a silly worksheet for fun?

Moments like that are why I’m doing what I’m doing. I’m not a great mother, I’m not a martyr, I’m not doing something great and noble, I’m just trying to keep my kid from being so stressed she can’t chill out and color in a heart.

What do you think is the best way to determine the reading level of a child? (I’m just looking for brainstorming ideas, no need to cite a source or be a homeschooler for this. Y’all are smart. I want to hear what you think!)


Do I want to Homeschool in Illinois? Where do I Start?

books-with-appleAfter various incidents in the school I am thinking that my lovely 2nd grader is not getting the attention, help, or support she needs in school.

She is not special needs (except being in the gifted math program at school – if that even qualifies) and she does not have a disability. She does not stick out like a sore thumb and she is not loud or rambunctious.

Doesn’t it sound like she would be a perfect candidate for a public school? I thought so, too.

But she’s really not. She is getting in trouble for things she learns on the bus, for example. “That’s why I’m not friends with mean black girls like you.” is what I heard from the vice-principal of her school today. Sure, she was being teased by multiple children but her remark brought it all down on her head. I’m fine with that. In the real world, if you go too far it doesn’t matter why – you went too damn far. Also, like I told the (very kind, knowledgeable, and intelligent) vice principal, there is NOTHING that has EVER happened in my home that would cause that statement to come out of my daughter’s mouth. Ever. Not once. It’s not part of who any of us are here.

Trust me, I’ve tried to figure this out. There was an incident earlier this year when I remarked that a black man on the television was handsome and she replied, “I would never date a black boy.”

My grandmother hated redheads. I do not know why. No one in the family shared her aversion but we all tried not to be around her when Conan came on because she would yell at the television. (This was before she had dementia, mind you. It was rough.)

My daughter is an emotional creature. She would cry for days if someone was moving or was sad when she was in Kindergarden. In first grade she got a little better, but the crying still happened. Now, in second grade, I see the tears she’s been holding all day come out when she gets off the bus in the afternoon.

They are tears of anger. Anger at not being allowed to fight back. Anger at being taunted for being called “baby” and “slow” that she is not allowed to make stop because the teacher says she does not like tattle-tales. Anger she cannot resolve because she is not allowed to raise her hand when they are in line. Anger at being small and ineffectual and unable to fight back in a meaningful, appropriate way.

It’s breaking my heart.

school-bus-rearMy first choice would be to get her off the bus where most of this takes place, but we have one car until we can afford another car. That will be a few months in the future at the very best. I may be able to drive my husband to work and then drive the children to work, but I won’t know if that is an option for a few more weeks.

Even if I can drive her to school, what about her anger? What about her inability to get help from a grownup?

I understand as an adult that her problems are small. Miniscule, really. But I also remember how big things felt when I was her age and feel that by leaving her there I am forcing her to be pressed down into a mold she just doesn’t fit into properly. She does not feel good about going to school but is excited about homework while at home. She is attentive and loves to learn.

I fear that leaving her in this situation is keeping her from learning because emotionally she is focused on other things.

She loves her gifted math class, called challenge math, and is excelling at math a grade level above her own while still completing her second grade math during normal math times and through her normal math homework.

I really think I could swing this homeschooling thing.

It would take sacrifice on my part, but isn’t that what parenting is about? Doing what’s best for your child even if it inconveniences you? Isn’t it my duty as a parent to make sure she is set up for academic success? What good is socializing in a public school atmosphere when she is learning black from white and that she is a slow baby and a crybaby? These are not things she should be learning if I want her to grow into a strong woman. These are things that make her believe she is less than and different in a bad way.

Maybe I could do better.

I think it’s time to seriously consider homeschooling as a valid option for my daughter’s education. My middle daughter seems to be thriving in the school environment, so I’d only be doing this with the oldest unless I needed to change that up for some reason.

Do you know anyone who has one homeschooled child and one that attends a local public school? How’s that working out for you/them?

What do you think?