Tuesday, December 3, 2019

The end of an era

For the past several years, I've been clipping those Box Tops for Education from all of the products that have them.  I'd pack them into a sandwich bag until I couldn't fit any more in, and send them with alternating kids.  One year, I had a new bag filled every month.  That was a lot of box tops, and the kids' classrooms benefited.  

I gathered up the last few box tops this morning, put them in a bag, and sent them with the pixie. 

That's it.  There are no more, and there will be no more. 

Not because the program has ended, but because it has...changed. 

I noted, recently, that things that had had the little pink square on them (or two, three, four, or more), were...harder to find.  There were fewer products with that little pink square.  I think Kleenex was one of the first brands to stop putting it on the packaging.  Time was, I could get a big package of boxes of Kleenex from Sam's Club, and cut a dozen box tops off of the plastic packaging. 

They've disappeared from the Motts Apple Juice, the Progresso soup cans, and now the Old El Paso canned goods.  They've disappeared from a lot of cereal boxes, and from the brownie mixes I get. 

Note well: many of these brands haven't necessarily stopped participating. 

The box tops organization changed things up.  Now, instead of taking the box tops off the individual products and sending those to your teacher...

...you download an app, and scan your store receipt. 

Uh, no. 

For several reasons, no. 

First reason: you need a smartphone to participate.  I do not have, nor do I want a smartphone.  I have a flip phone with a camera.  It's as much as I need, and I have that only very grudgingly.  I hate cell phones with a purple passion...the only reason I have one at all is that I drive, and have the kids in the car with me most of the time.  It's a safety device. 

Second reason: while I shop with Amazon (which tracks my purchases) and shop at Sam's Club (membership...does the same thing), I am not in favor of having all of my spending tracked by whomever wants to track it.  I do not see how it's anyone's business what I purchase and when.  And, by forcing us to scan receipts, that's exactly what this stupid program has moved to doing.  If it was scanning the individual things that participate in the box top program, it would be different. 

Third reason: there's no way this program has a database secure enough that it won't be hacked.  There's no way the spending habits of millions of people won't be used by the unscrupulous.  Which includes the governments of cities, states, and nations.  Assuming they wouldn't be automatically granted access from the get-go. 

I had been spending the little bit more to get Kleenex brand tissues--something like $5 more per 12 boxes than the Member's Mark generics that I like just as well from Sam's Club.  That has changed.  Same with spending a few cents more per can for enchilada sauce, or taco seasoning.  Beans, refried beans, and brownies will just be made from scratch (lot cheaper than buying pre-prepared). 

And a direct donation to the classrooms can and will be made instead. 

Monday, November 25, 2019

Convince me I'm wrong.

Convince me that letting your kid go to public school isn't implicit or explicit abuse.  Convince me that there are still arguments in favor of public education still being allowed to exist.  Convince me that "socialization" is more important than building a foundation of knowledge and understanding for a later development of critical thinking.

Oh, wait...

You can't.

Today, the neighbor's grandkid hustled up at 8:30 a.m. to see if my kids could go out to play.  When I asked him if he was aware of what day of the week it was, he got an utterly blank look cross his face, and he stuttered, "but...but...Thanksgiving Break!" 

My kids are in private school because of shit like this: the kid gets half days every fucking Friday, and full days off three or four times a month.  There's no emphasis on spelling or on math.  The kid doesn't know history, and barely started learning science my pixie learned last year (in 2nd grade, and this kid's in 4th or 5th grade).  So.  What are they learning?  Just...social justice and brainwashing.  I don't think he reads on a 2nd grade level, either. 

And...he's not stupid.  He's actually pretty damn bright and creative.  BUT. 

That school system is geared below what I consider the minimum (my own education--he's behind where I was in the same grade in an utterly shit rural district).  I'd blame Common Core, but Joplin schools were already bad.  Common Core has simply exacerbated an already existing problem. 

And the area "good district?" 

Well. 

Clearly, the middle school has been used as a pedophile grooming station for a while.  At the very least, this school year.  Someone was reported as having inappropriate sexual contact with their middle school students.  One--only one, but there's likely more--came forward.  The event happened last Tuesday.  The district called him into the office on Friday to allow the city police to arrest him. 

Not Tuesday, the day it was reported.  Not the next day after surveillance camera footage was reviewed. 

Friday. 

When socialization in public school districts starts Lord of the Flies style and devolves from there (and it does), when kids are warehoused rather than actually educated, when they're groomed for sexual exploitation...you cannot convince me that letting your kid attend public school is any less than negligence. 

And, anymore, the case can easily be made for outright abuse. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Bad start to the week.

Last weekend was wonderful: the weather was beautiful (in the 60's on Saturday, and approaching 70 on Sunday).  I had some warning that all was not well on Sunday, considering I woke up whining in discomfort (and I don't whine), and it didn't get better all day.  But the weather was gorgeous.

And then...

Then.

The warmest it got on Monday was at midnight.  Then around two or three, the oncoming weather system hit, and the temperature started dropping.  And dropping.  And then it started sleeting and snowing while the temperature kept dropping. 

I'm thankful that the two days of really nice weather meant that the half to 3/4 inch of ice and snow we got didn't stick, but...this morning when I woke up, I still checked email to see if the kids had school or not.  (They did.)  Because it was forecast to have gotten down to 14 degrees this morning.  (It was actually 11 degrees when I got up at 6:30, according to the weather report--it's usually a few degrees colder here.)

The fireplace heater and space heaters in the bedrooms almost managed to keep up overnight, but not quite.  Yeah, the heat pump kicked on, and that means the emergency heating elements had to be used.  I'll see what I can do today to keep it from happening again. 

I did a lot  of baking last night.  Supper tonight is going to be made in the oven--I'm making tortellini pasta bake.  I use the dried tortellini you can buy in the pasta aisle at Walmart--usually get the spinach and cheese, because it sneaks extra veggies into the imp, who doesn't like most veggies.*  It's like normal pasta bake, but bakes longer--about ten minutes longer before you pull it out and add the cheese.

Tomorrow's supposed to be back up to 40. 

In the meantime, we're waiting on the plumber to get back to us--our sump pump went out last week, and we found out on Friday that that was installed all the way wrong, too--wrong pump, wrong kind of pump, and not hooked up correctly to either power or the drainage.  I got a quote, and it's doable.  Not comfortable, but doable.  He just didn't have what he needed to get it fixed Friday, and didn't know when he'd have the time in his schedule to get back out here to us. 

He did leave us with a loaner pump.

But yeah, Odysseus is right--they're probably swamped with emergency calls from people that didn't take precautions against frozen pipes last night.  I'll count myself lucky if I hear from them by tomorrow. 

Friday, November 8, 2019

Oops.

Note to self: don't do a double-batch of beef stroganoff in the instant pot, then let the pressure off fast.

Last night, I made a big batch of beef stroganoff.  I'd asked my mother-in-law over, but she forgot, so I've got a lot of leftovers of the meat and sauce without noodles (makes an incredibly good gravy over a baked potato--yum). 

I'd decided to make it last month--and I decided yesterday morning to make it in my instant pot.  Because stew meat cooked in that turns out utterly perfect. 

So, I dumped in about 2 lbs of stew meat, 2 cans of mushroom soup, about a third of a pound of sliced mushrooms, a chopped onion, and a cup and a half of beef bone broth, and a couple of sprinkles of Knorr beef bouillon for a little extra flavor.  And then I thought about it, and set it to soup/stew, and left it running for half an hour.

When it was done, I turned the valve for quick release.

That...was a mistake.

It made a HUMONGOUS mess.  Sprayed stroganoff sauce through the pressure relief valve, and splattered the cabinet doors, the counter, the back side of the pressure cooker, the lid, the handle--the only reason nothing else got by mushroom soup and beef broth was because nothing else was close enough. 

And thankfully, the sauce was thick enough that it didn't hit the ceiling. 

So, yeah.  Sauce was thick enough I don't have a bigger mess to clean up than I could manage without help.  Still thinner than I wanted, and adding only sour cream/Greek yogurt would thin it even more.  So...I adapted.  I halved the amount of sour cream, and substituted in half a brick of cream cheese. 

It turned out utterly delicious, and even the imp liked it (the pixie liked the noodles, but wasn't happy with the rest of it).  It's going on the regular meal rotation for during the winter. 

But I do need to remember--next time, let the pressure come off naturally. 

I'm pretty sure that cleaning up that giant mess is going to etch that into my memory. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Planning ahead

As y'all know, I've been using the FlyLady's system for keeping house.*  I've been kind of using it, bits and pieces, on and off, for a few years.  Well, this past year, I really got stuck into it.  She has a habit a month she wants people to get used to, and get started using in their own lives.  November's...is menu planning.

I've been working on this for several years, now.  And it helps.  Not just with the grocery budget (and saving for tuition), but with my energy, both physical and mental. 

I have to admit, it's a lot easier to do in the winter--it's not so hot I don't want to cook.  I don't have to check to see how hot it will be in the coming week before I plan meals around prep method and daily high temperatures.

Sunday suppers are usually my make-a-lot-of-leftovers meals: usually chili or tacos, during cold weather.  And then those leftovers become lunches pre-packed for Odysseus to have during the work week.  If there's not enough for the whole week, I'll plan a pasta night (pasta bake makes another couple of lunches).  Sometimes on weekends, I'll make soup or stew, as well, and that's my lunches for several days (or, in the case of some soups which do well frozen, lunch here and there for weeks). 

At the end of last month, I looked at the trending temperatures (chilly, and heading colder fast--we had SNOW before Halloween, and we're in SW MO, half an hour from Oklahoma!), and then I got the kids' November lunch menus.  And I sat down and planned all the meals for November.  It's not hard, and planning ahead like that means you DON'T HAVE TO THINK ABOUT what to fix when you're tired and fried from trying to keep house, write, and keep the kids focused on what they are supposed to be doing (homework, studying, etc). 

Thing is, it helps.  It helps with everything.  It curbs the kids whining about wanting to know what's for supper--they know they can just go look at the calendar, and either eat what I fix (most of the time) or fix something for themselves.   It helps with the grocery budget because I'm not buying a whole lot of stuff that I forget about that then goes bad before I fix it.**  It helps us resist the impulse to eat out...or to eat junk.   It helps me know how much housework I can/should do before I start supper so that I have the energy left to actually make supper (and sometimes enough left after that to do a few more things that I put off to make sure I could cook).

Life is so much easier if you just plan what to fix for supper before it's time to actually start supper.  So much easier to just look at what's written on the calendar, as opposed to standing with the fridge hanging open, scratching your head and pulling a blank, while the kids are whining about being hungry.

*I heard a lot of "either do it right"--i.e., my way--"or not at all."  So I never learned how to keep stuff put up...or how to keep the house clean-ish.  Enough for company, at least.  I'm learning, and I'm at the point that some areas take minimal daily or weekly upkeep vs. massive efforts to get anything picked up.  

**I'm really bad about forgetting food...especially veggies, or stuff marked down for quick sale.  

Monday, October 28, 2019

Definitely Missouri--pronounced misery.

So.  We had rain from last Thursday until Saturday, and it never broke much past about 50 degrees any of those days.  Yesterday was 70 degrees, sunny, and gorgeous.  Today? 

Yeah. 

Fifty again, and cloudy.  With rain, at least, projected for most of the rest of the week.

Wednesday and Thursday we have possibilities of snow and sleet. 

I really hate this.  And it's compounded by last week's adventures.

So.  Wednesday morning, I woke up with symptoms of an infection.  I swung by my doctor's office and had them run a lab to confirm and send a prescription for antibiotics to Sam's Club's pharmacy.  And they did, but...the one they sent was one the pharmacy had down as one of the things I'm allergic to.  A sulfa drug.  Which my mother had told me I was allergic to. 

I do not remember an allergic reaction to this antibiotic.  I don't even remember any side effects at all, much less bothersome ones. 

And the pharmacy wouldn't fill it and hand it off to Odysseus when I asked him to pick it up.  I had to call the pharmacy and explain that my mom is allergic to it, and that Mom is notorious for confusing side effects and allergic reactions, and couldn't remember if I actually was or if it was just her.  So, I had to go get it myself, Thursday morning.  Feeling like I had the flu (common, for me, with infections). 

The pharmacist's only request was for me to wait on my first dose until my other half got off work so he could watch for problems. 

Also on Thursday of last week, we had parent-teacher conferences.  And, for the first time, we didn't have to drag the kids along, and leave them sitting in the hall.*   Which was a major plus. 

Friday, the pixie and I both had an appointment with the optometrist.  And I didn't have to drag the imp to that, either. 

By Friday night, after the third dose of antibiotics, the flu-feeling was starting to break up.  Yesterday, it was gone entirely...and then we had this weather system move in last night.  

Tylenol, aspirin, and an electric blanket are what I can use to deal with the pressure/temperature change induced discomfort...no liquid "painkiller" until probably Wednesday, since the antibiotic (which I'll be finishing Tuesday morning) says not to drink alcohol while taking it. 

And of what's available, the electric blanket and my yoga gloves seem to be the most effective. 

*My mother-in-law has, with the loss of my father-in-law at the end of June, moved from where they'd lived for fifteen or so years, an hour plus away, to twenty minutes away from us.  And she really likes living in town, and in this town in particular.  Especially since it lets her go eat lunch with the kids on a regular basis...or babysit. 

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Choice is important

Most parents feel they do not have any choice about educating their sprogs.  But there are choices, and they do have their pros and cons. 

Public School

Let's start with public school.  Government funded and run education.  Most of my readers already know the cons: the teachers don't know the subjects they're supposed to teach; they indoctrinate rather than teach; there's no discipline in the classroom; the environment is chaotic, and bullies thrive on that; and smarter, more advanced students are, at best, ignored, and at worst sabotaged. 

Still.  That said.  There are still pros to public school.  They're few and getting fewer for parents of normal kids, but they are there.  And for parents of heavily disabled kids, they're a blessing.  First of all, due to several different sets of laws, public schools are required to bring in any kind of specialists needed to educate kids that are non-verbal through autism or other disability, kids who are bound to motorized wheelchairs through physical disability and need physical therapy as well as several interventions to allow them to acquire an education, and the speed better suits kids who just aren't as bright as normal.  Or kids who have difficulty with a home life that doesn't support fast learning (irresponsible parents who don't fucking feed their kids a decent--or any--breakfast is a big one).

Here's the biggest pro that makes most parents think that public school is their only choice: it's free.*

Private School

Next: private schools.  This choice can be broken down further by whether the school is secular or religious, and by duration (i.e., is it elementary, elementary and middle, or all the way?).  

First con: it's expensive.  How expensive can depend.  First, is it secular or religious?  Second, are there discounts, or scholarships, or financial aid that families can get?  Third, are their discounts for more than one child?

Our local secular school costs more than twice per year what the local university does per two semesters plus summer.  There are discounts for university professors' kids, but that still didn't put it into my family's reach.  I think they also had scholarships for need and for academics, but...they also, from what I noted, produced Greta Thunbergs that tended to wilt at the first sign that nobody was taking them seriously. 

We have several religious schools.  I can't speak to all of their cost schedules, because many of them are only K-3, or K-8, and I didn't investigate closely.  The Catholics have a K-12, and there's an evangelical protestant Pre-K3 through 12. 

The Catholic schools produce incredibly excellent students.  They coast through college, because they can.  They also cost quite a bit.  If you're Catholic, they charge less, but I'm not sure what they do for families having more than one kid in school at the same time.  If you're not Catholic, you pay the full amount, and I don't think there are discounts for siblings.  (It's been a few years since I investigated.) 

And the evangelical protestants...this is the school I put the kids in.  They do cost, and quite a bit, but less than either of the other full-duration options.  They cost about half again what a full year at the university does...but that's for both my sprogs, not just one of them, like the secular school.  There are discounts--parents pay full cost for the oldest, next oldest has a $500 discount, next one down has another $250 from the second kid's discount, and more than three?  The rest don't pay tuition.**  There are also hardship scholarships for families in a financial bind.  We had to take advantage of that one year.  They have payment plans where you can pay in one chunk (cheapest), two chunks (that one charges a little for processing both payments), or monthly during the school year (each payment includes a processing fee). 

 For the second con: bullying can be a problem.  However, unlike with public schools, the private schools' bullies tend toward the psychological: mocking the victim, or simply pointed exclusion.  Physical bullying is not tolerated.  And, if it gets to be too much, there's always another school or another option (see the last category). 

Third con: depending on the school, the curriculum is challenging.  The kids are working through the Abeka Books curriculum.  I, personally, really like the full curriculum.  It's fast paced, and isn't easy.  They blend similar concepts--especially in math, where they teach addition with subtraction, and multiplication with division.  They start with the broad strokes in history, then go back and add more and more details year by year.  Spelling is taught and tested from Kindergarten on, and cursive is taught starting in 1st grade.  I'd say about a third of my high school classmates would have been unable to keep up (the bottom third of my class).  There isn't a whole lot of support for disabled students, either--they brought in a speech therapist for my imp to get him up to speed when he was little, and they'll bring in occupational therapists on a part time basis, but the goal is to get the kid to not need them rather than support the child. 

As for the pros: in pretty much all private schools, the teachers are closely vetted for whether they're safe to be around children (as opposed to what you're seeing all the time in the news with teachers literally fucking the kids in public school), and they're also closely vetted for competence in both teaching and in their subject areas (unlike public school teachers that, when asked for help, tell the students to Google it because they don't know how, either).  Private schools use good curricula, not the frankly dumbed down and horrid Common Core (which public schools aren't even doing well with).  Class sizes are smaller--most people aren't willing to pay for what they think ought to be free, and that shows up best in class size. 

Best of all, the kids aren't crammed in a classroom with troublemakers that prevent them from learning.  Troublemakers are disciplined, and chronic troublemakers are expelled, unlike how public schools handle things.

However, there is a third option if your kid is being bullied past what they can deal with. 

Homeschool

This is the option I'd initially planned for before I even had kids. Yeah, I'd have to choose or create a curriculum and pay for the materials (and the curriculum), but it fit the budget a lot better.  Also, my experiences in teaching echoed this writer's.  I wanted to homeschool my kids because I wanted to give them every advantage and chance at success.

And then...then, my son refused to let me teach him or help him learn. Not anything. Nothing. He hid while he learned to crawl, pull up, walk, ride a tricycle, etc.  He simply will not learn when I am the teacher...or when his dad tries to teach him something...or his grandparents, or aunt. 

And then my daughter started wilting and only perking up when she was at the park with a lot of other kids.  She perked right up into a bubbly, happy little girl when we enrolled her in preschool, and only wilts during the summer, now. 

So. Both of my kids are in a private, religious PreK-3 through 12 just up the road from our house. And they're thriving, and a couple of years academic development ahead of their publicly educated peers. My daughter is about a year ahead of the neighbor's grandson...who's two grades ahead of her in public school.

Homeschooling is still an option if bullying becomes a problem. But right now, they're happy, and doing well enough. 
 
Funny thing is, there are politicians that would remove those choices.  There are places in the country where homeschooling is frowned on, heavily regulated, and parents risk jail if every i isn't dotted and every t crossed in the official paperwork required.  There are places where regulations placed on private school are so onerous that it prices it out of the reach of even the upper middle classes.  Places where, traditionally, school choice was supported by vouchers for students to attend the schools of their parents' choice (wildly successful in Washington, D.C., in particular) until the politicians demolished the program, dumping the poorest back into the worst districts.    
 
Choice is important.  Not every parent will choose wisely, but having the choices available is important.  Because not even every public school is equal.  
 
And this country was based on that right to choose: for families to choose which version of faith to follow (or none at all); for individuals to choose their own path, rather than have it pressed upon them by what class they were born into.   

Choosing your child's education is, perhaps, one of the most important choices a parent can have.  It's important that the choices be there, and not be regulated out of existence by pretentious snobs that want only their (substandard) children to have the advantage of a decent education. 

*Actually, it isn't free.  It's paid for out of property and other taxes.  State monies apportioned to specific public school districts come directly from that district's property taxes.  It's one of the main reasons why better, higher class income neighborhoods have better schools.  Well, one of the reasons, anyway.  There are others.  But all property taxes partially pay for the local school districts, whether you have kids or not, and whether your kids go to those schools or not.  Yes, that's theft.  No, there's not a lot we can do about it.

**When we were enrolling the kids initially, there was a family going through the formalities of getting their youngest school age kid started in the preschool class for the three year olds.  They already had four kids in older grades, and had two more too little for school.  There would be no way they'd be able to give all their kids the same school experience without that policy, and how do you choose?  Which kids do you leave out?  This family size may not be the norm over all the population, but larger families sort of are the norm at the school the kids attend.