Friday, February 29, 2008

Zero degrees

“It’s zero degrees outside. Check to see whether school is canceled,” my husband urged me.

I dragged myself out of bed to check the computer. Zero degrees Fahrenheit is minus 18 degrees Celsius, and that sounds even worse.

For Jacob, homeschool is certainly not canceled due to cold, but it’s possible that for our younger daughters, who are still in public school, school could be closed because of the low temperature. The combination of temperature and wind has to reach the equivalent of -20° F (-29° C), I believe, for school to be canceled due to danger of frostbite.

It was the third time this week that directly after I got up, I went to my computer and logged on to the local radio station’s website, the official station for school closings. I have found that going directly to the Web is the easiest way to check for closings.

“No school closings reported,” read the site. I announced this to my husband and daughter, much to her chagrin.

The ultra low temperatures this entire week have affected not just my body, but also my mood. The cold permeates everything, imparting a chill throughout the house that defies logic. The wood-burning stove can’t seem to take the edge off the cold. Why should I feel chilly sitting in front of a wood-burning stove that is blowing hot air? Sitting by a space heater didn’t stave off the chill, either. And the afghan on my lap didn’t help. You would think that the layers upon layers of clothes that I wear would warm me, yet still I feel cold. It’s as if the cold settled in my very bones, chilling me from the inside out. I can’t wait for spring…

I’m slowly getting used to staying home in the mornings. It’s not a difficult adjustment. My home office is quiet and conducive to concentrating on my technical writing. And being home with Jacob has a warmth to it, too – not in temperature, but in attitude. It warms my heart when Jacob comes to me and recites some facts from The Yanks Are Coming, some tidbit he just learned, some information I never knew. Did you know that rats attacked men in trenches during the First World War? Or that the Red Baron, the German flying ace, shot down 80 planes before he was killed? Jacob read me some rumors fabricated by both sides, rumors meant to scare and demoralize.

Other times Jacob reads me a passage from It’s a Jungle Out There, his currently assigned book by Ron Snell about his childhood as a missionary kid in the Peruvian jungles, his misadventures riding rapids, tipping canoes, escaping from wild boar. It warms my heart to see Jacob excited by the humorous writing, the descriptions, and the imagery of the book. We can actually have discussions, review vocabulary words, or talk about assignments.

It’s great to be home.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Working from home - at last!

Finally, after getting high-speed Internet at home; after weeks of aggravation, of loading and unloading the operating system and programs, of begging for the Secure ID and software I need, and of fiddling with settings and making phone calls; after following the suggestions from coworkers and friends, and with the ultimate help over the phone from an IT friend of my coworker, I’m operational from home!! I can link to my work server, my work files, and have access to everything I need from my home computer!

I am excited!!!!

It only took a month.

Today, a day when puffy snow lines every branch of the trees in the backyard and the woods beyond, is my first day working from home. Yesterday I got permission from my boss to start my new hours: 1:00 – 6:00 PM in the office, flexible hours from home for the rest of my 40 hours. It’s not part-time, but it’s almost better because I can actually work from home in the quiet of my home office, the office from which I ran my own writing business before I joined corporate America seven years ago. I love that home office, messy as it is. I love being home.

It was a very productive morning – no chitchat of coworkers to distract me, no visitors coming by to pass the time. I was in my office working by 7:30 AM. At 9:30 AM, I’d put in two of the three hours I need to work from home daily. I took a break and cooked some bouillabaisse for supper since I’ll be getting home a bit later than usual. I think that with time, I can talk my boss into letting me leave the office earlier and work additional time from home. For now, this will do. This is what I agreed to.

Jacob enjoyed having me around. Last week George didn’t work many hours, so he was around right along with the girls, who had their winter break. It was not an atmosphere conducive to studying. For that reason, I’d given Jacob only half a load of schoolwork. Now with just me in the house, Jacob wasn’t distracted by me, yet he didn’t feel alone. He could ask me questions or share interesting facts that he was reading in The Yanks Are Coming.

I found that Jacob wastes a lot of time. It’s not a surprise. He’s always been easily distracted, especially when he’s supposed to do something he doesn’t particularly want to do - like schoolwork. This morning he looked out the window onto the pristine snowy neighborhood. He watched the neighbor’s dog running through the snow and across the street. He chased our cat. He started to play music on his computer.

“Jacob, do your schoolwork!” I had to remind him several times, breaking away from my computer to find him. At least now I can reprimand him for wandering off and not doing schoolwork, and not let those few minutes expand into hours of wasted time. With no one around for the last month, I know that Jacob wasn’t studying intently as he should have been. After allowing some of these slack habits to take root in his early homeschooling, I’ll have to work with him to develop better study habits.

At least, praise God, I’m finally home where I can do that!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Someone already thought of that!

I should have known. I’m not the only homeschooling mom who thought of using literature books instead of a textbook to teach history.

In fact, “my” brilliant idea of not using a textbook has long been in use. Rea C. Berg, a homeschooling mother of six who holds a Masters Degree in Children's Literature, has even published a series of History Through Literature study guides. What a great relief and tremendous help to me. So I won’t have to do the research after all!

Of course I didn’t know about this series and may not have discovered it, except that I shared my great and not-so-unique revelation with Nita. Yesterday she came over with US and World History Study Guide to show me the book that she is using. Wow, it was exactly what I had in mind! What a great relief and tremendous help. The books are not only picked out, but there are lists of suggested activities, questions (and I hope answers), and even relevant websites.

I ordered my copy today. And when I get it, I’ll get to buy even more books to go along with the study!!


Saturday, February 23, 2008


I’m obsessed with books.

There, I’ve said it.

I’m fanatical about reading, enthralled with the places they take me, the knowledge they bring me, the people I meet through them. Books. My house is filled with them.

Biographies, travel books, reference books. Cookbooks and gardening books – books about annuals and perennials, bulbs and shade plants; about water gardens and vegetable gardens and wildflower gardens and rock gardens; books on house plants; insect and bird and animal identification books, books about photography, picture books, coffee table books, children’s books, old college textbooks. Yes, even those. Books on pregnancy and child rearing and diseases and first aid. Book about dogs. Dog training. Dog behavior. Books about fish and aquariums, cockatiels and gerbils. Books of quotations and books listing idioms. Manuals of style and references on technical writing. Bibles – New King James and Old King James and New International Version. Many copies of them. And hymnals, hymnals of all kinds, one for each family member. Dictionaries by different publishers, both abridged and unabridged. Shall I go on? Every room in the house has bookshelves, and all the bookshelves are filled with books. Hundreds of them. No, thousands. I once counted. But the number changes weekly.

Little did my husband know when he talked me into homeschooling that he would be supporting my habit. Now I have license to buy more books! As the homeschool instructor, I need books from which to teach my son. Textbooks, teacher’s editions, workbooks, and answer keys.

But that is just the beginning.

Which books can supplement Social Studies? What books shall I assign for English? What biographies will interest and edify my child?

I need books about the First World War, the holocaust, the Viet Nam war. Books about Benjamin Franklin and Abraham Lincoln, about Eleanor Roosevelt and pioneer women. Ooo, that’s more books for me to read, more books for my collection.

But we’ll also study global history, so I’ll need books about Rome and Greece, the Ottoman Empire and Communism. We can read about the history of Sudan or an autobiographical account of surviving the Cultural Revolution in China. Oh, the possibilities!

Then there is literature to teach, the classics to read. How did I manage to get through life without reading A Separate Peace? Or Cry, the Beloved Country? That’s changing because I just bought those books. And then I’ll get to reread To Kill a Mockingbird and Sinclair’s The Jungle. And I’m making a list – a long list – of more books to buy, books that my son will have to read, books that I’ll preread, books that my daughters will eventually read. Oh, I’m giddy with the choices, drunk with possibilities!!

I spend my online time reading book reviews on various websites, checking out what books other homeschoolers read, then placing yet more books on my Amazon wish list.

You’ll have to excuse me now. beckons.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Cozy sight

Curled up by the wood-burning stove with book in hand and reading was my son. Jacob reading a book. It’s such an odd sight that I paused for a moment and delighted in the scene.

Alexandra is currently on page 300 of the 1278-page complete collection of Jane Austen’s novels. She’s reading it for pleasure, not as an assignment. Larissa has been spending this snowy winter break perusing my books on gardening, daydreaming what we’ll plant and what gardens she can create in her own far-off future home. Normally, though, she’s devouring a book a day about anything from horses and dogs to the Rwandan holocaust and current-day slavery in Sudan. But Jacob and books – they’ve never been friends. So to see him reading delights my heart.

Mind you, it’s a book I assigned him that he’s reading – The Yanks Are Coming: The United States in the First World War by Albert Marrin. But he seems to be learning a lot from it. “Jacob was telling me things about the war that I’d never heard before,” said my husband George. I probably hadn’t either. You can learn so much more by reading an interesting book than studying a textbook.

So last night I came up with an idea.

Next year in eleventh grade, the state requires that Jacob learn American History - again. Our kids study American History about every other year, I believe, since they learn to read – at least in our local public schools, where my kids have been studying until now. So I was rather upset when I read this mandate: a full year of American History is required during the high school years. Another year of studying ourselves, of looking in and not out at the world. Ugh.

My passion is the developing world – the Zimbabwes and Haitis and Indias of the world. History of Sudan, colonization of India, the rise and fall of communism in the Soviet Union – these, not the American Revolution, are my interests! I read volumes about theses countries and events for pleasure. I visit developing countries on mission trips every chance I get. Yet I’m a rule-follower. I have to teach American History. So how can I teach it from a new angle when we’ve already read a series of 48 books tracing the history of the US from the Mayflower until the Second World War just for fun? When he's studied and studied again all about Plymouth Rock and Gettysburg and women's suffrage?

That’s when Jacob’s curled up figure came to mind. I won’t use a textbook! (OK, maybe I’ll buy one American History textbook just for reference.) I’ll research and find books about personalities in American history, such as biographies of Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Franklin and Nixon. Who knows? Jacob will learn some selected events and personalities in depth as only you can from a book! Now if I can just find a list of well-written, gripping books about these topics. Why, homeschooling does have its advantages!

Now I’ll have to search the Internet and bug all my friends. Suggestions?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Because Alexandra and Larissa have winter break and are home from school, this is a challenging week in our household. What do I do with Jacob, the only one of my children whom I’ve transitioned to homeschooling thus far?

Giving a complete week off with no work for a 15-year-old boy would not be a good idea. I already learned what kind of trouble he can get into. Granted, I’ve now password-protected both my computers, and his sisters are not beneath tattling on him should he think of other mischief. But ninth grader Alexandra has a lot of homework to do over this week, so why shouldn’t tenth grader Jacob also have work?

I opted to give Jacob a list of assignments for the week instead of the usual daily tasks that I’ve been giving him to complete. When he’s done with the week’s work, he is done. But he has to work on something each day. His choice of what.

Since I’m only one month into homeschooling, I’m still feeling things out. Because of my personality, I like structure. Lists. Schedules. Due dates. I feel this builds responsibility. In my job as a technical writer, I have due dates. Deadlines. I can’t complete a job whenever I feel like it. But, on the other hand, I don’t have daily lists of tasks. I have a deadline, but I can complete my work earlier. Some tasks I can push back. So… rigidity or flexibility? Some of each I believe is best.

One of the assignments Jacob must complete this week is to finish reading Lords of the Earth by Don Richardson who was a missionary to Irian Jaya. The book is about a fellow missionary, though. I chose this book because it’s suspenseful, gripping, and well-written. I can’t praise the book enough. After I read it two years ago, I purchased multiple copies and gave them away. In fact, my own copy is missing, lent out to someone, so I had to buy another one for Jacob to read.

But Jacob doesn’t like to read. He has complained to me in the past few weeks that I’ve pushed him too much, given him too many chapters to read. “They never gave me a chapter or two to read per day in school!” he whined. “They gave me several days to read that much. Or a week. I can’t do it. I don’t like to read. I’m too slow to read that much!” I would listen, tell him to do his best, but I did not relent. I had the daily quotas and deadlines, which included writing summaries of each part (the book is divided into four parts). So he read. Grudgingly. In addition, he had to read all his textbooks. He was not a happy guy.

“Did you get to the plane crash yet?” I asked a couple of nights ago.

“Plane crash?”

Oops, I realized I’d inadvertently given away part of the book.

“Who crashes?”

“You’ll have to read about it.”

“Are they looking for Stan?”

“Maybe.” I couldn’t remember, but I didn’t think so.

“You know the part where the tribesmen are tracking Stan?” Jacob asked. We went on to discuss the Yali customs, beliefs, fetishes. He actually wanted to discuss the book. He even seemed to want to read on. And for Jacob, this is really something.

This morning I noticed that Jacob was not up and about at his usual time. “I was up until midnight reading,” he yawned.

And that was without any pushing at all.

Monday, February 18, 2008


This is a note I wrote to my homeschooling mentor and greatest helper in this homeschooling endeavor:

Dear Nita,
I’ve been thinking of you this evening as I put together a binder of worksheets and handouts for Jacob’s Health class. It took an hour and a half to photocopy all those pages from the teacher’s handbook. Then I had to three-hole-punch and collate them and put little dividers to separate out the chapters. It was quite a project. Suddenly, when I was done, I realized that I should make at least one more clean copy of my work - which includes a schedule of assignments that I worked on all afternoon and evening Sunday - before Jacob begins to write in it. And that’s when I thought of you. I’ve put so much work into this, I feel like sharing it or at least offering it to you for Peter. I’m having Jacob read the book and do the worksheets, but I picked and chose the ones I thought were appropriate, especially since this curriculum was designed for a classroom, not as a self-teaching course.

I had a breakdown earlier in the evening after Jacob took his first Biology test. Nita, the tests are SO HARD. It just doesn’t seem right to make Jacob memorize 15 or so definitions in order to regurgitate the definitions of three words on a fill-in-the-blank test. And to memorize phylums and classes of bacteria – it’s just too much! I don’t remember having to do that in school, not even in college when I was a Biology major! To recall them on a multiple choice or matching test, maybe; but not to remember the names of the classes and phylums and write them down after describing a bacterium!

Jacob got a 56% on the Apologia test. When I threw out two questions I thought were insanely hard, he got a 71%. So I’ve decided to rewrite ALL the tests in format I think is more fair. Jacob even suggested I then post the tests on the Internet. I don’t know if the publisher would like that, but it’s a thought.

Anyway, that’s my venting for tonight.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

He’s back!!

And what a relief it is.

Actually, my husband has been back for several days now, but I’ve been caught up in my computer nightmare and haven’t even mentioned George’s return.

His plane from New York City’s JFK airport was to come in at 10:25 PM last Tuesday. Originally I was going to take Alexandra, daddy’s girl, with me to the airport; the others wanted to stay home. But George had called from New York and told Alexandra that his plane would arrive at 11 PM. He forbade her to go with me. I was thankful.

By midnight when his plane still hadn’t arrived, I was really glad that none of the children came with me. They were surely fast asleep and hopefully would not wake to find that Mom and Dad were not home.

The drive to the airport had been treacherous. Earlier in the evening I had driven Jacob to the homeschooling center to use their microscope for a Biology lab – which is a story in itself. The accumulation on the roads was mostly unplowed at 7 PM, and the snow kept coming down the entire time we were doing the lab.

The drive back home from the homeschooling center at 9 PM was worse. “Did the car just slide?” Jacob asked.

“Yes.” I thought the sliding on the turn was almost negligible, but Jacob could feel it. I drove even more slowly.

By the time I left for the airport, the roads were so perilous that I was afraid the police would announce a snow emergency and ban driving on the roads altogether: rain was now covering the snow and freezing upon impact. My minivan was encrusted with ice by the time I got to the airport. An ice storm was underway.

Eleven o’clock came and went. Then 11:30 PM. “Did I miss the plane coming in from JFK?” I asked the security guard who sat by the door to the terminals, blocking the unticketed from entering that area.

“There hasn’t been a plane coming in for hours,” she said.

By midnight, George’s flight had scrolled off the Arrivals screen in the airport. But it hadn’t arrived. The Delta employees and the security guard did not have any information about the flight; the Delta 800 number played a recording that the plane had left the gate on time, at 9 PM.

Sometime after midnight, the security guard announced, “The runways lights have been turned off. The airport is officially closed. The runways are iced over. Flights are being turned back.”

But I continued to wait. Just where was my husband’s flight? Would he be bused home from another city? I needed to know before I braved the icy roads home. It would be even harder to get information at home. And I certainly did not want to go home and then drive back again.

At 1 AM, only one other person remained in the lounge awaiting arrivals: a Turkish man waiting for his brother-in-law coming from Istanbul via New York on the same flight as my husband. Neither of us wanted to leave our jet-lagged relatives stranded.

So we continued to wait. Then to our great surprise, their flight number suddenly popped up on the Arrivals board: it would be coming in at 2:43 AM. The crews, said the security guard, were frantically clearing the runway of snow and salting it.

It’s rather strange to be one of only a dozen or so people in an airport. Granted, our city is small and the airport normally closes for the night around 12:30 AM. So to wander through the waiting lounges and baggage areas and past closed coffee shops is peculiar. I even went out to my car, scraped off the ice, heated it, then went back in. I’m not usually awake in the wee hours of the morning. I needed to move around to stay awake.

At 2:43 AM, I heard the roar of a plane. In a normally noisy airport, it’s odd to know the arrival of a specific flight by the sound of engines.

We got home at 3:30 AM.

George spent the next several days at home, recovering from the flu he picked up in Ukraine. But he is home!

Friday, February 15, 2008

I remember...

So many of the homeschooling blogs I’ve read are written by parents of young children. I remember fondly the days when a walk in the woods was a time of enchantment. Every leaf was a find to be kept and cherished, every insect deserved to come home in a critter cage as our new pet, every dandelion should be picked for mom. The kids were sweet, innocent sponges absorbing the miracle of the world around them. And I was rediscovering it right along with them – through their eyes.

At that time, I had long lists of activities to do with them and places to visit, just as I see on many blogs.

  • Catch fireflies in the park and bring them home in a jar
  • Visit the taxidermy museum
  • Tour the dam
  • Visit the Jell-O museum
  • Take a bus ride downtown and buy a hot dog from a street vendor, then ride the bus back home
  • Tour the water purification plant

These weren’t meant for entertainment; they were educational opportunities. Strange excursions, according to my friends. Learning experiences, according to me.

And there were many craft projects as well: Pressing leaves and making pictures out of them. Making our own play dough. Stringing acorns on a string to make beads (after daddy drilled the holes).

But now my kids are teens. OK, one almost teen. And that requires a completely different approach. I miss the days when feeding trout at the hatchery was an adventure, a trip to the zoo was a day out, or climbing through the rushing waters of a shoulder-high waterfall - "the place where the water pushes," they named it - was an outing they talked about for an entire year!

Things are different now. I don’t like malls and refuse to enable needless shopping. I don’t want Jacob on the computer every free minute he has so I perpetually give him chores to do. And I can’t even think of an outing that excites the kids – unless it’s visiting their friends.

But they still like to spend time with my husband and me, even if it’s not while on a hike. They still ask to cuddle in bed next to dad while he tells them a made-up story. Jacob loves to have one of us tuck him in and rub his back. And my favorite activity – reading together.

When there is time in the evening, we don’t turn on the TV or a watch movie; I read a book aloud. All three - now ages 15, 14, and 12 - still love to gather around, often with a bowl of popcorn, and listen. It’s not because they can’t read these books themselves; they easily can. But there is something soothing, something cozy about coming together in the living room, the cat often joining us, and settling back to listen while I read. We’ve long graduated from Beezus and Ramona and the entire Beverly Cleary collection, went through all the Narnia series, then through 48 books of the American Adventure series following a family from the Mayflower to the Second World War, and now we’re on to reading biographies. I'm currently reading about the Lost Boys of Sudan, a gripping tale about children who were driven from their homes when only five and seven years of age, and sent their entire childhoods watnering the desert from refugee camp to refugee camp alone without their parents. It's heart-breaking, and it introduces my children to a world that is completely alien to them, a world of orphans and war, starvation and suffering.

Ironically, we read about it while munching popcorn...

Thursday, February 14, 2008


Last night Jacob uninstalled all the software from my computer, including the operating system. Then he reinstalled the XP operating system and the various drivers (print driver, monitor driver, and drivers that I didn’t know existed). Next, he installed the (gulp!) Nortel Connectivity VPN Client and… it worked!!!! Still, I didn’t want to jump up and down and celebrate, not yet, not with all the other snags we’ve hit in trying to establish a connection to my company’s servers.

Jacob spent the rest of the evening reloading some, but not all, the software that we’d had on the computer, like Microsoft Office and Photoshop. We still have to load my Kodak EasyShare All-in-One printer software. And the (double gulp) CA Anti-Virus software. But I’ll do that tonight. Actually, Jacob probably will. I’m starting to get nervous doing anything on that computer, afraid that the whole thing will stop functioning.

This morning I stayed home long enough to actually figure out where and what to type in for my user name and password in the connectivity software, and I got partway through setting up the Lotus Notes software, but I was stumped when I had to put in the server address. I’ve jumped so many hurdles – what’s a few more? Someone is bound to know what to enter here. I just have to find the right person to ask. Again.

And I was supposed to write about homeschooling? The computer nonsense has derailed my life!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Computer nightmare continues

I wish I could say that I’ve begun working from home, but the nightmare of setting up my computer to remotely access corporate servers continues. Or rather, it grows.

After recovering from last week’s computer virus, we had our next hurdle: sporadic Internet connection. After Jacob uninstalled and reinstalled the network driver, we had Internet access for a day. The next day we didn’t. Then, without changing a thing, we had it again. I was thrilled. Maybe the problem went away. But guess what – the following day we again could not connect to the Internet. Intermittent problems are more challenging than continuous ones.

Jacob was stumped by this and I was near despair, so I called the shop that repaired my computer last week. I explained that the whole thing started when I downloaded the CA Anti-Virus, Anti-Spyware, Anti-Spam, Personal Firewall and Parental Controls software, which comes free with my new Internet provider.

“Uninstall it and see whether your Internet connection works without it,” the technician in the shop suggested. “If it does, load it again and see whether it stops working, and you’ll know the problem.”

Instead of following his suggestion, Jacob and I decided to uninstall all the freeware anti-virus and anti-spyware that the shop had put on the computer last week. Perhaps they were conflicting? Sure enough, with that stuff gone, the Internet connection worked like a charm. I was elated! At last, working from home was two CDs away - the CDs that contained the software I needed.

I decided to stay home this morning and load the Nortel Connectivity VPN Client. I got to a certain point in the procedure, and an error message popped up – something about error during a seek operation. Jacob tried, and then I tried again. Same error. I figured I got a bad CD and called the company’s Help line. The woman I spoke with said she’d send me a link to the FTP site so I could load the software from there. Great!

I next loaded Lotus Notes software. That went smoothly - until I got to the setup screens. To finish the setup, I had to be connected through the Nortel software to the company server. So that was the end of that. I left Jacob with his books and drove to my office, still feeling hopeful that once the FTP link was delivered to my home email address, I would once and for all be done with this interminable setup, and I would finally be able to stay home with Jacob and be a better homeschooling mom.

I left the office early when I saw that the link to the FTP site was in my AOL mailbox. Back at home, I connected to the Internet without a hitch, clicked on the link, and all was going well – until I got that horrid "error during a seek operation" message.

I called the corporate Help line.

Although the guy who picked up the line was very friendly and tried to be helpful, he couldn’t suggest much for a home computer. At work, keeping my computer running was their problem, not mine. At home it was a different story.

“It sounds like there is something on your computer that is conflicting with this software and won’t let it be installed,” he remarked.

“So what would you do if this happened in the office?” I pressed.

“We’d re-image your computer.” This meant they would wipe the hard drive clean and reload the operating system software, plus all the other software.

So that will be Jacob’s next task.


Monday, February 11, 2008

Snow day!

Or to be more exact, it's a cold-weather day, a day when the temperatures are so low (10° F or -12° C) and the winds so high that there is the risk of being frostbitten if outside too long. The danger is mostly to kids who walk to school, but even those who wait for the school bus, like my two daughters, are also in danger.

So it's a no school day for the girls, a homeschool day for Jacob, and a workday for me at the office while I try to sort out my technical computer issues at home.

But how will Jacob do with all his tenth grade materials while the girls are both home and underfoot? I gave the girls a list of chores and modified Jacob’s assignments to accommodate this unexpected change in the day. Instead of having him watch half a video for Global History (Sergeant York about WWI), I told him to watch the entire video with the girls. They would learn from it, too, even if this isn’t the current topic they are covering in their Social Studies classes.

At school they supplement a lot of the learning with videos. I perpetually hear Larissa talking about videos that she sees in her seventh grade science class, for example, or in Social Studies. These teachers have years of teaching experience and are aware of resources that I know nothing about. Based on conversations around the supper table, I know that Larissa learns about Siamese twins, weight gain due to genetic defects, and all sorts of other things in the videos that her teacher shows. The teacher is a Christian, so I trust her judgment.

I learned about the Sergeant York movie from Nita. I had called her Friday night to ask whether she knew of anything I could use to supplement the Global History I was teaching Jacob. Just reading from a textbook day after day seemed to be too dry, even though my girls both chimed in that history is interesting, and Jacob said that the book isn’t bad. Nita just happens to be teaching her kids about the same time segment in history – from World War I to modern days – and she did have some suggestions. Her son had recently read two books (The Yanks Are Coming: The United States in the First World War by Albert Marrin, and Life in the Trenches by Stephen Currie) about World War I as well as seen the Sergeant York video. “There isn’t that much out about the First World War, but when you get to the Second World War, there is no lack of material about that!” Nita said. I may, in fact, go lightly on the Second World War, which I know Jacob has already covered in school, and focus more on Communism in the world at that time, or study Cambodia and the horror of the killing fields there. This is one of the appeals of homeschooling - modifying the materials that are covered.

Every once in a while, I have to give myself a pep talk and convince myself that I’m doing all right, that I will get through this homeschooling without damaging my child or cheating him of a “real” education.

Even though we are just starting this journey, it already seems like a long, hard trip. Will it ever get easier?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Starting week 3

It's hard to believe that we've been homeschooling Jacob for two weeks already. I'm still frazzled, wondering whether I'm doing a fraction as good a job as the public schools. I'm juggling all these subjects, assigning him reading, checking the workbook or answers to questions I've had him answer to know whether he's readling his textbooks and to help him learn the material.

Still, it doesn't seem like enough.

In my mind, I can imagine this ideal situation where the mother (me, for example) prepares all the material in advance, reads it herself, finds supplemental videos on the topic to broaden the range of the subject, goes to relevant museum exhibits or field trips, adds all these extras so that the student is not only interested in the various subjects, but gets a really broad and in-depth exposure.

Yet I'm still trying to work full-time as well as organize Jacob's day. And that is a really sore subject.

I got DSL into the house only ten days ago. I hadn't upgraded from a phone connection for the Internet because I didn't spend that much time online at home, and because the slowness of the line ensured that the kids, especially Jacob, would be too frustrated with the snail-like speed of the connection to spend much time on the Internet. This worked fairly well. But when I requested to work from home part of the time for my employer, I knew I had to have a high-speed connection. I have to log right into the corporate server to do my work.

I was thrilled with the new DSL Internet connection - until Jacob blew away the computer with a virus last week. When I got the computer back, the Internet connection worked that evening. But not the next day. What was going on? I called the Internet service provider, then had Jacob speak the "technical-ese" with him. But the tech support guy said it was not his company's problem; call Dell, the computer manufacturer. But my son said that Dell wasn't at fault. So Jacob downloaded the network driver for the Internet connection from Intel using my still-functioning laptop, uninstalled the old network driver, installed the new one (which was the same as the old) and lo and behold, the Internet connection worked! I even sent out an email to a blogging friend.

But this morning, the Internet connection did not work again on my desktop computer. Nor was this issue fixed by uninstalling and reinstalling the driver. My son was stumped, and once again, I have my hand tied behind my back as far as trying to work and teach. I didn't even load any of the company software on the computer. What was the point of trying to connect to the company server via secure connections through the Internet when I couldn't even get to the Internet?

I am very demoralized, and don't know where to turn for help, other than to pray for a miracle. Meanwhile, Jacob is STILL going to have to teach himself. And I don't like that. It's just not fair to him. But what can I do?

Friday, February 8, 2008


That's how much Jacob's transgression cost him.

The computer repair shop worked two days to clean the hard drive of the nasty virus Jacob downloaded, but failed. In the end, they simply wiped away everything on the drive and reloaded the operating system. Fortunately, it was a new computer with little on the hard drive, other than programs. And Jacob did back up the files, such as his homeschooling assignments, as soon as he realized that he had corrupted the computer.

It would have cost less to simply buy a new hard drive," Jacob bewailed when I told him the cost of repair, which he is paying. He knows how to install these hard drives since he built his own computer. But did it make sense to hand over repair to the one who broke it? And who knew just how nasty a bug he downloaded? I would not have guessed it would be that expensive to repair.

It was creepy," Jacob admitted to me when describing the virus. "When I tried to delete it, it would reappear somewhere else."

It used a jpeg image as the fake background and would have you click somewhere... But you couldn't get rid of it. Very interesting. Never saw anything like it," said the technician in the repair shop. All those attempts to clean were costly, more costly than replacement. But Jacob needed this expensive lesson in disobedience. I hope that he regrets what he did, not regrets getting caught.

I finally got all the software I need to connect from my home PC to the corporate servers, plus the SecurID that changes numbers every minute or so. The Internet isn't the safe playground that my son thought it was; it's trench warfare out there, and companies (as well as people) are doing their best to protect their intellectual assets. Why does it have to be this way?

Wednesday, February 6, 2008


When I called Jacob at lunchtime, I knew by the tone of his voice that something was drastically wrong.

Unfortunately, I was still in my corporate office, writing instructions and battling unknown powers to get the security key and connection software I need to load on my home computer so I can connect to the corporate servers and work from home in the mornings. Because requests must now go through the company intranet, I don’t even have a phone number to call to expedite this process or to complain about their non-response to my request. I faxed my request again today. However, I’m still working at the office in the daytime – but Jacob is at home. Alone. Still. And my husband is away. Still.

And that is not good, not good at all.

Jacob is supposed to be homeschooling himself, so to speak. He doesn’t need me to give him specific instructions or to lecture him on a subject. All the materials he needs to complete his schoolwork are right there at home, right on the dining room table, which has been taken over by books and papers and pencils. I thought I was giving him the right amount of work – something from Biology, Global History, a vocabulary exercise, a chapter of the book to read, CBS questions, reading aloud (something he has to learn to do with feeling), piano… Then there would be the Geometry class in the afternoon and Spanish after that with Nita. I thought he wouldn’t have time to goof off. But a teenager home alone? I should have known better.

When I called to tell him what time Nita would pick him up to take him to the homeschooling center, his voice gave him away.

“What’s wrong?” I asked. “What is it?”

He came right out with it. “I broke your computer.”

“What do you mean you ‘broke’ it? What did you do?”

He sheepishly told me that he had gotten on the Internet to download a patch to a screensaver that was on the computer – a fancy screensaver that I had told him to remove from my computer. MY computer. Yes, I’m possessive; he has his own computer. It’s just that my computer is newer, faster, has a flat-panel screen, and is pretty cool. His computer is old. Frumpy. He built it himself, but of old parts.

But MY computer is supposed to be used for work. Downloading ANYTHING to my computer was verboten. Strictly off limits. Not allowed without my permission. Ever. There are viruses out there!! But when I warned Jacob of viruses in the past, he dismissed my warnings as the hysterical paranoia of a middle-aged mom. Why, there’s cool stuff out there! And he knows the sites where to get it. But when he found his little patch to “fix” the screensaver that was not supposed to be on my computer in the first place, he downloaded a virus right along with his little “patch.” A virus that simply froze up my system. A virus or spyware or something that didn’t allow him to do anything at all on my computer – the computer he wasn’t allowed to use while I was away, wasn’t to touch at all while homeschooling himself, wasn’t to download anything to, and wasn’t to have that screensaver on.

And then he spent another hour and a half trying to fix his error – all while he was supposed to be doing Global History or English! Obviously I hadn’t given him enough work, put enough pressure on him, or put the fear of God in him.

Jacob knew, because he was with me when we were setting up the computer, that we hadn’t loaded any virus protection software on the computer yet. I was supposed to do that yesterday, but, hey, with working full-time, correcting assignments, and developing the next day’s curriculum schedule, it had slipped my mind. I had a large note on the kitchen cabinet reminding me to do that tonight.

So when I heard that Jacob had trashed the system with a virus, I was angry. Very, very angry. But the anger had more to do with the breach of trust than with a broken computer. I really believed that Jacob would stay away from my computer as I’d asked him to do. I didn’t password protect it or lock the door to my home office. And both ideas had occurred to me. No, I thought, I’ve raised this young man in a Christian home with Christian values. I believe in him. I trust that he’ll do the right thing, that he’ll be obedient. But he did something that I specifically and explicitly forbade him to do. Any parent knows how much that hurts. The computer can be fixed or replaced; the broken trust cannot be easily repaired.

So I left my uneaten lunch in my office, drove home through the freezing rain, and took my computer to a computer repair shop.

I just wish I could repair the broken trust as easily.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Do you have enough food for your family?

It was just another letter from World Vision, a correspondence from the child we had sponsored in Zimbabwe for the last decade. I barely glanced at the envelope, despite its interesting foreign stamp. Later, I thought. I'll read the letter later. It's just a Christmas greeting.

So I put it off. I was busy - busy buying all these schoolbooks for Jacob, busy writing out lesson plans, busy trying to get my printer to work (it won't print in black, only in colored ink), busy grocery shopping and cooking and washing up. You know - busy the American way.

But last night for some reason I picked up the letter and read it:

Dear Sponsor

I am glad to have this chance to write you. How are you my dear friend? I am fine here. My friends and family here are all fine.

There was little rain last season. Plants and animals are dying. Do you have enough food for your family? We are about to plough our fields. We pray that God may give us enough rain.

I am happy and thankful for the help you give me, my family and community. The school has text books and sewing machines. We have toilets and boreholes for good health.

Thank you we love and pray for you. God bless you.

Loving friend


I stared at the letter, the neat strokes of the blue ballpoint pen, the words written in English. I remember when this boy made only squiggles of colors on the paper before he went to school. I could imagine the World Vision workers in Africa urging this child to scribble something, and the young toddler's hand still unaccustomed to a writing utensil (unlike our kids who doodle and color from two years of age) concentrating, trying to make a mark. And that's all they were back then, just marks on the paper.

Now, in polite words, this teenager tells me he is "fine." But he is not. He is far from fine. He gives it away in the second paragraph:

Do you have enough food for your family?

Who in America asks such a question? Who, other than a hungry person, a person who wonders where the next meal will come from, asks whether you have food? He obviously does not have enough food in his family. After all, he just wrote me that there was little rain, and that plants and animals are dying!

Why am I writing about our sponsored Zimbabwean child under homeschooling? That should be plain: Because when I educate my own children, this is exactly the type of thing I want to teach them. I want them to know that there are hungry people, not in an abstract sense, but because we have a personal connection to those people - and personal responsibility to help. I want my children to ache with compassion, and to be called do something to change the world. The only way I know to make them compassionate adults is to share these letters, to find more information about the crumbling structure of Zimbabwe, to tell them about the 70% unemployment in the country, to stress the daily hardships that the people live with. A personal connection through this child brings it home so much more than an abstract news report. Better yet would be to go there. Although I haven't been to Zimbabwe, I've visited homes with starving children in Kenya, I've experienced the Ethiopian street children in Addis Ababa, I've been staggered by the poverty of Calcutta, and I’ve seen how little one actually needs to live when visiting nomads in Senegal. I've had my heart broken again and again, and I compare what I’ve seen with the opulence of our homes in North America. I share these personal tales with my children. I want to convey to my children that each us of has a personal responsibility to share our resources, to help, to pray, to reach out. With God's grace, I'll actually take my children on a “field trip” to Africa or India so their own hearts will be broken. Nothing can replace personal experience. I'm already praying about that for next year.

This is what homeschooling is to me.

I sat on the edge of Jacob’s bed last night and read him the letter before tucking him in.
What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.”
— Albert Pike, Scottish Rite Freemason (1809-1891)