Sunday, September 27, 2009

Read Any Good Books Lately?

The Great Gatsby- F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Catcher in the Rye- J.D. Salinger
To Kill a Mockingbird- Harper Lee
Beloved- Toni Morrison
1984- George Orwell
Their Eyes Were Watching God- Zora Neale Hurston
Invisible Man- Ralph Ellison
Gone with the Wind- Margaret Mitchell
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn- Mark Twain
A Separate Peace- John Knowles
The Chocolate War- Robert Cormier
The Giver- Lois Lowry
A Wrinkle in Time- Madeline L'Engle

Do you know what the above books have in common? Aside from all being classics, they all have been frequently challenged and targeted for removal from libraries.

Just look at the list. Can you imagine American culture, literature classes, and libraries without these texts? I certainly don't want to even think about teaching American literature without discussing Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby or Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, two of my all-time favorite novels.

Thankfully, American society does not leave it up to individuals or to the government to determine what should or should not be published. I will freely admit that my husband and I closely monitor the television that our children watch, the music they listen to, the movies they see, and the books they read. As parents, we strongly feel that we, not some amorphous government body, are responsible for teaching them about the world in bits that are not too advanced or mature for their ages. While I am not going to hand Lois Lowry's The Giver to a third grader, I will readily discuss it, with its setting of a dystopian society which manipulates every aspect of its citizens' lives including their sexual desires with my seventh grade daughter, and in high school she and I will also read and discuss Orwell's 1984, which extends the themes of The Giver. Even though I don't support tweens reading books with sexual themes, I certainly believe that we should value all literature and don't support banning books based on my or anyone else's personal opinion.

As a society, we must be willing to openly discuss issues, not cut each other off without calmly sharing our views. I'll never forget witnessing an audience member's reactions to a performance of To Kill a Mockingbird many years ago. You may remember that Harper Lee's classic novel is set in a racist southern society. When I saw the play, an older gentleman became so unsettled by the racist setting in the beginning of the play that he stormed out of the play loudly saying how inappropriate it was. If the gentleman had only stayed, he would have witnessed the play openly address racism. In other words, we can't jump so quickly to personal conclusions about literature that we fail to see the larger themes embraced by the works. While I do not like Twain's use of the n-word in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, I believe that its use in the novel offers an opportunity for readers to ponder the importance of avoiding racially-charged speech.

As Americans, we frequently take our rights for granted. When I taught U.S. History to fifth graders, students were always amazed to learn that many countries do not enjoy the freedoms which are enumerated in our Bill of Rights. Banning books based on a particular person or group's opinion places society on a slippery slope of government intervention and control. While I may not like or agree with some books, music, television shows, or movies, I'd much rather live with them than live in a country which censors its citizens and their freedoms. As Evelyn Beatrice Hall wrote in 1906's The Friends of Voltaire, "I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

September 26th- October 3rd marks Banned Books Week. Celebrate your freedom and our rights as Americans by reading a banned book. For more information about frequently challenged and banned books, check out

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Beautiful You

Please turn up your speakers so you can hear the fabulous song, Jonny Diaz's "More Beautiful You," which inspired this blog.

This song stops me in my tracks every time I hear it because it hits uncomfortably close to home. As a woman and the parent of a tween girl, I constantly think about body image issues- my own and my daughter's.

I admit that I love to eat, and I love to cook. Factor in my lack of enthusiasm for exercise, and you have a weight problem in the making. Regardless of what I constantly tell myself, I'm not overweight (I'm just the size of the average American woman). I do admittedly have many more curves than I once had, but then again weighing 95 pounds at the age of 18 probably wasn't that great either.

Why as women do we constantly obsess about our appearance? I love ice cream and sweets and enjoy indulging in them. Why can I not just enjoy the treats without feeling guilty immediately after. Why do I feel like I should constantly diet because I certainly never stick to it for long? I'll get fed up with staring at the size 6 jeans in my closet (I finally cleaned out the size 4s a year ago) or worry about what so-and-so would think of me if I ran into him/her and go on a health kick for a few weeks, but then my enthusiasm again wanes.

The worst part is the double-edged sword of telling ourselves that as women we wouldn't want to be with people anyway who only cared about the size clothes we wear, but then we continue to obsess about our appearance. I'll go ahead and admit that if I could afford it I would get a mommy makeover complete with boob lift and tummy tuck. As much as I rationally understand that my weight is truly not important, that doesn't even come close to making sense to me emotionally

But as I worry about my own body image, I also think about how my hang-ups influence my twelve-year old daughter. The older she has gotten, the more frequently I hear, "I hate my curly hair. My thighs look like hams. I never tan." Unfortunately, all of a parent's reassurances cannot counteract the cultural message of the thinner the better, the straighter your hair the better, the tanner the better.

But, you know what, every time Johnny Diaz's "More Beautiful You" comes on the radio, I turn it up loudly as a reminder to Curly Girl and myself.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

When Smoky Met Snowball

Since Smoky the feral cat has been home from her forced sterilization last week, our family has been watching her closely. We were curious how she would react to her 24-hour field trip to the Humane Society. Surprisingly, she has still been spending a lot of time hanging out on our porch. I guess it has something to do with the food and water we keep out for her.

We have also been curious how Smoky and Snowball, her son that we rescued, would react if they saw each other. To that end, we have encouraged Snowball to hang out near the front door or his window seat by the front porch. The mother and son first spied each other on Thursday and stared intently at each other for several minutes.

Today, we again opened the wooden front door while Smoky was relaxing on our porch. Remembering that she had previously seen Snowball in the house, Smoky sat patiently and stared through the glass door to the inside of the house.

When we beckoned Snowball to the door, he curiously checked out Smoky while she meowed to him. (Oh how, I would love to know what each cat was thinking.)

Smoky didn't seem upset or agitated by Snowball's status as a house cat. The mother cat even watched patiently as Snowball enjoyed a tummy rub from one of his humans. Smoky definitely seemed more enthralled with Snowball than he was with her. I think that Smoky absolutely recognized Snowball as one of her kittens, but I'm not so certain that Snowball realized that Smoky was anything more than another cat.

Since both Smoky and Snowball seemed to enjoy their interaction, we'll definitely leave the front door open more often so mother and son can communicate some more.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Our Feline Adventure

Our months-long feline adventure seems to have finally come to a close. You may remember that our family began monitoring a family of feral cats in June (

After inadvertently trapping a opossum, (,

a neighbor's cat who didn't seem to care less that he was in a trap on our front porch,

and a stinky, not-so-nice raccoon

we finally caught the feral mother cat which we had been after since June.

Since we have been feeding the female stray for months, we feel obligated to continue caring for her as much as she will let us. Thanks to our local Humane Society's feral spay/ neuter program, we had Smoky spayed and vaccinated for rabies for $35. She has now been released into our yard where we hope she will continue to reside. You may notice that Smoky's right ear has been tipped which allows animal control officers to know that she has been spayed and is being cared for as a feral cat.

Smoky's son, Snowball, which we adopted as a house cat is also doing fabulously well. He weighed a mere 2.5 pounds when we took him in at the end of July.

After much pampering, Snowball now weighs 5 pounds and has evolved into such a loving cat. He constantly follows us around the house and loves being held and cuddled. He was also neutered at the Humane Society this week and, better yet, tested negative for feline leukemia and HIV. A negative test result is such a relief since Snowball's previously risky life in a feral colony concerned us.

We are so thrilled that we didn't listen to the naysayers who told us not to even bother with feral cats. Snowball has turned out to be a great first cat for our family, which previously pledged all of our allegiance to dogs.

I also cannot heap enough praise on the Humane Society. From providing humane traps for us to use, initially handling and reassuring us about Snowball's ability to become a house pet, and for offering affordable ways to spay/ neuter and vaccinate feral animals and pets. Please support your local Humane Society (, as well as other organizations which work to protect animals and prevent abuse.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


I will be attending my 20th high school reunion next month. Reunions, the stress-inducing occasions that they are, can evoke all of a person's high school insecurities, along with feelings of not having enough to show for your twenty years since high school.

In hopes of avoiding those feelings, I'm going to confess that now:

1. I do not look like I did in high school.

I realize that some of you, the women of our class, look fabulous and better than you did in high school, and I am insanely jealous of you. I, however, no longer wear a size 2. I am now the size of the average American woman along with the curves to prove it. As much I would like to drop ten pounds in the next month, I truly doubt that it will happen. I love to eat, but am not particularly passionate about exercise. My curly, blond hair does look similar to how it did in high school. Except now, I have my gray strands masked with a blond rinse which is applied regularly by my hairdresser.

2. I still live in the same area.

Yes, I know, throughout high school I vehemently complained about this area and swore I'd never return. Life and maturity have a way of making us eat our words, though. After college, I accepted a job nearby, and since my husband and I are both from the area we ended up settling here. I even taught at our old middle school and my former elementary school for several years. I do have to admit, though, that the area is a great place to raise kids, and I wouldn't trade my children's relationship with my parents, who live nearby, for anything. Family trumps adventure every time.

3. I am a domestic goddess.

I constantly surprise myself with my level of domesticity, especially since my high school plans involved a jet-setting career devoid of a husband and children. In one of those if-you-want-to-make-God-laugh-tell-him-your-plans moments, I voluntarily and very happily gave up a career to home school my children. I enjoy cooking and love baking bread and sweets. My schedule revolves around my children's activities and appointments. While I am not crafty, I would like to learn how to sew and knit.

4. I have not made any great discoveries or achieved any amazing accomplishments.

I hate to disappoint you, but I will probably not be able to regale you with exciting stories of jet-setting around the globe or struggling up the career ladder. I can fill you in on my first post-college job as a retail buyer when I traveled to Las Vegas several times a year or tell you about my life as an elementary school teacher. I can also discuss home school curriculum with you and tell you about our family's journey to homeschooling. Unless you would like to hear about the raccoon, opossum, and neighbor's cat which he have inadvertantly trapped in recent weeks, I will most likely not be the most scintillating conversationalist. In all honesty, my high school reunion will be a more relaxing affair than my college reunion. If you want to feel like an under-achiever, attend a Duke reunion without having a Masters, M.D., Ph.D. M.B.A., or law degree.

5. I am still a nerd.

Some things never change. Yes, I am still a nerd. I frequently prefer books to people. I work part-time from home as a freelance writer of literature guides, curriculum, and test preparation materials. I am better at discussing ideas than telling a joke and prefer sending an e-mail to talking on the phone. I will most likely not work the room and chat with everyone at the reunion- not because I am stuck-up or don't care to talk to you, but because I am painfully shy and never quite know what to say when engaging in small talk.

6. I am content.

If someone had told me in high school that I would be a full-time mom and live in the same area, I would have thought that my life had careened horribly off the tracks somewhere along the way. But that didn't happen, I never would have thought that I could be so content doing the work of raising children, that some people find to be so inconsequential. Apparently, God knew what I needed and brought together all the pieces of my life- husband, career choices, children- to place me where I am today.

Believe it or not, I am actually looking forward to the reunion. I frequently see and keep in touch with several members of our high school class, and Facebook has certainly helped forge reconnections with many others of you. I am thankful that the barriers which divided us in high school are melting away and will, hopefully, be replaced by more adult-like acceptance and compassion. I do think that will occur. Adult responsiblities and maturity having a way of putting our lives into perspective.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

I Know I'm Getting Old When . . .

I'm 38, which I know isn't exactly over the hill, but lately I have felt my age

because . . .

The music that I grew up with is now considered classic or retro. I hope you're enjoying listening to some of the hits from 1971, the year I was born.

I have some gray hair which, of course, I have colored.

I go to sleep at the time that I went out for the night during college.

I require several cups of caffeine to get going in the morning.

I voluntarily take vitamins, granted they are still Flintstones vitamins, though.

I have aged out of the Young Adult Sunday School class.

I almost always choose price over style, and now shop at stores where I wouldn't have been caught dead ten years ago.

I can easily remember the days before cell phones, internet access, and cable tv.

I did high school debate research using microfiche, a card catalog, and some odd film-like contraption.

I remember the early days of MTV when they actually played music videos.

I think about what body parts will ache the day after I exercise or try some new physical activity.

I usually take at least one Tylenol or Aleve before lunch.

I wear reading glasses.

I am happy to be past the spit-up and diaper-changing phases, and no longer gaze longingly at babies.

I have body parts that will most likely never return to the shape or size which they previously were.

I now understand why women get body parts nipped, tucked, and lifted.

My oldest child, Curly Girl, is almost a teenager.

When I took Curly Girl shopping this past weekend, I actually thought, "I can't believe what kids wear these days." This coming from the person who wore pink Converse high-tops and ripped jeans with the names of bands written all over them in high school.

Clothes that were in-style in high school during the late '80s have come back around. Vans, OP, and neon weren't that great originally. Did they really need to come back in style?

I am going to attend my 20th high school reunion next month. It can't possibly have been 20 years. It certainly doesn't seem like that long ago.

. . . but perhaps my memory and sense of time are going with age, too.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Bargain Shopper

I'm not a shopper. It never occurs to me to go to the mall for entertainment which is very amusing considering I worked for a large retail clothing chain for the first five years after I graduated from college. I worked in store management for a year and a half and in the buying office the remainder of the time. Going to fashion shows and shopping for a living was enjoyable at the time, and you certainly haven't lived until you trek to Las Vegas with a group of male co-workers who have a variety of sexual preferences- too fun and too many stories to tell.

I believe my retail buyer experiences contributed to my current predilection as a bargain shopper, though. After seeing how much mark-up occurs in clothing and knowing that items are marked up just so they can still be profitably marked down, I just can't justify spending too much money on retail items, especially for children who are still growing.

Lest you think I'm Saint Frugal, I certainly am not. I much prefer to spend money on experiences rather than things. I love going out to eat and feel deprived if I don't go out for dinner at least once a week. I also love to travel and think nothing of plunking down money on a nice hotel or activities such as museum admissions or Broadway show tickets.

For the bargain shoppers among you, some of my favorite money-saving stores and websites:

Groceries: Aldi
If you haven't tried Aldi ( yet, you absolutely have to do so. After being introduced to Aldi by a friend last year, I have purchased the majority of my groceries there every week since. This past week, I bought all of our family's groceries, except for about 8 items, for the week for $40.80. That $40 consisted of about 20 items, including 4 pounds of fresh hamburger, 2 boxes of cereal, and 3 gallons of milk. Just a few quirks, aside from the low prices, which differentiate Aldi from your standard grocery store: #1- Most of the items are store brands, but don't worry they taste just as good, if not better, than some name brands. My family especially loves the salsa, whipped yogurt, laundry detergent, and cheeses. My parents adore the $7/ bottle Reisling wine, and some friends have pledged their devotion to the tilapia. #2- You must bring your own bags and bag your own groceries after they have been rung up. Whatever you do, stay out of the cashier's way while he/she is scanning your groceries. At first I was a bit alarmed at the speed at which my fruit and veggies were tossed into the cart alongside the dogfood, so now I place the heavier items on the conveyer belt first and the daintier items on last so they go into the cart in that order. After you pay for your groceries, you take them to the counters along the wall where you bag your groceries yourself. #3- You will need a quarter (not any other combination of coins) to get a cart. Upon arriving at the store, slip your quarter into the slot in the cart. When you return your cart and reconnect it to the cart line, you get your quarter back. If you have kids, they'll love taking care of the quarter for the cart. #4- You can only pay in cash or a debit card. Aldi does not accept credit cards or personal checks.

Teen and Adult Clothes: Plato's Closet
Curly Girl and I visited Plato's Closet today where we purchased four pair of jeans and six tops for $116 which was pretty good considering they were all name-brand items. Plato's Closet ( sells gently-used teen- and non-stodgy-adult-friendly clothing. My mom also picked up a Ralph Lauren cable sweater for $20 and an Old Navy skirt with the tags still on it for $8. The chain is very picky about the items they will sell and will only accept clothing which has been in retail stores within the last year. I also loved that the store was clean, the items were sized and hung by color, too. The store we visited sold goods at second-hand prices, but in a mall-like environment.

Kids' Clothes: Consignment sales
As much as I enjoyed dressing my children in cute outfits when they were younger, I couldn't justify spending $40 outfit which they were going to outgrown in six months. Thank goodness we have some great private and church-sponsored consignment sales in our area where I have purchased almost all of Curly Girl's clothing through elementary school and still buy Car Guy's wardrobe. (For the record, boys' clothes are such a let-down after after all the adorable choices for girls' clothing.)

Books: Edward McKay
Admittedly, I am more likely to purchase a book, instead of clothing, at retail price. If I want to read a particular book, I tend to purchase it with the intent of making it part of our family library which will be read again and again. I do enjoy browsing through Edward McKay Used Book Store (, though, especially when I need to purchase books for the reading lists for the school year. I love that Edward McKay's carries a great selection of classics, as opposed to the Harlequin romance fare of many used book stores, and has a free section where I invariably pick up an item or two.

Also, don't forget about that I talked about in Old Friends, New Loves (

Homeschool curriculum: Rainbow Resource
While Rainbow Resource doesn't fall into the super-bargain category, it does have the best prices and the best selection that I have found for homeschool curriculum. After trading in used curriculum at a local homeschool store and trolling websites for deals (I purchased a pre-algebra textbook for $0.18 on Amazon this year that would have been $60 at the homeschool book fair), I always place an order at Rainbow Resource ( for the other items we will need for the upcoming school year. I love that Rainbow Resource does not charge shipping for orders over $150. They also have an absolutely, fabulous three-inch thick catalog of homeschool curriculum complete with reviews and descriptions of the items. In my opinion, the catalog itself is a must-have reference resource for any homeschooler and is also a great way to learn about the immense amounts of curriculum available to homeschoolers.

So there are my ideas for bargain shopping. Feel free to share any great bargain shopping resources that you adore.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Pilot Mountain

Curly Girl, Car Guy, and I ventured out on our first field trip of the school year yesterday. Going on lots of field trips is on of our favorite aspects of homeschooling. Since I firmly believe that you learn just as much from experiences as you do from books, we try to take about three to four field trips a month.

Yesterday, we trekked around Pilot Mountain (Mt. Pilot for you Andy Griffith Show fans).

After pulling our minivan off Highway 52 and up the mountain, we first took in the view from the overlook. It was a beautiful day, and Curly Girl loved how we could see the earth's curvature from our vantage point.

Next, we struck out on the Little Pinnacle trail, an easy walk which provides a great view of Big Pinnacle.

While on Little Pinnacle Trail, Curly Girl and Car Guy took the time to act like superheroes and mountain lions (At least, Car Guy did. Curly Girl decided that she was too old to transform into a mountain lion.)

Mountain lions always remind me of our family trip to South Dakota two years ago. While exploring Custer State Park, we pointed out a sign to Car Guy, our rambunctious five-year-old at the time, which reminded parents to keep their children nearby since mountain lions may attack unattended small children or pets. From that point on, Car Guy did not leave our sides the remainder of the trip.

Yesterday after checking out Little Pinnacle, Curly Girl, Car Guy, and I hiked around Big Pinnacle, the knob atop Pilot Mountain.

We enjoyed the beautiful early fall weather- warm, but with a hint of coolness in the air. The park was not very crowded, and we loved checking out our surroundings along with all the raptors which were drifting on the air currents around the mountain.

I also adore how homeschooling strengthens our family relationships. Admittedly, we drive each other crazy some days, but I firmly believe that our time spent learning and exploring together will pay off handsomely in the long run.

Lest you worry that Curly Girl and Car Guy didn't engage in any book learning yesterday, don't fret. My children and I read some of Beowulf aloud while we enjoyed our picnic lunch.

We are certainly looking forward to our school year along with everything we will learn and the locales we will explore.