Thursday, June 30, 2011

Starting to Panic

I'm having a negative moment and feel the need to vent. If you have no interest in reading about my stress stop reading now.

I'm feeling resentful that basically from Memorial Day to Labor Day I am not living a typical American life. This entire time has been dedicated to decluttering and downsizing our family's possessions, arranging for home repairs and redecorating then putting our house on the market. I have also found new temporary housing and am prepping the move by packing, then we'll do the actual move.

My kids are doing a fair amount of their regular activities but not everything. My husband has his nose to the grindstone working. Since he is away from us he is not helping with the declutteirng, packing, or home fixing and house prepping for the sale stuff. We are all missing out on vacations and typical travel such as visiting Cape Cod and Maine, where we have the ability to have free vacations.

At present I have been juggling getting the kids to their typical activities which were signed up for and paid for before we knew we were moving. I have to get them here and there all by myself which competes for my time on the rest of the move prep projects. When the kid's don't have appointments I'm juggling normal life (cooking, eating, cleaning the house) with move prep. In basically every spare moment that I'm not running around I am at home working like a dog or making phone calls to contractors and roofers and real estate agents. Since not everything is going smoothly with the workers for the house repairs I have stress from that. The calendar is really full and making sure the meetings with contractors doesn't clash with kid's sports camp or Boy Scout events is tricky.

I am so stressed out from what I'm trying to accomplish here that the things I squeeze in for a mental break and to have some fun feel instantly erased the second I get back to the move prep. While I am grateful for the good things like the fun I had on the Boy Scout family camping trip last weekend it feels like it never happened at all, when in reality, it just ended a few days ago. There are no long lasting effects of the things I am doing to relieve stress. The second I get back to my regular life all the relaxation is erased.

In addition my older son is battling a new case of Lyme Disease (and I think the doctor gave him a wrong medication dose) and this week I have symptoms also (so I am going to the doctor torday). I have had two deer ticks embedded in me this year already so it is quite possible I've gotten Lyme again.

I can't see any way to make this process easier or less stressful for me. I think I'm just going to have to keep going like gangbusters and push through until the actual move date is upon us and then get out of Dodge and get on with the next phase of unpacking our possessions into the rented house.

Another very important thing I am neglecting this summer is making the final plans for my children's 2011-2012 homeschool year. Since my oldest is entering his freshman year of homeschool high school this should be at the top of my priority list.

I feel torn about what we are doing for homeschooling, because in the past I have always had some kind of outside paid activities and tutoring and/or homeschool co-ops. Those provided some of the academic content and some socialization. I had planned to rely on some outside teaching for the high school years. As of right now my kids have no plans to do those "outside of home" things because of the long distance move and me not knowing what options are available.

The rules for the homeschool support groups and the secrecy surrounding what various groups offer for co-ops and classes in the Houston area complicates matters greatly. For example, the group closest to my home requires that I attend an info meeting (held just twice a year, not much flexibility there for new people moving into the area), I must fill out an application, have a face to face interview, sign off on dress codes and other rules about communication and behavior (for myself and my kids), sign up to volunteer for the group, and pay a fee before I can find out what the group is like or how my family may wish to participate in it.

I am at a near panic point about this issue of not being able to find out what is available for my kids in Houston. It is starting to seem like the easiest way to solve the issue is for me to decide to teach everything all by myself at home, then get on with planning how to do that. However that kind of planning takes concerted and concentrated effort and the ability to think clearly. I have none of that right now due to the activities and stress of this move. To further complicate matters most of our homeschool materials are already packed up for the move so I can't get my hands on them to make a plan to use them.

Online classes are an option I know, but the format of instruction used with computer classes is the polar opposite of what works best for my older son with his visual processing disorder (a learning disability). Paying fees and having to deal with doing assignments on time or being online for certain appointment times plus to have a teaching delivery system which is very hard for the student seems nonsensical. If he is to do such classes I will wind up having to help him with the content anyway and I will have to nag about deadlines and the schedule of classes will dictate my schedule and my younger son's schedule.

I am so mentally exhausted from the pressure of having to do so much regarding this move and the home repair from the ice dams that happened this winter and also some redecorating work to prepare the house for sale that I have nothing left over to contemplate homeschool planning.

What date the kids and I actually move is not yet known. I was shocked to find out this week, that the long distance movers are booking 3-5 weeks out right now. But, I can't even do that until I have the in home estimate done and that books out nine days in advance (so I am in that waiting stage today). To secure a move date I am going to have to pick a date, and then rush to get all packed up by then. Having a solid deadline to move will be scary but maybe it will be helpful.

My husband keeps saying that once we move the contents of this house and start to set up life in Texas we can then take family vacations. I honestly don't see how that will work when the free vacation is in Cape Cod and we will be 2000 miles from there and the other free vacation is in Maine which will be 2300 miles from us.

The vision I see which differs from his is that we will move our possessions in the end of July and we will begin unpacking and setting up house until at least mid-August. It seems to me with the extra money we are paying for rental deposits and some new furniture for the different layout of that rental house and the new washer and dryer we'll be buying, that we will not want to or be able to spend money on a fun vacation. In order to have a free place to stay for a summer vacation we'll have to spend over $2K on airfare plus rent a car.

Thus I imagine that we will be stuck at home just with each other and since the homeschool year is not yet planned, I'll use my time and energy in August to plan out the academics for 2011-2012. Meanwhile, not yet having made any friends, my kids will be at each other's throats or begging to just watch TV or play video games 24/7. I fear my kids will be lonely and bored without knowing other kids since Scouting and sports will not have started yet.

I fear I will continue to have trouble breaking into the local homeschooling community since it is so darned hot and humid in Houston that many people leave town for summer vacation. For example I'm already having trouble finding out about Boy Scouting because people are not around to talk to me. Then what will happen is activities for kids will start up in the fall very quickly and since sign-ups for the activities was done last spring the programs will be full and my kids will be locked out.

Going deeper into next year, the way I see it is we will be strapped for cash since we are juggling paying the mortgage and expenses on this house while also renting. In the worst case but very realistic scenario due to depressed real estate market in Fairfield County, Connecticut, I suspect we will have this house on the market for months and months. Thus as the school year goes on and while we are busy doing homeschooling we will feel we need a break, since we dove right from the hectic move into studying, but we will not be able to a vacation since our budget will be too tight.

Can you sense that I'm starting to feel panicked?

If anyone has words of wisdom or advice, I'm listening.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

St. John's Wort with Bee

In Connecticut today, in full sun the SJW is in peak bloom. Those in semi-shade are just starting to bloom.

Photo copyright ChristineMM taken with iphone in Derby, Connecticut on 6/28/11.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Thoughts on Boy Scouting After a Bittersweet Weekend

My sons and I have just returned from the annual Boy Scout Troop year-end family camping "Big Trip". This is the one trip a year that the parents and all siblings are invited to attend. Every other year the focus shifts from a fun trip to an educational trip. This was the fun activity year and we visited the Catamount Ski Resort's High Adventure Park. The Troop told us it was ziplining but in actuality it was a high ropes adventure course with challenging and harrowing activities many feet off the ground with some zip lines in between. The whole thing capped off with a long zipline that zigged and zagged down the mountain. I was one of the brave adults who participated in it, and it was unbelievable. My sons had a blast. I think that each of our self-confidence levels grew.

The rest of the trip was the usual good stuff: sitting around playing board and card games, talking, and lots of laughing. We prepared and ate food and we sat on our butts and just relaxed. Some of us swam in the pool while others played ultimate frisbee.

I tried all weekend not to get upset about moving and leaving all of our friends. Three years ago I carefully selected a Troop for my oldest son to join based on contacts I made while volunteering at Cub Scout day camp and based on the great reputation of this Troop. Not only has it been good for my older son (my younger just joined a few months ago) but I have found that almost all the parents are great people who are more than acquaintences.

Through the family trips and my volunteer work with the Troop, plus the time spent at meetings, since I don't do drop-off's because I live in another town and the ride is too long, I have really gotten to know some of the parents (and Scouts). I have learned things, perhaps most important, I have gotten parenting wisdom about raising boys through puberty and the teen years as well as specific guidance about raising responsible citizens.

One thing that has been cemented in my mind is the importance of shared experiences for forming bonds. Through the good times and the bad or challenging times both the boys and the parents bond and grow closer. While Cub Scouts was a more pampering and entertaining type of experience which seeks to make boys have fun in a "let us entertain you" fashion, Boy Scouting attempts to have good experiences but along the way bad stuff happens. I am not talking about major bad things, nor am I talking about intentional bad stuff, but just the focus on camping with good intentions for fun can result in learning to find fun and gettin through a sopping wet with rain camping weekend or it can mean experiencing a camp-wide evacuation to better shelter during a close thunderstorm.

Much time together without electronic devices that forces kids aged 10-17 to mix together and do things like play a four hour game of Risk or to learn a new card game they didn't know existed is not just fun but leads to other hilarious social experiences. "Do you remember the time..." is a frequently overheard thing at Boy Scout functions. Bonding is further deepened by little things such as nicknames the boys create for each other.

(Actually my son's positive experiences with people of different lifestyles and backgrounds through Scouting have made me think that this is kind of like what can happen in schools with shared experiences and being together so much, which would make school not such a bad thing. In seeing how well my kids have socially navigated Boy Scouting, with both of my kids being well liked and surprisingly, even seeming to be "popular", I now know that my kids could not only survive school but may thrive there, in certain ways.

 However there are distinct differences in the extra-curricular and optional activity of Boy Scouting with its rules and regulations and with at least this Troop's strong leadership and active parenting, the not so optional public schooling with its lower level of supervision and less clear expectations and much less consistent application of rules and discipline.

Not all Troops are created equally so I not only can imagine but know that Scouting experiences are not the same across the board; the same can be true of public and private schools. I am grateful we have the freedom to select our own Troops and that so far we have not chosen the path to just join the Troop at the church we attend or to just join the not good fit for our value system that exists in my town of residence.)

Our Troop is an eclectic one. Although it is chartered through a church, the Scouts come from all walks of life. We have Scouts who are Jewish, various Protestant denominations and Catholics. We have Scouts of various ethnic backgrounds and wealth levels. Some  Scouts come to that suburb from the rougher area of Bridgeport which lacks thriving Boy Scout Troops.

One of my top priorities after moving to Texas will be to find a good Boy Scout Troop to join. I of course want to be close to our home but other than that I am open to options. Scouting is bigger in Texas than in Connecticut, where some boys feel it is nerdy or stupid, and where sports is much more high pressure and frequently done so it conflicts with Scouting more.

(My investigation into sports in the Houston area shows that it is much less Type A and is just not as frequent. For example here travel lacrosse starts at grade K. In grade 4 my son had 5-6 lacrosse activities per week. In the Houston area lacrosee is not in every single town and seems to just start at grade 6 with only 3 nights a week. I've found just three crew rowing clubs in all of the Houston area with only participation in grade 9-12 with restriction to low numbers for participation.)

In just one minute using Google's search engine I found six Boy Scout Troops very close to our new (rented) home. Most are affiliated with churches and one is for homeschooled kids only. Although the fit to be with a Christian homeschool Troop is a natural choice for us, and one I would have only dreamed of previously, now that it is a reality as a choice, it made me think of the good that has come from my sons mixing in with kids from other walks of life through Boy Scouting.

As our family moves toward closing one chapter of our lives with this Troop we are doing everything it offers instead of bowing out due to needing to spend more time packing up and preparing for the move. I want my sons to have more good times with these boys they call their friends before they part ways. In doing these simple Troop things we formerly took for granted like attending the year end picnic and the camping trip we are trying to extract as much of the goodness from it as possible, we're breathing deeply from the proverbial roses as we stop to smell them on our way out.

We are happy to move on to a new adventure in Texas where my husband is already enjoying his new job. I can't wait to be in a place where the economy is thriving, it was so strange for me to see the change last week when I visited the Houston area, leaving the hurting economy and scared people of Connecticut and walking into a place that looks on the surface and feels like things were back at the peak of the economy a few years ago.

I have been asked why the kids and I don't stay living in Connecticut permanently and just let my husband live in Texas and to commute back once or twice a month for a weekend visit. I have been told that if we do that, my kids and I can continue to live the lives we know and love in this place that's been my home for all my life. It has been said that it would be best for the kids to keep all their same friends and to continue with relationships formed at Scouts and sports and through their homeschooling here. The reason we're not choosing to do that is that we are a family who wants to be all together. Staying physically close to friends, doing Scouting with the same Troop, or living in a physical place I love, continuing to garden in the soil I created with the compose we made from our food scraps and other such endeavors is a lower priority than being together as a family. I also think that the move with all of its changes is character building for my kids (and perhaps even for me).

However I have my work cut out for me as I seek to find a new Troop to join. I don't know if what we're walking into is better or worse or just different. I do know that we have really enjoyed our time with our current Troop and that we are all sad to leave them.

As I think back to the fun we've had this last weekend what's really on my mind today, now that I'm home and the body and mind preoccupying activities are over, is how much I will miss our Troop and our lives here. This melancholy that my sons and I feel are signals that this chapter is already in the process of closing (it doesn't close on the day we physically leave for good, it started closing slowly on the first day that my husband accepted the position).

The experiences my family had this weekend were different than the others who were in that other frame of mind of "living life as usual" and "doing the same old thing" which some may be taking for granted. This transition phase is a hard stage to be in because since we are still here and not yet ready to leave, the new and good things about living in Texas have not yet started. We don't really know what to look forward to and the kids and I are all not quite admitting that perhaps some situations we'll be put in may be worse. The only way I can get through this is by holding onto hope and trying to keep an open mind and a good attitude. It's just not always easy, especially when feeling bittersweet.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Check and Check.

I just returned from Houston, having spent five days there with my husband. My kids were left in the care of homeschool family friends. It was the first time I was totally alone with my husband for so long since my oldest who is almost fourteen was born.

We neighborhood shopped and pondered commute times, pros and cons of the different areas. I researched where rowing clubs are and which areas have lacrosse teams. From home and from the Internet, I also tried figuring out what homeschool offerings were in the various areas but that is a bit hard until you have applied and been accepted into the group. I met a Twitter follower of mine (was that brave or what?) and I had fun talking to her and learned more from a private conversation than what the YahooGroups had revealed.

My husband and I met with a real estate agent and she showed us a dozen homes of our choosing. Houses are quite different in Houston compared to what is typical in Connecticut. We got an idea of what we'd like out of a home and a neighborhood but we cannot buy until the Connecticut house has sold.

So, then I went house rental and apartment hunting. Since we are looking for a short term lease our options were limited. I cringe at the idea that this house may sit on the market for a full calendar year and just don't want to think about that reality.

Our goal was to find a rent and secure a lease for a start date in July, hopefully in the general area that we'd also purchase in. The reason is I want my kids to make friends and to start placing some roots and not have to move a half hour away (or more) when it is time to buy a home. The mission was accomplished.

(The downside is where we selected in the end, mostly due to a preference for a safe neighborhood, good neighbors, a clean house and also proximity to the woods will have double the commute time for my husband compared to the area he originally thought he wanted. His new commute is still nothing compared to the Fairfield County suburb to Manhattan commute he has been doing for years. The Houston commute traffic is not unlike the situation in Connecticut actually.)

There is a long story I could tell about this whole adventure but for now I'll just say that in the last week I accomplished two things by going to Houston: I found a general area I think the kids and I would like to live in and we secured a house to rent.

Due to thunderstorms and airport closures due to inclement weather I had a hard time going both ways. Through making a right choice I did avoid that mess at O'Hare where thousands of people were stranded standing up in the terminal though. I'm still a Thinking Mother, you know!

I am so busy with regular life and the move prep that my head is spinning. I haven't gone bananas yet. I'm happy and excited about this new adventure.

Oh, and yes, that Texas economy is booming! I haven't seen life happening like that since the peak of the economy here in Connecticut. The Northeast is a total mess compared to what is happening down in Texas, and honestly, I can't wait to get out of here and down to where a better life can be lived.

I apologize in advance if my blogging is lighter while I am physically and emotionally occupied.

Monday, June 20, 2011

My First Homeschool Support Network

The most supportive and informative support network for me in the pre-homeschooling and early homeschooling years was not an organization of people, it was books! I entered the homeschooling scene just before the Internet took off.

Local libraries do not typically have books about homeschooling so I wound up having to buy books in order to read them. I decided to photograph my homeschool book collection before I culled it to reduce my collection.

Shown here is one half of my desk which has a bookcase that holds books about home education and some about learning issues. There are some autism spectrum books here due to my curiosity and attempt to understand the condition (as my nephew has severe autism and some kids we know are on the spectrum).

When I sit at my computer this is the workstation to my right. When I have needed information or to feel supported or not isolated in our home education journey often all I had to do was look to these shelves and just the spines with their titles reassured me that some people know homeschooling can be fantastic and good for kids. I have read most of these books cover to cover though at one point and some serve as references which I refer to on an as needed basis (so I plan to keep more than half of these books). (Not shown is the other half of my desk which contains books in general education, education reform, and reference materials i.e. book list books. Maybe I'll photograph those soon.) If you are curious to read the spines to see my books, you can double click on the photo and it will enlarge on your screen.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Book Orphans

I've been culling books and have slotted several thousand for donation to area libraries for the annual Friends of the Library fundraiser sales. Sadly, my own town's library is not accepting donations now so I'm giving back to area libraries whose services I have either used or who I bought these used books from in the first place.

My goal is to cut my book collection at least in half. The so-called collection includes books we have used in our home school or ones I thought we'd use but we didn't need due to having an abundance of materials or just not enough time.

I phoned this library to ask about donating and was instructed to please not bring them that day, but the next morning would be fine. I was surprised to see that the books which were packed up filled the entire back of my minivan including where the third row of seats goes. They also filled one passenger seat and floor. The poor minivan was stressed so I drove the speed limit and took all turns and speedbumps carefully out of fear of breaking the axle or wrecking the suspension. As I drove I imagined that my intended good deed may cost us thousands of dollars in minivan repairs!

When I arrived at the library I was told that the donation area was full and awaiting volunteer help to dispurse it to the storage room. I was told there was no place indoors to put my books that was not a fire code violation so was told to leave my books on the curb! We've had rain daily here for what seems like a month so although it was sunny at that moment I was petrified to think that my books may get wrecked.

I breathed deep and let go. My sons and I put the books out on the curb, took some photos (of course) and I said goodbye.

(Don't they look sad on the curb though?)

Some of those stacks are two rows deep!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Boundaries and Letting Go

Someone I know posted on Facebook today about finding boundaries and learning to let go. She recently ended a romantic relationship with a person. Something about her statement implied this boundary learning and letting go is a one time lesson we learn. It prompted me to reply with my own experience:

Since boundaries seem to be different with each person I find this a thing that is ongoing all the time, and not a one time lesson. With each different type of relationship (romantic ones or other types) the path is unique and we must learn a new boundary and how to dissolve them. Depending on the situation with the person it can be a small letting go or a deeper more difficult connection to handle letting go of.

I hear you. Hope you are well.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Chives in My Garden

A single chive blossom in my Connecticut garden, on May 30, 2011. A nice garden stroll was good after a busy day at a Memorial Day picnic and watching my kids march in the parade with their Boy Scout Troop.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Wrapping Up My Boy Scout Volunteer Job

As I write this, I'm offically finished with my Boy Scout volunteer job with this Troop. (I can't believe it.) I have been Advancement Chair for just over two years.

This morning I paused from decluttering and packing in order to prepare the awards for today's last Court of  Honor at the year-end family picnic. There were less than ten awards this time, which is nothing compared to the one hundred plus I handled in April.

When I finished those preparations I went through all my materials and supplies to take out everything that would be passed on to the mother who is taking the job over for me. We met twice in the last two weeks, and she's been fully trained by me including using the online software that our Council requires. She's happy to take on the job and she is confident she can do the job well.

As I wrapped everything up I also was packing everything we needed for the picnic: the chairs, the drinks, and other small preparations. In the few minutes between then and when I'd tell my sons it was time to get in the car I got a little weepy. I'm not stopping this job because I'm burned out or incompetent, I can do it well and I enjoy it. I just have to stop since we're moving out of state.

I love this Troop and am grateful for the experiences that both of my kids have had with this Troop. I also, in my role as parent and volunteer, have gotten to know the parents, especially the people in leadership positions who I've worked with. We've camped together and our two separate weeks at resident camp provided not only lots of laughs but some really bonding experiences. There's nothing like a late night evacuation due to high winds and thunderstorms and being shut into a dining hall with hundreds of Scouts and adults for hours in about a hundred degree humid room to make a memory. Shared negative experiences are perhaps more bonding than shared positive ones. I think that's why Scouting can be so good for boys: when they camp together once a month all kinds of things can and do happen which bring them closer together.

I am sure my older son will make his Eagle rank and it pains me to think that this last and hardest part of his Scout journey will not be with the excellent leaders of this Troop. He'll not be able to do his project here in the community where he's grown up. Also, we will not be here for the Eagle Court of Homor ceremonies of the boys I have seen grow up right in front of my eyes. A handful are months away from finishing their Eagle project and we'll miss it. I'm also disappointed that I'll not make an Eagle Court later this month as I'll be in Houston looking for rental properties and for potential homes to buy hopefully in the near future.

I can't believe we are really moving and leaving everything behind. I have no idea what we are stepping into when we arrive at our new home. I'm worried we'll struggle to make connections with decent people. I'm hoping that Boy Scouts will be one way that my kids make new friends and start to plant roots in Houston.


We had a great time at the family picnic. It was the best weather we've ever had, the rain stayed away and it was overcast and in the 60s, so it was comfortable and not hot nor too humid. I missed my husband and wished he was there, but I was not lonely or bored. People seemed to make an effort to talk to me as they know we're leaving. Our move was a natural topic to discuss. Everyone was so supportive. We had a lot of laughs about things like trying to sell a house, trying to buy a house, renovating houses, and many other topics. We talked about stress and the need for relaxation time and about how we all like to go to Cape Cod and wish we could go there on vacation more often.

My kids had a great time and were so independent. My older son ran for the second highest leadership position (because we thought we'd be here through the end of the year) and he had four people running against him (if he knew that he may not have bothered to have run as the competition was stiff). He didn't win but he didn't seem upset. Our situation has changed since the day of the elections and he probably won't be here to do the job anyway, so it doesn't really matter anyway.

I knew it was coming: that my older son would soon blow up about the move tonight. After such a great day today preceded by a fun sleepover at a friend's house immediately preceded by a daytime visit with another friend, preceeded by a sleepover with a group of kids from homeschool co-op which included being stranded in a severe thunderstorm... I knew he'd reach a crescendo of emotion tonight and he would melt down, not wanting to leave all of this behind. I can't blame him really for feeling those emotions. When he was speaking to my husband on the phone it happened. My husband didn't handle it well as he took personal offense. I look at it differently: that we are all entitled to our emotions and we should be able to communicate and share them (politely). I do not feel that suppression of emotion should be done in an attempt to please some other person (such as covering up the truth and presenting a false face that you think the other person would find more pleasing.

But the fact of the matter is there is nothing that can be done about it, we're moving and that's that. We have good lives and we are making a change that will help us remain in a good place. Really, our situation should not be anything to complain about, it's just what it is: having to move in order to continue working to financially support the family. This is not an uncommon situation for an American family. With that said it is normal to feel sad about leaving everything we know behind.

This evening I'm sad about leaving and worried about what we're stepping into. I hope in the end this is all worth it and that things turn out well when everything is more stable. I can't wait to get back to having ordinary days again. Ordinary days are great days.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

A Bit More on the Connecticut Amazon Associates Termination and Why People Love

Yesterday the Wall Street Journal published an AP article about the internet sales tax and in Connecticut and Arkansas and how it resulted in Amazon terminating Amazon Associate contracts: Amazon Cuts Off Affiliates in Ark., Conn.

Kevin Sullivan, Connecticut's commissioner of revenue services, said the issue at stake is whether online retailers have the same obligation to collect sales tax as other companies that make or broker sales in the state.

I don't understand this statement:

"Kevin Sullivan, Connecticut's commissioner of revenue services, said the issue at stake is whether online retailers have the same obligation to collect sales tax as other companies that make or broker sales in the state."

I'm confused because the referral to Amazon done through a click on a link on my blog is done in cyberspace, it is not done in the physical location of Connecticut; Amazon has no retail store or warehouse in Connecticut. Also, the customer could be from some other state entirely (or from a foreign country) and they have not stepped foot in Connecticut. My blog readers don't know where I live nor should that matter, since the locale of my blog is cyberspace (or would the government say my blog's location is the servers that blogger uses?).

If big box brick and mortar stores such as Barnes & Noble and Borders think that adding a tax to sales will drive more business their way they are sorely mistaken. Management must be in denial over the real issue that customers don't shop in their stores more. I feel the reasons are these:

1. The in-stock inventory at Barnes & Noble and Borders is inadequate for my purchasing needs. They have failed to stock niche books that I buy regularly.

2. Books are perceived as being overpriced at full retail and customers like to get a bargain. Thus, we like discounted prices such as are commonly offered at Amazon.

3. Amazon's artificial intelligence programming is helpful for consumers to find more books they may like. Also, when shopping for one thing, Amazon gives us a peek at another similar item and their marketing technique often works, exposing us to a product we didn't know about and results in increased sales. Brick and mortar stores have no such sales and marketing tool.

In a recent homeschool co-op class I was teaching, the topic of a brainstorming session the 10 and 11 year old's did was "how to get kids to read more". One challenge cited was trouble finding more books in the genre they like or similar to a certain author's other books. Three kids came up with a solution to use to find products that "other customers have bought who liked this product". The kids said they already use the Amazon website for this purpose!

4. The Amazon customer reviews are helpful to Amazon customers and provide more content and critique about books and other products than any B&N or Borders employee can. In my experience, staffers at those stores can struggle with a popular author's name, not knowing who they are or how to spell their name. They have not known popular titles of books. They need to be a bit more knowledgable and more like a librarian, but they are not. The cheerful attitude of a staffer at a special customer service desk does not make up for their ignorance. No human staffer could ever "know" as much as Amazon's artificial intelligence computer program! TiVo is another example of a product that has a great AI program, taking my TV viewing preferences and dislikes into consideration when suggesting other shows I may like to watch. I love AI!

5. has a program for third parties to sell used books. We often can find hard to find or out of print books on Amazon that we can never find after days of in person scouting at used book shops in our georgraphic area. When local retailers fail to provide the product we are looking for we turn to the Internet, plain and simple. When publishers fail to offer in print books that we want we are forced to scout out used editions.

6. It is not cost effective or time efficient for me to drive a distance burning up gas, to get to the bookstore only to find it's not in stock there anyway. They offer to special order it for you but offer no discount and then you have to drive back and spend more money on fuel for that additional errand. Lastly, their delivery times are slower than Amazon's, so why should I special order from a brick and mortar store?
7. Internet shopping at home is comfortable and easy. The stores are open 24/7. I can shop in my pajamas. It is easier for me to shop at home instead of juggling kids while trying to shop in a retail store.

8. By doing internet shopping, I get to avoid being around the great unwashed masses. My visit to Barnes & Noble two weeks ago exposed me to two sick people coughing and hacking right next to me, multiple customer's loud farts while they browsed the stacks, and I was grossed out when a morbidly obese, tattooed, fifty-something woman in a mini-dress and bare legs took off her shoes and put her bare nasty feet up on the coffee table, with her legs spread, no less.

There are many reasons why customers love shopping at home via the internet on, with just one of them being the bonus that we didn't used to get charged a sales tax. There are so many reasons why people love that it befuddles me as to why the management of brick and mortar bookstores cannot see the real picture.

Legislators are not trying to level the playing field by forcing a sales tax on Amazon customers, they are just trying to figure out how to get more money in their pockets because they are too stubborn to work at reducing their over-budget spending. It is harder to cut the spending than to do something to just increase their income. That is a sign that politicians are disconnected from the citizens of America's reality. When Main Street Americans don't have the money to pay for what we want to buy, we have to reduce our spending. Even if we wished our income was higher, we can't always conjure up additional income.

It seems to me that too many American governments are full of spoiled, lazy brats who are over-indulging themselves by overspending. The politicians are cowards who are too scared to do the right thing which would be to make some hard decisions about how to reduce spending in order to have a balanced budget. Our governments need to spend more time thinking about what they do and why, instead of always just trying to figure out how they can squeeze another dime out of taxpayers. Especially in a recession and in times of more than 9% unemployment, the goal should be for governments to reduce spending just as this country's citizens have been doing.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Connecticut Resident Amazon Associates' Contracts Terminated

(Democrat) Govenor Malloy of Connecticut just did something that hurt some Connecticut resident's ability to earn income. I'm one of those people.

So long as I'm a Connecticut resident I am no longer an Amazon Associate, as of right now (thus I am deleting the sidebar link today). When I move to Texas (soon) I will be opening a new Amazon Associates account.

I have always been grateful for my blog readers who link through to Amazon and make purchases as it provided me with my main source of blog income. I was an Associate for six years! I would receive Amazon credit toward purchases I'd make at Amazon. I buy a lot of what we homeschool with at

This new tax has now negatively impacted private citizens from making income. How taking away an individual's ability to earn income is going to help our economy is beyond my understanding.

The new tax and the fallout such as Amazon terminating their contracts with all Connecticut residents is also hurting Connecticut nonprofit organizations who use the Amazon Associate program to fund their organization.

Shame on you Govenor Malloy. When someone accuses you or your party of being anti-business, let this serve as one real-life example.

Below is the notice I received from Amazon yesterday.


For well over a decade, the Amazon Associates Program has worked with thousands of Connecticut residents. Unfortunately, the budget signed by Governor Malloy contains a sales tax provision that compels us to terminate this program for Connecticut-based participants effective immediately. It specifically imposes the collection of taxes from consumers on sales by online retailers - including but not limited to those referred by Connecticut-based affiliates like you - even if those retailers have no physical presence in the state.

We opposed this new tax law because it is unconstitutional and counterproductive. It was supported by big-box retailers, most of which are based outside Connecticut, that seek to harm the affiliate advertising programs of their competitors. Similar legislation in other states has led to job and income losses, and little, if any, new tax revenue. We deeply regret that we must take this action.

As a result of the new law, contracts with all Connecticut residents participating in the Amazon Associates Program will be terminated today, June 10, 2011. Those Connecticut residents will no longer receive advertising fees for sales referred to,, MYHABIT.COM or Please be assured that all qualifying advertising fees earned on or before today, June 10, 2011, will be processed and paid in full in accordance with the regular payment schedule.

You are receiving this email because our records indicate that you are a resident of Connecticut. If you are not currently a resident of Connecticut, or if you are relocating to another state in the near future, you can manage the details of your Associates account here. And if you relocate to another state after June 10, 2011, please contact us for reinstatement into the Amazon Associates Program.

To avoid confusion, we would like to clarify that this development will only impact our ability to offer the Associates Program to Connecticut residents and will not affect their ability to purchase from

We have enjoyed working with you and other Connecticut-based participants in the Amazon Associates Program and, if this situation is rectified, would very much welcome the opportunity to re-open our Associates Program to Connecticut residents.


The Amazon Associates Team"

Thursday, June 09, 2011

1981 Rape Victim Advice

Tonight I was going through a box of saved papers and found a diary of mine from fall of my freshman year in high school, when I was 14 years old.

Here is one thing that shocked me.

November 15, 1981

"We stayed after for Girl Scouts. Officer S.K. (of our town's police department) gave us a lecture about rape and what to do. Summary: go along with the guy. Don't try to punch him, poke him, kick him, or stop him."

If my memory serves me right the advice has since changed. I recall hearing any time we are being attacked, mugged, or attempted to be raped we should scream at the top of our lungs, scream to stop, scream that we're trying to be raped or robbed, scratch, kick, spit, and do anything we can do to try to stop the process of our being victimized.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Plan B for the Move

A real estate agent who we probably will hire is pushing for Plan B for the move. Actually she has two ideas on the table which further complicates matters.

The first plan is that I should pack up and the kids and I should move out by July 1. We should rent an apartment, condo or small home (because that's affordable) in Texas and leave. After we are gone we should replace some carpet and paint some walls and ceilings and do other small home repairs so the house looks closer to perfect. Then list the house and begin showing it.

Although it is said a home with furniture shows better than one without it we have a challenge in that it will be hard for me to live with two messy teens who eat constantly, and keep the litter box cleaned up after two cats, and to live our normal lives while doing the redecorating then later to show the house in great condition. To just move our stuff around in order to paint ceilings will be difficult and more time consuming for the workers. We are trying to beat the clock to get the house on the market ASAP to get a buyer in before the school year starts, which is actually just two and a half months away.

After considering this for almost a week, we have decided we are probably going to do that. If nothing else it gets us back together as a family.

Her second idea involved finding a home on the market to sell and to propose to the buyer that we rent it for a year then if we like it enough and like that area we'd buy it, and not move twice. The challenge with that is that in addition to decluttering and packing and winding up the year-end activities we have I'd have to house shop for something that is 1700 miles away. How does one do that?

Now instead of just decluttering my house to make it look nicer for showing I am also packing. I'm not just packing, I'm making decisions on what to pack to use in an apartment for the next six months (at least) versus what can be put into a storage facility for future use (i.e. the formal dining room furniture, the china, the crystal, extra homeschool books and so forth).

My current challenge is to do a good job with labeling the boxes so I know what is where and whether the box goes to the apartment or into storage.

I have booked a flight to Houston to visit my husband in June (leaving the kids with relatives and friends in Connecticut). I'm going to have four days to house hunt and apartment hunt. I hope to leave with a sense of which Houston area I'd like to live in permanently, based on the appeal of the area visually (i.e. I need trees), garden-potential, commute time and what parks and other things are available.

So, we'll see what happens when I'm in Texas later this month!

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Reducing Homeschool Materials We Own

As part of getting ready to move half way across the country I am getting rid of thousands of books and educational materials. Yes, I said thousands.

The plan is to buy a smaller home than we have now. Here in New England I have a full unfinished basement twice the size of the home I grew up in. That is a lot of free storage. I have many closets and "under the eaves" closets also. Having the room to store things makes it easy to stockpile.

At one point I got confused about what I owned and didn't own so I started an Excel spreadsheet as new things came into our home. When I had extra time I inputted what was on the shelves but I ran out of time and never put it all on the spreadsheet. Still, that spreadsheet totals over 8000 items right now. Also though, as I started to let go of stuff in 2010, I didn't want to take the time to take the items off the spreadsheet. So, the spreadsheet is out of date.

A few years ago I joined and bought a lifetime membership. I log the books into their online database and it is a nice visual presentation and it is a better way to sort than Excel. That has over 3000 items on it, over half of what I own is not there, and I didn't have time to put more in. I mostly just logged new acquisitions. Now that is out of date also as I've not erased the things I've gotten rid of already.

I bought a ton of inexpensive stuff in times when we were house-poor and when the finances were tight due to unemployment or under-employment. Continuing homeschooling was a top priority in our family so getting materials ahead of time for cheap ($1 or less) or free, made sense. Since I have more than one child I was also saving the stuff used with the older son for the younger son. Now that I enjoy teaching at homeschool co-ops I am thinking "maybe I should save that to teach a class at a co-op with" which makes letting go hard, though!

In 2003 a parochial school was closing and they were throwing their library in the trash. The principal was homeschool friendly and invited homeschoolers to take what they wanted. I came home with a van full of just over one thousand free books, mostly nonfiction.

I have rented two tables at a homeschool used curriculum fair being held in about two weeks, and will sell the homeschool curriculum that I think someone may actually want. I'll sell children's living books that others doing classical homeschooling and the Charlotte Mason method will appreciate. I am also going to cull my "how to homeschool" books as with one entering homeschool high school and the other entering sixth grade I don't need this inspiration any longer. I just hope this stuff sells. I'm giving it away for a song, with many books priced at 50 cents or a dollar and with expensive curriculum for sale at bargain prices.

My friend K spent a day here last week trying to help me cull the books. She encouraged me to get rid of any books I got for low prices that I am unsure if we'll ever use in the future. I can re-buy the thing used or new if we need it when that time comes. That pains me to let go of usable stuff but us paying the cost of moving so far away adds a cost to every item.

I'm obviously keeping stuff I plan to use in the next one year. 

Any books I worked hard to acquire that I think we'll use or that we loved in the past or are sentimental will be kept. I'm keeping some picture books of favorite authors, for example, and for now, my collection of out of print Landmark history books and out of print Signature biographies.

I wonder how many books I'll be left with for the move? At this rate it seems I'm getting rid of 60-70% if not 80% of the books we own, which seems both crazy and amazing at the same time.

I'm getting sick of seeing the books, making decisions about the books, packing up and moving around heavy boxes of books.

Between the decluttering of other material possessions and the books, I think I am going have been cured of being a packrat once and for all.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

An Inspirational Piece

Today I am giving a graduation present to a high school graduate. Instead of a typical greeting card I chose a blank card with this piece on the cover. I bought this card over fifteen years ago while still single, I believed it then and I believe it now. It's been sitting in my greeting card box waiting to be used.  I just didn't have anyone to give it to who would appreciate it until today. This politically active and savvy young man thinks along these lines and I know he will love it. I'm glad I found a good fit for this card after all these years.

My Creed
by Dean Alfange

I do not choose to be a common man.

It is my right to be uncommon—if I can. I seek opportunity—not security.

I do not wish to be a kept citizen, humbled and dulled by having the state look after me.

I want to take the calculated risk; to dream and to build, to fail and to succeed.

I refuse to barter incentive for a dole.

I prefer the challenges of life to the guaranteed existence; the thrill of fulfillment to the stale calm of utopia.

I will not trade freedom for beneficence nor my dignity for a handout.

I will never cower before any master nor bend to any threat.

It is my heritage to stand erect, proud and unafraid; to think and act for myself, enjoy the benefit of my creations, and to face the world boldly and say, this I have done.

All this is what it means to be an American.


ATTRIBUTION: DEAN ALFANGE, creed.—Who’s Who in America, 1984–85, vol. 1, p. 42. These words have appeared at the end of his entry in several successive editions.

Originally published in This Week Magazine. Later reprinted in The Reader’s Digest, October 1952, p. 10, and January 1954, p. 122, lacking these words: “I will never cower before any master nor bend to any threat” and “to stand erect, proud and unafraid.”

Friday, June 03, 2011

Looking at Our Home as a House

Earlier this year when the decision was made to sell this house and persue one of two plans to move, I began the process of emotional detachment from this place. Have you read "Under the Tuscan Sun"? (I didn't ask if you saw the (horrid) movie, which I hope you did not, but did you read the book?) I loved the book. I "get" the book.

One thing that surprised me was Frances Mayes' surprise and delight in falling in love with a place for the first time. She happened to have been in mid-life when that happened for her, which puzzled me. I have that same feeling for my hometown that I lived in for the first 28 years of my life and I have it for my mother's birth place in northern Maine which I've visisted at least a hundred times on vacations visiting relatives. I grew up and came of age in Maine just as much as I did as a girl of a Connecticut suburb. I have the attachment to place for Cape Cod, which was my grandmother's birthplace but which I came to know in my adult life mostly through visits to my mother-in-law's vacation home over the last 20 years that I've been with my husband.

I had that love for the first home we bought, not so deep as I have for this place, perhaps as I was at the first house just six years. I had it especially the gardens I designed and planted with my own hands in my first home; it was where I changed my attitude from hating dirt to loving soil and to not giving a hoot about plants to falling in love with gardening. I have it now for this place, for the house itself and the memories made inside it, and for the garden I've planted and the two acres of woods filled with a surprisingly wide variety of trees and wild edible plants and herbal medicine plants and with the many interesting wild creatures. And I love the chimney swifts, my wild pets who nest in my chimneys, sharing this shelter house with us.

It pained me to think of leaving here. It was never our plan to go. But once I knew that it would happen (out of financial necessity, dang that reality of life in America), I started to let go. It was hard to do as there was not yet knowledge of where we were going, I couldn't start to dream of the new place yet, I only had the sense of mourning over leaving here against my will.

The oddest part is trying to imagine looking at our home as just a house, a house as an item on the real estate market. Suddenly I'm thinking not of the lovely morning light that comes through the master bathroom sklylight and how the white oak tree leaves sway in the breeze and cast shadows over all the bathroom's surfaces but of how the counters are just formica and how someone will bitch and moan that they are not good enough for them, wanting granite instead. The jacuzzi tub which I've probably not used enough as I took it for granted is pale gray, gray is one the color I detest, yet I accepted it out of happiness for actually having a big jacuzzi tub to use. Now some potential buyer may bemoan that now the colors in fashion are shades of ecru and brown instead and how will they decorate around the gray? As I look around I see little things I'd not noticed before like a little fleck of paint gone from the dining room's dark red walls. How could I not have noticed that before? Oh, that's right: I was too busy living my life.

Now that my husband has begun a job out of state I am thrilled to move away and have a normal life with employment again. My thoughts have turned to the new life we'll have there. I am focusing on what I can and should get rid of as it's not needed in Texas: thick sweaters, many pairs of gloves and hats, multiple winter coats, and snow shovels. What am I to do with my brand new snowshoes? Due to having less storage space I guess it's time to let go of the kid's homeschool papers and most of their artwork and sculptures and science and craft projects too. Perhaps harder will be to let go of  more items I recently inherited from my grandmothers when they passed on.

Earlier this year I was torn about whether to start seeds growing in my basement for the vegetable and herb garden or not as I didn't know if I'd be living here in the peak of growth season let alone at harvest time. I decided to go on and plant the seeds as if we were here I'd regret not having gone about my normal life.  As I write this the seedlings are on the deck on their last day of being hardened off and are ready to plant in the garden.

Yesterday a real estate agent visited the home and one thing she recommended was I'd have to stop my projects now. She saw cilantro drying on a table and cleavers drying by a fan. She looked at the vegetable garden and suggested that if I didn't have time to weed the paths this summer or if I'm away that I should hire someone to do the weeding. She said the focus of my life right now is to pack up and get this house ready to put on the market and to have it show ready. In order to do that she said I should also pay babystiter type people to drive my sons to their sports and Scout meetings in order to do nothing but pack up, declutter, and clean. That means the projects and all of our family life as I know it would be over.

What I do is who I am, so this feels very strange, especially if it were to go on for months on end. At this point I don't know what date the house will be put up for sale and I don't know when the kids and I are moving to Texas. I cannot stop doing what makes me the person I am! I'm trying to juggle regular life while preparing to move (and it is stressful yet I can't just stop!) We're at the end of the lacrosse season so no, I won't not go watch my son's last tournament with this team, held on the campus of Yale. I won't miss out on the last Scout family camping trip we'll probably ever take. I won't miss the measly last two Scout meetings, I can handle those. I need a more gentle closure to our life here.

As I have been going through the house making changes to the way I have decorated in order to make the house more appealing to buyers it is a slow process of weaning my heart away from this place. The family room tables don't look the same without the family photos on them. The bathroom counter looks artificial being so bare. Maybe those negative feelings and the nagging sense of loss are just part of the process of detachment and weaning? I'll survive I'm sure. It just hurts a bit to go through this, combined with being lonely for my husband, and also to parent my kids through their own sense of mourning and missing their father.

I'm happy that we're leaving here for a good life somewhere else, it's a new chapter in our lives. I hope our new life in Texas is a happy one, and I hope we find a nice new place to live that will be not just a house but a real home. It probably won't be a direct transition, this is turning out to be more of a process than an immediate lifestyle change. Maybe if I knew the date we'd be out of here and starting our new life in Texas this would all be easier to take?

Once again I'm struggling with accepting stressful conditions which have uncertainty for the future, never knowing when they will end. Uncertainty is the hardest thing for me to handle. I hate it. Let me know where I'm going and when and I'll adjust. Living in a state of chaos and limbo for some unknown time going into the future is crazy-making to me. Hopefully some decisions will be made in the next week to firm up a different plan of action.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Plan A for Our Move

This is our plan of attack for the move which I am now calling Plan A.

My husband has already moved 1700 miles away into temporary housing and started work right after being offered the job. That leaved me and the kids back home with all our usual life plans happening (homeschooling, homeschool co-op, Boy Scouts, lacrosse).

I am to juggle homeschool lessons, extra-curriculars for the kids, my normal load of volunteer work and do all the move prep and sell the house. The project also includes some home repair work from water damage from ice dams that hit our area hard this last winter (the claim is still in process and we can't start the work yet). Then the kids and I will pack up everything and move. Buy a house which will be our new Texas home.

Detailed plans include:

I will work by myself to declutter the house. The goal is to lessen the items we own because we will have less storage in our new home due to the different housing situation in that state. We probably will own a smaller home so we won't need all this furniture either. I am to do this work in between all of our normal life stuff.

Working to finalize the insurance claim.

After the claim is finalized, I will hire workers to come in to paint, repair some sheet rock, replace some damaged carpeting and replace some wallpaper, while we are actively living in the house (with the cats too). We may do some extra redecorating to help the house look better for showing for sale.

We may also put a new roof on, that's undecided at this point.

After the roof, I will design and install new gardens for the foundation plantings to finish the landscaping project started last year.

I will work to get the house completely show-ready and cleaned to be spotless for the house to be photographed for the Internet real estate listing and ready for in person open houses and showings.

We will live in the house until it sells which will be a challenge to keep it spotless with sons who are aged 11-13 (who eat about six meals a day).

The plan is to live as normal juggling sleepovers and summer camps and visits with friends and gardening and  throwing birthday parties and everything else.


What's Already Done

At the time I'm writing this I have done major decluttering in the unfinished basement of stored items (but it's not finished yet) and a huge under-the-eaves closet space. I've decluttered my bedroom, the sitting room, the dining room, the kitchen, and all four bathrooms. Still to be done are the kid's bedrooms, the playroom/art studio and the family room. I've done that alone with minor help from my kids.

I have donated multiple truckloads of items to a charity thrift shop, books to a library book sale, and I have thrown away a lot of stuff.

A volunteer has stepped up to take over my Boy Scout Troop volunteer job. I have already begun training her.


The Autumn

Homeschooling will restart right after Labor Day. I don't know if the kids will be living in Connecticut or Texas so I am feeling totally confused about where to sign them up for activities.

In order to establish ourselves in the Texas homeschool community I need to know where we'll be living to see what types of activities are available. I need to have a real Texas address in order to join some homeschool groups and one group I looked into even requires a face to face interview before they'll decide if we can join the group (!). That's even more strict than the telephone interview I already had!


Today a real estate agent proposed a Plan B. I am thinking this over. My husband is flying home for a visit this weekend and we will both meet with her for her to pitch her tactic to him. If we abandon Plan A for Plan B I'll blog to tell you what Plan B is.


I am feeling completely overwhelmed and out of sorts.

Honestly I just want to be together as a family again. This odd living in limbo mode while trying to do major projects while also living our regular pace of life is just not working out.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Poetry I Relate To

While culling books to prepare for our move, I came across Motherhood: Journey Into Love: An Anthology of Poetry edited by Edwina Peterson Cross. It's a publication of Mothers at Home, a print newsletter that I used to subscribe to.

Here are a couple of poems:

Paradox by Kathryn Ahrens

Drops of water pool around the sink,
telltale signs that you parted your own hair today.
Comb in hand, squinting at the mirror,
trying to look like the young man
that nature says you are becoming.

But on the floor are tiny paper soldiers,
poised astride their horses for imaginary battle,
waiting only foryou to call them out with your bugle cry.

An hour ago, you sprawled face down beside their fort,
a general with troops to command.
Our busyness swirled around you, unheeded.

Now one last look, a final touch,
and out the door.
Your jaunty walk says teenager,
but it's my little boy that wildly waves good-bye.

Nearly Thireen by Gayle Blair Urban

Needing me,
but not sure
how to show it,
losing him
but now sure if
he knows it...
our dance of independence
still plays on.

Open Door by Vicky Vincent

Your childhood is leaving quickly
through the cracks
in your voice.
I gather what I can:
snapshots, hairclippings, artwork.
You sleep sprawled out
on the bed that used to swallow you
I sign a prayer into your dreams,
cover the feet
that will walk out my door
and long,
even now
for their return.


No, I can't let go of this book yet it speaks to me. This book is a keeper that I'm taking to Texas.