Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Jumping to the Big Van

I am a card carrying member of the society of large families who drive a Big Van. I'm going to talk a little bit about my journey into Big-Van-dom.

I am a little car person. My first car was a Jetta. Then I had a series of three Toyota Corollas. Then we bought a Nissan Versa. I love little cars. They are nimble. They are cheap. They are good on gas- what more could you want?

In 2011 when I was pregnant with my third child, we made the jump from the little car to the minivan. There was no way that three car seats would fit across the back of the little car- it was time for the minivan. I had flown out to New Jersey when a friend had an emergency. I bought our first minivan because we needed to buy a minivan anyway and I needed a way to get around New Jersey. I bought our 2003 Ford Windstar in New Jersey, used it the duration of my trip, and then drove it back to Colorado. Oh, I loved that minivan! In July of 2013, when I was pregnant with my fifth child, a drunk driver crashed into us and totaled my Windstar. We were all OK- the Windstar did exactly as it was supposed to do- it kept us safe.

We replaced the Windstar with a 2005 "short" Chrysler Town & Country. The Town & Country served us well for a few years. We gradually started putting money into it, first a little bit and then a lot. I was a strict believer in not having car payments, but with over $5000 in mechanic bills in one year, and being stuck on the side of the road too many times to count, saving money by not having car payments was actually costing us money. We were planning a road trip to Florida, and our Town & Country broke just a month before the trip. It sat the mechanic in a coma for nearly a year.We finally got it back on the road just last month after too much money than I'd like to admit.

Jumping to the Big Van was a tough decision. We are a family of 8. We fit in some minivans and I suppose would fit in some SUVs. We were enjoying the better fuel economy of a minivan compared to a Big Van, especially since we drive so much. We were not enjoying having just barely enough room for our family with every seat taken up. We decided to make that jump and get the Big Van.

We decided against a large SUV because we wouldn't have any extra passenger space should we have to take another family member with us. The cost was significantly higher. The fuel economy was equivalent. Other than looking cool, there seemed no significant advantage to having a large SUV over a Big Van.
This is not my minivan, but it's one similar. We were at the Costco
in Aurora and I was impressed with the size difference between
my Big Van and a minivan.

We are so grateful for the extra room in our Big Van. I love that we no longer have to think about space. I love that I can spread the kids out so that they fight less. I am really grateful for our Big Van. We have driven the Big Van over 40,000 in the year that we've had it. We have taken our minivan to Florida and New Jersey twice each during three trips. When my son was in a wheelchair after his Florida surgery, the Big Van didn't even blink at holding the wheelchair, the walker, shower stool, and all the road trip stuff. With the minivan, even a trip to Costco was a game of Jenga.

Comparing the Minivan with the Big Van
Now that I have our minivan back on the road and we have the big van also, I would like to share with you the pros and cons of both, comparing the minivan and the Big Van:
The minivan is inconspicuous. The minivan looks normal even thoughmy minivan that has a lot of hail damage and "character". In the Big Van, there is no doubt in who you are. Big Vans are white. I'll get to that in a future blog post, but it suffices to say that I hate white as a vehicle color, yet I drive two of them.
Yup, easy to find in parking lots. 
The Big Van is easy to find in parking lots. Because it literally sticks out so much, there is no forgetting where you parked- just look and you'll see it easily.
The minivan is more intimate. I can see and hear all my kids in the minivan. There's no guess at what's going on in the back or literally shouting over the little ones in the middle and road noise.
The Big Van allows the children to spread out. I find they fight less if they are further away from each other.
The minivan is easily able to navigate a parking lot or Manhattan or whatever else life has in store. The Big Van is big, clumsy, and doesn't fit into parking spots, parking lots, or anywhere else.
The parking garage clearance
is too low for my Big Van at
Presbyterian St. Luke's Hospital
in Denver. Who knew St. Luke
was a Presbyterian?
The Big Van holds gear for our family of 8. Last fall, we drove 1900 miles each way to Florida for my son to have a complicated orthopedic surgery that he could literally get no where else This surgery saved his leg from amputation. We were gone a month. We stopped by New Jersey for a quick visit "on our way" home. We had to pack for two different temperature ranges. We had to pack school stuff. We had to pack my son's wheelchair, walker, and shower chair. We packed our crockpot and food for the road. Our Big Van literally had room for everything without even blinking. The minivan can barely handle a trip to Costco. Our Big Van can even tow or hold hundreds of pounds of farmers market goods without blinking.
The minivan is more fuel efficient. Our 2015 Big Van gets about 18 mpg. Our 2005 minivan gets about 21 mpg. Our 1995 Big Van gets about 13 mpg. The fuel difference is huge.
Here is my minivan in Manhattan in 2016,
on our way to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Notice the doors on the left.
The minivan is actually a family vehicle. It's designed for an actual family. It has tons of cupholders. When you call for a service appointment, the dealer doesn't automatically ask what company you're with. Dealers actually know about it. They don't look at you like you have ten heads when you tell them that you want to buy it.
The minivan has a sliding door on both sides. If we go to downtown Denver and park on a one way
street on the left side, it is so wonderful to get the children out on the sidewalk-side. I can have the children get out of the van on whatever side I want or even both sides. Having doors on two sides is a great convenience. I really don't know why a vehicle for ten rear passengers has one door and a vehicle for five rear passengers has two doors.

My daughter by our old Big Van.
We've had the 1995 Clubwagon for
five years I think. It has served us well.

Monday, October 29, 2018

I Wanted to Like Alexa and Katie

When I logged into Netflix and it showed previews of a new Netflix series, I was originally excited about it. Alexa and Katie chronicled the adventures of two teenage girls who are best friends, next door neighbors and high school freshmen. Alexa has leukemia.

I never remember any sitcom addressing childhood cancer and this is why I was excited. My son who is battling his brain tumor and spine tumor is now seven. Even though there are numerous differences with him being a boy, a lot younger, and having a different type of cancer, I know enough to recognize the unrealistic portrayal on Alexa and Katie. Here is why Alexa and Katie misses the mark:

Alexa does not have a port. Alexa wears plenty of tank tops. If she had a port, it would probably show with her clothing choices. She is so worried about her classmates finding out about her cancer diagnosis and if she was had a port, she would be worried about her port showing, because it would show and be a dead give away that she has cancer. Receiving chemo like she does, she would need a port, no doubt.
Screen Shot 2018-04-02 at 19.08.12

Alexa is often by herself  or with Katie in the cancer ward. Do they let children receive chemo treatments without their parents there? How does she get to the hospital? I have never seen a teenager receiving their chemo by themselves. Never.

Alexa's parents do not face her battle realistically. Yes, it shows how her mother won't punish her and how her mother switches to working from home to spend more time with Alexa. But everything else is a joke. As a mom of a cancer patient, I actually find this insulting.

Alexa's father is an idiot. I don't understand how come these types of sitcoms seem to think dads are stupid. Alexa's father is not a leader, he's not even a good dad. He says some lines now and then to get some laugh tracks, but it's all so disappointing.

Katie shaves her head to show solidarity with Alexa, yet her hair doesn't grow back. As time progresses, she would at least have her hair growing back.

Alexa still has eyebrows and eyelashes. Chemo that causes hair loss on the head would most likely cause hair loss everywhere.

Alexa and Katie lie, deceive, and smart-off. This is not funny. Their lies get laugh tracks. They could be used as a plot device to teach a moral lesson, but they do not. They lie. They get rewarded by a laugh track. What kind of morals does that teach to our children? Is lying a virtue to teach our little ones?

I wanted to watch and like Alexa and Katie. I really did. It's just too unrealistic. I worry that it might actually harm efforts to get more research funding for pediatric cancer because it makes a joke of so much. I also cannot enjoy a show that glorifies lying, which is against our family's moral beliefs.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Free Audiobooks For Homeschool

We homeschool.

Our homeschool curriculum has a big read aloud component. Although I do enjoy reading to my children and we have a vast children's literature library in our home, we don't always have the time to do our read alouds.

Even if your particular curriculum doesn't have a read aloud component, I would suggest that you add it if possible. Read aloud books engage their imaginations. They model sentence structure and vocabulary. Wholesome read alouds fill their imaginations with wholesome images, heroic virtues, and good stories. Paraphrasing a quote from one of my favorite priests, if we don't fill our children's heads with good things, something else or someone else will fill them with bad things. I want my children to be thinking about someone like Mr. Popper having a penguin rather than all the bad things that are so prevalent in our society.

I am busy. I have six children and never run out of laundry. I have too many homestead and home improvement projects to even enumerate. I currently teach five of my six children.

I live in a very rural area. We do not have a cost effective way to obtain groceries and some basic necessities. We do not have access to certain specialized medical care that my children need.  Due to my children's health issues, I make frequent trips to the Denver area, two hours away each way, at least once per week. We spend a lot of time in our Big Van.

This is the radio in our big van.
We maximize our van-time by listening to audiobooks. We get all the benefits of read aloud in a time efficient manner.

Audiobooks can be expensive! Most are around $20 each. We can go through an audiobook in one Denver area trip! I am cheap. I will now talk about how we get our audiobooks and how we spend little or nothing for most of them.

1. LibriVox. LibriVox is a group of volunteers who read out-of-print public domain books. The readers agree that their audio recordings become part of the public domain. You can download them at will. LibriVox quality varies considerably. Some books and narrators are professional or near professional. The majority of LibriVox books are excellent. They have many dramatic readings, where they have a different voice actor for each character in the story. Sometimes the quality isn't the best and the readers have thick accents, their cat is purring as they read, they have microphone issues, a different person reads each chapter, or they lack dramatic flair. But they are free. Free is my favorite price and I am grateful to the good LibriVox volunteers who make these beautiful classic stories available to my family. I have a LibriVox app on my iPhone. I download the book when I have wifi and simply connect the headphone jack into my van's audio system.

2. CloudLibrary. Our local library participates in a consortium of little libraries that together subscribe to CloudLibrary. Although the selection on CloudLibrary isn't very large and the stories are mostly older and out-of-print, the narrations are all professional and beautiful. I have the CloudLibrary app on my iPhone and download the stories when I have wifi. I connect the iPhone to my van's audio system with the headphone jack.

3. Overdrive. I joined a bigger library in the metropolitan area that allows anyone in the state to belong. (It's the Aurora Colorado library in case you live in Colorado and wanted to join, too.) That bigger library belongs to Overdrive. Overdrive is an app that I have downloaded onto my kindle. I can virtually borrow audiobooks that the library owns if no one else has checked it out. (If they do not own it, you can request that they order the book and sometimes they do.) I am able to download the book to my kindle and connect the kindle to my van's audio system. I prefer to use the kindle rather than my phone because if I get a phone call or need directions, we don't have to stop the story- I simply put the back speakers on and shut the front ones off. CloudLibrary and LibriVox apps are not available for the kindle (as of this writing).

4. Hoopla. Hoopla is similar to Overdrive, but they seem to have a bigger selection. I also use my library card membership at that bigger library system to access Hoopla. I also have the Hoopla app on my kindle, download the books when I have wifi, and play them on my van's audio system using the headphone jack.

RBDigital. RBDigital is also similar to Overdrive and Hoopla and they also are an app on my kindle that use with the bigger library system card.

6. The Library. My local library has a decent selection of audiobook cds. They have the Little House series. We do borrow their audiobook cds occasionally and we treasure them.

7. YouTube. We use YouTube when we're at home and have access to wifi. There are some treasures there, like audio versions of old film strips. Don't overlook YouTube.

8. Audible. I don't have a subscription to Audible. I don't need another monthly expense. Audible does sometimes have sales. You can buy a book on Audible without subscribing. Most books are in the $20 range, and I avoid those, but I do pick up good books when I can find them for $5 or less. I watch for Audible sales and I post them on my facebook page. You can join my facebook page here. I will caution you that if you see a good price on Audible, grab it. They sometimes phase out older (i.e. cheaper) audiobook versions in favor of the newer more expensive ones. Ask me how I know.

9. Jim Weiss and Glory Stories. Yes, you have to pay for these cds, but they are worth every penny. Glory Stories feature dramatized Catholic saint stories. Jim Weiss is an extremely talented man who has professionally narrated many classic stories. His cds are excellent. 

This is the radio in our minivan.
I hope these help ideas help you to implement a read aloud component in your homeschool. I really see the benefits of the read alouds in my own children and I'm sure that you will also see the benefits in your own. 

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