Monday, July 13, 2009

Ecosmart Pool REDEEMED!

I blogged a few months ago about my Ecosmart pool. I was super happy with it, but then someone asked me for an update, and I was really upset with the struggle I was having. I was really thinking there was something wrong with the product.

The short story is that was not the case! It took some digging for their wonderful support people to help me uncover the issue, but we are back on track and loving it!

Here is the fuller story.

This is our first pool. Neither of us have any pool experience so it's been a steep learning curve. Couple that with trying to learn a unique system so the advice at the pool store when we're picking up products is confusing, and, well, you can see it's hard on a newbie. At first, I was calling them up quite a bit. We had stopped using a pool service when we bought the house and it took me a few weeks at least to decide on the Ecosmart system. So by the time we got it, the pool was pretty green. After a few miraculous phone calls and trips to the pool supply store, it was back to stunning blue and ran smoothly the rest of the first year.

Over the winter, we got tired of paying for the pool pump so we stopped running it. We figured that the pool could recover from being a swamp.

Not really.

We tested and had a few phone sessions with their support and it appeared we were getting somewhere. We had a blue pool three times. Each time, it cost us at least $60 in products. And each time, it started going green again within a day. It never tested algae free and we never got the numbers right.

The last guy we spoke with said to start diluting the water because the copper levels were too high. Now, I don't know how you're supposed to drain a pool. Maybe you're supposed to go rent a pump from the pool supply store. I just went the cheapie route. For a few days, I continued to run the pump while refilling the pool and draining off the top few inches. I had to dig up the drain line and attach a hose to it so I could drain it to different places each time. After no progress, it occurred to me to turn off the pump, put the hose to the bottom, and let the water be stagnent, only draining off undiluted water from the top. This went on a few more days and when I thought I saw the color start to get lighter, I started up the pump again.

The next day, the water was clear! Still green, but clear!

The next day, aqua!

The third day, blue! Crystal clear beautiful blue!

And we added no chemicals. We have been sweeping it and scooping out debris. We feel like we are finally getting a handle on the pool monster.

Next year, I think we may do this by design. I'm going to ask them what they think. I'd rather spend a week draining off and replacing the green swamp than running the pump and testing all winter. Emptying the basket in the cold is particularly nasty. It's warm enough here that we don't close down the pool but cold enough that we have many nights below freezing.

Anyway, I'm thrilled with this system, again, and my husband is so happy with me.

I recently read this book that has helped me understand basic pool maintenance. According to that book, you need to shock your pool every 2 weeks and put chemicals in weekly. I could be wrong, but I think we won't have to do all that. We shall see!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Ecosmarte Pool

I've been meaning to write up some information about my Ecosmarte Pool system. We installed the system about 6 months ago and have been very pleased with it. There was so little information available when we were researching alternatives to chlorine, I thought I'd write up what I've learned.

It was not that easy to even decide what we should do as an alternative to chlorine. With all the rushing around with buying a new house, learning about pools was just one more thing to research and one more expense we didn't want. Neither of us knew anything at all about swimming pool maintenance. So I'm going to include everything we've learned about running a pool.

There are, as far as I was able to find, only a few alternatives to chlorine. And in the USA, other than salt, we could not really find any information at all. I could find very little about what was wrong with chlorine. Some of my information came from the conversation on Dr. Mercola's website. He is very against chlorine but the system he does recommend simply hasn't caught on in the USA yet. And salt has two issues. First, a salt system is simply another way of generating chlorine. Since it is generated all the time, I guess the levels are as low as possible. Be that as it may, I don't understand paying all the money to convert only to still have chlorine. The other issue with salt is that it can eat away your pipes when retrofitted to an existing pool. I guess it might be okay with a new pool installation. Well, anyway, I prefer swimming in fresh water, so I was thrilled when I came to the Ecosmart website.

To be honest, the information on the website didn't really make a lot of sense to me. I could not understand how it "worked". But keep in mind that I didn't know the first thing about pools and the water in them, so perhaps to someone with more pool background, it makes better sense? Personally, I think they should explain a bit more to the pool newbie. I'll try to do that here in case anyone reading this is totally green like we were.

I had Ecosmarte send me some information, which left me still baffled, but at least convinced I was dealing with a real company. It's something about copper.

Okay, I didn't even know that the water in my pool has been there for years. New water doesn't come in and old water doesn't go out. Well, that's not strictly true, but that is the basic idea. You're dealing with water that could be years old. We accidentally had a leak once when my daughter picked off a patch we didn't know about, and then remembered to tell us a few weeks later while we scratched our heads about the dropping water level. That time, we refilled with water from the hose. And rain likes to fill our pool, especially during the rainy season. That is a huge issue here in Florida, and one I'll be talking about more. Besides leaks, water leaves via evaporation and when you backwash, something else I'll talk more about later when I go over pool maintenance.

Okay, so other than those ways of water coming and going, you're dealing with the same old water which is getting cycled by your pump through your filter and back into the pool for however many hours a day. In general, we run the pump 8-12 hours a day. If we can figure it all out and keep the water clear and clean, I'd like to run the pump for 8 hours. We've run it as much as 24 hours a day for a 48 hour period when trying to fix an issue. We also run the Ecosmarte thingy for some hours while the pump is running. It can be run in one of a few modes. There are so many parts of copper in the water When that gets too low, we run it in a mode that adds copper. The rest of the time, it's either in oxidize mode, or off. I have a bit more to learn about that but it's not an exact science.

By the way, there is a manual that comes with the system that tells you how to do all the tests, what the target test results are, and how to fix any numbers that are off. In addition, they offer telephone support. You can just go over your numbers with them and they'll tell you how to fix them. They encourage you to take advantage of this as you are learning to get your pool stable. I'm not stable yet but I don't have to call very often.

You're probably desperate by now to know the cost. I've blocked out the exact number because it was horrifying, but I think it was something like $500-$600 for a 3rd party glass and sand filter, and something like $2500 for the basic (manual) model. The fully automatic model was thousands of dollars more than that. It cost around $200 to have the filter installed and our old filter taken away. That helped right away; I have no idea how the old filter was supposed to be doing anything. The previous owners had a pool service coming every week or two to keep the pool looking clear and blue but that stopped as soon as we took ownership of the house and so did the pool being clear and blue. We watched it turn to pea soup in a matter of weeks while I struggled with the decision on whether or not to buy the Ecosmarte system.

We noticed an immediate improvement but we were still dealing with more of a swamp than a pool. We learned that the skimmer needs to be emptied daily. That is not a huge hardship. You simply lift out a plastic basket, dump it, and replace it. Sometimes, I check the secondary basket and see that it needs emptying too.

Unfortunately, we can't justify any kind of robotic vacuum right now as they start at over $500 for an in-ground pool. So we have to do extra maintenance due to all the trees. Not everyone will have to do as much work as we do. It is quite pleasant work though. We use two different nets to clear out debris. I watched a youtube video to get the idea of how to use the nets. It's quite meditative work. I suppose a vacuum would solve that issue. I haven't checked to see if they can handle some of the larger branches that fall in (or that the squirrels throw in).

The other regular maintenance is backwashing. There are plenty of sites with instructions on how to do that. When the pressure on the filter reaches a certain level, you backwash, rinse, and then put the filter back into filter mode. The backwashing causes water to bubble up in our backyard. I wish we'd known about that before we positioned our brand new teak table and chair set directly over the hose. Perhaps some day, I'll reroute the exit somewhere more convenient than the middle of my yard.

Okay so other maintenance is weekly testing. Meaning more like monthly. I have not been great about keeping up but I do try! I do 4 tests and based on the results, I fiddle around with products and procedures to get the levels right. It all sounds complicated but it's really not that bad after a few months. The tests are quite simple to do and involve a sample of water, test tubes, adding drops, and comparing the color to a chart. I find the comparing the color step to be the most complicated so I usually get my husband and kids to offer their opinions too, just to be sure. I'm getting more confident in my color comparison prowess.

We started with pea soup and after about a week, a few phone calls, a few trips to the pool supply store, and lots of simple stuff poured in, we had beautiful clear water and no chlorine! It was brilliant and lasted a few weeks. Then the Florida summer rains started and the temperature and humidity made going outside unbearable. So other than occasionally clearing out the skimmers and using the nets to clear both bottom and surface debris out, we just didn't bother with the pool. It gradually shifted back to pea soup. With the rainy season finally behind us, I tested again and tackled fixing the pool on my own. I got all the numbers within the target range except those darned phosphates, which are just a known issue with the Florida rains. So the pool was still green, but usable. I brushed the bottom but just could not get this figured out so I called their support. I ran through the procedure they outlined:

add PhosFree or any anti-phosphate product
run filter 48 hours straight
oxidize high 48 hours
add non-metallic algecide
wait 24 hours (oops - I missed this step)
add non-chlorine shock (the first time I've ever done that)

Back to blue pool this morning.
That's it for now. I hope this posting helps people understand non-chlorine options. Sorry so rambling. I really wanted to get some information down because I just couldn't find anything when I was trying to decide if I wanted to shell out thousands of dollars. Feel free to ask questions. I love my pool and I don't resent the work at all. I love my Ecosmarte system and I'm really happy with their support.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Break the water bottle habit!

Thanks, Michele, for letting me know about this!
Break the Bottler Water Habit!
My mom's housewarming gift to us was an under-the-sink water filter. We use stainless steel water bottles for all our out of the house drinking water, and in house, we have glass carafes in the fridge. When we take a road trip, we fill a five gallon plastic bottle with our own water.

Why all the fuss about water?

We avoid unfiltered tap water. We are concerned about chlorine, flouride, and other toxic chemicals in untreated tap water. So even in restaurants, we know water is the best beverage but we prefer to use our own.

We are concerned about plastic bottles. Perhaps the water available in these bottles is better in some cases than the local tap water, perhaps not, but it is worth jumping through hoops to avoid these single use non-biodegradable wastes of resources. In my business, I am looking to list more products that are made from recycled water bottles.

We have not quite figured out what to do when we are on vacation. We can no longer take our own water on planes so we are forced to suck it up and drink whatever they serve us. It doesn't bear thinking about. And we currently don't have a portable filter so we drink from plastic bottles while traveling.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Ecosmarte Pool

We bought a house with a pool. I did not want a pool. I did not want to deal with the headache of maintenance and I certainly didn't want my family in chlorine. But we fell in love with the house and my husband really felt strongly about a pool. So here we are!

For the first month or so, I had analysis paralysis. I normally don't get that, but I needed the chlorine system replace and there is not a lot of information on alternative systems. One reference I found by digging around on Dr. Mercola's website stuck with me. It was about Ecosmart Pools. It was wrong, actually! It said that it these were just another salt system, which is totally false! I finally called the company and got a quote on the system and it was a heck of a lot of money. So more spinning my wheels here.

It is important to me to live our lives as toxin free as possible. This definitely fit in with my values, but it meant giving up a lot! Was it worth it? As our pool turned to pea soup before our very eyes, I decided it was.

Once we got everything installed and started doing the testing, things did start to turn around. It took a few weeks and regular phone calls for hand holding to their toll free number. At some point, it all started to make sense and I didn't need to call anymore! It is not a huge headache!

I don't have a clue how it works. Something to do with copper. They did have us buy a sand/glass filter. The old filter didn't actually seem to do anything so this was just as well. We were skimming leaves out at least daily. When we turned this thing on, all the leaves wound up in the skimmer and all we had to do was dump it.

We did have to deal with algae and we may need to again. We are not completely chemical free but the times we will have to add anything to adjust the water going forward will be very rare.

We had a leak recently. Out of the blue, the water was disappearing at an alarming rate! My daughter suddenly remembered that she'd pulled something off the bottom of the pool. Ahah! It had been patched! We repatched the hole - thank goodness it was clearly visible - and refilled the pool. And now I am all itchy! The chlorinated water definitely messed with my skin! I can't wait for all that to be gone and back to our nice clean water!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

I'm not mommy

It's so sad! Tragic, really!

When my older daughter got to the age where she didn't want to call me "mommy" any more and made the switch to "mom", it was okay. She was around 7, maybe closer to 8, and it just felt right. She seemed more grown up.

Well my little one is just this side of four and she too has made the switch to "mom" and "dad". I can understand why she's doing this; she is going to learn from her older sister.

But I'm not done being "mommy"!!!!! I thought I had a few more years! I feel cheated!

My husband actually tried to get her to go back, but there is no point. She's a Taurus. Enough said.

I guess the second child grows up more quickly. At least we're having a 2nd babywearing honeymoon!

Monday, April 07, 2008

How come you can't leave a good review on BBBOnline

How come you can only file a complaint about a company at the Better Business Bureau website? I'd love to balance out the one complaint that Absolute Best Movers have with the good experiences I am sure most people have. Tony and his crew are the most professional, reliable movers I've ever dealt with.

I have had some very nasty moving experiences, including some horrors with Star of David, who stole two bicycles worth over $1000 and broke nearly all our valuables, and on top of it all, charged thousands and thousands more than they were supposed to. I only share that to show that I know what I'm talking about and how badly a move can go.

I can find no complaint with Absolute Best. The name couldn't be more well-suited. No hidden charges. Fast. Reliable. All items arrived even though two other movers were at our condo at exactly the same time moving other people out. Pleasant. Professional to the extreme. And amazingly talented in how they loaded the truck.

Moving is so stressful and relocating even moreso. There was no stress with this company!

Monday, March 31, 2008

Manual Lawnmower

We didn't mow our lawn for 2 months after we moved in. The neighbors must have loved us. No?

Well, it wasn't as bad as all that. See, it was all weeds! So it wasn't very tall!

But still, for many reasons, I didn't want an electric or gas lawnmower. I checked freecycle for a push mower or manual mower or whatever they are called and saw lots of mowers that needed repair, but no old fashioned ones. I am kind of glad; the one I wound up getting is so much lighter than the old way they made them. Plus the blades were sharp so I don't need to worry about that for now. It was simple to put together.

Took me probably 3-4 hours to mow! I had to go over and over the same spots. And it's like a bad haircut; lots of things refused to be cut down. They just bent over and then popped back up when I wasn't looking!

But it looks tons better. I am so sad I cut down most of the gorgeous wildflowers (oops I mean weeds). Still, it's going to be easier for the kids to get around.

As a side note, we have an impossible number of tree stumps. Al chopped some up with the ax I got him, but some he couldn't do a thing with. So much to do here!

Thursday, January 31, 2008

We moved!

We moved to Gainseville! That's all the news for now. Quite busy with housey stuff.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Death of a friend

There is no perfect way to die. There are no perfect births, either. But there are better births and better deaths, and that's all we can hope for, I guess. I am still processing this all.

I had an amazing experience birthing my second daughter and the learning from that kept coming back to me as I watched my beautiful Maine Coon cat fading away. Two years ago, I thought he was going to die. I actually spent many days crying as he slipped away. I'd lost a cat unexpectedly and saw some of the same signs; retreating, not eating, losing weight, lethargy.

Then my daughter insisted we get a kitten. I was just starting to make peace with letting go of my dear friend and it was a difficult decision to risk adding someone new into the mix. In the end, my daughter won out. And miracle of miracles, the kitten sort of won him over. He never actually said as much, but within a few months, he allowed her to sleep next to him, and shortly after that, she was tackling him and we were enjoying shows. He got strong again and put on some weight.

But he still drank an awful lot of water. And a vet friend told me I'd have to have him undergo a lot of tests to get to the bottom of what was wrong. It could be kidney disease or diabetes. The thought of unpleasant car trips, miserable vet visits, and costly medical bills, all to find out that there was either nothing that could be done, or nasty interventions "required" gave me pause. I chose the path of least resistance. I continued to enjoy his company and relish every moment we had together.

About a month before he died, I got a sudden acutely painful shoulder injury which took up a lot of my attention. I gathered him up and put him on my chest, expecting to feel his calming, healing energy. I got nothing and he didn't really stay very long. I guess that should have been a clue but I was in too much pain to realize.

As his weight continued to plummet, it dawned on me that this was pretty much the end. I stayed home just as much as I could and spoke to my aunt a few times because she had done in-home hospice care for my grandmother. I also surfed the Internet a lot, trying to understand my options and make sure I was doing the right thing. Or at least, the best thing I could do for him.

Christmas day fell on a Tuesday. On Saturday, I called my vet friend who gave me the number of a vet who did euthanasia and who made house calls. She said that she couldn't come before Wednesday, and that it would be cruel to wait that long. I was miserable but wasn't quite ready to let go. By Christmas Eve, in the middle of the night, I knew I had to help him end it. He had some kind of spasm or tremor in his whole body. I took him into bed with me and didn't really sleep; his weakly tapping paws against me kept me up.

My girls opened their presents in the morning and he sat on my lap. He didn't really have much choice in the matter as he had lost the ability to walk the day before. I sent everyone outside to play and I got nice and comfortable on the couch with him on my lap. I wanted to have some peaceful time with him before we went to the vet I had found who would perform the euthanasia at their office. He had a few small tremors or spasms, then shakily lifted his head and looked up at me. His face looked more relaxed than it had in days. He gave one strong purr. I hadn't heard him purr in days. I smiled and cried. Then a long tremor started and I thought this might be the one. I held him very gently and told him I released him, he could go, let his soul leave his body, just stop breathing. I had been feeling so strongly up until that moment that there was life after death. The tremor went on and on and finally stopped. I checked to see if his chest was moving but I couldn't see anything. I felt for a pulse and found none. I just stayed like that for a few minutes until I was pretty sure he really was gone.

Since then, I haven't been so very sure about life after death and I feel very uneasy if I think about death and dying, but I think I did okay by him. It pains me to start to examine all the things he might have died of. Starvation? Dehydration? We had not been able to get him to swallow much water at the end. Kidney failure? Who knows. Was I horrible to not put him through the horrors of extreme medical interventions like I had done with my beautiful cat who died anyway when about to undergo another stupid procedure? Is there a sweet way to die? Was he in pain? Did I do right by him?

I know I had finally come to terms with euthanasia and perhaps my willingness to let him go gave him the peace to leave. If there is an afterlife, perhaps we will meet up sometime and he will let me know!

Monday, November 19, 2007

How do I get this mug out?

Help! Seriously, help!!!!

I was doing the dishes and the little espresso mug wound up inside the coffee mug. In trying to extract it, it got stuck.

I tried a few times, played with the angles, but it just got more wedged. Now I can't even wiggle it.

Okay, maybe it's because the hot water is making the mug expand? I left it on the counter for a few hours but nothing changed.

Well I'll shrink it! That'll shift something. Into the freezer it goes. Hours later, still no luck.

Anyone? Any ideas?

Friday, October 05, 2007

Queen For a Day!

Yesterday, my older daughter got upset and shouted that she was tired of me always deciding when to leave, when to stay, where to go, what to do, what to eat.

I was taken aback but paused and tried to get some wisdom on how to respond kindly.

I waited.

Then I figured what the heck! I'll offer her the chance to make all the decisions. It must feel quite disempowering to never get to say.

So I declared Saturday her day to be "Queen For a Day!" She gets to decide everything, absolutely everything, including what we will each wear. (We get to say no.) I don't think she'll abuse this; I think we'll be quite smartly dressed. At least I hope so. I sure hope it's not a crazy expensive day.

She wanted to eat out all day but I pointed out that she might as well have exactly what she wants so there may be some supermarket trips on the agenda to buy ingredients for whatever she wants to eat. I know her first request is going to be chocolate chip cookies!

I can't wait! This is going to be fun!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

We were on TV! Four times! And in the New York Times!

But this is not news. It's olds. I just nwo thought of it and that it's actually pretty darned cool so for posterity, I thought I'd write about it!

We were on Spanish television twice for being parents doing Elimination Communication (EC). That was a bit nervewracking because, well, first of all, Spanish is not my native language, and second, well, ya know, it's TV! We were on two different programs. I can't even remember the names now! What a shame! We were mini-celebrities for a while; everyone in our area seemed to have seen the programs and recognized us. At the end, one of the programs had some so-called expert come on and get the last word. Whatever. My husband was totally brilliant and eloquent. I was so proud! My older daughter wanted to be included and so she was.

The other two times we were on TV were to do with a woman who was doing something or other political down in Miami Beach while nursing her daughter at meetings - and the mayor said something totally foolish so there were nurse-ins. And a followup interview or perhaps it was even two followup interviews. I totally forget. Mostly we just stood around with our babies for the three minutes of airtime. We were probably used. Whatever. I'd do it again.

And we in the New York Times, also for EC. That's me nursing in the photo, wearing the pink pants.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

BECAUSE I SAID SO: Do You Need Fire to Build a Toilet?

If you have not discovered this blog, have a look and get reading!

BECAUSE I SAID SO: Do You Need Fire to Build a Toilet?

Like a zillion others, I discovered this mom when I was forwarded the link to her eBay auction for some Pokeman cards that one of her kids had sneaked (yes, she wrote "sneaked" and not "snuck" - I love her already) into her shopping cart.

Now her life is in the process of being turned upside down as she is being discovered. It's wonderful to watch this process unfold. She'll have a book published soon and will be all over the media. They are gonna be so rich!!!

Monday, September 03, 2007

Eating Grass

Okay, this is made with an intention of pure fun. Seriously. Yes, I'm poking fun at my dear, sweet husband, but it's stuff that makes me totally laugh out loud, and if you knew me, you'd know that was saying something. Some people sprinkle all their writing with "LOL" and I would if I were but I just rarely even chuckle.

Without further ado, here are some gems.

But I Eat Grass
My husband is not a native speaker of English. And even if he were, he still might get some stuff wrong. I know when I was a girl, it wasn't until I was around 8 or 9 that I realized the word was "vacation", not "bacation". And even then, it was only because I saw it in writing. And "naive" was "nave" to me when I was reading until I was perhaps 18 years old. Sure, I knew the spoken word, but I never connected the two.

So for my husband, it didn't cause him any worry when he heard people say, "but I eat grass". He wondered a bit what those crazy people were doing eating grass, but he just chalked it up to another crazy thing English speakers say. Well, it turns out that what they were actually saying was - can you guess? - "but I digress". Said quickly, I guess it flowed to his ear as "but I eat grass" and somehow he was able to justify that. This has led to an in-joke of "there he goes, eating grass". I guess every couple has their in-jokes. We have some fun ones!

Here are a few others:
obeast (obese)
high strong (high strung)

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Stuyvesant High School: Alec Klein: "A Class Apart"

Today, while driving, I heard on the Diane Rehm Show that Alec Klein, Stuyvesant graduate, class of 1985, was guest speaker. Mostly I heard "something something Stuyvesant something something" while answering a non-stop stream of questions from my two girls and trying not to shush them. Of course I had to hear about the show on my car radio and still 10 minutes from home, cell phone battery beeping in its death song because I hadn't charged it properly. My wonderful aunt called and I answered the phone with "NPR, right?", totally taking her off guard with quick wit (or so I tell myself) as is my way. So of course I arrive home totally frazzled, rushing my 2 kids, running around plugging in radios, frantically redialing the telephone, heart rate through the roof. Luckily, I got through and was accepted and spent most of the show taking deep breaths. Turns out that the heart rate was not due only to running in the house with two kids. But I digress.

This Alec dude is the real thing. I very much enjoyed everything about him as a speaker and he is the kind of person I'd love to hang out with. An excellent listener and speaker, a pleasant voice; a great combination of qualities.

I, of course, was so darned nervous about being on the radio plus I was playing a bit of a devil's advocate so I hope the poor undeserving guy didn't find me a total bi-yach. Oh well. Can't be helped.

Being the Stuyvesant Geek that I am, I of course had to make an outline of what points I wanted to touch upon. Of course I was on hold forever and most of them did feel watered down by the time I spoke at the very end of the show. But still, I felt I brought something to the table and my aunt was kind enough to call me afterwards and say I came across well. I just hope my mom never, ever listens to the program. She's a nice lady, really.

So anyway, Alec talked about how students prepare for the entrance exam to Stuyvesant and how students and parents alike feel it's going to prepare them in some way for entrance into an Ivy League college. That was not my experience at all; with a 99% college bound class of 850 students, each requiring 3 letters of reference for every single college application, we were limited to 7 or so college applications. Because my average was just a hair under 90, I was pretty ordinary. Add to the that the fact that I did not find my niche at all among the students there and I definitely didn't have any sort of backbone or even awareness to seek out a guidance counselor, I got well and truly lost in the fray. If I had perhaps done more extra-curricular activities, I might have stood out from the extraordinary in some way, but I didn't really do all that much. But without more confidence, raw talent, and skills, I was unlikely to stand out from my classmates enough to be in the top 20% who had a chance to get into an outstanding college. Had I attended my local inner-city school, as I did for one year of junior high school, risking life and limb on the bus (I do not exaggerate on this point) and learning to lie low, I would have been a star, adored and coddled. In 8th grade, I was given the opportunity to skip straight into 9th, which I gladly did. They still didn't know what to do with me and sent me to a nearby college to sit in on a few classes. Imagine if I'd gone to a local high school how outstanding I would have looked to any college I applied to.

Alec pointed out that it doesn't really matter where you go to college. You can in fact get a good college education in many colleges and universities and excellent preparation for your chosen field.


However, it does matter what you study. I didn't manage to excel in much in Stuyvesant and I was left only being accepted to schools where I applied based on my math scores. High School math was a joy. University math was a different animal. I don't know who could imagine the two are related. A few months into my college career, it became clear that I didn't have the skills required to do that level of math. I felt alone, terrified, trapped. I was a math major and now I hated math! To make a long story short, I wound up on a career path I felt stuck in in order to pay back those darned debilitating student loans.

Alec pointed out that the dirty little secret is that 90% of people wind up in careers they hate. Another excellent point.

Alec: two, Ellen: zero.

In the end, I question our entire education system from soup to nuts. I am unschooling my daughters and am 100% confident in what I am doing. They may go to school at some point, or perhaps not until college, or perhaps never. They may simply take whatever classes they choose and never get a degree. What is the big deal about a degree? I have no issue with prerequisites but most fields to not require one to actually complete a degree. And how many people do we know with degrees totally unrelated to their current field? Me, for example. Not one single course I ever took as an undergrad has any bearing on what I do now. I learned it all on my own, as an adult unschooler. The value in this method of learning can not be underestimated. It may not be for everyone, but perhaps it could if we were not so dumbed down.

One point I did not get into was how I learned to cheat in high school, having never dreamed of such a thing before that. Never underestimate the level of cheating at Stuyvesant High School. In fact, the New York State Regents exams were stolen and I was freely given answers to the Chemistry Regents by a brilliant but perhaps philosophical student who felt it unfair that some should be paying for answers. How even though I purposely got 20% wrong, my teacher still thought it awfully suspicious that I'd done as well as that in a class I clearly didn't grasp. How unfair it felt that in subjects where I did excel, I was asked, or more accurately, forced, to share my answers. I cheated on the Spanish Achievement and placed too high in University Spanish. I was lost and cheated on my first Spanish university exam but was caught. That was the first time I had ever been caught cheating. Were the Stuyvesant teachers ignoring it or was I really that accomplished a cheater?

Getting back to my thoughts on Stuyvesant, I do not know what I think of it all. It was a powerful, pivotal experience in my life. One that marked me forever. I dream of high school still, not really of college. I think about going back to high school and looking up classmates, reconnecting with some, just catching up with others. I'd love to find Kendra Behrends, who didn't even graduate with my class (she went back to private school, lucky girl) and I'd love to know what happened to my high school boyfriend. I have caught up with Janice, who I also went to college with, and who I just saw a few months ago. I have had the brief pleasure of catching up with Frank McCourt on two of his tours, the last one only a few months ago.

And I have to admit that it saddened me deeply when I learned that the old building was being torn down. I never actually returned to visit it but just knowing it was there, as I remembered it, was a comfort. I have little desire to see the new digs even if there is a pool now.

Friday, July 13, 2007

I saw Harry Potter last night!

No spoilers! What an unexpected treat! I happened to see an ad at 7pm that said it's out. I was like, "Wha....???" Well, without too much thought, I told my husband that my older daughter and I were off. I nabbed tickets online, thinking it might be sold out, wondered how I'd missed that it was released, and off we went! It was not sold out and even though I bought tickets for the 8:00 showing, we snuck into the 7:30 theater, which was still showing previews.

It. Was. Awesome!

By far, the best Harry Potter movie. Actors: more refined. Effects: amazing, except for Voldemort's nose, which still looked all blurry in many scenes and distracted me. Plot: Great - moved right along and was very true to the book. I haven't read it in over a year and I don't recall missing anything critical. I wonder how they do that? What a job; boiling down so many pages and letting go of so much good stuff.

I'd have liked to see more of Tonks. I was really looking forward to her character but she, like many aspects, was glossed over.

Still, I found it much lighter than the previous movie, and walked out with a bounce in my step.

I think my daughter was quite lost. She's seen all the others and we thought she followed, but now maybe she's getting old enough to realize how much she's been missing. Anyway, she didn't find it as scary as some of them.

I wonder when it is officially coming out. I thought it wasn't until this weekend. Oh well! How lucky I was to get this early look and not have to deal with lines or crowded theaters.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Wow! I've visited 19 countries!

create your own visited country map
or check our Venice travel guide

For someone who feels like she hasn't traveled much at all, this is pretty darned amazing!

Here's my list:
England a few times, with a lot of driving and even trips to Jersey Island
France but only briefly
Portugal also briefly
Spain twice, 2nd time alone for 2 weeks
Italy briefly, including Vatican City
Greece briefly, including one island, sorry can't remember which
Germany briefly and again 2 more day trips
Holland for a month on business
Belgium weekend trips to Bruigge - wow!
Finland for a week for business
Argentina for 5 weeks for business
Uruguay during weekend break on business trip
Brazil during weekend break on business trip
Paraguay, I think, during weekend break on business trip
Chile for a week for business
Canada a few times
Mexico for our honeymoon

I think that's it! And yet, I feel like I haven't traveled very much at all and definitely not nearly enough. I'd love the time and money to do a lot more traveling!

Friday, April 06, 2007

Frank McCourt

Brushes with fame remind me that people who wind up in the limelight often do have a special quality. It's more than just charisma. If I could see auras, perhaps it would be clear to me what the difference is.

I am lucky enough to be one of a small number who had Frank McCourt as a high school English teacher. It was so difficult to get into his classes. I didn't even know about him at first so I only got to do 2 or 3 semesters with him. Those classes were usually the highlight of my school day.

Recently, I attended a book fair where he spoke. When it came time for questions, I was there with my high school yearbook and the whole audience was impressed. I am not surprised; I had the same exact experience shortly after his first book came out. And, as before, people treated me as a celebrity-by-association after the talk. Mostly, people want to know how he was as a teacher.

He was, as it turns out, exactly like he was as a speaker. Charming, funny, entertaining, full of delightful stories, humble, real, accessible, lovable. I wish I could have more of him in my life!

I have some really awful audio from that talk. Even if you can't quite make out what he is saying, you can just feel the energy from all the laughter. Now if only I could find the time to figure out how to podcast it. I might have to make it into a psuedo-video so youtube will take the darned thing.

Oh and yeah. One more thing. He inspired the name of this blog.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Rave about floorshop

I just want to post a quick note about the outstanding customer service I received from I am also going to rate them on their website. Ordering was easy and they did their best to answer my questions. The phone was even answered on weekends and holidays! And I mentioned in my long entry about the whole procedure that a few boxes were damaged. I initiated a claim but told them not to bother since I had left myself a little leeway and did not mess up at all so I didn't need the extra boards. Well, they really insisted on following up and have reimbursed me for the 2 boxes without my having to do anything at all. This is really above and beyond! I am so thrilled. Granted, it's not big bucks as their price was so amazing in the first place, which is why I went with them but still! Nicely handled! Thank you, floorshop!

Friday, February 02, 2007

The Other White Milk

Okay, give me a freaking break! A simple slogan, "The other white milk" has the pork industry big guns going after a mom with a blog. Oh pullease.

I'm putting the phrase here. Will they come hunting me down too?