Tale of Two Tote Bags

I have an enormous file of patterns, torn out of magazines or photocopied out of library books, that I’ve been accumulating for many years . One of them is for a tote bag that I’ve always wanted to make.

I chose to make it for someone’s birthday, but thought I should make a test tote bag first, in case the pattern was wonky. I followed the directions, but the fat quarters I used were on the skimpy side, so when the tote bag came out long and skinny instead of almost square (as the photo of the tote bag on the pattern looked), I figured it was because the fat quarters were a little smaller than normal:


No worries, I can always use another tote bag, even if it’s so long it looks like you could store wine bottles in it (hmmm, there’s an idea….). Anyways, I chose some fat quarters for the birthday-gift tote bag, and was pleased to discover that they were the exact size they should be (18″ X 22″). I followed the pattern to the letter (it only had one illustration, so I had to read and re-read it), and here’s how it turned out:


Better, but still not square or even almost square. So I went over the pattern instructions very carefully, and came to the conclusion that there’s an error in it; there’s no way you’re going to get anything but a long rectangular tote bag out of that pattern. Lesson learned: never assume that a pattern’s directions will be right, even though most of them are. Fortunately, the recipient seemed pleased, and that’s all that counts!

It’s a Scam, But Not the One I Was Expecting!

Shortly after moving here six months ago, I received an offer in the mail for a year of Woman’s Day and a year of Country Living for the ridiculously low price of $10…for both!

This was too much temptation for me. Even though I long ago pruned down my magazine intake, I decided it wouldn’t hurt for a year. And if by some chance it was a scam, I’d only be out $10, right?

Well, it wasn’t a scam, at least not in the way I was thinking. Though it took a good two months for the issues to show up, they are showing up. And they’re ok, I guess. It’s been years since I “took a magazine,” as my grandma used to say, and I didn’t realize how full of ads they are now. In the case of Woman’s Day, they also have pretty much the same content they always did: recipes, diets and crafts. I’m flipping through them pretty quickly as there’s not much that catches my eye; Country Living is a little better than Woman’s Day, though.

But that’s not the problem. The problem is that I now know how and why they can offer these magazines so cheaply: they must have sold my name and address to everyone and his brother! I’m being inundated with catalogs, flyers and life insurance offers. I’m getting mail from companies I didn’t know still existed; apparently they spend their marketing dollars on direct mail instead of Internet ads or television commercials. Some days almost all the mail is addressed to me in the exact same way as the labels on the magazines; that’s how I know my name was sold by the Woman’s Day people.

Ergh. One of the blessings of a new address is that you start fresh and many of the companies that used to send you junk mail lose track of you. But after this move, it seems I’ve jumped from the frying pan into the fire. So beware of magazine publishers with irresistible offers! (On the other hand, I guess I’ve helped keep the Postal Service alive for a while longer.)

Finding Ideas, Not Discouragement

With the renaissance of homeschooling in the early 1980s came a trickle, and then a flood, of books and magazines about homeschooling.

These were eagerly read by homeschooling parents wanting to know how others were teaching their children, because there weren’t many homeschoolers around to talk with.

Today, reading about how other families homeschool their children is almost too easy. There are more magazines and books than ever, plus countless blogs on the Internet where parents reveal every last detail of their homeschooling journeys, or so it seems.

There’s a very real danger here, however. With so much personal revelation out there, it’s way too easy to compare your family and your homeschooling experience to others. This is not a good thing!

You can always find someone whose homeschooling experience sounds far more successful than your own. It’s way too tempting to think, “We have so many struggles, and after reading about this family, it’s obvious that I’m in over my head in this homeschooling thing. Her kids are doing so many wonderful projects, and I have to fight to get mine away from the video games to do anything. I give up!”

The fact is that every family is different, and no family can imitate another and come up with the same results. It’s not fair to compare another family to yours: different kids, different parents, different financial situations.

When you read about other homeschooling families, try to think about which of their ideas would work for your family instead of imitating everything they do in a misguided attempt to “succeed.”

Besides, homeschooling success is defined in many different ways. For one child, it’s getting to college on a full scholarship. For another, it’s making his or her way in the world on their own. For a few, like my teenage son, it’s functioning to the best of your abilities despite multiple disabilities.

So go ahead, read all the homeschooling books and magazines and surf homeschoolers’ blogs. Visit the Carnival of Homeschooling each week. Glean as many great ideas as you think might work for your family. Discard those that turn out to be wrong for your family. And always keep in mind that there’s no one right way to homeschool. The beauty of homeschooling is that it can be tailored to each family, each child, and each parent.

Random Thoughts While Going Through Our Storage Unit

I spent a good chunk of last week (Spring Break) going through boxes from our storage unit as we try to pare down our possessions, part of the downsizing exercise we began nearly two years ago when we moved from the five-bedroom house where we raised our kids to a smaller home in another state.

I thought I’d gotten rid of my two big kids’ schoolwork before we moved, but I found more boxes last week, including one full of Peter’s workbooks and notebooks from age 5 on. (Boy, I sure spent a lot on A Beka in the early years of homeschooling!) And I think it’s ok to get rid of all his schoolwork, LOL, seeing how he graduated from college two years ago. I think he proved he knows a few things. But it’s hard letting go of the past. I’m forcing myself to only keep a few notebooks and other papers with his writing.

Even with some of the stuff pitched already, it stunned me to look at all of the books and papers and realize that this was the evidence of what I’ve been doing for the past twenty-some years. We moms are accustomed to having what we produce disappear: folded stacks of laundry and racks of homemade cookies evaporate soon after we produce them. So to see even just a portion of the work we produced over all those years of homeschooling kind of takes my breath away….and makes it that much harder to pitch things. But I was strict with myself, and we overloaded the garbage man last week.

Of course, old schoolwork isn’t all I’m finding in these boxes. I’ve been addicted to newspapers for almost my entire life, and as a result I’m the queen of clippings. Seems like there’s always something interesting in the paper that I need to tear out and save because I might want to read it again sometime. This explains all the clippings stuffed in boxes (along with old magazines I kept meaning to read). Not a good thing years later when you need to go through it all.

I can’t possibly read all of that stuff now, but as I sorted, I kept the articles I just couldn’t resist, and reread them all at night, when I was tired of going through boxes. And I learned something interesting: the articles found in the newspapers and magazines of the 1980s and 1990s are a lot more useful than what you see these days. There were plenty of solid, informational articles, as opposed to the tidal wave of celebrity worship and high-priced decorating ideas seen in recent years. No wonder newspapers are dropping like flies these days.