Dockstars!

Ready for more of this?  The Burnetts have had to get used to a lot of things since getting back to land.  Crowded highways, comparison shopping, TV commercials, Korean food, doughnut holes, drive-through coffee shops, Halloween pop-up stores, clogged rain gutters, Zatarain’s Cajun seasoning, grocery store discount cards, Tuna Helper, property taxes, Saturday Night Live, snow boots, compact fluorescent lightbulbs, left turn arrows, curbside recycling, school gunman/lockdown drills, Jehovah’s Witnesses, mouse poop, the Sunday paper, and, of course, junk mail, have become pertinent topics of conversation after a long hiatus.  The kids (and parents) are finally getting used to their dwindling free time, convincing themselves that the structure and opportunity one gets in return is worth it.  After having 360 degrees of windows overlooking beautiful, changing vistas for two years, slowly the Burnetts are becoming accustomed to looking at the same old church and the same old tree.  Fields of blue have been exchanged for fields of green, and a chiefly “outdoor life” has been exchanged for an indoor one.  After all, it is getting cold here.

There is still, however, one aspect of land life that is hard to get used to.  Surprisingly, it has nothing to do with our surroundings, our housing, our vistas, or lack thereof.  (Mel: No offense, Omaha.  Omaha: None taken!  Because I’m Omaha.)  Mel feels a little embarrassed admitting this, but it has been really hard for her to get used to this: being…oh man, she can’t even say it!…normal.

When we chose to live the cruising life for a while, we knew we were making an unusual choice.  Learning new skills, adopting a new lifestyle, facing challenges not everyone would want to face (Barfing for days at a time?  Bumping into boats in the middle of the night? Shopping for underwear in a foreign language? Being rescued by the Coast Guard? SEA LICE? No, thank-you!), well, that was a big part of the fun.  While in reality we made safe decisions for our family and were just exploring well-trod ground in a well-trod way, we still felt like creative adventurers, shaping our lives into a different form than most.  Now that we are back to getting excited about pumpkin spice and lining up in the school drop-off area behind 50 black, grey, and white cars, that thrill is gone.  It turns out that coming down from the rush of living an unconventional life is the worst part about all of this.  We are suffering from awesomeness withdrawal.

However, there is some light at the end of the tunnel.  Recently, feeling uncreative and mourning the loss of her blue muse, Mel stopped in at the local Walgreens to pick up a prescription and beg the pharmacist for a discount until her Obamacare kicked in.  The conversation turned to why she was uninsured at the moment, and the whole story came out.  The pharmacist’s eyes got as wide as saucers.

Omaha pharmacist: “You mean, you can do that, you can live on a boat?”

Mel: “Yep.  You can.”

Pharmacist: “Hey Walter,” the pharmacist pointed at a friend stocking foot cream in a nearby aisle, “This lady lived on a boat!”

Walter: “No way!  You can do that?”

Mel: “Yep.  They have kitchens and toilets and everything!”

Pharmacist and Walter: “Oh my God!”

Let’s just say that Mel got her discount.

She thought that this was some sort of fluke, but eventually each member of the family would come home with a similar story.  Mel just had her photo taken for her ID badge at work, and the session ran over after she answered the innocent question, “So, where were you before you came to work for us?”

Mel came home with the realization: “You won’t believe it, but in Omaha we are like rockstars!”

Or, er, dockstars!  (Sorry, couldn’t help it.)  This is just fantastic news.  We still aren’t quite normal!  We have a treatment for our withdrawal! Mel will resume turning her blog into a book with the higher purpose to educate the landlocked people of the world that you can cook and sail at the same time.  Who knows how many Midwesterners will then discover that the mysterious, unrequited restlessness inside of them is actually the call of the sea?

Oh, and by the way, upon returning to land, Mel did not get a car that is black, or grey, or white.  It’s blue, of course!  She’s such a freak!

 

In the Wake #4: More Medical Stuff, and Marvin’s Under Contract!

Friends and family, it is while wearing one of those creepy drama masks that is halfway smiling and halfway crying that Mel announces this: Marvin is under contract!  This means that the final sale is imminent at the end of this month, pending a successful survey and sea trial.  Marvin may end up going to a liveaboard couple that lost their Leopard to Irma down in the Keys, and he couldn’t be happier to help more Leopard devotees continue on with their dreams!

This means insurance companies are indeed paying out, by the way.

To continue Mel’s post-cruising wrap-up, here is more medical advice for cruisers:

Antibiotics: Yes, Mel does think it is a good idea to have what we call a “broad-spectrum antibiotic” aboard.  However, possession of antibiotics comes with responsibility.  Antibiotic resistance is NOT media scare-tactics, it is a VERY REAL and dangerous problem.  This means that you do not take antibiotics unless you have had a sinus or throat infection for at least 10 days, or non-bloody diarrhea for at least 2 weeks.  When you start a course, you finish it, which usually means at least five days of therapy (this varies per ailment).   Mel also recommends that the first prescription of antibiotic pills comes from a real doctor so that you can go over these issues and not from a friend who bought it straight from a pharmacy in Central or South America.  With this said, Mel would recommend that this antibiotic NOT BE CIPROFLOXACIN, OR “CIPRO”.  One reason – you can’t give it to kids, because it can have serious side effects.  Their ankles might explode.  Hell, your ankles might explode.  Another, Cipro is now on the World Health Organization’s list of antibiotics to preserve as a resource given growing global resistance, and the FDA wants it to be second-line therapy given its side effect profile.  Finally, ciprofloxacin is generally no good for sinus or chest infections, and all you will do is encourage resistance.  Drops are fine for ear infections, though.  Instead, I recommend discussing with your doctor the pros and cons of Bactrim (a sulfa drug) or Azithromycin.  Both have different side effect profiles (possible sun sensitivity with Bactrim, for example), drug interactions, drug resistance profiles, and schedules, but both could work for a variety of ailments.  Note that the Burnetts only needed antibiotics twice in two years.

The “stitch kit”: If you are bold enough to get a “stitch kit”, and you have a family, learn how to use it BEFORE you need it!  Don’t plan on everyone being all macho.  Mel has no idea how one would go about doing this, but thinking, “I’m a sailor, I know knots, how hard can it be?”  is not appropriate here.  She didn’t plan on being the person to need stitches, and when the time came, there was no way she was going to let her layperson husband approach her with a needle, even though he could tie a trucker’s hitch!  (PS Do not sew someone up with a trucker’s hitch.)  Actually, flushing the wound with a fast stream of tap water and then applying superglue will get you pretty far.  Getting training ahead of time also goes for IV bags, EpiPens, AEDs, and any EMT-level emergency equipment you feel compelled to bring aboard, you crazy person! 

Seasickness:  The key is to prevent yourself from getting sick in the first place, which isn’t always possible.  It was hard to predict what wave and wind conditions could set us off, but we all had our thresholds, with the boys being the most resistant and the girls being the most susceptible.  Strangely enough, while the waves in the Med hit you from all directions and made for a bumpy ride, the bumpiness was so consistent that the entire family was seasickness-free by the time we completed our six-month Med cruise.  We had gotten used to it!  Well, until we crossed the Strait of Gibraltar, anyway.

Our final regimen was a three-tiered system.  Treatment of seasickness is most effective if given before the seasickness kicks in.  Mel learned to recognize the early signs in her: feeling hot, feeling sleepy, and getting heartburn.  Also, seasickness is definitely more likely if you are anxious about a trip.

Tier 1: Mild seasickness.  Treatment: Man the helm, stop reading or gaming, look outside, stop cooking dinner, sit behind the helm, QueaseEase (aromatherapy you can buy on Amazon), ginger gum, gingerale, avoidance of caffeine and alcohol the night before and during the trip.  Basically, anything that lowers esophageal sphincter tone is a no-no, such as chocolate and peppermint.  In fact, even at Tier 1 Mel takes a Prilosec and eats a Tums if her heartburn kicks in.  The “Seabands” never helped us.  We are too skeptical, I guess!

Tier 2: Medium seasickness.  Hopefully this was predicted ahead of time.  Then, meclizine (Bonine) once-daily, given the morning of the trip, usually 4-6 hours ahead of departure.  The adults took 25 mg and the kids took 12.5 mg.  Mel takes a Prilosec about an hour after the meclizine (to allow the meclizine to digest first.)  If the seasickness broke through, then we took ondasetron 4 mg three to four times a day as needed.  Having the meclizine on board really helped the ondansetron kick in within 30 minutes.  Plus, we continued the Tier 1 treatment. 

Tier 3: Major seasickness.  If predicted ahead of time, Prilosec, meclizine, and ondansetron 4 mg was started at least 8 hours before the trip.  If it was really bad, the ondansetron was bumped up to 8 mg, but we watched to keep the max dose in 24 hours 24 mg.  Tommy would say here that just going ahead and vomiting helps him for a good three hours.  Usually the kids sleep at this point, and the adults feel sleepy but can manage their watch okay because the seas are lively enough to keep them awake.

Note that ondansetron is a prescription, and rightly so, as it interacts with many drugs and can cause sudden death in certain people.  Not a good side effect.  It recently became generic in the States, but the pricing is erratic – Mel has paid anywhere from $30 to $340 for 60 pills!  Also, it is very hard to find meclizine (Bonine) more than 300 miles away from the States.  It is over-the-counter in the US – stock up!  Dramamine is a similar drug and therefore should not be combined with meclizine.  Dramamine is widely available and is an okay substitute, but it has to be given every 6 hours.  Cinnazarine, another relative of meclizine and Dramamine, available in Europe, is still hard to get a hold of, even in Europe.  Mel acquired some but never tried it.  Finally, we also had the scopolamine patch, fabled for its efficacy at treating even well-established seasickness but also its ability to make one go into renal failure and hallucinate dogs.  Never tried it.  Don’t like dogs.

The sun: Mel is a big believer in sunscreen.  The sun is toxic.  Talk to any long-term cruiser and you will have a list of where you can get your cancer hacked off anywhere in the world.  However, we found that spending 20-30 minutes in the sun before applying sunscreen really helped our vitamin D levels — and our acne!  While cruising, Mel developed an allergy to Neutrogena Sensitive Skin (I KNOW!), so she recommends daily use of the ultra-expensive Citrix Anti-Oxidant Sunscreen SPF 40 for the face of those with sensitive skin.  Doesn’t cause zits and the vitamin C fights wrinkles!  Cheaper than Botox!

In the meantime, Mel has been going through some pictures from when they first acquired Marvin.  Here is a taste of what the new owners have ahead of them…good times!

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In the Wake #3: Medical Stuff That Actually Happened

So there’s tons of advice online about how to prepare ahead of time for medical emergencies on a boat.  There are lots of med kits out there that you can buy that range from glorified multi-packs of generic Band-Aids to mongo-expensive full-on EMT med kits, complete with AED’s (defibrillators).  You play the same game when buying med kits as you do when buying insurance: balancing cost against likelihood and danger of the worried-about event.  As a doctor, Mel had probably a better glimpse into the “likelihood” and “danger” part of that equation than most, but as you will see, even she had trouble predicting what was going to happen out on the Big Blue.

Here is a list of the most useful medical professions offshore:

  1. A nurse of any kind
  2. Dermatologist (for all those skin diseases—you will see)
  3. ENT (Ear, Nose, Throat doctor) (for divers and our GD ears)
  4. General practitioner: Internist/Family Medicine/Pediatrics (for the big picture, and all those icky kid problems)
  5. Physical Medicine/Physiatrist (back pain from spinnaker hoisting and George Town Toe)
  6. Infectious Disease specialist (Hey, doc, what caused my pus? I’m in the tropics, I walk around in my bare feet, I swim in the ocean, and I’ve been bitten by EVERYTHING!)
  7. Orthopedic surgeon (see physiatrist, but less useful without fancy tools)
  8. Emergency Medicine (good at triage and calming panicked people)

And here is a list of one of the least helpful medical professions offshore:

  1. Neurologist

And that’s what Mel is.

Anyhoo, so that’s how much this advice is worth.  Here is a quick list of the medical events that actually befell this healthy family that suffers from seasonal allergies as they cruised the peri-Atlantic world. 

  1. Communicable staph skin infection in the kids, AKA “impetigo.” This is weird because it normally happens to younger kids, but that’s what Mel determined it was, especially when it persisted for three weeks but then resolved with antibiotics in 48 hours.

Treatment: Bactrim DS (a broad-spectrum antibiotic that requires careful dosing in kids)

  1. Tinea corporis (a fungal infection of the groin and armpits)

Treatment: Topical Lotrimin and Lamisil and then prevention by drying the skin completely with a fan before dressing.  A doctor in Curacao told us it was also preventable by washing the groin with diluted vinegar several times a day, but that sounded like too much work.

  1. Sea lice (an encounter with jellyfish larvae that manifests as what looks like tens of itchy mosquito bites in areas compressed by a swimsuit)

Treatment: Scratching, hydrocortisone cream on occasion, time, and the sheer joy of grossing out your family by squirming in your chair in a nice restaurant and announcing loudly, “Ugh!  My sea lice itches!”

  1. Pityriasis Rosea: A weird, idiopathic skin condition that starts with a rough red “herald” patch and turns into slightly itchy spots over the body that takes 6-8 weeks to clear up. This is tricky, as it starts out looking fungal.

Treatment: Satisfaction in a self-diagnosis and the fact that this condition normally affects much younger people who are in their 20’s. 

  1. External otitis: (Ear infections of the canal, presenting as pain in the ear in the parts you can touch with your finger)

Treatment: Ciprofloxacin eye drops.  Yes, eye drops work in the ear! (We bought some CiproDex, which has an anti-inflammatory, once we were out of the states and we could get it for $18 a bottle instead of $300 a bottle – OH DO NOT GET ME STARTED!)  Note: Oral antibiotics for this is usually overkill.

  1. Traveler’s diarrhea: In Colombia, we were fine drinking the marina water for three whole weeks, but then we ate some candy from the Candy Arcade in Cartagena. It wasn’t even any good!

Treatment: Since it was not bloody, as instructed per Mayo Travel Medicine, we did not treat it for two weeks.  After that, Mel lost patience and it cleared up with azithromycin.

  1. Jellyfish stings: all mild

Treatment: You do not have to pee on these unless you want to look all outdoorsy and dramatic.  You can rub sand on it to pull out the nematocysts, and then you rub vinegar on it.  It will hurt worse initially, but in about 5 minutes you will never know you have been stung.  I repeat: INITIALLY IT WILL HURT WORSE, AND YOUR FAMILY WILL HATE YOU AND TELL YOU THAT YOU WENT TO A CRAP MEDICAL SCHOOL.

  1. Conjunctivitis (Mild eye irritation): Mel suffered allergic conjunctivitis as part of her seasonal allergies, and for some reason while crossing the Atlantic she developed a full-blown viral conjunctivitis with a mild fever that spread to the cat. No, seriously.

Treatment: Antihistamine eyedrops purchased in Europe, cheap, over the counter.  Bacterial conjunctivitis is rare and much pussier than what Mel had, so the Cipro eyedrops stayed in the med bag and it cleared up in a couple of days on its own.

  1. “Diver’s Ear” Here’s the scenario: someone, usually a kid, jumps off of the topsides into the water 10 feet down and then surfaces, screaming that an ear hurts. Alternatively, a diver says that they always have ear pain and a pressure sensation after a dive.  Diagnosis: impacted wax. THIS HAPPENED ALL THE TIME.

Treatment: Debrox ear wax remover (or liquid colase, a stool softener) followed by lavage, which involves squirting water into the ear canal with a bulb syringe and watching the wax pop out.  Yes, you are right, it is gross, but effective!

  1. Thumb laceration: This whole stupid story is here.

Treatment: Whiskey (which was remarkably effective), squirting benzocaine into the wound because we couldn’t find our syringes, vigorous flushing with just plain water for 5-10 minutes, Steri-Strips, SuperGlue, a protective thumb splint, and a single dose of cephalexin that day.  Mel is left with some numbness and a scar, but it never got infected.  Altering her thumbprint is all part of her evil plan…Mwahahaha!

  1. Benign skin lesion

Treatment: Mel noticed a growing bump on her nose, thought it was a basal cell skin cancer, had it removed and biopsied in Gran Canaria, and it turned out benign.  So much for Mel’s clinical acumen.

  1. Back pain (presumed lateral recess syndrome): You get this from hyperextending your back. Like when you hoist and douse a spinnaker on a 48-ft catamaran.

Treatment: Yoga, massage, and avoidance of triggers, like sitting on a hard surface.  We saw a physiatrist in Gran Canaria who prescribed some physical therapy that basically involved TENS and massage but no stretching or exercise, so Mel concluded it wasn’t very good.

  1. Plantar wart resolution: a medical mystery!

Multiple family members had pre-existing plantar warts (warts on the bottom of your feet) that cleared up after we had been walking barefoot around the boat and the beach for 10 weeks.  One of these warts had been present for 30 years!  It’s probably lying on a beach somewhere in Colombia.  I hear…Treasure Hunt!

  1. A single chronic, non-life-threatening medical diagnosis: Mel won’t get into it, but she will share an interesting story about securing medication for this condition in Spain in a future post.

Note that seven out of the thirteen conditions were skin conditions!  Also, while we continued to battle allergies, we suffered much fewer upper respiratory infections and sinus infections than typical for us.  We took vitamin C as a preventative every day.  Who knows if it helped!  It was yummy.

Here’s a list of things Mel worried about that didn’t happen:

Anaphylaxis

Heart Attack

Stroke

Broken Bones

Kidney infection

Ruptured Appendix

Concussion

Shark attack

Dismemberment

Pirate-induced gunshot or knife wound

Ciguatera poisoning

Mercury poisoning from all of the fish

Rabid animal attack

Mosquito-bourne encephalitis

Worms coming out of our butts

 

You see, sometimes, it’s not an advantage to be a doctor. 

Stay tuned for more unsolicited medical advice! 

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Leaving the Land Behind

The Burnetts have almost touched their feet to land for three continuous months.  Let’s face it: land still feels weird.  The early days were spent in familiar gypsy-mode, with new surroundings every hour, the Burnetts blissfully free of burden as Greg’s mother in land-locked Missouri continued to sort our substantial mail.  This permitted denial.  For the last eight weeks, however, the family has been burdened with a static mailing address.  Things are now…AAAACK!…”forwarded.”  Suddenly, the Burnetts have to deal with all of that crap themselves. 

So here’s an under-advertised advantage to cruising: no effing JUNK MAIL!   Jo Belle (Greg’s Mom and designated mail-collector while we were gone) is our hero!  Here in Omaha, giant file organizers have been purchased, approved recycling bins have been acquired and filled, and once a day Mel has to resist ripping the XM radio out of her new car just to make them stop bothering her.  $19.99 a month after her free trial is over for radio in her car???  No gracias!  Hey, what is Spanish for: “Go away!”?  Didn’t have to use that in Spain.  Just here.

The worst part about all of this is that the long-idealized cable-TV conduit to pop culture has been horribly disappointing, providing nothing but an unfavorable ratio of commercials to content (and an unfavorable glorification of Real Live Stupid People) that has worsened dramatically in the last two years.  In between the acquisition of the various land-type-things-insurance (the Burnetts LOVE insurance), the booking of the kids’ extracurricular activities, and the assembling of IKEA furniture, Mel can’t seem to find the time to optimize her DVR to allow her to skip all the crap.  Ugh.

There is, unfortunately, plenty of time for regret.

At the risk of sounding repetitious and negative, this transition to land life STILL SUCKS.  The effing hurricanes aren’t helping.  Every time one blows through a landmass we visited, Mel reads her own blog post, looks at all the pictures, and cries.  Is Alexis okay?  Winston?  Mr. Burton?  Debbie?  Will Dominica be taken over by China while the US is looking the other way? 

Oh good.  Canada has stepped in.  Canada quietly saves the day, once again.

The family is still getting used to the yoke of the schedule.  The watch alarm was one thing, but if Greg slept through his alarm because it was drowned out by the motoring, the only consequence was an irritated Mel walking into the berth ten minutes later, gently shaking him, and announcing that she was too tired to hoist the spinnaker now and it would have to wait.  And then she would help hoist the spinnaker anyway, because the winds were so good.  Now, a slept-through alarm means nervous scrambling, tears, risky high-speed driving, disciplinary action, and shame.  “Island-time” was irritating to Americans used to getting things done ASAP, but boy, traveling really makes one realize that the whole thing is a trade-off.  Is efficiency really worth all of this stress?

Being rooted for this long makes one nostalgic for many, many things.  One thing is the picture Mel frequently took while on passage to the next island of the land we were leaving behind.  What a luxury, to move on from something!  Most of the time we weren’t fleeing anything negative other than our own familiarity with a place and the unfounded idea that any more time spent on the last island was taking away from what could be an even more exciting experience on the next.  Now, every time Sirius XM bothers Mel with yet another phone call, Mel still has to look at the same well-rooted, mature tree in the yard.  Oooh, yuck.  This facing-your-problems-outside-of-paradise stuff blows.

Okay, Omaha apparently doesn’t do curbside recycling of glass.  Seriously?  Minnesota has figured this out, people.  Shit.  Mel needs to catch a boat out of here.  Any tributaries in Omaha reaching to the sea?  Any?

But wait! What is that on the horizon?  It is a beautiful blue bird in the sky!  Is that…an airplane?!  Flown by Greg?? Ah-ha! 

This airplane goes 160 kts.  So that is like boat speed, but with a one in front and a zero at the end.  So now we can go from Fort Lauderdale to Port Antonio, Jamaica, in 3.5 hours instead of 5 days.  Just what the doctor ordered! 

You see, even if nomads pin themselves down for very good reasons, they’ll find a way to leave the land behind, at least for a little while.

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In the Wake #2: Kids and Homeschool Wrap-up

Now that we have a brief respite in between the massive hurricanes Africa is hurtling toward us this season, Mel will continue summarizing our experience these past two years.  Let’s talk about school.

You: So, did you have any trouble getting them back into school?  

Mel and Greg: No.  For details on our curriculum this year, click here.  Here’s the deal.  America is quirky, and that worked to our advantage. Every state has its own rules and requirements on homeschooling, ranging from none to burdensome time and testing requirements.  We did not claim residency in any state while we were cruising.  This was such a foreign concept that the schools treated us as if we were moving from abroad, which is sort of true.  Fortunately, the kids had been in regular school until two years ago, so the fact that they had old standardized test scores helped with their placement.  In fact, the only thing that hung us up was that Tommy missed a tetanus booster shot while we were out, so after a quick trip to a pharmacy he was enrolled!

You: How did the kids handle the transition?

Mel and Greg:  Right now the kids have attended school for a month.  Allie joined the sixth-grade class at a public elementary school, and Tommy is an eighth-grader at a public middle school in an excellent district that is diverse and has great college placement.  The transition has been exhausting, but the kids are doing great!  After taking a Pre-Algebra final, Tommy placed into honors Algebra despite the fact that we were only able to finish a quarter of his Singapore math textbook for the year, and Allie is rocking her reading, which involves reading books a lot lower than her Lexile level.   Here are some things we have heard over the last few weeks.

Allie: It was hard to get used to waking up early every day and being on a strict schedule all of the time.  I like my math class the best, because it is very organized and systematic.  It is nice to be with other kids.  They are just like boat kids!

Tommy: It was hard to get used to how inefficient and slow things are.  I read a lot in school after I finish the assignment.  Homework is nothing but busy work.  I like my Current Events class, because I get to debate a lot.

You: What have Mel and Greg noticed about the kids’ return to school?

Mel and Greg: We are very happy to hand over the difficult task of teaching to trained professionals!  However, we do wish there were more options for gifted kids in the US public system.  The kids were exhausted by the schedule for the first couple of weeks, but they got used to it.  They have a lot more noise and distractions now in school than they were used to, but it is good that they are learning how to handle all of that.  Tommy especially is encountering some unsavory characters, a rarity while cruising but a common thing in middle school, and he is acquiring some necessary skills because of this.  Cruising kids end up playing with kids of all ages, but now that they are collected with other students of similar age, they are noticing that kids mature at different rates.  This wasn’t obvious before.

You: What are the pros and cons of homeschooling for a couple of years and then returning back to public school?

Mel and Greg:  One of the best parts about returning to land is that the kids have been able to get back into their extra-curricular activities.  Tommy is going to Tae Kwon Do again and is rapidly moving through his forms after two years off.  Piano lessons have started, and basketball will start soon.  Allie is back in ballet, is taking competitive swimming lessons, and will soon start volleyball and guitar lessons.  Their swimming muscles were nice and strong (Tommy is apparently a push-up king!), but they’ve had to build up their aerobic endurance and are a little behind at team sports.

One of the worst parts about returning to land is that now Mel and Greg have resuscitated the Google Calendar app, and the damn thing dings event reminders at us several times a day. The family is so busy now, Mel may just have to schedule in sundown every day so she won’t miss it!

Even though it was hard work, Mel is sad about the end of homeschooling.  Homeschooling gave our kids an advantage for unexpected reasons. This reason goes beyond our rigorous curriculum choice, the one-on-one tutoring, and even the freedom from distraction. It’s because the flexibility of it all made the entire family take a more active role in the kids’ education.  The kids’ interests and test results drove decisions about what to do for school the next day, and so both the parents and the students became more engaged despite the fact that, over time, there was less direct teaching and more self-study.  The spoon-fed baby is slow to feed itself.  You’ve gotta make that baby eat with his own hands, even if it makes a huge mess.  For example, since starting public school, Mel has witnessed Tommy, without prompting, check his grades on the computer and send an email to his teacher about an irregularity.  Also, when Allie gets a graded paper back, she reviews her missed answers to see how she can improve.  In other words, the kids are aware of their performance level and are just, well, on top of their shit.  Mel thinks the critics of traditional schooling focus too much on curriculum and teacher style and instead should evaluate how much a system teaches its students personal responsibility for their own education.  So if the kids have any advantage from their homeschooling, it is not only because we were able to tailor an advanced curriculum to their levels, but also because they have learned to teach themselves.  

And of course they both know how to drive a dinghy, do a cleat hitch, and what to buy when they see a hanging, decapitated camel head in Morocco.  Useful stuff!