How much does Kolbe cost?

I keep forgetting to answer question in the title, which someone asked me via e-mail.  My answer:

I do not know how much it will cost you if you decide to enroll with Kolbe.  It depends on:

  • How many children you are enrolling.
  • What parts of the program you choose to use.  (Even if you order full-menu, there are choices).
  • How you acquire your books.

Proven accountant trick: Get out your spreadsheet and add it up.


Some Tips for Lowering Your Total Cost

1. Get yourself onto CathSwap, so you can buy used books from people.

2. Beg and borrow books from people you know.  Many Kolbe books are also used by the other major Catholic homeschooling programs.

3. Do every-other-year on subjects that you really don’t need to do the full shebang for.  We do that with the National Catholic Reader — I only own years 2, 4, & 6. I’d take the others if someone gave them to me, but we get plenty of benefit from just the half-set.

4. If you own a computer of some kind (such as the one you are reading this blog on?), look on Kindle or Project Gutenberg for free e-books for out-of-copyright works.

5. If you don’t own a computer, or you just like paper, go to the thrift store or garage sale to find your classic works of English literature.  That is where the ones that don’t get composted end up.  (I know!) You won’t necessarily find the best edition, but it will do.  At $0.25 – $0.50 a piece, most people can afford to speculate that their kindergartener will in fact read Tom Sawyer one day.  You can even afford to accidentallly buy duplicates now and again.

6. Don’t buy services you don’t need.

7. Don’t buy services you can’t afford.  That’s more important than #6.  If you haven’t got the cash, do something else. Learn to avoid debt, and your child will have a very strong foothold on the world.

That was fast.

Whoever prayed for the SuperHusband’s ribs, THANK YOU.  It worked.  Now please apply your efforts to Hathaway’s lungs.  Thanks.

(PS: People tell me the radio thing sounded good enough.  So double-thanks on that one.)

And two things to read:

Chris T. on when and how to give to a worthy cause.

Pope Francis on just about everything.

Busy not blogging. And blogging.

What I’ve been up to so far this Advent:

1. Acquired a cold just strong enough to plant me in front of the PC and get some writing done for a change.  I’d complain, except it’s really not that bad. For me.  My family wishes I’d start making dinner again.  I think.

2. Posted my book review of the Didache series of textbooks up at  These are awesome books, and the new parish editions bring serious theology to high school and adult faith formation.  Long-needed.  Don’t cry to me you don’t have priests, but refuse to teach theology.  How exactly is a boy supposed to fall in love with a something he’s never met?

3. Guessed at my login information for the Happy Catholic Bookshelf enough times that I finally broke in.  And put up my review of Walking Dickens LondonVerdict: I still don’t like Dickens all that much, but the guide book is awesome.  Of course I had to put a reference to Rerum Novarum in the review.  Only logical.

4. I cleaned out my inbox.  If I still owe you an e-mail about something, you’d better tell me.  Because I’m under the mistaken impression I’m all caught up.

5. Planted the potatoes that were sprouting in the cardboard box in the living room.  Ditto for some garlic in the bottom of the fridge.

6.  I’ve written about 5,000 words on the homeschooling manuscript. Also pre-wrote my January homeschooling column, because once you get school on the brain, and a cup of coffee, these things just pop out.

7.  I got all vice-presidential over at the Catholic Writers Guild.  Being VP is almost exactly like being the blog manager, except that instead of plaguing the officers all month long with bad ideas and unhelpful suggestions, you also get to do it during the monthly officer’s conference call.  I think someone nominated me because the existing officers were already practiced at telling me, “No!  Quiet! Sit!  No Biscuit!” so it makes their job easier.  So mostly as VP I amuse people with my ridiculous ideas, and about 1 time in 10, I think one up that someone makes me go do.  And then I regret it, and don’t think up any more ideas for at least 10 minutes.

Also, I goofed off on the internet more than I had planned.   It happens.  I was sick.

3.5 Time Outs: New Things

Thanks once again to our host Larry D. at Acts of the Apostasy, who’s also doing a time-travel edition today.

Click and be amazed.


Blogging Popes.  That’s my topic for today.  Not the kind you’re thinking of, though.


See, here’s what happened:  Saturday night I was bored, tired, and itching for something to read.  Something fun and relaxing and novel.  Meaning, new-to-me.  I usually grab one of my daughter’s library books for this purpose — just enough entertainment to get me through a non-digital Sunday, but not so much that I’ll be out of service, glued to a book, for 10,000 hours waiting for Br. Cadfael to tell me who did it.  But I needed novelty.

So I went to Papal Encyclicals Online.  I’m sure that’s what you do, too.  But before you get too impressed, keep in mind that the three reasons this was a possible source of reading material were:

  • I’d never read most of them before.  Strike one against my Catholic-nerd credentials.
  • They’re usually very short.  This is why I’ve read the minor prophets, but *still* never gotten through all of Isaiah.
  • There was no chance I’d let the cat starve, or grouse at my children for interrupting me during an especially gripping scene.

And the thing is, they tend to cover that same juicy ground as your average Catholic blogger, only you get bonus credit for not being stuck to the computer all day while you work up your angry frenzy at the injustice in the world.  Of course, no Star Trek screen shots for illustrations, but look, I was desperate for entertainment.


And the one I picked was Rerum Novarum.  Which is basically a series of blog posts on economics.  Perfect.

(Let me just say right now, JPII’s follow-up work is not blog-genre.  Waaay more wordy.  Waaay more.  I haven’t finished it yet.  But I’m half thinking, “What more is there to say? already covered the whole territory.  But you know how it is, people need to explain the obvious.  Or maybe people needed the obvious re-explained.)

Here’s a sample snippet of the Leonine goodness:

Hence, by degrees it has come to pass that working men have been surrendered, isolated and helpless, to the hardheartedness of employers and the greed of unchecked competition.

And this:

The mischief has been increased by rapacious usury, which, although more than once condemned by the Church, is nevertheless, under a different guise, but with like injustice, still practiced by covetous and grasping men.

Followed by this:

To this must be added that the hiring of labor and the conduct of trade are concentrated in the hands of comparatively few; so that a small number of very rich men have been able to lay upon the teeming masses of the laboring poor a yoke little better than that of slavery itself.


See? I spent my weekend reading 64 Cath-Econ-blog posts, 19th century edition.


And although I could pretty much shut my eyes and point my finger anywhere in the document to find a good quotable quote, one of my underlined favorites is


Well that’s all for today.  Still accepting suggestions for additions to the sidebar, so tell me who to add.  But do just one link per comment, because otherwise the robotic spam-dragon will consume the whole lot of them.  Thanks!

Labor Day, Slavery, and the Mercy Project

There’s a pile of us blogging today about The Mercy Project, a non-sectarian effort to free children from slavery in Ghana.  I have no affiliation with the project myself, so if you decide to support it financially, do your own due diligence.  But I think the project deserves attention as a model for serious anti-slavery efforts.

Why does slavery persist?  It is difficult to maintain the unbridled hatred that inspires forced labor camps, Nazi-style.  Over the longer run, the humanity of the slave is undeniable; to calmly take lifetime ownership of another person requires the unshakeable certainty that somehow, for some reason, we simply must have slaves.  To be convinced it’s an unavoidable fact of life, one of those regrettable difficulties we must chin-up and endure, hand in hand with long work days, mosquitoes, blisters — all that we suffer in this fallen world.

In Ghana, parents relinquish their children in desperation — the alternative is death. [My own former-slave-state’s motto seems to particularly apt.  Probably not what the founders had in mind.]  The fishermen on Lake Volta who use the children as slaves are in a similar situation: I need this free labor, or I can’t stay in business. The Mercy Project’s method is to think up a village-scaled sustainable new business project that eliminates the financial need for slaves, and then to partner with a particular village to coordinate an emancipation day in conjunction with the implementation of that new opportunity.

[There’s then a process for helping the newly-liberated former slaves to recover from their experience and to rebuild their lives back home with their family of origin, with family assistance to prevent re-trafficking.]

The reported success of the Mercy Project’s first initiative suggests that given any viable alternative, the local slave-owners really are willing to move on to some better business model.  You can read about their second project-in-progress here — same model, slightly different details.

So that’s the Mercy Project.  Take a look.

Thanks to Heather Hendricks for coordinating the giant blog-a-thon.

My vote for Most Important Book of 2012

I just spent 3 days in the largest Catholic bookstore in the world.  I bought one book.  This is it:

Then I was stuck in an airport for five hours.  Perfect timing.

What it is:  Tiến Dương is a real guy about your age (born 1963) who is now a priest in the diocese of Charlotte, NC.  Deanna Klingel persuaded him to let her tell his story, and she worked with him over I-don’t-know-how-long to get it right.  Fr. Tien is a bit embarrassed to be singled out this way, because his story is no different from that of thousands upon thousands of his countryman.  But as Deanna pointed out, if you write, “X,000 people endured blah blah blah . . .” it’s boring.  Tell one story well, and you see by extension the story of 10,000 others.

The book is told like historical fiction, except that it’s non-fiction verified by the subject — unlike posthumous saints’ biographies, there’s no conjecture here.  It’s what happened.  The reading level is middle-grades and up, though some of the topics may be too mature for your middle-schooler.  (Among others, there is a passing reference to a rape/suicide.)  The drama is riveting, but the violence is told with just enough distance that you won’t have nightmares, but you will understand what happened — Deanna has a real talent for telling a bigger story by honing in on powerful but less-disturbing details.  Like, say, nearly drowning, twice; or crawling out of a refugee camp, and up the hill to the medical clinic.

–>  I’m going to talk about the writing style once, right now: There are about seven to ten paragraphs interspersed through the book that I think are not the strongest style the author could have chosen.  If I were the editor, I would have used a different expository method for those few.  Otherwise, the writing gets my 100% stamp of approval — clear, solid prose, page-turning action sequences, deft handling of a zillion difficult or personal topics.

Why “Most Important Book?”

This is a story that needs to be known.  It is the story of people in your town and in your parish, living with you, today.  And of course I’m an easy sell, because the books touches on some of my favorite topics, including but not limited to:

  • Economics
  • Politics
  • Diplomacy
  • Poverty
  • Immigration
  • Freedom of Religion
  • Freedom, Period
  • Refugee Camps
  • Cultural Clashes
  • Corruption
  • Goodness and Virtue
  • Faith
  • Priestly Vocations
  • Religious Vocations
  • Marriage and Family Life as a Vocation
  • Lying
  • Rape
  • Suicide
  • Generosity
  • Orphans
  • Welfare
  • Stinky Mud
  • Used Cars
  • Huggy vs. Not-Huggy

You get the idea.  There’s more.  Without a single moment of preaching.  Just an action-packed, readable story, well told.

Buy Bread Upon the Water by Deanna K. Klingel, published by St. Rafka press.

2011 Tax Round-Up

We’re overdue for a Tax Post.

UPDATED – DARWIN CORRECTS MY CALCULATION:  After reducing the tax-table amount by our tax credits ( Child Tax Credit in our case) the amount we actually owed was only 5%.  Much better.  Matches last year’s number, something of a relief after seeing that big jump in the first try.  Thanks Darwin!

To calculate, take line 55, which is your tax less regular tax credits, divided by line 22, gross income.  At least, that’s the way I do it when Darwin reminds me that’s the way I do it.  Also when I remember that thanks to those PDF’s mentioned below, I don’t have to dig through files to check line number, I can just pull up the PDF in about ten seconds.  Yay.

1.  Our real federal tax rate was 8.5%.  That’s taking our tax from the tax table  cacluation as a portion of gross income. (Line 22 or thereabouts? I already put my forms away.  It was line 22 last year.)  I think it’s a useful calculation, since talk about taxes tends to revolve around theoretical tax rates, when the actual amount you pay may be something quite different.

[FYI for those of you haven’t done the real tax rate check-in before, please don’t post any income information or long explanations.  Just the percentage.  Privacy, modesty, all that.]

2.  I was pleased to see that behind that flashy opening page, remains it’s same sensible self.  If I could only have one website, that would have to be the one.  Since everything else, in theory, I could do without.  But the days of riding downtown and searching through the shelves at the tax office for the forms I need?  I do not miss those days.

3. I love fillable forms.

4. Not the ones provided by third-party businesses I’ve never heard of and wouldn’t dream of using unless I had some time to research it, which I don’t.  But those lovely, lovely IRS-issued PDF’s.  Oh how I love them.

5.  I wish South Carolina would take a hint and follow suit.  Hand-writing is so 2009.

6. But give me that ol’ newsprint 1040 instruction manual.  Thankfully my library stocks them.  I see that last year I made do with printing out and secretly sorta liked it.  I take that back.  I hope there’s some law requiring them forever and ever amen.  I can do PDF instructions for everything else, but for the 1040, I wanna flip pages.  I highlight stuff.  I make notes in the margins.  I write numbers in the grainy gray worksheets.  It is my friend.

7.  Curse you, SC, for not printing SC Long Form booklets anymore.  You, too, should give me a booklet.  I want a booklet.  I never bought into the accusations that SC is a “backward” state, but now I see it is true. Fillable PDF’s, newsprint booklets.  It is The Way.

8.  The IRS really does have good writers.

(Okay, after a certain point, I think they assume nobody is reading the instructions anymore, because if you dig into the more arcane forms, yes, incomprehensible.  But a good ol’ 1040, and schedule A and those guys — yes. Well done.  And thank you generous employers for not giving everybody $7 in foreign-source dividend income as an employee perk, the way you did that other time.  I feel an HR person was burned in effigy over that little incident.)

9.  Thank you kind person who forgot to pay me until January 2012.  I owe you one.  Saved me a ton of headache I didn’t need this year.

10.  Geek humor:  The SuperHusband was talking about income and work and raises.  I told him to tell his boss about our big financial goal: We want to pay Alternative Minimum Tax*.

*It’s a JOKE.   I’m KIDDING.  Neither Powers nor Principalities need to get a laugh at my expense by making it actually happen.  Thank you P&P for your self-restraint.

A Recipe for Poverty

A friend of mine lives in one of those helpful European countries with nationalized health care and social services and everything you could want.  And I know from experience that these systems can work pretty well for a lot of people.  I understand the appeal.

But my friend’s recent struggles to get the care she needs (nothing wildly expensive) leads me to think nationalization of social supports is a very bad solution. Here’s why:

Government-run services are much harder to shut down if they become corrupt, incompetent, or unsafe.  It takes, literally, an act of Congress.  (And then some).  In comparison, privately-run services can be boycotted by consumers, or in the case of safety-violations, legitimately shut down by government regulators.

When the system doesn’t work, there is nowhere else to turn.  Taxpayer-funded, universal-enrollment systems squeeze out private providers.  The money I could have spent on private fees has already been mailed to the government in taxes.  I no longer have that cash on hand.  The vastly diminished demand for privately-provided services also means therea are fewer private providers available to choose from.

“Universal” services shortchange the poor.  The supposed reason for creating nationalized services is so that the poor have access to the essentials they need, such as medical care or education.  The reality of government-run bureaucracies, however, is that they favor the upper-middle class — the people who have the resources and connections to work the system to their advantage.

How, then, to help the poor? By helping the poor.

Those who truly cannot provide for themselves do indeed need our assistance.  One can reasonably argue that in a large, diverse, and mobile society, government-provided alms are a legitimate way of caring for those who might otherwise be overlooked by private charities.

But the whole nation cannot need alms.  It is a mathematical joke.  We cannot all be poor all the time.

3.5 Time Outs: Seen On My Screen Porch

Thanks once again to our host Larry D. at Acts of the Apostasy, who has me so well trained I had this ready to go before even finding out if he means to continue.  Updated to report: Yes!  And check out the stylish Christmas theme:

Click to find out if Larry D. received his underground Lair from Santa this year.


This week we are Bunny-sitting.  Cinnamon and Jenny-Bunny look delicious, but they are not for eating.  We are working hard to avoid bunny-tragedy.  The dog sits at the glass door looking out on the screen porch and whimpers.  The cat sneaked in from outside when someone left the screen door open, and there was much bunny-scurrying in the cages.  But bunnies remain both safe and entertained, because also on my screen porch is . . .


Ping Pong!  I felt un-American, having no ping-pong table all these years.  I still don’t, but I talked the 5-year-old into buying a package of balls for her brother for Christmas.   (She bought her sisters scented hand lotion; I didn’t think He Who Is Doubtful About Bathing would want the lotion.)  I sprung for two paddles.  Christmas afternoon we set up my 2×5 folding table on the screen porch — true Table Tennis.  Perfect size for children, and for adults who want to sit while they play, plus it is more compact than a regular table.  And you don’t feel bad about eating on it.   The balls don’t bounce well on the plastic table, so SuperHusband loaned us a sheet of luan plywood to place over top, and that both improved the bounce and gave us the happy ping-ponging sound.

The family is divided between the bitter minority that thinks we must have a net, and the large, superior-reasoning majority who observe that we’d just have 10,000 net balls.  Screened porches are the ideal place for ping-pong, because the balls can’t get far.  Plus, covered.  No rain.  But still outside.  Children + Balls = Outside.

NEWSBRIEF: LIVE FROM BOY’S BEDROOM:  DOGS EAT PING PONG BALLS.  Don’t store them in the house.  That’s the other reason dog sits whimpering at glass door.   All those balls, bouncing back and forth, and that horrid glass between.  It is the week of Dog Torment.


Also seen from the living room is this view, which I included in the homeschool photo-fest this past fall not because it had to do with homeschooling, but because I was so excited about my invention.

Taken in warmer months. It is not this green in December.

Here’s what happened:

  1. Our dryer attempted death.
  2. My dryer-repair guy was going to be preoccupied with gainful employment for a while.
  3. No problem.  Neglected laundry tree out in the back yard.
  4. Wait. Rain.
  5. Plus mosquitoes.
  6. I’m not complaining just observing.
  7. Did I mention dryer-guy not home to fix dryer?

Meanwhile, we had a patio table out front on the, er, patio. (Actually the driveway, but we don’t drive on that part so we call it The Patio.  Pretend with us.)  I pulled the umbrella out and stuffed it in the shed, then dragged the table into the screen porch.  Placed the umbrella stand in position under the table.

I used tools we don’t want to talk about to dig the laundry tree out by its roots where it was determined to be permanently affixed in the yard.  [If I have one superpower, it is furniture-moving.  Laundry Tree you met your match.]  Put old socks from the cloth bin on the pokey edges of the laundry tree, and very very carefully, with would-have-been-horrified-and-cringing spouse safely away in a neighboring state, erected the laundry tree in the hole in the center of the table where the umbrella used to live.

It works great!  The mesh top of the patio-table is perfect for laying things flat to dry.  Only caveat is that since the laundry tree is not in the ground, it stands taller than normal.  I’m 5’7″ in a pair of sneakers and can reach fine, but it doesn’t work for shorter people.  So now I’m commissioning child-height under-eaves laundry lines for the small people, because they seriously need a feedback loop about how much laundry they are generating.  Plus, see “Decrepitude”, “Plague”, etc., I would get a much more reliable flow of smug superiority if my ability to hang laundry didn’t depend on standing* quite so much.

I think SuperHusband is willing to take the job, because now the dryer is getting serious about its death threats (it wails pitifully), and it pains the man to spend money on something you technically don’t need, plus costs more money to operate, when all that cash could be spent, on, say, camera lenses.  He thinks that if we are serious about hanging out laundry all the time, maybe he can nurse the dryer along a few more years with urgent-case-use only.


So.  Smug superiority.  Hanging out your laundry, if you are the grumpy, complaining type, can make you downright peevish towards so-called environmental groups that are advocating for this and that alternative fuel, but can’t be bothered to push a serious campaign to cut American energy usage in very simple ways.  Laundry lines being #1.  And #2 on the list is


Something I’ll rant about next week. Hope your 12 Days are fantabulous — is anyone else having a Chocolate Year of Christmas?  I’ve been getting the stuff from everybody.  Let me just say: Best gift ever.  Okay and single-malt scotch is right up there, but not everyone is the SuperHusband, and plus you don’t have to be so moderate on the chocolate.





*If you’ve been sitting on the edge of your chair wondering when on oh when I’ll post the next decrepitude-watch post, the short version is: All is way better than a year ago, not so good as two years ago.  Reliably walking maybe 2 miles?  And then I can fit in another hour or so of other house-yard-etc activity.  Depending on your perspective, that either seems like an extravagant plenty or a laughable pittance.  I agree.  Anyhow, it is enough to hang laundry, plague not withstanding.  I happen to love hanging laundry, so long as I can get the other people to leave me alone while I do it.  Silence.  It’s all about the silence.

Book Recommendation : 5000 Years of Slavery

I have been frustrated in trying to find a good book about slavery.  Most in our library focus entirely on the history of slavery in the United States, with perhaps a brief mention in passing of the existence of slavery in other times and places.  I find this limited treatment of the topic leads to some problematic misunderstandings — in many ways perpetuating the same racism that enabled American slavery and the subsequent post-emancipation civil rights abuses.

So I was glad to discover this book:

This is an introductory treatment, very readable and with lots of pictures, but it is not for young children.  What I like:

  • Separate chapters on slavery in the ancient world, pre-colonial Europe, Africa from ancient times to present, in the Americas among indigenous tribes and states, in Asia, and in the modern world internationally.
  • Precise scope.  Serfdom, for example, is mentioned only when the conditions truly amounted to slavery — mere garden-variety medieval serfdom is passed over in favor of actual slavery in the era.  In the same way, contemporary slavery is restricted to true slavery — forced labor with no option of departure — rather than degenerating into a diatribe against poor wages and lousy working conditions.  (Those are serious problems, but they are not slavery.)
  • Honest who-did-what-when reporting.  No bizarre cultural biases or weird anti-European narratives.
  • Factual but not voyeuristic accounts.  The realities of rape, starvation, torture, and the like are all mentioned where the historical record shows they happened, but there is no morbid dwelling on gruesome details.

What it amounts to is a book you can take seriously.  Good starting point, though it certainly left me wanting to learn more.  Highly recommended.