Monday, January 23, 2012

Missing factor in homeschool equation

For all the ranting and raving I do over the lack of correct spelling and grammar, there is a much darker reality at play: I stink at all the other disciplines traditional to the education process.

True story: While acing my honors English classes in high school, I was sweating through Geometry and barely eking out Cs and Ds. My sister, Kate, who went on to earn a master’s degree in polymer chemistry, didn’t understand me at all. “Why is this so hard?” she’d ask, looking at an equation that I had brought to her. I wanted to say, “Oh yeah, Miss Concrete Thinker, let’s see who can write a sonnet quicker, shall we?” But of course I kept that thought unspoken because, let’s face it, I needed her help.

And now, I am the butt of jokes with my own family. My teenager will ask if I need a calculator when I’m doubling a recipe. My husband will hear me talking to myself “Let’s see … $35 plus $25 is $50” and say, “Tell me you’re joking.” Sadly, I’m not.

But our nine-year-old angel, Lily, has always been my buddy, seeing as I was still smarter than her in this arena.

Until now, that is.

Last week, I was working a puzzle at the dinner table while she worked on her fourth grade math homework. “Mom?” she asked as I searched for a border piece, “is six times nine 54?”

Maybe it was the exertion of working the puzzle, or the exhaustion from the lovely dinner I had just prepared, or maybe the creative side of my brain was overpowering the … other side (what IS that side called again?) but I COULD NOT remember my multiplication tables to know what the correct answer was.

So it happened. Just as before with our firstborn, I swallowed my pride and whispered, “It’s time to go find your dad.”

Another chapter closed.

Fast-forward to tonight. We were in the car running errands with Lily, and she was asking what would happen if the economy got so bad that we had to close schools. Craig and I assured her that we aren’t anywhere near that yet, and then I added, “Besides, would it be so bad being home with me all day as your teacher?”


It was dark out. Perhaps she had fallen asleep?

“Well….” She said, “at least I would learn English, since that’s the only thing Mom really knows.”

Excuse me? Yes, I used to be a high school English teacher and I have been writing for a living for 15 years now, but I know a thing or two about other stuff too.

Craig tossed me a bone by adding, “Well, she’s good at grammar and spelling too.”

Whodawa? That’s still English-related, mister. Tell her about all the other things I’m good at, I wanted to yell. Like … puzzles.

“Yeah,” Lily agreed, albeit reluctantly. “And I guess she could help me with math if she had a calculator right next to her.”

Seriously, go ahead and talk about me AS IF I’M NOT RIGHT HERE IN THE CAR, people!

I’m not taking it personally, however, because I know when honors English rolls around I will once again be the go-to parent.

But until then, I am grateful that my husband and Lily’s teacher are around, teaching my child what I am, allegedly, unable to do myself.

Eileen Burmeister lives, works and struggles with basic math principles in Roseburg. She can be reached at or you can follow her on Twitter at EBurmeister.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Banned words for 2012 - Do you agree?

I've always thought that banned-book lists were silly. You can't control what someone reads, right? And why would you? They're not hurting anyone by reading "Catcher in the Rye" for the 27th time.

But I may be changing my tune. I just caught wind of a list of banned words and phrases that are no longer to be uttered in the new year. Huzzah! (That's not one of the banned words, just my getting behind this effort.)

Lake Superior State University in Michigan announced the list just before New Year's Eve.

Now, as a native Ohioan, I have sworn to love my state and hate everything from Michigan. (I believe it's in the small print when you sign to get your license or something.) So you can imagine my surprise when I read an article from a university in Michigan and said, "Wow, they got that right!"

Each year the school proclaims its List of Words Banished from the Queen's English for Misuse. (They're in America, so I'm not sure which queen they're referring to—maybe Latifah?)

Apparently, the list is compiled by the school from nominations from around the globe. It started on New Year's Day 1976 as a publicity stunt by the school's public relations department. Since then they have received tens of thousands of nominations.

How did I not know about this? The thought of ranting to someone who actually cares is beyond exciting. (Not to mention how thrilled my husband and kids will be that I have an alternative outlet for said rants.)

So what's on the list? Here are a few of this year's banned terms:

1. "Occupy." My husband teased me that I should start an Occupy My Couch movement in which I take one exceedingly long nap to bring attention to something. (I'm still working out the details, but it's something really important).

2. "Amazing." Just take a look at a teen's Facebook wall or Twitter feed and you'll see why this word has to be banned immediately. No, your new boots from Christmas are not "amazing"; they're simply kind of cute. Be more accurate!

3. "Trickeration." A term popularized by sports analysts to describe a tricky play—most likely learned at the George W. Bush School of Sports Broadcasting.

4. "Man cave." When I've had occasion to actually see a man cave, I've been horribly underwhelmed. I believe "man cave" is a euphemism for "I don't have to pick up after myself in this area." Nothing good comes from this line of thinking.

5. "Ginormous." It's a blend of gigantic and enormous. Not to be overly dramatic, but I believe it's evil and must be destroyed. It's ridicusurd.

6. "The new normal." This phrase was created by those in denial, those who believed we were ever normal before.

7. "Thank you in advance." You haven't done it yet. You don't want to do it. But I'll pressure you into doing it by thanking you up front, and now I can wash my hands of this request. Nicely played, me.

8. "Win the future." No pressure there. Not only do you have to take one day at a time, you must win the entire future. What does that even mean? As an Oregonian, if I hear the University of Oregon Ducks' motto "win the day" one more time I might have to poke someone's eye out with something sharp. Consider yourselves warned.

What's the big fuss, you ask?

University Spokesman John Shibley put it this way in USA Today:

"A lot of people can take this wrong. We don't mean any malice when we publish it. If it makes you angry, it gets you thinking about language. If it gets you laughing, it gets you thinking about language. It's done its job—to get you to think about how you express yourself."

Now that's a movement I could occupy for some time.

Eileen Burmeister is a corporate writer and humor columnist who lives, works and writes in Southern Oregon. She can be reached at, or you can follow her on Twitter at EBurmeister.

Mama Bear

Over the years, my kids have teased me when I’ve thrown my arm across their chest anytime I brake hard in the car. You know what I’m talking...