When My Dad Died


My dad died 9 years ago today. Sometimes it feels like that was just a few weeks ago, sometimes an entire lifetime seems to have passed. I’ve never shared much about those days and weeks leading up to his death publicly, but with my Mom having a stroke 2 weeks ago and my anxiety super high the last few days, my nerves are raw and I feel like writing is the thing to do.

When I think back on the 3 weeks between when Charis was born and when we buried my Dad, it’s not the pure insanity of it all that dominates my thoughts, it’s actually just the opposite. My Dad’s death was totally unexpected and the timing was terrible (I mean when is the timing of DYING actually good…it seems Death doesn’t really care about closure or schedules or newborns). I was barely home from the hospital with a brand new baby and a fresh c-section incision when we all packed up and drove to Dallas to be with my Dad in the hospital. When we got there, he was already in a coma with a very bleak prognosis. And since I was fresh out of surgery, I wasn’t allowed to drive myself. Which meant I was basically bumming rides off of anyone and everyone that would take me to see him during his visiting hours. He never met my daughter since babies weren’t allowed in the ICU. And we drove back to Memphis on a Sunday morning, unsure of how long he would remain in a coma, and he died that afternoon.

In spite of all of the crazy, my mind finds these other moments, these supernatural moments, when I start to remember those weeks. I remember thinking of the verse in Psalms that says, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints”. At the time I would hardly call my Dad a saint, but I needed to find that verse. I picked up this random Bible that I found at Half Price while I was there and the translation happened to read, “The death of the one that belongs to the Lord is precious in his sight”. The one that belongs to Him. I wept over those pages as I felt God saying that my Dad was His. That it didn’t matter if his life looked saintly or not, because he belonged.

I remember my friend’s mom driving me to the hospital and asking if she could come in and pray over my dad. She read Scripture to him and prayed and a single tear ran down his otherwise unresponsive face. I couldn’t even pretend to keep it together.

And I remember being at my Dad’s funeral, in some random town in Mississippi that he wanted to be buried in with a toddler and a newborn and family that I hadn’t seen since I was little and looking up to see my best friend Erin walk through the doors to the funeral home. I’m sure it wasn’t easy for her to find someone to watch her littles or to even find that tiny town, but she showed up. She just showed up. I’ll never forget that moment seeing her come through those doors as long as I live. It’s honestly the perfect picture of friendship to me. She loved me enough not to even ask if I wanted her there, she just came. She played with Jac and held Charis and was THERE during one of the hardest days of my life. For that reason, if Erin ever wants to rob a bank, I wouldn’t hesitate driving the getaway car. I’d probably even take the blame and do her time in the Big House for her. She means that much to me.

I miss my Dad. I miss baking with him. I miss watching him dance all weird in the living room. I miss his stories about his grandmother. I miss his affection for stemware (you read that right). But I can confidently say that he belonged to God, not to me. And when I see him again, I’ll show him pictures of my babies and we’ll laugh about how nerdy Jac is, how certifiable Charis is, how flighty Abigail is and how rotten Jones is. And I kind of think he’ll already know but act like he doesn’t so I can tell stories. And then we’ll make seven thousand pies and pair them with the perfect glassware. Until then…

Homeschooling – One Week In


A lot of people have been asking with baited breath, sort of scared of the answer, “So….how’s it going?” I’m happy to report that, for the most part, okayish. This whole experience is a pretty steep learning curve, with most of the learning happening with ME.

Things I’ve learned so far:

  • The more prepared I am, the better the day goes for all of us
  • It’s hard to find time to prepare
  • Field trip opportunities are EVERYWHERE, this is exciting
  • Opportunities to complain are ALSO everywhere, this is not so exciting
  • I am more patient than I ever thought and less patient than I ever thought, often in the same day
  • Curriculum is mostly SUGGESTIONS – right?
  • My kids aren’t as smart as I thought they were
  • My kids are smarter than I thought they were
  • I actually like hanging out with my kids when they aren’t whining or fighting
  • This is about 20% of the day – and I’ll take it for now
  • Feeding kids is a full time job, but I also hated packing lunches so maybe I just wish these kids didn’t need food. Or clean clothes while we’re at it.
  • Having a supportive husband (and roommate) is a non-negotiable. If he wasn’t on board I would feel like a lone ranger. A lone ranger with a tic and a box of wine at noon.
  • The teacher gifts that I used to give out WERE NOT ENOUGH. People, thank your teachers, and often – they do this with twenty students that they don’t even get to claim on their taxes. This deserves gifts and praise. Lots of it.
  • Flexibility is everything. Don’t like that book? There are about a million other options. Need a day to catch up? Teacher inservices are perfectly acceptable. Need to get out of the house? Field trips don’t require permission slips here.

I hope the kids are learning SOMETHING. I really do. But I have to remind myself that their academic education isn’t even why we’re doing this. They needed a break from the go go go and the testing. We all needed a year to reconnect as a family. I needed time to help build their character. And John needed someone else to learn to do a load of laundry around here. If just a few of those things get done by May, I’d call it a win.

An Ode To TCAP (and other standardized testing catastrophes)


All across Tennessee, starting in the early spring semester, schools stop being schools and instead turn into TCAP factories. Recess starts getting skipped, PE turns into TCAP review time, social studies becomes non-existent, and teachers and children start developing physical symptoms of anxiety and stress.

Jac, who is one of the highest performing kids in his class, came home early from school with headaches and nausea on at least 5 separate occasions. He’s 10.
Charis would come home crying because her pre-test scores were not high enough.
(Not to mention the culture of crazy rewards and exclusions that essentially disclose what are supposed to be confidential scores to students. These “incentives” inevitably lead to shame and self-labeling by children not old enough to understand how little these tests really matter to their long term success.)

Deciding that NOTHING was worth this kind of stress for my ELEMENTARY aged children, I inquired about opting them out. I was told by an administrator at Shelby County Schools that opting them out was essentially ILLEGAL in the state of Tennessee.

I’m sorry – are you saying as a parent I have NO options as to how my kid is being examined by the state?? I can choose to not vaccinate them against polio, but I can’t have them read a book instead of being tested for 3 days straight??

Moving past the obvious absurdity of forced, high-stakes testing for small children, let’s talk about the ridiculousness that surrounds the scoring and reporting of the TCAP results.

No Child Left Behind (most ironic name for a program ever, in my humble opinion) and Race to the Top initiatives have determined that the best way to evaluate and compensate teachers is based off of these types of high-stakes tests. Consider for one moment if YOUR job and livelihood was based off of THREE days of results from children that you’ve taught for a few months. God forbid that kid was having a bad day or misread the question (kids NEVER misread questions by the way).

So when the preliminary “quick scores” were finally released the day before school got out for the summer, my kids’ teachers were elated to see gains in their students’ scores. When I went to pick Jac up from his classroom, I asked his teachers if they were happy with the results since it seemed like the scores were great. Their response? “We THINK these scores are good.”

“What? How do you not know if these scores are good??”
“Well the state hasn’t released the proficiency and advanced cut offs for the year, yet.”
“Wait, these CHANGE every year?!?”
“Not always, we usually know the cut off before they release the scores. But they haven’t told us yet.”
“Didn’t they ALREADY bump up the proficiency cut off to 85 last year?? Surely it won’t go any higher than that??”
“Surely not.”

Then, the next day, the proverbial shit hit the proverbial fan when the state announced that it had INDEED raised the cut off to 89 or NINETY depending on the grade and subject.

Would you like to see the nightmare of an explanation that the Tennessee Department of Education gave for this jump?

Here’s a “simple” vocabulary lesson first…
(click images to enlarge)


And here is their mind-boggling explanation…


Note: There is ZERO transparency into how these tests are scored and then subsequently adjusted after the fact. Only vague explanations about comparing the tests to previous years tests to determine if the questions were at the same level of difficulty. Does anyone else see the obvious problem with this type of comparison?? This would mean that if significant gains WERE made across the state, that the scores would then just be adjusted assuming that the questions were obviously too easy. What. The. F.

Even if this ISN’T why the proficiency cut off jumped up FIVE points, we’ll never really know the real reason. They keep these tests so secret and the methodology of scoring so elusive, that they become untouchable to anyone who starts to demand answers.

In an attempt to explain this fiasco, this letter was went out to school directors from Governor Haslam’s office offering an explanation for the confusion surrounding the scoring process.


Yes, you read that right – our teachers, administrators and students are suffering because they had a CHANGE IN PERSONNEL. What other business in the country could get away with this type of behavior by saying they had a fire and hire??

So TCAP is a shit show. But some are saying, it’s not an issue because we will be using TNReady next year. Oh. My. Good. God. TNReady is going to be an even bigger nightmare, mark my words. Along with all of the issues mentioned already, they are adding fill-in-the-blanks on almost every question in order for students to TYPE AN EXPLANATION of how they got their answer.

Where do I start on this…. the fact that 8 year olds can’t type? Or that each test is going to have to be hand graded requiring some sort of objectivity that is impossible with thousands of graders? Or that the servers have crashed multiple times on test runs leaving children in tears because they lost their work? Not to mention the fact that a student who might be behind in language, but accelerated in math will be penalized on the math section because they struggle to put their thinking into words. What 8 year old do you know that can verbalize their problem solving process in one to two sentences?? What TWENTY EIGHT year old do you know that can do that??

Parents – educate yourself about these tests. We need an opt-out option like so many other states offer to their students. We need transparency in these grading processes. We need to advocate for our teachers who are working their tails off only to be told that the cut off scores are a moving target that won’t be revealed until the very end of May.

Something has to change.

Why We Are Unschooling…For the Most Part Anyways

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Over the past year, I’ve spent quite a lot of time reading and researching education methods for elementary aged children. I’ve read about learning styles, pedagogical schools of thought, curriculum options, how other countries operate their schools, and what seems to be working for our kids here in the U.S.

And after all of that reading and researching and observing in my own children – here’s what I’ve come up with:

Kids are natural learners. We just have a gift of robbing them of that joy with our tests and our homework and our memorization and our schedule and our arbitrary benchmarks.

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So we are unschooling next year. Detoxing if you will. (If you’re unfamiliar with this term, GO LEARN ABOUT IT! BAM – you’ve just been unschooled.)

And while I’ve equipped myself with resources to help them learn, I’ve decided I can’t do it for them. It’s something they have to do for themselves.

If you’re curious at all about how schools as we know them could become obsolete…these 22 minutes WILL NOT disappoint:

My hope for the next year is to find that drive in each kid to KNOW their world. To ask questions. To read. To think. To push themselves because they are CURIOUS, not because they are being forced. And I just get to be the encouraging Granny. (watch the talk for that reference)

I’m sure we’ll fumble our way through some of this, and I’m sure there will be days where no one in this house wants to learn, but I believe it’s the better choice for us – and one that will serve them well for the rest of their lives as learners.

P.S. I found that TED talk from a recommendation from my TEN YEAR OLD. I might just go ahead and graduate that one out of the Carroll Kid Academy to clear space for other students. I think I’m done there.

Why We’ve Decided to Homeschool Next Year…

So we have a big, maybe surprising announcment………………..no we’re not adopting Emily.
We’re homeschooling next year.
(Holy crap it’s out there. I don’t think I can go back on this now.)
I’ve had a few conversations here and there so I know this isn’t a surprise for everyone, but I wanted to take a few minutes and try to explain how we got here.
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The following are NOT reasons we are homeschooling…

  • Because I like denim jumpers
  • Because I want to
  • Because I don’t like the kids’ teachers
  • Because I miss my kids too much all day
  • Because religion

Reasons why we are…

  • Because we need a break.  A break from homework and the crazy testing and rush rush rush and the early mornings and the PTA and the fundraisers and the “projects” that end up being an assignment for me or Emily.
  • Because the kids need to learn some actual real life things like CLEANING THEIR FREAKING ROOM which we currently try to squeeze between the homework hour and the hurry-up-and-find-your-cleats hour. In all seriousness, I KNOW they are capable of way more than “Mom, can you pop this bag of popcorn for me?” I taught Charis to scramble eggs last week and she actually GOT UP AND MADE HERSELF BREAKFAST and didn’t burn the house down! I hope to transfer these skills to a complete breakfast-in-bed scenario for me in the very near future.
  • Because my kids need more time outside than the current 0-15 minute allotment given to them in school. I know they have a lot to fit into a school day, but even on days when recess isn’t taken from them for some sort of consequence (my LEAST favorite way to punish a student by the way), they are barely outside long enough to adjust their eyes before it’s time to go back inside. I’ve got a couple of wiggle worms that I can see dying slow chair-shaped deaths.
  • Because anything they could ever want to know about the world they can know in the time it takes to type in a google search. I really believe kids are natural learners and I can’t wait for them to have actual free time to explore their unique interests and curiosities.
  • Because we like to go. The Carrolls are ALWAYS up for a trip – whether it’s to Shelby Farms or Washington, D.C., there is a world out there only a tank of gas away that I want to explore with my kids before they realize I’m not cool enough to travel with.
In saying all of this, I’m only saying this is our plan for NEXT YEAR. Ok, who are we kidding – our plan for AUGUST. My kids might be back in school the first week of September if I lose my mind – which is a highly likely scenario.
There are some AWESOME school options in Memphis and we are excited about exploring those for each kiddo after this year is over. Jac will be moving onto middle school (WHAT) and the other kiddos might be back at Downtown. Who knows.
Things we will miss…
  • Relationships. Obviously with their friends, but also with their teachers and staff members who genuinely have my kids best interest at heart.
  • A quiet house during the week. Enough said.

I hope to write more on how I got to this decision – it didn’t come easily. I’ve been doing a ton of reading, researching, interviewing, praying, journaling, and talking with each kid to make sure that this was ACTUALLY going to be a good idea. I’m confident now in our decision and the kids are really excited, too.

But if you find me half naked on Poplar talking to myself…..now you’ll know why.

RVing with the Inmates

When we were in the planning stages of taking the whole family for an RV trip over spring break, I told myself things like “Remember, self, you are going from a bajillion square feet to a dining table that also folds out into a bed. Things are GOING to get dicey.” and “Remember, self, these children of yours are mostly animals and have zero capacity for understanding your need to introvert.” Needless to say, I had the bar set VERY, very low for this trip. It’s not pessimism, it’s a self-protection technique. I’ve gone into trips before thinking, “Self! You’ve planned and spent money and prepared awesome adventures for your kids and they are going to be forever grateful for your amazing vacation skills,” only to be let down when 30 minutes into the trip one of the inmates is telling me she’d rather be ANYWHERE ELSE IN THE WORLD than with her family on this trip. Setting low bars is just good life skills people.

So I’m just as shocked as you are right now to be telling you that the trip was a MEGA SUCCESS. Mega. In fact, the kids ranked it up there with Disney World and let’s just say this trip didn’t shave years off my life like Disney did. I’m pretty sure I aged like a 2 term President over the course of those 6 days.

So what made it so great? We’re still trying to put our finger on that exactly. Lots of little things like freedom and flexibility for them and for us, family togetherness with enough space to introvert a little, beautiful weather and air conditioning while we slept, and mostly NOT HAVING TO STOP AT NASTY GAS STATION BATHROOMS EVERY 15 MINUTES. This is huge people. Even though that thing could only go about 15 miles an hour, I’m pretty sure we made better time than we ever have in our whole life with children.

And look – you only have to pack a FEW THINGS. (this pic doesn’t even include our clothes)


After we packed most of our earthly belongings, we loaded up and headed for Arkansas. In the beginning I was a stickler about wearing seatbelts while the RV was in motion.


But as you can see it started to get a little loosey-goosey back there…


I’ll be honest and say that I eventually quit caring if they were wearing seatbelts. We were basically going school-zone speed in the right lane and it seemed like a shame not to let them take their chances in life like we did growing up.

We stayed in Hot Springs one night and had originally planned on going through Dallas on our way to Texas hill country after that. But then the forecast said rain all week in that part of the country and since our HOUSE WAS ON WHEELS we just decided to go to Florida instead!


John did ALL of the driving, which was so very nice of him. I found out I have a fear of parking houses.

We were sad to miss out on seeing family and friends in Texas, but the weather in Florida was fantastic and totally worth the small detour.

Here are my highlights of the trip in no particular order…

  • The food…   Maybe it was because I was forced to menu plan and grocery shop. Maybe it was because there was a lot of marshmallows involved. Maybe it’s because I learned how to make PIZZA OVER A CAMPFIRE.


  • Kids being able to sit facing either other during transport (which is just as much of a shock to me as it is to you).  Turns out they CAN get along on a roadtrip without staring at a screen! Looking over and seeing scenes like this was almost worth the cost of the rental…



  • Having a small amount of space to clean EVEN WHEN IT LOOKED LIKE THIS…


It only took half an hour for it to look like this…


(But when I try to clean all of 800 Snowden the inmates work approximately 42 times faster than me and the cycle never ends. Having a TOTALLY CLEAN dwelling made me happier than it should make any normal human being, even if it only lasted 4 minutes.)

  • Eating outside for almost every meal…. Rolling up lunch with one fell swoop is incredibly gratifying. I’m sensing a theme here…

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  • Watching this kid read whenever he wanted to….which was almost every spare minute.

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  • The options at our RV parks – RVC Outdoor Destinations… In Hot Springs, John, Jones and Abigail went on a massive zip lining adventure and they had a great playground for the kids. In Florida we could choose between the pool, the playground, and, ahem, boat rentals. (I’ll tell the boat story later…it’s a doozy.)

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  • Quality Family Time… Obviously this could have happened at home. But being away from civilization, surrounded by mostly retired couples and trees, you only have EACH OTHER for entertainment. It’s a good kind of desperation. Sure, we had moments of conflict here and there, but for the most part – we actually LIKED each other for the majority of the week! It was a Spring Break MIRACLE!

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We will most defintely be renting one of these bad boys again soon. If only for the rolling bathroom…

Helpful links:

Cruise America (the company we rented from)

Campfire Pizza Log

RV Packing List

RVC Outdoors (STELLAR RV Parks with 5 star amenities)



That time we were on Ellen


So this whole experience has come up a couple of times in the last few months and I thought it would be good to get it all on the interwebs for posterity’s sake. You’ll have to forgive the quality of the videos and pictures but this was ten years ago and the only way we knew to capture it was VHS. (If you’re under 30 – ask me what those were and I’ll explain later.) So these videos are literally VHS –> DVD –> YouTube. Honestly it’s a testament to our tenacity that we even tried.

Here’s the back story….

We moved to Memphis in August of 2004. I was 7 months pregnant with Jac and we were starting over in a brand new city without any family. John was working full time with the Ugly Mug and I was nannying part-time and getting ready for Jac full time. Getting ready for a baby is 1 part nursery, 2 parts vomiting, and 3 parts watching TV. (I promise, that’s accurate.) So in the mornings I would watch Ellen because I needed to laugh (this is good advice for anyone – laughter is medicine that works in almost any circumstance).

She started this segment called “RSVP Ellen” where people would send her invitations to random events (birthdays, weddings, showers, etc.) and she would pick a few to read on air every day. I was watching one day and someone invited her to come to a sonogram for their first baby. And I thought to myself, “I can do better than that! I’ll just ask her to come be my birth coach for Jac.” I sat down at the computer at 11 am, and wrote her an invitation. At 8 pm that evening, I got a phone call….

The first 5 and a half minutes are the original phone call and the following are segments taken from the beginning of the show for the next couple of weeks…

And these are more clips from the weeks leading up to his birth. Unfortunately, Ellen wasn’t able to actually come coach me through my emergency C-section, but she DID send a TON of gifts to the house with her producers and surprised me Publisher’s Clearing House style. That comes at the 10:30 mark.

So they came to the house that November to surprise us and then flew us out to L.A. in January for Ellen to meet Jac! I have the whole episode, but I’m having trouble uploading it because of copyright issues. Stay tuned…