Category Archives: For Fun

What I’ve Learned: Tending to the Garden

I’ve been quite neglectful of my blog garden, and you readers are always so understanding.

Thanks for that.

Over at Da Tech Guy, where I am still faithfully blogging once a week, I recently lamented the fact that I live in a seemingly impenetrably blue district.

In my really real world, I have hit yet another wall in that endeavor known as Teaching Older Son Math.  I have fled my free-wheeling ways and started teaching straight from a textbook again.  Standardized testing in May will give me an idea of how much progress has been made.

I haven’t posted about my garden since July 2013, and a follow-up post is in order.  I had a really successful crop of yams.  Between the periodic harvest of “just enough for tonight’s dinner” and the two major harvests (first when I pulled up all I found, then when husband turned the plot over and found a bunch more), we easily grew ten pounds worth.

Nevermind the fact that yams are less than a dollar a pound, meaning that this crop was worth less than ten dollars.  It’s all about the learning curve, and the satisfaction derived from growing your own food.

Especially when the crop is not devoured by cut worms.

The asparagus that I planted has predictably not provided anything more than salad garnish.  But.  I planted it against the side of the house, and it has unintentionally prevented soil erosion from the gutter run off.  So I’ve got that going for me.

This year, I have kept the peppers and tomatoes in pots on the porch, in an effort to keep the bugs away.  Also, I’ve chosen the types that mature quicker, so no beefsteak tomatoes or bell peppers for me.  It’s all about the banana pepper and the cherry tomato.

A second generation of yams, sprouting from the bounty of last year, is well on its way to thriving.  I added summer squash and okra plants, and they are growing.  We’ll see how much actual produce they, well, produce.

The mint cannot be eradicated.  It now grows all throughout the garden plot, and I just keep pulling it up when it gets too competitive with the rest of the garden.

Cilantro seems to love the Tampa climate.  I should have started with that herb, instead of the Italian parsley that has refused to die and yet refused to thrive for a whole year.

Have a great week, everyone.  Here’s a pic of some of my harvest, including our garnish-sized asparagus, oranges from our Charlie Brown orange tree, and limes from our neighbor’s tree:

Tampa Harvest

Some Advice for Civilians

Civilians.

I love you guys.  You are so quick to befriend us when we move into your neighborhoods and communities.  You open your homes and your hearts, and you really respect my husband’s military service and the family sacrifices this service entails.

It is out of this love that I am writing this post.  To help you guys.  Because, as big as your hearts are, and as much as you respect us, you sometimes don’t know what to say.  When it comes to frequent moves and regular deployments, well, you sometimes don’t know what not to say.

I’m here to help.  With a list.

1.  Unless we are leaving in six months or sooner, don’t ask if we know where we are going next.  We don’t know.

2.  Don’t tell me about how you warn your children not to get too attached to our children because we will move in a couple of years.  That bothers me a little.

3.  Don’t tell me about the people you know who are totally messed up because of the frequent military moves during their childhood.  Seriously you guys.  It’s exactly like you are saying to me, “wow, your kids are screwed!”

4.  If my husband is deployed, and you haven’t seen me in a while, don’t say, “Wow!  He’s been gone ___ months already?  Time has just flown by!”  I know you mean that in an encouraging way, but a deployment only flies by when it’s not your loved one who is gone.

5.  If my husband is deployed, and you know of someone whose husband was deployed for a longer period, do not say, “Count your blessings, at least he is not gone as long as so-and-so!”  I know you mean to be encouraging, but I struggle with feeling insulted.  I’m already aware that many military families have it a lot tougher than we do.  To point out that fact somehow diminishes my own efforts.

6.  When the deployment is coming to a close, do not ask, “do I have a date yet?” in front of my childrenEven if I have a return date, I have not told them.  It’s hard enough for grownups to handle the anticipation, let alone children.  And even though they don’t know the exact date, they know the time is soon.  The end of deployment is a hundred times harder to wait for than Christmas Day.  So don’t remind them!

7.  There is another important reason you should not ask, “do I have a date?”  Even if I have one, there is no such thing as a guarantee in the military.  Big things (like 9/11) can interfere.  Even little things, like VIP visits or unexpected airplane maintainance, can delay a return.  Not only do I need to protect my children from being disappointed by the “needs of the military,” but frankly I need to protect myself from that too.  So don’t ask me zero in on a certain day.  Okay?

Okay.  Perhaps now you are thinking, well, cripes.  What am I allowed to say, that won’t offend your mysterious milspouse sensitivities?

I’ve got a list for that too.  Things you should say to military spouses:

1.  “How are you doing?”  Simple, I know.  It may even sound impersonal, but remember that if you know my husband is deployed, you will say it with an intonation that says, “have the kids driven you crazy yet?”

2.  “How are the kids doing?”  This may also sound impersonal, but it’s just another way of asking whether they are driving me crazy.

3.  “Is there anything I can do to help you?”  This is a vague offer of help, so it is not ideal, but I’ll take it in a pinch.  It might be that I was wishing the younger child didn’t have to come along to a soccer game, and I’ll say, yes.  Can you look after younger son for a few hours?  So don’t ask unless you mean it.

4.  “If there is any time when you need help, please let me know.”  This is the invitation to call you, should I ever need to take one child to the ER in the middle of the night.  I am not likely to take you up on this offer, but still.  I’m glad you offered.  It’s reassuring to know you can leave the healthy child with someone if you really have to.

5.   “Would you like to do ____ with us this weekend?”  One of the primary objectives of a military spouse during deployment is keeping busy.  Time goes by faster when you are busy.  Getting lots of invitations helps us keep busy.  So thanks.  Whether it is a church function, a sleepover, a day at the beach, or a trip to Walt Disney World, I am glad to have the opportunity.  Thanks for asking me!

6.  “Would you like me to take your sons to ____ activity?  You don’t have to come along.”  The answer is yes yes YES!  I do want you to take my sons to ____ activity!  And I do want to stay home!  This kind of offer makes you a sort of platinum level milspouse supporter.  Just in case you were wondering how to score a home run with your local military family.

Well, that’s about it.  In case you were wondering, yes.  Every single one of the items listed have actually occurred.  If it is negative then no, it wasn’t you.  It was someone else.

The Raven, adapted for President Obama

I’ve adapted Edgar Allan Poe’s famous poem for the current Obamacare debacle.  I didn’t have to change much.

Have a happy Halloween!  Give out lots of candy, and maybe eat some too.  That’s my plan, anyway.

Raven
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,

Over a quaint and curious bill from the Congress floor,

While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,

As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.

‘Tis some voter,’ I muttered, ‘tapping at my chamber door—

Only this, and nothing more.’

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,

And each separate lying member wrought his fate upon the floor.

Eagerly I wished the morrow; —vainly I had sought to borrow

From our kids an end of sorrow—sorrow for the uninsured—

For the rare and radiant victim whom the angels name ‘uninsured’—

Named Julia now for evermore.

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each typing person

Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic power never felt before;

So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating

‘Tis some voter beginning the process to enroll—

Some late voter beginning the process to enroll—

This it is, and nothing more.

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,

‘Sir,’ said I, ‘or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;

But the fact is I was golfing, and so gently you came protesting,

And so faintly you came congregating, here at my DC mall,

That I scarce was sure I heard you’—here I opened wide the door—

Disapproval there, and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,

Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;

But the silence was unbroken, and the darkness gave no token,

And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, ‘enroll!’

This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, ‘enroll!’

Merely this and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,

Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.

‘Surely,’ said I, ‘surely that is someone at the enrollment process;

Let me see then, what they have done, and this mystery explore—

Let my heart be still a moment and this glitchy site endure—

‘Tis a bump in the road and nothing more!’

And now I brung the teleprompter, with many a pomp and flutter,

In stepped a supporter of the saintly days of yore.

Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;

But with mien of lord or lady, perched above my teleprompter—

Perched near a bust of Churchill just below my teleprompter—

Perched and sat, and nothing more.

Then this racist bloke beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,

By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance he wore,

‘Though thy crest be shorn and ancient raven wandering from the nightly shore—

Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”

Quoth this taxpayer, ‘Nevermore.’

Much I marveled this ungainly fool to hear discourse so plainly,

Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore;

For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being

Ever yet was blessed with seeing a conservative who was not a fool—

Man or beast above the sculptured bust above his teleprompter,

With such name as, ‘Nevermore.’

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,

`Doubtless,’ said I, `what it utters is its only stock and store,

Caught from some unhappy Koch brother whom unmerciful disaster

Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore -

Till the dirges of his hope that melancholy burden bore

Of ‘never-nevermore.’

But the voter still beguiling all my sad soul into smiling,

Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of him and bust and door;

Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking

Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous fool of yore -

What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous patriot of yore

Meant in croaking `Nevermore.’

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing

To the fool whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;

This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining

On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,

But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,

Liberty shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer

Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.

`Wretch,’ I cried, `thy God hath lent thee – by these angels he has sent thee

Respite – respite and nepenthe from thy memories of voters!

Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget the lost voters!’

Quoth the taxpayer, `Nevermore.’

`Prophet!’ said I, `thing of evil! – prophet still, if fool or devil! -

Whether tempter sent, or whether tempest-tossed thee here ashore,

Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted -

On this home by horror haunted – tell me truly, I implore -

Is there – is there universal care? – tell me – tell me, I implore!’

Quoth the taxpayer, `Nevermore.’

`Prophet!’ said I, `thing of evil! – prophet still, if fool or devil!

By that Heaven that bends above us – by that God we both adore -

Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Utopia,

It shall clasp a sainted class whom the angels name supporter -

Clasp a rare and radiant class, whom the angels name supporter?’

Quoth the taxpayer, `Nevermore.’

`Be that word our sign of parting, fool or fiend!’ I shrieked upstarting -

`Get thee back into the tailgate and the Texas rough neck shore!

Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!

Leave my arrogance unbroken! – quit your perch near my teleprompter!

Take thy dagger from out my heart, and take thy form away from my teleprompter!’

Quoth the taxpayer, `Nevermore.’

And the taxpayer, never working, still is sitting, still is sitting

Near the pallid bust of Churchill just above my teleprompter;

And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,

And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;

And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor

Shall be lifted – nevermore!

The Gods of the Carryout Fortunes Are Pleased

I may not have my husband around to appreciate me, but by golly I’ve done enough to get noticed.

Behold:

IMG_5190

Yes.  I am working hard, oh gods of the carry out.  Thank you for noticing!  Also, I’m hoping that a sacrifice of uneaten egg rolls and wonton chips will please you, because the leftover chicken will make a great lunch tomorrow.

Education: It’s No Big Deal, Except For When It Is

So here we are, starting school again already.

Um, where did the summer go?

Happily, a new school year isn’t such a big deal, for the first time in, well . . . I guess ever.  Let’s see . . . last year was our first in Tampa, and also our first without a State Approved Curriculum.  The year before was our first and only in Kansas, and also our first year homeschooling.  Before that was a new school in Norfolk because our prior school closed unexpectedly.  This was Older Son’s third grade year, a.k.a. the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year.

Before then was Older Son’s second grade year, which not terrible or horrible but still a big deal because it was a new school in a new country.  Kindergarten and first grade were accomplished in a rural Church of England primary school, where problems abounded but were too easily chalked up to cultural differences and the sleep apnea Older Son suffered until we finally noticed that his overgrown adenoids were making him snore like an old man.

A quick recap certainly reminds me why I’m wound so tight.

The realization that Younger Son is starting third grade is a revelation, too.  This was the very year it went so dreadfully pear-shaped for Older Son.  Ach, the burden of being first-born.  He seemed so grown-up, that third grader.  Now, his little brother is the third grader, and he doesn’t seem grown up at all.

The good news is, I have realized that one must teach from a single core curriculum, if one is using Sonlight. I am amazed that we slogged through as much as we did last year, using two curricula simultaneously.  Sorry, boys.

The other good news is, I am Taking Charge of Sixth Grade Math.

At least, I think that is good news.

After two years of Following Other People’s Plans For Math whilst simultaneously Listening To My Child Whine Nonstop About Math, I’m pretty sure I can’t do worse.  Especially since this is a key year before teaching algebra is expected.

The whole idea of teaching without a guidebook is purty dang intimidating, but hell.  I know how to ingest a large body of information.  I have a graduate degree to prove it.  I’ve been going round and round with my child over math for a while now, and I’ve noticed some repetition.  It goes something like this: addition, subtraction, multiplication, division. Add new twist, then learn to add, subtract, multiply, and divide.  And new concept, then learn to add, subtract, multiply, and divide.  Et Cetera, Ad Nauseum.

Throw a few weeks in between concepts, and watch as your child miraculously acts as though he has never ever encountered the idea of adding/subtracting/multiplying/dividing ever before in his life.

Well, not this year.  We are going to commit each rule to memory before we move forward.  There will be no distracting memorization of graph or geometry terminology.  There will be complete memorization of things like:

  1. Commutative, Associative, and Distributive Properties
  2. Order of Operations
  3. Prime Factorization
  4. Using Lowest Common Multiple
  5. Using Greatest Common Factor
  6. Converting from Fraction to Decimal to Percentage
  7. Proportions and Ratios
  8. Rates
  9. Probability
  10. Mean, Median, Mode and Range
  11. Negative Numbers

And that’s pretty much it.  Isn’t it?  Am I missing something? Or is sixth grade math really this simple?

(P.S. I am only asking “Old School” people these questions.  Any “New School” a.k.a. Common Core adherents need not reply.)

UPDATE:  Instalanche! Whew.  You ‘pundit readers know a lot about math.  The highlights of what I’ve learned so far:

1.  Saxon is the most recommended math curriculum.

2.  Don’t neglect word problems!

3.  Complete mastery of long division, fractions, and negative numbers is a must.

4.  Many commenters confirmed my intuition about complete memorization before moving forward.  This is comforting.

5.  Some people teach their 5th graders calculus.  This is intimidating.

Finally, I want to share a great comment from over at Instapundit:

I’m no elementary teacher, but I’ve taught some remedial math to people struggling with water treatment courses, which are engineering heavy. I can say this with 100% confidence. That bull crap about avoiding repetition is terribly destructive. If a kid doesn’t know the multiplication table so it is almost autonomic, he/she is fighting with one arm tied when they tackle algebraic problems. Trying to teach advanced math before a kid is automatic in basic math functions is like building a house without laying the foundation first.

Thanks all of you for your advice and encouragement! You’ve helped me feel that we are on the right track.  Or, at least, we are not yet too far in the weeds.

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