Category Archives: More About Me

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

A Post List

I keep failing to link to my work over at the Da Tech Guy. So I’ve got quite the list.  As you will see, I am really stuck on the subject of education, but hey.  I’s kinda my raisin duh etra lately. I did throw in a little about food, and about introversion.

Dot Gov Sites for Children: We Make Propaganda Fun!

Our History, Gone Like a Dream of Yesterday

Common Core Standards:  The Measuring Stick with no Measurements

The Culmination of Progressive Education

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

The Post in Which the Introvert Navel-Gazes

Okay then, folks.  Click em and read em if you have the time and inclination.  I sure appreciate every single reader I get, now that I’m no longer as dependable nor sociable a blogger.

 

 

 

 

What I’ve Learned . . .

If I can get disciplined enough to maintain a new posting series, it will be What I’ve Learned. Today the subject is What I’ve Learned While Teaching My Son Math.

At the beginning of the school year I decided to forge my own path through 6th grade math, using no pre-made curriculum at all.  After two years and two different curricula, it just seemed like nothing would be a good fit until Older Son got a handle on the basics and started feeling confident about his ability to do math.

Besides, I told myself hopefully, how hard can it be?

Well . . .

It’s kind of hard.  I am not disciplined enough to put in the preparation that I should.  That translates into me trying to think up and write down the ten to twelve daily math problems, while Younger Son is hopping around the house because he finished his math in three minutes flat, and Older Son is getting distracted from his Reading or Writing or Whatever assignment by anything from the dog sleeping in the corner to the eraser shavings at his elbow, while I’m simultaneously thinking about the next subject we are going to cover and wondering how many we’ll get done before we have to leave for _______.  /Fill in the blank with any one of myriad group activities./

So far it is worth it, though, because it’s working.  I mean, I think it’s working.

I can’t be sure it’s working, because I haven’t been testing him and I only just resumed grading his assignments, and he doesn’t have classmates to compare with, and I don’t have a textbook with an end to aspire reaching.

But he seems to be making progress.  He is keeping some concepts memorized on a more permanent basis lately.  More importantly, he seems to master his anxieties and frustrations easier than he used to.

I’ve come to realize it was not the numbers giving Older Son so much trouble.  It was the negative emotions firmly attached to the act of solving math problems.  I’m not sure when the anxiety attached itself to math in his mind, but it had a very firm hold by the end of 3rd grade.

I wish I could say that pulling him out of brick-and-mortar solved the problem.  But the truth is, I didn’t make any progress whatsoever in lessening his math anxiety in 4th or 5th grade.  All I did was slog through teaching a perpetually upset pupil.  My biggest mistake was to focus on completing the math curriculum, instead of focusing on my child’s unhealthy relationship with math.

If there is one thing Older Son has taught me, it is this:  no matter how smart a child is, and no matter how many times you teach him a concept, if he works himself into enough of a lather, all those smarts and all that knowledge goes Straight. Out. The window.

Sigh.

I haven’t found the “secret recipe” or anything.  Another year of maturity may have as much to do with his improved attitude as anything else.  Also, there is still more progress to be made.

For what it’s worth, though, here is what I believed has helped so far:

A) Creating our own 6th Grade Math Outline by putting concept definitions, instructions, and examples in my son’s own words I have to help sometimes, but most of the phrasing is his, typed by his hands.  (Heck, I have to seek help online sometimes.  Try writing an explanation of “square root” on the spot, and see if you don’t end up with something awkward like “the square root is the number that when multiplied by itself produces the number that is in that little checked-roof thingy.”)

B) Taking away key stressors for a while, even though those things are normally useful, even necessary.  That meant no testing and no grading for the first semester.  I checked his work and made sure he understood and corrected his errors, but I did not mark his work with the dreaded red pen, or any pen for that matter.

Also, he did no word problems and no geometry during that time.  I know he needs to learn these things . . . but first things first.

In addition, I imposed no time limits or minimum number of problems.  What’s that you said, child?  In the last thirty minutes you’ve done exactly two problems?  And oh look, they are both incorrect.  Nevermind.  You can work on it tomorrow.

Sometimes it took a whole week to correctly complete ten math problems.  I had a hard time curtailing my own frustration when this happened, because he is smarter than that.  He can do better.  I know it!  He is never getting anywhere at this pace!

I wish I could say I was totally zen about it when he got bogged down, but instead I’d snap and add to the already existing stress.  There’s a balance between relieving stress and encouraging persistence, no doubt, but it’s mighty hard to find.

C) Hand-writing or hand-typing assignments.  This helps for a many reasons.  First, I can tailor to his exact level.  The worksheet found online is too easy?  Add a couple of zeros.  Too hard?  Do the reverse.

Second, and this surprised me:  it’s not as big a deal to him when he gets something wrong.  It’s just a dumb piece of paper with his mother’s scribble on it, I guess.  It’s not his Official Math Workbook, irretrievably scarred with Proof of How Stupid He Is.  (His opinion, not mine!)

Creating my own assignment also allows a personal touch.  I don’t always make up problems from scratch; a pre-made worksheet can be a template.  It just needs tweaking.

Now that I’m adding word problems to the mix, it’s a handy trick.  I mean, really, who cares what total number of mangoes Raul has, if his ratio of mangoes to bananas is 3:1?  Older Son doesn’t get his hackles up as quickly if the ratio problem asks how many tanks his side has, compared to the enemy.  After all, World of Tanks is his favorite video game.

Finally, the biggest advantage to writing or typing your own assignments:  you can finally make sure your child has enough room for his work.  Running out of room was a major source of stress, believe it or not.  Pre-made worksheets rarely provide enough space.  Just do the work on a separate sheet of notebook paper, I would repeat.  Over and over.  For some reason, that frustrated him more.  Ample room directly under the problem = a less-stressed child.  Fine.  Whatever.  I’ll put one problem per sheet if that’s what it takes.

D) Changing my strategy because of its flaws.  Letting Older Son focus on filling his 6th Grade Math Outline with rules and definitions, while simultaneously letting him do very few practice problems, was definitely not a long-term solution.  Sixth grade math often requires several steps, especially long division using decimals.  I neglected the wisdom of “practice makes perfect,” and I certainly noticed that “little practice makes lots and lots of careless errors.”

Soon into the second semester, things had to change.  Now, he must complete at least ten problems per day.  (Except for Thursdays, we are literally gone from 8:30am until 8:30pm.  It’s STEM/Latin/ParkWithBHSF/TKD day.)

To be fair, it helps that the first semester resulted in a beefy outline.  When he can’t remember a particular rule, he is actually beginning to refresh his own memory by looking at his 6th Grade Math Outline, instead of requiring me to hold his hand and walk him through it for the umpteenth time.

And the new emphasis on practice is working!  I can tell because I’ve resumed grading.  He even helps me figure out his percentage.  He even took it in stride this week, when he earned a “D.”  Aw, I stink at math, he said.  But he said it in a voice that was only half-serious, praise God.

You do not stink at math, I responded.  You are perfectly average in mathAnd can an average student earn “A’s”?  I asked.

Yes, he answered begrudgingly.

Begrudging may sound like a bad thing to you.  To me–a parent used to lamentations and gnashing of teeth–it sounds like victory.

End note:  If you would like to see the 6th Grade Math Outline, detailing exactly what Older Son has covered thus far, I’m happy to share it in a separate post.  Just let me know!  I would have included it here, but this post has already grown far too long.

Hello

I should be working on my Tech Guy post right now, but the urge to say something on my own turf is too strong to ignore.

I haven’t been writing much here anymore, and the reasons are so myriad that it’s hard to put into words.  First of all, there’s the apathy that comes from realizing we are doomed unless a major correction of some sort.  This apathy has plagued me since the 2012 election.

Then there’s the fact that I write for someone else once a week.  It turns out, my standards are much higher when someone else’s reputation is at stake.  Which means I spend too much time on too few words.  But I’m happy with the arrangement and will continue it.  Frankly, I may have quit blogging altogether without the impetus of a commitment made.

Next is the school situation.  Now, I pulled the boys out of brick-and-mortar way back in aught-diggety-eleven (2011).  Being a chicken, I signed up for Kansas’ virtual school program.  Which was worth the public school baggage, given the fact that it was run by a man whose wife homeschooled their children.

He knew that the social component was important.  Fun Fridays were not to be missed.  Folks from other districts would sign up to his district and drive the distance, because their district simply didn’t have an equivalent program.

But the point is, I wasn’t in charge of the curriculum.  Someone else was.  All I had to do was sign up and follow the schedule.

Our first year in Tampa I signed up for so many private homeschool opportunities, there wasn’t much time to think.  Math was neglected as a result.  It’s pretty easy to neglect the thing that causes the most pain.

This year is really the first in which I have taken full responsibility for the education of my eight and eleven year old boys.

It has been glorious.  With help from the Khan Academy, math results have been positive.  I could write a whole series of posts on the adventures of teaching math, but maybe another time.

The Sonlight curriculum is great for marrying literary material with the history material.  Mostly, though, I have ignored the rest.

That means that it’s up to me.  STEM and TAG classes for both.  Multiplication drills for Younger Son, math problems daily for Older Son, grammar lessons for both, typing and cursive, impromptu vocabulary lessons, whatever reading material they choose, a random geography project, and whatever else crops up.  It’s amazing how much there is to teach and to learn.

Children have a saturation point, unfortunately, and I run up against that point on a regular basis.  Cross that point, fine.  But don’t expect them to absorb a thing.

There’s another important aspect.  Homeschooling is as much an educational endeavor as it is a mission.  Get active, and before you know it, you are coordinating field trips, offering carpooling, and generally looking after the welfare of your community.

Fills up your time quite nicely.

But I just wanted to say hello anyhow.

Hello.

World’s Tallest Midget, Reporting

Here’s my Da Tech Guy post from three weeks ago:  Is the Duck Pond the High Water Mark?  (Answer:  Yes.  Yes it is.)

Here’s my Da Tech Guy post from two weeks ago:  A Conservative New Year’s Resolution

Here’s my Da Tech Guy post from last week:  History Matters

I am terrible about posting and making the rounds nowadays, but nevermind.  At least my kids should be able to pass tests like these by the time they are in high school.

That’s kind of like being the World’s Tallest Midget, perhaps, but I’ll take it.

See you soon, raccoons.

Hub is Home!

Hub got home from Afghanistan the night before Thanksgiving.  So we had a lot to be thankful for.  The boys were wonderfully surprised.

Any deployment veteran will tell you: never ever tell the kids the precise date to expect Daddy’s return.

First of all, you often don’t know the date until the end.  Even if you do get the date sooner, it is subject to last-minute change or even weather delays.  Lastly, are you crazy?  Do you want your children losing their minds and crawling the walls for the last couple of weeks of countdown?

It’s a hundred times worse than any Christmas, birthday, or vacation countdown.

Maybe a thousand.  IMG_5417

Because I am wicked, I maintained the element of surprise all the way to the airport pickup.  I told them we were picking up Uncle John from a business trip.  This ruse was a plausible one, so they were looking hard for the wrong face.  The right face got right in front them before they recognized it.

Good times.

And for once I’m not being sarcastic.

This week’s post at Da Tech Guy is about Afghanistan.  Please do click over if you have the time!

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.

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