A Day in the Life, parenting, School

The Poetry of Math: Roses are Red, Violets are 4

School was pretty straight forward when I was a student.  You went to school, you sat down at your (individual) desk, your teacher lectured, you practiced running drills based on the lecture, you got food and playtime, heard some more lectures, read a book, went home and practiced running drills based on the lectures of the day.  At the end of the week, you took a test to see how well you understood the lectures.  At the end of six weeks, you tried to explain to your parents that you did really well on the tests, you just didn’t understand why you needed to turn in that stupid homework, and didn’t think it was fair that the 0s on homework made the As on tests average out to Cs on your report card.

Note to self:  Math is ultimate adjudicator.  There is no fair, or unfair, only correct.

Note to Math:  This is why I hate you.  It is also why I respect you and am in love with your sexy younger brother, Physics.  Physics, call me!

School is confusing now.  Maybe not for the kids who are growing up in the system, but for me, and for some of the other bewildered parents I know, it is convoluted and entirely not mathematical.  We’re in good company with Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick, though.

[At the school open house] I felt as if I were toggling between a business school seminar and the space program; acronyms alone—seemingly random sequences of letters like MAP and SOL and EAPE—were being deployed more frequently than actual words. To be sure, the teachers seemed as maddened by it as the parents were. Even if we can all agree about the singular benefits of “project-based learning across the curriculum,” I am less than perfectly certain any of us knows what it means.

Last year, we got a letter in the mail telling us that we wouldn’t be seeing “grades” for the duration of elementary school.  No 0s, As, or Cs to worry about.  No math to worry about.  Only the wonder of still progressing toward the standard, having met the standard, or having exceeded it.

At our open house, Thor’s wonderful math teacher (and she is really a great teacher–we’ve had nothing but great teachers at this school, which is why I am not entirely alarmed by all the Big Brother Speak) was explaining how that applied to mathematics.  One father voiced my question, “But how will we know if he knows what he is doing?  Do we have worksheets or anything where we can time him, and see?  How much time should we spend on it every night?”

I knew exactly what he was talking about.  Part of my elementary school torment  drilling was the daily worksheet.  We would get 100 math questions (addition, subtraction, then multiplication, and division, then fractions–damn them to hell!) on a long sheet, and have 60 seconds to fly through as many answers as we could.  We memorized 7+2=9, and 5-4=1, and 6×2=12, and 18/3=6, and 1/2+3/4=1 1/4.  We didn’t have to sit and work the math on fingers, or blocks, or beads, we just knew.

Wonderful Math Teacher tried valiantly to explain that we no longer focus on memorization of mathematics, but on fluency of numbers.  I did not know what this meant, and neither did the father, who asked for clarification.

Fluency of numbers, WMT explained, helped a child be able to solve problems by words I had never heard put together in a sentence before and could not possibly begin to recount to you.  She did give the example that fluency meant instead of a child memorizing 7+2=9, they wanted a child to be able to look at 7+2= and say to themselves, “Well, 7+3=10, so if I take away 1, I have 9.  7+2=9.”

My question was, “How does the child know that 7+3 is 10?  Is that memorized?” Because fluency isn’t an exact science, and math…is.

I am fluent in English and still don’t understand half of what Rush Limbaugh says because his concepts and ideologies are so different from mine, he may as well be speaking a different language.  I turn on Fox and tilt my head like I’m a dog watching television.

I am terrible at math, but I know that I can follow formulas and rules, and plug variables into computations and get exact, binding, non-negotiable answers because Math is Facts.  You can add letters into math as placeholders, but you can’t make those placeholders mean anything without rules.  And the rules are not nebulous, variable things like guidelines for grammar or spelling.

If math ran grammar and spelling, it would be impossible to put an i before an e, or end a sentence with a preposition.  You just couldn’t do it.

I grew up going to school run by Math rules.  My son is growing up going to school run by Poetic License.  It seems scary to me.

When I was taking my teaching certification courses, we were told that the old school Sage from the Stage style of lecturing was passe.  We were told that today’s teachers are Guides standing Beside.  I don’t know about you, but when I’m out in the wilderness, I want the Guide out in front of me because he knows where the snakes are.  And I want that because that’s how I grew up, or I want that because it is the most pragmatic approach?

There are as many different learning styles as there are children, and as many different home lives, which factors in greatly to how a child is able to receive instruction in a classroom.  I’m on a learning curve trying to match up with what my son thinks is a learning straight line.

I still think flash cards are the way to go.

If you need me, I’ll be problematizing cross-curricular content throughout multiple modalities in order to better integrate hands-on goals within the new paradigm.

Wish me luck.

I have to say again and again that Thor’s teachers are fantastic.  

books, Career, continuing education, Cozy Cat Press, Destinee Faith Miller Mystery, Explaining the Strange Behavior, School, The Book, Thor, Tiara Trouble, writing

Terrifying Tiara Trouble and Thanks

I have great news!  TIARA TROUBLE, the first in the Destinee Faith Miller Mystery series, will be available for purchase on 10/28/2013.  Eee!


And that’s the cover, right there!  All Destinee’d up with her signature pink and zebra.  You knew Destinee’s signature colors were pink, black, and zebra, right?  Unlike her trampy arch-nemesis, Tishelle Tucker, whose signature colors are red, black, and leopard.

So, now with a release date set, and behind the scenes plans going into action, I will admit to you that I am scared.  What if it flops?  What if people hate it?  Why did I write so many words?  Is anyone going to get my sense of humor?  What if I’m not a good writer?

A lot of what-ifs, people.  Ultimately, if it flops, it flops, and if people hate it, they hate it.  I wrote so many words because they seemed necessary at the time, and if I continued to second guess myself, it would have been whittled down to the length of a magazine article.  If no one gets my sense of humor, that’s fine–like that hasn’t happened before.  I’m okay with the sound of crickets.  And, I know I write well.  Whether, or not other people agree that I write novels well is yet to be seen.

I think I got so used to people telling me that I wasn’t ever living up to my fullest potential that I never think my efforts are my best.  Or, maybe I’m afraid they are.  And if they are, what does that mean?  Does that mean I am not the rare Sparklefly my mother thinks I am?!

I think about that a lot when it comes to how I parent.  I see a lot of myself in Thor.  He is an exceptionally smart child, and he is an exceptionally creative daydreamer–those two things don’t add up to Straight A Student.  That doesn’t mean he isn’t living up to his fullest potential, though.  That means that this is his groove.

Grades don’t show potential.  Grades show self-discipline.  Kind of like being an accomplished musician is different from being a talented musician.  You can be taught to play anything.  You can’t be taught to create.  What is ideal is when you have the self-discipline to make the grades, and the potential to turn that self-discipline/learning into something.

I tell Thor that he must strive for excellence.  I expect him to try his hardest, and not give up.  I don’t expect him to make perfect scores, but I expect him to work toward getting things right–he should want to get things right.  I don’t expect him to be the top of his class, all honors, everybody’s all-American.  I expect him to fully utilize his resources, and do the work.  Where he lands, he lands.*

I have, and will continue to impress upon him that education/school is what gives you the tools to build a future.  Does he want a brain that is like the little pig who built his house out of straw, or does he want a brain that is like the little pig who built his house out of bricks?  Well, he has to have to right tools to build the kind of brain he wants, and the right tools are often heavy and take more effort to lift.

Writing this, I am thinking about the wonderful teachers I had, who outweighed the awful ones.  Good teachers are brain-tool salesmen, who make you think you can’t live without knowing how to parse a sentence, or solve a quadratic equation.  You just have to have that ability to name the colors in the rainbow!  You absolutely MUST get in on that ability to recite the Gettysburg Address!  You cannot possibly go another day without reading The Scarlet Letter!  Because good teachers get you to buy in to the mental body building it takes to wield the tools, and the stamina necessary to keep going.

It isn’t necessary to be a sparklefly.  Sparklefly is only good for so much.  But it is necessary to build a solid foundation and the self-discipline to put that foundation to work.  Enough elbow grease can shine up an ordinary fly to look sparkly.

I worked hard at TIARA TROUBLE, and I’m not going to lie and tell you I didn’t on the chance that it fails.  You know, so I could say, “Well, it’s not like it was my best effort.”  I honestly don’t know what my best effort looks like.  All I can tell you is that I worked very hard and I am proud of the result, and I really hope you like it.  I hope it makes you laugh.  I like it.  I’ve had to read it about 60 times now, and I still make myself laugh.

So, thank you Mrs. Farr, Mrs. Mendina, Dr. Chaisson, Dr. Morris, Mrs. Monroe, Mrs. Anderson, Mr. Cargile, Mrs. Mack, and Mrs. Barnes.  You were excellent brain-tool salespeople, and the fact that I am a functioning adult, much less a published author at all is a credit to your mad skillz.


*There is no Tiger to this Mom.  That might not be something to be proud of, I don’t know.  I guess I’ll find out in about 20 years.



A Day in the Life, Explaining the Strange Behavior, Family, parenting, School

Some Days Start Badly

You know, I very rarely just make one mistake.  Usually, when I goof something up, it is a snowball effect of doom as I go into overdrive to try to correct the first error and end up destroying the space around me in true sitcom style.  Just ask Jamie and Wes, whose brand new beige sofa, barstools, and light colored walls I baptized with a large coffee.

I can’t even remember what triggered it, but I sloshed my coffee, and in scrambling to keep it from getting on anything, I splashed it out of the cup, slipped on what I had splashed, managed to toss the cup up in the air and somehow catch it by the handle as I swung in an arc around the living room that slung coffee from the breakfast bar, all the way across their new sectional.  Coffee in the floor.  Coffee on the cloth barstool seats.  Coffee on the sectional.  Coffee in my hair.  Coffee all over the place.  If I’d just stood still, there would only have been a small mess.

This morning, at 7:44, I realized I had missed the special parent/teacher conference that Thor’s teacher had asked us to attend at 7:15.  I panicked.  I waited until I got to a red light, then fired off an email apologizing and asking to reschedule.  The teacher wrote back and I couldn’t really read the whole email as I was driving, but some words popped out at me, including the words “field trip.”  I panicked again.

“Today is Thor’s field trip!” I yelled aloud at myself.  “And you didn’t pack his lunch!  AUGH!!!”

What could I do?  I was halfway to work, it was 7:55, and I couldn’t get back to his school with a lunch in time to beat the busses leaving.  I called the school and talked to the secretary, sounding like a crazy woman.  She assured me that they would send him down to the cafeteria to buy a lunch, and that they wouldn’t let him miss the field trip.

I hung up, starting to cry because a) I had forgotten my son’s p/t conference and I feel awful about that, b) I was afraid he was going to feel thrown away because I had forgotten to pack him a lunch, c) I was afraid he would feel weird because the field trip bus was waiting for him, and d) because my mistake had delayed an entire school full of 2nd graders.  I mean, that’s 100 kids on busses who are delayed because one mother forgot a lunch.  Have you ever been on a bus with a 7 year old?  Have you ever been a 7 year old on a bus?

I was just getting to the point of really worrying about my mascara when my phone rang.  It was the school.  The wonderful secretary had called to tell me she had spoken with Thor’s teacher, and the field trip is not until Thursday, so I hadn’t missed the boat entirely.  I laughed a crazy person.  She laughed like a concerned person.  I said, “Thank goodness!  At least I’m not THE worst mother in the world.”  She laughed again, uncomfortably, and we said our goodbyes.

Then, I was laughing and crying at the same time, and making like Alice Cooper with the mascara.  I crazy laughed for a solid minute before shaking out of it (when I missed my exit.)  So, while Thor might not know how close he came to 2nd Grade level trauma, his teacher absolutely, 100%, without any question knows where all of his shortcomings originate.  Maybe we don’t need a conference at all now?  Maybe she’ll just look at his tendency to forget things and feel sorry for him, given that it is a genetic flaw.

The kid doesn’t have ADD.  He has Related to Me.

Economics, economy, School

Bulls, Bears, and Toilet Paper Bits

I know it isn’t going to win me any fans to admit that I am really clueless about the stock market, but I am.  It’s one of those things that I know just enough about to be able to smile and nod with some confidence, but not enough about which to carry on any conversation beyond, “Wow…I can’t believe what a hit [insert the name of whichever company NPR reported taking a dive in the market] took today.”

I determined that I would learn about it.  And then, I found myself fixating on the shape of the font Wikipedia uses, and how much I like their logo, and not at all on what I was reading.  Try again tomorrow.  Or, if any of you care to enlighten me further than the following, please do!  I’m all eyes.

As I understand it (and I understand it only because David Bowie sold stock in David Bowie and I really wanted some–rock stars, driving my self-propelled educational interests since 1982), companies that are publicly traded allow investors to buy shares in their company.  It’s a bit like if a landowner had 4,000 acres and decided to sell parcels of land to ghost owners.  The Ghost Owners would profit based on the production of all 4,000 acres, regardless of which parcel of land they owned.  Worth would be determined by how many parcels of land you had purchased, based on the percentage of land made available by the Land Owner. 

Worth would also be determined by perceived value.  If no one wanted your land parcels, they wouldn’t be worth much, and you would have to offer them at a much reduced selling price to entice buyers.  If everyone wanted a piece of your action, you could charge out the wazzoo.

Perception would be determined by past and projected performance, and on speculation as to whether or not the land had staying power.  If the Land Owner hasn’t rotated crops in 4 years, one might speculate soil depletion and devalue the price of the land parcel, thus devaluing the shares.  If the Land Owner has taken exceptional care of his land, and has just invested in improvements that will increase his ability for output next year (even though the improvements cost some money) one might speculate a boom and value for the shares would remain stable or increase.

If too many people wanted out of their shares at once, the Land Owner could face financial doom–that’s his backing to run the company.  Shares are sort of a loan from the public, and the health of the stock has a lot to do with the health of full finances.

I have no idea the difference between Bull and Bear markets.  I don’t like getting animals involved.  I feel sorry for them.  Like what Republicans have done to Elephants–poor things!  But, I think Bull markets are good, and Bears are bad.  Yes, moneyinstructor.com confirms this.  I will remember this as:  When the market is good, take the bull by the horns.  When the market is bad…well, some days the bear gets you.  Or I will remember the toilet paper commercials with the baby bear, who frequently has bits of toilet paper stuck to his bum…bears are nasty.  Who came up with that?  That’s gross.  Ooh!  Or, I will think of the Snuggle Fabric Softener bear.  When the market goes south, you need snuggles.

Yeah.  So this is what it looks like when Lib Arts majors show an interest in the stock market.  Please feel free to fill in gaps, correct misunderstandings, or just agree with me that it is nasty to suggest that people who use Angel Soft go around with bits of toilet paper stuck to their backsides.

B, economy, housing, School, slum lords, Thor, Uncategorized

For Sale or Lease

This time last year (and at this point I stopped writing the entry to go and renew my energy plan, having reminded myself it was about to expire!) we were planning our move from The Country House (that place in a pocket neighborhood, out by the cows) into The Town House (a literal townhouse apartment.)  It was a lot of effort, actual blood, sweat, and tears, but in the end, it’s been a fantastic decision for us.  We lost 700 sq. ft. in the move, but we gained exponential multiplications of satisfaction–especially as our daily commutes were concerned.  (And here I had to stop to make sure we had signed our lease for the next 12 months.)

We put The Country House on the market in April, and by August were starting to panic.  In those four months, we had about six views on the house.  Our realtor called with some bad news.  There were over a dozen homes in the neighborhood in foreclosure, some nearly twice the size of ours, listed at 5k less.  And the homes the size of ours…well.  Let’s just say we did the math, figured out our lowest asking price, swallowed back that lump in our throats, and dropped our listing by about 6k.  That got us two more views.

In mid-August, we contacted a property management company, to help us lease the home.  Our PM was excited about the house and the neighborhood, and was sure we’d be able to get renters in by Labor Day.  By early October, we had dropped our already majorly-inexpensive lease fee by another hundred dollars.  Thank Vesta (goddess of home and hearth for those of you who aren’t Classics nerds) we finally found renters, who moved in last week.

After PM fees, fence repair, carpet cleaning, pro-h0usekeeping scrubdown, and the dredges of half a months worth of utility and yard maintenance bills, we’ll break just about even on the deal in December.  But we did have to cut our lease so low that with PM fees, we are taking a small hit.  Much better, much, much better than a hit for the full mortgage and HOA fees, but still a hit.

And we were smart, y’all.

When we bought our house in 2005, we were approved for more than twice what we chose.  B was smart and paid us out of debt before we started our house-quest, so we went into our mortgage in an excellent position.  We bought WELL within our means, so that if something happened to one of our jobs, we would still have a place to live.  And then we both worked hard to improve our means.  I hope B won’t mind me bragging on the massive amounts of time, energy, and self-sacrifice involved in his certification classes that netted him better jobs.  I am extremely proud of him.

So what happened?

Well, we both got better paying jobs–and after I had been laid off, we needed those jobs.  A major factor in our move came down to Thor’s school.  It worked like this:

  • If we took the better paying jobs, we doubled our commute times.
  • If our jobs were 8–5 with no early mornings, or late nights, traffic would mean leaving the neighborhood by 6:30AM, and getting home around 7PM.
  • Thor’s school doors opened at 7:30AM, and the on-site afterschool care closed at 6:30PM
  • We were so far out of range, there were no other before or afterschool care options that fit our needs.  It’s not like you can just give a 5-year-old a house key and teach him to make a grilled cheese.
  • If we didn’t take the better paying jobs…well, that wasn’t an option.

See the problem?  And we sure couldn’t afford private school!

So we moved.  Best decision we made all year.

And really, thank goodness for the new renters.  We have at least 12 months of breathing room now, and hopefully they will love the home and either renew the lease, or want to buy it outright.  (I’m not even going to think about the what-ifs involved in repairs we might face next November.  No.  Not going to do it.)