Friday, March 30, 2007

For homework do Numbers 1-269, odd problems only

When the kids were younger...third or fourth grade for example...I was never afraid when they cried out for math homework help. I could handle it. Addition. Subtraction. Some fractions and decimals. I could do the problems and teach them how to do the problems. In short, I dominated the math world.

No longer. Before I even get over to the table, they are spouting words I don't understand. Chunking. Inverse. Derivative. Congruence. Polynomials. And these are not just hard words. This is the language of math. But not my math.

I took four years of math in high school. I had an "A" on every report card. But I was one of those kids who could look at the problem and know the answer...but could never show my work. The whole concept of showing the work seemed like some way for the teacher to torture me. If I knew the answer, why did anything else matter?

Now it matters. I have no idea how I get the answer. Thus, I have no clue how to help my kids. But I'm not dumb. I have two graduate degrees. So I know I can look in the book and figure it out, based on the examples.

But what do I find? I find that math textbooks are no better now than they were when I was in school. Here is the sample problem...

3x = 2 + 10

No sweat. I can nail that!

So let's go to the homework.

What the...???

The first problem...presumably the easiest problem...looks something like..

10x(4-2y) + 26 = 14 + n(63 - 4/25)

And yes, they often throw in some square roots and powers of 6 and stuff..but I don't even know how to type those! But you get the point. What happened to "3x=2+10"??? There was a huge leap from the example to the actual problem! So now I'm lost. Useless. No help at all.

And for the hundreds of mathematicians and statisticians and other number gurus out there who read my blog on a daily basis and who want to tell me...."oh, it is easy, just remember the order of operations and solving for x and..." Yeah, yeah...I remember. But I need to see it! Show me one example...and I can repeat it over and over. Add a fraction, it is a brave new world. Better show me another example.

I'm so glad it is Friday. That means my kids will procrastinate as long as possible before doing homework and I won't run the risk of being called on for help until sometime Sunday evening. And if I plan carefully, I'll be incredibly busy organizing my sock drawer or trimming my eyebrows and the kids will have to call on my wife for math help.

She just loves that.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

And the winner is...

I've been honored by thethinker at Theory of Thought with the Thinking Blogger Award. The award meme works like this...I get to pass along the award to five bloggers who write blogs that make me think. That will be a pleasure.

But first, a nod to thethinker. It is especially nice to have this meme passed along from her. She is a 16-year-old student with great insight and wit who writes wonderful stories about her life and her iPod addictions. So if you haven't paid her a visit, please do so.

And now to the recognition of five bloggers who make me think. Not an easy task. In the few months that I've been blogging, I've found many terrific writers. A few are listed on my blogroll. But there are many more that I read on an almost daily basis. I read blogs in the US and Canada and England and France and Australia and more. I learn. I laugh. I see beautiful photos from places I'll probably never get to visit. So how do I narrow it down to just five?

The choices were made a little easier by the fact that several of my daily reads have already been honored in this way. So I focused on those who had not yet received the recognition because they also deserve it.

So without any further delay...The Thinking Blogger Award is presented to...

nobody asked...

Winston was an easy choice for his Weird Words series, his political thoughts, and his comments on the art of blogging itself. And being from Tennessee, he can't resist throwing in the occasional cheer for the Volunteers.

Dorky Dad
Jonathan just might be one of the funniest people on the internet. He has a wonderful ability to find humor in the routines of daily life and he shares that with the rest of us. In doing so, he encourages me to view some mundane elements of life with smile on my face. The fact that he is also the "No. 1 Lobster Panties Site On The Internet" just makes it even more fun.

O Mighty Crisis
Jocelyn is an english teacher, a wife, a parent, and resident of the cold state of Minnesota. And she writes about it all. With passion and wit, she shares stories of cold winters, family outings in the snow, the joys of motherhood, the challenges of turning forty, and the trials and tribulations of teaching. And don't even think about using the phrase "begs the question" in a comment!

Abby has great stories about being a parent, a member of the PTO/PTA, and a part time special education math and reading teacher. She sees life from both sides of the desk and finds very creative techniques for sharing the stories. Of course her kids are still afraid to go inside the Teachers' Lounge...that mysterious room behind the closed door.

Ruthless In The Suburbs
Ruth lives right here in my home state of Connecticut. She bills herself as a "stay at home mom trying to Do It All". It seems she I'm not sure how she finds time to blog. But she writes nice, long posts that share some of the best moments of her day.

These folks always entertain me. They make me think. They make me enjoy reading blogs.

And now, to meet the requirements of the meme, here are the rules...
  1. If you get tagged, create your own post of five blogs that make you think.
  2. Link to this place so that people know where the meme is from.
  3. Display the award, if you like, linking to the post that you wrote.

Friday, March 23, 2007


That's right...we're talking tap! The craft of Gene Kelly and Ann Miller and little Shirley Temple. And now...(drum roll please) wife!

My wife took tap as a little girl. And she took ballet for quite a few years when she was older. But she hasn't danced since college.

Till now.

Last week she started tap dance classes. She had been wanting to do some dance lessons...just not sure what kind or where. And then she got into a conversation with someone from our church who started talking about the tap dance class that he and his wife were taking. He noticed my wife's interest and called a couple of days later with the instructor's name, details of the class, and the best place to buy tap shoes. My wife called and there was still a spot available in the class starting that week. Before signing up, my wife asked the instructor if a 50-year-old woman could really do this. She was assured that she would be just fine.

A quick trip to the Dance Studio and she had her shoes. And only a couple of days to wear them around the house to break them in. We knew exactly where she was at every moment. And shoes that made noise drove the dog insane!

On the day of the first class, my wife was worried that she might dance for 20 minutes or so and keel over with a heart attack. Thankfully, that did not happen. Two lessons later, she is loving the class. Still a little embarrassed about the whole thing. But looking forward to every Thursday afternoon.

I would gladly invite all of you to the recital, but my wife assures me there will be no public tap performances. But you're all welcome to drop by for a cold beer and you can look at her cool new shoes.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Rise and shine! NOT!!!

My alarm went off at the usual time this morning - 5:40AM. I turned it off and rolled over to climb out of bed. And the next thing I was aware of was my wife, fifteen minutes later, nudging me and asking if I had gone back to sleep. Trying to save face, but handicapped by the early hour, the best answer I could give her was "maybe".

I jumped up and ran for the shower. Ran through the shower might be a better description. There was definitely only time to wash the high-priority areas. Everything else had to survive with a quick rinse. I halfway dried off, threw on some jeans and a shirt, and headed downstairs.

I quickly started throwing together my lunch and lunch for Son16. About that time, he wandered in for breakfast. Thank goodness he was on time! But for some odd reason, at nearly 17 years old, he suddenly found the task of locating clean socks beyond his ability. He complained that the socks he had picked out last night were missing. Were those the socks you wore yesterday...and stuffed in your shoes, I asked? Yep...those were the ones. I had stolen those and washed them last night. He felt violated. But together we managed to find clean socks and pull together some breakfast for both of us.

By this time, Daughter13 should have been in the shower. But I heard no water running upstairs. I dashed up the stairs to find her alarm beeping while she slept peacefully in her bed. I yelled gently woke her and ran back downstairs to make some coffee.

Son16 finished breakfast, fed the dog, and headed off to school. Still no daughter. And no wife. And I needed to shave.

Back up the stairs, found Daughter13 still sleeping and this time I really did yell. And took a little glee in watching her leap off the bed in shock.

Down the hall to our room...where I discovered my wife had formed a new Best Friends Forever relationship with her snooze alarm. I politely encouraged her to get up while I tried to shave quickly without undue lacerations.

Back down the stairs where my wife was feeding our daughter. Just in time for Daughter13 to make it to the bus.

Then I dashed out to work, leaving my wife shuffling around the kitchen in her mis-matched jammies looking like a sleep-deprivation study gone wrong.

Driving at a slightly unreasonable speed, I made it to work and fell into the chair at my desk at what could generously be called on time.

Another morning routine successfully complete.


I forgot to brush my teeth.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

You Are What You Eat

I'm not sure how true that post title is, but most people who have known me throughout my life would assume I should now look like a Value Meal. I'm not the best eater in the world when it comes to healthy choices. But our family has spent the last year or so thinking more carefully about what we eat. Not just for dietary reasons, but also for the impact our food choices have on the food system and the environment as a whole. And those choices aren't always easy to make. I finally got around to reading the recent article in Time magazine on organic food versus local food, and the author did a pretty nice job of laying out the pros and cons of attempting to make these choices.

Why do we sometimes eat organic? The obvious answer would be to avoid ingesting all those pesticides sprayed on crops to get rid of those pesky bugs. There is still much debate about whether those small amounts really harm us. Some scientists say we are over-reacting. Others say the pesticides do horrible things to us from cancer to hair loss to shrunken testicles. I think one scientist has identified the "Spears Syndrome"...brief bouts of irrational behavior and head shaving from eating that stuff.

But our choice also deals with the food system. When the bugs do eat the poison, and then are eaten by birds, the bird population suffers. The poisons drain into the dirt and eventually into the water table...killing small animals in streams and rivers that larger fish need as a food source. So eating organic seems like a good choice.

But have you tried? Our local, giant supermarket only offers a handful of organic produce. And the price is much higher than the rest of the produce. So it is hard to find and hard to afford. And it may have traveled from far away to get here. Good to avoid the toxins...but the benefit is almost eliminated by the fuel used and the pollution created in shipping the food around the world.

Which bring me to locally grown foods. "Bioregionalism" is the fancy term for it. Eating foods grown in your local area. This has been an easier shift for our family. Oh, don't get me wrong, we eat plenty of stuff grown around the world. But throughout the summer we visit the local farmer's markets for some of our groceries. And last summer we joined a CSA - Community Supported Agriculture. If you've not heard of these, this is the system where each member pays the farmer in advance. In our case, we pay $325 in March. Then for the entire summer, we drop by the farm once a week and we get an equal share of all that was harvested that week. Fresh herbs, salad greens, strawberries, boxes of tomatoes for making and freezing sauce, melons. squash, beans, fresh garlic, zucchini, peppers, etc, etc, etc. We got way more than $325 worth of produce and ate fresh vegetables every day during the summer (and had plenty to blend with fall foliage for our Mabon centerpiece to celebrate the harvest). We also filled our freezer with frozen veggies fresh from the field and home-made spaghetti sauces and breaded zucchini slices and more. And to really make this a good thing, our local farmer is certified organic! The best of both worlds!! So we've been lucky there.

Our latest effort - and this is no picnic for Mr Value Meal here, is we are trying to go one day a week without eating meat. Trust me, I'll never be a vegetarian. Not that there is anything wrong with it. I'm sure it is a healthy choice. But I love meat. Love burgers and steak and pork chops. But one day a week...okay, I can do that. But why would we? Well we learned that if each family went meatless just one day a week, by the end of the year several million barrels of fuel oil would have been saved without trucking all that meat around. Thousands of acres of rain forest would be saved without the need to for so much grazing land for cattle. Greenhouse gases would be significantly reduced without the pollution associated with the additional ranching and transportation. But it isn't easy.

None of this is easy. Especially in a region of the country with long winters and short growing seasons. And I'm not writing this as a lecture to try to encourage folks to do the same. I'm just sharing.

But do I like it? Yes. I realized when we got a new roof, we interviewed four different contractors, asked for references, and picked a local guy with a good history. I knew more about my roofer than I did the guy who grew the food for my family. Now, I like knowing George, the guy who owns the local farm we joined. I like chatting with him every week about the heritage produce and the hybrid stuff and tasting things he just pulled from the field.

And eating that way makes me feel a little more connected to the earth. We are more likely to eat what is in season...and not choose that six-dollar, baseball-sized cantaloupe at the market this month that came from the other side of the world. As a pagan, I like being more connected to the cycles of nature. And I like making choices that are good for not just me, not just my family, but for the earth.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


My good blogger friend Barb has passed along a meme where I am to share five little known facts about myself. I'm happy to play along, Barb!

In thinking about what to write, my first question was...little known to whom? I moved from the south to New England right after graduate school, so my friends here don't know a lot about my growing up. On the other hand, family and friends in the south don't know all there is to know about my life here. And since I've only been blogging for less than six months, you guys don't know a lot about me at all! So what to choose?

Here are the five I decided to share with the world...
  1. Barb shared that she was a cheerleader, so I'll start with my cheerleading story. No, I did not date a cheerleader. I was a cheerleader. Okay, only for one day. But I get full credit! Way back in middle school, we held an annual "powder puff" football game as a fund raiser. Looking back on it, "powder puff" seems a very politically incorrect name for girls playing flag football. But hey, this was a long time ago! Anyway, the girls played football and the boys were cheerleaders. I don't even recall how I got selected to be one. Probably lost a bet or something. But I do remember dressing up in the cheerleader skirt and sweater, donning a wig, leading cheers in the gym at a pep rally, and then leading cheers on the sidelines. No doubt, Barb made a much better cheerleader!
  2. In my senior year in high school and all through college, I was on the debate team. I know, pretty nerdy. But that was my extracurricular activity of choice. The teams traveled throughout the south competing in tournaments. I also participated in various individual events at these tournaments - primarily dramatic poetry reading and extemporaneous speaking. I wasn't so good at the individual things. But my partner and I pulled in a ton of trophies in the debate competition. And what benefit did I get from all that? I am totally comfortable speaking in front of groups. And I can argue with the best of them!
  3. I attended a private religious school for my undergraduate degree and my first graduate degree. And at the time, no one would have been surprised by that. But the people that know me know would find it hard to believe that I could have survived in such a rigid environment. I've changed a LOT in the past 26 years!
  4. How did I work my way through college? I was a disc jockey. Broadcasting under the exciting pseudonym of "Ed Larson", I spun those discs at an adult contemporary station. Hours and hours of college life spent listening to Barry Manilow and Dan Fogelberg and Seals & Crofts. For you young readers, Google them. Those are real people. In fact, I really liked Dan Fogelberg.
  5. Finally, number five, I love pets. My family loves pets. At the moment, we have two box turtles, a golden retriever, and two rabbits. But we are at a low point in pet ownership. At times we've had as many as thirteen pets in the house...not counting tropical fish in the aquarium or goldfish in bowls.
Now, sharing those five things about me wasn't so hard. The hard part is passing this along to five unsuspecting victims. Five blogger friends who at this very moment are happily going about their day, oblivious to the fact that I'm about to meme them upside the head. So, dear friends, don't hold it against me. I'm just playing by the rules. Feel free to share your five...or politely decline. Either way, you're still a-ok! But if you want to share...Sheila, Dorky Dad, Beth, Kati, and Baron... the spotlight is yours!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Week of Random Events

This week has been a crazy week. Today is the first time I've had an opportunity to sit and write. And it feels good to be here by the fire with a cup of coffee. And yes, my golden retriever is sleeping at my feet. Sort of a Norman Rockwell moment. If Norman had a laptop and wireless, broadband internet access! Anyway, this is just sort of a ramble about my week, so fasten your seatbelts and put your tray tables in their upright and locked position.

At the beginning of the week, the 'check engine' light in my wife's car started flashing. Now I know nothing about cars. This seemed ominous. So I called the garage and they said bring it in. We did. They got about three dozen error messages when they hooked it up to the computer, but only found one little problem. One cable that had shorted or something. So they replaced it. And it was inexpensive. Good deal. Until yesterday. My wife called me while I was at work to report that her car was sitting in the driveway, all alone, with the lights flashing and the horn blowing. Started all by itself. I appreciated the report, but there was little I could do. And since I know so much about cars, little that I could suggest for her to do! But while we were talking, it stopped. Well that means the car fixed itself, right? LOL Nope. It did that little series of events once again about 15 minutes later. So my wife hopped in the car and drove it to the garage. And that silly little 'check engine' light came on again while she was driving. The garage boys started it, drove it, scratched their heads, double-checked to make sure that we really did not even have an alarm system on the car, and suggested we make an appointment to bring it in for more work. Ya think? But my wife has a theory. The car only seems possessed if we lock the doors. So far....her theory is sound! No more beeping and flashing. Maybe that will get us through until the garage spends another day with it.

The next big event of the week....Son16 took his CAPT tests this week. This is a standardized test that you must pass in order to graduate from high school in our state. And you take them in the tenth grade. That way, if you don't pass, you get two more years to try again. And the test is so long that they break it up into parts. He has had five parts with one more part to go. So every day this week, he arrived at school and headed into a testing room where he would take two parts of the test. This lasted about 2 and a half hours. Then he would follow his regular schedule for that day, except every class was condensed to only about 25 minutes. Now I've not written much about my son's disabilities. I guess I should at some point. But a key component of asperger's syndrome is difficulty with 'executive functions'. That's the part of the brain that deals with organization and structure. Son16 needs routine. Structure. Predictability. His schedule is very, very important. Very. So for this CAPT testing, every aspect of his day has been different. The testing block in the morning. Classes squeezed into short bursts. It has been that aspect of the whole testing ordeal that has created huge amounts of anxiety. And it forces him to check a million times a day to find out what happens next, what time will something be, will it be just like this tomorrow, etc, etc. A very long week for him. And a long week for us.

My friend Mike is back at work. They have identified some irregular heartbeat but not exactly sure what causes it yet. He did go in for a couple of more tests this week. And they have him wearing one of those little gizmos that monitors his heart rate and records it. And every time he goes above 85 beats per minute, it beeps like crazy (sort of like my wife's car!) and he has to call in and play the recording over the phone. Really, 85 beats a minute is not that high. Can you just imagine how tempting it is at work to set that little bugger off! We can just get him laughing really hard and he sounds off the warning. is cruel to have fun at the expense of a sick man. Cruel. And yet....

Son16 was scheduled for a big lock-in this weekend at our church with all the other high school youth. He is not a very social kid, but he did attend the fall lock-in and really loved it. We were thrilled it went well and happy he wanted to go again. Really wanted to go. Has been talking about the games they play, all the snack food, etc, etc. And it got canceled yesterday due to illness among some of the adult sponsors. A last minute cancellation. Have I mentioned.... Son16 needs a predictable schedule and consistency???? Not anyone's fault. But just one more layer of stress in his life.

Yesterday was my second visit (out of a series of four) to the periodontist. I'm going through a process caused scaling and root planing. Just the name should tip you off here. I mean, it isn't good to do things to the ROOT of your tooth, right? That hurts. And they are doing stuff to the root of EVERY tooth! With merely a topical anesthetic. So go ahead...imagine how you think that would feel. Then take two steps deeper into hell. And you've got it. Mashed potatoes and pudding are my friends.

Okay, that's my ramble for the week. Now I'm gonna go read your stuff...cause I'm sure it will be way more interesting!

Sunday, March 04, 2007

How much? And who? And do we care?

I hold a position on the board of our church. And we are just getting ready to start a fund-raising effort to build a new sanctuary and to update and expand the rest of our building. (No, don't worry, I'm not gonna ask you for money. You can keep reading without fear.) Our new building will be a great space for us with emphasis placed on minimizing our 'footprint' on the earth by using solar panels, geothermal tubes, and other environmentally friendly building techniques. We are very excited.

But here is where it gets tricky. There is money involved. No, not this me! But in the building of the church. Pledges will be sought. Gifts of cash, stocks, and other financial assets will be given. And money makes people do funny things.

It has taken quite a few meetings by different committees to get from the initial thoughts of the building up to this point with an architect and floor plans and a ground-breaking planned for last summer. But it has taken almost that many meetings to figure out how to recognize people who give.

Some folks place a much higher value on gifts of money than on gifts of time. And that troubles me because none of this would happen without many volunteer hours. Yet it is the cash donations that seem to dominate the discussions. No one seems interested in just listing all givers on one plaque. No, there are always two forms of recognition in every discussion - those who give money and those who give 'time and talents'.

So what are the issues? Well, for example, do we allow the largest donors to have naming rights? If you give $100,000, can you name the kitchen after a famous person in our religion's history? And what about recognition for all donations? Do we have a plaque that identifies givers of $100,000 and more; then $75,000-$100,00; etc, etc...down to that $1 to $1000 category? Or do we just list all givers in alphabetical order with no indication of amount?

Oh the discussions and votes we have had! Every month for many months now, someone from some committee or with some personal interest, has asked to be on the Board's monthly agenda to come and plead their case for their ideas on recognition. They give thoughtful arguments. But the next person will have a differing opinion with equally thoughtful arguments.

But I wonder. For large contributors, those fortunate enough to have that kind of money and generous enough to donate it to their church, does it really make a difference to get their name on a plaque? If they had sat down with their budget and decided they could give...let's say...$70,000....would they really break their budget and give $75,000 if that meant their name went higher up on the plaque?

I can be pretty objective about this because I don't have a lot of money to give. No matter what the plaque looks like, no doubt I'll be in the category at the bottom. And given that fact, maybe I just don't understand what it is like to be able to give that generously. Nor do I have a real understanding of the incentives behind some forms of recognition.

But I know we've voted. And we've voted to reconsider our vote. And we've reconsidered. And we've voted again. And no matter where this ends up, I believe some folks will be happy, some will be disappointed, and some will even be angry by the final decision. I hate it that some people will give generously but still feel disappointed about how their gift was handled. And I would feel very badly if I thought our votes would actually stop someone from giving.

Even in matters of spirituality and when people are feeling most generous, money does funny things to people.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

It is hard to watch couples break up. Even harder when it is your own kid. Son19 and his girlfriend of about a year called it quits this week. Actually, she called it quits.

Oh, she still wanted to be friends. Heck, she was even willing to get together now and then to 'cuddle'. But she just wasn't wanting to "deal with a relationship".

It is tough as a parent to watch your kid hurt. To watch this big kid break down and cry as his heart was breaking. To know that there is nothing to say or do that will really make it better. To see him go through the past couple of days in a zombie-like shuffle from sadness and lack of sleep.

Oh sure, we reassured him that she would regret it. She'll realize she dumped a good guy. We even joked that we would send her a bill for all the meals we fed her. He smiled. But he was just being polite.

And his friends stepped up. Taking him out for coffee. Going out to dinner. Not letting him spend too much sitting alone and thinking.

But he still hurts. And when he hurts, we hurt. Being a parent is a lot of hard work. But sometimes the hardest work is when you can't do anything at all.

Reflections & Updates

What a hectic week! I haven't been able to write and I've not gotten around to reading the other folks in my neighborhood. And I realize that I miss it! Just writing about the little things in my life, sharing it, getting is fun and it meets some need that I didn't realize I had. And I really miss going and reading my blog friends. A few days away and I feel like I don't know what is going on. Have I missed a big event? A great story? Some nice photos?

This can be addictive. But I'm learning it can also be a very nice thing.

So updates on a couple of serious notes...

My friend underwent a ton of tests and went home from the hospital yesterday. He will return to work on Monday. A particular type of irregular heart beat was diagnosed and can apparently be well managed with medication. So that is great news for him.

And my mother-in-law has taken a longer time than expected to recover from her second round of chemo, but now feels strong, is eating well, and is getting great reports from her blood work. So good news for her, as well.

And I've gotten so many supportive comments many folks who said funny things and made me many encouraging words and private e-mails. Thank you so much! What a great neighborhood my corner is in!!