Thursday, October 29, 2015

Wednesdays in Town

On Wednesdays I take Julia to her college classes in New Bern. I try to occupy myself for a few hours. Last week I spent most of the time at the local shopping mall. These malls are struggling to make ends meet. I found two works plastering over a large section of wall. (Sorry about poor quality photo.)
I asked, and they said this had been a store front. But the store closed and the mall couldn't find a new tenant, even with the holiday season coming. They don't want people seeing a vacant spot, so they're paying to have it finished over.
I bought a pair of work shoes, since I'm on my feet much of the time, and legs were aching. These are Sketchers with memory foam, on sale. Wonderful!
Other empty walls nearby are covered with large photos of the New Bern police department from various years. The one you see here looks very like Andy Griffith and Barney Fife.
A little branch of the police force has a presence here in the mall. When I go there on Wednesday mornings, its populated with elderly walkers and ladies waiting for their crocheting class at Michael's. No criminals around.
(Evidently our mall was in a bit of bother because it swiped a photographer's picture. You can read his response here.)
My contact photo on my phone was Awful! It was a random photo I took of myself while learning how the phone worked. So I sat in the car and took more selfies to replace it. Julia caught me. She reprimanded me. "Mom! Are you taking selfies? Stop it!"
I put on lip stick and combed my hair. In other words, I tried! I still think I'm looking rather aged.
Anyway, THIS week (today), I parked at the college and looked at the autumn leaves, enjoying Christmas music and knitting away. It was quite calm.

I took along my warm chai and Adam's pumpkin scones. I did drift to the mall briefly, found some marked-down yarn at Michael's, clearance shoes at Shoe Dept., and a couple of Christmas presents for the girls with my Michael's coupons. Yes, I've started light Christmas shopping.
And here's the short list of a few books I want for Christmas. I put them here so I won't forget them when Adam asks, "What Do You Want For Christmas?":
Susan Branch's latest book -- it sounds so fun!
 These two Elizabeth Goudge books seem to me to be her best. I've read Green Dolphin Street and The Dean's Watch. Loved them both. These are hard to find el-cheapo, but they are on Amazon for $13-$16 each.
What's on your Christmas list? Are you shopping yet?

Monday, October 26, 2015

Old Years

I opened an old tub full of documents. Right on top, I found three old calendars. I used to keep these Lang Folk Art Calendars. (Here's their website, if you'd like to look at more.)I think they're a little expensive, so I didn't get them every year. These are: 1993, 1997, 2001.
I love the look of the art in the buildings, the trees and landscape. The paper is thick and good quality. The calendars come in a firm envelope (what you're seeing above), so they are protected.
2001 calendar
1997 calendar
1993 calendar, the one I chose to put up on the back porch where I'll see it.
Why did I open it to February? I don't know! Look at the sleigh ride.
And the impressive red barn:
And the neighborhood, soft with snow:
So I turned over to October and found pumpkins!
This is my favorite image so far, the red church, lit with Christmas cheer. And the blue farmhouse in the background is darling too.
Very farmish, outdoorsy pictures.
I am sticking to my farmish commitment of hanging clothes out to dry and saving that dab of electricity.
Do you save pretty calendars from years gone by? I can't bear to throw the truly nice ones away. What do you like in a calendar (besides the usual days and months, I mean)? And I'm wondering ... Is keeping these calendars all these years another demonstration of my bad habit of pack-ratting?

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Thoughts About Math

I warn you ahead of time: these thoughts are disjointed.

I'm not a math person. By that I mean that I do not enjoy math, I don't do math in my spare time, and when I am forced to do a bit of math I have to use my whole, aching brain. But I did well in math in school. I can do it if I have to.
Adam is a math geek. He took AP math and tested out of 2 years of college calculus. (So did Philip.) He had to drop out of his math major because of the tinnitus that plagued his brain, but he remained a math whiz. He took all the course work online for the math degree at MIT. He got to know MIT math people and now he proofs work for them as they do big whoopie math. The math people he does proofs for live from Turkey to southern Africa. None of them are Americans. Do Americans get higher level math degrees at MIT anymore? I don't know, but foreigners apparently still think of the U.S. as a place to come to for the programs. How can we still provide the universities but not the students? That's a mystery to me.

Recently I heard someone talking about Common Core math in North Carolina. I've heard a lot of negatives about CC, so I was interested to hear a cheerleader, someone with deep knowledge of CC and its implementation. I was told that CC is designed to compensate for years of horrible math instruction in US schools. That CC is designed to give conceptual and procedural understanding -- a thorough, deep understanding of how math works instead of the hokey short-cuts we used. The "I-don't-know-why-this-works-to-solve-the-problem-but-I'm-doing-it-because-the-teacher-told-me-to" method of math.

I remember being a hokey short-cut math student. But I also know that over the years of math instruction I did learn math concepts. I did understand the why's behind the solutions. It was rote memorization at the beginning, but by high school the work was complicated enough that understanding the concepts behind the steps was necessary. I think that's true.

So I was surprised to hear that my math education had created generations of dummies. I was also surprised to hear that Common Core, with its lengthy approach to teaching multiple ways of understanding the math and solving the problems, including videos and lots of manipulatives, is a dream curriculum for Special Ed. kids, and is a great solution for all the average kids. But I heard that it is really frustrating for the advanced students, and that those whiny students, and their equally whiny and lazy parents, complain about all the work. That the advanced students just want the short-cuts because they want to get the answer, get done, finish the work, and get their grade. Because they're just grade hogs.

I found that description of them to be offensive, so I challenged it, and the person backed off a bit. I argued that many advanced math students have an impressive intuitive understanding of why math works the way it does -- they grasp the concepts and the steps quickly and don't need it drawn out repeatedly three different ways.

I was told that we really don't have many kids like that in our county because we mostly have poor, dumb kids here who don't perform at that level. Okay, the person didn't use "dumb" but we all knew what was meant. We don't expect that level of understanding from our local kids. Maybe that's part of the problem!

Some friends noted that there's less actual work done by students at home -- maybe three problems instead of ten. The kids aren't required to do lots of repetitions of the work to reinforce it. And this is apparently true! In fact, a teacher may assign 3 problems to child A, 5 problems to child B, and twenty problems to child C. I was told that repetition is not a good thing; if the child is doing the work incorrectly, lots of repetition will only reinforce the wrong methods! And then it's hard to reverse that ... so it's better to do very few problems. I don't even want to begin to investigate how wrong-headed that thinking is!

People, where did we go wrong? Adam noted to me that back in the 1950's and 1960's, we produced rocket scientists and math geniuses. What math were those kids taught in the '30's and '40's? Can we go back to that?

I'll end with Julia, and our anecdotal homeschooling evidence. Julia is me -- not a "math person." She dislikes it. In fact, of all her homeschooling work, the class that finally ended it all for us ... was math. She and Adam came to an impasse. They could not do math anymore without fighting. Math is important to Adam; it's beautiful and eternal and reflects the mind of God. And to have his middle school daughter repeatedly dismiss and insult math was just painful. We tried textbooks, Khan Academy, less supervision, more supervision -- nothing helped. In 9th and 10th grades, her math study was rather pitiful, and I was worried. I didn't know where she was, to be honest. Finally we realized we'd better get her into a community college for a math course (and chemistry, because I didn't want to do labs at home) if she were ever to finish high school.

She enrolled in pre-calculus algebra. She ended up dropping chemistry because this math course was so, SO stressful. She got a 70 on her first test. She complained and whined and made our lives miserable. Oh My Word, was it awful! It was as bad as homeschooling her in math! But we told her flatly that she must do this if she ever wanted to go to college. Her next score was a 73, and then gradually her scores climbed into the 80's and 90's. Her last two tests were 103 and 104, the highest score this teacher gives on tests. She's clearly mastered the material and is excelling, even though she's not a math geek, even though she still dislikes it.

Is it just her brain? I don't know. What did we do right all those years of Math Suffering? I haven't a clue, except as homeschoolers we tried to teach her to THINK, to problem-solve, to stick to it, to reason well. We never, ever taught to a test, and we did not focus on assessment. We valued the information itself, even if she didn't.

If we, who did such a poor and incomplete job teaching our daughter math, could see her flourish this way after only two months in a community college, why can't our public school system, with all its resources, do better? I look at the Common Core work that kids are dong now, and  scratch my head. I do believe the intend is noble: to improve conceptual and procedural understanding of the work. But for some reason I don't think this convoluted curriculum will work. In spite of what I was told recently, I don't think kids are being taught basic math facts. They are not memorizing them. They are confused. They need better thinking skills, better problem-solving skills, but I don't think they're learning them in those classrooms. I hope -- I dearly hope -- I'm wrong.

I don't write any of this with a political agenda. I don't give a flying fig if either political party endorses or opposes Common Core; they're always looking for the latest football to fight over. I care about the kids and what we are doing with their minds during the many hours they are in our care in school. Both kids and teachers are desperately eager to perform well on EOG tests. This test-desperate approach makes them desperate for the answers -- not the concepts, not the procedures, not the deep understanding. They want the answer and the grade. Until we reduce the pressure to perform there, we will not make student minds eager for understanding. I feel we do not need more, but less. I would love to know any thoughts from readers out there who know more about math, or Common Core, than I do, or who have experiential knowledge from teaching. That should be about 90% of you!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Well, Hello, Maggie!

 Disregard the ugly floors that have yet to be refinished. That may happen sometime in the next decade.
 She's sweet, shy, people-loving, tender, quiet, and smart. She's very interested in Sandy and Beau, but they are keeping some   d   i   s   t   a   n   c   e   from her! They're trying to figure this new situation out.
Maggie will be (we hope) our farm dog, to live inside the pasture/field, protect the chickens and chase off deer. Adam is good at training dogs, so I'm hoping this plan will work.
 Yes, that's my finger. Ouch.

Now that Adam has succeeded in getting THREE dogs, I think he hopes he'll never, ever have to leave the farm again ... haha!!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

On a Sunday Afternoon

It's this kind of day:
We stopped and bought pumpkins. Mags -- enjoy!!
The Jack-O-Lantern is Julia's. She bought her own. I prefer just a nice autumn pumpkin on my porch.
She had fun digging out and carving and saving the seeds to roast.

See mine ... and hers?
While she was carving away, I found the hammock in the piney copse and had a quiet few moments gazing through the leaves and needles while Sandy barked at me that she needed me to throw her pine cone.

Below me the puppies wrestled after Sandy gave up on chasing pine cones.

The front porch is looking a little festive now!
Meanwhile, Adam  had awoken from his post-preaching nap and decided to make profiteroles, a light pastry with cream filling. Can you tell we've been watching reruns of "The Great British Bake-Off"?
Because the air is cool and we don't want to turn on the heat quite yet, I made myself a Tom-and-Jerry, a warm eggnog with nutmeg and allspice. Adam makes a mixture we keep in the freezer. You add 3 teaspoons to warm milk. Yummy.

I'm knitting and listening ... to Christmas music, yes, I am!

I've had two good weeks at the farmers' market, and yarn is starting to sell for the season, so I must be knitting each week to keep up with demand.
I have only one purse-baby left, so several of those are on the agenda for this week.
Adam is cooling his profiteroles now. He's also watching an old (1978) Thanksgiving football game between the Nebraska Cornhuskers and the Oklahoma Sooners. He said he probably watched that game with his dad. As autumn comes, and then winter, I find myself thinking of years gone by, people I dearly miss. I wish I could be in West Virginia with my parents and family there. I miss them so.
Adam's profiteroles are done, and they are delectable. Handel's Messiah is playing now, and faintly from the kitchen I hear Vern Lundquist's voice, sounding like the football announcers I knew years ago.

The 2nd Annual Ol' Front Porch Music Festival

This year Oriental's music festival grew up quite a bit! Last year it was an experiment that went better than anybody could have hoped. This year, the people in charged decided to plan and organize!
This year I didn't walk the whole route and listen to all the music on every porch. I spent my time at a friend's house on the waterfront, listening to her porch band, "The Paradise Band."
And we enjoyed the shade of her huge live oak trees.
At the edge of her yard were the antique cars parked for the car show, and beyond that the water sparkled.
Recently a family spruced up this lovely old home. Its front was the main stage, but there were dozens of porch stages along Broad Street, Hodges Street, and other spots in the village.
Folks sat in chairs along the sidewalk, clapping along.
I believe this was "Salt Water Gold," playing at the Cartwright House, a local B&B.
Meanwhile the food vendors on Broad Street were feeding hungry masses. Adam is there, tending a pan of bratwurst. He's in the red shirt. There were excellent craft vendors too.

And do you see that rig for cooking? It's two large grills, pulled behind a pick-up truck on a trailer. Mr. K. (in the black hat) calls this into service several times a year.
That's a brat from Morgan Meats. It was fabulous -- their pigs are grown healthily, without chemicals or hormones.
Mr. K. had this contraption on the front of his grill. He inserts a raw potato, pushes the plunger down, and it cuts it into fries. He deep fries them in the grill.
The festival was much larger this year, and I could feel the tendency toward more serious organization. There was fund-raising beforehand, and they charged for some things. They had a big band finale at night, extending the hours from last year. I want this festival to retain its family-feel, but Oriental is a fun-loving, partying town that loves to throw a shin-dig. And it's full of people who love to be in charge. I may remember last year as the most fun music festival, but this year was certainly a great band event. If you're looking for a perfect-weather weekend to visit, enjoy lots of free entertainment, and get a feel for the village, this is it!