Friday, February 12, 2016

Guest Post - Fiction Friday - The Case of the Missing Meatballs

The Case of the Missing Meatballs

As narrated by DC

One day, I was in the kitchen in my house. And then, I wanted to go into the living room. And then, I gone back into the kitchen, and then I saw my meatballs. They were gone.

I’ll give you some clues:
  • His name is Algebra and he was a mean guy.
  • He liked meatballs and he would like 1,000 meatballs, and I had the mix for that.
  • And so he stole the mix.
  • So, I had to buy some more mix, and then he stole the mix again.
  • Again, and again, and again he did that.

Then I said, “Crazy typing!”

Then I wanted to do that…


We tried to kill Algebra.

And then, and then, he almost got dead.

But, he actually had a gun, and I died, because he shooted at me. And he shooted at mommy too.

And then, he shooted Daddy.

And then, he shooted our grandparents. So, Gran and Pa are dead.

A fairy came and got Daddy alive, because God helped him.

Then the police, which was Daddy, put Algebra in jail.

The end.

Bonk. I didn't want to say that.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Dave Matthews Band - Live Trax Volume 8


Another day, another Live Trax review.  Let's talk about Volume 8.

DMB Live Trax Volume 8

1) Hello Again
2) Granny
3) #41 »
4) The Stone
5) Crazy Easy
6) So Much to Say »
7) Super Freak [partial]  »
8) Too Much
9) Bartender
10) When the World Ends
11) Help Myself
12) I'll Back You Up
13) Joyride
14) Grey Street
15) Sugar Will
16) Ants Marching »
17) Everyday
18) Typical Situation
19) Warehouse

The series returns to summer 2004 for this entry.  The pick this time around is one of the most highly regarded shows of that tour.  The show has its high and low points, but on balance, this is a much better selection for 2004 than Live Trax 2.

Hello Again, one of the new summer 2004 songs, opens the show.  I'm not a huge fan of this song, but it works as an opener here.  Granny is fantastic, and a great one-two punch of #41 and The Stone follows.  So far, so good.  Crazy Easy, another of the new summer 2004 songs, is next.  This was it's first release at the time (having been absent from Live Trax 2).  It's a fantastic sound and, although the lyrics are a jumbled mess, works here.

One of the gems in this release is the So Much To Say >> Super Freak >> Too Much combination.  Too Much in 2004 was a monster with the 'Lil John interpolation.  Super Freak is played here, partially, to honor Rick James who had just passed away.  For likely rehearsing it a couple of times in the dressing room, it's very well done.  I love the saxophone on it too.  (Leroi is ALL OVER this show.)

Bartender through Joyride is a bit of a drag for me.  Bartender here has the drawn out piano solo that I don't like, followed up by two songs I don't care for at all - When the World Ends and Help Myself. I'll Back You Up has a bass solo and, although a good song, I don't think it needs the bass solo. Joyride, another new summer 2004 song, pops up and remains a throwaway for me.

The show begins marching to it's conclusion with a solid, if out of place, Grey Street.  Sugar Will, last of the new songs, shows up and was the second time to hear Leroi's extended solo (instead of Santana).  The first was the Stand Up Bonus Disc which had a version of Sugar Will from The Gorge of that year.  This version is inferior to that one, which means it's my least favorite.

Ants Marching serves as an introduction to Everyday to close the set, which is a transition I do not like.  Everyday should not close or open.  The encore though makes up for it.  This Typical is great, and Warehouse is a nice dessert after the main course.

The sound here is fine.  It's compressed, but it's fine.

There's such a long stretch of this show that is a drag to me, and the ending of Everyday is pretty bad.  But, the first half and the encore are very strong.  And, did I mention Leroi is all over this one?  He plays his behind off and I never complain about that.  I have to give it 3 out of 5 stars.  I purchased this one used on eBay several years after it came out on a whim - it had a coffee stain on the package and it was only a couple of bucks.  It's worth more than that.  I'd recommend a purchase for the strengths of the show.  The lows are definitely not keepers, but there's enough here that makes it worth it.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

The Right Homeschool for You

I've been talking with a few "new to homeschool" mom's lately, and come to realize that, as overwhelmed as I am with all the curriculum choices, they honestly have no idea what type of curriculum they want or need.

The good news is that, with a little time and patience, you can figure it out.

I recently read one of Cathy Duffy's Top Pick books from the library. While it was helpful. and full of advice on choosing curriculum, I had fortunately already found the right curriculum for me and my kids. And my method didn't involve a whole bunch of charts or adding up percentages or open ended essay questions (because really, what homeschool mom has time for all that).

First, I heard about an all in one curriculum that a friend loved (My Father's World). But her kids weren't really learning quickly with that method, and my son already knew the integrated phonics. Plus, I felt the Bible was a bit more kitschy sayings than actual Bible verses. But I loved the idea of all-in-one (and my husband did too since he was "on the fence" about homeschooling, he figured if you finished a whole "curriculum" then you'd be covered educationally.

We briefly looked at Classical Conversations because of some friends, but quickly crossed that one off (too expensive and all the "bad" of formalized education). Having determined that my philosophy is more Charlotte Mason than Classical, but I need more support and structure than "read these books and do some nature walks" we finally settled on the Heart of Dakota series.

There were no checklists or charts, just trying out a few options recommended or used by friends and quickly seeing what worked or didn't work for me or my kids. I originally though Heart of Dakota was a bit silly with the rhymes and dramatic play, but those are exactly the things that my kids need to work on (since my Kindergarten son doesn't participate in group activities, and rarely did make-believe before starting this program).

We ended up joining a co-op, and while it's been a big time-consuming venture, it's also been a great stretch for me and the kids, and given us a bit more of a social outlet. With a little experimentation, experience, and a few schedule changes this spring semester, things are working out pretty well with that too.

So, am I saying not to read about all your curriculum choices, or don't attend curiculum fairs or homeschool conventions? No, I think those have their place as well. I'm suggesting that sometimes making a decision about curriculum can be easier than it seems. Pick something that feels right for you and your family, and then try it out. Don't be afraid to change halfway through, but don't change on a dime either. Give it a few weeks to percolate and work out the bugs so it works for your family and then stick with a routine for a bit. You'll be surprised how much you learn, and your kids will be fine in the long-run.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Life as a Reserved Extrovert

Lately, there's been an article going around on Facebook about what it's like to be an outgoing introvert. Since my husband is the person in the family with that personality, I already know a lot of what goes through his head. I thought, however, it might be nice to hear the opposite perspective, since I am a reserved extrovert myself. I'll try to keep all my other odd personality tidbits out of this, so maybe you'll recognize some other reserved extroverts in your life.

10 things you might see a reserved extrovert do or say:

  1. People watch. We watch people, all the time. It's not creepy or stalkerish, we just want to be involved in something, and if we don't know anyone, we can live vicariously through people watching. OK, so maybe it does sound a bit stalkerish...
  2. Eavesdrop. If you notice someone on the outskirts of your conversation, listening intently, they may either be the aforementioned stalker, or a reserved extrovert. We probably really want to join your conversation, but can't come up with a good conversation starter without you realizing that we've been listening to your conversation for 20 minutes.
  3. We seem bi-polar. You think we're the quiet one of the group, until you get us in a group where we are comfortable with everyone there. Then you get frustrated because there are too many loud obnoxious conversations going on because our mouths just will not shut up. I wish you could see the expression on my chemistry teacher's face in high school when she finally had to yell at me to get me to stop talking (I had been in her class for almost 2 full years before I got comfortable enough to reveal my hidden extroversion).
  4. We may seem cold or "standoffish". I can't tell you the number of times someone has said that I seem cold or standoffish. People have been offended by me, without even knowing me that well. I can put on a bubbly persona for jobs or professional activities, but in reality, my reservations about certain situations can make me seem distant (even my husband has accused me of this on occasion).
  5. We want to have friends, but we don't. I've been on the outskirts of deep friendships almost my whole life it seems. My extroversion causes me to crave connections with many people, but it seems that most of those other people aren't really looking for friends, because the people it's easiest for me to interact with are extroverts themselves, and they already naturally have a ton of friends. We are not living happy peaceful lives with one or two friends like an introvert might, but we crave those deeper friendships while lacking the forceful nature of an outgoing person to be able to start reaching out to those who might not have as many friends.
  6. We want to be good at direct sales, but we aren't. I was very successful at "shopkeeper" style sales (such as being a sales representative for a maid service company, or working retail jobs) but my personality just isn't right for starting up my own direct sales business (which I have tried and failed at several times).
  7. We put off phone calls. Once we actually make the phone call, we are fine. But if you are expecting a verbal RSVP, verbal invitation, Christmas present, or anything else that we need to do in person, you can expect it to be late or never.
  8. We can flirt, when the occasion calls for it. Of course, I'm married now, but I truly honed my flirting skills my senior year of high school (despite, or perhaps because of, a long-distance boyfriend at the time). I can't tell you how many boys thought I was really into them and were shocked that I wasn't (it almost led to an altercation between a friend I flirted with mercilessly in one of my more boring classes and my long-distance boyfriend who did come back to take me to prom - he was a giant teddy bear, so nothing would have happened violently, but I still laugh when I picture the look on my now ex-boyfriend's face as he faced down the 280 pound linebacker who said I was "his girl"). I did learn my lesson - so don't flirt unless you really mean it, it is fun and games, but people may get hurt, even if they don't reveal it.
  9. We operate better in the written world. We can text like nobody's business. We are on dozens of Facebook groups or Pinterest/Twitter, or blogs, and we participate actively in those discussions.
  10. We can get depressed easily. I am often frustrated by my own lack of friends, or close friendships. Yet, when opportunities present themselves for more, I often pass them by. Not because I want to stay at home and live vicariously online or through books, but because I'm just feeling a bit unsure and want a more outgoing friend (or spouse) to go along with me. Unfortunately, since my husband is outgoing, but not extroverted, he doesn't actually want to go the party, even though he can be the life of it. Fortunately for us, opposites attract, and we have a fairly social life for the both of us, probably a hint too social for him, and just barely not social enough for me.
So, what type of personality do you think you have? Are there some friends you may have passed over, just because they have a different personality than you? What personalities do you think they have, and how could you help them? Rather than just writing off "that awkward person" on the outskirts of a party, maybe we should be reaching out and bringing them into the fold. Didn't Jesus seek out the sinners and the outcasts?

And, if you don't know me that well yet, I can promise that I'm not a stalker, and I'm really nice once you get to know me!

Friday, February 05, 2016

Discipline or Personality?

Lately, I've been thinking about my own challenging children. I see parents who seem to magically be able to convince their children to obey with a whisper, while I find myself routinely bargaining, threatening, yelling, and all the other things you're not supposed to do when disciplining your children.

So, sometimes I do wonder whether my children are really just that challenging, or if there is a lack of appropriate discipline in my house. Obviously no parent is perfect, and maybe the people that I think have it all are just beating their children behind closed doors. However, it is difficult to determine whether or not your discipline is working when children have such different personalities.

My dad seems to think corporal punishment is the way to go, but I think he's forgetting when my brother turned 14 and there was essentially a knock down drag out fight in the hallway as he didn't want to be spanked (and he was never spanked again). I also think, that any discipline would have worked on me, so my "success" was not due to any one particular parenting or discipline style.

We've found a method that works for our oldest, and his behavior had been better for awhile, but he's also a 5 year old boy with sensory issues. He gets worked up at times and nothing will calm him down. We use a combination of consequences (usually sitting on a chair to calm down for a few minutes or losing a privilege, occasionally being sent up to his room if he can't calm down and obey. I feel like a failure as a parent at times, when I've tried all these methods and he's just gotten too overstimulated and I end up carrying a 45 pound boy up the stairs or out to the car while he kicks and screams.

So, the question is, is it a failure of our discipline methods, or just a consequence of an active 5-year old boy who ended up over-tired, over-stimulated, and is still at times unable to self-regulate?

It reminds me of the doctor appointments some of my homeschooling parents have been subjected too by well-meaning doctors who have met "those homeschoolers" who are apparently socialized and not teaching their kids anything. Haven't the doctors maybe considered that they are being homeschooled because they are autistic or learning disabled? Why do we excuse those personality or developmental problems at some times (public school) and not at others? Sometimes, we have children who aren't perfect, and today, I'm okay with that.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Dave Matthews Band - Live Trax 7

Guest post by TC

DMB Live Trax Volume 7

1) Seek Up
2) Dancing Nancies »
3) Warehouse
4) Say Goodbye
5) Satellite
6) Rhyme & Reason
7) Two Step
8) Crash into Me
9) So Much to Say »
10) Anyone Seen the Bridge »
11) Too Much
Set Break
12) Tripping Billies
13) Lie in Our Graves
14) #41 »
15) Minarets
16) Typical Situation
17) Ants Marching
18) All Along the Watchtower

I saw a message board post from a guy who is involved with the site, archiving and cataloging information about the live performances of DMB.  He said, essentially, that when the Live Trax series was announced back in 2004 there were three shows which came to mind that should be released: 12.8.1998 (Live Trax 1), 12.31.1996 (this show), and 2.19.1996 (Live Trax 23 - I'll get there).

When the series was announced, this show was one of the ones fans mentioned constantly as wanting to have it relased.  It is considered as one of the top 5 concerts from this band, ever, if not the single best.  Taking place on New Year's Eve/New Year's Day (technically), the band wore tuxedos and guested with the Flecktones for a lot of the night.  The performances speak for themselves.  It's definitely one of the great ones.

The beginning of the set through Rhyme & Reason is the band by themselves.  All of these are good versions of songs although I wouldn't call anything particularly a stand out.  Two Step brings Bela Fleck to the stage, one of his earliest guest spots, and Paul McCandless joins Bela and band for Crash Into Me.  This Crash Into Me is the highlight of the show as far as I'm concerned.  One small lyric flub, which really isn't all that noticeable, is the only thing keeping this particular version from being perfect.  Even still, it's the best Crash ever released to me.  The band finishes up the first set of the night with the relatively recently formed So Much to Say >> Too Much suite (see Live Trax 4 review for discussion).

I left the set break on this listing as the recording includes the audience counting down to 1997.  The band then is right on stage, with Bela (who stays until the encore), for Tripping Billies and Lie in our Graves.  It's hard to pick whether I want Leroi or Bela to solo on this song.  I go back and forth.  Bela here is perfect.  I can't chart music, but I can pick that solo out in my head note for note.  The rest of the Flecktones join in on the fun at this point and go through #41, Minarets, Typical Situation, and Ants Marching with the band.

The only knock on this show is this #41.  It drags a bit for me.

I so do wish that Paul McCandless was miked better during his Typical Situation solo with Leroi.  He's very hard to hear on the recording.  It's unfortunate, but he's there, and he and Leroi are fantastic.  The Minarets is largely considered to be the finest version ever recorded (again, I'm in the minority which says it's not), and Ants is one of the early extended outros to let Bela solo along with Boyd.  There is a loose jam session between Typical and Ants for 5 or 6 minutes which is captured on the recording but that I left off the setlist as it doesn't really develop into anything.

The encore is a single song, All Along the Watchtower, which pretty much closed out every show for the band at every major gig for several years.  It's standard to me.  It would've been great to have something very different close this show, maybe The Best of What's Around, but given the setlist and the time period of the band and the year that they had just had (Crash came out in 1996), there really wasn't any other choice to close the set.

The sound on this one isn't perfect.  Of course, there's 9 people on stage for a good portion of this show too.  I'm thankful the band listened to the fans and put this one out there even though it wasn't a perfect recording.  It's a fantastic show that should be in every fan's collection.  I know I listen to it frequently still and enjoy it every time.  Another easy 5 of 5 stars, and certainly a show I would share with friends who don't know this band and was curious as to why I'm into them so much.  If you don't like DMB after listening to this, then you don't like DMB.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Nickel and Diming Ourselves

I'm sure you've heard the phrase (or read the book) about "being nickled and dimed" by the small expenses adding up and costing a fortune. However, I'm going to come at this from a backwards perspective. Rather than worrying too much about the $5 or $10 transactions, maybe I should let those ride a bit and focus more on the bigger ticket items.

For instance, some of our neighbors were complaining to each other last fall about not watering the lawn or washing cars because they were watching their water bill. Considering that the water bill is likely no more than $50 or $60 (unless they have a leak in their house), this argument was over a relatively small amount, about $10 a month at most, or $120 per year.

Now, I'm not against conserving water from an environmentalist standpoint, but they were concerned primarily from a financial standpoint, based on the argument. As a counterpoint, they also shop at the most expensive grocery store in the area. So their focus is on saving $10 a month on water, when they could likely save $80-$100 a month simply by switching grocery stores.

The other day, I was wondering about our grocery bill, and decided to add up the dollar amount for the blueberry muffins I was making for group, to ensure it was a good decision to make rather than buy (if anyone is curious, even with 2 full cups of blueberries, they were only $3.72 or so for a dozen, or $0.31 each). So, as I noted the prices for where I bought everything (frozen blueberries were 33% off at Kroger, flour and sugar are cheapest at Aldi's regular prices, eggs have been going up, but the milk was on sale) I determined that in our current lifestyle, I truly can't save much more money on groceries. So why do I still worry so much about it? I already know the lowest prices on most items in my head. We stock up when our "regular" purchase items go on sale. I'll skip something at Aldi's or Kroger if it's on our list, but I know I can buy it cheaper at the other store. Why am I wasting my valuable head space on these small, regular items when I ought to be focusing more on saving money on the bigger ticket items.

For instance, we need to get our house painted relatively soon. This expense could be anywhere from $7,000-$10,000 including some wood repairs that we expect to have and depending on the company we choose to use. I have a recommendation for someone who does it relatively cheap and does a great job, but I know that since he's a one-man company, we may have to wait awhile. So why do I worry so much about the inconsequential ($10 a week on groceries), rather than taking some brain power and initiative to try to save thousands on our house painting and repairs?

I would argue that it's likely a combination of personality and humanity. My personality is thinking and judging, so I naturally sort things out and compare prices in my head. The price of our groceries is something I can control. On the other hand, I don't like to think about the bigger ticket items, because what if there's more wood rot than I think? What if we get a quote from someone that seems cheaper, but turns out more expensive because they aren't insured or didn't plan for the correct amount of repairs. My brain doesn't like to think about these things, because there isn't a clear answer, and the stakes are much higher.

I will try to get the number of the solo house painting guy, and give him a call to set up an appointment, but I also need to stop worrying about money - whether it's the nickles and dimes or the thousands of dollars. I know that with my personality, I will make the best decision possible, and my humanity will just have to deal with whatever underlying unforeseen consequences that may exist.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Teacher Pay Not the Answer

There has been some recent discussion lately about raising teacher pay. Especially since North Carolina has fallen to 42nd in the nation in terms of teacher pay. Unfortunately, more pay is not the answer.

When I worked in the Jefferson County School System, at one of the worst schools in the district, I talked with several teachers in different schools. I can guarantee you that private school teachers make 20%-40% less than public school teachers, and yet they aren't complaining about their teacher pay. What makes the difference?

I had the privilege of attending private schools as well as quality public schools. I can tell you that one difference is that at a private school either the child or the child's parents, usually both, want them to be there to get an education. Public school, on the other hand, is compulsory.

So, how do we fix this, while still prizing education as a nation? Is it okay to leave some kids behind, in the hopes of not leaving all our kids behind?

In our foster care training classes in Kentucky, they talked a lot about rights and privileges. Because corporal punishment isn't possible with a foster child, you have to take away some privileges as consequences, while still maintaining some "rights". As they put it, you don't want to use food because many times these kids have been starved before, but you can take away their privilege to go outside. I was a bit shocked, because to me, being outdoors is a right, not a privilege, but I do think that attending a classroom setting for your school should be a privilege.

As little as 200 years ago, education in itself was a privilege, and usually reserved for the wealthy. Yet now, we have children who are passed from grade to grade without learning to read, and left in the regular classroom despite daily disruptive behavior, because we want our school numbers to look "better". We have kids whose parents don't care what they do at school. We have what many researchers call a "school to prison pipeline" and yet we still want to call standardized education a right, not a privilege?

I agree that education is a right. However, kids should not have a right to disrupt a teacher's life, disrupt their classroom, or harm a teacher or student. So, what should we do with these broken children? Leave them in a system that's clearly not working for them? Or can we come up with some new solutions.

I think a combination approach is best, to try to reach as many of these kids as possible. By removing the 5-10% of routinely trouble-making students from buses, classrooms, gyms, and cafeterias, you're improving the quality of education for the remaining students, and the quality of life for the teachers. Any kids removed should have an individualized plan in place that allows them to get back into a classroom, if they so desire. They also should be given tools to education. Don't give them brand new laptops, but accept donations from businesses and charities of quality used computers and help the students set up Internet access in their house. Most school systems have an alternative school where kids are shipped off to a computer lab to take online classes, maybe they would have more supervision, but then you are just moving the problem from one school to another. The next step is to provide some additional help, a combination of counselors, social workers, and teachers need to visit these children in the home to help resolve any issues that have led to the child being removed from a school setting (i.e. provide information on employment opportunities for parents, childcare opportunities, food stamps, provide discipline training for parents, advice on reading with your child or adult education opportunities, mental health screenings for parents and children, one-on-one tutoring with the child and parent). In other words, all the money that would have been spent on teacher raises would instead be spent on those few children that the teachers don't want in their classroom.

What about group interaction? What about child care for working parents? Absolutely these issues would need to be addressed. However, I can tell you that most parents of these struggling students don't work during school hours, but rather 2nd or 3rd shift (or are in jail, out of the child's life, etc.). I would work with the local non-profit groups in the community to allow these children access to the same activities they had before they left the standardized school system, such as Boys and Girls Club,  Big Brother, Big Sister, Girls on the Run. As far as childcare, again these are usually parents working 2nd or 3rd shift, so after school style childcare would still be an option, for the few parents in this situation who work a traditional 1st shift job, or multiple jobs, the assigned team of counselors, social workers, and teachers can work together with the parents to find a mutually beneficial solution for students on an individualized basis, using non-profits, libraries, or new programs to help this small portion of the population.

Because the truth is, that students don't need to be in a group setting to learn. Some kids are never going to be able to learn sitting at a desk in a large classroom. I taught in a "small class size" setting (usually only 22-25 students) and I can guarantee that my job was harder than a teacher in a "good school" with 30-35 students in their classroom. I've physically broken up fights, and I've tutored a group of kids in my classroom because they weren't learning enough in class, so they skipped band to come get extra help. I can tell you that education is a right, not a privilege. So let's give all our kids access to the right of education, by taking away the privileges of those who make it more difficult.