Monday, October 31, 2011

One Gourd to Rule Them All...

I have no idea who carved this, but being a Tolkien fan, I had to share.  :-D

Top 10 Reasons Trick-or-Treating is Better Than Sex

10. Guaranteed to get at least a little something in the sack.
 9. If you get tired, wait 10 minutes and go at it again.
 8. The uglier you look, the easier it is to get some.
 7. You don't have to compliment the person who gave you candy.
 6. Person giving you candy doesn't fantasize you're someone else.
 5. If you get a stomach ache, it won't last 9 months.
 4. If you wear your Batman mask, no one thinks you're kinky.
 3. Doesn't matter if kids hear you moaning and groaning.
 2. Less guilt the next morning.

and, the #1 reason trick or treating is better than sex...

 1. If you don't get want you want, you can always go next door!

Happy Halloween!!!

Friday, October 28, 2011

My Halloween Mission: Chocolate Chip Cookies

When I was growing up, my sister and I went trick or treating alone, from house to house, all around our neighborhood or town (depending on where we lived at the time).  We received packaged candies, apples, and homemade treats such as brownies or cookies.  Mom and Dad never checked our candy or treats for "tampering" nor did they limit how much we ate.  (They believed a stomach ache cured all children of overeating candy.  It did.)

Then the fear mongering began. Suddenly, only psychopathic child haters gave out homemade treats or fresh fruit.  Parents needed to accompany children of all ages trick or treating, since children somehow magically lost the ability to do this alone.  Packaged candy needs to carefully examined by a responsible adult to ensure the candy isn't poisoned.

Where did our common sense go?  How did it get to be so bad?

This year, I am going to rebel against the fear mongering, against the insanity of it all.  This year, I am going to make homemade chocolate chip cookies and hand them out in sandwich bags as treats.  I may even include my phone number, so that concerned parents can call and ask me questions.

Why am I doing this?

Because someone has to.  Someone needs to point out the wrongness of this situation.  And it might as well be me.  The only question I have is, how many people are willing to join me?  Will you give out homemade treats or fresh fruit this year?  If the answer is "yes", please leave me a comment and I'll cheer you on.  If the answer is "no", I'd like to know why.

A Grand Introduction to.... Paul and Storm!!!!!

(From the Left)  Portal Pirate, Storm, Blue Butterfly, Paul
Just under a year ago, we took our kids to their first Jonathan Coulton concert.  We already loved JoCo's music - the kids regularly sang along with "Re:  Your Brains" and "Skullcrusher Mountain".  But little did we know we would meet what has become their other favorite musical group of all time - Paul and Storm!!!

While I had heard a song or two from them, I never really put together who this Dynamic Duo was.  Until, that is, that night.  Paul got up on stage, saw kids in the audience, and immediately apologized for his f*cking potty mouth.  I giggled - partly because of what he said, and partly because Paul just looks too innocence for such a potty mouth.  Storm played guitar as they sang "Opening Band" .  Then they went through the funniest song set list I'd ever heard.  We literally were almost peeing in our pants at them.  (They even made a funny joke about the audience peeing its collective pants!)

By the time JoCo came on stage, I knew two things:

  1. I wanted a Paul and Storm CD.  (We bought one that night.)
  2. Life at home would never be the same.
Since then, my kids now run around the house in the morning singing "Opening Band" at the top of their lungs.  They want their grandmother to cook a dog for Christmas dinner.  Oh, and I had to explain what nuns were, a rather comical conversation when you get down to it.  My son even plans to create a video for "Frogger - the Musical" using his Legos.  

So wherever you are, Paul and Storm, thank you for that night, and for everything since then.

Here they are with Jonathan Coulton.  I wouldn't want him to feel left out.

National Novel Writing Month - Craziness for 30 Days

In 2006, I stumbled across organized insanity on the Internet.   It was called National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo, for short).  The concept is quite simple - you agree to write 50,000 words in the month of November.  No editing allowed, no revisions, nothing shorter than 50,000 words.

I instantly fell in love with the idea, and proceeded to write a vampire murder mystery that year.  Since then, I have attempted NaNoWriMo just about year.  Sometimes I succeed, and sometimes I don't.  The point is, I always try, which leads me to learn something about me and my writing.

This year, I planned a novel called, "Crazy".  The protagonist is a lovely lady named Donna, who returns to her small hometown after a nasty divorce.  The first week back, she witnesses a local person go crazy and stab a waitress for pouring too much ice in a glass.  Donna investigates because she wants to do something other than sit around and mope.  But the investigation turns from a time-burner to a life and death situation, as more and more people start to go crazy.


Sorry, but I always get the urge to laugh like an evil scientist at this point in the plot summary. After all, I do know why everyone is going crazy, but I'm going to make Donna, the sheriff, and the CDC work their pants off trying to figure it out.

If you have every wanted to write a novel, please consider trying NaNoWriMo this year.  It's crazy, fun,  brain-taxing, imagination-stretching, and yet strangely satisfying.  My username is KatFrog, and you are welcome to friend me.  I always friend back. :-D

Thursday, October 27, 2011

American Society: We're All In This Together, Folks

Imagine that you live in an apartment with several roommates.  You divide up the rent, the water bill, the electric bill, phone bill, ....  You don't measure how long each individual takes in the shower, or how much television any person watches.  Everyone just pitches in to pay for the apartment and amenities.  If you're lucky, your roommates will even tide you over on the bills when your car breaks down and you need to spend an extra $1,000 to fix it.

That's what we are, the American people.  We are roommates, all living in one big apartment called the United States of America.  Instead of rent and bills, we pay taxes to cover living expenses, such as the police, firefighters, public libraries, and schools.  Our living expenses also include maintenance of items previous generations "purchased", such a public roads and public parks.  When someone has  a "bad month", that means that they live under the poverty line, we help them out with the expenses.  Those who have extra pitch in more.


Because we are all in this together.  United, we stood for over 200 years.  But unless people stop being so greedy, and putting their own wants ahead of society, then we will be divided and we will fall.  

Emergency Dinner: Chicken and Rice

We all know what an emergency dinner is - you've gotten home from either work, shopping, or some other errand and it's dinner time.  Actually, dinner time passed you by 30 minutes ago, and now everyone (including you) is hungry and cranky.  You want to get food on the table as soon as possible, and you want to avoid hitting the local fast food restaurant again.

When our oldest son was seven, I worked in Denver and lived in Colorado Springs.  That meant I had a very long commute home, after which I needed to get dinner ready.  Let me tell you, cooking is definitely not one of the top 10 things I wanted to do after a commute.  So, I cooked extra on weekend and we ate leftovers at the beginning of the week.  Sometimes we ate pizza (he was seven, so we could not eat enough pizza for him).  But other nights, I'd whip up an emergency dinner.  No, it's not the healthiest dinner on the planet, but it beats fast food.

Tonight's Dinner:

Chicken and Rice


  • 2 c. of water
  • 1 can (16 oz) of chicken, drained
  • 1 can of cream of chicken soup
  • 2 c of instant rice
  • 1 c. of shredded sharp cheddar cheese (optional)

  1. Put water, chicken, and soup into a skillet.  Heat until the water boils.
  2. Add the rice, mix well and cover.  Remove from heat and let sit for 5 minutes.
  3. Spread the cheese on top of the mixture in the skillet and let sit another minute or until the cheese melts.
Voila!  Dinner is served.  I used the first five minutes of sitting time to set the table and finish the rest of dinner, and the last minute to call everyone to the table to eat. 

We, The People - A New Way to Petition the Government

Scene at the Signing of the United States Constitution
by Howard Chandler Christy
About a month ago, I received an email from the White House announcing a new website called We the People: Your Voice in Our Government.  I hopped over there, and found the executive branch created a new way for citizens to petition the government in accordance to the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Basically, any citizen can go there and create a petition.  If a petition receives enough signatures to go over a threshold, someone in the White House will review the petition and give a formal response.  The first petitions had a threshold of 5,000 signatures, but new petitions now need at least 25,000 signatures to receive attention.

I did not write about this website before, because I wanted to see a response, an action, anything that showed the system worked and wasn't just some political diversion.  This morning, I received an email with a response to a petition I signed at the beginning of October.  The petition's title was "Forgive Student Loan Debt to Stimulate the Economy and Usher in a New Era of Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Prosperity".

A small digression - I feel two ways about student loans.  I had student loans, so I know the feeling that of having a large debt hanging over your head at graduation.  It sucks. But I also paid them off years ago.  

I want college graduates to be able to afford housing and food, but I don't really think anyone should wave a magic wand and *poof* the loans away.  I signed the petition, though, because I felt that forgiving the loans and stimulating the economy was the best for society at large.

Back to the story... this morning I received an email with the first response to any petition.  Basically, the White House managed a compromise that lets people repay the loans based on income, with a cap of 10% of discretionary income as the maximum payment amount allowed and a 20 year time limit.  After 20 years, all remaining debt is forgiven.  This new policy begins next year, and I hope will allow college graduates to honor their obligations without going bankrupt.*

I also hope that this response means the other petitions, particularly the one about the TSA, get both attention and action.  After all, our government is supposed to be by the people and for the people.  It's nice to see that the people do still have a voice.

* The government is also allowing people with two different types of loans to consolidate them, but I don't understand enough to translate that part here.  If you follow this link, you can read about it yourself.

Marietta Zombie Walk - Braaiiinnssss

In years past, I've watched programs on famous zombie walks around the country.  From Pennsylvania to California, people have dressed up for years as zombies and strolled around streets or malls, groaning for fun.  Inside I wept, for I knew that Georgia was way too conservative for something like a zombie walk.

This year, a group of people proved me wrong.  For this coming Saturday is the first annual Marietta Zombie Walk!!!!   Sponsored by the City of Marietta, the Strand Theater, and a whole lot of other folks, the citizens of Cobb County now have the opportunity to sport fake death wounds while calling out for "Braaiinnsss".

The activities actually start early in the afternoon and continue well into the night.

  •  The Earl Strand Theater scheduled four old zombie movies, starting at 2:00pm with "White Zombie".  
  • From 2:00pm to 5:00pm, zombie wannabes can show up at The Brickyard to get help with their costume from local makeup artists.  Local photographers will also be on hand to record your zombie moment.  
  • At 3:30pm, "King of the Zombies" infests the big screen at the Strand.
  • After the walk, the Strand continues the zombie fest with "Teenage Zombies" at 8:00pm, followed by  the world famous "Night of the Living Dead"  at 10:00pm.
  • Doodlebugs will be offering yarn zombie dolls for the kids for $1.50.

The real infestation begins at 5:00pm, as zombies from around the area converge on Glover Park, donating canned food for the living.   After all, we need healthy living people if we're going to eat their brains.  Then at 6:00pm, the zombie walk begins!!!

My family and I will all be dressed up for this event, as well as several of our friends.   My son's hoping to have a Zombie Nerf Brigade, and my daughter will be either a Zombie Princess or a Zombie Fairy.  Personally, I am going as a bog standard zombie.  By 7:00pm this coming Saturday, I'll have one more item checked off of my bucket list.  

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Not-Really Wordless Wednesday - English Grammar

Traveling Rules for a Family

To those who don't know, I am a *big* fan of the Free Range Kid movement.  I feel that society artificially pumps up the fear in every situation that involves children, until children themselves feel scared to go outside.  

Well, I work hard to get my kids' ready for the world and not scared of society at large.  I even follow the Free Range Kids blog.  The following rules and responsibilities appeared in the blog, and I love them so much that I am passing them on.

Ambler Family Travel Rules and Responsibilities
  1. It’s good to talk to strangers.  The outside world is full of them.  The place you don’t have to deal with them is at home, which is where people who can’t cope with strangers will stay next time.
  2. Each traveler is responsible for finding things to be excited about, and sharing that enthusiasm.
  3. If the enthusiasm of others embarrasses you, pretend otherwise.  Being cool is dull, except in a sports car.
  4. Unusual foods are part of the point.
  5. Staying home is usually more comfortable than traveling, but traveling is more interesting.  Prioritize well.
  6. Travel disruptions are normal and a good way to show your readiness for more challenging adventures.
  7. Remember that your dislikes do not make interesting conversation.
  8. Wash your hands.  You have no immunity to foreign germs.  Throwing up is not interesting.
  9. You have travel in your future that you can not even imagine.  Adhering to these guidelines makes you eligible for such travel.
Patterson Amendment:  Always try to use the toilet when stopping the car.  We really will get there faster if we stop fewer times.

Wordless Wednesday - Memphis Zoo

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

New NPR Kids' Book Club

I came across a link tonight that made me almost giggle.  NPR now has a kids' book club, called the Back Seat Book Club.

Why did I want to giggle?  Because of pure happiness.  With all the adult book clubs out there, I have been looking for something for my children.  They love reading, but it's hard to get recommendations for them.  Yes, I do research at Common Sense Media and Scholastic websites, but what I want is something more.  And more is what a kid (and a parent) gets with this latest NPR offering.

The book club hooks into All Things Considered.  Parents and kids aged 9-14 are encouraged to read the book, either separately or together.  Then the young readers (i.e. the kids) can send questions in to the author, who appears on the show at the end of each month to chat about their book and answers some of the questions.

October's selection is "The Graveyard Book" by Neil Gaiman.  I love this book!  After reading the book, you can go to the submission page, and send in your thoughts and questions to Mr. Gaiman.  He is scheduled to be on All Things Considered this Friday.  Plus, Mr. Gaiman reads the book in videos and offers a fan kit at his own website.  

For those who have never read "The Graveyard Book", the protagonist is a young boy whose family is murdered by a man named Jack at the beginning of the book.  The young toddler escapes to a graveyard, where the inhabitants (ghosts as well as a few other creatures) raise him.  

Book Review: "The Mysterious Benedict Society" by Trenton Lee Stewart

The Mysterious Benedict Society (Mysterious Benedict Society, #1)The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"The Mysterious Benedict Society" brings readers to a world with adventuring orphans, evil genius machinations, and a sinister plan that plays on modern day fears.

I read this book out loud to my children, and even though they were perfectly capable of reading it themselves, we had a fantastic time. Trenton Lee Stewart creates believable characters who live extraordinary lives. No one comes from a perfect home or a perfect background, but the children come together as a working group. I particularly like how each child reads as a separate individual, but none of them had stock personalities.

The only negative about the story is the length of time it takes to find out what is going on. Partway through the beginning of the book, I felt like I was missing some vital piece of information, because I just didn't get it. But soon enough, Mr. Stewart gets around to informing the reader of what's going on. You just need patience to get that far.

I give this book four out of five stars.

View all my reviews

Monday, October 24, 2011

How To Be Your Child's Advocate

It is the job of every parent to be an advocate for their child or children - this message comes across in society through media and adult peer pressure.  But rarely does the message contain how to be an advocate.  Do you stand up for your child in every circumstance, always believing every word your child reports to you?  Do you stand next to the teacher, never believing what your child tells you?  What exactly does "being your child's advocate" really mean?

As a mother who has had a child in Cobb County schools for a combined total of 19 years, I learned how to be an advocate for my children the hard way, through trial and error, blood, sweat, and tears.  This is what I learned, in a nutshell.

For 180 days, you, your child, and your child's teacher work as a team with the goal being a happy and productive school year for your child.  That means that if a problem arises, all three of you need to work together to fix the problem.  The team works the best when no one is trying to assign blame to another team member, but everyone accepts responsibility for their own actions.  You will need to role model accepting responsibility for your child, since you are one of the biggest, most important role models in your child's life.

For 180 days, this team exists.  But only you and your child move on to form a new team next year.  This means that you are the only adult continuously on this team, privy to knowledge both of your child and past history at the school.  This is why you are your child’s advocate.

Now, what I’m about to tell you is the secret for being an advocate - the knowledge that most of us had to learn the hard way.  The crucial job as your child’s advocate is to communicate with the teacher and the school both proactively and reactively, and to not stop communicating if an issue is not settled to your satisfaction.

That’s it.  It really is that simple.  But let’s go over two examples of being your child’s advocate.

First, proactively communicating with the teachers.  One of my children learns spelling words by either saying the letters out loud, or singing the letters.  So at the beginning of every year, I always sit down with the teacher and explain this.   Every year, my child’s spelling homework changes to accommodate her learning style.  

Second, reactively communicating with the teachers.  Let’s say your son comes home and declares, “My teacher hates me!  She picked on me in the hallway for talking and completely ignored everyone else talking!”  First you must discount what your child tells you.  Or as a teacher friend of mine says, “I promise not to believe everything your child says about home, if you promise not to believe everything he says about school.”  

Children, especially young children, see the world from a very me-centric viewpoint.  That means that your child can tell you the absolute truth from his perspective and still leave out important information.  If your child ever comes home and says something outrageous,  question him for more details if you are worried.  Personally, I would worry about this situation, because regardless of the teacher’s behavior, your child may not feel safe in the classroom. Feeling safe is important for your child’s success, so I would call the teacher and talk to her.  

Let her know that you merely wanted another perspective on the situation.  Chances are there has been a miscommunication somewhere, or your child misunderstood what was happening.  By communicating with the teacher, not only can you clear up this particular situation, but may prevent future problems as you, your child, and his teacher get a better understanding of each other.

99% of the time, when you speak with the teacher, you’ll discover that your son was yelling, or that she did tell everyone to stop talking.  99% of the time you’ll be happy after a phone call or email with the teacher.  Then you can sit down with your son, explain what happened, and work it out.

But that leaves the 1% of the time that you are not happy.  The teacher might start harping on how loud your son is, raising an internal warning flag.  Or the teacher might blow off the incident, saying your son needs to just be quiet and not worry about the other children.  (Note:  This might sound logical, but it does not exist in reality.  Everyone worries about themselves in relation to others.)  Here is where the tough part of being an advocate kicks in.  You need to schedule a parent/teacher conference with the teacher to further discuss the situation.  If you cannot resolve it with the teacher after a conference, then and only then do you escalate to the administration.  

I hope that you never get to the place where you must involve the principal.  But if you do, make notes and take them with you about the situation.  Schedule an appointment with the principal including the teacher, and present your concerns.  If possible, present what you feel are reasonable solutions to your concerns.  If the situation gets resolved, wonderful.  But if you still are not happy, do not let up.  Even if it gets to the point where you want your child moved to a different classroom, you need to keep going.  

To be honest, this is an extreme case.  In my experience here in Cobb County,I have only had to move a child once.  And the vast majority of my friends never had to go that far.  A simple conversation with a teacher covers almost any situation 99% of the time.  But as your child’s advocate, you need to be willing to go as far as needed.  

Here is the second secret about being your child’s advocate - parents wield immense power in the school system.  You have several rights and responsibilities.  According to the Board Administrative handbook (available, the school is responsible  for “...Providing particular attention to situations in which the educational welfare of  students may be jeopardized.”   Emotional security is an intangible part of the classroom  environment, but without it a child will not succeed.  So if you feel that the school administration will not listen to you, pull out the handbook and force the issue.  

I can tell you that I have never had to push the local school administration to handle a problem.  

Never. Ever.  

The school administration wants everyone to be satisfied with the solution, because in the end that will lead to more success for the student.

That is the nutshell version of how to be your child’s advocate.  Please let me know if you have any questions, and I will try to answer them.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Recipe: Homemade Egg Noodles

I never really cooked when I was single - it just seemed like too much work for one person. After I got married (years and years ago), my husband cooked on the weekend, and I learned several simple meals. But in some ways, I never felt like I was cooking, since I used several cans of ingredients to make the dishes.

Late this summer, I finally decided to do what I considered "real cooking". Two things happened:

  1. I learned how much I love my crock pot. 
  2. I realized that I had been cooking before - I just didn't know it. 

 I found a wonderful website called A Year of Slow Cooking, where I learned how to make homemade marinara sauce. When it came time to make the pasta, I wanted to have something homemade to go with my marinara sauce.

I searched the Internet, high and low, and came up with...  a big headache.  Then I created a very simple recipe, using all the other recipes on the Internet.  So here is...

(Yet Another) Homemade Egg Noodles Recipe


16 oz. (453.6 g.) of Flour
5 room temperature eggs
Pinch of salt
2 tsp. of Olive Oil (optional)


  1. Measure out the flour into a large bowl.  Make a well in the middle of the flour.
  2. Break the eggs into the hole.  Add salt and olive oil directly to the eggs.
  3. Mix the eggs, salt, and olive oil into the flour.  If the dough is too wet, add some flour.  If the dough gets too dry, add a little water.
  4. Put the dough onto a lightly floured surface and kneed until it become smooth and slightly elastic.
  5. Let the dough rest for 10 minutes or so.
  6. Take about 1/4 of the dough, and roll out as thin as you can.
  7. Using a sharp knife, cut the dough into thin noodles.  Put the noodles on a plate, adding just enough flour to keep the noodles from sticking to themselves.
  8. Roll out the other 3/4 in three sections, adding to the plate with flour.
  9. While you are rolling out the last piece of dough, bring salted water to a rolling boil in a large pan.  
  10. Cook the noodles in the boiling water in batches.  You want to use batches to avoid the noodles sticking to each other in the water.
  11. Note, it only takes about 1 to 2 minutes to cook the noodles - do not walk away from the pan or you can accidentally overcook the noodles.  
  12. Serve immediately, or lightly coat with olive oil to keep the cooked noodles from sticking to each other and refrigerate.
  • I add a pinch of salt to the noodles, but I also add salt to the boiling water.  Otherwise, the noodles taste rather bland.
  • If you are mixing the dough by hand, I suggest you coat your hands with a light layer of Crisco shortening.  This will help keep the dough from sticking to your skin.
  • If you don't have a scale, start with 2 1/2 cups of flour and add flour to get the dough to the right wetness.
  • Make the noodles as thin  as possible, because they will puff up a lot in the boiling water.  The first time I made this recipe, it looked like a cooked long dumplings instead of noodles.  Luckily, they still tasted fantastic.
  • If you have a pasta press, I envy you!  I have no hints about how to use a pasta press, but when I get one I'll update the recipe.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Occupy Wall Street and the American Dream

I have yet to post about Occupy Wall Street, because quite frankly there are enough people talking about the protests.  But I when I read about the situation, sometimes I think the general public does not realize that protests such as this are an integral part of American history.  In fact, we might still be a colony of Great Britain without people such as the protesters, willing to endure quite a bit of pain and discomfort to get a point across.

In the early 1700s, Great Britain basically ignored collecting taxes from the colonies, focusing it’s attention instead on the wealth of the Caribbean1. Then King George and the East Indies Trading Company decided to enforce taxes again, one of the triggering events of the American Revolution.  The colonists simply wanted what has become the American Dream - a chance to work hard for a roof over their heads, food, and comfort.  The colonist specifically did not want to work hard so that the East Indies Trading Company, the historically equivalent of Wall Street, could get even richer.

Then during and after the Industrial Revolution, the Robber Barons appear in history.  Andrew Carnegie, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Andrew Melon, J.P. Morgan2, John D. Rockefeller - these men ruled the financial world in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  While these men indubitably helped create the great nation we are today, they used immoral practices to get what they wanted, treating employees as commodities, not human beings.  People protested as these practices undermined the American Dream, and change occurred.  We gained the 40 hour work week, child labor laws, and minimum wage laws from that time in history.

In the 1960s, Martin Luther King wanted the American Dream for everyone, not just white people.  His protests led to a more equal society, so much so that my children do not truly understand why black people were treated differently in the first place.  

And now, the American Dream is threatened again.  Wall Street, as representative of the 1% who hold the vast majority of wealth in our nation, tricked the American people into thinking that we are all just “temporarily poor millionaires”.  Through cajolery, slight-of-hand, fear mongering, and immoral business policies, these financial turned our housing markets into one giant shell game for the world.

Only there was no prize under any shell.   

Every shell held bad mortgages, with a large percentage of the mortgages pushed onto people with no visible means to pay them back.  The banks knew that they were profiting from deals that had to end in foreclosures, but that didn’t stop the money machine.   Their profit crumbled the American Dream into dusts for millions of people.  The protesters at Wall Street, and every other venue, simply want what our ancestors wanted over 200 years ago - a chance to live the American Dream.

1 The real pirates of the Caribbean appear in history here; several “pirates” were actually part of the British Merchant fleet acting with letters of marquis.
2 Ironically, the financial institute called J.P. Morgan seems to have picked up where the man, J.P. Morgan, left off.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

How You Can Help Your Child With Homework

     Now that you have a good environment ready for your child to do homework, the question arises as to how to help your child with her homework.  Before you begin,  I have one word of advice.  

You are a parent, not a teacher.  

     Even if you are a teacher, you are a parent first when helping your child with homework. This means:  
  • You do not correct the homework, unless you have specific instructions from the teacher.  
  • If your child misses the majority of the problems, send a note to the teacher and let her handle it.  
  • If your child is struggling and doesn’t want your help, stand back and let your child handle it.  
  • If your child struggles for too long, stop her, send a note to the teacher, and let the teacher handle it..

    Homework lets the teacher know if a student understands what’s being taught, but only if you, the parent, don’t correct the homework yourself.  In other words:
  • Your job is to make sure the homework gets complete and to communicate to the teacher about any problems.  
  • Your teacher’s job is to correct the homework and work on any comprehension problems with your child.  
  • Your child’s job is to do the homework to the best of his or her ability and ask for help when appropriate.

Before Homework...

    Before your child begins homework, you need to ensure that he has enough emotional energy to actually do the work.  That means your child needs to be neither too hungry nor too tired, since    either condition lessens your child’s ability to cope.  

     For a child who exits the school bus looking to consume any and everything in his path, afternoon snacks are a must.  Peanut butter with either apple slices or graham crackers, cheese toast, and yogurt with granola are a few of the favorite afternoon snacks at my house.  The actual foods don’t matter as long as you have some protein and some carbohydrates.  You can even turn afternoon snacks into subtle nutrition, math, and finance lessons by letting your child help out.  Menu planning requires discussion on nutrition, figuring out how much to buy requires some math, and shopping for the ingredients involves money.

     As for sleep, I admit that  you can’t do anything about a child who is too tired in the afternoon.  Children need a regular sleep schedule.  If you notice your child has circles under her eyes or seems unable to focus or stay on task, then you need to consider moving your child’s bedtime forward.  Even a change of 15 minutes has been shown to help children perform better in school.

During Homework...

    Children need various things from you while doing their homework.  Younger children might need you to sit next to them, for confidence and to answer the occasional question.  Older children might need you to play music, or keep the area quiet.  Sometimes children need help on projects; sometimes they want you to go away and let them handle it themselves.  Whatever the particular situation, there are a few rules for you to follow:

  1. You should only do what your child cannot.  

When both of my children went to kindergarten, we had family art projects once a month.  Even though these projects were family oriented, I let my child lead each project and make the important decisions. For example, my daughter needed to create a family snowman for December.  She picked out a tartan to represent our Scottish heritage and  a coat of arms for our German heritage, among other decorations.  I printed out the images and cut them to the appropriate size, but my daughter glued everything to the snowman and did the rest of the decorating herself.  By splitting the work up that way, she felt ownership for the snowman.

  1. Offer help when your child asks for it or seems lost...

Okay, okay, I know I said that it’s the teacher’s job to help your child with comprehension problems.  But sometimes a child gets stuck, or needs reassurance that she’s doing the problem correctly.  That’s where you come it.  

Let’s say your child is doing a math worksheet, and comes to you stuck on a problem.  Is it the first problem?  If yes, find out how stuck she is.  If she has no clue, skip the worksheet and send a note to the teachers.  If she thinks she knows what to do, but she’s just learning the math concept (such as long division), then watch her go through the steps.  It’s very possible that your presence and reassurance are all that she needs.  If the problem is halfway through the homework, look at the rest of the answers.  If she got everything right, then helping her get over one problem is no big deal.  If she got every other answer wrong, then stop her and send a note to the teacher, because you really do not want her to learn how to do math the incorrect way.

  1. But stand back if your child doesn’t want help.

Remember, you want your child to learn responsibility for his or her own homework.  That means if your child wants to continue without your help, you have to bite the bullet and stand down.  If your child asks for help, but then says that he can do it alone, let him.  If he seems frustrated but says he can figure it out, let him.  If he works on a problem for too long, ask him if he needs help, but be prepared to honor a “no” answer as much as you would a “yes” answer.

I know from experience that it is very difficult to stand by and let your child struggle with homework, especially if you know a shortcut to help out or if it is one of your strong subjects.  But children need to learn how to stand on their own.  Period.  As their parent, you need to support this.  A child who overcomes his own struggles will learn to persevere, which is what we ultimately want our children to learn.

  1. Create your own example problems to avoid doing your child’s homework.

Your child is doing long division for the first time, and asks you to help explain the steps involved before she starts working.  This situation sets up what I consider a classic homework quandary for parents - how to help out without doing any of the homework yourself.

The answer to this quandary is simple - create a brand-new, not in her homework problem for the two of you to work out.  If your child is multiplying two digit numbers, pick two new number and walk through the multiplication.  If your child is doing long division, reminder her that “Dirty Monkeys Smell Bad” (divide, multiply, subtract, bring down) and create a new different problem to practice on.  If your child does not seem to understand after one or two practice problems, stop the math homework and send a note to the teacher.  Be happy that you tried, and even more happy that you didn’t inadvertently do any homework problems.

  1. Dance!  Do Jumping Jacks!  Wiggle! (after each assignment, that is.)

Recent work in neurology shows that the part of the brain responsible for processing motion and movement also processing learning.  That means a quick way to re-energize your child’s brain in the middle of homework is movement.  Put on a dance tune and boogie with your child.  Do some jumping jacks together, or wiggle around for a few minutes between homework assignments or after 15 minutes of concentration.  Not only will this help your child focus better, but it’s a great activity to do together.

  1. Praise your child for attempting each problem.

Children need to be praised for attempting problems, regardless of the outcome or the correctness of the answer.  

  1. Stop all homework when your child hits burnout.

Homework is helpful up to the point of burnout.  By burnout, I mean that a child is out of mental and emotional energy.  Burnout leaves a child tired, angry, and out of internal coping resources.  Every homework study I’ve read warns about burnout, because not only does it hurt homework for the night, but children who hit burnout also do poorly  the next day at school.  If you notice your child is heading to burnout, stop him immediately and send a note to the teacher.  

  1. Establish the habit that homework is not done until it’s back in the backpack.

It is far too easy for a child to finish all of the problems on a worksheet and then leave the worksheet on the kitchen table.  Then you spend the evening chasing your child down, admonishing him to put his homework away.  You can avoid this scenario completely if you establish from the get-go that homework does not count as “complete” until it is return to the backpack, along with any notes for or from the teacher and every other item needed for school the next day.

  1. Remember, Cobb County has a 10-minute per grade level homework policy.

If your child routinely has more than 10-minutes per grade level worth of homework, you need to schedule a parent-teacher conference to understand why and fix the situation.  I assume that Cobb County based it’s homework policy on national standards and homework studies that show too much homework creates burnout.  It is your job, as a parent, to enforce this standard for your child.

After Homework...

    Congratulations!  You and your child made it all the way through homework.  I don’t have any routine activities to perform after homework, but about once every week or two I check on the homework supplies.  Do we still have enough sharpened pencils?  Erasers?  If you put effort into reviewing your homework supplies proactively, you can avoid the “But I can’t find scissors!” situation.

Next week, I’ll discuss how to be your child’s advocate.     


Wordless Wednesday - Gimme Your Candy!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Review: "One Right Tricky Bastard" by Craig Sottolano

One Right Tricky BastardOne Right Tricky Bastard by C. M. Sottolano
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Let me be honest up front - the author for this book, Craig Sottolano, is my cousin. Some people might think I'll be nicer to my cousin, and they are almost right. If he wrote a book that I absolutely hated, I'd just delete it from my Goodreads list and never mention it again.

But I did read the book, and I'm keeping here because I am quite proud of this novel.

"One Right Tricky Bastard" blew my mind. The story begins with a magician, Milo Gives (rhymes with "strives") accidentally getting a phone call meant for someone else. A young girl named Pandora is in trouble, and Milo decides to help her, because he really is just that kind of guy.

The novel is set in a different universe - one with magic, fay, angels (though you don't really see them), spirits, and ghosts. The novel begins with a bang, and maintains a nice, steady pace of action the entire way through. The characters all develop nicely throughout the story - even a few who only appear in the end are more than two-dimensional figures. There are a few surprises, but the story foreshadows most twists so the reader doesn't feel jerked around.

As for the ending, well, Craig managed to create a happy ending that was neither sappy nor perfect. I will say that I had a question from quite early in the story that didn't get answered until the end, but it was worth the wait.

I give "One Right Tricky Bastard" four stars.

View all my reviews

Friday, October 14, 2011

An Afterward About Clouds

     Reviewing my post on the Kindle Fire, I realized that neither Amazon nor Google care about people using their cloud services, per se.  In fact, if you include Apple in this list, it becomes obvious that the big three might look like competitors, but each one wants something different from consumers.

  • Amazon sells hardware to get people to buy content from them.    
  • Google sells neither hardware nor content; instead the company gives away free services to draw people to Google's websites to see advertisements.
  • Apple sells content to get people to buy their hardware.  

     Interestingly, Amazon and Google can cooperate in this mode of operation, and they actually do cooperate.  Yes, there is some overlap in services (e.g. Google Checkout), but generally speaking, Amazon and Google play nicely.  On the other hand, Apple remains a competitor to both.

     How do clouds play into this arena?  Amazon wants people to use their cloud services to strongly encourage consumers to continue getting content from Amazon.  Google wants people to use their cloud services because it's another service platform that Google uses to sell advertising.  But Google does not really care if you buy your music from Amazon before loading it into Google Music.  And Amazon does not really care if you take music you bought at Amazon and load it into Google Music.

     So, dear readers, what do you think?

Freaky Friday News: Unicorn Licenses

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