Archive for February 2010

I had a Blast with Algebra

February 27, 2010

Yes, you read that correctly. I loved Algebra.

So now you are thinking that I am the techy analytical type who enjoys math and science. All of you, that is, who have not known me personally! On the contrary, I am the writer/dreamer/arty type who prefers to understand the concepts of  math and science without doing all the calculations.

Actually, I heartily disliked math until I was a third grader. My mom says that I would have left all the math assignments until Friday if she had let me. She had to convince me that doing a little each day was better. I made many mistakes through distaste and carelessness. By fifth grade, however, I had decided that math was not bad, just indifferent. I did it because it was assigned, and I did eventually start improving.

I slogged through fractions and decimals, figured out percents, did my best to keep track of the millimeters and kilograms in metric measurements, and I understood the concepts whether I liked the work or no. In seventh grade, Mom had me do a year of review with a different curriculum than I had been using, just to be sure we had not left any gaps. I only had trouble with calculating interest, so she decided it was okay to move forward.

To Algebra.

I am not completely sure how I picked up on the general anxiety associated with Algebra. I mean, I was the first child in our house to reach it, so I could hardly get the idea that Algebra was hard from an older sibling. And my mother was a Math and Computer Science major all those years ago, so I was not likely to get it from her or from my father, a mechanical engineer. Somehow or other I did know, however, that other people thought Algebra was hard, and it made me a little uneasy. Still, I had gained a measure of confidence from the year of review, so I went into Algebra thinking that I would learn for myself how hard it really was.

I had a ball!

Not only did I love the textbook, written by Harold Jacobs and well sprinkled with cartoons illustrating the different concepts, but I finally began to see that math can be fun. I finally began making sense out of the number world and applying it to the real one. Finding what x equaled if y was three when y meant the number of people making pies and x the number of pies made actually seemed sensible after merely adding apples and oranges or figuring out what percent of the bananas belonged to Tom, Dick, or Harry. And then we got to turn the formula around and figure out how many people (y) were needed to make x number of pies. Cool!

I had so much fun with Algebra that my enthusiasm lasted into the next year. We got Harold Jacobs’s Geometry book also, and I enjoyed that almost as much as his Algebra text. Geometry had too many proofs for my taste, but at least math was making sense and I was still having fun. I would have enjoyed Algebra 2 and Trig as well, in the year following, except that I did three semesters worth of work in two semesters time. We did not realize until the third quarter that the book was written for three semesters. Oh, well, that is the price of being the guinea pig for new curriculum sometimes. We took a year and stepped back for review then, because I had the SAT in the spring of my junior year. That year was a nice break after the heavy work of my sophomore year, and it helped prepare me for my senior year – Calculus.

If I had thought Algebra was possibly going to be hard, I really thought Calculus would be tough. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I enjoyed Calculus as much as I did Algebra, except that the work was just a little harder. Still, I liked seeing all the concepts from earlier years culminating in my assignments. Sine, Cosine, and Tangent all had practical uses now. I may not remember everything I learned about Calculus after three years, but I remember doing well with it and feeling good about math. Hey, I am a Human Service major who CLEP tested out of her math requirement – and I got an A in Calculus!

So, I am not here to preach, but this story does make me think. Just because you are good at one subject does not mean that you cannot be good at others too, and just because you dislike a subject does not mean that you cannot do well in it. Maybe you are like me and prefer the English, literature, and art classes to math, science, or history. Maybe you are the opposite, or maybe you like some of each. You can still excel with other subjects.

They usually call it being a well-rounded student. I call it doing the best you can in all that you do. Paul said it this way in Colossians 3: 23, “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men”(KJV).  The reward?  A new field of usefulness, a skill that you can use to further your life ambitions, or maybe a new hobby!  Whatever it is that intimidates you, that you dislike doing, step back a moment and look at it again.  Is it really as bad as all that?  What happens when you try doing the task “heartily as unto God”?

That can make even the dullest or hardest of tasks take on a new light! 

Even Algebra.


First Performance

February 24, 2010

I was keyed up that night.  My mother, sister, and I were going to our Christmas Cookie Exchange at church.  We had gone the year before, so I knew what to expect: we would chat for awhile, then sing some songs and have some special music, someone would speak for a little bit, and then we would chat some more and exchange our cookies, eating some meanwhile.  Nothing colossal.

Except that I was playing one of the specials.

Even that would not have been very exciting if I were used to it, but I had never played in public before.  Playing for my family was no big deal, and for close friends was fun because they enjoyed it so much and did not mind the mistakes.  But what if I made a big mistake in front of all the ladies in my church and all my girl friends?

My memory of the church that night is dim because I was so focused on my task.  I remember better the hazy feeling I had, barely aware of the people around me.  The music of my piece was running through my mind and my fingers, and almost before I knew it, it was time to play.  My hands were cold as I sat down on the hard piano bench.  I spread my music out, put my fingers on the keys, and realized that I could not remember the first note.  For a moment, the page in front of me was blank.

I took a deep breath and looked at the page again.  The notes looked familiar, the keys beneath my fingers began to feel like any other piano keys, and I started playing.  My leg was shaking, but I managed to control the sustain pedal despite the tremors.  All my focus was useful now.  I forgot about everything but the song in front of me.

The applause was moderate when I finished, but I was relieved that it was over and excited that I had actually done it.  A funny pair of emotions to be feeling at the same time, but oh well.  When you have just finished your first performance, that combination is understandable.

My friends made a point to say how much they had enjoyed my playing.  One in particular had noticed that I had “aced” the piece, meaning that I had not made any mistakes.  We laughed because I was acting more nervous after the fact than before – my hands were shaking!  All the nerves and muscles which I had tensed prior to the performance were now loose.  It is a reaction I still have, and I have had to find ways to stay more relaxed.

I have played for specials, offertories, and even Sunday services many times since then.  I still get nervous, and I still sometimes come to my seat with my muscles twitching or shaking, but sometimes I do not.  I am comfortable with performing now.  I have also realized over the years that playing for an audience is not satisfying, only nerve-wracking.  Instead, I now play for one person, Jesus Christ.

He does not mind when I make a mistake, rather, he cares about my heart as I am playing.  When I do my best for him, it does not matter anymore who is listening.  God can use my playing to bless those who hear with an open heart.  And my own heart will bless and be blessed by God.

If You Read a Child a Story

February 20, 2010

I cannot remember a time when stories and books were not a part of my life.  I recall the years when, on hearing the garage door open and our Jack Russell Terrier mutt start yelping and racing all over the house like she was going to explode with joy, both announcing that my father was home, I would hurry to the bookshelf and pull out two or three books.  When Daddy had finished putting his briefcase away and kissing Mom, I and my younger siblings, each with books in hand, would run to him and we would head to the couch for story time.

Dad usually picked no more than three of the books we brought, all short ones, to read.  He still had to take his nap before supper, after all!  But he always read at least one or two.  We children would snuggle as close as we could get, listening to Daddy’s voice bring the story to life in a way not even pictures could do.  We especially loved it when he voiced the characters differently, giving the story yet another dimension and sending us into giggles.

When he had finished, we slipped away to play again until supper was ready, but at bedtime, we gathered at the couch again, more books in hand.  This time Daddy could read longer books, but he still must have kept an eye on the clock so that he sent us to bed on time.

In later years, Daddy still read to us.  As we got older, however, he started reading series like “The Sugar Creek Gang” books and C. S. Lewis’s “Chronicles of Narnia.”  Later still, my mother would give him books which related to what we were all studying in history or literature: “Johnny Tremain,” “Carry on, Mr. Bowditch,” “David Copperfield,” “Captains Courageous,” “Where the Red Fern Grows,” and “Moby Dick.”  We would listen spellbound, always wanting more when it was time to go to bed, never wanting the stories to end.

I have missed this storytelling element in my life ever since graduating from highschool.  That year, we made a change in our bedtime rituals.  Dad still reads to my youngest brothers, who are fifth graders, but he does other activities with my sister, other brother, and me.  While we all enjoy doing projects and talking with him, sometimes I wonder if either my brother or sister misses the sound of Dad reading to us.  I know I do, though I would not go back to those days if I could.  The memory of them is bright in my mind, and that may be better than the reality was.

If I remember nothing else about my childhood, I am always going to remember books.  I learned to read a whole year before I started kindergarten, and it has been hard to keep me in books ever since.  Books take me everywhere, and teach me many things.  I even learned how to tat (a specific kind of lace) from a book!  Now when thinking of gifts for a new baby or young children, I often think of my childhood favorites and say, “Let’s give him If You Give a Mouse a Cookie or Are You My Mother?” or any one of two dozen others.  The books we love in childhood go with us throughout life, and the voices of the people who read them to us will stay in our memories just as long.

The Vacuum Cleaner

February 18, 2010

My father tells a story of the first time I ran to him instead of to my mother.

On a Saturday morning when Mom was cleaning house, I was sitting on a chair by myself when she approached, vacuum cleaner droning.  Who knows why I had not become accustomed to that in all my two years, but the fact remains that I was startled and terrified. I ran.

Not blindly did I run, but straight to my father, scrambling into his lap.  He remembers because I had never run to him of my own accord before.  Oh, not that I would not go to him if he called, but I always ran to my mother when frightened.  This time, of course, she was behind the fearful monster, our vacuum.

I do not remember the incident myself; I was too young when it occurred.  Still, when my father tells the story, I can smell the forced-air dustiness of the vacuum and hear its roar.  In my imagination I can feel my little heart pounding as I run for shelter.  I imagine that I stayed on my father’s lap for some time after my immediate fears had been allayed.

That vacuum holds no terrors for me now.  Long have I been used to wielding it myself.  My family has never had a chores system, nor were we required to help out around the house, but we always did when asked.  From early childhood, my mother says, I liked to help her with the cooking and cleaning.

I liked to help because my mother always made it pleasant to be with her.  I liked to watch her make cookies, and was always ready to lick the spoon.  Once I even tried to tackle cleaning the bathroom sinks without waiting to be asked, nor to be taught the proper way to do the job!  That had to be done over, but thankfully the sink was no messier after the first cleaning than before.

How do you teach children to like chores?  By making it fun and by being cheerful yourself.  I think this is one of the areas where children learn by watching others do more than anything else.  As a child, how can you teach yourself not to mind chores?  Why not try smiling at the dirty mirror as you wipe away the toothpaste?  Make a game of it, race your siblings, always trying to do your best job in the shortest amount of time.  My sister likes to put music on while she is cleaning, and I think it helps the time go faster.

Of course, music does not work very well when someone is vacuuming!

Butterflies again

February 16, 2010

I made some changes and sent my video through Animoto again.  Which version do you prefer?

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Our Butterflies

February 16, 2010

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Hope you enjoy this video I made for a course assignment!


February 12, 2010

I got a sunburn for graduation.

Seriously!  We graduates had formed our line in one building, gotten our roses, and marched out across the fairgrounds to the other building where the actual ceremony was to be held.  We were a little too antsy, however, and they were not ready for us inside.  The butterflies in my stomach were bad enough already, and standing in the heat and sun in the middle of a line of strangers did not help in the least.

Strangers?  At my highschool graduation?  Well, yes, though it would seem odd to any public-schooler.  You see, I had only been a part of the local homeschool group for a few years, and had not been active in any of the programs during that time except for the convention.  I knew only three or four others in my graduating class of 104, and recognized maybe two others from volunteering at the convention.  I did not even recognize the girl in front of me, who I later realized had been in the homeschool choir during the semester that I was a part of it in my sophomore year.

That was probably the hardest part of the wait.  Not being able to talk to someone.  Watching others chat amongst themselves easily, though I could tell that most of them did not know each other either.  The two or three people to either side of me in line were quiet, however, and I was much too shy to start the conversation.

So there we stood, all hundred and four of us.  The front and end of the lines had shade from the trees which lined the path, but I, of course, was in the middle, forty-eighth.  In the sun.  I should have remembered to turn around to shade my face and neck.  I had been burnt before and knew that it did not take much sun to bring a rash.  Fifteen or twenty minutes of direct sun is enough to turn me quite red.  With my mind in a whirl, however, I wished for shade only because of the heat and did not take any precautions against the sun.  Besides, we were supposed to be moving inside very soon, so I was going to be all right.  So much for that idea!

Finally, after a fifteen minute wait, the head of the line moved, and we marched into the air-conditioned building to the strains of “Pomp and Circumstance.”  Our seats were waiting at the front of the auditorium, and we all relaxed, grateful to be off our feet for a few minutes while the commencement address was given by one of the keynote speakers from the convention.  No time then to think about how long I had been in the sun.

The surprising fact is that the sunburn is the thing I most remember now, although I did not even notice my itching neck until well after the ceremony, when the family had gathered back at my home for the graduation gifts.  Other memories of the event are sketchy, like fuzzy snapshots.  The girl who whispered that I had my rose on the wrong arm.  The boy, three grads in front of me, who dropped his rose just moments before he was due to go on stage.  Myself, standing with my parents on stage, looking out over those assembled and feeling ten feet tall.  Bits and pieces.  Those fifteen minutes in the sun, however, are still vivid in my mind.

Perhaps it was meant to help me grow up.

Life is full of little annoyances, but we look beyond them to the bigger picture, whether it is the closing of a chapter in our lives, or the completion of a science assignment.  We let the little details sort themselves out while we attend to the important parts of life.

And we learn to pay attention to the sun!

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