Our infinite wisdom and your google questions

Q:  is basil still good after it’s gone to seed

A:  Yes, but the plant will soon die.  So get your last pesto in!

Q:  i am a mother and have a full time job and my husband complains i don’t clean enough what should i do

A:  First thought:  divorce so you have one fewer baby to pick up after.   More seriously:  talk to him about what problems exactly he’s having with the cleanliness, see if it can be solved with hiring a cleaning person.  If his argument is that you are the woman and thus you should be doing the cleaning rather than he feels like he is doing more than his fair share of cleaning, then either get thee to a counselor or divorce the SOB.

Q:  are things as dirty as they seem germs paranoid

A:   Bacteria are everywhere it is true.  But, yes, you are paranoid.  Be careful around cooking and things like raw chicken, but for the most part it’s better to let a little dirt into your life.  Keeps the immune system strong, decreases allergies and asthma.  Use water and vinegar as your primary cleaners, not commercial cleaners.

Q:  how clean cat hairs in my mouth

A:  Is this how clean are the cat hairs in your mouth?– if they’re like ours they’ve been ambient and so are not very clean.  As for how to clean the cat hairs out of your mouth, well, #1’s method is to wash and dry her hands and then frantically flail at her face and mouth with them while making murfle sounds.  This usually results in more cat hairs in her mouth so she doesn’t recommend it.  #2’s method is to stick out her tongue and try to pick the hairs off individually, while making that face like “bleahpfahpfthwa”.  It works sometimes.

Q:  ‘why would someone be deliberately controversial’

A:  To get traffic, of course!  There’s also some benefit to getting discussion going and getting a full range of viewpoints.  We can learn from politely discussing controversial ideas.  But really it’s about the attention getting.  (Disagree?)

Q:  what is your least favorite chore?

A:  #1:  That’s a tough one.  I think anything involving me touching grease or mold or anything bad smelling.  #2:  dishes, cleaning the litter box, cleaning the bathroom.

Q:  how to tell your partner to floss

A:  Honesty is generally the best policy.  Also, you  may want to hold your nose while telling hir.

Q:  do you agree with i/o theorists

A:  Sometimes.

Q:  are any jeffery deaver kindle books available for free

A:  This audio version of an author’s roundtable is.  There are also a number of his books available for $0.99 on Kindle.  And, of course, your local library may have them if it is set up for electronic books.

Q:  how to really entertain a class teaching a boring topics

A:  The best way is to find it interesting instead of boring.  Failing that, I like cracking jokes.  Or, generally, if a topic is boring and you’re teaching it ANYWAY, it’s because the topic is somehow IMPORTANT.  Impress them upon its importance and why it is important, even if it’s just so other people in the field will think they’re educated.  If it is boring and unimportant, then why are you teaching it?

Which sitcom family would you want to live with?

At the jury trial selection last week, the asshat lawyer for the defense made the comment that Roseanne was a great mother.  That Roseanne’s kids lived in a fantastic home.  He said his own mother was a combination of Roseanne and the wife on Everyone Loves Raymond (which I have not seen much of… all I remember is that the kids were terribly behaved and Raymond was sexist and didn’t want his wife to work because he had problems with his masculinity that did not get resolved at the end of the episode).  I’m not saying that Roseanne and Tom should have had their parental rights taken away, unlike the defendant (yes, I was so convinced by the lawyer for the prosecution during jury selection that I could not give the defendant a fair hearing… those poor kids :( ), but it did get me thinking about many things.

Including a frivolous question…

If I were to have to pick a TV family I’d go with either the Huxtables or the Keatons (my parents are also kind of hippies).  Though Mr. Belvedere would be awesome to have around.  I *like* being upper middle class and growing up it was something I aspired to (and yearned for) when watching the aforementioned shows.  I like the way both parents work without question and both parents parent, also without question.  They even share chores!  I’m living the dream, baby.

If you had to pick a TV family to become a part of, which TV family would you choose, and what position would you pick?

Relationship lessons we have learned

1.  Even though sometimes it seems like they’re mind-readers, partners really aren’t.  They need to be told things.

2.  Trust that miscommunications are just that, unintentional and miscommunications.

3.  There are multiple ways to load a dishwasher.  Even if partner doesn’t actually do it “right” the dishes will still get cleaned.  If they don’t, then you can have a discussion about it, but be willing to change your thinking on it too.  The problem is the optimal way to clean dishes (or change a diaper or whatever), not to get partner to do it your way.  (Funny story… my first roommate yelled at me about how I put the tp roll in, so I switched to flipping it over even though it wasn’t how I was brought up… then #2 finally went berserk and after a semester of flipping the tp roll, she yelled at me to do it under.  Earlier communication would have solved that!  I asked my third roommate what she preferred and she thought I was weird for asking.)

4.  You do not have to put up with bad behavior.  Respect is important, and the lack of it is the #1 cause of divorce (according to psychologists who study facial behavior, though they call it contempt or eye-rolling).

5.  Having a roommate is good practice for having a partner, except it may be easier to physically share space with someone you’re romantically attached to.

6.  Even if a partner is no good at something, ze can learn, and potentially even one day surpass your own abilities at the task with enough practice.  Starting out may be bumpy, but if partner keeps at it, ze will overcome.  This is true for all sorts of cooking and cleaning.

7.  If you know a relationship is not going to work out, it is less painful for the guy (or gal) in question if you cut if off sooner rather than later.  Pity dating just leads to more dreadful break-ups.  Learning how to say no is an important skill.

What are some relationship lessons you have learned?

Teaching Tactics: Part II

(Part 1 here)

This is a story about my DH.

Very few students start out in DH’s department.  Many of them stop in his department on the way down to the university’s gut major, having flunked out of another major.  He teaches the first core course in the major.  Every semester has seemed more demoralizing than the last.  That’s not quite true… some semesters have been better than others (and moving from 8am to 9am helped a lot), but sometimes he’ll have to fail half the class, sometimes (partly) because they just fail to show up to things like exams.  Often nobody in the class earns an A.  Occasionally he’ll get a few students, ones who picked the major as a first choice, who get an A but they’re the exception rather than the rule.

He worries that it’s him.  It’s not him.  I’ve sat on his classes.  He’s as good as any teacher I had in undergrad.  The students also love him– he gets close to perfect teaching evals, and the students actually write comments in the comment section.  But they’re not learning the material.  And that makes him sad.  Because he’s a wonderful person who cares deeply.

It’s also not him because 40-60% of every entering class doesn’t make it to graduate in that major.

Since he started teaching, he’s been treating students like adults, even if they don’t act like adults.  Gradually he started adding things like making attendance mandatory and grading for it (some semesters with homework quizzes, some semesters just having an attendance grade).  Even so, students would still skip so many classes that adding that to their first two exam grades there’s no way they can pass the class.  Yet they still show up to lab.  Something isn’t reaching them.

This summer we read the teaching tactics book Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov.  It disagrees with a lot of these pie and the sky ideals books, which, incidentally, I will also say don’t work for me and I have WAY better students than DH does (Boice works for me, but some of these other books are ridiculous– all theory, no empirics, and implementation has gotten me into trouble in the past).  One of the major points of disagreement was whether or not to treat students like adults.  This one argues that students need guidance. Some of them are incompetent but teachable.  They don’t take notes because they don’t *realize* they’re supposed to be taking notes and they don’t know how to take notes.  They need to be told to write down everything the professor puts on the board, a technique that Lemov terms “board = paper.”  (#2 does notes scaffolding instead of “board = paper” — that doesn’t work so well with DH’s discipline or the math class I teach because they have to learn to draw diagrams and figures).

We sat down and talked about what DH’s students need.

1.  They need to come to class.
2.  They need to be engaged.
3.  They need to do their homework.

1.  Come to class:

As we mentioned above, changing the points given for attendance, having quizzes, etc. none of these were strong enough to incentive students to get out of bed if they didn’t want to get out of bed.  Students just did not realize they were failing by not showing up.  Tactics along those lines are not going to work because they are insensitive to how attendance directly affects their grades.

What they need instead is to know up front and in their faces that someone is going to notice when they’re not there.  When I had this problem with my students, another professor recommended that even if attendance isn’t part of the class grade, that you take roll every class.  At the beginning of class.  Loudly.  You can just toss the sheets later if you’re not going to use them, but just calling out the names lets them know that you are aware when they’re not there, and maybe you care.  It works.  I still get the occasional unexcused absence, but not consistently and most days everyone shows up.  I make a big deal about missing people, “Bueller, Bueller, Bueller” — they tell each other that the absence was noted.  I often get an apology and the same student rarely misses twice without a university approved absence.  I haven’t had a person fail my class since I started taking attendance.

K-12 has true mandatory attendance, so the book doesn’t discuss this specifically, but it does have suggestions on how to make kids know you know they’re there.  Greet everyone at the door.  Use their names in class.  Cold call so that people cannot hide.  (The book has a really large section on cold-calling, which is not like the cold-calling that terrified me as a student– well worth reading, and I’m going to implement it too).

2.  Engagement:

There’s a couple of chapters on engagement, full of great stuff, much of which I already implement because apparently I’m awesome like that (my problems are instead discussed in the two chapters on classroom climate and behavioral problems, but that’s another post that may never be written).

Techniques include names such as, no opt out, cold-call, Vegas, stretch-it, at bats, volleyball metaphor, etc.  No opt out, the first technique, was new to me, it’s where if someone called on doesn’t know and then someone else answers, you go back to the person who didn’t know and make sure they know now.  They have to listen and keep thinking, and eventually get the solution themselves.  These techniques keep all the students awake and moving.  And all students, they don’t let just some students dominate discussion.  You’re not just lecturing, even in a technical class.  (Note, some of these techniques will not work in a ginormous lecture hall, but do work well for DH’s mid-size classes.)

3.  Homework:

Grading every homework would be best, but sadly there’s no money for a grader and DH only has a finite amount of time.  But instead of just letting them decide whether to do their homework and get the grade or not do their homework and get a zero, tell them they need to do it.  Get them to create study groups on the first day of class.  Occasionally spend some time in class on homework problems before they’re due so they’ve gotten it started.  Make doing the homework the norm– everybody else is doing it so you should be too.  It’s expected.

These changes have been working.  Not 100%, but the lost group who is normally checked out this time of the semester is much smaller than in previous semesters.  More homework is being turned in complete than any previous semester.  And most importantly to me, DH is not dreading each class day.  He’s teaching, they’re learning, and he’s learning too.

The big underlying theme from all of these is actually a form of Libertarian Paternalism (or “Nudging”).  With these students, it’s not the hard rules of grades or quizzes or mandatory attendance that’s important.  It’s the verbal iteration and reiteration of expectations.  Even though DH knows their names, calling roll is important.  Letting his students know that he knows they’re there.  That they’re paying attention.  Reminding them that they’re supposed to be taking notes instead of playing hearts on their laptops, that he can see them, that he knows and cares.  These social cues work much better than the realistically more important (to their futures) possibility of actual failure.  And that’s interesting, and a lesson to us, especially if our main goal is to get them to learn the material.

Do you think there’s a role for these kinds of tactics?  What do you do about attendance, engagement, and homework?  Do you think we should allow students to sink or swim on their own, or is nudging them ok?

Sharing finances

A much requested post (at least from comments in other blogs…).

What if you don’t have one money pool for all your money… what do you do?

Figuring this out is a work in progress.  I’ve been through many systems with various roommates, housemates, and, of course, my dear partner.

The I-Love-You-But-Baby-Needs-Bank Way

Currently, my partner and I have a shared spreadsheet in Google docs.  There is a separate sheet for each month.  There are rows for all our recurring expenses: rent, power, gas, water, sewer, trash, cable (includes phone, TV, and internet), misc things.  There are columns for: how much the bill was; how much I paid; how much he owes (usually half of the bill but in some cases we have other arrangements); how much he paid; and how much he has left over to pay at the end of the month.  Occasionally he gives me a check.  We would do a direct transfer or share a bank account, but we happen to have had different banks for years, and neither of us wants to switch.   So we’re stuck with the tedious deposit-a-check method.  I used to have PayPal set up, but I decided I didn’t want them to have access to my checking account anymore.

He buys most of the groceries, but not all.  Sometimes I pay for half the groceries, which has its own line in the spreadsheet.  Then we just take money off what he owes me for the utilities.  Utilities are in my name because I set them up before he moved into the state.

We’ve started talking about saving together for a house, but that can be the subject of another post.

The Share Everything Way

We can’t do this.  We have fundamentally different attitudes about money, both of which are fine.  Both of us live within our means, pay the bills, save for retirement.  We are both responsible.  But when he spends a bunch of his money that he earned on stuff like games or comic books, the amount tends to stress me out and worry me, even though it is really fine.  For my sanity and for the sake of us not arguing, we have separate finances even though we have been together for over 15 years.  We probably always will have some separation; I don’t mind having his-and-hers accounts, though his, hers, and theirs might be easier.

#2 does it this way.  When #2 got partnered up neither she nor her partner had any assets, they had approximately the same tiny salaries, and #2’s partner had no head for finances.  #2’s partner gets an allowance for his fun spending and #2 takes care of everything else (though #2’s partner has been putting in a lot more input over the years as he’s gotten more comfortable with the idea of finances).  #2’s parents have his, hers, and ours accounts, and #2 thought she would have that too, but that hasn’t been necessary (just like she doesn’t need separate home offices like her parents have).

The Super-Fair (but Tedious) Way

In college, I lived for a while in a rented house with a bunch of roommates.  We split rent and utilities evenly, but not food.  Our system for food use and accounting was extremely tedious but very fair.  The parameters were that anyone could eat any food they found in the house (unless you wanted to save something for a reason, in which case put a note on it).  Everyone shopped for whatever food they wanted.  When you bought food, you would put the receipt with your name on it in an envelope on the frig.

Every once in a while, we would reconcile the grocery bills.  This required going through each receipt with all members of the household.  Let’s say we would take a receipt for food that I bought.  We would go through each item on there, and report who ate or used that item, and we would split it among those people.  Like, a box of pasta at $1.29, and three people ate it, so we would split $1.29 three ways and each of the other two people would owe me 43 cents.  We would write down that.  For each item, some people would owe me some money.  After adding all my receipts, we’d know how much the roommates owed me.  Then we went to their receipts.  I ate some of the food they bought too, so I would owe them some.  Then at the very end we would calculate the totals that everyone owed everyone and exchange checks.  It took a while, but nobody felt taken advantage of!

We’d love your input too!  What methods do you use or have you heard about?

Questions from you, the reader

There comes a time in every blog’s life when the blog owners ask for questions from you, the reader.

We’re accepting questions.  Want advice?  We’ll totally give it (disclaimers applying, of course).  Always wondered about something deep with money or finances or the economy etc?  We may answer it in a future post.  Want to know specific things about us?  We will totally answer them in a cagey yet mildly amusing fashion.  Want to know if your taste in fantasy novels sucks or not?  We can tell you!

Anything you’ve been dying to know?  Or just kind of mildly wondering?

Ask the Grumpies is open for business.  (Not to be confused with our currently bi-monthly feature, Googled Questions answered.)

Leave your questions in the comments, or email us at grumpyrumblings at gmail.

The Links of the Day


On the importance of being able to deal with failure in order to succeed, by feMOMhist.  Also, many high schools suck.

I wrote this post like a girl, by gertyz.  We at grumpy rumblings hate this constant stream of, “he’s all boy, she’s such a girl” etc. that starts as soon as the first pink bow or blue onsie goes on.

Not that it goes away in the movies.  If Dr. Bardiac had millions of dollars, she’d fund a movie that switches the gender roles exactly, so there’s one guy and tons of women.  And the women aren’t just talking about men either.

Check out Dr. Crazy’s wisdom in the comments in this post about deadwood students from love and disdain.

This NPR story on ancient secularism is so absolutely amazing and very funny.

We may be poor but we are happy reminds you to pay your bills and not someone else’s.  Especially if someone else is a scam artist.

From We are Respectable Negroes, a post whose very title is depressing.

Scattered and Random with a post on kids these days.  How can people get into college knowing so very very little?  We blame the American Education System.  And not enough books at home.

In which I am a Giant Nerd

I don’t even play D&D (YET!?!?), but I made a D&D character (4th edition).  I thought it would be fun.  It was!  I did a lot of it online, and we also whipped out some of my partner’s large collection of D&D books in order to help with the many options.  The great thing about the online system is that it spits out printable cards with all your attacks on them, with necessary stats on each, and color-coded.

Meet Dara, the level 1 half-elf swordmage.  That isn’t her real name.  I know her first, middle, and last names — but I’m not telling you because neither is she.  She’s going by Dara because she’s not too proud of a certain event in her past.  She travels around trying to get back to something that happened years ago.

Dara has a familiar, because I thought it would be fun to have one.  Also, it gives her fire resistance, because I know it sucks bad to be on fire all the time (thank you, WotC podcasts with Penny Arcade, PvP, Wil Wheaton, and celebrity DM Chris Perkins [who is totally cute]).

She’s highly intelligent, which wasn’t actually my first choice, but when I started constructing her stats, all her good attacks were int-based.  She’s also got a knack for success to help her friends and an aegis of assault to mark an attacker — look out, monsters!  So far she only has leather armor — look out, me!  Dara is good with Arcana and History, but terrible at bluffing.  She’s pretty decent with Insight.  She’s got a booming blade and a lightning clash, which seem fun.  Even better is her Vanishing Blade attack, where she becomes invisible and teleports.  Wheee!  It’s a daily, but a cool one.

Dara is currently unaligned and prays to Ioun.

My partner, of course, thinks this is awesome, because he also is a giant nerd.  A hot nerd.  Who bought a very hot table (“Suck it, Swiss army”).  Another reason I am a nerd is because I want this, even though I have no real use for it.  No use, and nowhere to put it.  And it would be ridonkulous expensive. But still.

#2 has played D&D first edition (with the boy she had a crush on in middle school, she was DM), D&D second edition (with her first boyfriend and his friends, she was a Psionocist), and D&D third edition with her partner and some of his friends of friends (she was a cleric).  That’s not counting all the computer games she used to play, ending with Neverwinter Nights.

#2 sometimes makes role-playing gaming jokes in class and a small handful of students will giggle.  She wishes a subset of that small handful would learn to make friends with soap and water.

Schooling update

DC loves kindergarten.  Most of all DC loves first grade where ze goes for math and reading.  Also, DC must be learning things because ze is sleeping more hours at night, despite having to get up earlier.

The new K teacher is working super hard.  She’s got themed units.  This unit is apples.  DC has been regaling us with all sorts of apple facts.  Ze made an adorable apple book in the shape of an apple in which DC has drawn the inside of the apple and labeled its parts.  We had a long discussion last night on the meaning of the word, “flesh.”  (DC asks, “Do you like to eat flesh?”  I explain how flesh doesn’t just mean the flesh of an apple, but could also mean meat.)

DC’s printing has improved dramatically in just two weeks.  That’s something that nobody wants to work on at home (especially not DC).

We’ve been pleasantly pleased this week at what ze is bringing home from the first grade classes.  Ze had a spelling test (ze already knew how to spell the words, but the reminder of the difference between P and 9 helped before the actual exam).  They’re doing timed addition practices of x2 numbers (so 1+1, 4+4, etc.).  This is great because DC knows a lot of math but again, doesn’t like practicing things that require memorization at home and we don’t force things that are boring at home.  But the lack of memorized addition facts made triple digit addition and subtraction go pretty slowly which made them more boring, so we haven’t done any of that kind of math in ages at home.  I like that ze is learning new stuff at school, especially important stuff that we don’t find fun at home.

The best thing on the timed addition facts is that DC didn’t finish in the minute, and hir reaction to not finishing.  Ze got pretty far in a minute, but there was still a line and a half left.  Ze then drew a line in red, and finished the rest of the page untimed in red.  Then they corrected the ones they did and ze wrote c’s next to the correct ones.  Ze explained all of this very matter-of-factly to us and didn’t complain about not having enough time or being nervous or not finishing or anything.  Ze got as far as ze did and finished the rest after.  The first grade teacher has done a great job in that respect, and we are very pleased.

Initially we were a little worried that DC was just going over for “reading,” which ze is doing at a 3rd grade level, so we weren’t sure that the move was all *that* helpful, but based on what ze is bringing home, ze’s also going for spelling and language arts, for which ze has more knowledge gaps that first grade can fill in.

They’re also using the second grade Saxon math textbook in first grade, which I like because I always felt Saxon math was about a year behind what it should be in terms of topics.  (Of course, I feel that way about University of Chicago math too.)  And the first grade teacher is supplementing with a lot of fun fun pattern matching stuff based on a math workshop she went to last year, which is like beautiful music to me (especially given the drawbacks of Saxon math).  Math *is* about pattern matching.  Mmm, math.

The Spanish teacher does immersion.  Sadly Spanish conflicts with first grade math some days, so the Spanish teacher has been sending home homework for DC (even though there’s technically no homework in K).  The French teacher isn’t as impressive– they watch videos and do coloring.  I wish French conflicted with math instead of Spanish conflicting!

The K teacher has also worked really hard at open-ended exercises that meet the kid where he or she is.  So they write their own sentences and copy words from around the room.  There’s a word-wall where they put new words, and it has everyone’s name.  She’s set up stations that they do each day and many of the stations change with the theme for the unit.

DC is learning a lot and making new friends and we’re very very happy.  We’re very lucky to have this opportunity, a single private school whose primary mission is academics, and which is willing to work with us, in the small town.  Well worth the additional expense over preschool.

WELL worth ignoring the nay-sayers who argue that early entrance to kindergarten is stealing a child’s childhood.  We know that it’s enhancing it, at least this year.

What are we reading these days?

With the start of the school year comes a drastic decrease in leisure reading.  So sad.  Still, here’s what we’re up to.

Bookhunter by Jason Shiga.  You should read this book.  Simple yet attractive drawings, and Library Police who will kick your butt if you don’t return books.  It’s a trip to read the ’70s-era technological conversation, too!

The Most Beautiful Libraries in the World, by Guillaume De Laubier.  Harrrrrgle.

Fields of Play (Constructing an academic life) by Laurel Richardson.  I just started this one, so not much to say about it yet.  The original essays seem thick slogging, but the little foreword and afterword bits are cute.

I’ve recently loved graphic novel The Professor’s Daughter.  Beautifully gorgeous artwork, madcap plot!  Surrealism abounds, and some slapstick too.  Something uncomfortable happens to Queen Victoria.

And, of course, more Georgette Heyer. #2 has gorged herself on cheap Kindle copies of her work.  Current working theory:  The best Heyer novels are the ones with a title that is just a woman’s name.  Including, of course, The Grand Sophy, which isn’t quite just one name, but is almost as good as Frederica.  #1 just finished False Colours.  (#2 is currently reading The Foundling)

#1 also just finished The City of Ember, which is good for kids and (spoiler!) has a happy ending.

#2 Strongly recommends that Kindle/e-readers take a whirl with The Enchanted April.  It is lovely and free (on Kindle).

What are you reading these days?