Wednesday, July 15, 2009

I Sailed My Ship of Safety Till I Sank It - Indigo Girls

Death by derivative. It's not far from a possibility.

I just got off the phone with my Mom and Dad which is the only reason I have the fortitude to attempt a blogging post.

I *have* been paper blogging, but there is. no. freaking. time to get back on the computer. It's not enough to say that I'll post after I finish a few more problems, because the math is winning most of the battles and all I can say is that I haven't missed a single homework assignment yet, but I *have* missed a lot of sleep to be able to say that.

Sometimes after Calculus/Matrices I feel so unbelievably alone. I just feel completely lost. It's all I can do not to cry the whole stupid way back to the car. It makes me feel so ANGRY to be so completely slayed by a math class that I once found a virtual cakewalk. I find myself marveling that a math class can reduce a 40-yr-old woman to tears (today I turned 41, but I didn't cry today after Matrices).

I got a 67% on the Calculus mid-term. It's 17% above the class average (for the test), but that doesn't actually help what it did to my over-all grade. I've gone from feeling miserable about not getting an A to praying that I can win the race of falling grades and have the class end before the cumulative grade falls below 70%--the lowest it can fall and still count towards my math education major.

I did slightly better on the linear algebra mid-term--I got a 70% on that one (but the class average was slightly higher than mine). It gives me a cumulative grade of 78%. I'm not holding out hope I can get that back up to a B-. I'm holding out hope I can keep it right where it is.

The Education classes are going fine. I hate the online format. No. I mean, I *loathe* it. The actual content of the class--well, once we get out of the history of behaviorism, I really find Edpsych interesting. I like the others in my discussion group, although we're an opinionated group and sometimes there is a little bit of an edge in the last day or two as we put together a group response.

But the Curriculum & Instruction class makes me gag. I think it's partly just having worked in the industry for ten years--I am sooooo jaded and then also, it's such a hugely political topic--to try to cram it all into a 6.5 week course robs it of all subtlety and it seems to me to veer wildly around a variety of bleeding-heart topics. The field of curriculum work is a political/social/cultural one and you can't make everyone happy--ever. Not until the millennium, at any rate. Since my time is so crammed full of math problems and reading and quizzes and mid-terms and written responses to discussion questions--I find myself incredibly impatient with the -- never mind. Rant aborted. We'll stick with the original pith: I loathe the online format.

[Chris gave me an ipod for my birthday. I realize I'm years late to the party, but it's very pretty and he's filled it with music that is aimed to keep me from throwing myself off the Atherton Street overpass (it would actually be very difficult to do that since the bridge is really a big building with a bridge that goes through it from one side of campus to the graduate student housing--which is a block from where I park at the law office). ANYWAY, I'm listening to this music for the first time tonight and being as un-cool as I am, I have to keep stopping what I'm doing now to go, "WHAT is THIS? Nickelback? Hey, I really like Nickelback. Are they still a band or what?" LOL. You know what I find really touching though? He put all his spending money and most of his gas money for the whole month into this player. He's riding his bike to work most of the rest of this month to pay for it :)]

Anyway, I had planned to do my reading for C&I tonight, but people kept calling to sing me happy birthday and I felt, it being my birthday, that blowing a full hour playing Zynga games on Facebook, was well-deserved. Chris was loading up the ipod and I was sitting next to him watching the Carleton on Youtube when we suddenly realized that it was 9:00 pm. We put the kids to bed, my parents called--Chris started a load of laundry and headed to bed while I was talking to them, and then I agree to stay up and put the laundry in the dryer. I briefly debated trying to get the first two C&I articles read, (they're short) but decided to blog instead.

So here I am listening to music and blogging (and laundry. I'm out of clean underwear or I'd totally be in bed). It's such a pleasant way to spend an evening, even if I'm not sure where I'm going to get back the hours.

Chris has good taste in music. I keep having an urge to write down the lyrics for you that he has picked out for me his wife. Here are a few of the things he says to me in the music:

"Speak to me, when all you got to keep is strong
Move along, move along like I know you do
And even when your hope is gone
Move along, move along just to make it through
Move along
(Go on, go on, go on, go on)" -All-American Rejects

"From underneath the trees, we watch the sky
Confusing stars for satellites
I never dreamed that you'd be mine
But here we are, we're here tonight

Singing Amen, I, I'm alive
Singing Amen, I, I'm alive" - Nickelback

"feeling mighty fine at this time
yes I am
feeling mighty fine at this time
yes indeed
walk down any street
past the people you meet
what is it about this place that keeps you on your feet?" -- Eels

He loves me. He'll love me even if I fail Calculus I. That's reassuring.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Many Posts

That will be my Native American name today because I hope to get caught up a bit on the posting. I also have Much Homework, so I am rewarding myself by inputting a blog post every time I finish a section.

To keep this post from screwing up the order, I'm also pretending I wrote this two weeks ago instead of today (July 5, 2009).

Stand by. 4 more problems before I can input the first post.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Those Grading Graphs

So I figured out how to take a screen shot of the grading graphs that plague me, rule my life, motivate me to work harder in the class.

This is the first one that I encountered. It doesn't slay me, cause suicidal thoughts, bother me as much as you might think because I'm able to ignore the huge 25% at the top (which would mean I was getting so much less than an F. That's like an F minus minus minus.) for another couple of weeks until all my catch-up work is done. But I am still easily panicked by the quiz bar, since it's legit.

84%. In EDUCATIONAL PSYCHOLOGY. I should be Acing this class. It's killing me.


This is the Calculus graph I've been waiting for since Friday. If it had a spot to show how often I checked to see if the darn thing was there it would show like 200 refreshes.

And on the one hand, I'm bummed because--clearly--I got 70% on the quiz, but the two homeworks balanced it out and there I am--8 out of freakin' 10. Now we all know how much 8 out of freakin' 10 has been KILLING ME since this semester began (what, 2 weeks ago? Time flies when you're me.) but I kid you not--I saw the 80% and I thought, "YAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I'M STILL IN THE GAME!!" (See? I can be reasonable.)

Because, you know, fundamentally, I'm a math education student and that means I have to pass the math classes.

Frankly, after the can't-reduce-a-fraction fiasco, I was starting to wonder.

And even though I know this was just the first week, and I can still totally crash and burn, I also know (I think Sarah referenced this in her comment below) that the longer I can stay in the game, the more the moth-eaten-carpet of my math memory will mend, and the better my chances of eventually kicking some butt.

[And since my last post I've done my Matrices homework, some laundry, a lesson for Relief Society, bathed all three boys, my EdPsych homework, and the first half of the work project due tomorrow. I admit I'll have to do the second half as soon as I'm done blogging here, but really--not bad for a Saturday, and the lesson went pretty well this morning, I think.]

Father's Day
Happy Father's Day, Chris!!! Love, us.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Friday, Calculus Quiz #1

This morning Calculus begins by going over some of the math homework and the first thing that happens is that I realize that I somehow missed the last part of the second-to-last problem. Oh, well. He's going over it on the board and I scramble to write my answer before he can write it on the board so that I'm still checking my work as I go. I don't want to upset anyone though, so I write next to it on the homework "done in class." That's how I roll.

True to form, Amine then launches into the next section of the Calculus book. We are blazing a trail through this book. I get that the summer classes are shorter than the other semesters, so they have to cover the material faster, but it's breathtaking, this pace. I keep writing notes, even when we get into sines and cosines and I have to admit we're getting sketchy. He asks a question about a trig function and I guess--I get it right.

I feel like all this math stuff--it's still in my head. It's still in the drawers where I originally filed it away 22 years ago, just waiting for the drawers to be opened again. But the labels are gone to the drawers and the first time I have to pull something out again--I'm not at all sure I have it right.

And sometimes I don't. Sometimes it's plain wrong.

I had hoped that by the end of the first week of Calculus I would feel a little less anxious about it all because I would know how it was going to go. I would have a feeling for whether or not I could do this.

But I don't. It's much worse. I'm thrown by finding the "harder" math class easier and the "easier" math class harder. (I think it's because the focus of the Linear Algebra class is soooo much more narrow.) I'm thrown by the completely unpredictable way the failures show up. I go along feeling pretty good for awhile and then get stuck at a negative exponent.

We're 20 minutes away from the end of class and Amine collects the homework and distributes the quiz. It's only worth 10 points. There are only two problems, but the first problem has three parts and the second problem has two parts. I pray that each PART is worth two points.

I hope so because I can't solve the second half of the second problem. I can't get the fraction to reduce properly. I keep ending up with a zero in the denominator--which COULD be the answer. The answer COULD be that the limit for this function does not exist. But my gut tells me that's just not the case. I work out different variations on simplifying the fraction on the back of the paper and I think if I'd had another 30-40 minutes, I would have stumbled across the operation that properly simplified the fraction. But I didn't. It was just a quiz. We weren't really being tested on the ability to simplify the function--we were trying to find the limit of the function. And I couldn't.

I wasn't the only one. Amine kept collecting papers, glancing at the last problem, and then offering the student the chance to go back and give it another shot. Most of them did try. I don't know how many figured it out. (I was still working on mine at this point.)

Frustrated. I waited till most of the other students left and then asked him to show me how to solve the problem. One of the other students did the same. Amine demonstrated on the board, and then went off to help another student. The one guy who watched the demonstration with me said, "Oh, jeez. Pre-algebra. I should have known that," and then he left. And I thought, "Pre-algrebra. Well, that was 1983 for me. So at least it's understandable that I might have forgotten that one." But it didn't immediately illuminate the result for me, that thought, and I stood there for another whole minute tracing through the steps of the problem over and over until the light bulb DID finally go on.

It will be sheer stubborness that wins this battle for me. I'm going to start including Amine in my prayers. "Dear God, please don't let this young man give up on me. Please help him to continue to know when I need a hint and please help me to continue to retain what I've learned and if at all possible, help me to remember a lot of the stuff I've forgotten. Please keep Amine healthy and help him stay rested and patient at 8 in the morning every weekday. Amen."

But I wasn't feeling very stubborn when I left class this morning. I was feeling defeated. The best I could hope for was 8 out of 10. AGAIN. (And then, when that wasn't enough, I beat myself up about not letting 8 out of 10 be enough for my first full-time semester back in school, but that wasn't successful. You know, you are what you are. I'm not happy with 8 out of 10.) And anyway, it could be worse. Maybe something else on that quiz was wrong, too.


I went to Matrices. I asked Allan from Scranton about problem #11 and we looked at it and discovered I'd made a wrong turn right out of the starting gate. My negative should have been a positive. From there the problem wound itself up like a small skein of handspun merino and I finished very pleased with myself. Which is good because it's nearly 9pm on a Friday night and I'm going to try to do the Linear Algebra homework before going to bed. There's no room left to shoe-horn it into tomorrow's schedule.

I still have to prepare a Relief Society lesson for Sunday, too. Hrm.

Anyway. Matrices sped by with a first lesson on vectors, which I kind of like. I like graphing vectors, actually. And Allan had lots of examples and lots of graphing and I was happy, taking notes, and drawing little arrows on cartesian planes in my graph-paper notebook.

And then class was over and I needed to get to the law office to take care of that file that I had neglected the day before. But once out of the Matrices classroom, I couldn't stop thinking of the Calculus quiz and wondering, you know, if it was EVER going to feel like it used to--like it was easy, and fun, and something I was just naturally good at.

Emotionally, I was stuck, and there was noone to distract me with talk about, say, what Bella Cullen might major in when she and Edward and Renesmee finally made it to Dartmouth. (Twilight series reference.) Something silly like that would have been a nice distraction.

I tried texting Chris, but he was WORKING (go figure) and I called Petco and apologized for missing Emily's grooming appointment (because it was this morning--and I had not only forgotten, but had forgotten ever having made the appointment. Maybe I should cut back on the Lorazepam.) and I called my mother, Judy, and told her she could come by this Sunday afternoon on her way through from Baltimore, because she'd left a message on my voicemail, probably about the time I was trying to figure out how to simplify that darn fraction. And then finally, I texted my sister--who started grad school in Spanish Literature last summer and is everybit as emotional about things as I am and who would totally understand why a person might get hysterical over the idea of having TWO 8 out of 10 quizzes in one week.

But I think it was 8 am in California AND I don't think they're out of school yet. I think she's still working (high school Spanish teacher).

So at this point in my trek back to the law office I was passing through the Greyhound station and there were some benches. So I sat and closed my eyes and talked to God again, the only Diety who seemed to be home to talk to at this point, and I came away feeling much the same as I did last night. That I don't get to peek at the back of the book for this one. It will turn out however it turns out. My job is to show up each day and take notes and think as hard as I can about all of it and work as carefully as possible on the quizzes, and just. trust. Him.

(And some people walked by, but none of them said a thing or put quarters in my hand or anything, so maybe I looked normal, meditating on the Greyhound Station bench.)

And then I got up and walked to the law office and worked until 2:30. I mailed my Dad his Father's Day card (he should have it in time for his birthday in September) and I drove to Grandma Gaye's house and picked up her and Ben and Milo and we did some shopping at Target and the grocery store. Once back home I made dinner and tried to tell Chris about the quiz and Amine-the-instructor and fixing problem #11 in Matrices. And he told me about work and did a load of dishes while I shucked corn and then the four of us ate. (Max is at camp.)

Now I've spent two hours blogging about the week. I don't know if that was productive or not, but I think I'll keep it up for as long as that feels helpful. I don't know if it's been clear, but there are no classes I want to drop. I really enjoyed the Vygotsky reading from EdPsych this week (just not the obscurely written quiz that went with it) and most of the time when I'm actually working on a math problem--that's what I want to be doing. It sure beats laundry.

If I could just get past the overwhelming panic I feel when I consider the possibility--and I do it all freakin' day long--that I'm not going to get A's in any of these classes, I think I could be really happy doing what I'm doing. I just have a very, very, very deep-seated belief that there are really only two grades in college-level work. An "A" and a "not-A". And as my 3.78 undergrad GPA will tell you, I'm cool with the occasional "not-A." But the possibility of getting straight not-A's--maybe even a not-even-a-B in one of the classes--well, that's what's driving this feeling like I can't breath, and I can't sleep. (Maybe if I couldn't eat, that wouldn't be so bad. But so far that hasn't been a side-effect.)

It seems incredible to me that God would send me back to school at this point in life JUST to work on my humility issues (although I'm open to the fact that it's an important side trip for Him), because I don't think He'd pick something so incredibly expensive for just that lesson. Honestly, just throwing me in a tennis game--or any public sport--would have the same effect. But I do think that in the middle of all the forgotten algebra--that angle will be part of it. And while I have ALWAYS taken the position that a child struggling in school is just an opportunity to get to know him/her better while we solve that problem, it hasn't escaped me that I'm getting a LOT more insight into just how confusing it feels while it's happening to you.

It's no fun wondering if you're the only one who didn't get what the instructor just told the class, wondering if you should raise your hand and ask because maybe you're NOT the only one, wondering if you should raise your hand and ask because you're paying too much for the class to NOT GET IT even if you ARE the only one, and then wondering if the moment has passed because Amine's pause was very short and you just spent it wondering whether or not to raise your hand.

And now I'm going to put my 7-yr-olds to bed (because I *totally* know how to do that) and then I'm going to do some vector problems, because that is what I am doing this summer.

(You truly must love me if you have made it through all of this week's rambling posts. Sorry 'bout that.)

Thursday, June 18, 2009


Tuesdays and Thursdays are Calculus only. I've found a chair I really like. It's in the second row on the very end near the door. It's not being near the door that I like about it, it's that the row has one more seat than the row in front of it, so I have a clear view of Amine and the board.

The downside is that the front of the classroom is popular, so there's always someone new sitting next to me. They always smell like coffee. I always wonder, again, if I smell like kids and a dog and a mortgage. I hope I smell like shampoo and toothpaste, but regardless, it makes me uncomfortable to think that I smell like anything to these kids.

I don't wonder any more if I look old to them. It doesn't matter. I know I stick out in a Sesame Street, "One of these things is not like the other" kind of way (which is probably such an old sketch that these kids wouldn't even know the cultural reference). I know this because it is clear to me now that whereEVER I sit, Amine will come by when it's time to work independently on a problem and make sure that I am on the right track. He helps the kids who ask for it and he hovers a little over the group in the front row--but that trip to the back of the classroom yesterday? That's because that's where I was sitting.

And I am a little embarrassed, but mostly, I am profoundly grateful. Because I need the help and I need the "Good job!" and I need the unspoken, "I noticed you came to class today." And I don't know why he's taken an interest in me. I don't know if it's because the instructors are taught to help the "nontraditional" students not fall through the cracks or if it's because on his attendance list it says I was born in 1968 which, for all I know, is his birthday with the last two digits reversed, or if it's because on his attendance list it says I'm a math ed. major and maybe the math majors and the math ed. majors look out for each other. Or if it's just that I do try to answer his questions and participate enough in class that's it's probably not hard to see how my comprehension fades in and out like analog reception. I really. have. no. clue.

But I am worried that if he STOPS taking this interest, that I am doomed. Because right now when he comes by and whispers a hint, it is the hint I need to finish the rest of the problem on my own. And I want to be able to do that. To finish the problem on my own.

It is insanely trying to sit there, stumped, not by the limits or the theorem, but by the fact that for the life of me I can't figure out how to simplify this fraction with the square root symbol in the numerator so that I can get rid of the variable in the denominator so that it won't be a fraction with zero in the denominator (multiply the numerator and the denominator by the same square root expression).

I want desperately to spend time everyday on reviewing the rest of the algebra I've forgotten, but I CAN'T because of the other classes and the law office and the grammar project.

I go to the law office today and leave early because the day is slow and I have so much math homework. I get home, exhausted, and debate taking a nap first, but then Julie e-mails me from the office. I forgot to set up an important file before I left and they have to cancel the appointment with the client because of that. She reassures me that it's no big deal, the client is happy because it was a bad time for her anyway. Next week is better. But it doesn't help. I don't feel better.

I skip the nap and go straight into Calculus, hoping to drown my guilt in correct answers. It works pretty well actually, and half my homework is done before dinner time. I cook us something for dinner, although I can't remember what, and finish the Calculus. There's a quiz tomorrow, but I don't have time to do more than the homework. I put down the Calculus book and pick up the Linear Algebra book. I do all the Matrices homework, spending 40 minutes on a problem I can't solve. The rest of it goes smoothly though, and I finally decide to put problem #11 away and just ask Allan from Scranton about it in the morning.

I look at the EdPsych homework and realize I'm going to do it Saturday morning (it's due Saturday evening) before launching into the grammar assignment. I am still upset about the 8/10 on the most recent EdPsych quiz.

It's only 10 pm, but I can't think anymore. At least, not in a helpful way. I take 2 mg of lorazepam again and then stay awake for another hour, curled up against Chris--who is, improbably, out cold at this early hour of the night. I wish for once that my talkative, night-owl, husband would wake up and talk to me about something other than school. Or at least wake up enough to toss his arm over my shoulder and pull me in closer to him, but uncharacteristically, he sleeps on. The dog and I get back out of bed and I have a long talk with God about things. The dog gets tired of waiting for me and curls up next to my knees on the floor. Finally, I crawl back under the blankets and fall asleep.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


On the third day I arrive just as class is starting and have to sit in the back. In the back there is whispered mutiny as Amine whizzes through new material for the first half hour. I don't say anything--just trying to keep one eye on the board and one in the book to see what he's just repeating from the book and what I'm not going to find anywhere else. I'm frustrated and it is somewhat satisfying to hear the mild explatives from the row behind me. Eventually Amine gets to two class examples, and using a similar problem in the book as a guide for the steps, I correctly complete the two problems.

Amine circulates and makes it to my back corner of the room. He says, "Good job!" and moves on. I don't say anything, but I put that "Good Job" in my back pocket to spend on the homework.

Funny, I don't FEEL 40 (turning 41 in less than a month) in the class. I feel at times confused, hopeful, relived, satisfied, and angry (I'm an emotional girl), but I don't feel two decades older than the other students (or Amine for that matter). Only when I walk into the classroom and walk out of it do I have a flash of self-consciousness. I wonder where the fitness center is and if I'll EVER have time to exercise. And I remember why I took up drinking coffee in college even though it didn't taste all that great--8 am classes and EVERYONE else drinking the stuff. It's a potent mix.

So after Calculus is Matrices again--and there's a long break again--Amine lets us out early again and since the two classrooms are so close--opposite sides of the same floor in the same building--that leaves me with time to kill again.

I text Chris. Then the compassionate service coordinator calls and I help her get a telephone number. I do more paper blogging.

The instructor, gosh, what's his name . . . Allan. Allan from Scranton. Anyway, Allan looks and sounds for all the world like a younger version of my youngest brother, Alex. This is Alex, maybe 10 years ago, a little more shy--with a trim blond mustache. He wears the button-down plaid shirts that you can find everywhere now. Chris has some for his job and Max wears some to school. So Allan arrives and starts writing notes on the board before class begins. He paces. Writes some more.

A boy arrives and sits down directly next to me. He has no book and no notebook. What he has is the crossword puzzle page of USA Today. A pretty blond girl sits down next to him on his other side. He smells, predictably, of Coffee, but not cigarettes. Throughout the entire class he works the crossword puzzle, takes no notes, but participates completely in the dialogue of the class.

One thing I notice, if it's possible to draw distinctions at this point, is that the Matrices class--either in temperament or in class size--is much more involved. When Allan asks a question, he usually gets more than one response. When we're confused, we don't sit and stew (oh we do, back in Calculus, we stew), but we raise our hand and ask for clarification.

I think the class size is a large part of it. Also, I think the students in Matrices/Linear Algebra are there mostly for their major and Calculus I--well, at Penn State, it would see that most of the undergrads have to take Calculus I.

By the end of today's class it dawns on me that I probably have this backwards. Matrices/Linear Algebra is going to be do-able. It's Calculus I that will be the proving ground. This is, frankly, a bitter pill for me to swallow. A big FAT slice of humble pie. I took Calculus in highschool and got an A. I took it as a freshman at OWU and hardly tried--and got a B. (I took Statistics, too, put more effort into it, got an A). It is TIME that has stripped away the ease of the class for me. What trips me up over and over with the problems is NOT the material in the book or the material from the lecture but the assumed knowledge of algebra II/trig behind it. I forget for a moment what 3^-1 means. I figure it out, but I am not SURE I really have it. I sit there with my pencil hovering over my paper, not wanting to write it incorrectly. Amine shows up at my elbow and I tentively write my guess. He says, "That's right," approvingly and I am so reassured.

But it frightens me--the moth-eaten holes in my memory of how to do math--and I know if there are too many holes, that I'm in big trouble.

I walk back to the law office this morning feeling uneasy. I have a LOT of calculus due the next morning and new Matrices assigned and new EdPsych assigned and I've had the work due for my next Grammar (work) assignment for five days now and still haven't even printed it out to look at it. I think it's due Monday.

I get home by 4pm and I work on Calculus until it's time to go out to eat with Gaye's sister and brother-in-law. When we get home from dinner (a very nice dinner at Mad Mex with the relatives) I work on the rest of Calculus for another three hours. Then we go to bed. I don't touch the Matrices or EdPych stuff. My brain is fried.

I go to bed anxious. 2 mg of lorazepam and I still take 45 minutes to fall asleep.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Tuesday. Just Calculus and Ed Psych and the Law Office.

In the second class of Calculus, the girls arrive a smidge earlier or the guys arrive a smidge later. Either way, the girls have creeped up to the front of the class.

There was Matrices/Linear Algebra homework, but that class doesn't meet on Tuesday. There was no Calculus homework, so today feels like "the start of Calculus, part II."

Amine is fast. He throws up new information on the board at a speed that makes it hard to think much about what we're copying down. I do recognize some of it from the book though, and I skootch my textbook over so the girl next to me can see the Example he's working from. She's young--maybe less than half my age--and she smells like coffee and cigarettes. I wonder for a moment if I smell like church, credit cards, a mortgage, three kids, a husband, and a dog.

I try to answer the questions I can and not fall behind. Sometimes I totally get what he's saying and sometimes I have no clue how he got the answer he got. I worry because between the extra classes and two jobs, I don't know when I'll have time to go back and review anything.

For the second half of the class he asks everyone to use their calculators to figure out the answers to some problems. Starfish-and-Coffee girl and I don't have calculators and the answers aren't in the book. We take notes. Afterwards, I ask Amine-the-instructor what kind of calculator to get. He tells me.

When class is over I walk back to the law office to work, I have a list of things to do for homework including Calculus problems, about 40 pages of reading for Ed Psych, the online quiz for the reading, and an ongoing discussion with the EdPsych instructor on how to make up the rest of the three weeks of work I missed.

But I feel basically okay about things. Work is fine. The kids are fine. I call the financial aid office and they front me enough of my loan to get the rest of my curriculum & instruction textbooks and the calculator. It's all done online. They deposit the money for the books and calculator straight into my checking account. I find this a little spookey.

Tuesday night I spend five hours on EdPsych. I get 8/10 on the quiz and do not throw anything breakable. But it's very stressful, watching my overall average on the quizzes drop to 84%. I try sooooo hard to shoot for "just pass all four classes this summer" but my emotional reaction to any grade is divided into "A" and "not A." And there aren't enough "A"s. I have no confidence this is going to get significantly better.

The rest of the week supports this theory.

Monday, June 15, 2009

First day of 12 units of classes

[The following was written on this stuff called PAPER, using an instrument called a PENCIL. I'm only now, Friday evening, getting this all recorded into the blog, but I will be cheating by backdating the publishing.]

Calculus is at 8:00 am, which means getting up at 6 o'something. I went for 6:15 this morning, but I think if I had everything ready to go the night before--I could push it back to 6:45 am. (Update: I can, but it really makes things tight, especially if I'm dropping the kids off at their grandmother's house on the way.)

One problem with Chris and I getting up that early is that it triggers Milo's early-rising instinct--one that has been nearly extinguished in Max, now that he's spending all his free time growing taller.

So Chris is wandering around looking through baskets of clean clothes for a matching pair of socks and waiting for the right time to pounce and ask me to make his lunch for him (because, I don't know, learned helpless or something--I must have growled at him on this particular morning though, because he hasn't done so since) and I'm trying to find a bag big enough to carry spare shoes for the office, my lunch, two math textbooks, and various other paraphanalia I think I'll need before I get home again. All the while, Milo wanders anxiously around wondering how much longer Max will sleep so he can ask for permission to use the computer.

It works. I crack--"tell Max I gave you permission to use the computer." Somehow, rooms away, this wakes Ben and he and Milo trot happily off to play computer games. They probably won't stop until well after lunch time when hunger will finally drive them off to scavenge for food. It's all good. The microwave is at their level.

Chris and I leave at the sametime -- he heads off to work and I hit the gas station for a diet mountain Dew first. Then I let myself into the law office, careful to resent the alarms on my way out -- to drop off work shoes and lunch. From there I walk the 5 blocks or so to the math building on campus. I'm 10 minutes early, but the room is already half full.

The instructor is a young math Ph'd candidate with a mild accent. I think he said he was from Morocco, but I wasn't taking notes at this point. His handwriting is very easy to read, but it's definitely not the product of an American education.

He goes over the syllabus and then lectures happily for 45 minutes on the hustory of Calculus, giving only the briefest of attention to anything in the book. The most meaningful thing I learn is that there are quizzes every Friday, homework is assigned nightly, but collected twice a week, and we're skipping Chapter 1. I wonder, skeptically, if I have the time to do Chapter 1 on my own.

And then class is over--almost 20 minutes early. My next class is on the other side of the building on the same floor, so I wander over there, get comfortable and balance my checkbook. Then I sent Chris two texts. Finally someone else arrives--goes into the class, and sits. So I do, too. He's plugged into an iPod. We don't say anything.

Not a minute later two other boys enter. These guys are friendly. One is Will. Will is impossibly tall and skinny. He's amused by my name. The room fills. It's a much smaller classroom than the Calculus classroom.

The instructor arrives. He's shy and reluctant to begin. He went to Bucknell. He's from Scranton. He's beyond easy to understand, even when he talks to the board. Which he does fairly frequently. He digs right into the first lesson and I stop "blogging" and start taking notes.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Girl Can Dream

If my math teachers can sing like this, I'll be good to go:

Monday, June 08, 2009

T-minus one week to Calc/Matrices

You ever wonder what a class in matrices is about? Yeah, me, too. I'm still not sure. It has something to do with linear algebra. I skimmed through the wikipedia article on it, but it's not any more clear to me.

Yesterday I went to Baltimore with the kids to meet their newest cousin, Naomi. She's a doll and my brother and sister-in-law seemed calm, even with a house full of visitors, young boys (it seemed like all of Oliver's cousins were there--and they're all boys, too), and a new baby. They're going to be busy for awhile, those two.

Today it's more EdPsych.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

June 6

The first thing I realized last night when I sat down to do the first lesson in my new Ed Psych book, was that textbook makers have gotten cheap since 1986. The font size is ridiculously small to begin with, and then when they make those little indented quote boxes, the font size drops to something subatomic.

I reluctantly pulled out my reading glasses. I realized I was probably going to have to wear these in my math classes, too--only there I’d be surrounded by 18 and 19 year olds. I made a mental note to color my hair again in the morning.

The second thing I realized as I tried to read 26 pages of size 10 font print, all written in a tone I usually associate with students who are trying to take up extra space in a term paper by using big words, was that there is no way I can do all my studying at home. Max’s cell phone kept going off as all of his friends who have cell phones gleefully texted the newest kid on the Verizon network (his birthday present from Grandma Gaye and both parents). Emily kept shoving the book out of the way with her nose in hopes of getting more scratches behind the ears. Ben and Milo were up and down the stairs wondering when they could have some ice cream, and Chris--well, it was Friday night. He thought maybe his wife might actually want to pay attention to him. She did, but she has four quizzes to take by Wednesday to catch up AND a grammar lesson due on Monday.

In the end, I did it. I read the first chapter, took the first quiz, and to my horror, scored 8 out of 10 on the quiz.

So this morning I got up, dyed my hair reddish-brown (it’s pretty heavily gray normally), frowned at the very gray parts which took the red more than the brown and hoped those would wash out quickly. Like, maybe tomorrow morning before I go visit my new niece. My brother won’t miss the opportunity to make fun of me if it doesn’t.

Then I dropped the kids off at my mom-in-law’s (Chris has a work meeting somewhere in Unionville) and hurried over to the law office. The IT guy has to install a new server anyway and someone needed to be here while he was doing that, so it’s worked out well. I’ve already got half the grammar assignment done.

Now I just need him to stay long enough for me to finish the grammar project and do another chapter of EdPsych. That would leave me only two more chapters to do at home. I need/want to get 10/10 on the three remaining quizzes. I’m just too competitive to let that 8/10 stand. The setup of the online courses takes complete advantage of this part of my nature. The very second you finish a quiz, it records your total grade for the class on a chart (since I’m 4 weeks behind in the course, I have a mighty 24% for a grade right now). Then, it records your quiz score (which it will average as I take more quizzes) on a graph that breaks down the total into quizzes, written assignments, and group projects (all of which, I suspect, weigh more heavily than these quizzes).

And in the background of the quiz there is a faint shaded area that tells you the average score of ALL the rest of the students in the class. My quiz score is 5 points lower than the average.

“Noooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” (as Dexter of Dexter’s Laboratory would cry).

Oh. my. hizzle. Do they have my number. I have no choice but to do well in this class. (I wish Calculus was going to be like this, but if I’m reading the syllabus right, the entire score for the class is two midterms and a final. How’s that for sudden death?)

I will say this though. Yesterday afternoon I was musing over the fact that my normal emotions before the start of a new semester--as a student, back in the 1900’s--was a high level of excitement. I hated Ohio. I hated the rain and the constant cloud cover. I hated being stuck in Delaware, Ohio with no car--and in hindsight--I hated being stuck with my own undiagnosed Seasonal Affective Disorder which meant I was even more angst-ridden and depressed than all the rest of the hormone-riddled students at Ohio Wesleyan. (Well, maybe not Scot. But he’s competitive that way. )

But I loved the start of every new semester. I loved new notebooks, highlighters, and pens. I loved taking notes in the margins of my books. Once I got good at it, I loved turning in papers early for early feedback which would lead to an inevitable A on the paper as the professor got exactly what it was they were looking for (and I didn’t have to work as hard to read their mind to figure out what that was. When you turn the paper in a week early, they just write what they think is missing in the margins. You spend 30 minutes revising the paper to add that and ta-da! an “A”.) I didn't sit in the front row, but I didn't sit in the back, either. Okay, sometimes I sat in the front row.

I’m being carried away by nostalgia. The point is that normally, the start of the semester anticipation is a good thing for me. This time it’s been forcing me to take high-doses of Zantac and Ativan. (srsly)

So I needed to do that first lesson last night in large part because I wanted the anticipation over with. I wanted to just start DOING the work. I wanted to be able to tell myself that I had begun, and lived to tell about it.

It’s kind of cheating because the Ed Psych is NOT where the ass-kicking will take place, but shut up. Don’t kill my buzz.

Okay, so I did. And I got that mediocre quiz score. And saw the class average. And saw that I was below the mark. And all of a sudden I felt great! The damn chart had thrown down the gauntlet and I couldn’t NOT pick it up.

I may still flunk out (of Matrices, most likely) in my first semester, but it won’t be for lack of trying. I think that was my biggest fear. That I would be so scared of going back into the arena that I would freeze and not do my best. So I’m not worried about that any more. The part of me that lives to break the curve is still there. I don’t know if she CAN break the curve any more. But I am vastly reassured that she is still willing to try. and try and try and try. Go me.

UPDATE: Quiz #2. 9/10. Dang!! And the question is so wrong!!! The right answer is right there in the section on contiguous conditioning and that wasn't one of the possible responses! Grrr. (But at least I'm not below class average any more. must keep studying. Must get bar line above grey shadow bar!!!)

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Waiting for the Final Shoe to Drop

I can't possibly go back to the beginning with all this school stuff, so I'll simply start where we are.

It turns out that if you're a graduate student, you can't have access to your federally funded student loans if you're taking fewer than 5 units of graduate level classes. That I have to take a few semesters of undergraduate math classes in order to take the graduate level classes is one of those catch-22's that most people fill with private bank loans. I won't go that route because the interest rates are so much higher.

For every bureaucratic problem there is a bureaucratic solution though. We just add 5 of those units and take them in addition to the undergraduate classes. No problem right?

So here I am with a part-time job at the law office, a contract writing 7th-grade grammar worksheets, and 13 units of classes. One of which I will be 3-weeks late to the party for (it started May 13).

I thought it would all fall apart and I'd concentrate on making money over the summer to just pay cash for the fall's classes, but things AREN'T falling apart. The C&I department is successfully pulling a rabbit out of their hat and it's just up to me to . . . do the homework. I'm ten days away from being in three classes: Calculus I, Matrices, and EdPsych. All three courses will go till mid-August. Then in early July-ish, I'll add a fourth class. I think it's an overview of basic teaching methods. I've HAD three out of four of these classes before--as an undergraduate back in 1986--but the EdPsych class relies heavily on group work (gag) and so --I really do have to "show up" (the non-math classes are online classes).

Anyway. My financial aid won't be approved till I'm officially enrolled in the final course. So it's a waiting game for now. Chris's new job rocks, but we're broke and I'm buying more textbooks. I'm so grateful for the timing of Chris's job. The health insurance kicks in immediately, saving me $350 in having to buy the school's version of graduate student health insurance.

I don't even know if they ever got my shot records. But at least now that I have health insurance, if I have to go back and get every darn shot repeated for lack of any records saying I had them--I can.

All I want is for everything to smooth out so that I can just concentrate on passing the courses.

And figuring out what's for dinner.

And who's going to get the kids to the pool for the summer.

I'll be blogging more. I promised myself I would journal the 40-year-old-goes-back-to-math-class experience. (For a couple of weeks. Then it will be the 41-yr-old.)

I. am. petrified.

But I have this hope that if I can make it through this first semester that the second semester is going to be good.

And then in the third semester they're talking about letting me teach an ESL class to other teacher-candidates. And I think I'll genuinely enjoy that.

So that's why I'm still in this. Because I think it's going to get better.

And because I don't think G-d is giving me a way out. He keeps meeting me insurmountable obstacle by insurmountable obstacle. So I'll just have to trust that He has a plan for me. I know it doesn't have anything to do with insurmountable debt and a nervous breakdown, and that is some small comfort. And he gave me Chris. So it's not like I'm alone in this.

And my sister who is 1/3 of the way through her own graduate program. So she really gets it.

And that is all I have to say about that.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

I Have a Niece!

And she's beautiful. E-mail Jason. He'll send you photos. I won't post any more info as I'm sure Jason would rather give you the information himself.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Felonious Book Borrowing

Although I don't seem like the criminal type, I am. Sometimes I'm able to forget it for long stretches at a time--mostly by avoiding the scene of the crime. But sooner or later the kids want books and we have to go to the library.

A few months ago Chris went to the library with his mother. He has just sold a custom-painted RC body on eBay and had a little cash, so he inquired about my account. Contrary to my report that there was a huge overdue fine there waiting for me, it was only $3.50. Chris paid it. I was astonished. I was sure it was more.

My biggest overdue fine ever was $196.00 back in the fall of 2007. I usually get into trouble when I'm working on a textbook project and I'm asked to find some great children's literature to suggest for the project. I'm allowed a certain amount of copyright-protected product (mostly means the author, or the author's estate, is still alive and well) and a certain amount of public domain stuff (mostly means it was published loooooooooong before we were born, and most of it is therefore too intense, too Left, too Right, or too SOMEthing for us to use in today's publishing). And while I can go to the library and peruse stuff right there, sooner or later I'm down to the short list and I have to check those books out, take them home, make illegal copies of them, and send them to the client where they then decide what makes the final cut and do the rest of it all on the up-and-up.

Then the books sit on the corner of my desk until I have time to take them back to the library. This can look like 50 books waiting six months until the project ends and I'm cleaning up my office and find the pile and realize that I've done it again. I've kept the books so long it'll take a mortgage payment to get my library card back.

So I take the books back to the library, usually using any outside shutes available, and slink away until the next time I NEED to check out something from the library.

One time, when we were moving from CA to PA, I accidentally BOXED UP all the books ready to go back to the library and moved those out to PA with us. Not only did the overdue fines exceed the rest of our debt combined, (okay, no, but it was $175 for like 8 books) but they sent a collections agency after us and threatened to report us to the credit bureau. I didn't really care about either, but I'd never meant to STEAL the books, and I could see that they must have seriously missed them, so I boxed them all up again and mailed them back to CA in a sort of plea bargain that involved them agreeing to drop all charges if I just paid the $8 replacement charge for the one book I couldn't find. I figured that and the $34 in media mail postage was sufficient punishment.

But I never learn. It was only two years later that I incurred that $196 fee.

I couldn't pay it, of course. It wasn't just that I have a tendency to reason that, for crying out loud, they GOT all the books back. ALL of them! And there wasn't one coffee stain or pencil mark on any of them. A little dust, maybe. And I don't dog-ear the pages. My mother(s) raised me right. I plain old didn't have $200 to give the public library. So I talked the nice teen-aged library aide behind the counter into halving the fee. I paid $98 for my indiscretions. It hurt, but I had it coming to me.

Anyway at the end of last month, we (Gramma Gaye, Max, the twinks, and I) went to the library and checked out a bunch of books. I got mostly Rita Mae Brown mysteries. The kids fare varied. This afternoon we rounded up ALL of the books and even the three VHS movies they'd checked out and took them all back FIVE WHOLE DAYS before they were due.

I felt angelic.


This month the library was switching over to a new card system, so you have to turn in ALL of your old orange and red library cards and trade them in for new green cards--that manage to be incredibly unattractive. It's hard to mess up green. Who approved these? So I let Ben check out his book on his card, and Milo on his, and me on mine, whereas last month we just checked out everything on my card.

And that's how we found out that the LAST time I needed books for one of my work projects I had inadvertantly used BEN'S library card. The poor guy is sadled with $45 in debt because his felonious mother checked out 30 books and kept them for 90 days, give or take a few.

I hadn't even BROUGHT my wallet, much less my checkbook, to the library, and THIS teenage library aide was TOTALLY not going to let me check out any books on that card. But when I asked, "Well, can we check them out on one of the other cards that DOESN'T have any fees on it?" he caved. Ben was tearing up. There were 15 people in line behind us. Milo wasn't paying any attention to the problem and was pestering him to let HIM check out HIS book. "Okay." said the kid. I handed over my card, it was traded in for one of the new ugly green cards, and we checked out the new batch of 25 or so books for Ben, Max, and I. Milo's card was "clean," so he got to check out his book on his card.

We fled with the goods.

Now I just have to find $45 worth of something to sell on eBay to pay Ben's overdue fines so we can clear his good name sometime in the next three weeks. The kid is only 7. I can't have him taking the rap for me. Even a hardened library criminal like me has some ethics.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

It's Snowing Again and I Really Do Love Snow

My Dad gave me a peptalk today. It was a long peptalk, so I can't recreate it here. But the upshot of it was that I am feeling a little better, a little more determined, a little more hopeful.

You can't have too much of that.

My sister sent me this video. She said it made her want to go back to school and get four more degrees (she's in the middle of a master's degree in Spanish Lit).

It's worth watching.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Blogging Nonchantly, As if I Do This Everyday and Haven't Totally Neglected My Blog

Here's the problem with blogging. I want to be able to say, "Here is how things are. And here is where we are going." But I cannot bring myself to keep writing, "Things are sooo good for us on so many levels, except Chris still needs a job, and he's searching in a terrible climate. We have no definite leads, although good things keep happening, and we DO see the Lord's hand in all of this."

Because I need that to change. I need to be able to write, "Chris got a job," but that doesn't happen.

Today on Google News there was a headline that said, "Republicans Are Resistant to Obama’s Stimulus Plan" and I wanted to click on it in such a way that ALL the politicos who had a hand in where we are today--on both the red and blue sides--so that they could hear me. Heck, so I could grab them by the collective lapels and tell them to get off their high horses and work together because THIS RECESSION IS VERY REAL TO ME. IT HURTS.

Please don't reply in the comments about how some stimulus plan isn't the answer, we need to tighten our belts, blah, blah, blah. My belt is so tight I worry about losing my house. The one that HASN'T lost any value, that WASN'T cost inflated. I *do* still have some debt left but that's after paying down tons of it. I've been cutting corners and doing without since 2004. I don't think the "resistant" republicans can say that.

I did get into Penn State's Curriculum and Instruction Department for a summer start date. I'm supposed to be able to get my master's in math education. But I didn't get the assistantship. (They don't usually give them to Master's candidates, I knew that going in, but it looked for awhile like they might make an exception. They won't. Or can't. I don't know which.) So now I'm waiting to see what the aide package looks like, but I can already feel this opportunity slipping away. I can't pay all our bills as it is. Any attempt to cashflow the degree without Chris in a full-time job would be futile. I have applied for scholarships. Maybe there is an Ace in the hole I don't know about. I keep praying. But I know that others are in worse spots and that they are praying, too.

I am so grateful for all that we have. The kids are in great health, doing well in school, and the support from the church keeps us treading water. I don't know why it feels like the water is rougher this month than before. Maybe because one of my contracts has gone to half-time and I'm not as resiliant--maybe I'll spring back after more of the antibiotics (I have a respiratory infection--either walking pneumonia or early bronchitis. Treatment is the same.)

And that is all I have to say about that.