Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Daniel's Essay on the Tron Movie

"Over Christmas braik I went to watch the new tron lejind. There were progams and users. In the end a program and a user got out the portel. The user was the person woh got trapt in the compewter werolds son. For spars and battls they use there iditide discs and program swords. If they lose there idintide disc they are in trobel. For the chaleng of the grid they can use the swords to sumin lhitsicels."


Over Christmas break, I went to watch the new Tron Legacy. There were programs and users. In the end, a program and a user got out the portal. The user was the person who got trapped in the computer world's sun. For spars and battles, they use their identity discs and program swords. If they lose their identity disc, they are in trouble. For the challenge of the grid they can use the swords to summon lightcycles.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Best Homeschool Lessons: Short Story Solidarity

Sometimes, despite the Ritalin, Eric has trouble concentrating. Especially on a non-preferred activity, like writing. (I call him my bi-polar attention boy.)

On such occasions, I have discovered it can be helpful to foster a bit of competition. If we both do the math problems and compare notes, there's a chance he'll have a better solution than mine.

Last week, I extended this principle to a writing assignment. I suggested fun prompts such as "Write a silly version of a scripture story from the perspective of our stuffed animals. Like Veggie Tales with our own cast."

None of my suggestions interested Eric, but he eventually chose one from a book of journal prompts: "Write a short story that ends with the line 'From now on, I'm keeping that door locked.' "

As motivation, I suggested we could have a competition.

"Who would judge it?" Eric asked, suspiciously.

"Well," I said, "We could post them on my blog, like the yearly cake contest, and solicit comments."

"Yes," Eric answered. "I like that idea. Only we should not put our names on them so that my Grandmas will not be influenced."

Accordingly, I have now posted both stories, without attribution or titles. I don't really expect votes, but we welcome comments!

And, a final note: neither story is Great Literature, but Eric did succeed in finishing a short work of fiction. Yay!

P.S. Any similarity between these highly fictional characters, and any real person, living or dead, is purely a function of your own tortured imagination.

Story #2

.......At first, the disappearances seemed minor. The K'nex motor was likely misplaced. Rick's new Dodgeball Chronicles graphic novel would probably resurface one last time before drowning in a morass of dirty laundry. Dad's bin of old computer parts had fluid content: he never kept an inventory, and the boys were always scavenging parts without returning them. Even Spencer, at twenty-one months, would drag cables into corners and chew on them, like a little electronics vampire.

.......The roomba vanishing overnight was a mystery, of course, though Mom assumed it was just a practical joke.

.......When the universal remote disappeared from the den, however, Rick decided to Take Action.

.......First he established the facts of the case. Of the five people in the family--Dad, Mom, and children Rick, David, and baby Spencer--Rick had been the last person to use the entertainment center. "And I remember putting the remote on the TV, then closing the door," Rick thought.

.......Mom and Dad had a TV in their own bedroom, so they were unlikely suspects. Spencer was just a toddler, too short and uncoordinated to open baby-proofed doors. (Or to climb the entertainment center.) That left David. Perhaps he had snuck out of bed last night and watched Stargate illicitly? (It really was cruel, Rick reflected, for the parents to end a family movie night on an episode cliffhanger.)

.......Dave claimed innocence, though, and since he dropped no spoilers when the boys acted out the story during playtime, Rick reluctantly believed him.

.......Rick began to search for clues. Over the next few days he noticed little things. A kid stool slightly out of place. His screwdriver missing from his backpack. Dad asking if anyone had seen a hammer or an old router.

.......Rick asked Mom and Dad about it, but they were baffled, too. “I wish I knew where the roomba was,” Mom added. “Spencer keeps eating nasty crumbs off the floor.”

.......Rick even grew desperate enough to ask Spencer about the mystery. His baby brother said “bad stoh-oh,” then shoved his fist back in his mouth.

.......“Right,” Rick sighed. “No offense, kid, but you'll be a lot more interesting when you can talk better.”

.......As a precaution, the family began checking windows and locking their bedroom doors at night. After most of the k'nex pieces evaporated one night, David used his electronics kit to wire his room with a burglar alarm.

.......They found it artfully disarmed the next morning. Then Dave discovered his night light, and most of his legos, were also gone.

.......Dad added to the missing items list: some open packages of screws had vanished from his workbench in the garage.

.......Rick began researching gremlins. Dad called a home security company. Mom decided to dig out the baby video monitor from Spencer's closet and set it up in the garage.

.......A few minutes later, Mom's loud “Shriek!” pierced the house. The “men” (all the males except Spencer) rushed up the stairs to rescue her. (Though Dad scrupulously closed the baby gate behind him.)

.......They found Mom standing in Spencer's closet and stammering incoherently.


.......In the center of the closet stood a stroller. A very special stroller. Constructed out of legos, k'nex, and the occasional random screw, the seat padded with books (including the Dodgeball Chronicles), and decked out with accessories like an overhead reading light, it dwarfed the astonishing mess of cables, wires, and loose parts strewn about the floor. Dave yelped when he saw his electronics manual, now dog-eared, propped open in a corner.

.......“But,” protested Rick, “He would have had to open doors. Locked doors. With baby-proof knobs.”

.......Mom gaped. Dad gawked.

.......“He would have had to climb my bunkbed. And the entertainment center. And defeat the baby gates on the stairs.”

.......Mom whimpered.

.......“He can't possibly be coordinated enough to assemble legos and k'nex,” added Rick. “Plus you're always nagging about how they're choking hazards.”

.......Mom stifled a scream.

......“And,” floundered Rick, “I mean...why? He already has a stroller.”

......“Bad stoh-oh,” explained Spencer, pointing at the floor of his room, which was directly over the garage. Then he toddled into his closet and smiled. “Gud stoh-oh,” he added, patting his creation.

.......Mom sat down abruptly, almost collapsing. The circuit boards digging into her backside helped to revive her, though. “Stairs...gate...danger...aaaaaaah!”

.......Desperately, Rick concluded, “And's impossible!”

.......“Son, you're doing calculus a decade early. Dave taught himself to read at age two. Let's not be too quick to assume what is impossible in this family,” said Dad. Under his breath, he added “Just when I think they really, truly, can't surprise me any more...”

.......Just then, Spencer climbed cheerfully into his stroller, flipped a switch, and began steering it around his room with the universal remote control. “Voom VOOM,” he chortled over the sound of the roomba's cannibalized motor.

.......It is hard to compete with two over-achieving older brothers. Still, Spencer managed to exceed expectations.

.......This would go down in family legend as the moment when Dad fainted.

.......Ignoring both distressed parents, Rick considered the situation, then wished he hadn't. “My stuff!” he exclaimed. “It's probably been in his mouth! Baby slobber germs. Ewwww.” He paused. “And his dirty hands. He's probably even even touched everything with his feet. EWWWWW!”

.......Once again, Rick decided to Take Action. “Tomorrow,” he announced, “I am going to take all my allowance money and go to Home Depot. I am going to buy a creative variety of locks, deadbolts, chains, traps, and alarms. I will mount them as high as I can reach. I will access my room with climbing gear, via the window. And, from now on, I am keeping that door locked.”

Story #1

.......Not too long ago, Eftari, Dirtball, and Picklesauce were sitting around a campfire.

.......Eftari asked, “Want to hear a story?”

.......“Sure,” Dirtball said.

.......Picklesauce asked “Does it, like the last ten or so, have a moral?”

.......“I think so,” said Eftari.

.......“Okay, you may tell the story, but I'm getting a little tired of morals,” said Picklesauce.

.......“Okay,” Eftari said, “Here I go...”

Eftari's Story:

.......Back when I was Dirtball's age, I was in my house with my older brother, Rodney and my –OUCH! Who pinched me? If anyone pinches me again, I will stop telling the story. Oh, it's just a squirrel.

.......Moving on...I was in my house with my older brother Rodney and my younger sister Lucy. (We had recently moved in.) I noticed a door in my bedroom closet.

.......Of course, I went in to explore. As soon as the door was open, a strange force pulled me in. Then I fell several feet.

.......I noticed myself in a dark hallway. I noticed a monster up ahead. The monster was starting to approach me and I backed away. When I thought I was going to be eaten, Rodney jumped in with two plastic swords and sets of armor, one for each of us.

.......A few seconds later, Lucy jumped in with her best princess clothes. When the monster saw her, he said “Give me the princess and I'll let you go.” I refused. So the monster went around us and then went between us and the door. We were trapped.

.......We heard a loud thump. Dad had jumped in after us. Then the monster threw Dad over his head so that he was with the rest of us.

.......Dad suggested that we use this basement as a secret base, after defeating that monster plus any others lurking therein.

.......We walked forward until we came to a large room. This one had three monsters. One went after Dad, one went after Rodney, and one attacked Lucy and me. After a struggle, Rodney and I managed to knock down the monsters after us. Then Rodney and I went to rescue Dad. When the monster saw the three of us, he let Dad go and ran away.

.......Dad pulled out a book that he had in his hand when he was thrown in and started turning the pages. It was a childrens' chapter book he was reading out loud to us. When he reached page ninety-two, he noticed a key. It said 'Dungeon of'...' then it listed our address. 'This is the golden key.' I decided it could be useful later on, so I told Dad and he had me put it in my pocket.

.......Then we noticed a door that was locked with ten locks. I tried the golden key. It fit all ten. Dad finished the book. He noticed that there were some pages after the epilogue. They were a guide to this dungeon. One of them said that this golden key we had was a master key and would open just about any lock within this dungeon.

.......After we opened the doors, we found ourselves in a library. “How useful,” Dad said. An arrow came flying toward me, but my golden key blocked it. There was another door ahead of the library. The manual said that for that specific door, the golden key didn't work. Instead we had to find three large gems and place them in their proper places.

.......The golden key started turning in my hand like a compass needle. By following the direction it pointed, we found all three gems and put them in their places. The door opened.

.......In the next room, we found my great-great-great-grandpa Lucas in cryogenic storage. It took him a few minutes to recover, and then he said “See that door over there? I recommend it not be opened. For the return trip, there will be a monster blocking the exit. I'll handle him.”

.......We went to face the monster. Lucas asked for the key, so I handed it over. He fit it into a keyhole on a metal cube and turned the lock.

.......When he opened the cube, it sent out a special wave that destroyed the monster. Inside, he found a folded-up ladder, which he unfolded and used to get us back up through that door. He told us all to put a hand on the cube and so none of us got sucked back in when we tried to go out the door.

.......We were back in the house.

......“Now, here's the moral,” said Eftari. “You know the door Lucas mentioned? From now on, I'm keeping it locked.”

Monday, January 10, 2011

Best Homeschool Lessons: The Witch of Mixed Fractions Doom

Several years ago, desperate to inspire a clean-up, I plagiarized an idea from Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. Donning a cloak, I cackled evilly, "Aha, my pretties. You are disobeying your mommy, excellent. [Stage whisper] If their clean-up is not done in thirty minutes, I will kidnap them and turn them into little minion slaves. Hehehe."

The kids named my alter ego "The Witch of Doom" and set about to thwart me.

Since then, the Witch of Doom has made many appearances. From cockroach pie for Halloween, to a series of bedtime stories detailing the deaths of her many minions, she has become a fixture in family folklore.

Below is a math problem I devised for Eric involving her struggles with mixed fractions.

Part I: Problem

The Witch of Doom is making a polyjuice (transformation) potion. Her nefarious plan is to steal one of Eric's hairs, drop it in her potion, and become his temporary doppleganger. (The effects of a properly-prepared polyjuice potion last one hour.) While impersonating Eric, she intends to poison Mom.

The recipe calls for 5 cups of dragon's blood. The Witch finds only 1 1/3 cups in her cabinet. "Dratted acorn dregs!" she curses. "I forgot to re-order."

Digging through her disorganized storage shelves in the dungeon, she finds a partially-used box of dehydrated dragon's blood. The instructions say to reconstitute 1 tablespoon of the powder with 3/4 of a cup of water. She measures 2 1/2 tablespoons remaining.

Muttering to herself about moronic minions who make miserable lab assistants, she hobbles out to the moat and kills an alligator. Her reference book, Queer and Curious Concoctions, gives the following ratio for emergency substitutions:

3/5 cup fairy dust : 1 cup alligator blood = 1 cup fresh dragon blood.

The Witch has plenty of fairy dust. (A barely-literate previous minion made a clerical error and ordered 50 #10 cans instead of 5, giving her a lifetime supply.)

How many cups of alligator's blood does she need to finish her recipe? How much fairy dust must she stir in?

Note: she doesn't have a decimal-based measuring cup. Use standard English measurements.


Not allowed: 3.85 cups
Allowed: 3 3/4 cups + 1 1/2 teaspoons.


[Eric calculated correctly, of course.]

Part II: Aftermath

As you correctly calculated, the Witch needs 1 3/4 cups + 2 teaspoons of alligator blood. She also needs 1 cup + 1 1/5 tablespoons, or 1 cup + 1 tablespoon + 3/5 teaspoons of fairy dust.

Since she lacks instruments to measure 1/5 of either tablespoons or teaspoons, she calculates that 3/5 teaspoons = 4.8 eighths-of-a-teaspoon. "Close enough," she growls impatiently, and rounds to 5/8 teaspoons.

Her mathematical calculations are correct. She prepares her potion, drinks it, and tries to infiltrate the Berry home.

On her way there, she has an epiphany. "Why on Earth did I waste time mixing fresh, dehydrated, and imitation dragon blood?" she berates herself. "I could have simply taken 5 cups of alligator blood--there was more than enough--stirred in 3 cups of fairy dust, and saved myself all that math and mixing!"

"Or," her latest minion suggested, "You could have re-ordered dragon blood and waited until it arrived to try your plan."

This was the most intelligent thing the minion (#18, Karl) had ever said. It is thus unfortunate that the Witch rewarded his suggestion by turning him into an alligator.

(Of course, the Witch of Doom might also have tried a variety of other options, including upgrading her laboratory with modern, metric-friendly books and instruments.)

The Witch arrived at the Berry home, sauntered into the kitchen, and poured a drink of milk, surreptitiously adding in the poison. "Mommy dearest," she called, attempting to imitate Eric, "I made this for you."

Alas, all the Witch's hard work proved inadequate. Mom took the cup but then stared. "Who are you?" Gail demanded suspiciously.

The polyjuice potion had worn off early!

"Barking behomoth bananas!" the Witch shrieked. (Thus further damaging her cover.) "But I measured everything exactly!"

She had, indeed, computed and mixed accurately. Had she bothered to double-check her Handbook Reference to Heinous Potions, however, she would have remembered that polyjuice belongs to the Finicky class, where substitutions for fresh ingredients have no efficacy.

The 1 1/3 cups of fresh blood were only 4/15ths the total mass of the potion; though operating at full strength, they conferred only 16 minutes of transformation.

The reconstituted powder was 1/3 the magical potency of fresh blood. It conferred only 7 1/2 minutes of disguise.

Instead of 60 full minutes, the Witch of Doom only got 23 1/2, several of which she wasted in travel and in re-stocking her moat.

By the time Mom saw her, the Witch had a blurry shape and was flickering oddly. No wonder Mom looked at her askance.

Thwarted yet again, the Witch of (Unfulfilled) Doom retreated sulkily back to her dungeon, where she decided to upgrade her infrastructure, train a new minion, and plot for another day.

--Yes, technically the "solution" was longer than the actual "problem," but it was so much fun! Plus it teaches important lessons about magic, science, leadership, and preparation.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Best Homeschool Lessons: J. Algebra Prufrock

Since I'm still without access to my files of Mommy quotes from the last year, I thought I'd start a new series: great moments or lessons from homeschool. These aren't necessarily in order, but I'll pick out some of my favorites.

Here is a math problem I wrote for Eric, back in September. It is part of my literary algebra series.

J. Alfred Prufrock is frustrated. He feels a sense of futility about school. In his literature class, his grade is calculated based on the following:

Homework average: 10%
Class participation: 5%
Test 1: 15%
Test 2: 15%
Essay: 20%
Final Exam: 35%

Despite a a reasonable amount of study, J. Alfred Prufrock just doesn't "get" 20th-century British literature. His homework grades are 90%, 100%, 95%, and 85%. His class participation is 100%. His first two tests were 80% and 74%.

His ten-page essay, however, got a D- of 67%. His professor made sarcastic marginal notes about Prufrock's inability to analyze symbolism or irony.

What score does J. Alfred need on the final to get at least a B (85%) for the semester?

[Eric calculated the problem on a separate sheet of paper. He got it right, naturally.]

As you correctly calculated, he needs a 97.86% on the final exam. It seems impossible, but he tries anyway. "I dare disturb the universe!" he proclaims, and begins studying.

Sadly, he only earns a 92%, thus proving the futility of fighting fate.

Depressed, he loses his scholarship, drops out of school, and grows a beard.

After a year, he grows up, goes back to school, and switches majors to civil engineering, where the answers are both quantifiable and ultimately important. (It really does matter whether one calculates the stress on a bridge truss correctly.)

Full text:
Study guide:

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Ring out the blessings of last year...

...Ring in our family, God, and cheer.

Happy New Year!

At Thanksgiving dinner, I asked the kids to name all the important blessings we'd received in the last year. The exercise grew into two extensive lists. What an abundance!

In 2009:

  • *Jon started his new job at Intel, having been hired in October of 2008 amid the scariest financial crisis in sixty years. (HALLELUJAH.)
  • *The kids and I spent several months in Indiana.
  • *We sold our Raleigh house.
  • *We were able, miraculously, to purchase the perfect house in Austin. (Hallelujah.)
  • *I got pregnant. Miserable at the time, but worth it in the long run.
  • *Eric got baptized. A bunch of family came and we had a party. In the perfect new house. Which was large enough to accommodate everyone. (I like my house.) (Thanks, Jon.)
  • *We enjoyed a fabulous Christmas at the Berry grandparents'. And the quilts!
In 2010:

  • *Sammy was born. (Hallelujah!!!)
  • *We celebrated with another party. Once again, my amazing house proved its worth. In a mathematical miracle, sixteen people divided evenly into seven "bedrooms," and everyone had at least minimal privacy. Despite the widely disparate dietary requirements, nobody starved, sickened, or died. Everyone pitched in and helped things run smoothly.
  • *The men in the family turned the backyard into an amazing playscape. Special thanks to Grandpas Homer and Berry.
  • *We paid off the credit card!!!
  • *We acquired a couch!
  • *And a second car!!
  • *(We had been living without both for over a year.)
  • *I promptly got fat. (Ah well, nothing is perfect.)
  • *Bastille Day Party! Summer, water balloons, play set, smidge of French history, moderate gore...Wahaha.
  • *The kids started Tae Kwon Do.
  • *Jon and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary. We also celebrated that I can now say the word "anniversary."
  • *I began homeschooling Eric. (Way fun!)
  • *Jon and I celebrated our dodecaquadratuscourtalunaversary! That's the twelfth anniversary of when we started dating. Back then I was allergic to the word "anniversary," both for skittish "I'm not committed to a serious relationship!" and linguistic "A three-month 'anniversary' is ridiculous" reasons. So we created our own linguistic abomination and everything was fine.
  • *Eric started taking a Ritalin derivative. (Hallelujah! Amen, AMEN!)
  • *Jon and I got new smartphones. Awesome toys.
  • *Sammy and I were able to make it to Utah for Grandpa Haupt's funeral. Through a little work and a lot of divine grace, I managed a creditable performance of one of his favorite songs.
  • *The whole family was comforted in the belief that Grandpa is much happier now, and enjoying a second honeymoon with Grandma, whom he hadn't seen in over three decades.Meanwhile, the Berry grandparents babysat Sammy. That was a blessing for everyone. :)
  • *I found an awesome lego castle set for $30 off at Target. Bad news: we gave it to Eric. Good news: he agreed to share!
  • *Uncle Ronald crafted chainmail! WOW!

Amid all the big things, there were several other gifts to us: bowls, pans, books, movies, a marvelous crockpot, tons of great Christmas and birthday presents, tools for Jon, toys and clothes and books for the kids. I know I'm forgetting stuff. My apologies. Feel free to add to the list in the comments section. I will humbly beg your pardon and say only a superabundance of blessings led me to forget your offering momentarily.

But, honestly, it's not about all the stuff. I am gaspingly grateful for the house, cars, books (in a library!), toys, kitchen stuff, computers, etc. etc. Sometimes I feel guilty about our amazing standard of living. Even so, I am even more grateful for family relationships. I frequently tell my kids "people are more important than things." Normally in the context of "turn down the volume while he's talking to you," but it's true in every situation.

Let's hear it for eternal families! (GLORY, GLORY, HALLELUJAH!!!)

Would anyone like to make predictions for the best blessings of 2011?

Here are mine:

#3) Blogspot will finally allow bullets in their formatting. Or we'll get our own website up and running and I'll transfer everything there.

#2) We will rest financially, enjoying all our recent gains but not making any more major purchases. Tyndale (the van) will last another twelve months, valiant vehicle that he is.

And the #1 blessing... *drumroll*

Jon will finally finish school!!!

(I'll let him post the huge Hallelujah for that one.)

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.
Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring in the broadening family tree,
With larger hearts and kindlier hands;
Ring out the darkness of all lands,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.,_Wild_Bells