Saturday, June 28, 2014

What We Learned: 9th Grade Edition

Two weeks ago, Younger Daughter finished her first year of high school.  Here’s what she learned.

YD:  I learned that I did not know everything in biology.  So I actually learned something in biology class.

Son:  Learning that you don’t know everything is the first step in becoming a scientist.

YD:  In bio, I learned the equation for cellular respiration and photosynthesis, the processes within them, the layout of the organelles that do these specific tasks,  complete dominance and co-dominance.
In math I learned that I will have to eventually know the dreaded thingy – the fraction circle.

Son:  You mean the unit circle.

YD:  Yeah. (She makes a face.)

Son:  I could teach you that this summer.

YD, objecting:  No!  …. In Latin I learned lots of new words.  I learned about the palace of King Cogidubnus.

Me:  Who?!

YD:  He was the client king of Roman Britain, appointed by Claudius, I think, and lived through several emperors until he died.

Son:  Didn’t Salvius kill him?

The high school Latin textbook is basically a soap opera story of a Roman family, with all kinds of murder, mayhem, and slave revolts going on.  That family appeared in a Doctor Who episode which surprised and thrilled our two Latin students.

YD: He’s not dead yet!  In English I learned that there is a  lot more that goes into making a movie than just the actors playing their parts.  In history I learned how to make Irish soda bread.

Son:    Can you learn how to make brownies?

YD:  Brownies are not Irish…. I learned how to take notes on flashcards and that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is not something that you can really condemn.

When she said 'flashcards' she meant index cards.  That history teacher was a fiend for having the class copy information from here to there, and especially onto index cards.

Me:  I didn’t learn about that until college.

Son:    Well, we have to learn more things in high school because we have a LOT more history to learn than you did.

YD:  In health class, I learned a lot more about human reproduction than I wanted to know.  I learned about confidence.  And one more thing – loss of innocence.

Son:    You’re not supposed to tell your mom about that.
He was assuming that the loss of innocence she referred to was related to the human reproduction class, but it was not.  She was simply talking about what one finds out about people in general, as one gets a little older and spends some time in the high school world.  It can be eye-opening, rough, and even brutal, folks.

YD: That’s what happens in high school.

* * * * * * * *
Dear Reader, what is one thing you learned in high school?  Or during this school year?

To read about What We Learned in College, go here.

What We Learned: 2014 College Edition

Before June ends, I must engage in my annual tradition of telling you what we learned this school year.  This is way overdue, especially the college edition, since our two college kids returned home in mid-May. 

Here is our conversation about what they learned, one of the first conversations in many moons with all five of us participating.

OD:  I learned about Huffman coding.  I learned about death.

(I don’t know what Huffman coding is, but it has something to do with computer programming. She learned about death in one of her psychology classes.  It made me a bit sad that she has to learn about such things, but my husband was not affected this way.  Apparently he does not care if she is too young and tender-hearted to be learning about death.)

Husband:  But you didn’t take any programming classes!

OD:  Yes I did, in the fall.

Husband:  Did you pass?

OD:  No.  I took another programming course, about electrical things.

Husband: Did you pass that one?

OD:  Explain what you mean by ‘pass’.  Then she quickly added…I learned how to count in binary.

Husband:  Great.  You can count to 2.

YD:  But I thought that in binary you count, “0,1.”  So you don’t count to 2.
(Then we got sidetracked for a bit talking about how to count in binary and other base systems.  Older Daughter doesn't like math much so she brought us back to more familiar ground. )

OD:  I learned that if you love someone and they don’t love you back, you are better off. 
(She supposedly learned this in psychology class, but possibly also in real life.  She doesn’t tell us much about personal things.)

Me:  But unrequited love is one of the saddest things in literature.

OD:  No. You have more self-esteem, you feel noble, you are optimistic, and you don’t feel guilty.  I also learned how to write a grant proposal.

Son:  I learned Maxwell’s Laws of Electromagnetism.  I also learned how to solve differential equations.

OD: Didn’t you already know how to differentiate?

Me:  What else did you learn?

OD, speaking on behalf of her brother, something she has been doing since she was 2 and he was 0:  He’s a freshman.  He learned how to eat in the dining hall and how to go to sleep at 3 a.m.

Son:  I learned how to do double and triple integrals.  In Chem I learned about stress-strain curves and phase diagrams.

Me (in a ‘pointed question’ tone of voice): Did you learn what information you need to take with you when applying for jobs?

Background: the day after he came home from college, Son went around to various places, such as Subway, Target, the movie theater, the hardware store, to apply for jobs.  He called me from EACH PLACE to ask for his references’ contact information.

OD:  Why didn’t you just take Dr. F [his mentor last year] with you when you applied?

Son: I learned about “claim-evidence-warrant.”  That’s the structure for writing paragraphs.

Aaaand that's it for the college learning experience!  Next up, high school.
Now that everyone is home for the summer, this is what
the front hallway looks like.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Stack o' Books

I did it!  I finished Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin.  I borrowed it from the library on March 8th, but had to return it because it was too heavy for me to hold up at night.  I bought the Kindle version and then spent the next three months reading it.  I finished on Jun 18th at 2 a.m.  It was a very good book.  Here are the main things I learned:  
     - Some things about politics haven’t changed much.  
     - Oh, the trouble those generals gave Lincoln!  
     - Many, many sad things happened to the Lincoln family.
     - Be careful when you are dealing with a guy named after a fish.  
     - The assassination of President Lincoln was part of a more extensive violent plot against the entire Lincoln cabinet.  I had not been aware of that before reading this book.

I also finished Still Life with Breadcrumbs by Anna Quindlen.  I really enjoyed this book, and it only took me a few days to finish it - a great relief after Team of Rivals. I related to the main character, especially when she was pining away for her own pots and pans that she left behind when she moved. 

Here is what is on the night stand now.  Actually, these books usually sit in a huge stack on the floor next to the night stand, so as to prevent the sound of heavy books crashing to the floor in the middle of the night.  I should also note that just because these books are at my bedside does not mean I will get around to reading each one.  Being surrounded by books makes me comfy (drives my husband crazy).

Books from the library:

I'm reading "I Am Malala" next.  Probably won't be able to
 hold up Richard Pipes ("The Russian Revolution") but it
looks impressive there.  

Books not from the library:
I'm slogging my way through "The Truth" by Terry Pratchett
only because the rest of the family loves this author.
Strictly speaking, the Philip Yancey book about grace is from a library – our church has a small library, from which I am the only one who borrows books.   

What is on your nightstand?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Cooking Scenarios

Scenario 1:  You are hosting a dinner at your house, and your guest is a vegetarian.  What will you serve for dinner?

Scenario 2: Now suppose your guest is vegan.  What will you serve for dinner? 

You get bonus points if your menu is also gluten-free.  You get points taken off if you say, “go to a restaurant.” Scenario 1 is more likely to occur than Scenario 2.  

(When we were first married and moved to New York City, my mother told me that I had some cousins living there and I should invite them over to dinner.  I planned an elaborate and delicious meal, with meat, milk, eggs all featured.  When the cousins arrived for dinner, that’s when they told me they were vegan.  Communication is key, and timing is everything.  I never contacted those cousins ever again.)

Part of this is my effort to have more meatless meals here in the Common Household.  But I also want to become competent at cooking some nice vegetarian dishes that I can serve to guests without embarrassment.  

Here is one of my recent vegetarian cooking successes: Asian-Flavored Quinoa Salad.  Four out of five in the Common Household liked it.  The Son wouldn’t touch it.  Older Daughter said it was the best quimby salad ever. To understand why our family calls it quimby, read this blog post.

The original recipe is from Weight Watchers.  Of course, I changed it, because that’s what I always do.  I hate orange marmalade, didn’t have rice wine vinegar or sugar snap peas.  Also, my husband is always complaining that I never make peas (the regular kind), which is not true, and this proves it.

The first time I made this, I grated the carrot and cabbage, which took forever and made a big mess.  I urge you to julienne your carrots, and to buy the coleslaw mix or slice your own cabbage, rather than hauling out your grater or other slicey-dicey / timey-wimey tools.  A knife is just so straight-forward.
Quinoa salad, before garnishing

After garnishing with green onions and cilantro.  Sesame seeds on the side.

The second time I made it, I skipped the sesame seeds, and put mandarin oranges decoratively on top.  I also used multi-colored quinoa because I didn’t have the regular kind.  I am pretty sure this recipe is gluten-free, although I did not check the contents of the canned/jarred ingredients for gluten. 

Second try with multi-colored quinoa and mandarin oranges
Both times I used pre-rinsed quinoa.  I have found that this brand tastes better than the grocery store brand.  Maybe that’s because the grocery store kind wasn’t pre-rinsed and I didn’t know any better.

Quimby! High in protein and gluten free!

Asian-Flavored Quinoa Salad

Serves 4.
(I listed the original WW ingredient in italics). 

1 1/2 cup(s) canned vegetable broth, or water (or chicken broth)
3/4 cup(s) uncooked quinoa, *
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar (or rice wine vinegar)
2 Tbsp apricot preserves (or orange marmalade)
2 tsp dark sesame oil
1 Tbsp ginger root, fresh, minced
1 tsp kosher salt
1 cup frozen peas (uncooked sugar snap peas, trimmed and halved)
1 cup julienned or shredded carrot
1 cup premixed coleslaw mix or shredded vegetables or slice your own red cabbage
1 small sweet red pepper, thinly sliced
3 Tbsp cilantro, fresh, chopped
2 Tbsp uncooked scallion, thinly sliced
1 Tbsp sesame seeds, toasted

In a small saucepan, combine broth and quinoa; bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, to make dressing, in a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, marmalade, oil, ginger and salt; set aside.

After quinoa has cooked for 10 minutes, toss in snap peas to partially steam them; cover and simmer until most of liquid has been absorbed, about 5 to 6 minutes.

Remove pan from heat and stir in carrots, cabbage, peppers and dressing; mix to thoroughly combine.

Garnish with cilantro, scallions and sesame seeds. Serve warm, room temperature or chilled. Yields about 1 heaping cup per serving.  6 PointsPlus per serving.

*Check the box of quinoa you bought to see if it has been "prerinsed". If not, rinse the quinoa in a colander before cooking to remove its bitter outer coating.

Use prepackaged coleslaw mix or shredded vegetables to speed the preparation of this dish.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Merit badges of the world, Unite!

Another summer merit badge.

A travelling companion and I in Red Square
in 1986, under the watchful eye of Comrade V.I. Lenin

Younger Daughter requested that we resume our study of communism for the summer.  Failed economic/political systems – what fun! 

Communist History Merit Badge
1. Describe the difference (theoretically) between these systems: socialism, communism, capitalism, libertarianism, and a mixed economic system.

2.  Read a biography of Stalin, either in a book or online. Explain how Stalin came to power.

3. Pick 5 of the following events in Soviet history.  Define or describe what happened and the consequences of the event. Include dates.
a. Collectivization of agriculture under Stalin
b. Non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany
c. The Battle of Stalingrad
d. Khrushchev’s Thaw
e. Cuban Missile Crisis
f. Leonid Brezhnev and gerontocracy
g. Soviet intervention in Afghanistan
h. Samizdat
i. Gorbachev’s Glasnost and perestroika
j. Dissolution of the USSR

4.  List the benefits and disadvantages of the Soviet economic system.

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(that's supposed to be a hammer and sickle)

If you had to add one requirement, what would you add? 

It was very hard for me to reduce this topic to even this size.  When I showed this to YD, she said, “Can I do more than just this?”  Of course, that was before summer vacation actually started.

For instance, I did not include even one question about this guy,
when clearly he was venerated by many, at least in public.
Last night Older Daughter asked YD why she is so keen to study the history of communism.  YD said, “Because it seems like such a wonderful concept, gone horribly wrong, and I like that.”  Which part do you like?  “All of it – the beginning concept, and the part where it goes horribly wrong.”  To me, it just seems tragically sad.   But then, so is a lot of other history.

Inspirational posters in Armenia SSR
In red:  "We will fulfill XXVII Party Congress Decisions"
In blue:  "Towards a new quality of labor and life"

Inspirational setting for inspirational posters