Thursday, July 31, 2014

The South Drive

"You can't be doping around when you go out Mom's driveway. People drive like a bat of hell on that highway."

I heard it every time I was going to drive out of Grandma's driveway. I heard it every time my Dad drove out of Grandma's driveway. Mom was a little less blunt and just admonished us to be quiet so she could hear.

The concern was valid. Grandma's driveway was almost at the bottom of a hill on a state highway. Highway drivers could not see the driveway until they were almost upon it. The driveway and her accompanying four room house were built when the highway was probably nothing but a dirt road and the thought of someone driving by at sixty miles an hour was not even a possibility.

Dad often took farm equipment out the driveway and Grandma would stand in the front yard at the top of the hill and look for oncoming traffic. It was difficult for him to get a tractor and wagon across the road and into the northbound lane quickly and avoid an oncoming car. Grandma would motion when it was clear. I'm certain she even stood in the front yard and motioned for me a few times when I was first driving.

Grandma died in 1994 and my Dad and my brother had to serve as their own sentries when leaving the drive.

My parents moved to my Grandma's farm about ten years after that and replaced the old farmhouse (which didn't have running water) with a new one--and a new driveway at the top of the hill and north of the old one.

The south driveway is still there, but since it's no longer in front of the house it's not used as much as it once was simply because people do drive like bats out of hell on that road.

The first picture in this post is one of my Grandma Neill, taken in the 1980s. I don't even remember why it was taken. You can barely see the highway's yellow "no passing" sign in the background. The infamous driveway is directly behind her.

The second picture in this post is of my two daughters taken a month ago in June of 2014--close to the spot where Grandma's house stood. If you look closely the same sign (or it's replacement) is in the background.

Sometimes when I'm leaving Mom and Dad's I'll drive out the south driveway just because it's still there. And I'll think Grandma's standing there in spirit, motioning on that the coast is clear.

If Dad saw me do it, he'd probably tell me "be careful they drive like bats out of hell on that highway."

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Coming Back

We're going to try and post more frequently to this blog.

In an attempt to keep me on track, I've decided to post my "Facebook opinions" here instead of on Facebook.

Thanks to those who have continued to follow even when nothing was posted ;-)

I'll be posting a few old Facebook posts here as I'm testing things out.


Thoughts on Why Americans Stink at Math

One of my Facebook friends asked me to comment on this recent New York Times article

I decided not to comment in the mass of comments on the original page simply because I don't want to get into arguments or discussions with numerous random people...I already have enough of those on my other pages. So, if you want to read my comments/thoughts on math, they are below:

1) Students are encouraged to use calculators entirely too soon. There is nothing wrong with memorizing basic arithmetic facts. Doing so facilitates the understanding of algebraic (and other) principles later. If you know your facts cold, then you will understand other concepts better later. Those who do not have clearly documented reasons why they can't memorize their basic facts, should. Laziness or "My Mom said I don't have to" is NOT a reason.

2) Being able to perform and remember certain computational tasks by hand (ie. long division) helps to reinforce the "why and how" of the process--but the reasons behind the process must be clearly taught and demonstrated. That helps to reinforce the process and the concepts. Simply teaching these procedures as "arbitrary" magic to be memorized doesn't do anything. The problem is that some teaching the process do not understand it, so they teach it like magic.

3) Teachers are not always prepared adequately to teach concepts in new ways. Much of the "new math" is not so much "new," but rather an attempt to more clearly model mathematical concepts from real world examples. The difficulty is that when you did not "learn" math this way yourself, it makes it a challenge to teach it in a new way...especially if there aren't really good people doing the training on this sort of thing. (Many presenters at national conferences are NOT good presenters or teachers, in my opinion and are only presenting at national conferences to get another line on their vita for tenure at a university where they will never really interact with people who are learning math at the elementary level). Modeling concepts, if done reasonably correctly, helps to reinforce concepts and the "why" behind things. My Dad never taught me my basic facts from flash cards, but I can remember as a 5 year old being asked if I have 5 hogs and I buy 2 more how many is that? Obviously higher concepts need more sophisticated real world models, but hogs I could visualize---symbols on flash cards don't always make sense to kids.

4) Parents get frustrated when their child brings home something they can't understand. Parents who are actively involved need to be made a part of the process...and if teachers know that parents may not understand something the kid brings home for homework, they need to help the parent. One third grade teacher I know (who shall remain anonymous) would copy the "instructions" or "explanation" on the back of homework sheets so that parents who helped their kids could see the instructions on the back. Of course, some parents are clueless. My 8th grade math teacher told me she had a parent (who was a farmer) demand to know why his son was being taught decimals. She asked him if he ever looked at those slips he got from the elevator when he hauled in grain. She should have asked him if he knew what corn having 20% moisture really meant.

5) The "new" math and learning any math really well requires the student to be an active participant in the process. Too many students just want to sit and watch something to learn how to do math. If watching someone "do math" was sufficient to learn it, we wouldn't have the problems we do. Students also don't like it when they are frustrated or don't understand something--they don't like to be confused. Well in order to learn something sometimes you have to be confused before you can really understand it.

6) Standardized tests, multiple choice or other wise, are a crock of (@#* that only subsidizes testing companies, gives state bureaucracies too much power, and allows some administrators who probably haven't taught in 20 years to hold the test over everyone's heads.

7) I'll stop now....but I do have a few more thoughts but I feel like I am I'll stop.


When corporations are conceived like humans and die like humans, then they can be treated like humans. Humans have rights granted to them by their Creator.

Corporations are created because of laws enacted by the state and federal government. As such, they can be restricted by the state and federal government. Corporations have rights granted by the State.

Don't like those restrictions? Then don't incorporate, keep your assets in your own name, and do whatever the hell (or heaven) you please. Incorporation is done (usually) to protect assets because of protection afforded by state and federal laws. You want that protection? Then play by the rules.

Some old dusty book I believe says "Render unto Cesear what is Cesears." I'm pretty certain it's not a dusty old state statute book.

You got in bed with Cesear the moment you incorporated. Suck it up.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Purple Pig Incident

Those who know me know that I grew up on a farm. There are many things a farm kid just learns by osmosis--without being told. Often, by a certain age, these commonly known facts have migrated to the land of common sense.

Like the color of hogs.

Dad had a few hogs while we were growing up, but he last raised pigs when I was in junior high and it may even have been before that. The time really is not germane to this story, but the older I get the more I realize that Neills tend to be cattle people and not hog people. But that's a story for another time.

I knew that hogs were usually brown, white, black or any combination thereof. I had never seen a green or purple pig.

Fast forward to kindergarten.

My teacher, Mrs. Wear, gave us a worksheet that was to teach us recognition of shapes and our colors. We  were all farm kids, so most likely in addition to cars, houses, and other items there were farm animals. Our directions were to color the pig purple. This would show Mrs.Wear that we knew what a pig was and that we knew what color purple was.

Fine, I did as I was told. I got out the purple crayon and (within the lines) I colored the pig purple. I got a star or a smiley face on the paper--after all, I knew my colors and my animals.

When my Dad saw the graded paper that night, he was not happy. Didn't I know that pigs were not purple? After all, we had some in the lot south of the house. Not a purple one in the bunch. I was nearly in trouble until my mother (an elementary teacher for forty years) told my Dad that I was told to color the pig purple by the teacher--to show I knew my colors and my animals. Everything was good.

My Dad was always very concerned about my schoolwork and I think the "purple pig" incident was the only incident  of this kind. When I was very small, we did addition and subtraction problems using pigs. "If I have eight pigs and I sell two, how many do I have left?" I can remember that's part of how I learned my basic facts---pig math. And none of those pigs were purple.

Now that I think about it, the pig might have been green--I never was very good with colors.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

One Hog House Story

I have no memory of my Grandpa Neill. Dying of cancer at the time I was born in 1968, Grandma Neill would only say that when I was born he was too weak to even hold me. I heard the story many times, like it had somehow it had made an impact on Grandma as well. I had heard it so many times, that when I was grown and Grandma had eagerly insisted on holding my own infant daughter I nearly cried.

The only other things I heard about Grandpa was that he was tight and had a temper. Those two traits, and the occasional "Dad would roll over in his grave" were all that I heard.

Grandpa had a younger sister, Nellie, whom I had seen many times while growing up. One time while visiting with her as an adult, I asked her if she remembered anything about Grandpa as a boy or when he was young. Nothing. She was nearly ninety at the time and did not remember much and seemed to think that there really wasn't anything she could tell me that would be interesting.

Except for one thing. The hog houses.

The Neills were poor. Dirt poor, but most families in West Point, Illinois, were. Great-grandpa never had much of a farm and scraping by in the Depression wasn't easy. The incident Aunt Nellie was able to relate to me had to have taken place in the early 1930s as Grandpa was still single and Aunt Nellie had graduated from high school. She had been accepted to teacher college, but there wasn't really any money for her to actually go. In fact, she had worked in a hotel in a nearby town to help pay her board while she attended her last year of high school a slight distance from their home. In his late twenties at the time, was living at home. To make money, he had purchased some lumber and had built some hog houses with the proceeds likely earmarked to purchase something else that he could turn around for some additional profit.

Aunt Nellie told me that when Grandpa found out she needed the money, he sold the hog houses she used the proceeds to pay on her first year's tuition.

Aunt Nellie graduated and eventually taught school for forty years.

Sometimes one hog house story is all you really need.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Smell of Cow Manure

I walk between four and six miles every day. If you call where I live a town, part of that walk takes me out of town where I walk along side approximately forty acres where one of the neighbors pastures thirty or so head of cattle.

I like the smell of cow manure.

Well, not in my house or on my person, but in general I like it. I guess I like it because it reminds me of home. Smells bring memories back like few other things do.

Farm kids never like manure; it's just a fact of farm life. So let's not think I'm crazy because I like the smell of manure. It's probably better to say that I became used to it at an early age.  Livestock create it on a regular basis--constantly. There really is no avoiding it. But for some reason the smell of cow manure never really bothered me. Dad never had hogs, except for a short time when I was in elementary school, so I was not exposed to that. I hated the smell of pig manure as a kid and still do. Chickens are an entirely separate issue. Grandma always had chickens, and frankly, nothing smells worse than a chicken house. Nothing. I helped clean out the chicken house on more than one occasion and while it took less time than cleaning out the cattle barn the smell was always worse. Always.

I won't write too many posts about manure. I promise.