Friday, July 25, 2014

College Summer Program Redux

This blog has journaled our homeschool journey from winter of 2005 to present. My sons were seven and four when I started this blog. I have been sharing less because I want a level of privacy although I understand that so much is already out there that it's pointless to pretend our lives are confidential. I could delete it all but I am not sure if that really accomplishes much.

I feel the need to say something about my son's college class, a summer residential camp program. I could say a lot but won't. I have been trying to write something in general to give advice to parents thinking of using these programs but we are too close to the experience for me to write about it objectively. Also my son's experience was so different than a girl I know at Cornell in a summer program right now, taking a real college class, and her brother's experience there, who did three courses there. My son's experience was different still than the camp (not class) that a girl I know did this summer, for engineering. My point being that my son's experience with this program is not an equivalent experience with different colleges, they vary so much. 

My son was so enamored by this university after speaking to the college admissions officer twice in person plus again at the dog and pony show we attended that he had this college as his one and only choice for where to attend. He planned to apply this summer using their rolling admissions, hoped he'd get in, and planned no backup safety school plan.

My son was growing unsure if aerospace engineering was really for him. He began to think about aviation (to be a pilot). In the background for fun over the last six months, he has developed a deep interest for computers and has built his own, and continues to modify it. He reads a lot about new technology and options and capabilities of systems. He also has been looking to invest his own money in the stock market and got a few friends together to talk about pooling savings to buy stocks.

This program had no prerequisites for courses having been completed and it was for students aged 15-18. A transcript was submitted and my son was approved for admission. I now question the policy of not having prerquisites. There was a disconnection with the TA that taught the class and the abilities of the students based on what they had already covered. Students who have not yet studied pre-calc should not be expected to do college level calculus. Also the physics principals were hard to understand if physics was not yet taken. Two engineers I know asked how the camp was going and when they heard the two engineering topics covered they said it was impossible to learn without calculus I and physics. My reaction was, "If it seems too hard my son won't major in it, if he thinks he is not capable." They both said (these were two different conversations by the way) that I was wrong. That the topics taught at the appropriate time could have been learned without a problem but to overload the students when not ready would give a false sense of incompetence.

To sum it up, my son has a better idea of what engineering is now. He wants no part of engineering. 

He said he doesn't want to spend months or years working to perfect on part for something bigger, like an automobile component or one piece of a spaceship. He doesn't like the idea of something taking years, he wants more of an immediate, tangible result to his work. The work process in and of itself does not excite him. 

He felt he was drowning but pulled off a B. He feels the B is a failure and is disappointed in himself. My husband and I cannot get through to him that a B is fine. Mind you, this kid was not graded until some of his high school classes so this grade mindset was not ingrained by our homeschool. This is a perfectionist thing that comes from within himself.

My son feels engineering requires doing more math than he wants to do. Meaning, more math in high school and more math in college and more math on the job than he wants to do. 

The last reason is the pace and intensity. To work hard in a class and feel it is always a struggle then to pull it off just fine at the end of the class was too stressful, he felt. He said the stress of living like that is a lifestyle that he simply does not want to have as his college life. He needs sleep, he needs more of a feeling of competence and capability. For good mental health he needs more of a balance and time to decompress and relax.

He learned some things about people also. He saw kids who were brilliant at math but could not do the rest of the team project, could not write at all and who could not handle big picture thinking to organize the entirety of the multifaceted team project and presentation. He saw smart physics kids not able to contribute to the team in any other way. And he was the only one on his team to be able to organize it (!!) so the team asked him to lead and organize the project (!!). Apparently his big picture thinking did translate to organizing people and a project well even if he chooses to have a messy bedroom or forgets to do his chores. He was also elected to do writing and said no one else felt they could write. That project earned a 98/100 grade. I cannot tell you how elated I am that he got to see that even if he felt he floundered with the math that he learned he has value and natural talents and some skills and abilities that other students lack.

We feel the expensive experience was worth every penny. 

During the class upon hearing he did not want engineering we organized a college tour to investigate major B: aviation science. So the next chapter in our homeschool was looking into that college major.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

June View Out of My Kitchen Window

This is the view we see while sitting at the kitchen table. This was June 2, 2014. The plants have grown even taller in the last six weeks. I designed and installed 90% of this organic garden in 2013. They are a combination of perennial flowers and ornamental and culinary herbs. The two plants in the forefront are two varieties of sage: peach and pineapple which will bloom continuously from July through November or December and they are much loved by hummingbirds and butterflies.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Elder Care: Making Plans

When problems happen and sudden medical crises occur with an elderly relative, it becomes apparent that advance planning would have been optimal. In order to help an elderly family member live as close a life as possible to what they wanted for themselves, they really should do advance plannning, before the first problem occurs. Sometimes the first event is so major it left them in a state where they have no say in their future, such as when my husband's uncle had a sudden stroke and could not speak or write enough to communicate. The problem is that most people are unwilling to do plannning in advance. Other times they will do things like pay for a life insurance policy but will not have given their relatives access to the policy information. In other words they fail to communicate to the family what their desires are. Sometimes they tell only one family member orally, and later this is not believed by the rest of the family (ie has requested a Do Not Resuscitate order). In my experience the roots of this lie in wanting to keep their information private (ie how much money they saved), or wanting to deny that they will become sick or die, or not trusting a relative with so much of their information. The thing is, one of the best ways an elderly person can control their future is by finding allies who are competent to carry out the different tasks, such as which child handles money the best for power of attorney over the finances and which other family member may be best for helping make medical decisions.

If you wait too long to make these plans, it can become a problem if the person's mental state begins to erode. If the person is mentally ill their stable condition may shift to one that is unstable or they may become incompetent. If an elderly person becomes ill, their condition may alter their ability to function such as impaired thinking after a heart attack or stroke. After stroke some people's brains are changed such as having forgotten parts of their life or they are now affected with depression or are emotionally unstable, they may be more emotionally vulnerable to being used with emotions to be pursuaded and they also may have impaired cognitive abilities such as impaired logical thinking. A simple example is being emotionally pursuaded by a nonprofit organization via telephone to make financial donations, especially if the organization claims to help cure Cancer when that is what took their spouse's life.

Here is a rough list of areas that I feel need to be discussed and put into writing and legal documents drawn up when applicable. I'm not a specialist, these are things I learned through life experience. These are not in prioritized order.

This is not legal advice and I am not an attorney. This is a list of some issues that I know about through life experience.

1. The financials. Know all the accounts, everything from the life insurance policy to the utility bills, the bank accounts, pension funds, etc. Have the access information, passwords, etc. Also: are there any safe deposit boxes and where is the key?

2. Decide who will be power of attorney should the peson no longer be able to manage their finances. Do the legal process to have a durable power of attorney. If you do not know what a durable power of attorney is, please google it now.

3. Look at the bank accounts and decide if someone should be added such as a child who is power of attornney. For example, adding a name to checking accounts.

4. Discuss a living will. Do the legal process or at least write up your own detailed living will. These can be much more detailed such as, if I am suffering from a fatal disease and I get pneumonia, I do not want it treated (as this can lead to prolonging life when the person just wants to be let go). This should include issues of being "brain dead" and attached to life support. Put it in writing if your brain is dead and your body is only functioning hooked up to machines, if you want to be disconnnected.

5. Discuss organ donation.

6. Discuss plans for the funeral and wake. Make burial plans. Cremation or burial? Where would they like to be buried? If something happens to my husand his family will go into shock to learn that he has asked to not be buried in Connecticut, he wants to be buried in Texas.

7. Decide who will be in charge of your medical care should you become incompetent. This is called a Durable Power of Attorney Over Health Care. We have been advised by two attorneys that this can and should be handled by different people. The reason is you don't want conflicts of interest, such as the one saying Do Not Resuscitate is the same one who may get a major inheritance upon their death. As I eluded to earlier, the medical person should be the most competent and knowledgable person medically speaking and they should also be assertive enough to stand up to medical providers and relatives to see that the wishes of the patient are carried out as they directed.

8. Write a will. Know where the copies are. Sentimental items and all items, really, should be gifted to specific people. You would not believe the family fights that can break out over one piece of jewelry, a dining room set, or an antique sofa.

9. Research determining incompetence in your state and know about this in general should you need to have a family member evaluated. In some cases this can prevent an elderly person from being swindled. I know of instances where a con artist emotionally attached themselves to an elderly person and got money out of them. If the person is incompetent to handle their finances it truly is in their best interest to take their access to their money away from them.

10. Discuss plans for possible future need for assisted living or nursing home care.

11. Remember that the elderly have a right to be treated with dignity and respect.

12. Realize that the process of helping an elderly relative can cause problems within an immediate familiy or among the siblings and extended family. Try to prevent as much of this as possible and remember the goal is to help the elderly person live a good life in their later years. However, this is emotional for everyone and the situation is ripe for conflict which may not be easy to resolve.

13. If the person has a mental illness see if you can work with them to prepare a psychiatric advance directive.


Keep copies of everything and know where it is. If you are power of attorney, keep this in a special place where it will not get lost. You may need this in an emergency and you need to be able to put your hands on it. In one case I know of someone who lost the paperwork and the attorney closed his practice and refused to get copies for his former client.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Knockout Rose in My Garden

This is a Knockout Rose which is found at Home Depot. Much of my yard was landscaped by the previous owners in plants and trees from Home Depot.

I don't know much about the Knockout Rose except it seems pretty common. It is known in the Houston area for being in continuous bloom for about ten months of the year. They need barely any care and should be cut down to the ground once a year. I have had to do serious pruning about three times a year so that pathways can be passable. If they are pruned down on February 1 they will be in blossom about two months later, they can put on that much growth in the spring.

The blossoms begin as dark pink and fade in the sun to pale pink before the petals drop to the ground. I like them well enough and really appreciate that they need little care and that they are fungus and mildew resistant so the greenery looks great year round.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Big Spider Living On My Patio

One night we went outside to go for a swim in our pool. There is a nook next to the back door and I spotted this guy inside it. I wanted a better look so I used a stick to get it to walk out into full view. It was over two inches across.

I tried using online guides to identify this. It looks like a wolf spider but the stripes on the legs don't match well enough. Its body is not thin as some wolf spiders' are. I did not mind it living next to the door as I know they eat bugs but I didn't like the idea of it being so close that we may scare it by walking through the doorway and I didn't know if it would bite us. I left it alone, it stayed two days then moved on to live somewhere else.

I am not afraid of spiders. I respect them.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

I Hate Fire Ants

I am torn about whether the heat and humidity or the fire ants is my most hated thing about living in the Houston Texas area.

I had never experienced fire ants until I moved here.

When the fire ants sense a threat, such as if you accidentally step near their nest, they will swarm frantically and seek out the invader. They grab ahold of your skin with their mouth and they sting with their hind end, once, then they swivel over a little and sting again, and repeat this for a full circle. While one is biting you, the others are on you and biting. The allergic reaction is terrible, much worse than the worst of mosquito or horsefly bites. It swelling to a blister and can take up to three weeks to heal. It often leaves a scar.

The first video shows a small fire ant nest in my lawn which I then poke with a stick to disturb them. I have found that if I bother then two or three times they leave to go live somewhere else.

This video shows a second nest I found on the same day which is on the edge of our pool patio just steps from where we stand.

Last year a huge colony made a nest inside my compost bin. What a nightmare. I finally got rid of them after three stick jabbings and stirrings but they moved to the gravel spot in my driveway right where I placed my foot when I got out of my minivan. I really enjoyed backing it up and running over the next about six times. After two of those treatments they moved to somewhere that didn't bother us.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Texas Pride and State Flags

Texas has a pride like no other state in America, I believe. People say, "We used to be our own country, you know."

Here anytime there is a US flag there will be a Texas flag also. And other times there is only the Texas flag.

The state shape is seen everywhere.

There are a lot of businesses who put "Lone Star" in their name.

The thing about this pride is it boosts up the state but it does not at the same time, tear down any other state. From my perspective they are sharing their love and pride of this state and they think it's the best but they are not necessarily saying the other 49 suck. They just are not as awesome, and this can be defined by each person differently.

Yankees and New Yorkers have said to me, "Ugh! Texas! What a pity you had to move there!" The Texans never say things like that about other states, they just say, "We love it here and we hope we never have to leave!"