Nov 242016
 

Anne and kids at Thanksgiving table

Long time no see, Ruly readers!

This year has generally come down to a choice between blogging about organizing and actually doing my organizing. I have been working on a lot of great projects but have been terrible about keeping you updated.

While I wish my return to blogging could be with a wonderful, insightful post, after a long day of cooking and cleaning, this is about all I am up for at the moment!

As a quick note, this Thanksgiving, we tried a few new things:

  • We flavored the turkey with cinnamon, pepper and salt per these instructions. It was delicious but not that much different in flavor from our typical turkey.
  • We tried substituting mashed cauliflower for mashed potatoes again. I left out the garlic and they came out much better but are still not quite like the real thing.
  • My table was set with one of my grandmother’s pottery dishes and my other grandmother’s glassware and silver. This was a wonderful way to remember them and feel a bit of home. If you are ever in the sad position of taking a memento from a grandmother’s estate, a piece of serving ware is fairly easy to store and brings back a lot of good memories.
  • My daughters were a tremendous help to me! They are getting quite talented at decorating for the holidays and they set the table themselves! They also each made a pie. One chose the classic Nestle Toll House cookie pie (which was delicious but next time we might cut down the amount of butter in it). The other chose Creamy Pumpkin Pie, which is super simple to make and a kid pleaser.

Hope you had an incredible day and thank you for sticking with me through all the twists and turns that organizing journeys take!

Thanksgiving 2016!

Thanksgiving 2016!

 Posted by on November 24, 2016 General Tagged with: , ,
Sep 072016
 
Left: the old site and Right: the new design.

Left: the old site and Right: the new design.

Thanks to my amazingly talented husband, beruly.com has had a facelift over the weekend. My site now runs on new technology and has a few new design changes and improved features you may enjoy!

Clean, white background

This is something I have always wanted but never got around to fixing properly. Now lots of white space.

Simpler design elements

With a little tweaking of the aptly named “Minima” version of the Suffusion WordPress theme, posts have simpler fonts and easier to access comments.

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Technical fixes

In the course of upgrading, a few broken links and other minor technical problems were fixed and upgraded.

Suggested posts

Thanks to the Contextual Related Posts plugin, each post now will suggest 3 other similar articles based on the content of each post.

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Favicon

I have added a favicon. Now if you bookmark beruly.com or save it to a favorite on your phone or in feedly, you will see the Ruly woman caricature.

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Avatar

It has taken me some time to learn that if you want your photo to appear next to your blog comments, you need to set up an account with Gravatar. At long last, I have done so. If you prefer to be recognizable in your comments, you may do so as well. It is free and easy. If you prefer to remain anonymous, the comments still work the same as ever.

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What do you think of the new design?

 Posted by on September 7, 2016 General
Jul 312016
 
Scene: The Byrd Theater, Richmond, Virginia, midnight.

Scene: The Byrd Theater, Richmond, Virginia, midnight.

After watching her children fill their summer reading logs with Harry Potter, the Briggs Mother scours the closets for Harry Potter-ish clothing, having a bit of luck that last year’s Halloween costumes included 2 Harry Potter characters.

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The Briggs children reluctantly slip into their costumes and are excited by the prospect of being out so late at night. The family loads into the minivan and drives south to Richmond, Virginia during an exciting thunderstorm. Heavy rain falls as thunder and lightning enliven the night sky. Along a country backroad, they encounter a black and white owl (Hedwig perhaps?), frogs are hopping in the puddles and deer hide in the meadows.

They arrive in Richmond just before midnight. The storm has stopped. At the Byrd Theater, a line of people stretches around the block. The crowd is full of Harry Potter fans, some in costume and some wearing more subtle costumes like Quidditch team T-shirts. As the children take their place in line, someone calls out from the crowd, “You are winning at parenting!” People walking by stop to chat with us and admire the costumes.

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A few people have these realistic looking stuffed owls.

A few people have these realistic looking stuffed owls.

If they are nice, they might even let you hold it for a minute.

If they are nice, they might even let you hold it for a minute.

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As midnight approaches, the Chop Suey bookshop owner appears in wizard robe and hat and counts down. 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 .. . . the crowd erupts in cheers and bookstore workers cut open the boxes and start distributing books. Everyone starts reading in line.

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After a while, the Byrd Theater opens its doors and people stream in. The theater is a gorgeous historic gem, complete with velvet seats, curtains, paintings and carvings on the walls, a balcony and a piano and harp in the wings.

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The crowd settles in and after a short wait, a rotation of attendees begin reading from the first act of the book. The Briggs daughters listen to the performance, following along in the book. The youngest Briggs is too excited by the theater and runs through the empty back seats the entire time. The Briggs Mother follows closely behind.

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As the reading ends, people begin streaming out of the theater. The youngest Briggs daughter asks to purchase one of the delicious cupcakes being sold in the lobby. The Briggs Mother agrees to get one to share and as the daughter is selecting her cupcake, the cupcake purveyor inquires, “Would you like to try our sorting hat cupcake?” “Oh yes!” the Briggs daughter replies and is rewarded with a chocolate cupcake with chocolate frosting.

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The family piles back into the minivan for the drive home with the oldest brother sulking that he wants his own cupcake. Everyone tastes the rich, gooey confection and discovers that the center appears to be peanut butter filled.

“Hufflepuff!” comes a cry from the backseat.

END SCENE

 Posted by on July 31, 2016 General Tagged with: , , , ,
Jul 122016
 

the word endure embossed on a gray background

I didn’t manage to choose a theme word for 2016 but the word “endure” keeps coming to me of late. 2016 is an odd year! I don’t feel that I am making much progress toward accomplishing anything and that for every step forward I take, I am set back by some small emergency or another. Fortunately, I manage to recover from my emergencies and get back to where I started but for me 2016 so far has been a lot of running in place. It is no small coincidence that I am also living with a 15-month old who manages to wreak this type of havoc everywhere he goes.

I feel very fortunate that my emergencies are just small, frequent and irritating. I have heard from many people for whom 2016 has dealt some heavy blows to them personally. And in the news we also see a lot of this type of backsliding pattern:

*economic data that seems to suggest that it gets harder and harder just to maintain whatever standard of living we want to achieve

*presidential candidates from both parties who manage to slog through exhausting state-by-state primaries only to find significant parts of their own parties who don’t want to support them

*Muslim and gay Americans who found their worlds torn apart and safety threatened by the shooting in Orlando

*Black Lives Matter protesters who, just as they are gaining traction for their cause, are blindsided by a vigilante shooting police officers

When all of this chaos is going on, it is easy to get down and feel frustrated. But so far, the lesson of 2016 also seems to be that if you can just be patient, and thoughtfully evaluate and react to what has happened, life will reset to a manageable level.

It has been very inspiring to me of late to see the reactions to the police shootings in Dallas. So many people of differing backgrounds reaching out to confirm that no one in America wants a full on race war that threatens everyone’s safety.

So if 2016 is tough for you, hang in there! Endure.

P.S. Due to a recent inundation of spam comments (one of my 2016 irritations), I needed to improve the CAPTCHA to blog article comments requiring you to do a math problem to make a comment. If you cannot comment, please feel free to drop me a line by email.

 Posted by on July 12, 2016 General Tagged with: , , ,
May 192016
 
two girls wearing "smart is beautiful" T-shirts

Smart is beautiful, indeed!

When I posted a few weeks ago about finishing our math curriculum, I casually mentioned that we will move on to learning JavaScript. Readers Bertie and Mama Paul asked for details on what materials we are using to learn computer programming.

Per usual, I will give a long answer to a short question.

We decided last year that one of our goals for our children is that by the time they graduate high school, they should be proficient in computer programming in some way. Since increasing use of computers and technology is the way of the future, we feel that this is as important as being good at math or English. We haven’t nailed down the goal to a specific just yet and for now are just getting our feet wet in the world of learning computer programming.

My husband is one of those amazing self-taught people in computer programming. He will tell you that he is no expert but compared to the average person, he has mad skills in not just one but many computer languages. He learns by reading books.

I know almost nothing about computer programming. except for a little HTML. When I first moved to Washington, I tried learning C++ by reading a book during my commutes on the Metro. Since smart phones and tablets weren’t invented at that time, I was writing the exercises down on paper. When I told my husband this was how I was trying to learn C++, he told me that this was ridiculous and that there was no way to learn computer programming without sitting down and doing it at a computer. Sure enough, when he tested my knowledge by having me type one of my exercises into the computer, it was full of errors and didn’t work.

Through a lot of trial and error, I have come to appreciate that computer programming requires 3 general abilities:

  1. Logical/big picture thinking ability. Knowing how to structure things in the right order or how to creatively achieve a result within the limitations of your available resources.
  2. Mathematical ability. There is definitely an “applied math” aspect to computer programming. Many exercises, even for kids, require knowledge of geometry, algebra and other mathematical functions.
  3. Detail orientation. One of the more frustrating aspects of computer programming is the attention to detail required. If you have a comma or a bracket out of place or if you misspell a word, your program can fail and often you won’t know why until you spend a good deal of time hunting for the mistake.

In my experience, there is a lot of material out there to teach children generally about computers and computer programming but not very much when you want to learn an actual programming language! Learning the actual languages is generally reserved for kids who are at least in junior high and high school or even those in college. So, we have to give a lot of credit and respect to people who have been coding for decades, they are all probably self-taught with not very helpful learning materials to work with.

With my children, we started learning code last year through the website learn.code.org. It is free and supported by major technology corporations. It is about as user-friendly as you can get. You code examples that move around characters from popular video games. The graphics and embedded videos are awesome…but it doesn’t teach actual programming languages. Learn.code.org teaches more of skill #1, logical/big picture thinking. You “code” with blocks of text and you need to know how each block works but the code you are generating isn’t code that really works in any computer language. Sometimes they call this “pseudocode.”

I had to learn along with my children on learn.code.org. It was tough going at first. Making the computer do anything requires a little mental gymnastics to figure out how you can express in code language what you want to achieve. Something like “Draw a circle” requires a lot more code than you might expect as well as knowledge of angles and degrees. We made it all the way through the available lessons on learn.code.org and they did get very challenging at the end!

screenshot of learn.code.org assignment

Example of a “free play” assignment on learn.code.org.

Another activity my children have been participating in is an amazing local program called FredX Coders. It is also completely free! A wonderful group of local people created a coder dojo along with our local university. On select Saturday mornings, usually once a month, kids come in to learn coding along with a parent. My husband takes our daughters. Sometimes my daughters are the only girls in the class. This program so far has taught the kids about Scratch, a free online program that seems similar to learn.code.org in that it teaches pseudocode. The kids LOVE Scratch and play on it for fun. FredX Coders also teaches real languages too, often walking kids through a page of code and teaching them how to tweak various parts of it.

My daughter's first Scratch  game: "Lion Hunter"

My daughter’s first Scratch game: “Lion Hunter”

For this year, I wanted to move us forward into actually coding something in a “real” language. My husband and I discussed which language would be best for the children to learn and settled on JavaScript. I read great reviews of the book JavaScript for Kids by Nick Morgan so thought we would try that.

book cover JavaScript for Kids

JavaScript for Kids by Nick Morgan on amazon.com

So far, we are about 100 pages in to the book. My 7 and 10 year old are handling it well and I am learning along with them. It seems to me that the book would work best for someone at least 12 years old. I was worried my 7 year old would find it too hard but she is advanced for her age and has been doing just fine. My 10 year old seems like a natural at computer programming.

The book is not perfect. For the age group I am teaching, I find that I have to paraphrase many of the pages and talk through each code example in much more detail than the book provides. I also have to take notes as we go and provide ways of reinforcing repetition and recall. For example, the book might just say: “Type var numbers” and I would say to them, “Write code that creates a variable called numbers.”

The early exercises are fairly simple but they are getting more and more challenging. Having a mentor (my husband) to guide us has kept us from giving up.

For example, when we needed to set up a JavaScript console, here is what happened:

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The frustrations of coding

It turned out that it was there and his instructions were completely accurate, just missing one small but important step. You needed to click on a small blank window to the left. If you naturally would expect to have to do this, you are one with the computer! I am not. I need every little step spelled out.

Then, later, when we had to write our own code for one of the code challenge assignments (for which, as far as I can tell, there are no answers provided), we got completely stuck. We wrote some of it and just had no idea where to go with it to finish the challenge. When my husband got home from work, we showed it to him in frustration. He looked at it for a few minutes and then said, “Oh, you made a basic programming mistake of using = versus ==” He then went on to describe how we needed to restructure the program to add in another variable. When you see the answer, it makes complete sense but generating it yourself is excruciatingly hard.

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The solution to one of our coding challenges. We definitely required help to get this done!

So, that is what we are doing and the book we are using! I need more time with the book before I know if I would recommend it to anyone else. We are definitely learning from it and it is well written and fairly amusing for a programming book, we just wish learning programming languages could be easier!

Are you or your kids learning to code? Do you have experience with any of the above programming resources? Please share in the comments.

 Posted by on May 19, 2016 General Tagged with: ,