A child’s first laptop

Kids & Computers 81Photo credit: Anissa Thompson

My daughter loves computers. It’s no wonder, since I spend a fair amount of time blogging, taking online classes, emailing, working, and researching. But I have to confess that I’m a bit stingy with my computer. She wants to play PBSKids.org games, or she wants to “type” on Word. I’m not really good with sharing. Plus, if she’s quietly playing a game, what better time for me to write a blog post or finish up a client’s project?

When is too soon to give a child her own computer? I decided that 5 was a reasonable age in our case. My old laptop was getting, well, old. Some of the keys are faded, the memory is pretty full, and it’s too heavy to lug around to coffee shops that often. On top of that, it gets hot pretty quickly (though thankfully it doesn’t overheat since I bought a nice cooling pad).

I recently took the plunge and bought a brand new laptop for me. It’s much lighter than the old one, it comes with Windows 7 (it’s always good to learn a new operating system), and I have no problem carrying it around. My daughter gets to use my old laptop. Even though I wasn’t sure I should do it, it’s been a welcome addition to our household.

The only problem I didn’t foresee was where she’d use the computer. Even at 5, she knows how to go online, so I need to be nearby to monitor her computer usage.

All in all, we love having two computers. When I’m working, my daughter can do her “work” too. And I love that she’s learning while having fun, since there are a lot of great websites for children.

Does your child have her own computer? At what age do you think it’s appropriate for a child to have their own computer (if ever)?

International Freelancers Day – Replays

If you missed out on International Freelancers Day in September, don’t fret. Until October 31, 2010, they have posted a few replays for free. If you like what you see, you can sign up to see the entire conference (also for free)! Just go to the International Freelancers Day replay page and get started. But hurry! It only lasts until October 31, 2010.

I did get a chance to see a few of the presentations, and they were simply wonderful. You certainly can’t beat the price. So what are you waiting for? Go check it out. But do let us know how you liked them. I can’t wait until next year!

International Freelancers Day – Today!

Late notice, but I just found out about this AWESOME event. Today is International Freelancer Day, and to celebrate, there’s a huge online conference going on right now! Best of all, it’s completely free. Really. Nothing to buy, nothing to agree to. Just free. And there’s a stellar list of presenters. I’m bummed I just found out about it (where have I been?)

But it’s not too late, thank goodness. Just go over the website (right now!) and register. Make sure you wait for your confirmation email or you won’t be able to attend. Once you do this, you’ll have access to the live sessions. And if you missed some, like I did, there will be replays available later (assuming you’ve actually registered).

If you’re serious about freelancing, this is the event for you.

Sessions started today, September 24, 2010 at 9:00a.m. EST, and they go on through tomorrow, Saturday, September 25, 2010 ending at 5:15p.m. EST. Speakers include Bob Bly, Peter Bowerman, and more. So head over there right now (the link is in the picture above), and see you there!

When you finish watching some sessions, chime in here to let us know what you thought!

Adventures in sourdough

bread

One of the perks of working at home is getting to do creative, fun projects. My latest project is bread baking. Years ago, before I had a daughter, I used to bake fresh loaves of bread at home. After a while, I decided to try to make my own sourdough. I followed some directions I found in a bread-baking book, and it turned out pretty bad.

The other day I realized that my daughter was old enough to start helping me in the kitchen. I don’t really care for cooking, but I’ve always loved baking. My daughter actually loves both, and she’ll sit still for long periods of time watching cooking shows. So we started baking white bread.

But the sourdough bug hit me again. If you’ve never heard of the process for making sourdough bread, you may think it’s very hard. I wanted to do it authentically, and correctly, this time. No using packaged yeast to get it going. I wanted to grow my own yeast.

Want to know my sourdough starter process? On September 13, I mixed 1 cup of water and 1 cup of bread flour in a bowl (of course I let my daughter help). The consistency was a little like mud or thick pancake batter. I covered the bowl with paper towel (held on by a rubber band), and let it sit on the counter. 24 hours later I scooped out half of the mixture and “fed” the starter with half a cup of water and half a cup of flour. I did this every day for several days.

Now, in the beginning, like 2 days into it, I started getting lots of bubbles and the consistency changed to more goopy, and it started smelling wonderfully yeasty. I thought to myself, “I’ve done it! I’ve grown yeast!” That’s what the websites I’d been reading told me to look for. But then everything went flat, and the smell changed to more musty.

I scoured the internet for information. I seriously think I’ve now read everything about sourdough that there is online (well, not really…maybe just the page 1 results on Google). Thank goodness I didn’t throw it out and give up. It turns out that what I thought was yeast in the beginning was actually a bacteria that causes gas bubbles and such. All I had to do, according to the new research, was continue to “feed” my mixture every day (preferably two times a day, just like any other pet).

About 8 days into it, maybe 9 or 10, I finally got the real desired result. My starter smells like beer, it’s sour, and it doubles itself after feedings. I’m so excited! I even named it Penelope!

My next step is to finally attempt to make a batch of sourdough bread. I’ve been experimenting with regular white bread to get the consistency and softness that I want, so hopefully my practicing will result in a nice loaf of sourdough. And the research I’ve done should help me get a nice sour taste as well. I’ll keep you posted!

Do you bake bread from scratch? Have you tried sourdough? Did you make your own sourdough starter or buy it from a company?

Should grammar and spelling count?

Right or wrong?

Are correct grammar and spelling relics of a happier, gentler time? It seems that with texting and online social media, grammar and spelling have gone the way of the dinosaurs. Everything is shortened, misspellings are acceptable (even celebrated), and no one seems to bother with sentences anymore.

I recently had a discussion with some teacher certification classmates. We were debating whether or not students’ grades should be based, in part, on their use of correct English. I argued that content was more important. For instance, if a student is taking a science or history course, it’s more important that they show their understanding of the topic, despite how they write (unless they’re misspelling “mitochondria” or “civil war”). A classmate argued that if he were doing the grading, he would grade the subject matter separately, and then decrease the grade by a minus “point” if the writing were terrible.

I’m not so sure. I think grading based on the correct usage of English puts some students at an unfair advantage. In my certification program, because it’s an online course, we are graded solely on what we write and submit to our professor. As a professional writer and editor, my submissions are easily “A” work, yet I don’t have to break a sweat. Other people may actually be working much, much harder. They may be taking an hour to write what only took me five minutes (I can also type fast). Is that fair? While I’m glad that I don’t have to work so hard, I realize that others my actually have a better understanding of the subject. But there’s no way for them to show it.

On the other hand, I find it disturbing that many bad writers don’t even know that they’re writing incorrectly. They use “their,” “there,” and “they’re” interchangeably, they misspell common phrases like “hear, hear,” and they couldn’t tell you the difference between an adjective and an adverb (and thus, they would use them incorrectly). It’s one thing to misspell on purpose for the sake of writing a text or a Tweet, but is it okay that so many have no clue?

What do you think? How important is grammar and spelling in a world where it doesn’t seem to matter?

A true garden for children

Love and Joy

A few weeks ago I posted that I decided to send my daughter to a regular public school, despite my strong objections to homework, worksheets, mindless recitations, limited recess, and the goal of separating children from their parents (among other objections). Every time I sent her to school I felt a little shudder. I was on edge, stressed out, and suspicious. Not a fun way to feel every morning.

And then one week they sent home homework, and I let the teacher know I refused to make my daughter do the work. I also told her my concerns about a lot of worksheets and sitting for long periods of time. And I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of constantly telling children their work wasn’t good enough.

Anyway, I finally had enough, and I rescued my daughter from the prison…er….school. Kindergarten is supposed to be fun and carefree, with learning hidden amongst the joys of playing.

I found just what I was looking for! There are a few play-based schools in Tucson, and I found a way to send my daughter to one of the best, which is the closest thing to homeschooling I can find. She now gets to play outside most of the day, while learning is in the form of fun games and one-on-one activities. There are 4 adults for her class of 20 children (the ratio at the public school was 1 adult for 26 children). And the best part is they welcome and encourage parent participation. I’m not shuffled out of the classroom when I drop her off. No one is giving me dirty looks when I hang around. My daughter’s educational experience isn’t a secret. I’m not left wondering what they’re hiding.

She gets to be creative at this school, mixing paints, digging in the mud, planting and cultivating a garden, playing super hero, drawing on herself to be a dragon, telling her elaborate stories to a listening adult. She is being celebrated for who she is at this stage in her life, rather than being told she needs to fit into a certain box. Can you tell how much I LOVE her new school? Last week they even found time to bake bread together…cooking will be part of the curriculum.

Sure, with this much play she might not be reading and writing like a pro when she leaves kindergarten, but who says reading at 5 makes you smarter? Actually, research shows that it’s good to let little children wait a few years before reading. What they need, as little kids, is to play in this developmental stage. Playing helps them learn better. It’s what they were meant to do. In fact, because they’ll be doing real-world activities (field trips, cooking, and more), there’s a good chance that reading, writing, and arithmetic will come naturally and readily…when the children are ready.

The new school is a private school, and it is a little pricey. I’m working on getting a small scholarship from friends/family, but it will still be a challenge to pay for it. (Shameless plug coming up.) So if you support the idea of play-based kindergarten, you sympathize with a single parent household, or you find Crayon Writer to be valuable to you, consider making a donation to my little scholarship fund. The donate button is below, and it’s also in the sidebar to the right.

The best thing about it all is that now I send my daughter to kindergarten with a huge smile in my heart and on my face. I’m SO overjoyed that, surprisingly, I’m almost without words. Almost. I’m so glad I followed my gut on this, though I wish I’d done it sooner. This is going to be a great year for her and for me.



Computer virus denial

icons va 4

Call me naive, or maybe optimistic, but I didn’t always “believe in” computer viruses. It’s probably the biologist in me. It’s hard for me to swallow the concept of an inanimate object having a living ailment. And to be fair, nobody really believes that computer viruses are real viruses. Still, I just couldn’t bring myself to admit that they do exist.

So I may sound silly, but there’s no harm in that, right? Wrong. Because of my denial, I refused to buy virus protection for my laptop. And I’ve recently paid the price. After lots of crashing and restarting, I finally took my laptop to a computer repair place. They had to reinstall the operating system (which I could’ve done myself, if only I’d made the recovery disks). Before they did the reinstall, though, they found a whopping 53 viruses! So much for not being real.

On the bright side, I didn’t really have a lot of data on my computer. And I had just done a backup less than a month before the crash. So no harm done, except for the computer repair center’s bill.

Lesson learned? I hope so. I accepted the computer shop’s free Avira antivirus software (which is a pain…now I can’t download video games). But for now, according to that software, my computer is virus-free.

The moral of the story is probably twofold. Just because you don’t believe something doesn’t make it not true. And backup your data often.

Do you use antivirus programs? Which ones?

Jobs for Single Mothers – A Look Back

mum 3

Being a parent is hard work. Single parenting is harder in some ways, and is arguably one of the most difficult forms of parenting there is – for a number of reasons.

One major issue is childcare and its associated cost. For children attending daycare, the costs can be enormous, especially when the parent makes a low income. According to the department of labor, women generally earn less than men, so income matters.

While staying at home is often a wiser financial decision (saving money on childcare), it’s difficult to find jobs for single mothers that pay the necessary bills.

Another problem for single mothers is the much-needed time off from work during the end of pregnancy or immediately postpartum. Though it’s illegal for an employer to fire a woman for taking maternity leave, it can happen, especially at smaller companies or for women who don’t know their rights.

And what about breastfeeding? Mothers get so many strong messages that “breast is best,” but maternity leave is usually only about 12 weeks…nowhere near the 1 year of breastfeeding recommending by the American Academy of Pediatrics, and a far cry from the 2-year recommendation of the World Health Organization.

The Internet, for now, provides a way for single mothers to remain at home and have a more flexible lifestyle while raising children. Though I haven’t worked hard enough to make a living online, it is possible (according to the many “friends” I’ve met online…not all of whom were trying to sell me something).

People can work at home as virtual assistants, freelance writers/editors, bloggers, Internet marketers, call center representatives, medical billing workers, transcriptionists, and more. It’s all a matter of finding something you’re interested in, and having a financial cushion to help while establishing your business.

Here on Crayon Writer, I’ve sort of been spinning my wheels. I tend to try too many tactics at one time. I’m a wannabe blogger, freelance business writer, freelance magazine writer, and internet marketer. Some of that is simply my personality (I enjoy multitasking), but it’s also a sign of failing to make a decision.

If you work from home, whether as a parent (single or not), or not, did you make a decision to focus on one income stream? If you diversify, how do you give it your all with the various methods you choose?

Kindergarten after all

Back to school

For those of you who’ve been reading Crayon Writer for a while, you know I strongly want to homeschool or even unschool my now five-year-old daughter. As a single mother, though, I recognize that we need time apart, so I enrolled her in preschool when she was a little older than three.

Preschool worked out off and on, and I still felt that I was primarily homeschooling. I purposely chose preschools that were strongly play-based, so the academics were light. My daughter has been learning to read and do math at home for the most part, and she’s very smart too.

As the big 5 approached, I started interviewing various play-based kindergartens and even the local public school. In the end, I decided to send her back to her preschool so she could continue to play while I taught her at home.

But to my surprise, a couple of weeks ago my little one announced that she wanted to go to kindergarten, not “play” school, and she didn’t want me to teach her at home!! All of a sudden I had to scramble for a school. The play-based kindergarten programs I found were okay, but either far away or had days that were too short.

Believe it or not, despite my strong objections to the “traditional” school philosophy, my daughter will start at a regular, public kindergarten this week! And she’s thrilled. Me…not so much. My issues with traditional schooling involve homework, grades, testing, “socialization” aka peer pressure and bullying/teasing, and extrinsic motivational techniques.

A little background: I have been a substitute teacher (which included several teacher-of-record jobs) for more than 7 years, and I’m currently in teaching certification program. I know how much standards, grades, and tests are stressed, and I’ve seen what negative effects schooling can have on children. Despite my professional aspirations, it seems to me that school is primarily a method to create conforming citizens who tend to go along with the masses. Not what I want for my child.

On the other hand, I went through public schooling, and I came out with a very open and questioning mind, probably because of my parents’ influence. So it’s likely that my daughter will be similar too.

This week will be the beginning of a new adventure. I’m sure I’ll be a regular volunteer at her school (gotta keep an eye on things), and maybe kindergarten won’t suck the fun out of learning (like I imagine it might).

The important thing is that I’m following my daughter’s lead. I’m letting her have a say so in how she wants to be educated (within reason), which is still in the spirit of unschooling. As long as she’s happy and safe, I’ll let her chart her own path. It’s tough being a parent!

Can you restart an old blog?

Blogging can be a journey (like this one), a passion, a hobby, or a business. And everything in-between. But sometimes life happens and your blog can wind up the last thing on a long “to do” list. That’s what happened to me and one of my old blogs.

Marana Unwrapped was a blog about the town I lived in, just northwest of Tucson, Arizona. I started out pretty interested in it, some people subscribed to it, and I even got added to the town’s email group for the press. But then I moved out of the town of Marana, and somehow thought I should let the blog move into oblivion.

I let the domain name expire and that was that. But something kept nagging at me over the past couple of years. I knew that blog had potential, and it makes no sense to turn down the opportunity. After all, trying to restart an old blog may be worth it. I checked to see if the domain name was still available (it was), and I re-bought it.

It seemed reasonable to sit on my decision and think things through first. I decided a new WordPress theme was essential, and I got to work on that. I changed some categories, updated and added a few pages, and tried my hand at some CSS/PHP code tweaking. It’s still not perfect (I need to Photoshop some of the heading’s pictures), but it’s ready to reintroduce to the world.

With the restart of an old blog comes decisions about how to drive traffic to it. Word of mouth and Twitter may be the best way to jumpstart it. Local blogs have the advantage of being extremely targeted. Later I may go on to create a Facebook page and maybe even submit articles to submission sites. Getting traffic is always a fun adventure.

If you get a chance, take a look at the old content on Marana Unwrapped. Even better, if you’re a Tucson reader, feel free to send me story ideas and news. Let me know what you think (here or there). I’m all ears.

Have you ever made the decision to restart an old blog? What plan of action did you take?