Study Less, Learn More?

I have not been studying Korean. I am being very lazy about it.

Yet I don’t seem to be losing my passive Korean. I can pick up something which was difficult to read six months or a year ago and understand much more of it than before

There has to be a happy medium between “studying so much my brain can’t process it” and “studying so little that my passive understanding increases while my active understanding slides back.”

I need to find that happy medium.

It Worked!

Amanda Teacher: So if you pass next Friday’s vocab test on Monday, you don’t have to study the class’ vocab words. You’d get to choose your own affixes to study this week.

Dead Meat, joking: Like supercalifragilisticexpialidocious?

Amanda Teacher: Actually, some people say that word can be broken down into roots. So sure, I’d let you break it down.

Another Student I Haven’t Nicknamed Yet: What’s ‘do’?

Subatomic: A deer, a female deer.

Amanda Teacher: Ray, a drop of golden sun!

Another Student I Haven’t Nicknamed Yet: What?

Dead Meat: Me, a name I call myself. [Suddenly serious.] I want next week’s word list.


Inspired by an idea I found in a new teaching book, I did something different with vocab this week.

We’ve been studying affixes for a few weeks, and it’s clear that some of these affixes are too easy for some of the students. On Friday I offered my students the opportunity to get this week’s affixes. If they chose to get the words, they would take Friday’s test today. And if they showed mastery (80% or greater), they would get to pick their own words to study during the week.

Seven students chose to get the word list and out of 18 points, all of them scored a 16 or above. Five of them got perfect scores!

Part of the test was to brainstorm 5-10 words (total) based on all of the affixes we’ve studied so far. Surprise, surprise, most of the students went crazy on that one. They were brainstorming 12-15 words. Then they were supposed to write a paragraph using 3-5 of their selected words.

Here are some of the paragraphs they came up with.

At school I’m doing a PHOTOGRAPHY project. Ms. S DISLIKED it when no one brought their materials in to take PHOTOS. Ms. S EXCLUDED them from taking after that. Everyone else was ABLE to take pictures.

True story. Thanks for documenting that.

From another student:

I play tennis and my dad always says have good SPORTSMANSHIP and when I lose my temper and my dad says that is not ACCEPTABLE so, I would consider tennis a HARDSHIP because I suck at tennis.

And finally:

I was a doctOR traveling the world with many ugLY people. Those people were so mean that they broke my BIcycle so I TRANSported them to the bottom of the ocean. And know I’m happy.

Now they’ve all chosen their own ten words to study this week. They’ll be assessed on those words on Friday. They chose cool, dorky, way-too-hard affixes that the rest of my students wouldn’t get, like RAGO for beg or ask. (Arrogant, for example.) Or HYPNO for sleep.

Let’s see how this plays out on Friday, when they get tested on their level…

Fancy-Shmancy 음치

산토끼 토끼야

A few days ago, Good Man started singing a children’s song.

산토끼 토끼야
어디로 가느냐?
깡충깡충 뛰면서
어디로 가느냐?

Mountain rabbit, rabbit!
Where are you going?
Hopping and hopping!
Where are you going?

He skipped the next verse, which is:

산고개 고개를

나 혼자 넘어서!
토실 토실 알밤을
주워서 올테야!

Up the mountain, mountain hill
I will go alone!
Chubby, chubby chestnuts,

I will take them all!

I keep singing it and changing one note. This causes Good Man to flail his arms and legs. “Nooooo! Why can’t you get it right? My 음치 wife!”


“Not getting music right, not good at singing.”


Apparently I say “fancy-schmancy” now that I’m in America. Good Man has picked up on this. He has started saying it, too, except he can’t quite get rid of his Korean accent and it comes out fancy-schmanshi. He says it’s “a grandmother word.” And now everything around us is fancy-schmanshi.

Go-To Dinner

Now that our summer of never eating at home is over with, the grocery bill is up but the total food bill is down.

We had the pesto chicken, brown rice, and green beans last night.

Today I made ginger tea (“You are Eastern medicine woman!”) and then ginger carrot bread and muffins with fresh ginger. It was delicious. I used a ton of carrots so the bread was really moist. And then you’d bite into a chunk of ginger and taste the sweet heat… Oh, so good.

For dinner I made spicy pork and in the marinade I used carrots, onions, garlic, and ginger. I haven’t used ginger in spicy pork before and the flavor was subtle but really good. We ate the pork with brown rice and lettuce and had plums for dessert. I realized today that spicy pork is becoming one of my go-to dishes. It’s delicious and so easy to cook.

I still hate eating the bones left in the pork. I spit them out, but Good Man says I should eat them. They’re just 오도독오도독, he says.

Vermicompost Harvesting… Or Not

Plant Appreciation

Something is eating my plants. I don’t know what it is. But it’s chowing on all of my plants (except my sweet potato vine). Still, my bell peppers appear to be growing despite the leaf-eater, so I’m ignoring it.

At the beginning of this patio garden experiment I freaked out over bugs and tried killing them with various mixtures. Usually a mild mixture of soap will kill many insects, but it did nothing for the giant aphid population I had going on. I bought a commercial product and it still didn’t help. My peppers looked like hell and the aphids were taking over. I was trying to do everything right and it wasn’t working.

In addition, I was trying to do everything right be fertilizing my plants weekly, as recommended. I found out that using my “organic” fertilizer wasn’t helping. Aphids feast on the new leaves that chemical fertilizers cause to rapidly grow.

While all of this was going on, I was reading In Defense of Food. I was reading about commercial crop production and how horrible it is for soil to be over-fertilized and insecticided.

So I stopped. I bought some ladybugs to eat the aphids. I figured the aphids would come back with a vengeance after the ladybugs left, because, well, I couldn’t force the ladybugs to stick around. So I was set to buy ladybugs monthly.

I unleashed the ladybugs at night. I had ladybugs eating aphids for about three days, and then they were all gone.

And they—the ladybugs and the aphids—haven’t come back. It’s been two or three months and I haven’t seen a single aphid.

I left my cayenne peppers outside drying for a bit too long and something started eating them. I harvested the last few peppers while they were green and let them turn red on my counter, indoors.

When I was spraying for bugs and fertilizing weekly, my bell peppers kept flowers and producing peppers, but when the peppers became golf-ball sized, they’d fall off the plant and rot. Since I’ve quit screwing with the plants, peppers have been growing. And staying on the plant.

This whole experiment with patio gardening has taught me a few things. First, growing things can be a pain in the ass, and I’m feeling greater appreciation for farmers. Second, next year I’m going to try to use commercial products as little as possible. I should have a good amount of vermicompost by then, and now that I know the ladybug trick? Third, I think Americans in general expect produce to be bigger than it naturally should be. Fourth, cooking something with something you grew feels fantastic. I have been known to point at cayenne rounds in our kimchi kkigae, only to say, “Hey, I grew that cayenne right there.” Fifth, letting plants do their own thing seems to work better for me than doing what’s “right.”

Hence, I’m ignoring whatever bug is chowing down on my plant leaves. Instead I’m taking it as a sign that it’s time to remove the dying cayenne plants. It’s time to trim back the mint. I’m time to whack back the basil.


I whacked down my basil. I made some pesto out of the two cups of good leaves I got. Dumped that over three-turned-into-six chicken breasts (seriously, American chickens are too big) and tossed it in the slow cooker for an hour and a half. Made GABA brown rice to go with it. When the brown rice was finished cooking, I steam cooked green beans for five minutes. Served the chicken over the rice and spooned some of the liquid in the slow cooker over it. Served it with freshly grated Parmesan cheese. It tasted wonderful.

Worms Eat My Garbage. And Then They Poop.

I thought my vermicompost was about ready for harvesting today, but I was wrong.

One way to harvest the compost is to dump it on plastic and expose the pile to light. The worms are supposed to dive down into the compost (they don’t like light). You then scrape off a layer of compost, let them dive deeper, and scrape again. Repeat until you have a wriggly mass of worms left over. Easy, right?

Well, my compost has been really wet lately, probably because I’ve been overfeeding it. I ended up smooshing all of the worms and the compost to one side of the bin and propping that side up on two yogurt cups. Over an hour or so a lot of water flowed to the other side. It was probably a good six cups or so, and the composty stuff was still too wet.

Still, I figured I’d harvest the compost. But there was a lot more unfinished material in it than I thought. Plus, it was rainy and not too bright out, so the worms didn’t really go anywhere. The lack of light combined with too much unfinished material made any worm diving difficult at best.

I took ALL of the compost out, and dumped the leachate. I added fresh, damp newspaper and dry corn husks and silk. I then went through the compost and sort of aerated it by hand and put it on top of all of the new bedding. I found worms all over. Inside packed newspaper, in clumps of compost, in banana stems.

Egg production is down, as is the mature worm population, probably because it’s too damn wet. Hopefully since I’m adding all of this fresh bedding, the worms will have more food and get happy and bring their sexy back. I still have a lot of worms, so it’s not like I’ve accidentally killed them all.

Oh well. Learn as you go. Maybe I can harvest my first batch of vermicompost by the new year.

29 Years

Before leaving for work yesterday, I sat on the edge of the bed and I touched Good Man’s cheek gently. He was still mostly asleep. “여보. 안녕. 난 가.” Sweetie. Bye. I’m going.

“응.” Yeah.

I waited. Good Man said nothing more. I rolled Good him over and stared at him until he opened his eyes. He nodded. “잘 가.” Goodbye. He closed his eyes again.

I poked him. “야! 무슨 일이야?” Hey! What day is it?

Good Man slowly grinned. “Happy birthday.”


Last year I dealt with a broken toe. This year was better.

I got to work and my new coworker (the one I really, really get along with) had brought me a bottle of champagne, which I’m pretty sure isn’t even allowed on school grounds. Champagne and good chocolate. Another coworker brought me a book, which was rather sweet.

My students were well-behaved and in high spirits.

And then, after lunch, I walked into my room and all of my students popped out of the closets and climbed out from under desks and yelled “surprise!”

I knew something was going on because bless them, 12 year-old children aren’t quiet when setting up a room for a surprise party, and I was eating with my coworker next door! Plus, I’d been finding sticky notes on the floor. “[Student] cookies,” and [Different Student] cups.”

But they did an amazing job. They took care of everything—cups, plates, napkins, juice boxes, cookies, chips, dips. A coworker had given me flowers and they moved them from the window sill to the round table. They added more flowers, cards, a few small presents. Confetti made from reused, colored scratch paper. Posters around the room which said “Happy Birthday Ms S!” and “Greatest Teacher Ever” and…

I have generally gotten along well with my students. I’ve built communities and classrooms and we’ve had our private stories and jokes and… It’s one thing I really missed while living in Korea. For language and cultural reasons, I didn’t get the same feeling. But this class is something else entirely.

I hugged every single student, thanked them all individually. Gave Dead Meat back the cash he was trying to give me as a gift. “But it’s my gift to you!”

“Honey, I know, but I can lose my license if I accept money from you, OK? I love the thought, but I want to be your teacher.”

Dead Meat gave me a note.

Dear Ms. [S], you have been a great
teacher so far this year. You have taught us
how to speak Korean. You have made us
laugh. Even though you yell at us you have been a
great teacher especially in math! HAPPY

Another student, AC/DC gave me this card with a long, funny letter inside of it.

If you look closely, you’ll see a report card on me and a bowl of Korean noodles, as well as a wedge of cheddar cheese!

The first month of school the students had to do a writing assessment on a favorite gift. I talked about Good Man’s birthday cheese and this child listened, because he gave me these yesterday.

Fancy Schmancy Cheeses

I got cards in Spanish, cards written in slow, careful handwriting. Hugs, the happy birthday song.

We spent recess inside, having ourselves a little party. What was so amazing to me is that even though my students generally get along, all eighteen of them managed to get along well enough to plan this, keep it a secret, and execute it. Wow.

After our party I let the students continue to snack at their desks while I did a social studies lesson on longitude and latitude. And even though they were still a little wired and hyper, they listened. And they answered questions. And they did their work.

With NCLB Act (No-Child Left Behind), the human aspect of teaching can fall to the wayside. It can turn into being all about tests and drills and cramming. But the students, and the teacher, are ultimately human beings who need to celebrate events, who need to come together, who need to form a community.


Sister sent me a sweet email. I love chatting with her and emailing her because I care about her and I want to understand, and her to understand me, so she makes me study harder. She asked me if Good Man had gotten me a gift. Said he was 무뚝뚝한, which my Korean dictionary is defining a little too harshly, I think.

Good Man had “bought” me four pairs of leather gloves. Meaning I said, “I want these gloves for my birthday” and he said, “OK, order them.”

“Well, technically I did not buy them for you, but in reality, yes,” he said.

Which is true.

We went out to dinner at a local Vietnamese restaurant. Afterward, we stopped at a fantastic pastry shop and picked up four little desserts to eat at home.


See that mocha tea cup up in the corner? Oh man. Wow. That thing was incredible. It was filled with light, airy chocolate.

Tea Cup

Talked to Mom, George, Dad on the phone. Crashed.

Happy birthday to me.

You Won’t Fail, But It Might Be Torture

Amanda Teacher: Pop quiz! Adding, subtracting, dividing, and multiplying positive and negative integers.

Spring Roll, during the test: I’m scared Ms S!

Amanda Teacher: Why? They’re just numbers. You won’t kill anyone taking this quiz.

Spring Roll, pointing to the test: No, not this! You!

Amanda Teacher: Why?

Spring Roll: Because if I do good, I get fun work like those puzzle problems. If I do bad, I get drill work. I like the harder stuff. The drill stuff is boring.

I bought a book called Teaching Gifted Kids in the Regular Classroom. I was looking at it this morning, as my students were coming into the room.

Spring Roll: What’s that, Ms S?

Amanda Teacher: It’s a book to help me teach you guys better. I’m really excited about it!

Spring Roll, with a sneaky grin: Is it about torture?

The Slow Slide Into Americanism

Since Good Man didn’t have a SSN, getting a credit card in America would’ve been nearly impossible. But in order to be approved for his green card, we needed to show joint finances. So I added him to one of my credit cards as an authorized user. Of course, this did nothing to actually create a credit record. He’s basically non-existent on the financial playing field in America.

When we got his SSN last week, I called MBNA and asked to add his as a joint account holder. The woman asked Good Man a bunch of questions. I listened in and told him how to answer. She rattled off the whole “we’re going to use this number to find out information about you and you might be denied but if you’re not you’re responsible for the bills and…” thing. I just told him to say yes.

Found out today that indeed, he is now joint on my account.

Let the slow slide into Americanism begin… Credit cards are just the first step…


I made kiwi-strawberry ice cream last night. (OK, more like “ice milk” because they were out of cream at the grocery store!) Kiwis, strawberries, sugar, milk, vanilla. Ended up being pale, pale pink and full of seeds. Just tart enough.


My worm bin is about ready to be harvested. My population is growing. The original newspapers are entirely gone. Food goes pretty quickly, too. Right now the whole system is a bit too wet, so I’ve been adding small amount of dry paper daily to try and get the moisture down a bit. I’m going to feed the worms one more time this week and then starve them for a while until all the bits of brown (paper, cardboard, etc) and green (kitchen scraps) are gone.

I can tell the compost must be some good (worm) poop because stuff grows wild in it.


Scallion? Leek?

Sprouting Bok Choy ‘Flower

Random Sprouts (Peppers, Maybe?)

Negative vs Positive

When I was a kid, I was taught to memorize that:

pos times pos is pos
neg times pos is neg
pos times neg is neg
neg times neg is pos

So I memorized it. And over time I came to understood why that was the case.

But I didn’t want my students to just memorize it. So on Thursday, and then again on Friday to reinforce, I gave my students green and yellow chips. We talked about poker chips representing money and debt and gambling. That was easy enough. Then we made each chip represent $5. Green was +5 and yellow was -5. Getting/gaining a chip was positive. Losing/giving away a chip was negative.

Gain four green chips. I just gained $20.
4 * 5 = 20

Lose four green chips. I just lost $20.
-4 * 5 = -20

Gain four yellow chips. I just lost $20.
4 * -5 = -20

Lose four yellow chips. I just gained $20.
-4 * -5 = 20

And the students got it.

Sometimes teaching is so exciting.


I’ve realized that I need to give these students very, very frequent tests and quizzes to make sure that they understand the math we’re doing. They don’t want to ask for help because they’re so used to being “the smart ones.” And we study at a quicker pace than the elementary curriculum. (In less than two weeks we learned about negative and positive integers, absolute value (an eighth grade objective), and adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing like and unlike integers. It takes one week or more in sixth grade just to do positive and negative integers.) I’m glad I realized this during the first quarter rather than later in the year.


Subatomic, taking a test: Ms S, did you make this test? Because number three is already in order from greatest to least.

Amanda Teacher, smiles: You just told everyone else the answer.

Dead Meat, deadpan voice: Yeah, man, thanks for ruining our mojo.

Trying to Do Better

Good Man and I had 잡채, 파전, and the 총각김치 (chapjae, pa jeon/Korean pancakes, bachelor kimchi) tonight for dinner.

Good Man tried the kimchi. “Mmm! Wow, you are Korean!” he yelled, throwing a swear word in there somewhere. “Did you put soy sauce in this?” he asked, pointing to the chapjae.

“Just a little.”

“Oh, good. That is good for health!”

Good Man got a SSN today in the mail. About two weeks ago we got some mail from the bank claiming that they need him TPIN even though their own paperwork says if it’s a joint account they only need the TPIN of the first name and that should be me since I am the original account holder.

Anyhow, the letter from the bank says that you can call their number and provide the info over the phone. Well…surprise, surprise. Apparently that’s not true. I read the letter to person one over the phone and they transferred me. Person two said that the letter says you have to call only if you’re confused.

Um, no, lady, you’re confused. The letter clearly says you can call to provide the info.

I am getting sick of my bank. They don’t charge me many fees because I don’t bounce, I use their ATMs, etc. But they’re useless on the phone. Nobody seems to know what’s going on and their rates suck. I’m thinking of changing but but I’ve been with them for ten years and don’t even know how many accounts I have linked to them!

Still, I think Good Man and I are going to go to my credit union on Friday to see if they can do better for us. (I belong to two credit unions and four banks across two countries, three states, and the internet world. I really need to consolidate some of these.)


I realized yesterday that I need to do a better job for my students. I am teaching an advanced math class; my students are a year ahead in math. I think I’m doing a fine job with the curriculum. And I’m starting a semester-long class for teachers new to this curriculum next week. That’s not the problem.

Most of my math students are gifted, and I don’t think I’m meeting their needs in that area. Unfortunately, schools tend to concern themselves with the average student first, the special ed students next, and the gifted students last (even though gifted students usually also fall under special ed and there are double-exception students who are sped and gifted). ESL students? That depends on the population of the school.

Last year I taught the on-level, average-speed math class. Every week I gave them a math problem on the week. They worked on it each morning and we went over it on Friday. Unfortunately, it didn’t go as well as I thought it would. The level was slightly too high (it shouldn’t’ve been but I don’t want to go into why that was the case) and they weren’t very excited by it.

But this group of kids? I didn’t hand out a problem last week because the week was short (holiday, training day so I had a sub) and I didn’t hand out one this week because I thought we had too much to do.

Well, one of the students said, “Awww, I want a problem of the week.”

His friend responded, “I know, they’re hard but fun.”

And it hit me. I am treating these students like slightly-smarter-than-average kids. And they’re not.

When I was in seventh grade I was in an “honor” social studies class. The only special, honor-like thing we got was one essay question a week on our quiz and forced participation in the National History Day Project. (I did an awesome project on GPS and GIS and my social studies teacher wouldn’t send it to state because he said GPS would never be of use in any arena other than the military.) I can still tell you exactly what we did depending on the day of the week in that class. It was awful. It wasn’t challenging. It was boring. And the teacher did not care about any of us.

I care about these students and I need to do a better job of meeting their needs. These students are slightly competitive with each other in a good way. They’re excited about math. They compete to be the genius or half-genius of the day. (Yes, there’s a story behind that.) They ask questions. When presented with a question they haven’t “officially” been taught, they don’t say “I don’t know how to do that.” They try. And a lot of them get it right.

I don’t want to destroy that spark. I don’t want to be a mediocre student doing a mediocre job.

When Mark and I were in sixth grade, we were chosen to pilot a seventh grade math program. Our teacher in sixth grade was the math specialist but was really hard to get along with. One of the teachers in middle school was great, and the other was awful. Our ninth grade teacher was sometimes a confusing teacher but obviously cared about us. By 10th grade, when we got the football coach as the honors math teacher—and the stereotypes fit? Well, I think I was over it. I had to drop out of pre-calc my senior/sophomore year of high school/college. It was a professor my mother told me not to take, but it was the only class that fit in my schedule. I had a great professor the second time around and went from a D- to a B+. First semester of Calc, great teacher. Second semester, OK teacher.

My point? I liked math. And I was usually pretty good at it. But the teacher mattered. These students like math. And they’re usually pretty good at it. I want to encourage that and explore it and push it and keep their love for it going.

This morning I was sure to give them a problem of the week. And they all dug into it. And they enjoyed it.

Last night I found some resources for me. Books and the like. And I’ve started to rethink my role in the classroom…

Amanda Teacher, teaching affixes: OK, give me some more ‘sub’ examples.

Not-Average Student: Ooooh! Subatomic! Subcutaneous!

Other Students, blank stares

Amanda Teacher, in math class, trying to calm the students over a math problem with pigs named ‘Porky,’ ‘Bacon’ and the like: You know my mom and stepdad live on a farm and they have sheep. Well, they either sell the male sheep or… put them in the freezer. So they don’t name them or name them things like—

Another Not-Average Student: Dead meat?