Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Great music playlist for working

Howdy! It feels like it's been a while. I hope you're doing well and about to embark on a fun, restful, and well-deserved summer break after one hell of a school year! I'm looking forward to catching a few car shows, Milwaukee Brewers games, church festivals, and the Wisconsin State Fair, among other things.

For those of you who have graduated high school or college, congratulations! Wishing you all the best as you prepare to head out on the next part of your journey.

I'm busy today working on some ideas and planning for this blog, and I thought I'd share the music that I'm working to. Here's my playlist today, along with a few brief notes and memories to go along with each song. For more great music from a variety of genres and generations, check out my occasional, ongoing series, "Exploring the world of music".

Here's to you and your success!

Mr. Robertson

"Rockin' All Over The World": John Fogerty

Forever linked to his role as frontman for the iconic 60s band Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR), John Fogerty has managed to build quite an impressive solo career since CCR's breakup in 1972. Here he is performing "Rockin' All Over The World" live. I always enjoyed this tune. It's fun and upbeat. Check out my exclusive interviews with CCR drummer Doug "Cosmo" Clifford and bassist Stu Cook from June 2012 and July 2013, respectively.

"Killer Joe": Quincy Jones

I first came across this 1969 jazz hit by Quincy Jones as a freshman in high school in 1997. My band teacher was a big jazz fan, and he played the recording for us one day in class. I rediscovered it recently. I love it. The definition of "cool".

"Sometimes When I'm All Alone" and "Pony Express": Danny & The Juniors

From the legendary late 50s - early 60s Doo Wop group out of Philadelphia comes these two classics that are perhaps somewhat undervalued. Assuming you ever heard of Danny & The Juniors in the first place, you probably only know of them by their two smash hits, "At The Hop" and "Rock And Roll Is Here To Stay". I had the pleasure of interviewing the group's founder, David White, in April 2013. I was saddened to hear of his passing a couple years ago.

"Gimme Some Lovin'": Steve Winwood, Eric Clapton, and other guests - Live in London, 1983

I absolutely love this live 1983 version of this summer anthem first recorded in 1966. It brings the song's original vocalist and organist, Steve Winwood, (who recorded it as a member of The Spencer Davis Group) together with an all-star lineup of guests that includes Eric Clapton and Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts.

"We're An American Band": Grand Funk Railroad

Not much to say about this 1973 hit. The music and lyrics speak for themselves. This song is a must for any decent rock playlist. Fun and lively.

"Done Somebody Wrong": The Allman Brothers Band

Recorded live in March 1971 as a part of the band's Live at the Fillmore East album, this is an old blues tune first recorded by Elmore James, a master of the slide guitar. Check out this previous post I dedicated to Elmore James. In it, I included his original version of another hit covered by the Allman Brothers Band, "One Way Out".

"1965 Belgium TV Appearance (Complete)": Chuck Berry

Growing up as a kid, I fell in love with a lot of 50s and early 60s Rock 'n' Roll, fueled largely by the music played at family parties, company picnics, weddings, and during car rides while listening to the local oldies radio station here in Milwaukee. Buddy Holly. Bill Haley. Little Richard. Ritchie Valens. Danny & The Juniors. Jerry Lee Lewis. Del Shannon. Gene Vincent. Early Beach Boys and Beatles. I can go on and on. And one of my all-time favorites from that era is Chuck Berry. I recently came across this show he did for Belgium TV in 1965. It's just under 30 minutes long, and he goes through a good number of his hits, including "Johnny B. Goode" at the end.

"Can't You See": The Marshall Tucker Band

This version of this Southern Rock anthem was recorded live in September 1973 at the Grand Opera House. I never really got into The Marshall Tucker Band, but like many others who never did, we at least know this hit of theirs. Beautiful and brilliant.

"Honeydripper": Big Joe Turner and Count Basie

Recorded in 1974, this tune brings together two legends - blues shouter Big Joe Turner and jazz pianist & big band leader Count Basie, both of whom enjoyed 60+ year careers that spanned from the 1920s-80s.

"Stormy Monday": B.B. King and Albert Collins - Live in Memphis, TN, 1993 as part of B.B. King's Blues Summit concert and album

I've heard so many takes of "Stormy Monday" in my life from countless blues musicians and rock bands. I love it. I love this version, in particular. It's a combination of King's singing, the organ in the background, and Collins' guitar work that does it for me. I had the pleasure of seeing King perform live in downtown Milwaukee back in 1998. I was a sophomore in high school. Went with my dad, and we had seats in the very front row. I was fortunate to score King's autograph on the CD jacket for the Blues Summit album that I brought along with me. While traveling to Missouri in the summer of 2015 to see family, we made a brief stop in Memphis, where we explored Beale Street, including B.B. King's club, where this was recorded.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021


Did you receive a call from 1-833-664-3312? If so, it's a scam.

Yesterday, 5/18/21, I received a call from a Renee Bennett, who claimed in a voicemail to be with the mediation department of a law firm called Jacobson and Wright. Renee, who knew my name, claimed that I was in a breach of contract, and that there were allegations against my Social Security number, including allegations that I may not be aware of. She said it was important I call her back at 1-833-664-3312, ext. 105.

I'm posting this here as a sort of public service announcement. Sadly, many people fall victim to calls like this, and I seek to do what I can to educate others about these types of calls. Two major clues that quickly stood out in my mind that this was a scam call - I know I haven't entered into any contracts lately, and it's safe to assume that a legitimate concern or dispute would have prompted a letter to be sent to me. I've received no letters in the mail. Furthermore, Renee mentioned "allegations" against my Social Security number, which immediately smells fishy. I didn't call Renee back, but if I did, I most likely would have been prompted to "confirm" my Social Security number, and/or "verify" other personal information.

Be on the lookout for calls like these, and do not respond.

For more tips, check out this previous post, Protection from hackers and scammers.  

Friday, May 14, 2021

The benefits of a community garden

Get to know your neighbors by creating a community garden

Creating a community garden is a great way to get to know your neighbors. After all, the seeds of friendship are often planted as people work together toward a single goal. Even valuable networking opportunities can grow out of a community garden project.

So, what's the first step in creating a community garden? Deciding when and where to hold a community garden meeting. Ideally, aim for a date in early spring before planting season arrives. Once you've decided on a place and time for the meeting, post the meeting details on a community notice board or spread the information between neighbors through word of mouth and/or social media. Many neighborhoods and subdivisions now have their own social media pages and groups where news, information, and recommendations are shared by neighbors and local businesses.

On the day of the meeting, have the group decide the specifics of the garden. Will it be a visual garden, a vegetable garden, or both? Also, decide who from the group will obtain any needed gardening supplies and take up a collection to cover the expected expenses.

Once it's time to create the actual garden, seek out the experienced gardeners in the group and pair them off with the group's novice gardeners. Such pairings can create instant connections among group members and will allow those of all skill levels to contribute to the project with greater ease.

Please note that certain locations require residents to obtain a permit or other permissions before implementing a community garden project. If this is the case in your area, then be sure to get the proper permissions before undertaking such a project.

End-of-season clothing sales

Save money on clothes by shopping at end-of-season sales

If you don't mind not having the very latest fashions, you can save plenty of money by shopping at end-of-season sales. Moreover, if you can wait for an item to reach the most discounted rack in the store, then you can expect to save up to 80 percent on your purchase.

To give you a better idea about when to shop for your different wardrobes, here is a general timeline for end-of-season clothing sales:

Spring clothes: April through June
Summer clothes: July through September
Fall clothes: October through December
Winter clothes: January through March

It should also be noted that certain specialized items tend to go on sale around the same time each year. These items include formal party wear in January, bridal gowns in April, athletic clothes in May, and bathing suits in August.

Also, keep in mind that while the larger discounts do tend to occur near the end of a sales cycle, the longer you wait, the less of a selection you'll likely find. If you wait too long before buying an item, it may sell out at your local retailer. If there's a particular piece of clothing that you have your heart set on owning, consider purchasing it at a mid-range discount to lower your odds of it selling out in your preferred size, color, or style.

Save money on non-essential spending

Save money by tracking your non-essential purchases

It's easy to lose track of your spending if you don't pay attention to your purchasing habits. Inexpensive non-essential purchases, in particular, can be especially harmful to your overall budget because minor splurges tend to fly under the radar more often than larger, more substantial purchases. To get a better handle on your finances so you can find areas of potential savings, consider using a spreadsheet or notebook to track your non-essential purchases.

When tracking your non-essential purchases, take note of the categories in which your purchases fall. For instance, if you grab a drink at your local coffee shop each morning, consider labeling such purchases as "morning coffee" so you can better track the true cost of your morning ritual. Regardless of the specific labels you choose, just remember that the more categories you track, the easier it will be for you to spot areas of potential savings.

After a month or so of tracking your non-essential purchases, you should have a decent idea about where most of your discretionary money is going. This information is key and if used correctly, can help you save money. After all, once you know where most of your discretionary money is going, you can cut back on your spending in the worst offending categories. Armed with this knowledge, the rest is up to you. So long as you commit to making a serious effort, savings should be noted almost immediately.

Best season to buy a house

Real estate buying tips: When is the best season to buy a house?

Many eager home buyers are quick to create a list of must-haves and preferred neighborhoods. Most of these same buyers, however, end up overlooking the benefits and drawbacks of going house shopping in a particular season. That said, do seasons really matter when buying a house and if so, is there a "best season" for prospective buyers to make a purchase? Well, the answer will depend on your personal circumstances. Below are some of the benefits and drawbacks of buying a house in the spring, summer, fall, and winter, so you can better decide if you'd benefit from purchasing a home in a particular season.


Spring is typically the season when the highest number of real estate listings hit the market. That's why it is the perfect shopping season for home buyers wanting the largest selection of homes to choose from. Unfortunately, spring is also the busiest season for buyers, so you are likely to face heightened competition if you choose to buy a home during the spring.


Summer is the preferred buying season for most families with school-aged children as moving over the summer won't interrupt the school year. Unfortunately, the convenience of moving over the summer often drives up home prices as many families enter desperate bidding wars in hopes of securing a deal before the new school year begins.


Fall often coincides with better home prices due to the decreased interest among families with school-aged children. While the inventory of available homes does tend to decrease as fall arrives, you may find that many sellers become quite motivated to make a deal at this time of the year so they can avoid a winter move.


Winter is usually the slowest time of the year for real estate sales and as such, house prices are generally at their lowest point during the winter months. If you are looking for the cheapest home prices of the year, then you should probably buy a house in the winter. Unfortunately, winter moving does present certain challenges like having to deal with adverse weather conditions and colder temperatures. Another downfall is the further into winter you get, the less inventory you'll likely have to choose from.

There are various benefits and drawbacks to buying a house during a particular season. While it's entirely possible to find the perfect home in any season, you may find that shopping during a specific season better compliments your personal circumstances. Hopefully, now that you know some of the benefits and drawbacks of buying a home in the spring, summer, fall, or winter, you have a better idea about which season's benefits fall more in line with your personal circumstances.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Christmas trivia

Did you know? Christmas trivia edition

With Christmas just around the corner, there's no better time than now to expand your Christmas knowledge. To get you started, here are three interesting facts about the December holiday.

1. If you were to gift your true love with all of the gifts mentioned in the song, "The Twelve Days of Christmas", you'd be gifting them a total of 364 gifts.

This includes 12 partridges (each in their own pear tree), 22 turtle doves, 30 French hens, 36 calling birds, 40 gold rings, 42 geese a-laying, 42 swans a-swimming, 40 maids a-milking, 36 ladies dancing, 30 lords a-leaping, 22 pipers piping, and 12 drummers drumming.

2. The Statue of Liberty is quite possibly the world's largest Christmas gift ever given.

The French gifted the United States with the Statue of Liberty on Christmas Day in 1886 to commemorate the two countries' allegiance during the American Revolution. The statue stands 151 feet tall from the base to the torch.

3. The first and last American states to give Christmas Day legal holiday status were Alabama and Oklahoma.

Alabama became the first American state to give Christmas Day legal holiday status in 1836. The last American state to do so was Oklahoma in 1907 when the state joined the Union. While Alaska and Hawaii were not yet part of the Union in 1907, both territories had already made Christmas Day a legal holiday in years prior.

If you enjoyed this post, you may be interested in our previous post, "How to save money on Christmas gifts".

How to save money on Christmas gifts

Five ways to save money while Christmas shopping

It's far too easy to overspend while shopping for Christmas gifts - especially if you don't know what you want to buy and if you leave your shopping until the last minute. So, to help keep you from overspending this holiday season, here are five ways to save money while Christmas shopping. After these five tips, we also discuss the Four Gift Rule, another easy strategy you can implement to save money on your Christmas gift list.

1. Start early.

Your gift options will be limited if you wait too long. This means, you'll probably end up buying anything that grabs your interest, regardless of how much the items cost. By starting your Christmas shopping early, you can take advantage of additional sales cycles and be more selective about what you buy.

2. Make a list.

Before you go shopping, make a list of people you need to buy for with ideas about what you'd like to get each person. Bringing a thorough list of the items you'd like to buy can help keep you from accidentally buying too much for certain people. Overspending on certain people often leads to overspending on others to maintain a sense of balance.

3. Shop online.

Online shopping allows for easier price comparisons, so shop around online to find each item's best price before spending any money. Do be sure to factor in the cost of shipping when comparing prices, however, and look for free shipping options whenever possible to further increase your savings.

4. Get couponing.

There are various couponing apps and websites that provide coupon codes and printable coupons for many of the more popular stores. You can often save fifteen percent or more by simply typing in the right coupon code or handing over the right printed coupon during the checkout process.

5. Use moneyback apps and credit cards.

Moneyback apps and certain credit cards will give you back a percentage of your total spend amount from every qualified purchase you make. By simply clicking through an app or paying with the right credit card, you can receive a little money back each time you purchase a gift.

Saving money while Christmas shopping doesn't have to be an impossible task. By starting early, making a list, shopping online, couponing, and using moneyback apps and credit cards, you'll be able to avoid overspending this holiday season and maybe even get a little money back in return.

Christmas on a budget: The Four Gift Rule

If you're strapped for cash this Christmas, you might be looking for new ways to cut back on your spending. One way to do this is to enact the Four Gift Rule. So, just what is the Four Gift Rule? It's exactly what it sounds like, but with a small twist. While the main idea is that you only give four gifts to each participating person, the small twist is that you must prepare a gift for each category of want, need, wear, and read.

By following the Four Gift Rule this Christmas, you can drastically cut back on your overall gift spending, while ensuring that each recipient receives a gift they want, a gift they need, a gift they'll wear, and a gift they can read. Be sure to consider each gift carefully because the key here is quality, not quantity.

Another benefit of having a four gift Christmas is that you'll also save money on wrapping supplies, which too can be quite expensive. Plus, you'll spend less time picking up piles of wrapping paper after the gift exchange, so you can spend more time enjoying the rest of your day with family and friends.

It can be hard to find ways to cut back on Christmas spending, especially if you have a large list of people to buy for. That is why ideas like the Four Gift Rule can be quite useful during the holiday season. So, if the Four Gift Rule sounds like something you'd like to try this Christmas, then don't hesitate to suggest the idea to any family members or friends that you tend to go a little overboard on. If all goes well, then the Four Gift Rule might even become your newest Christmas tradition!

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Conserve water with native plants

Conserve water by stocking your garden with native plants

As the fresh water supply is on the decline in many areas, people are continually looking for new ways to conserve water. One little used method of conserving water is to swap out your garden’s current selection of plants for ones that are naturally found in your area. Doing so may require a visit to your local nature reserve or nursery, but in the end can be well worth the extra effort.

Though it can take a little research to figure out which plants are native to your area, a good place to start is your local nature reserve. Here you will be able to find an assortment of plants that could do well in your garden. When looking for plants, try to look for ones growing in similar soil conditions to that of your garden. If your garden is typically dry, look for plants that are thriving in sandy or stony soils. If your garden is in a marsh-like or otherwise moist area, look for plants thriving in wetter conditions.

Though most nature reserves do not allow you to dig up and remove their plants, some will allow you to collect seeds from certain areas. Always be sure to check with reserve personnel, however, before removing any plants or collecting any seeds just to be on the safe side.

If you aren’t allowed to remove any plants or collect any seeds from your local nature reserve and are unsure about what a particular native plant is called, then take a few pictures of it and leave a message in a ‘what type of plant is this?’ forum thread. More often than not, a forum member will know exactly what kind of plant it is and will be happy to tell you what it is called. Knowing the name of the plant will allow you to search for it in online seed catalogs and make a purchase.

Another place you can look for plants native to your area is your local nursery. The nursery’s staff should be quite knowledgeable about their inventory and should be able to point out any kinds of plants currently for sale that are native to your area. They should also be able to help you decide which of their native plants would do well in your yard’s typical soil conditions.

Once you have found a native plant to add to your garden, it will be time to prepare your soil. This may include adding some sand, stones, or organic material to help your plant thrive in its new location. For best results, always try to replicate the soil conditions from the plant’s original location.

Also be sure to water any newly planted seeds, seedlings, or plants to help them adjust to their new area and promote growth. Once the plants have sufficiently adjusted to being in your garden, you will be able to wean them off any additional water as your area’s natural rainfall should be more than enough for the plants to thrive.

Do remember, however, that native plants will still need to be watered on occasion. If you are experiencing a drier than normal stretch, be sure to water occasionally so the plants in your garden will survive until the next rainfall. A rain barrel system used to naturally collect rainwater can prove very useful when trying to both conserve water and keep your garden watered during periods of drought.

As native plants will have no trouble thriving on your area’s natural levels of rainfall, they can be a great addition to your water-conscious garden. By choosing to use plants that are native to your area instead of ones imported from around the world, you won’t have to water your garden nearly as often as before, allowing you to conserve more water around the yard.

Growing an herb garden

In this post, we discuss how to grow an herb garden. In particular, we look at lighting needs for specific kinds of popular herbs, and how to harvest, dry, and store your fresh herbs when they're ready for picking.

Herbs, whether fresh or dried, are a wonderful way to quickly add rich flavor to all kinds of dishes. Depending on what herbs you're growing, they can greatly enhance pizzas, pastas, salads, salsas, eggs, meat and seafood, desserts, and more.

Ideal lighting conditions for growing popular herbs

Different types of herbs thrive under different lighting conditions. The following list includes the ideal lighting conditions that should be adhered to when growing many of the more popular types of herbs.

Herbs that prefer to grow in full sun include:

  • Basil
  • Oregano
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Thyme
Herbs that will thrive in full sun or partial shade include:
  • Chamomile
  • Chives
  • Lemon balm
  • Mint
  • Parsley
Proper lighting is an important part in the success of any herb garden. By growing your herbs in an environment providing their ideal lighting conditions, you will be helping them to reach their full potential in size, fragrance, appearance, and most importantly, flavor.

How to harvest, dry, and store fresh herbs

Fresh herbs from the garden are an excellent way to add a little spice to your life. Drying some of those herbs allows for that same spice any time of the year - even when they are out of season. Not only is drying your own herbs a cheaper alternative to purchasing them at the grocery store, but it's also very easy to do. The following four steps will explain all you need to know about how to harvest, dry, and store your own fresh garden herbs.

#1 - Harvesting the herbs

The best time to harvest fresh herbs is just before the plant begins to flower. At this time, the flavor will be at its peak. The type of herb will determine where it should be cut. Annual herbs should be harvested from ground level, while perennial herbs should be cut from about one third of the way down the stem.

On the day you decide to harvest your herbs, you should do so during the late morning hours - preferably after the morning dew has dried, but before the leaves have started to wilt in the afternoon sun. Certain herbs like oregano can be harvested multiple times per season to obtain the maximum harvest from the plants. Each variety of herb is different, and some extra research into the specific types of herbs you plan to harvest is recommended.

#2 - Washing the herbs

Wash the herbs quickly using cold running water. Be sure not to over-wash the herbs as this might affect the flavor. As you are washing the herbs, remove anything that appears less than optimum. This includes herbs with wilted, discolored, and diseased leaves. Once the plants are clean and the unusable ones have been removed, lightly pat them dry with a paper towel and set them aside.

#3 - Binding the herbs

Separate the washed herbs into small groups and remove the leaves at the base of the stem. Two or three inches of clear stem works well. Use a twist tie to tightly hold the stems together and then hang them in a warm, dry, dust-free, and well ventilated area away from direct sunlight. It is important for the stems to be tied together tightly as a small bundle, or the stems will shrink and the herbs will fall.

#4 - Drying and storing the herbs

Actual drying times will depend on the moisture content of the individual herbs. Most types of herbs such as bay leaves, oregano, parsley, rosemary, and thyme will dry in around two weeks. Once they have completely dried, remove the stems and store the leaves (either whole or crushed) in an airtight container. Store in a cool place.

Check the container daily during the first few days of storage. Moisture from herbs which haven´t been fully dried can quickly lead to mold in air-tight containers. If you spot any condensation, remove the herbs and continue drying until the remaining moisture is gone.

Fresh herbs from the garden can be a welcomed addition to any meal during the summer months while they are readily available. Now, with a little extra effort, anyone can enjoy the flavors of home-grown herbs throughout the rest of the year, as well.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021


More and more in the world of education, particularly in the K-12 realm, the subject of self-advocacy is coming up in discussions. We may hear our teachers, coaches, and guidance counselors using this term in conversations with us from time to time, and rightfully so. Developing self-advocacy skills are critical for success in life and career.
But just what is self-advocacy? What do we mean by this term, and how will developing skills in this area help us in life and career? Let's explore this concept further, because this is a very important and meaningful subject to spend some time on.

Simply put, self-advocacy (also referred to as advocacy, advocating for yourself, or advocating for one's self) means to not be afraid to ask for help or for clarification when the need arises. It means having the courage to speak up for yourself when something doesn't make sense or feel right, or when you need some kind of assistance.

These are necessary skills to develop, and you'll need them all throughout life to be successful in all kinds of situations, life stages, and settings - in school and college, in the workplace, with family and friends, etc.

You should never be afraid to seek help when you need it, and we all do from time to time in a variety of contexts.

A few practical, everyday examples include seeking clarification on a concept, assignment, or task from a teacher, coach, professor, or supervisor / manager; going to, and talking with, your doctor or dentist when something doesn't feel right; communicating with family and close friends when something's been bugging you and you'd like advice and counsel; asking for help with directions because you're lost; or getting ready to make a big purchase, like a car or home, and needing clarification and advice on a few matters before you feel comfortable and informed enough making that big purchase decision.

The key takeaway here is that you should never be afraid to seek help or clarification when you feel you need it. There are plenty of caring people, professionals, and other resources (credible online sources, books, etc.) at your disposal to help you understand options, decisions, assignments and tasks, your health, and so on. Self-advocacy - start practicing this valuable life skill today.

Christian Picciolini on racism and hate

Recently, in a 10th grade World Studies class that I assist in, the classroom teacher shared this video with the class. I found it to be very insightful and thought-provoking, and so I'd like to share it with you here.

Christian Picciolini, a Chicago native who grew up the son of hard-working Italian immigrants, shares his incredible journey of how he left the skinhead movement he helped create and build during the 1980s and 90s.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

A Raisin in the Sun study guide

Brief overview: A Raisin in the Sun is a play written by Lorraine Hansberry in 1959. It was the subject of a major motion picture in 1961 starring Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Claudia McNeil, Diana Sands, Roy Glenn, and Louis Gossett Jr.; and a 1989 made-for-television film starring Danny Glover and Esther Rolle. 

The general gist of the story is that the Younger family, a working-class black family living in Chicago in the late 1950s, receives a $10,000 life insurance check after the family's patriarch (father) dies. While that may seem like a nice little pile of cash to do something with, especially in terms of 1950s dollars, reality quickly sets in once several surviving family members reveal their competing hopes, dreams, and goals for how the money should be spent.

Lena (Mama) wants to use the money toward a new home that the family can truly call its own. Currently, the family resides in a cramped, run-down apartment. Walter, Mama's son, wants to invest a good portion of the money in a liquor store with a couple buddies, convinced that such an investment will relieve the family's financial woes. Beneatha, Mama's daughter, wants some of the money to go toward her education. She's currently a college student with ambitions of going off to medical school and becoming a doctor.

As the story goes on, we learn that Mama makes a down payment on a home in an all-white neighborhood. The decision to purchase a home in this neighborhood is a practical financial one, as homes in the all-white neighborhood are far cheaper. She gives the remainder of what's left of the money to Walter, on the condition that he set aside $3,000 for his sister's (Beneatha) education. Walter ends up losing all the money, leaving both he and Beneatha with nothing. One of his connections in the liquor store investment ran off with the money. Meanwhile, the family encounters racial tension and harassment when the neighborhood association of the all-white neighborhood sends its representative, Karl Lindner, to try to persuade the family to accept a buy-out in exchange for not moving into the home. 

In the end, the Younger family rejects Lindner's pressure and ultimately moves into the home. The family's future is uncertain, and the family never seemed to resolve its other conflicts, leaving the audience somewhat hanging and forced to speculate. But the family, despite all its troubles and the harsh realities it's been forced to face, has in the end its pride, dignity, and a home to call their own.

Themes: SparkNotes identifies three main themes in A Raisin in the Sun, including the purpose and value that dreams play in our lives, the importance and value of family life, and our obligation to stand up to racial discrimination.

Throughout the play, dreams have a major role, and they're easy for any of us to relate to and connect with. Beneatha wants to realize her dream of attending medical school and becoming a doctor. While owning a piece of a liquor store isn't necessarily the dream in and of itself for Walter, he sees it as a means for making his real dream possible - Walter simply wants to be able to adequately provide for his family and give them a good life. He's lived in poverty, and he sees the liquor store as a viable vehicle for achieving this dream of his. Mama simply wants to own a home, a place that she and her family can truly call their own and make memories in.

Family life and our obligation to stand up to racial discrimination play a prominent role in the story, as well. In the end, despite their different and often competing goals and aspirations, the family members come together as a cohesive unit to make the dream of home ownership for the family happen. The family, led by Walter, stands up to the racial discrimination that Karl Lindner represents by his pressure to try to get the family to accept a bribe / buyout in exchange for not moving into the home in the all-white neighborhood. The family asserts its dignity and its fundamental right to realize its dream and plot its future.

Perhaps another universal theme that can be discussed, one that isn't identified in the SparkNotes themes, are the two sides money can represent. On the one hand, money provides opportunity to realize many kinds of goals and dreams, and can therefore be a wonderful thing. On the other, though, we know that money can also cause divisions and greed. It has the potential to bring out the worst in people.

Following are some additional helpful resources that may help you better understand A Raisin in the Sun:

SparkNotes themes: https://www.sparknotes.com/lit/raisin/themes 

SparkNotes quiz (25 questions, multiple choice): https://www.sparknotes.com/lit/raisin/quiz

Wikipedia entry: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Raisin_in_the_Sun 

If you type in "a raisin in the sun" in the YouTube search bar, this series of short videos come up that offer nice summaries of the acts/scenes. Dr. Kristen Over is the presenter. Dr. Over is an associate professor of English at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago, and she does a great job explaining the play in a relaxed tone and easy-to-understand manner.

To help you get started, here is the Act 1, Scene 1 video:

And here is the Act 1, Scene 2 video:

The rest of the series by Dr. Kristen Over should show up on the sidebar to the right on YouTube.

Here is a brief clip from PBS's American Masters series that offers insight into Lorraine Hansberry's inspiration for the play:

Finally, here is the 1989 made-for-TV movie based on the play:

Sunday, April 25, 2021

How to improve concentration

Three Simple Ways to Improve Your Concentration While Studying

It's easy to become so distracted that you can't properly concentrate on your studies. To give yourself the best chance of being productive during your study sessions, you may need to actively work on improving your concentration. Here are three ways that you can improve your concentration, so your study sessions will be far more effective.

1. Drown out chatter with white noise.

If nearby chatter is ruining your concentration, grab a pair of headphones and drown out the voices by listening to white noise. White noise should be less distracting than any conversations going on around you, so listening to it should help you concentrate on your studies. If you find the sound of white noise to be more off-putting than helpful, try listening to some subdued instrumental music while you study instead.

2. Don't be in a rush.

Being in a rush can make it hard to concentrate on your studies - especially if you are rushing through your studies to finish early so you can move on to more enjoyable activities. To maximize your concentration, slow down while you're studying so you can devote your full and undivided attention to each aspect of the task.

3. Remove obvious distractions.

Take a moment to think about the types of things that distract you the most. If your social media is what often breaks your concentration, then turn off your notifications or mute your devices. If it's the television that is constantly pulling you away from your studies, then turn it off so you can fully concentrate on the task at hand.

Studying is hard when you are unable to concentrate. That's why it is important to find and implement strategies that will help improve your concentration. By using white noise to drown out nearby chatter, not being in a rush, and removing obvious distractions from your immediate vicinity, you should have a much easier time concentrating on the task at hand while participating in future study sessions.

Being a good neighbor on social media

How to Be a Good Neighbor on Social Media

Being neighborly isn't only about pleasant in-person interactions anymore. With more neighborhoods creating social media groups, it's also becoming important to show your neighborly side online. Here are two tips that can help you be a good neighbor while on social media. Be sure to keep them in mind when participating in any online community groups. These neighborhood social media groups can be a wonderful source for networking, making new friends, strengthening ties to your neighborhood / community, finding volunteer opportunities, and simply keeping up on local news and updates.

1. Always show civility when communicating with your neighbors on social media.

Though social media communications may feel rather anonymous at times, remember real people are reading your posts. Do your best to keep your online communications respectful and always show civility when communicating with your neighbors on social media. If you have a personal grievance with a fellow poster, bring it up with them privately, rather than in public for all to see.

2. Always respect your neighbors' online privacy.

Everyone has unique privacy preferences, both online and off. To stop yourself from accidentally revealing a neighbor's private data online, refrain from posting personal information or photos concerning your neighbors without their express consent.

If you have yet to join a community group online, they can be found in a couple of ways. One way to find online community groups is by checking the social media profiles of neighborhood friends to see if they belong to such a group. A second method for finding groups is utilizing the site's search function to look for specific groups focused on your neighborhood.

No-spend days will help you save money

Save Money by Designating No-Spend Days

No-spend days, or days when you actively avoid non-essential spending, can be a great tool for people looking to save some money. The idea is simple - each day you avoid making frivolous purchases is a day you save money. In fact, committing to a single no-spend day per week can help cut frivolous spending by around fifteen percent.

Here are a couple of tips to help keep you on track during your designated no-spend days:

1. Avoid window shopping.

Remove temptation by steering clear of shopping opportunities - both online and off. No-spend days are far easier to adhere to when you aren't confronted with things you want to buy.

2. Look for free activities to pass the time.

To make your no-spend days more enjoyable, find alternative ways to pass the time without spending money. For example, if you feel like going to the cinema, watch a movie at home instead.

Do remember this money-saving strategy can only be effective if you implement it in good faith. If most of your frivolous spending happens on weekdays, for example, then don't designate Saturday or Sunday as your no-spend day because it won't help you save any money.

It's also important to keep in mind that the spending restrictions should only apply to your wants and not your needs. Essential spending, like that for household bills, repairs, gas, and groceries, can and should continue as usual. It's your non-essential spending habits this strategy looks to address.

DIY small repair projects around home

Save Money by Doing Your Own Home Maintenance and Small Repair Projects

If your first instinct is to call a repair person when things aren't working quite as they should, then you could be spending more money than needed. To keep from needlessly spending money when you find yourself facing a home maintenance or repair project, step away from the phone and search for solutions to the problem on YouTube instead. By performing a simple YouTube search, you're likely to find several how-to videos explaining the step-by-step process for completing the task.

There are many reasons for doing home maintenance and small repair projects yourself. Not only can it save you money, but it can also help teach you new skills and make you more confident in your abilities should you face similar tasks in the future. Certain projects may even prove to be so simple that you'll later wonder why you ever thought of paying someone to do them for you.

While there's no shortage of home maintenance and repair tasks that can be safely attempted on your own, some jobs will undoubtedly be harder than others. If, after watching a few how-to videos on the subject, you feel that you don't possess the necessary tools, patience, or skills to safely complete the project, then definitely call a professional to ensure the job is done correctly. If you do feel up to the task, however, then give it your best shot and enjoy the savings.

International travel and vaccinations

International Travel and Vaccinations: What You Need to Know

Different destinations around the world can pose different health risks to travelers. It's to reduce such health risks that officials often recommend you receive certain vaccinations before traveling to specific regions. Depending on your country of origin and travel history, you may also be asked for proof that you've received specific vaccinations in order to enter certain countries. As an example of this - more and more, it's looking like this is going to be the case for COVID-19 vaccinations, as airlines, cruise lines, and leaders of countries are discussing implementing proof requirements demonstrating that travelers have received a vaccine for this virus. These proposed requirements are often being referred to as "COVID passports," "COVID-19 passports," or by similar names in news reports. For these reasons, it's important that you do your research before any international travel. This way, you'll know exactly what to expect and will be fully prepared when you arrive at your destination.

When starting your research, a great first place to look is online. The Web site for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides vaccination information for 245 destinations and can be found at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/list. While on this page, simply choose your travel destination from the drop down menu marked "For Travelers", press "Go", and information about specific vaccination recommendations and requirements will be provided to you. Though it's not required, you may also provide additional information to help personalize your results by checking off any of the listed options matching your particular circumstances.

Beyond the detailed information about any recommended or required vaccinations, you may also be presented with area-specific travel health notices that can help you further assess the health risks of traveling to your chosen destination. Any notices, if present, will be classified based on three levels of risk: Watch Level 1, where you should practice usual precautions, Alert Level 2, where you should practice advanced precautions, and Warning Level 3, where you should avoid any nonessential travel to the area.

Once you have a better understanding of your chosen destination's vaccination requirements and recommendations, you should consult your doctor. It's recommended that you visit your doctor four to six weeks prior to any international travel to discuss the possible health risks of traveling to your chosen destination and while there, receive any needed vaccinations. Be sure to also inquire about your proof of vaccination documentation if such documents will be required during your trip.

Because traveling to certain destinations may pose an increased health risk, it is important that you familiarize yourself with such risks and visit your family doctor prior to your departure. By visiting your family doctor, you can receive any recommended vaccinations and acquire any needed vaccination documentation. This will reduce your chances of becoming ill during your next trip or missing out on it altogether from being unable to provide the required proof of vaccination to authorities.

Growing your support network

Three Tips for Growing Your Support Network

As people age, their support network can start to dwindle. Fortunately, there are some simple ways to grow a support network if you are willing to put in the necessary effort. To start increasing your current number of supportive connections, consider trying some or all of the following three suggestions. You'll likely be glad you did.

1. Reconnect with family and friends.

One of the easier ways to grow your support network is by reconnecting with any family members or friends that you have lost touch with. If it has been a while since you last chatted with a particular family member or friend, then reach out and try to re-establish a connection through phone calls or face-to-face meetings.

2. Seek out new friend connections.

Another way to expand your current support network is by gaining new friends. Look to connect with people outside of your current social circle by joining community groups related to your favorite hobbies and interests. You can also make new friend connections by volunteering at local charities and participating in community events.

3. Join a support group.

If you need a specific type of support that your current support network isn't able to provide, then seek out a support group that can fill the void. Support groups are a great place to connect with a network of supportive individuals because fellow group members will likely have a personal understanding of your specific challenges.

Use aromatherapy to improve sleep

Using Aromatherapy to Improve Sleep Quality

It's not always easy to get a good night's sleep. Fortunately, certain changes can be made to your sleeping habits that may help you wake up feeling more rested. One such change you may want to try is experimenting with scents in your sleeping area. By using aromatherapy in the bedroom, you may find it easier to achieve more restful sleep.

Here are three scents that may be helpful to those looking to improve their sleep quality with aromatherapy.


One of the most widely touted scents for improving sleep quality is lavender. The smell of lavender is believed to help calm the body and mind, plus lessen bouts of insomnia and general restlessness.


Another beloved scent used in many bedrooms is cedarwood. The smell of cedarwood is believed to help people fall asleep more quickly and stay asleep for longer.


If you find yourself waking up several times a night, then jasmine may be the most beneficial scent for you. The smell of jasmine is believed to improve sleep efficiency, letting you sleep more soundly throughout the night.

While there are various ways to introduce these beneficial scents to your bedroom, a popular method is using a diffuser to help disperse the desired scent around the room. If you don't have a diffuser handy, you can also apply the scents directly onto an absorbent material which can then be left near your bed.

How to save money on meals

Three Simple Money-Saving Tips for Mealtime

When money is tight, it can be worth examining your current budget to find potential areas of savings. As food is a major expense for most people, mealtime may provide the perfect opportunity to save some money. Here are a few money-saving tips that can help you spend less on your meals.

1. Price match your grocery purchases.

Many grocery stores offer price matching as a way to help their customers save money. If you don't already price match your groceries, then consider doing so from now on. All you'll need in most cases is a current advertisement from another qualifying store showing the same product for a lower price.

2. Go meatless for one or two dinners a week.

Meat is often the most expensive part of any meal. Therefore, if you want to save some money at mealtime, consider going meatless for one or two dinners a week. For a little extra fun, use your new meatless meals as a chance to experiment with new flavors and ingredients.

3. Create a vegetable garden.

Growing vegetables can be a great way to save money at mealtime - especially during the summer months. Even a small windowsill garden can help cut down on grocery expenses if you don't have the time or space for anything larger. If you're feeling especially ambitious, consider renting a plot in a community garden to maximize your savings.

The benefits of rain barrels

Five Reasons Every Gardener Should Own a Rain Barrel

It doesn't take long for the average gardener to learn the importance of watering their gardens. That said, not every gardener has thought about the many benefits of owning a rain barrel. If you are a gardener who doesn't yet have a rain barrel and would like to learn more about the benefits of owning one, then you've come to the right place. Here are five reasons every gardener should own a rain barrel.

1. Creative Garden Décor

Rain barrels have the potential to not only be functional, but also decorative. Many types of rain barrels are designed to be quite visually appealing and can become a uniquely decorative addition to any garden.

2. Alternative Water Supply

It can be hard to keep your garden watered during a drought or when officials have enacted water usage limitations in your area. By installing a rain barrel, you can collect and store an alternative source of water that can be used during such times. This will help your gardens survive an extended drought or water usage ban.

3. Lower Water Bills

Most types of gardens require watering on a regular basis. Depending on the size of your garden, this could cause your water bill to skyrocket. By using naturally-collected water from your rain barrel to water your garden, you'll have less expensive water bills.

4. Hassle-free Watering

You can create a hassle-free watering system by attaching a slow release hose to the bottom of your rain barrel and weaving the remaining hose throughout your garden. Once it's in place, all you'll need to do is control the water release valve and gravity will do the rest. By eliminating the need to manually water your garden, you'll have more time to complete your other tasks.

5. Better Water Quality

Though tap water can certainly be used to water a garden, rain water is often a superior replacement. This is because rain water is naturally free from additives like chlorine, fluoride, and salt which are commonly found in municipal water supplies.

There are many reasons why every gardener should own a rain barrel. Not only can many rain barrels double as unique pieces of garden décor, but they can also collect and store an alternative water supply that can be used during prolonged droughts or water usage bans. By including a rain barrel in your gardening setup, you can lower your water bills while enjoying the benefits of owning a hassle-free, high-quality watering system.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Protection from hackers and scammers

Hackers and cybercriminals are getting smarter and more creative in how they write their e-mails and text messages, and in how they present themselves on phone calls. Follow these tips and strategies to better protect your personal and sensitive information online, and to guard against hacking attacks.

Lately, I've been noticing a sharp increase in e-mails from hackers looking to gain access to my personal information. Often, I'm finding that these e-mails are made to appear like they're coming from legitimate businesses and organizations, like PayPal, Square, Amazon, and various banks. I occasionally receive them "from" my e-mail provider, Yahoo, threatening me with immediate shutdown of my account unless I take action right away and verify my details.

I've also heard from others that there are many telephone scams going around. Again, as with the e-mail hackers, these phone calls appear to come from legitimate businesses, organizations, and even government agencies, but they are anything but legitimate. I've heard about callers pretending to be from the IRS and the local utility company. In these calls, the callers usually tell the would-be victim that s/he is in serious trouble (like facing fines and/or imprisonment, or about to have the electricity cut off), that numerous attempts to resolve the matter have already been made, and that immediate action must be taken in order to avoid any additional trouble.

Finally, I've also received text messages looking to gain access to my personal information. They are usually "from" the United States Postal Service (USPS) or UPS, wanting me to confirm my information due to changes in projected delivery dates of packages that I'm supposedly about to receive.

Here are some helpful tips and strategies to better protect your personal and sensitive information online, and to guard against hacking attacks. By no means is this an exhaustive list, and you should consult other sources to learn additional tips and take in other perspectives. If you have any advice, tips, and strategies of your own to share that can help minimize exposure to hackers and scammers and help better protect personal and sensitive information, we'd love to hear about them in the comments section below!

First, common sense and your intuition may be your best line of defense. If you know where you bank or don't bank; if you know that you don't have a Square account; if you know that you're not expecting any packages; if you know that you've been keeping up with your utility bill; etc., etc., then you can usually tell quite quickly and easily what's going to be a scam attempt.

Remember that the IRS and the Postal Service are not going to contact you by phone or text message. The IRS will communicate with you by postal mail for business matters, and the Postal Service will not call or text you regarding the delivery of packages or to ask you for any personally identifiable information for the purposes of delivery verification. The very rare exception to this general rule of thumb - it is possible that the IRS will contact you by phone for the purposes of resolving tax matters and arranging payment plans, but you will know about their attempts to reach you by phone ahead of time by postal mail. There will be no surprises.

Never pay for a product, service, or a supposed bill that you owe with gift cards. Sadly, this is becoming a very popular scam, and many people are easily falling for it. Someone calls you and wants you to buy something, or you're told that you owe a bill. The caller wants you to pay for the product, service, or bill with gift cards (either by purchasing them online or at a physical store and then either physically mailing the cards somewhere or giving the caller the codes on the gift cards over the phone or by e-mail). What just happened? You just paid for a product or service that you're not going to receive, or you paid off a bill that was fake all along. And you paid for it in gift cards, which are virtually untraceable and extremely difficult to impossible to have any recourse.

If you're ever unsure if an e-mail, call, or text is a scam, verify by contacting the business or organization directly. Don't reply to the e-mail or text. In the case of a live phone call, don't provide any information to the caller. Instead, independently contact the business or organization after researching contact information online. If you receive an e-mail or text appearing to come from someone you know and you're unsure about it, contact the person independently to verify.

If someone is calling you and you're not familiar with the phone number on your Caller ID, let the call go to your voicemail or answering machine. If it's an important call and the caller is really trying to reach you, the caller will leave a message. If there is no message, the call must not be important or even legitimate.

Follow these two general rules that I faithfully subscribe to: Coming back to the last point, I simply don't answer the phone if I don't recognize the number on the Caller ID. I'll let it go to voicemail, and I would estimate that, 99.5% of the time, there's never a message left for me. Must not be important or even simply legitimate. Additionally, if someone legitimate is really trying to contact me, like a creditor, bill collector, government agency, etc., I subscribe to the belief that they can always write me via postal mail. They should have my address on file if they're really looking to reach me. If they don't want to officially notify me by postal mail that there's an issue of sorts, then I don't know one exists.

Implement two-factor or multi-factor authentication for your important electronic accounts. In a nutshell, two-factor or multi-factor authentication means receiving one or more log-in codes or notifications delivered to your mobile device(s) or perhaps sent to another e-mail address when you try to log into your e-mail, bank, social media, or any other important online accounts you may have with your regular password. This way, the account you're trying to log into knows it's really you, and not someone who may happen to have your password.

When using public computers, like at your local public library or an Internet cafe (do Internet cafes still exist??), use private windows in your Internet browser. This way, you're not leaving behind your search history, cookies, any accounts left open by accident, etc.

What advice, tips, and strategies do you have to help minimize exposure to hackers and scammers and help better protect personal and sensitive information? Please feel free to share in the comments section below. We'd love to hear from you. Thank you!

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Virtual students and breaks during the day

If you're a middle school or high school student learning from home this year due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, it's important to your physical and mental health that you take breaks away from your workspace throughout the school day. Students and parents, read on for more.

At the middle/high school I work at, we implemented for this school year a 10-minute passing time between class periods during the school day. We did this in order to provide for better social distancing and to minimize potential contacts. The logic behind this decision is simple - if students have more time to get to their classes, they won't feel rushed, and, therefore, the halls will be less crowded. I believe our passing time is usually four minutes.

If you're learning virtually from home this school year, no matter what your passing time is, use these times to get away from your workspace for a little while. Make sure you're also treating yourself to several small breaks during your homework time after school/in the evening. 

Breaks during passing times between classes: Instead of sitting at your desk on your phone, get away from the desk and the electronics. Use these passing times to stretch, get the blood flowing, relax the mind, relax the eyes from the electronics. Some ideas: Go outside for fresh air, especially with the weather getting nicer. Do a quick workout with dumbbells, if you have them (perhaps you can knock out two birds with one stone here by using these little workouts for your Online PE exercise logs, if you need to do those!). Grab a quick, healthier snack. Or just get up from your desk to stretch and walk back and forth a little.

Breaks during homework sessions: I have the same suggestions as with the breaks during class passing times - instead of sitting at your desk on your phone or watching a movie or playing video games, get away from the desk and the electronics. Relax the mind and the eyes, and look for ways to stretch and get the blood flowing. Relax the mind to some of your favorite music playing in the background?

Utilizing these simple strategies will help you guard your physical and mental health. It's not good to be seated and in front of electronics all day and night.

What are your thoughts and observations? Have any ideas or suggestions of your own to share? Add them to the comments section below. We'd love to hear, and learn, from you!

How social studies and English relate

Are you a middle school student or high school student that loves social studies, but not so much English? Read on. I may have some suggestions for you.

Recently, I started tutoring a middle school student in several subjects. He absolutely loves social studies (history, civics & government, economics, you name it), but isn't much of a fan when it comes to English. He finds that he doesn't enjoy many of the novels and short stories he has to read and write on, and, because of this, he's not getting much out of the class.

I offered him this advice, which I offer to you, as well: If you're not really enjoying your English class, for whatever reason(s), but you really enjoy social studies subjects, use your love of social studies to get more out of your English class. Here's how - for the stories and books you're reading and writing about in your English class, do some additional research about the various time periods, cities/countries, cultures and customs, etc., etc. that these books cover. YouTube is full of great interviews, documentaries, news reports, historical footage, etc. Movies that are based on true stories or real events may be fun and helpful. And of course, there's plenty of reading available on the Internet. 

Doing this additional research can help you better understand the context and vocab used in the English stories, as well as help you develop a bigger, more complete picture of the world. Additionally, there's always the benefit that you may be learning and developing an interest in subjects that you can turn to for future papers and projects, not only in English or social studies, but in other classes, as well.

This student recently started reading the play A Raisin in the Sun for his English class. I won't get into all the details of that story here (you can read these great summaries on SparkNotes and CliffsNotes), but, in order to get more out of this story, he could research 1950s Chicago, the Civil Rights movement here in the United States, history and cultures in Africa, and African-American history more generally.

Other stories recently read in his English class include Night and The Outsiders. For these, he could have conducted outside research on the Holocaust, World War II more generally, and Europe in the 1930s and 40s (Night); and Tulsa, Oklahoma in the 1950s and 60s, social cliques and the social hierarchy in high school, and socioeconomic conflict between groups (The Outsiders), as a few examples.

Hopefully, utilizing these simple tips and strategies can help you develop a greater appreciation for what you're learning in your English class, with the ultimate goal of getting more out of this class. English and social studies subjects often intersect with each other. They're both about people, places, events, conflicts, histories, cultures, and communities.

What are your thoughts and observations? Feel free to share in the comments section below.  

Monday, April 19, 2021

The pitfalls of technology in education

As much as I'm tech-savvy (or at least think I am), I'm still very old-school in many ways, as well. Now age 38, I grew up in between the emerging world of tech, video games, computers, social media, etc., and the previous generation.

I love reading the physical, print newspaper. I love holding physical books and magazines. I use an old-fashioned alarm clock instead of the alarm on my smart phone. And I keep a written calendar. I could never buy into the idea of keeping my calendar on any electronic device. 

Recently, I began tutoring a young man, a middle school student, who can use a little guidance in the areas of study skills and keeping organized. My advice to him right away, and it's the same advice I have for you, as well, is this: Go old-school with lots of paper and writing utensils! Let's explore further.

The student I'm tutoring - and all students these days, generally speaking, find themselves in similar situations simply because of how the classroom has evolved - is so dependent on tech for doing school work and trying to keep things organized. Items like his homework to-do lists, grades, assignments, various classroom and school information, etc., are spread out among several different apps, software programs, and locations. Because of this, it can be very easy to sometimes forget about assignments and miss key details and information. This is where old-school paper and writing instruments come in.

Slowly, I'm working with this student to integrate an old-fashioned system into his daily habits. The tech isn't going away, but the use of paper should help mitigate many of the effects that come as a result of having so many important items spread out among many different apps, locations, and programs. I recommend this same strategy for you, especially if you find yourself having a little difficulty with keeping everything organized and remembering where everything is.

I recommend that you have paper, pens, and highlighters handy. Keep a written calendar/planner, written to-do lists, paper to jot down thoughts and ideas on the fly, etc. at your workspace at home. I love keeping legal pads and a variety of smaller pads around, as well as file folders for different subjects and projects that I'm working on.

If you have specific goals you're working on achieving (like SMART goals), I strongly recommend that you have these goals written down on physical paper and kept in a visible place in your workspace at home where you're going to constantly see them. Before I started working with this student, he had several great SMART goals he was working on, but the goals were stored electronically. The problem with this is that he wasn't looking at his goals very often, and so it became easy to forget about them and to lose focus on what he'd like to ultimately accomplish.

The same goes with thoughts and ideas you may have on the fly - are you really going to want to go through the hassle of logging into your Chromebook in the moment and typing them into a new Google Doc? This is where keeping paper and pens around can be of great help to you.

I'll close with this quick story. Some weeks back, a co-worker of mine who had been tutoring a student in math at the school we work at, shared with me that this student was improving his math skills quite considerably. He was growing more confident in his abilities, and his grade in the class was rising. Then, one day, he had a math quiz. He scored a 67%. He took the quiz again, and he received the same score. He wasn't sure why he was getting this grade. He was truly baffled, and so was my co-worker. The problem? It turns out that he needed to click into a different app/site to do the last five problems. He got the first 10 problems correct both times, but he completely missed the last five. He didn't know they were there, waiting for him in another location. Truly, technology can be a double-edged sword.

What are your thoughts on all of this tech in the classroom these days? Have we become too dependent on it? For all the positive things tech can do for us, is it actually having the reverse effect in the realm of education? Weigh in with your thoughts, observations, and stories in the comments section below.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Common mistakes business leaders make

Common Mistakes Business Leaders Make That Derail Their Success

Young leaders meeting in a board room. Photo credit: Pexels.com

A great leader motivates and inspires workers, paving the path towards business success. Insider has a list of some of the world's most famous business leaders, from Eric Yuan of Zoom to Alex Gorsky of Johnson & Johnson. Want to join the ranks of experts like these? You can! Top leaders aren't born — they're made. From compelling communication to effective collaboration, leadership skills are learnable. Unfortunately, many leaders resist change and derail their own success. Mr. Robertson’s Corner shares some mistakes leaders make that impede their growth.

Not embracing a leadership style

Leaning into your leadership style can boost your confidence. It also allows you to more easily pinpoint your strengths and weaknesses so you can figure out what to leverage — and where to improve. There are many leadership styles, including servant, democratic, autocratic, transformational, and more. Not sure what your leadership style is? Very Well Mind has a simple quiz you can take to figure it out. A leadership coach can help you better understand how to make the most out of your given style.

Refusing to commit to an organization

You may have a map for your career. Maybe you plan to put in X number of years in mid-level management before progressing to senior management and then advancing to the C-suite. Your "map" may also include switching companies. While planning is great, there is a drawback to always eyeing the next move: You fail to commit to your role, your company, and its culture. You won't be able to inspire your employees if you aren't leading by example and embracing the culture. Forbes confirms the significance of corporate culture, explaining that it improves brand identity and attracts better talent — in turn, driving company success.

Neglecting to adapt communication styles

Different people communicate differently. As a leader, you might expect others to adapt to your communication style. However, if you want to sway people and get them to do what you want, you're better off adapting yourself to their style. Fleximize explains that you have to know your audience and identify your objectives. You can then adapt as needed. This is even more critical in an increasingly remote workforce. Harvard Business Review stresses the significance of effective communication when you can't meet employees face-to-face.

Lacking emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is often underrated in the business world. The Corporate Finance Institute defines emotional quotient (EQ) as the ability to manage not only your emotions but also others'. Components of EQ include self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. Business News Daily goes further, saying that the self-awareness associated with EQ can help ensure leaders still come across as approachable, not arrogant. Arrogance is generally a turn-off and doesn't inspire others.

Failing to pursue self-improvement

With sufficient self-awareness, you can start to identify what areas of your leadership ability you can improve. You may find that you'd benefit from additional education, for example. An online business degree can give you valuable soft skills while also providing important credentials. Focus areas range from online accounting to business management and marketing. Constant self-improvement and continued learning are essential for long-term success.

As the above guide has hopefully made clear, great leaders all share one thing: They are open to change. As a leader, refusing growth opportunities is a surefire way to derail your success. Don't fall into this trap. Follow the above steps to get started.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Earth's orbit, tilt, and seasons explained

Some wonderful resources for learning all about Earth's orbit around the Sun, rotations & tilt, and seasons.

Season simulator (on Khan Academy)


Study Guide: Earth's Cycles/Seasons (from Loudoun County Public Schools in Ashburn, VA)

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Discussion forums for homework help

Welcome to our new discussion forums! I launched these forums in hopes of taking the Mr. Robertson's Corner blog project to the next level. Since launching my blog at the end of 2018, traffic to it has steadily risen, and it's becoming more known around the Internet in different education circles. For this, I'm extremely grateful and humbled. What started out as a fun hobby of sorts has really developed into a true passion, and even a calling. 

Yet, something has remained missing - a true sense of community built around the blog. Sure, I'm getting traffic. I'm picking up occasional new followers and post likes on my social media presence. And once in a while, I'll get a short comment in the comments section right below a blog post. For all of that, I thank you! But I'm hoping to build more robust conversations and connections with you, and I want you to be able to do the same with one another, and that's where these forums come in. 

So let's gather here for some fun and insightful discussions, and let's help one another out with our educational and career goals by sharing our love for learning. Again, welcome! Looking forward to connecting! 

Mr. Robertson

Visit our new homework help discussion forums here.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Trades vs. STEM in schools

Aaron S. Robertson 

NOTE: The following is my response a few days ago to an interesting question posed to me by a candidate for the local school board in my hometown. I thought it was worth sharing here, as this is a question that all K-12 school districts across the country must continuously grapple with. The candidate's question dealt with limited resources (physical classroom space, number of hours in a school day, budgets, etc.) and where more emphasis should be placed if trades and STEM courses found themselves in too strong a competition for those limited resources. Very thought-provoking, and not a very easy answer, in my opinion.

Trades vs. STEM: This is a really thought-provoking question you raise, and I'm admittedly finding it a little difficult to answer. I'm a strong proponent of having both tracks (trades and STEM) well-represented in K-12 schools, along with a rigorous liberal arts curriculum.

With technology rapidly changing, STEM fields are undoubtedly the future. There will be technologies and even whole sectors and industries created that we can't even imagine right now.

On the other hand, when it comes to the trades, there will always be steady demand. We'll need skilled workers to continue manufacturing goods, building and repairing our vehicles, installing and maintaining our plumbing and HVAC systems, building and remodeling our homes and commercial buildings, etc., etc., etc. Demand to fill openings across the trades, as you're probably aware, is especially hot right now, as we're trying to reverse debilitating training and employment trends caused by having shifted away from offering these programs in schools for a number of years.

Should the two tracks ever get into a tug of war over limited budget resources, I'm wondering if it would be best to survey students and parents (along with maybe even conducting some in-depth interviews and focus groups), as well as look back at prior course enrollment data, to aid in determining what should definitely be saved, and what might have to be scaled back or even cut altogether? That way, we can say we've done all we can to best represent local flavor and demand.

There can also be a case made that many of these courses and training opportunities can easily be found elsewhere, for those who are really interested in seeking them out. In the STEM arena, for example, there are many professionally-facilitated in-person academies, workshops, and boot camps out there for youngsters, as well as online courses through popular Web sites like Khan Academy and Udemy.com. At the end of the day, we must realize that there are only so many hours and resources available in a school day, and so it's really up to families and motivated students to extend their learning beyond the classroom and school day in ways that are meaningful and satisfying for them.

What do you think? If trades and STEM courses found themselves in too much competition for limited resources in K-12 schools, what should be saved? What should be cut? Are there other solutions we're not thinking about here? Feel free to share your thoughts and insights in the comments section below.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

2020 was the best year of my life

From chaos, order. From noise, silence. From downtime, the opportunity to learn, learn, and learn. Here's how I made 2020 work for me.

Aaron S. Robertson 

Around a couple of weeks ago, I was having a phone conversation with my financial advisor. Actually, we were meeting on Zoom, one of the new things I learned how to do in 2020 (I'll get to that a little later). During our conversation, we landed on the subject of 2020 for a little bit. I told her that I felt kind of strange for saying and feeling this, but 2020 was actually perhaps the best year I've ever had, for a variety of reasons. She told me that I actually wasn't alone in feeling this way. She's been hearing the same talk from others.

Yes, it's true. And sure, I've occasionally joined family, friends, co-workers, and the social media and meme universes in generically bashing 2020. After all, there can be no ambiguity about it - it was, generally speaking, one hell of an unusual and chaotic ride, and that's quite an understatement. But with chaos comes opportunity, and the more I reflected on the year as we arrived closer to its end, the more I really am convinced that 2020 was indeed perhaps the best year of my life. With all the mayhem the year introduced, I sought to forcefully and skillfully match it with just as much order and clarity.

Jake LaMotta
"You never knocked me down, 2020. You never got me down." --
World middleweight champion Jake LaMotta (1922-2017), the "Raging Bull,"
in reference to Sugar Ray Robinson never being able to knock him out.
Chaotic and uncertain times, and life in general, are what you make of it. Never forget that. It's all what you make of it. You can't always control every outcome and event, but you are always able to be in full command of your response. And I actively chose to take advantage of all the havoc and the down time it brought with it this year to learn new subjects, sharpen skills, gain new insights, take my strategic thinking abilities to the next level, become familiar with newer technologies, and make new connections.

Here are the main highlights of my 2020 -

At the end of February/beginning of March, I started the envelope budgeting system as one of several key strategies I would go on to implement throughout the course of the year to gain better control over my finances. While I was somewhat familiar with the concepts behind this old-school system for many years, it wasn't until I started assisting students in a high school personal finance class last semester that I finally committed to trying this out. And it has helped me immensely. Check out this post I wrote back on March 4 about the envelope budgeting system. This goes to show you that you're never too old to learn anything. I was learning this system right alongside high school students. And it's working for me. 

When schools closed and went online back in March for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year, those of us who were working as hourly aides suddenly found ourselves wondering about our job security. Will our hours be cut? Will we be laid off and forced to hit the unemployment line? These were real and sincere questions we were facing. But to our pleasant surprise, the school district I have the privilege and honor of serving committed to keeping all of us working our regular schedules. The deal was that, when we weren't meeting with students online, we were expected to work on professional development activities and document our progress to HR. For me, this took on the form of reading a number of books and articles, writing reflections and essays (some of which became blog posts that I will share at the end of this post), watching a variety of training videos, and fulfilling continuing education requirements for my substitute teaching license. I'm very grateful to my school district for keeping us working. I'll never forget it. Not only was I blessed to be able to continue earning my regular income, but I was also given this incredible opportunity in all this chaos to deepen my understanding of various issues, challenges, trends, and debates in K-12 education today, along with learning new strategies to aid me in being more effective in the classroom. It was certainly time well spent. I learned things that I might never have been able to learn otherwise with my "normal" work schedule, simply due to a lack of time and opportunity in the typical day. Aides I know in other school districts weren't as fortunate. They either had their hours cut or were laid off outright.

At the end of April, while reminiscing on my childhood, I published this piece on figure skater Oksana Baiul. I caught her attention on Twitter for it, which was a fun surprise, and we ended up tweeting back and forth a little bit that day. Some day, I would love to interview her (you can check out my noteworthy interviews here). I'm sure she has a lot of valuable advice and insights to share with youngsters, particularly girls and young women, about chasing their dreams.

Oksana Baiul on Twitter

In mid-June, I had a phone conversation with one of my former professors. A political science professor from my days as an undergraduate student at Cardinal Stritch University, he has taught now for many years at the U.S. Naval War College in Rhode Island. I sought out his counsel on the subject of my doctoral dissertation. Originally, I wanted to do my dissertation on something in the realm of organizational culture, but I decided to take a new direction, and I was looking to return to my roots in political science. He planted a seed in my mind: China. With U.S. - China relations growing increasingly intense and China's power on the rise, many scholars predict we have entered, or will soon be entering, a new cold war. Some are speculating that we could eventually see actual combat. The seed he planted in my mind during this discussion would soon sprout into some viable ideas for my dissertation studies.

Summer: I traded in my usual summer itinerary of Milwaukee Brewers games, car shows, outdoor live music, the church festival scene, backyard barbecues, and the Wisconsin State Fair for the opportunity to learn all I could about China - its Communist Party leadership, Confucian philosophy, economy, artificial intelligence (AI) goals, Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), general history, how it's managing the COVID pandemic, its relations with other countries, etc. I did a lot of reading, watching documentaries, and so on. Simultaneously, I did a lot of research in the field of International Relations, becoming familiar with its key theories, concepts, and debates. I joke that I discovered just how much of a bitter realist I am. Among many other works, I finally got around to reading in its entirety The Prince by Machiavelli, and I even fit in The Art of War by Sun Tzu and the History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides.

August: I discovered the Web site Udemy.com. Udemy, in short, is an online learning platform allowing you to take video courses on a wide variety of subjects taught by experts from all over the world. You can read my full review of Udemy for more detailed information. I highly recommend looking into it. Anyway, among other courses I took, there were several in the field of International Relations taught by Dr. Kamil Zwolski. Kamil teaches at the University of Southampton, in the United Kingdom. His courses are informative and engaging, and they really complemented and enhanced what I was already learning up to that point. Kamil and I have started a correspondence, and we connected on LinkedIn and Twitter. Starting this month, in January, I'm taking a six-week seminar-style course he's teaching on International Relations theory. To show you how committed I am to the subject, I have to be up by 4am for six straight Saturdays so that I can catch him lecturing live at 11am his time in the UK! He recently launched his own Web site and blog devoted to the subject of International Relations, which you can check out by clicking here.

Learning new technologies: Working in education, I had to quickly become familiar with tools like Google Meet and Zoom on the fly. I also had to learn some other meeting apps and online communications tools for things like doctor appointments and professional development webinars. These are all tools and resources I never really had to use or think about before the pandemic hit. Now I know how to use them. Another learning opportunity in the chaos.

An education in viruses and the immune system: I probably learned more than I ever need or want to know about viruses, but, nonetheless, I'm now more educated on the subject. Actually, I found most of it to be quite fascinating, for someone who's usually not very much interested in the natural sciences. I also learned a few new things about the immune system, including the vital roles that Vitamin D and zinc play in it. Now, it always seems like the go-to vitamin for boosting one's immune system is Vitamin C. That's the one vitamin we frequently hear and talk about. No doubt, C is a key building block for the immune system. But, perhaps due to marketing gimmicks and packaging, C has managed to take too much of the spotlight, drowning out other vitamins and nutrients that are also important for immune system health, particularly Vitamin D. No wonder we're all deficient in it.

Dr. House: Near the end of the year, I rediscovered the TV series House on Amazon Prime. Prime has all eight seasons. Man, I love that show. I share House's dark humor, sarcasm, deep thinking, and eccentricities. Or does he share mine?

Bobby Fischer, chess, and checkers: At the very end of the year, literally within the last couple of weeks or so, I finally saw the 2014 movie Pawn Sacrifice, starring Tobey Maguire as the eccentric, reclusive, and demanding Bobby Fischer, who defeated Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union in 1972 to be crowned world champion of chess. Here's an interesting article from BBC.com, written in 2011, about Bobby Fischer. I was never interested in chess, and Bobby Fischer's name barely registered in my mind prior to seeing the movie. I now want to learn the game. It's on my radar to study one of these days soon. In the meantime, I rekindled an interest in checkers.
Here's a full-length HBO documentary on Bobby Fischer from 2011. It's entitled Bobby Fischer Against the World.

In closing, here are those blog posts I mentioned earlier that I wrote as part of my professional development regimen at the end of last school year. Happy reading, and Happy New Year! Here's to you and your loved ones for a safe, blessed, and prosperous 2021!



Emotional Disturbance

Fun activity with your favorite song

Fun activity with a favorite video game 

The real purpose of K-12 education

Building your own personal economy

The success and beauty in failure

Building intergenerational connections

Reading comprehension skills