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What to know before you consider a tummy tuck / Adominoplasty

22 Feb
  •  This is a very difficult surgery.
  • Don’t compare it and how well you did in other surgeries.
  • Don’t listen to your friend , Sally, who was at work in one week and running in 5 weeks. Everyone is different.
  • Know the different ways the surgery can be done, drainless, drains, or quilted with small drains.
  • Know the doctor really well, make sure you are comfortable with his practices if the worst happens. Ask him, if I have complications, how often will you see during those times.  how will I know what complications to look for? How often can I call or text or see you if I am having problems?
  • Ask about scar revisions and how those work.
  • Read all paperwork and make sure you know the risks, what they mean, what to look for, what will happen, how they fix them, etc.
  • After your surgery, your surgeon can have very different ideas of care than other doctors.  It is wise to trust your gut and get second options if needed.  RealSelf is a great resource.
  • Understand what is being done.  How long is the surgery.  What other procedures will be done, for example, lipo and where?
  • Know what to expect after surgery.  Will the lipo areas hurt and be bruised.nnhow how long does that last?  Should it swell?  How long?  What happens if I fell a lumpy area or squishy area or a really hard area?  What if I have certain types of pain that are different from the regular pains.
  • If I need wound care, how often are you going to see me?  Can I text whenever something worries me?

Before re getting a TT know that this is a BIG surgery.  Expect 2-4 weeks down and then slowly building recovery from there.  Everyone is different, some heal faster, some even slower.  You also don’t know who will have wound issues.  You need good home care and support.

Things to buy are:

  1.  A walker, it will save your back
  2. lip balm
  3. books or music or movies but stuff to do while hanging out bored
  4. eventaully need scar cream, I like Mederma advanced scar gel.
  5. you also should have a shower chair
  6. you also might like coconut oil to massage stomach with and can use on the scar.
  7. throat lozenges (you don’t want to cough)
  8. protein for healing
  9. zinc, vit c, and bromelein for supplements

 

Know now things like that you are most likely getting a vag lift … This means, your pubic hair line goes up to your scar now and you have a lot more hair than before.  It also repositions the vaginal opening so sex feels different.  The angles are off, it takes some getting used to.

Know that your mons pubis area can get quite swollen and look distirbing.

Know that many people have belly button problems.  Swelling can last for a long time.  It gets the worst between weeks 3 and 8 and then starts to get better but you still get swelling at the end of the day or after exercise,

Read my post on wound care, look at the photos, this happens to people, could you deal with it if it was you?  I liked drainless but drains may have saved me from all my wound problems, so I don’t know. Ideally, I would want a quilted approach with 1 small drains at the flap.

There is tightness, numbness, healing, etc issues to think about.  It really take at least one year to recover, that is a long time.  At 2 months now, I still have some swelling, lots of swelling at my open wound, I have one wound still open and another closed, I have a belly button trying to heal, and I have a ton of tightness in my lower stomach.  I also have hard scar tissue forming in large areas near the scars that are painful.  It is less flexible and will throbb.

It it is a big surgery. More than just, yeah, let’s go get my stomach flat today.  Good luck with your choice.  Most women don’t regret it but do wish they were better informed about what to expect.

 

 

 

 
 

Caring for and packing an open wound

22 Feb

Wound Healing Tips:  Photos / Images of wound healing over time

 

You can get an open wound from many different reasons, in the end however, we are all dealing with the issue of how to get it to heal quickly.  Many wounds come from surgery when an incision does not stay close or there is tissue death, necrosis, that must be managed. It can also come from an infection.  My wound came from a seroma of fluid putting pressure on my incision and therefore, causing it to open.

I will give advice in general and in story mode based on what happened to me.  Your wound could be any size.  It will have a length, width, and depth.   It also might tunnel through closed layers of the skin and have a width with in the tunnel.  What matters most is knowing the dimensions so you can measure progress.  My wound was about 2 inches long, 1 inch wide, and 6 inches deep in a tunnel that had a diameter of about an inch.  It was pretty big.   Suggestion: Measure and record your wound size.

Initially, my wound looked terrible, it had black stuff in it (pic 1) and it was unhealthy looking.  It actually needed something called debridement.  This gets rid of unhealthy tissue so new tissue can grow.  The doctor felt around with a long Qtip and packed with wet gauze and saline.  Later, I had to replace the gauze and do this twice per day.  This action does help slowly debride the wound but better and faster methods can be used such as lightly scraping with a scalpel or using Medihoney, which I eventually used and this helped debride the wound very well.

image

Wound needs debridement – pic 1

Wet to dry dressings

Wet to dry dressings pic 2

 

I have a video link on YouTube that shows me doing the wet to dry packing of the wound.  Remember that this is a deep hole, so it is like a magic trick of disappearing scarves. The link is at http://youtu.be/Q354L0Vvd5c

When doing these wet to dry dressings, I would have to cover the wound up with something (the dry part of wet to dry dressings) to catch all the fluid.  It was a mix of exudate and serous fluid.  In the beginning, there was a lot of it.  I would cover it with a maxi pad or even two at night and stick them to the side of my underwear to hold them in place.

image

First two weeks not doing much, pic 3

For the first two weeks, the wound only got bigger.  It was looking healthier but it did not get smaller at all.  You see in pic 3 that it didn’t do much but by pic 4, the skin is pinker and healthier but the size looks a little bigger.

Once we saw the healthy smooth, red granulation tissue, we knew that healing could start taking place.  I would intermittently use regular saline gauze and the gauze with the Medihoney on it as you saw me do in the video.  I also purchased Medihoney  rope so I could completely pack it with Medhoney.  It was about $60 for the rope,and about $16 for each tube of the paste.  I bought on Amazon.  They sell all kinds of Medihoney products.  The gel and paste are similar but the gel is thicker, I found the paste worked best for putting on a gauze before packing.  The rope is long sheets of honey on a gauze-like alginate that you pack directly with and the honey melts into the wound and then you pull out the gel piece after a day or two.  Read all the benefits of Medihoney and you will be impressed.  It speeds healing, decreases pains, gets rid of infection, and helps keep you from getting an infection.  After 2 weeks of wet dry packing and Medihoney, I started feeling the wound tighten on the inside. Read the rest of this entry »

 
 

Can a tummy tuck help my back pain?

20 Feb

Photos from before and after at end of post.

There are a few studies that show an Abdominoplasty or tummy tuck has helped improve back pack in some patients but most evidence is subjective.  If you ask a plastic surgeon, they will tell you it might happen but not to count on it.  I felt strongly that a tummy tuck, specifically the muscle repair was going to provide me relief.  The reason was based on my specific back pain issues.

As I began searching for the causes of my back pain, I kept coming back to a couple of things.  My pain was a lot of musculoskeletal pain from being out of alignment. I would joke that I was a car that just needed a front end alignment, you know what, I was right and didn’t even realized it for a long time.  My legs were off so I walked with a wobble, this set everything else off and my hips were off, my knees hurt, my legs hurt, and most of all my back hurt.  Doctors would tell me that I had to use my core more to hold up my back.  One PT had me tighten my core, to be honest, I couldn’t find my core.  There was nothing to tighten because the muscles were so separated that they didn’t work.  I don’t know why any of these doctors or specialists couldn’t see the big picture and say, hey, your abdominal muscle separation is causing you a huge problem or at least, if your muscles were repaired, your core would be able to support your back so much better. I really had almost no core support and on top of that I was forward heavy.  You know how women with very large breasts get breast reductions to help with back pain, well, all my insides were essentially herniating between my separated abdominal muscles and pushing out giving me this giant belly that caused all this forward weight on me and ruined my posture, hurting my back.  I may have looked like I had a fat stomach but my weight told a different story.  I wasn’t that overweight.  And after I had the surgery, if it had been fat, my stomach would have remained rounded and it didn’t. It just needed everything pulled back behind the abdominal wall.

After looking at my situation:

  • Posture is terrible, leads to pain
  • Posture can be fixed with less weight pushing forward from belly
  • Weight is reasonable so bulge is most likely from ab muscles not holding organs back
  • Cant get any contraction of core muscles now
  • Doctors stress tight core will really help my pain

It seemed to me that I could medically benefit from a tummy tuck / admomhinoplasty with muscle repair.  Could I get insurance to cover it?  Maybe but doubtful.  It would take so much work and effort and even if they found it medically necessary for me they don’t want to,set a precedent so they would probably deny for that reason alone.  I cared more about my health than fighting an insurance company so we just paid out of pocket.

Results?  It has only been two months so the jury is still out.  I have noticed a significant difference in my posture. I have core strength that I did not have before.   My body is adjusting to the new posture and I feel changes.  My right knee used to hurt, now my left knee hurts, but hopefully that means I am putting more even pressure on my joints.  My hip pain and back pain is currently down 40%.  That might change as I am dealing with complications from the surgery and have open wounds and scar pain right that hurt more than the back, so I haven’t been able to fully cut back on meds to see if I can go lower because I need them for the wound pain right now.  In another 6 months (or a year at most) I hope to have this wound and scar stuff fixed and can better evaluate the original pain.  However, so far I am very encouraged.  I also look much nicer now that my abs hold back my other organs.

stomach protrudes

stomach protrudes

 

abs now hold in all organs, only a little fat, lost 10 pounds after surgery

abs now hold in all organs, only a little fat, lost 10 pounds after surgery

 
 

Abdominoplasty / Tummy tuck for core strength to help back pain patients

30 Dec

Living with severe chronic back pain is very difficult but there are many of us out there. The problems I have found comes from a small checklist of known items that can be seen on a scan the hat cause pain and if you see a doctor and your scan does not show one of those known items such as a slipped disc or stenosis, then you are out of luck. No one has the ability to go beyond that list, after that you get shots and physical therapy, and in many people those are also ineffective.

Personally, I find it frustrating as I have begun to piece together my problems but there is no doctor who treats my issues…. I am structurally out of alignment and each out of alignment piece causes wear and tear and then pain on other pieces. A chiropractic is the closest person who figured me out, only they can only pop me into place for a day and then I pop back out… I need a permanent fix. I tried physical therapists but they are so by the manual, no one can look at my pain and issues individually rather than look at a “back pain” means this treatment. That doesn’t work when my back pain is stemming from overall skeletal misalignment.

So, I continue to be my own best doctor and research to try and put the puzzle pieces together for myself. I have a misaligned pelvis and this gives me one leg shorter than another. I have problems with my hip stability and si joints and my psoas muscle. I have no core stability and overwork my surrounding muscles to try and offset my weak core. Yet efforts to improve core strength have not gone well and are hindered by my overall misalignment and pain.

If only I could rebuild myself somehow, I thought. Well, then I started reading about the diasastis recti, the abdominal muscles that get pulled apart, often by childbirth. My internal organs poke through terribly and clearly set my back off balance just from my posture alone with my large chest and my big tummy. I tightened my muscles (the best I could) and sucked it in and realized it didn’t take much for a big change.

So, I took my hypothesis to the internet. Do people with back pain get relief after muscle retightening in a tummy tuck procedure? The answer was, anecdotally,”yes.” No doctor would make that promise because in part it depends on what is causing your back pain but in my case, it seemed logical that starting that alignment process with something we can fix, align, and rebuild, it would bring me things that my back were lacking and could provide some relief. I was not expecting to be cured but a reduction of 10-40% would be a success in my opinion.

I also knew that worst case and I don’t get relief, at least, I will get a better looking body so there was no downside. If I felt I had a chance to fight the insurance for payment for the medical necessity because of my back, I would have but after losing another fight that was clear cut that we should have won, I learned it isn’t about showing you can prove this or that, they will just say no and don’t have to have a good reason. So I just paid for my procedure with money we had saved for medical expenses.

The typical tummy tuck patient (news to me) is a thin woman who has an area on her tummy that is no longer perfectly flat after having children. In my eyes, these ladies all still had great bodies, especially compared to what I saw when I looked in the mirror but everyone has the right to have their bodies exactly as they want them and so they want to get back that perfect flat tummy and a tummy tuck will do that for them. Most plastic surgeons want you at your ideal weight before surgery and want to know you can hold that weight. I didn’t know much about the procedure but I did learn it is not a weight loss procedure. The doctor may cut off 1-5 pounds of skin but 5 is actually on the high side. You can request extra lipo if you want, some doctors don’t think it is safe to do much lipo during a tummy tuck.

So, I met with a PS and told him I wanted a TT with muscle repair, in hopes of helping my back. He scheduled me for a drainless tummy tuck with a shot of Experal. The Experal was supposed to make the first few days easier. They still hurt like hell so I don’t know, I guess it would have been worse. I needed a walker to walk for the first week. I had to wear a compression garment for two weeks. I didn’t have much swelling the first week but by week two, the swelling doubled and lasted for 10 weeks.

I normally take oxycontin for back pain and I was taking a higher dose for the first week but after that I was able to drop to my old dose with ibuprofen in the middle.

My back pain is currently down about 40% but I am still numb, dealing with other pain, not on my regular movement and exercise schedule so I am waiting to see how things change as time goes on.

Physically, I was very shocked to see how much my body was impacted by that 3 cm gap in my muscles. It is a shame that insurance doesn’t care that this muscle repair is a huge medical issue for some women, not just cosmetic. Even my bowel habits seem better. You also feel full sooner and now my weight matches how I look.

There are going to be many more benefits that I am going to discover from this adventure that I didn’t even realize. I have a whole new respect for this surgery and women who want to do it for whatever the reason.

Update:  I added two new posts to this series, another where I talk about back pain.  Another one is about the wound issues that I had after the surgery.  Not everyone has complications but I did (as did a few others who were having surgery the same time as I did).  It took over 2 months to get through most of the wound issues and I am still not “done” with it but hopefully, I am on the road to being better.  I would still do it, however, as the impact on my back pain was worth it.

My weight now falls in the normal BMI range, I lost 14 pounds since before I went into surgery (5 was skin) and I like how I look (minus the scars) and once the wound pain ends, I am anxious to fully assess my back pain but right now, my guess is about 40% better.

Here are some photos:

stomach protrudes

stomach protrudes

abs now hold in all organs, only a little fat, lost 10 pounds after surgery

abs now hold in all organs, only a little fat, lost 10 pounds after surgery

 
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Posted in Medical

 

Whiskey is turning 3 – Border Collie / Dog Fear Aggression Blog

16 Nov

Our sweet border collie will be 3 in a few more weeks, wow, how time flies.  It is late so I will keep this update short – but here are our most recent stories:

Whiskey Meets a Lab Face to Face

We have this neighbor who has an invisible fence.  It freaks Whiskey out since all he sees is dogs that are loose.  When she has friends over with dogs, they are often let loose with her dogs.  They may get a collar too but haven’t been trained with it so they still run right through the fence, zap and all.  So, I am walking Whiskey and a Lab comes charging over from their yard (not the first time).  I panic a little (got to stop doing this as I am sure it doesn’t help Whiskey).  I yell that my dog will EAT their dog… okay, I don’t say but I say they better get their dog fast because Whiskey is “not good with dogs.”  She is too slow to get over and Whiskey is face to face with the lab – I wasn’t prepared.  Whiskey didn’t know what to do!  He did nip at the dog but baby nips, no outright attack, nothing the dog even felt at all – it was very minor.  The lab did not even know what was going on.  I was trying to keep Whiskey away from the lab – I should have tried just walking away, I don’t know if that would be better or not but I was trying to just put myself in the way… maybe not smart either but I didn’t think the lab meant any harm and Whiskey wasn’t going to intentionally bite me… so finally, the lady comes and gets her lab and apologizes to Whiskey – asking if she can pet him, HA?!  No…  The good news was that it was not a terrible experience, Whiskey was face to face with a dog, he did not get bit and he did not REALLY bite the other dog.

Whiskey Walks by Dogs Closely

We have also been in more and more situations where Whiskey has had to walk by dogs or have dogs within just a foot of him.  He has handled it very well.  He had concern but was not overly anxious and was able to ignore and move on quickly when I asked him to.

Talking to Whiskey

More people have been talking to him lately, he doesn’t growl anymore when people do that!!!

Bonding with my Oldest

When we got Whiskey, my oldest son was away at college so Whiskey did not know him and he was not trust worthy.  He did come and stay with us so Whiskey learned to accept him in the house but they had an agreement to just ignore each other.  Now if we are on a walk and away from the house but see my oldest away from the house and tell Whiskey that it is “ge ge” (what we call him, Chinese word for oldest brother), he wags his tail and runs up to him!

Called off from the Cat

Since Whiskey moved in, the cats had to move their domicile to the second floor.  Whiskey would chase the cats and I don’t trust him with his high prey drive.  The cats learned they stay upstairs and the dogs always stay downstairs.  Sometimes, the cat comes down on the stairs and sticks her head through the rails to meow at me about something and Whiskey sees her and starts to chase her, running at the stairs – however, I have been able to call him off mid-chase!  This is good so that maybe, if ever needed, I could call him mid-chase from chasing a dog or something.

Final Update

He continues to improve!  We are going to be talking to a new trainer and either way, we will continue our work to make him a non-reactive dog someday!

 

Mandarin Chinese 1 North Carolina Virtual Public Schools Online course Review

08 Nov

Review of Mandarin Chinese 1 North Carolina Virtual Public Schools Online Course 2015

 

I have written about NCVPS courses before and a little about Mandarin 1 Chinese, but I wanted to write a more solid review for those who are considering it.  I think having the option to take other languages besides just 2 or maybe 3 choices at all schools is wonderful and NCVPS makes that possible for students in North Carolina schools.  Some students attend a middle school where they get 2 years (equivalent to one high school semester) of Mandarin Chinese but then go to attend their base school only to find that Mandarin is not an option at their school.  They want to continue with the language they started so one option is to look to NCVPS online classes as a way to continue with the same language if it is not possible to offer languages in feeder schools.  Personally I feel if Mandarin is offered in Middle School A and it feeds into High School B and C, then High Schools B and C should offer Mandarin.  However, I realize this might not be feasible and at least we do have the option of online learning.

Now, we look at the effectiveness of learning a language online.  This is a very difficult thing to teach online and in an independent format.  As an adult (who is also an educator) I know that it is even a challenge for me to learn a language through self-study and things like tapes that provide immersion situations have helped me much more than trying to meet course expectations at the same time I am trying to absorb a language.  A good educator knows how students learn, this is independent of what they are learning, there are just certain things that apply in general to learning, such as learning gradually, having material presented in small amounts and then gradually building on the foundation.  Students need repetition and practice of patterns to learn them.  If we sit down and make a list of what is needed to create a good learning environment for students in general and then specifically for learning a foreign language (and then specifically for Mandarin) – we can see if NCVPS is successful at achieving these goals in their online course.

Learning foreign languages is a lot like learning mathematics, everything you learn builds on the former foundation and you must always look for patterns.  This is why they say students who do good in math are more likely to be successful with foreign languages.  Also, just like in mathematics, you can’t start teaching a student Calculus if they haven’t learned how to multiply.  In Mandarin, you can’t start teaching past tense if you haven’t built a foundation of basic sentence patterns and vocabulary.  You need to go slow enough to let students get that foundations so they can be successful when you put those higher layers on otherwise the “house” will just tumble down from a weak foundation.

Looking at the current (2015) curriculum for Mandarin 1 NCVPS – it comes from a program developed by Learn NC:  http://www.learnnc.org/lp/editions/mandarin1/contents

In the course, students go through 10 lessons in a block schedule of 18 weeks (which in the end boils down to about 16 weeks by the time things get started and end a little early for grading and transition).

The first few weeks are spent going slowly building the foundational blocks of Pinyin and pronunciation.  Students spend time just learning to associate the sounds that the different English letters make, for example, x makes the /sh/ sound so xi says “she”.  Students are also introduced to the four basic tones.   Students do not actually start with much vocabulary yet, just work on these sound concepts.

A few weeks later, students finally dive into the first actually lesson of the 10 week lessons – now that it is already almost a month into the course, students are allotted about 1.5 weeks per lesson.    In each lesson, they learn new vocabulary, new pronunciation, practice more pinyin and tones, begin to associate characters to words as well as the pinyin to the words, and have grammar lessons that introduce them to sentence patterns – for example, in Mandarin, you don’t write, I am smart, you would write I very smart.  You would not put the “to be” verb “am” in there and you be expected to put “very” in front of smart.  You would write, “My dog very cute.  My friend very pretty.”  This would be just one example of a pattern you would learn.  However, the curriculum does not spell that out in easy to understand terms like I just did, you have to kind of figure it out on your own by looking at the examples and finding a pattern on your own – which for many kids won’t ever happen.  Finally, the students get a quiz (that they can do open notes) but it is all in characters (which they don’t know) to test if they have figured out these hidden sentence patterns from within the text and grammar notes.  It is almost a game in “hide and go seek.”

As the lessons get more difficult, the amount of vocab greatly increases, the meaning behind the words becomes more complex and are often not well explained in the notes and the patterns continue to be very difficult to tease out of the notes.  They will use words that have multiple meanings but the notes don’t share all the details so as a student tries to get more information on their own they just get confused.

Students also have coaching 2 times per week for 45 minutes each.  These sessions are with about 6 other students.  The coach will usually talk about things from the lessons and then ask students to read and practice pronunciation, build a sentence pattern, tell the meaning of a vocab word, etc.  However, it is ineffective because the amount of time students actually get to interact with the coach one to one and “practice” something really useful is less than 10 minutes and nothing is repeated enough or demonstrated in a way that really builds the strong foundation because the pace of the class is so fast.  Examples of things she might ask:  Each student has to read from a dialogue, each student has to match a character, each student has to say a word using the word di which turns a number into an ordinal, each student has to give a date, each student has to say a number, etc.  Making these sessions have more direct focus on essentials such as one that is just practicing pronunciation in the beginning but then just building sentence patterns and just working on conversation where she quickly goes from one student to the next or all students can answer at the same time would be much more useful.

By the time lesson 9 rolls around, the number of grammar situations that have been introduced are more complex.   There are no practice sheets for these sentence patterns (in pinyin which is how students are learning at this stage) that are simple, clear, and have the answers.  It would be very helpful if students had practice sheets with answers to check where they were told to first do direct word for word translations so they could get used the pattern in the backwards way they write in Chinese.  For example, students might be told to write in pinyin:  I 7:00 as early as came.  Later, they can get the sentence in form:  I came as early as 7:00.  This way the students learn the backwards way to write it and practice both the vocab and the backwards patterning first and then later have to remember how to put it together to match the way we say it in English later.  They should do this for many different vocab words, for example, the next one would be:  He 9:00 as early as was in the library, step two would be translate from:  He was in the library as early as 9:00.  As the student does both more and more, they will get used to the location of words in the sentence and the pattern.  However, there is nothing set up in the curriculum for the student to do this.  All there is on this lesson is a brief and hard to understand description and two examples without any practice for the student to remember it.  Most students cannot simply learn a language by “reading” sentence patterns, they need to be actively involved in writing (and speaking) these sentence patterns.  This is what is lacking in this curriculum.

Additionally, a student can only move so fast.  You cannot teach a student Calculus 1 in one month, it is not reasonable.  Also, having the expectation that a student will go from never having spoken a word of language to knowing all these sentence patterns, huge amounts of vocab, pinyin, grammar, idioms, and perhaps even characters in less than 4 months is not realistic.  Even the language tutor that I hired said her college classes did not move this fast.  On top of that you do not have a personal teacher there helping the student learn and you have insufficient practice for the student.  A student can do well in the class because they are allowed to use notes to do assignments and can re-take quizzes, however, the grade does not reflect mastery of content presented in the class.  In other words and A does not mean that the student now knows all the vocab, idioms, sentence patterns / grammar, characters, pinyin, can speak fluently, etc. of all the content in lessons 1-10, so if that is an assumption for Mandarin 2, that is a worrisome thought.

I believe the material here could be a foundation to build a curriculum from, however, one needs someone who understand how students learn and knows how to write good curriculum to jump on board and help create lessons and practice that align with this to improve the course.

If a student needs/wants Mandarin, my suggestion would be to plan on getting a tutor with this class so they have someone to help support them.  With my own son, I had a tutor and am planning on having her reteach him throughout the summer so he can be prepared for Mandarin 2.  Hopefully, NCVPS will get some feedback and make the needed changes to make this course more successful for students.  If you have taken it or have comments, please let us know, we would love to hear from you.

 

Written by:

Lynne Gregorio, Ph.D. Mathematics Education

Mother of Student who took Mandarin 1 through NCVPS

 

 
 

How to kill a nest of yellow jackets in the ground

25 Oct

I am sure there is more than one way to do this.  I spent time on the internet reading many different approaches including gasoline, boiling water, soapy water, bee spray, etc.  Many people didn’t even have any luck with their approach.  I will share my story as I believe, knock on wood, my nest is dead but we are still giving it more time so we don’t take any chances.

When putting fresh mulch on our landscape area we realized we had a nest and disturbed it.  It took them a few days to dig a new hole into the mulch that was put on top of the hole that must have been there already.  With mulch it is really hard to see a hole and you don’t want to get too close to watch.  Here is what we did.

  1. At evening time when they are less active, we put a large “muck” bucket (we use them as laundry baskets but they don’t have holes in them) over the area we thought they might be coming out of.  We had to use something very large since we couldn’t really see a hole since the nest was in mulch.  We waited a few days.
  2. We then wanted to see if our bucket was doing anything so we (again at night) lifted the bucket and found that it did have many bees (living but sleepy) in it.  We sprayed the whole area with bee and wasp spray and put the bucket back.  We continued to wait but saw more bees again the next day.
  3. I could see a new hole that they seemed to have made so I sprinkled borax on the area so they could bring it into the nest.  I could see them walking in the borax and going in the new hole.  The muck bucket was still on the other hole.
  4. After a few days of them walking through the borax, I went and put a plastic cereal bowl over the new hole I saw.
  5. After that day I did not see bees for a long time.  I think I saw one more bee about a week later and he looked like he was going into a new spot right near the cereal bowl, so I put a plastic cup near the cereal bowl.  Again, so no more bees for another few days.
  6. Now it has been about 1.5 weeks with only the one bee that I saw near the nest, don’t even know if he got into the nest or not.  So, tonight, we pulled off all the buckets, bowls, and cups.  There were many many bees under the cereal bowl,  I did not want to shine a light on them or investigate their signs of life (I hope they were dead).   So, we now put down layers of plastic that are being held down with stake holders including an extra set that secures the plastic all around the area where the cereal bowl was to trap the bees for a longer period.  This way our neighbors don’t have to see our entire pantry as they drive down the road.  Hopefully, this will secure the area and any bees that might still be alive in the nest will remain trapped and perish.

Bottom line, if you can find the nest, putting something for the bees to walk in first (Borax or another insecticide) and track into the nest and then covering the hole(s) and waiting seems like the easiest solution.

 

 

North Carolina Virtual Public School Classes: Review (AP Computer Science, Mandarin Chinese 1)

20 Sep

Have you wondered what the NCVPS or North Carolina Virtual Public School classes are like?  Well, I can’t speak for all of them but since there is little information online about them, I can hopefully provide some overview in general and detail overview about two.  First, online data suggests that the curriculum is much weaker compared to traditional courses, students in AP courses generally score much lower than students who take AP courses in their regular school, although if the course is not offered, you can may not have a choice and you always self-study with outside sources to improve your chances of doing well – but, don’t rely on the curriculum to prepare you in all AP classes, especially math classes.  I have known students who have gotten A’s in NCVPS math classes that were very unprepared and did very poorly in their next math course that followed.

Classes that I can speak in more detail about since my son is taking them are AP Computer Science and Mandarin Chinese 1.

 

Mandarin Chinese 1:  First, it is very difficult to learn a language online.  My son is able to be successful because of a tutor working with him but without a tutor, he would be totally lost and I would not suggest this class to a student without a strong drive and high interest in Chinese.  The course has 10 lessons and in the beginning they move very slowly but then the pace picks up very fast and is too fast!  The student has to learn Pinyin, how to write Chinese using English characters and do 5 assignments that teach this phonetic foundation of Chinese.  They have to learn about 30 new vocab words per week.  They get a grammar lesson that shows how grammar structures are used in Chinese, this is confusing and then take 10 quizzes that are all in Chinese characters that relate to these grammar lessons, this is the most challenging part of the class (although they get unlimited tries).  They must meet for 45 minutes twice a week online with a language coach (true class time).  They must also read 10 mini-plays to the teacher throughout the semester on a skype type session one on one.  They must participate in discussion board responses about the culture and they have 2 projects due at the end of the semester.  The language level intensity ramps up pretty quickly, it is not like they just learn numbers and then names of things in a house, etc.  They learn these dialogues that integrate all these grammar structures and are trying to learn both the pinyin and some character recognition at the same time.  I think if they paced the class differently it could be better but the rapid increase in pace is a concern and although my son has managed the basics okay in the beginning, I worry how he will keep up towards the end and be able to then handle a Mandarin 2 class if it has a same pace.  Without a doubt, I suggest a tutor once get past lesson 1 – if you get one from the start, they can help lay the correct foundation.

 

AP Computer Science:  This is another class where they are trying to do too much!  My son gets overloaded with work that really just is not needed to grasp the subject!  He gets two, sometimes 3 programs a day to write and the teacher wants students to not just write normal documentation but to explain in detail what every line of code does, include a description, and what you learned – so each program becomes like a paper and takes time because of all the requirements.  The teacher grades harshly if you don’t follow all of his documentation requirements to the letter even if your code works fine!  So, it is a class of a lot of busy work, if that stuff is annoying to you, you might want to rethink taking this class.  Each day there is a list of videos to watch and then programs to write and once a week a quiz or two to take. You get 2 tries on quizzes and they have tricky answers and supposedly the tests are even more tricky and most kids fail.  You get only one attempt there.  There is extra credit each week available (but more work to add to your already heavy load) but you need it since the tests are designed for you to fail.  In addition to the programs, there are discussion boards you have to do each week.  It is a lot of work and if we had to do it again, we might have tried to just take Java at a college through dual enrollment rather than do this when the results will be the same.

 

Overall my review of NCVPS is not good – on one hand, you get flexibility to work when you want, however, they don’t seem to have well defined curriculum and the results show students are not successful with good AP grades or EOC grades.

 
 

Southeast Raleigh Magnet High School – What it is like? Review

17 Aug

A parents Review of Southeast Raleigh Magnet high school

 

Are you thinking about sending your child to Southeast Raleigh High School?  Maybe you are worried about the school – the safety,  the academics, or the overall experience?

I am the type of person who gives a lot of thought to my child’s school experience, more than the average person!  If you are one of those people and are looking for a resource about Southeast, I hope this helps.  This will be a journal of my son’s four years at the school, starting with some background as it relates to high school course experiences.

Pre-High School

Before high school, R went to a regular public elementary school, we then sent him to Exploris Middle School.  Wake County did away with his track going into middle school so he was going to lose his intact friend group and we were not thrilled with Lufkin Road Middle where he was assigned.  Exploris had a good reputation so we took advantage of that as we had positive experiences with charter schools in the past.  His first year there under the direction of Kevin (the director at the time) was wonderful, we loved the school. Kevin retired and we were not happy with the changes post Kevin – without a lot of detail by 2nd quarter of 8th grade, he chose to homeschool the rest of 8th grade.

During 7th grade at Exploris they were the first group of Common Core Math 1 – but it was a transitional year and he learned the material (passed fine) but without the level of practice I would have liked on some of the procedural mechanics.  In the beginning of 8th grade, Exploris tried this discovery learning approach to Common Core Math 2 and he was not learning ANYTHING, another reason we pulled him out – thankfully, it gave us 3/4 of a year to give him the foundation of Common Core 2 to prepare him for high school Math 3.

R was very interested in Engineering and Computer Science, we looked at the STEM Early College and SE Raleigh High School as the two best fits for him.  We were impressed with both during the Magnet fairs.  The advantage of SE Raleigh, however, is that it allowed him to explore other interests as well outside of just STEM interests and he could take Math 3 right away while STEM would make him take a fluff class first since they didn’t let first semester freshman start in Math 3 (why?  you are a STEM school???).

Freshman Year

R went to the orientation and made friends that day!  On the second day of school, he went to the Theater interest meeting and made more friends.  By the end of the week, he was auditioning and by the second week, he had one of the leads in the play, Much Ado About Nothing!  His fall classes were:

Healthful Living:  He had a lively teacher who was very organized and nice.  The class was not difficult.  It was taught using New Tech and everything was online to see.  Grades were posted daily, so you always knew how well your child was doing.  The only test he every studied for was his final exam.  They played a variety of sports and had health class.  He got an A without much trouble.

Foundations of IT:  R started off in the IT Academy in addition to the Engineering Academy and this course was required.  He knew everything in the class but used it to challenge himself with his friend who also already knew how to do everything.  This year, R, decided to drop the IT Academy since he knows too much of the class content already and doesn’t have space in his schedule.  He enjoyed the teacher and easily got an A.

Honors IED:  Intro to Engineering:  This is part of the Engineering Academy that he joined.  It was also New Tech, everything was online and he could retake quizzes until they 100 and would lose points based on how many times he had to take them to get a 100 (much nicer way to do it).  He did projects at the computer every day and class seemed fun and interesting. All the engineering teachers seem great.  He got an A without much trouble.

English 1/World History:  This class was a combination class that met together for the entire year rather than just one semester.  R did not like the class.  This was his worst set of teachers.  They were okay from a parent perspective, they communicated with me and worked with him on issues but they did not engage him and he was bored.  They read some books, studied literary terms, did grammar, and learned about World History.  He got an A in English and a B in World History.

His second semester continued with English 1/World History and:

Honors Biology:  This was another New Tech class, so they did a lot of tests and projects.   After doing New Tech, I think R prefers not doing New Tech but he is stuck with a certain number of them since he is in the Engineering Academy and they have to do New Tech classes.  Biology was easy for R and he easily got an A in the class.  The teacher was okay in his opinion, not wonderful but better than his English / World History teachers.

Honors Math 3:  After homeschooling Math 2, I was able to make sure he had a good foundation (something he would not have gotten at Exploris) in math and was prepared for Math 3.  I see this same type of good foundation in kids coming from Math 2 at Apex Middle School (who I tutored) who do well.  I can’t speak for other schools right now, some schools give good foundations, others do not!  It was amazing to see the difference in ability in the kids.  R was the star student and if it wasn’t for the New Tech situation, he would have had a high A average but he had to deal with other students who did not pull their weight, brought his project grade down (on one project) enough to give him just enough that he got a 92 and a 93 (still on a 7 point scale) was needed for an A, so he got a B in the class, despite getting 100 on the midterm and final exams.  The teacher had a lot of strengths but was frustrating when she couldn’t look past this one project and grade R with the correct grade that matched his ability.    However, he continues to be the top student in his math class so far sophomore year too.

Digital Arts:  R had to find a class to fill a spot, there were other things he wanted to take but nothing fit his schedule but digital arts.  He worked on Adobe Flash Studio Suite and usually finished his work so early the teacher gave him her own projects to work on for her.  He did great, helped other classmates, and easily scored an A.

Socially:  R did 2 plays and participated in the FIRST Robotics Team for the 2015 year.  He also went to 2 football games and took drivers ed.  He was awarded:  Most valuable Freshman Performer

 

Sophomore Year

This year started well, R has decided not to do FIRST Robotics Team due to the inflexibility of the moderator  and his ability to work with his medical needs.  Therefore, he has joined Vex robotics instead.  He has also auditioned for 2 shows, he has a part in Macbeth and in A Christmas Carol.

Fall semester he took:

Honors Precalc:  If your student had a good background in Math 2 and 3, almost everything in Honors Precalc will be a review.  R has gotten a 100 on every test so far.

Honors Chemistry  Due to schedule conflicts, he was placed in regular Chemistry rather than New Tech.  He actually was happy about this.  Although the New Tech program has good intentions, it has to be run by a teacher who really understand how to implement it and unfortunately, I don’t feel that most of the teachers really understand the goals behind New Tech and therefore it has been more of a negative than a positive.  He has been much happier without New Tech!

Honors US History 1 – This class he has had to be in New Tech.  I don’t know that his teacher follows the ideals of New Tech, he does a lot of worksheets.  It is supposed to be project based and clearly it isn’t.  I dream about the day I find a US History teacher that actually makes kids excited about learning History.

Mandarin 1 – see my review on this course on a different page.  This is an online course through NCVPS so it has nothing to do with Southeast, except that they are flexible enough to let kids take online classes.

AP Computer Science – also online through NCVPS, I believe Southeast Raleigh will eventually offer this course but it was not offered this year so R took it online.  Again, a review of it through NCVPS can be found elsewhere on my site.

Second Semester will be:

AP Chemistry – his first AP class!!!

Honors English 2

Honors POE – Principal of Engineering

AP Computer Science – online AP courses are full year courses so he has to take this for a full year.

Socially:  R received parts in two plays, joined the Vex Robotics Team, is driving with his permit.

 

 

Estate Planning – Costs / Packages / What you should Know when you are getting started

17 Aug

#Wills  #What does a will cost? #What is an estate plan #What is an eldercare attorney?  #What is a trust?  #When should I have a will?  #What do I need to plan for my death?  #When do I need to make a will?  #Is it expensive to make a will?  #What is probate?

Estate Planning – When Do I need one and How much does it Cost?

Estate planning is something we like to put off – we do it for many reasons.  The first is we don’t think we are going to die for a long time and therefore don’t need to do an estate plan.  We also think it costs too much money or we don’t have enough in our “estate” to bother “will-ing” our stuff to anyone.

So WHEN do you need to have an estate plan?  Everyone really should have one, but if you have children, you need to name a guardian, if you are a senior, you should be making plans because of your age, and if you a decent amount of life insurance and/or assets, some people forget to include their life insurance amounts when they think about how much their estate is valued at.

If you are just worried about naming a guardian and/or don’t have many assets (this includes your life insurance amounts) – for example, let’s say you have under $100,000 total value of everything including life insurance, retirement funds, equity in your house, savings account values, cars, etc.  then it is probably fine to just do one of those legal zoom type documents.

If you have more than that, you may fall into one of two situations:

1)  you live paycheck to paycheck with very little extra funds to cover things like paying an attorney

2)  you don’t live that way and can afford to do an estate plan

In case #1, for a basic will, living will, health care POA, and durable POA (for finances) – one that is very “cookie cutter” but contains MANY more protections than one in legal zoom, can be done with an attorney for under $1000, most likely closer to $500.  I suggest doing the legal zoom version asap so that you have SOMETHING for now and start a fund where you put $20 (or whatever you can afford) in each month until you can afford to meet with an attorney to review the legal zoom copies and make changes, add protections, and update to a much better version.  It IS worth it.

The above is what we did and yes, our will was VERY basic and lacks many protections that we will get from meeting with a lawyer now.

 

In case #2, this requires more work, start interviewing (and going to a few of their free workshops) estate planning attorneys.  Do not get sucked into their high pressure sales tactics though.  I found a wonderful firm online that talked about how they were NOT cookie cutter and all these benefits that you were going to get (for extra cost) but it was worth it because it was personalized, etc.  Only to meet them in person and get the sales pitch instead of a personalized approach from them.  I promised I would tell you the cost, well her cost for the will and trust package was $6000, which she admits is a tad on the high side but worth it because it is not cookie cutter and you are getting all this extra.  However, upon further education, we began to realize that any of those protections she talked about are usually put in all wills and are pre-made by the firm.  If you want anything “personalized,” the lawyers have to write that from scratch and add that into the documents they already have ready to go for ALL clients.  This is time consuming and costly, so most don’t do it.   If I want Junior only to get his inheritance on Mondays (never any other day of the week because I have this thing for Mondays, I don’t, just giving a crazy example) then my non-cookie cutter lady at $6000 is not going to be able to do it.  So, you really need to know WHAT you are getting for your money.

I suggest you meet with a few attorneys with a list of questions after you have given thought to what you really want in your will.  Do you want a cookie cutter will or do you want to make specific provisions?  Personally, I want specific provisions since just giving my kids money on a “time table” (typical provisions) is not sufficient for me.  For you, that may be fine.

Attorney #2 that I met with was a single lady attorney who worked by herself with one office assistant and she charges $1500-$2000 for the standard provision will but without separate trusts.  However, she said that in our state, trusts for real estate were not needed and we only needed testamentary trusts (trusts within the will itself).  It will cost extra for the special provisions, however, I figure I can get the extra provisions and probably still not reach the $6000 level of first lady.

Another attorney charged $4500 for will/trust package for a friend in a different state, so you can get an idea of the cost for a typical will/trust package.  In most states, having trusts for real estate will be very helpful to avoid probate and are recommended.