Long Summer

March 30, 2019

How a 53 yo earned a BS in Data Management /Data Analysis in 3.5 years

Filed under: Uncategorized — by dbmamaz @ 8:30 am

I just finished BS in Data Management and analysis.  It took me a full 7 terms.  I was not working outside the house during that time, and my at-home kids are (now) 22 and 15.

How did I spend a full 7 terms earning my degree?

Short version:  I did it my way!

Lessons learned: Compare yourself to yourself, not to others.

It’s really hard to feel like you belong here when you see so many posts from people who completed all 12 CU of their first term in 2 weeks, or completed an entire degree in less than 2 terms, or all the other amazing feats of acceleration.  Posts like this give you the false impression that MOST WGU students complete their coursework this quickly.  But this is not the case.

My program mentor told me, in term 2, that she had only had 1 student who finished super quickly – I think they did all but 1 class in their first term.  In my 6th term she admitted she finally had another one who was plowing through courses very quickly.  So rapid acceleration is not the norm.

Many students who start WGU never even finish – if you finish, no matter how many terms it takes, you still finished!

While some people will say the purpose of WGU is to go fast, I disagree.  The flexibility of WGU means it works for LOTS of different people in LOTS of different situations.  If you can make WGU work for you, then this is where you belong.

What impacted my pace:  Some of the biggest things I learned during these 7 terms were about myself.  I’ve always joked about my bad memory and my ‘neurotic’ worrying, but I think if I were young today, these might be identified as learning disabilities.  While my programming classes probably took me about twice as long to do as some people, the cert tests took 4-10x as long for me – because my memory is really that bad.
My anxiety got in the way too – I often rage-quit when a textbook explained the obvious part but didn’t explain the hard part, or had typos so bad I couldn’t understand what it was trying to say, or when a course asked you to do something that had not been taught.  I learned decades ago that once I shut down, no amount of forcing myself to keep staring at a textbook will make me absorb the information.  Once my anxiety has spiked, no learning happens.  And a 10 minute break is not enough.  When I was especially frustrated with a class, sometimes it could take several days before I was ready to try again.

I also have allergies that get in the way.  When I went through allergy testing, I started reading an interesting article while I waited for the doctor.  After the first round of scratch tests, I tried to go back to the article, but I couldn’t read it.  I would read the same sentence over and over and have no idea what it said.  When my seasonal or food allergies get really bad, I can’t focus.

I’m not the only one in my family with allergies either – I have to cook every meal from scratch.  Take-out is not an option for us.  Obviously, this interferes with study time too.

Part of it was the lack of structure.  I had been a stay-at-home mom for almost 10 years when I started. But I knew that I do best with an externally imposed schedule.  I prefer working in an office with set hours because I will get more work done that way.  I’m not great at managing my own time.  I can’t do ‘fake’ deadlines because I KNOW they are fake and I don’t take them seriously.

All of these factors got in the way every other time I tried to finish college.  But this time at least I was determined to finish.  I finally had the maturity and the commitment to see it through, and WGU’s flexibility allowed me to work with my limitations instead of fighting against them.

On the plus side, I rarely went 3 days without doing some school work.  I found lots of on-line support, on Reddit, Slack and Facebook.  I really loved my Student / Program mentor (her title changed while I was at WGU).  And I think I just got stubborn about it:  I was not going to stop until this was done!

My educational and work history:

I started at Penn State as an engineering major in 1983.  I switched majors a few times, and finally left after about 5 completed terms.

2 years later I attended a highly competitive alternative college in FL, studying psychology.  I had to write one 15-20 or two 8-12 page papers every week.  I did not finish my undergraduate thesis in time, and despite trying to work with my advisor from a distance, I never got a chance to defend it in front of a committee before the time limit was up.  So I had no degree.

I worked for a while at a startup ‘dot bomb’ – an early online retailer which grew quickly and was gone three years later.  That company allowed me to move in to positions that took advantage of my skills. I ended up creating a bunch of access database and working in reporting.

I took a few programming courses at a local community college, and a database course at a for-profit school, but stopped pursuing further education when I got a great job as a data analyst.  I ended up   working on data warehouse projects and just loving it!

Family break: I first left work intending to just spend a year and a half at home with my youngest, until he started school.  But my oldest had a bit of a crisis and I had to get creative to keep her in school.  I stayed home driving her between 3 schools for a custom program.  Then I ended up homeschooling my boys for 6 years!  That included teaching calculus. . . and programming, of course!

When my youngest returned to public school for 7th grade, I went to WGU – suggested to me by a fellow homeschooling mom.

Term by term:

I transferred in 26 CU – several years already spent in college and only 26 CU.  IT courses wont transfer in if they are over 5 or 10 years old.  Ok, accept that and move on.

Term 1: I was so excited to start!  My first 3 classes only took 3 weeks each: Intro to IT, English composition II, Critical Thinking and Logic (note, that class had 2 papers as well as a test when I took it!).

My progress screeched to a halt when I hit my first certification class.  I had to pass the Comptia A+.  I have never been at all interested in hardware and had never worked on hardware.  This class was really hard for me.  I spent 3 months on the two classes that make up the A+ cert (ok, that included the holidays, where I took time off to cook feasts!).  I was really cranky because I hated the subject, I’m terrible at memorization, and this wasn’t what I went to school for!

18 CU’s completed term 1.

Term 2: after my frustration with the A+, my mentor treated me to an all-coding term!

Coding and scripting foundations was my fastest course, completed in 2 weeks.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, esp the tiny bit of python.  Coding and scripting applications was a good introduction to Java, which took slightly longer – about a month.  While I hated web dev fundamentals, I created a website where I listed all the homeschool materials I want to sell, so that class took 6 weeks but made me about $300!

Next was data management foundations and applications – right up my alley, right? Nope – I often said if these classes had been my introduction to database, I’m not sure I would have gone it to it for a living.  Very dry material and the project for the 2nd class was terrible.  I spent the next 2 years on social media helping people pass that project.  I spent about 7 weeks completing those two classes.

I asked for the Data Structures to be next since it was also a Java class and I didn’t want to forget too much from my last Java class.  (My student/program mentor had thought it was a database class).  This course was a lot slower for me.  The material was very abstract, so I was reading slowly for comprehension. Then I was on prednisone and not able to sit down to work for 2 weeks.  Still, I got the project accepted before the of the term with a whole day to spare!  I also really felt proud of the work I did on that project.

21 CU’s completed term 2

Term break:  Because my term ended 1 month before DMDA was open for transfer, I took a 1 month break between terms.  I used this time to start studying networking using outside sources – Professor Messer! I switched from my original major of Software Development to the new, better fit of Data Management / Data Analysis.  There was a lot of overlap and I did not lose any progress.

Term 3: Ok, having had all that ‘fun’ with coding, it was time to buckle down and do networking.  This term had the in-house networking course, the Comptia Network+ and the Comptia Security+, and spreadsheets for a little mental break – spreadsheets was one of my 2 fastest classes.

It turns out I hated networking even more than I hated hardware.  And there was SO much more to memorize!  I barely passed my term, by the skin of my teeth, and I was seriously considering quitting WGU – spending 6 months studying networking seemed like a long and painful detour from my goal of earning a degree so I could go back to working on database! But I pressed on, hoping I would like what came next.

14 CU completed term 3

Term 4: It was time to start the nano-degree, the core of the DM/DA degree.  I expected this to be smooth sailing – but I was mistaken!  The nano-degree was aimed at a professional programmer who wanted to use their programming skills to be a data analyst.  I was a data analyst who needed to learn these specific coding skills.  The nano-degree was organized as projects, but translated in to WGU classes as 1-2 projects per class, not always related to each other.

The first class, intro to Data Science, had two projects.  The first was a statistics project.  While I had taken a college statistics class in the 80s, the 2nd half of this course was still challenging.

The next project was a data analysis project, using Python to analyze some data and create a web-based report using charts and graphs.  My ramp up for python was slow, but the analysis part was easy enough.  I analyzed data from the titanic for the difference between the ticket class and the age as well as survival rates.

Next class was Data Wrangling with Mongo.  It turns out the Mongo portion was optional.  The project for this class was to scrape map data off a specific website, clean it, dump it in to a database and do some queries on it to show that the data was now cleaner.  This was the only class I had a slight advantage, as I was still pretty fluent in SQL and chose to do my project in MySQL.

Next was Data Analysis with R.  I had taken a class in R previously, but was disappointed in this one.  Instead of coding or manipulating data, this class was pretty much entirely about graphing with a specific R library.  My project was rejected for using the wrong color palette and I was very frustrated!

The fourth class was Machine learning.  This was actually my favorite class in the nano-degree.  I felt it was the best organized and the most interesting.  However, I did not finish my project in time – because I misread the requirements!  I could have had the project handed in in time if I had not misunderstood the goal.

I only finished 9 credits term 4.  Because I had made satisfactory progress in my previous terms and was self-paying, this did not cause any problems for me.

Term 5:

I completed the held-over course 10 days in to the term (after taking a week off for stress reduction).

The last course in the nano-degree was called Data visualization.  It included two projects, both of which I found very frustrating.  The first project was “A/B testing” which was a statistics course aimed at marketing analysts.  The course work did not match much with the project and I needed a lot of help from the course mentors for that one.  The final project was a Data Visualization project.  This one required you to know Javascript, which I had never looked at before and hope to never look at again.

Next I completed the CIW Data Analytics cert – I found this easy, but frustrating because – again – it was aimed more at marketing analysts than data analysts.

Then technical Communication – two papers.  I actually got my only excellence award on the first one.

At this point, I had completed my CU for the term – even though that included the class held over from the previous term.  But it was time to try the first Oracle Cert test – the SQL test.  Now, I had worked in Oracle SQL in the past and was fairly confident – but Oracle announced they were discontinuing this test!  So I rushed to take it quickly, so I would have time to take it twice before my term ended.

Sure enough, I failed. I was disappointed but not surprised.  I studied for another month, doing what the course instructor told me to do: I got to 100% completion in the Ucertify material and 90% score on the practice tests.  I failed my second attempt at this test – with the exact same score as my first attempt!!  Ugg.

13 Cu for term 5

Term 6: After failing the Oracle SQL cert test, I studied my rear off.  I used 4 different non-school-supplied sources.  By the end, I had spent 7 months on this course.  Let me tell you, this was hard on the ego.  I’ve WORKED in Oracle SQL.  SQL is my jam!  And I had not failed ANY OTHER tests my whole time at WGU.  But I stuck with it and had a really good score in the end.

I studied the Project+ material in between studying the SQL – when I was too burnt out to look at SQL – and passed the Project+ less than 2 weeks after passing the Oracle test.

Next I wrote a bunch of papers, for Business of IT Applications and Capstone.  I wrote my capstone about an actual project I had done last time I was working.  Not too much trouble.

16 CU for term 6

Term 7:  I had only 1 course for term 7.  The final Oracle cert test, the Administration test.  I have never done nor had any interest in database administration, or administration of any sort.  This sort of test is even heavier on the memorization, and its material is completely unintuitive to me.  Furthermore, the school textbook was probably ¾ useless.  I spent the ENTIRE term on this course, finally taking the test about 2.5 weeks before the end of the term – and passing!

6 CU for term 7 (yes, one course, 6 CU)

 

And that’s it!  53 years old, after I’d just about given up, I FINALLY have my Bachelor of Science!  I’m giving myself a month to mentally change gears, and do a little house cleaning and de-cluttering, and then it’s on to the job hunt with my shiny new degree!

Don’t listen to others, don’t compare.  Find a pace that works for your and don’t give up and you will reach that goal!

May 30, 2016

Transition back to school

Filed under: Uncategorized — by dbmamaz @ 2:01 pm

I homeschooled my boys for a total of 6 years.  About 2 years ago I graduated my older son, and this past school year, I returned my youngest child to school, in 7th grade.  It really went much better than we’d expected, and I thought some people might like to hear our story.

Why did I start homeschooling?

I was what is often called an ‘accidental’ homeschooler.  I had learned about homeschooling before having kids, but after much debate decided I was not patient or organized enough.  Plus, my mother and both my first and second husband were against the idea.

My daughter hated high school, but I managed to work with the school district to create a customized program where she took most of her credits for the last two years at community college, where she was much happier.  But meanwhile, my boys were completely miserable – the 7th grader ending up in detentions and suspensions because the school ignored his IEP, and the kindergartner crying every day begging not to go back.

My husband finally admitted that school was failing my boys and I couldn’t possibly do worse.  He was sure I’d have a nervous breakdown and put them back in school.  But even he was impressed by how well it was going by the end of the first year, so we continued.

What was my homeschool style?

After a while, I ended up calling my style ‘relaxed eclectic’.  I was not an unschooler, because we had daily routines and required work.  But I had the kids help choose what the work would be, and gave them a lot of flexibility inside the routine.  I don’t feel like we did very much work, really.

Here is an old post giving you an idea of just how relaxed 1st grade was.

I also have a post where I followed our homeschool for 1 day, and another one 2 years later detailing our homeschooling for a week.  You can see completely out-of-control it seemed at the moment.  I even have another post detailing how much I worried about how we were doing.

All this is to say, if you think you haven’t done enough so that your kids will be ready to transition to school, I probably felt the same way!

But then it was time to change.

Hubby and I had negotiated that I would homeschool until Orion finished high school, but then I requested one more year to help Orion’s transition after ‘graduation’.  During that year, Raven was showing a lot of maturation.  He would take his checklist, get the work done on his own time, call me when he needed me, and hardly fuss at all.  He even took a few online classes, and he took full responsibility for meeting requirements and deadlines, and emailing them for help as needed.  So I knew he was ready for school.

Still, Raven and I were starting to really dread this change.  But we agreed to take a tour of the school first, before we dug in our heels and refused.

Dealing with the school:

Before we could have a tour, we had to register for school.  I called Pocahontas and spoke to someone who gave me the list of items I would need to bring in to register, including his grades.  I explained that we don’t have grades, we homeschool.  She insisted that they have LOTS of homeschoolers come here, mostly from kids whose parents were on missionary trips, and they ALL have grades.  Well, I explained, we DON’T have grades.  “Then how will you know what classes to put him in?”

Luckily, the day we went in to register, we got to speak with the 7th grade counselor, and she was AMAZING!  She gave us the tour, and we were very impressed – the school was fairly small and well laid out.

The counselor was great with Raven.  She asked him some questions and found out he was nervous about handwriting. She explained that, since most work is done on the laptops, he wont need to write much by hand at all!  She discussed the class options with us, and basically let us decide what levels we thought he should be in.  Regular English and History, advanced science (with a promise to cover life science over the summer) and . . . well, I wanted him in Algebra, because we’d already started Algebra.  She insisted he had to be tested.  Fine.

Unfortunately, the test was the final exam for pre-algebra.  Their pre-algebra covered very different materials than ours had.  So despite his already enjoying the first several chapters of Life of Fred Algebra, he was put in pre-algebra.  I decided to hope for the best, but once school started, math became his most hated class.  They were covering stuff he’d known how to do 4 years ago.

I emailed his teacher, but she said she’d given him a pretest, too, and he didn’t know the material, so he had to stay where he was.  But . . . then they gave him the algebra readiness test.  The purpose of the test is to establish a baseline at the beginning of the year, and then when they compare that to the score at the end of the year, they decide if you go to algebra, or pre-algebra 2.  But his score was so high, they put him right in to algebra.  4 weeks in to the term!  Still, he caught up on the work and did well in the class, so he WAS finally in the right place.

Socially?

Raven is not a social creature.  He is happiest not spending time with other kids at all.  So school was rather exhausting.  He quickly noticed the kids in the advanced class were nicer and better behaved, but he also commented that ‘all the nice kids already HAVE friends.’  Coming in in 7th grade is tough!  However, he has learned the names of 5 friends  – which is really huge for him!

Academically?

Raven has been on A/B honor roll all year.  And he was even recommended for advanced English next year!  This was the kid who was running 2 years behind grade level in elementary English material.

Now, mind you, I’m not saying that my eclectic methods created an advanced student.  While Raven has never been tested, every other family member has been identified as gifted.  But I don’t think my eclectic methods held him back.

 

Raven, of course, would still love to come back home.  But now that I’m working on my own degree, I really am not interested in taking on full time homeschooling again.  Its hard enough to get my own stuff done, and I do hope to be back to work when I finish . . . hopefully in less than 2 years!  And hopefully he will get in to the Center for Information Technology specialty center for high school.   If not, we will re-examine our options.

All in all, a very easy and successful transition.

December 8, 2012

What is the inspiration I need?

Filed under: Uncategorized — by dbmamaz @ 2:11 pm

What is the inspiration I need?

 I need to know that this season of parenthood is not finite

 I need to know that its ok that I don’t feel joy in my work as a parent

 I need to know that I AM a good enough parent, even if my children are nothing like other kids

 I need to know that I AM a good enough parent, even if my children are mentally ill

 I need to know that I can still travel back to those quiet woods, cold waters, streaming sunlight that made me feel so free and happy in my youth . . even if only in my mind . . and it WILL be enough

 I need to know that there is still time to fulfill me

 I need to trust that I am doing my best to balance the needs of my kids and my own needs, even if the needs of my kids seem to outweigh mine . . . sometimes they really do. 

 I need to trust myself without judgment.  It is only in accepting the world as it is, including myself as I am, that I am free to move and change

March 14, 2011

Pi day!

Filed under: Uncategorized — by dbmamaz @ 8:39 pm

I admit, I don’t usually make a big deal of holidays.  I don’t think I have ever incorporated a holiday in to my home school plans.  We don’t like unit studies and I’ve never even done a theme-day.  Until today.  3.14.  Pi day!  I don’t know what got in to me, but today I just had to do it up!

Of course, homeschooling involves lesson planning, and this particular lesson included some cooking as well as a trip to the library and some web searches, printing and other planning.  But Pi day was a success!

First we read the first Sir Cumference book.  Actually, Orion read it to Raven while I set up the table for the measuring project.  But Raven liked it so much, I had to read it to him again. 

Then it was time to discover Pi.   First, Orion measured various cylinders, and wrote down the circumference and diameters.  Raven looks thrilled, huh?

Orion measures can



 

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Next, Raven used the calculator to find the ratio of the circumference to the diameter.  Orion helped a bit!

 Raven uses the calculator

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Then we read the Pi page from “Math, a book you can count on,” and I asked Raven to check on his computer what todays date was – Raven got the connection! 

We had a break for martial arts and lunch, and when we came back, Orion completed the worksheet from the link above, tried calculating the circumference of one item using the diameter and Pi from his calculator, 3.14, or 3, to see what a difference the decimals make.  And finally he did this worksheet, on practical applications of Pi.

Meanwhile, Raven helped me make his favorite pie – pumpkin!  He read as much of the recipe as he could, helped me with all the measuring, told me the final mixture looked like poo, and reminded me that I’d forgotten to set the timer – good catch!

And dinner on Pi day looks kinda like this:

We have chocolate tofu pudding pie with almond crust

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We have lemon coconut gelatin pie with gfcf cookie crumb crust

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we have gfcfef crustless pumpkin pie

and just for some balance . . .

hot dogs!!

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MMMM, PIE!

January 25, 2011

Chocolate Cinnamon Bread with Sugar Crust

Filed under: Uncategorized — by dbmamaz @ 9:14 pm

My baker friend Christi Wampler Macomber has given me permission to share her wonderful recipe!  I have made it gfcf , and I swear I’ve never found a baked good as addictive!  I’ve never tasted her version, but my version comes out like a cross between brownies and coffee cake.  My subs are in parenthesis.  Enjoy!

Chocolate Cinnamon Bread with Sugar Crust

1/2 cup butter, room temperature (Earth Balance)
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup all purpose flour (gfcf mix plus 3/4 tsp guar or xanthan)
2/3 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup buttermilk (soy yoghurt)
2 tbsp water
1 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cocoa powder
pinch ground cloves

  • Preheat the oven to 350F and thoroughly grease a 9×5″ loaf pan.
  • In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Beat in eggs one at a time, waiting until the previous egg has been completely incorporated before adding the next.
  • In a medium bowl, sift together all purpose flour, cocoa powder, cinnamon, salt, baking powder and baking soda.
  • In a measuring cup, whisk together buttermilk, water and vanilla extract.
  • Working in two or three additions, alternately add the flour mixture and the buttermilk mixture to the sugar mixture. Begin and end with an addition of the flour mix.
  • Pour batter into prepared loaf pan.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together topping ingredients: sugar, cinnamon, cocoa powder and ground cloves. Sprinkle evenly on top of the loaf cake.
  • Bake at 350F for about 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  • Allow cake to cool in pan for 10-15 minutes, then run a knife around the edge and turn out onto a wire cooling rack.
    Cool completely before slicing.

Flour mix:  equal parts:

  • Soy flour
  • Coconut flour
  • Corn flour
  • Potato starch
  • Arrowroot flour
  • Quinoa flakes

March 3, 2010

Gluten Free Baked Corn Dogs

Filed under: Food,Gluten Free recipes,Uncategorized — by dbmamaz @ 10:22 am
Tags: ,

I decided to try to document my dinner plans for the night.  Of course, my corn dogs are not only gluten free, but free of dairy, eggs, rice, tapioca . . . who knows what else. 

And I decided to take pictures.  This could be long!

When I bake, there are always a lot of different flours.  My corn muffin recipe uses fewer than my banana muffin recipe, at least!

See, not so bad!  Guar gum, in case you are curious, is a substitute for what gluten does for breads – hold it together.  Most people use xanthan gum, but I can’t tolerate that.

Next, wet ingredients:

The soy sour cream and soy milk together make my buttermilk substitute.  The OJ is mostly for flavor.  The gooey stuff in the cup is my egg substitute – flax meal nuked with water.  Ooy gooey.

Ok, my basic allergy-free corn muffin recipe is way at the end here.  The fun part, of course, is the corn dog part!  We start with a nice-sized piece of aluminum foil, folded in half (and kinda tuck the end over)

 We then fold it down the middle.  It’s handy to have your hot dogs on the table before you go much further.  You have to fold the ends  so they close like little canoes, and make sure they are only slightly longer, and maybe 50% taller, than your dogs. Dont make it too long or too wide – your batter will fill the mold, and you don’t want TOO much corn around  your dog.

Here you can see my completed hot dog canoes, and some of my hot dogs, which were there for measuring purposes.  You also see my PAM.  Spray your corn dog molds very very well!  (remember, these things are usually fried, right!)

Next step is to coat your hot dogs lightly with corn starch.  This helps the batter stick to the dogs.  I do this with my hands, so each dog is completely coated, but not thick at all. 

This picture is supposed to show how much batter to put in your corn dog canoe, but instead it is proof positive that I need to learn how to use my camera.  I probably threw away half the pics due to flash.

So, fill your molds about 1/3 full .. . then you will lightly place your dog on the batter, and lift and rotate the dog to start coating it.  I don’t pull the batter all the way around, because that seems to leave the bottom empty.  I mostly cover the dog, set it down in the batter, and spoon enough on top (and esp at the ends) so that the dog is completely sealed in. 

I place the dogs in an oven preheated to 350.  I put the remaining batter in to muffin tins and add those to the oven, and set the timer for 20 minutes.  When the muffins are done (about 20 minutes, toothpick test or starting to brown), i remove them and turn on my convection fan to hurry up the dogs.  They take a lot longer!  If you dont have convection, you might want to try baking at a higher temp to start with, and waiting 10 minutes before putting in the muffins.  Or, if you aren’t making muffins, bake about 30 minutes!

And there they are, 3/4 a dozen muffins and 5 lumpy-looking baked gfcfef corn dogs!  Peel the foil carefully off of the dogs.  The bottoms should be nicely browned.  I tried to take a picture but . . . urg.  Flash.  Bad Cara.

Below is my quirky corn meal muffin.  You could probably just use a mix, or your own favorite recipe, if mine looks too strange!

Totally free corn meal muffins:

1 scant cup cornmeal
1 scant cup mixed potato starch, quinoa flour, corn starch
½ tsp Guar gum
¼ c white sugar
2 ½ tsp baking powder
¾ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
½ c soy sour cream & ½ c soy milk
½ c water mixed w ¼ c flax meal, nuked
3 TB oil (or more)
liberal dash of orange juice or water as needed for soft batter

Spray muffin tin w non-stick spray and preheat w oven
mix dry ingredients, add liquids, stir just to mix – lumps are ok. 
Fill ¾ and bake about 20 minutes at 350