bikes planes and automobiles · snarky · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 847: Getting Back in the Saddle

My physiotherapist has cleared me to ride my bike again. There’s a caveat, of course, which is that I should stay on flat ground, and not go too far from home. Mr. December thought that was a pretty big caveat and maybe I shouldn’t be biking at all yet. I gave him a dirty look.

“This forced inaction is killing me,” I told him. He winced in sympathy.

The upshot is that tomorrow morning I’ll be riding around the block—slowly, carefully, and not for too long.

Have you ever come across a book title and thought, someone ought to write a book with the opposite title? No? Just my family? Okay.

Mr. December was reading The Conscious Parent last night, when I remarked that someone should write The Unconscious Parent, a book about the merits of ignoring your kids or sleeping through their childhoods.

K is determined to (one day) write Non-Essential Knots… containing everything that the author of Essential Knots saw fit to leave out.

The book I’m probably most qualified to write would be the opposite of Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now. My book,The Power of Later, would discuss the upside of procrastination: that if you put things off long enough, they’ll cease to matter—probably.*

*I know that’s not the opposite of what The Power of Now is about. I’m just riffing off the title, is all. No need to send angry letters.

Keepin' it real · snarky · well *I* think it's funny... · whine and cheese

Day 770: Limited-Time Offer!

Hey there.

Are you an adult who just wants a break—a day’s peace, alone, with food and drink delivered to your door, and adorable visitors who hug you and then leave immediately?

You might be saying, “Well, yeah, but I can’t afford that kind of break!”

Oh, you can, my friends. And it’s easier than you think! Catch a nasty respiratory virus and watch as your family leaves you alone in your room!

Sure, it’s not all fun and room service. But really, how important is breathing when compared to hours and hours of quiet!?

This existence can be yours. No limit, but I recommend one per household because otherwise you won’t be isolating alone, you know.

All you have to do is pick up the phone, tell me you’re coming over, stand in my room, and breathe deeply. Act now and we’ll throw in four boxes of facial tissues—those should last you two days.

snarky · The COVID files · whine and cheese

Day 741: Are they for real?

I got three identical phone calls yesterday. They all started like this: “Hi, I’m calling from the Government of Canada about your child’s recent entry into Canada…” and went on to ask questions about vaccination status, whether we were isolating, and so forth.

Isn’t it wonderful that our government is checking to make sure that we’re not a public health threat, and that we’re isolating (which we don’t have to do, more on that in another paragraph) after we’ve been back in the country for five whole days? I’m not saying that quarantines for travelers necessarily do anything (there’s plenty of COVID here; we don’t need to import it from abroad,) but if they did, you don’t want people walking around for almost a week without the correct public health guidance… do you? Think of all the germs we could have spread by now!

Oh, but it gets better.

One of the agents who called me asked whether we had presented proof of a negative COVID test when entering the country.

“No,” I said, “we presented a positive test from a month and a half ago.”

“Oh!” She sounded flustered. “In that case you have to quarantine for fourteen days, and do a day one and day eight test…”

“Let me stop you there,” I interjected. “The rules say that you can present a positive test from 10-180 days prior to arrival in Canada, in lieu of a negative test.”

Silence… and then, “Um, I’m going to have to check that. Please hold.”

It only took a minute or two before the agent got back on the phone and said, “You’re absolutely correct. I didn’t know that about the positive tests, actually. Thanks for telling me.”

My friends, there are maybe four rules that pertain to COVID tests when crossing the border. These agents have one job: to verify that travelers have complied with the law. I repeat, THEY HAVE ONE JOB! How do they not know the rules?

“And that,” I told my children as I hung up, “is why it’s helpful to know what the rule is, where it comes from, and to be able to use the actual phrasing. If I had been wishy-washy or hadn’t known, that agent would have barrelled ahead with a whole bunch on unnecessary requirements.”

I told the second agent who called that I have four kids, and could she please just go through all of them with me so I don’t have to do the same thing four times over. She said no, as there was no way for the system to link children to the siblings with whom they traveled; I’d just have to wait for the calls to roll in.

And roll in they did. I took the first call on my car’s handsfree setting while picking up an iced capp from the Tim Hortons drive through; the second one came when I was at Lowes, explaining different kinds of silicone to my friend at the pro desk; I actually missed the third one; and the fourth came when I was about to check out at Len’s Mill Store, forcing me to wander the aisles while trying not to be snarky with the agent (because she’d probably had this conversation far more than just four times, and not always with someone as polite as I am.)

Before hanging up, each agent reminded me that should my children develop symptoms of COVID, I must isolate them immediately and cease all personal contact with them. Are these people for real? Maybe you can do that with a teenager, but try explaining to a four-year-old why they have to stay in one room and why they won’t get any hugs for ten days. Not gonna happen. Did anyone who created those guidelines have children, know someone with children, or remember being a child themselves? Clearly not, unless those instructions were meant to be comic relief (to be fair, they did make me laugh.)

I feel for these government employees—I really do. But is a little efficiency, common sense, and background knowledge too much to ask from the people who run this country?


I was afraid you’d say yes.

Kids · snarky · Travelogue · whine and cheese

Day 649: Explain it like I’m five?

Let me tell you a story of two travellers. Sisters, in fact.

Traveller one, an unvaccinated child, returned to Canada from abroad with her two fully vaccinated parents. She was tested for COVID at the airport on arrival and sent home with a testing kit for Day Eight testing. The family was given instructions like, “Your child cannot attend school for 14 days,” and “If your child is interacting with someone from outside your household, they should wear a mask.” So basically the instructions boiled down to “be careful and please don’t go anywhere crowded.”

Traveller two, also unvaccinated, returned to Canada as an Unaccompanied Minor. Because she was not travelling with fully vaccinated adults, she is required to quarantine for 14 days. She was not tested at the airport on arrival, and was given no instructions regarding further tests. The printed instructions say things like “Only go outside on a private balcony or yard with those who travelled with you”, “Do not have any visitors”, and “Report daily on your health status by calling our toll-free number.” Apparently enforcement officers will call and possibly visit to make sure this traveller complies with the rules.

Now, I get why completely unvaccinated people should quarantine—and I support it. But what, exactly, is the difference between my two travellers, both of whom travelled from a place with fully vaccinated adults to another place with fully vaccinated adults? From a risk profile perspective, I see absolutely no difference. Is there a rational explanation?

R and N have arrived home, obviously. In case the quarantine enforcement officers are reading this, I won’t disclose whether they hugged me or for how long we cuddled on the couch (if indeed we did.)

fame and shame · family fun · Keepin' it real · Kids · snarky · Travelogue · what's cookin' · whine and cheese

Day 633: The Krazy Krusty Katastrophe

Mr. December chose the restaurant for dinner tonight (the apartment we’re in is not well-equipped enough to cook anything in, so we’re eating out at least twice a day): Krusty Burger. Yes, just like in The Simpsons. 

Just like in The Simpsons, we were shocked—shocked!—to discover that Krusty’s name had been attached to an inferior product. 

(Okay, there wasn’t anything wrong with the food per se, but it was definitely wrong for us.) 

“Hamburguesas sin queso, sin jamón, salsas apartes,” I instructed in my most competent Spanish. The waiter wrote it down and repeated the order back to me twice, correctly. But of course, our hamburgers arrived smothered in cheese and sporting a nice thick slice of ham. At least the sauces were on the side. 

We sent the burgers back and they brought us new ones, just like we’d ordered. What we didn’t know (because it wasn’t on the menu) was that they sprinkle cheese on the French fries. I don’t know why. But K, who has a very strong aversion to cheese, was extremely upset. 

“Who puts cheese on a burger?” She ranted. 

“A lot of people,” I deadpanned. “They even have a name for it: it’s called a cheeseburger.” 

“And why do they put cheese on the fries? WHY???” She wailed, almost in tears. By this point she was in full-on meltdown mode, so I asked her to go for a short walk with me. 

We walked. We hugged. I commiserated with her. Then I told her a joke that had come to mind:

A Rabbi who’s been leading a congregation for many years is upset by the fact that he’s never been able to eat pork. So he flies to a remote tropical island to experience pork for the first time. He checks into his hotel, gets himself a table at the finest restaurant, and orders the most expensive pork dish on the menu.

As he’s eagerly waiting for it to be served, he hears his name called from across the restaurant. He looks up to see 10 of his loyal congregants approaching. What luck – they’d chosen the same time to visit the same island!

Just at that moment, the waiter comes out with a huge silver tray carrying a whole roasted pig with an apple in its mouth.

The Rabbi sheepishly looks up at his congregants and says, “What kind of place is this? You order an apple and look how it’s served!”

Walking back to the restaurant with a much calmer K, I felt a sudden sharp pain in my foot. I looked down: a round wooden skewer was sticking out of my shoe. And my foot. Ouch. Or as Homer Simpson once said, “Fiddle-dee-dee, that will require a tetanus shot!” Good thing I’m up-to-date with my boosters.

The roadside skewer wasn’t Krusty Burger’s fault, but they messed up our order, brought us one glass of water instead of six, ruined French fries (that’s quite a feat,) and gave Mr. December a stomachache. 

“Ay ay ay, mi estomago!” He moaned as we walked home. But hey—he said it in Spanish!

family fun · Keepin' it real · snarky · Travelogue · well *I* think it's funny... · Worldschooling

Day 632: Isabella

There are things you can say in Galapagos—in polite company, with complete honesty, with a straight face—that you can’t anywhere else: 

“I want to see more boobies.”

“So they can touch us, but we can’t touch them?”

“Wow, these boobies are way bigger than the last ones we saw.”

And then there’s this one: 


R rolled her eyes when I said it the first time.

“Well, it is!” I pointed out. 

She was unimpressed, so I tried with N. 

“N, did you hear? THE FLOOR IS LAVA!”

“Very funny, Eema,” he said, in a voice that told me it was anything but. 

But honestly—if you can’t say “THE FLOOR IS LAVA!” when you’re walking through a lava field, when can you?

The landscape at Tintoreras was surreal. Not only was the floor lava, but the whole area was covered in what looked a bit like porous black stalagmites, topped with white lichens. The iguanas took camouflage to a whole new level with their spiky black bodies and a bit of white on their heads. I’d be walking along when I’d detect movement from the corner of my eye, and then suddenly what I thought was a rock turned into a live iguana, just inches away. 

You’d think I’d be used to spontaneous wildlife appearances by now; but in Galapagos the animals almost go out of their way to put themselves in ours. There are sea lions just lying around on the sidewalks, like dozens of drunks passed out in the street. 

(We were confused about how they were getting from the water to the sidewalk until we watched one climb the stairs with his fins and feet. They are adorable when they crawl.)

We had hoped to encounter baby sea lions during our snorkelling excursions. Alas, the only ones we saw were ten metres away in a tidal pool, surrounded by rocks that made the whole thing look like a baby jail playpen. They were jumping and cavorting together while their fathers stood watch on a nearby rock, barking at anyone who got too close. 

We also swam through a cloud of tiny jellyfish and over dozens of white-tipped sharks, and through narrow canals lined with green sea urchins (“Don’t touch,” our guide cautioned.) 

On land, we walked to a beach where the iguanas basked in the sun. A baby sea lion was waiting on the sand for its mother to return with some food; only a few metres away we noticed a small skull, and the kids found some tiny rib bones and a spine a few feet past that. Apparently some sea lion moms don’t come back. 

(“Maybe because the kids are annoying and won’t go to bed on time,” Mr. December suggested.)

Our hotel that night was exactly what we needed: one room with a king bed for the grownups, and another with four single beds for the kids. Mr. December and I went into our child-free room and lay down to relax; three minutes later, we heard a knock on the door.

“Don’t worry,” I said, “I locked it. I just need the silence.” Mr. December nodded.

Moments later, as if in a horror movie, the kids emerged through the window (I didn’t know the screens slid open like that.) The first time they did it, I was exasperated. The second time, I was indignant. By the third time, it was just funny, like the signature entrance of a weird neighbour on a nineties sitcom; I could practically hear the laugh track and applause as N stepped through the window frame. 

It was less amusing when he came in at three in the morning, complaining of thirst. I sent him off with a water bottle and tried to go back to sleep despite the loud music coming from a party many blocks away. Eventually I searched for my swimming earplugs and put them in: silence. I got three more hours of sleep after that.

Costa Rica · Keepin' it real · Kids · snarky · Travelogue · whine and cheese · Worldschooling

Day 595: “I want to go home.”

“There are only two bedrooms? This sucks!”
These kids are so spoiled. Listen up: I grew up going to Barbados where I shared a room with my two brothers. There were two twin beds and three of us (do the math, I slept on the crack) until we were all teens, at which point there were two twin beds and a cot and three of us, and no floor space. And we had to walk uphill, barefoot, in the snow… maybe not that last part, but you get the idea.

“Ew, there are ants everywhere!”
That’s what happens when you leave food on the table in a tropical climate, kids. Put. Your. Plates. Away.

“OW! Eema! Abba! I banged my head on the top bunk!”
Oh, that hurts. That bed does look pretty low.

“Why are there all these bugs? It’s so gross!”
Child, they’re not in your home; you’re in theirs. Welcome to the jungle.

“I’m bored.”
That sounds like a you problem, not a me problem.

“I don’t want to sleep in that bed! It’s got bugs in it! I’ll just sleep here on the floor. At least bugs are supposed to be on the floor.”
Now, that’s some fascinating logic right there.

“I hate it here! I want to go home!”

Listen, at least I only thought those responses. It was a long day of travel (four hours of driving,) we skipped lunch (everyone was asleep in the car so we didn’t stop,) and there are a lot of bugs everywhere—more than anywhere else on the trip so far. I totally get why each of the four kids cried at least once this evening.

Actually, I remember our first night at a rustic resort in upstate New York circa 1992; I was twelve years old, and the place was far more rustic than I had expected… so I cried. Then my little brother started to cry. I might have asked to go home—I don’t remember precisely. Come to think of it, I also cried myself to sleep on my first night as a counsellor at sleepover camp (I was twenty-one years old.) And I cried the day after Mr. December and I came back from our honeymoon—I missed being home with my parents. I guess it doesn’t really matter how great or terrible the accommodations are: change is tough.

Keepin' it real · Kids · snarky · well *I* think it's funny... · whine and cheese

Day 568: I didn’t even know their names.

I’m feeling pretty cruddy today. In classic mom style, though, I saw a need and filled it: the dishwasher needed to be run, so I started loading it up.

Then around the corner strolled Bob (okay, fine. I didn’t ask his name; I’m making it up.) Also Donna, Jameel, Mitzi, and Edna (again, not their real names.) All five of them, with their segmented bodies and six legs each, scattered across the countertop.


“R and K!!! Get down here NOW!!!” I bellowed (as much as one can bellow while feeling ill.)

“What is it, Eema?”

“You two ate outside on the back porch. Fine. Then you left your dishes outside. So I called you to bring them in, which you did. Great. Know what else you brought in? ANTS! When you bring in dishes that were left outside, you have to rinse them immediately to make sure no insects have hitched a ride! Now they’re ALL OVER THE COUNTER! WHAT GIVES?”

By this point, Bob, Donna, Jameel, Mitzi, and Edna had been joined by at least a dozen other ants. I didn’t ask their names; it’s probably for the best, since I knew I was about to kill them. Down slammed the executioner’s dishcloth, and the ants were washed away in the sink.

“Sorry, Eema. I didn’t actually know that would happen,” said a child who will remain nameless (but not blameless.)

“Seriously? You didn’t know that if there was an ant inside the bowl when you brought it inside, it would crawl out of the bowl and into the kitchen when you failed to rinse it? Come on.” I huffed.

In a very small voice the child said, “Is there something I can do to help you now?”

An exasperated sigh from me, and then, “Just don’t do it again,” I grumbled as I turned back to the dishwasher. A lone ant marched along the cutlery tray, probably giving me the stink-eye; I popped in a detergent tab and closed the door.

So long, little ants. We hardly knew ye.

education · Guest Posts · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · snarky · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 565: Homeschooling Backstory Part 2 (Guest Post)

Ed. note: He’s back! Did you know that Mr. December’s posts get higher stats than mine do? Anyhow, enjoy the next instalment in his gripping tale of woe bravery evidence-based research.

In my last installment I talked about our initial journey, and how we started to hit a wall with our kids. I had never taught before (well, I was a teaching assistant in university,) so there was a lot of making things up as we went. One idea was to set crushing expectations in order to catch up quickly and justify our life choices (and perhaps even our social status.) So no choices, but plenty of rewards and punishments. We figured that even if this failed, we could shift the blame to the children by talking about “grit” a lot (Read any Prof Duckworth paper on grit – do you see now how your failures are your own fault?) Maybe we could enroll them in a relaxation course so that they could internalize that high-stress schooling is a normal, acceptable occurrence. Anyways, rewards and punishments seemed awesome, and we used this to get past the initial objections from our kids. We had a few more problems though: 

  • No way to punish K: She didn’t like computer games, and didn’t need a lot from us. Rewards and punishments also don’t help when skills or structure are the issue (as opposed to motivation). Her stubbornness also meant without buy-in there would be no progress. Anyways, we quickly understood why her teachers made like Elsa and just Let It Go.
  •  N was a relentless optimizer: He loves computer games, so taking them away was an effective punishment. But he’d do the absolute minimum, juuuuust enough to meet the bar, with the minimum learning. He’d also ask questions like “okay, if I don’t do that, how much screen time do I lose?” so he could weight his options, and once you got past a threshold he would simply say “well, I don’t get screens today, so I won’t do any work either”. So despite his brilliance, progress was hella slow, and we knew extended conflict would grind down our relationship with him over time. 
  • R was mostly doing fine: She was a great writer but needed time to write stories not do worksheets. She was behind but compliant in math, but had a lot of trouble focusing. Rewards and punishments didn’t seem fitting here either.
  • E was only 5: We eventually enrolled her in part-time online school. We added in a bit of math, but mostly we figured, meh, she’s 5. 

In the last post, we had some early successes but now needed a new philosophy. Fortunately for me, I have a secret weapon against ignorance: extensive research. I have a high capacity for technical detail, so I got a dozen books on education & homeschooling, which I read cover to cover, as well as many research papers and a few education websites (my favourite was Alfie Kohn’s blog). 

You may not have the time or interest, so here is my summary of my learning: 

Public schools suck. Schools suck, including private schools, which suck in different ways. Your school sucks, and the way your children are taught sucks. Grades suck, competition sucks, and coercion sucks. The rewards you gave that you thought made you better than other parents also suck. If you teach at a school, maybe you don’t suck personally, but you probably do, and just listen to this teacher of the year talk about how he sucks too so don’t feel too bad. Even if your kids don’t suck when they enter school, they will by the time they leave, and if they don’t suck by some miracle they’ll be anxious and unhappy, go into the wrong fields to please you, burn out and then hate you later. 

To summarize the summary: Modern education systems will produce the suckiest bunch of sucks who ever sucked and your kids will be personally be the suckiest of the bunch of sucks who ever sucked. 

I don’t feel this way about the education system (they do a lot of things very right,) so I was surprised at how negative some sources were. Even worse, there was some publishing mishap where the chapters that deal with what to do differently were missing (it’s surprising how common this issue was.)

But whether you see it that way or not, this was a great result for me: I could not do worse. 

Since my older two kids were, in postmodernist educational parlance, “sucking big time,” I had the luxury of choosing my path. With an Alfie Kohn video playing dramatically in the background, I took that 50% math test and put it in the garbage. That was the last grade I ever gave. I’m not saying grades aren’t important – they are so, so important – and here is a chart highlighting the value they have by age range: 

Child’s AgeFucks You Should Give About Grades In Homeschool
11-140 + 0i
15-17e(3iπ/2)+ i
18Just make up a bunch of grades and submit them to universities – what are they going to do, call your principal? 

I did later understand better the power of review, which we do more of, and I still need to add in some testing for learning. 

I kept hoping someone would recommend bringing spanking back, but no one did. Very few modern experts even advocated for reward/punishment based systems: they talked about being “student centric”—as if our previous education attempts were just for our own benefit. 

Okay, all good. But what to do next? Stay tuned.

About the Guest Author: Mr. December is an engineer and homeschooling dad who also moonlights as a blogger sometimes. He likes data, writers who cite their sources, spreadsheets, and his kids. He also has great hair.

education · Guest Posts · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · Kids · Montessori · snarky · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 562: Once More with Rigor

Ed. note: This is a guest post by Mr. December.

(Homeschool Backstory Part 1)

Our kids’ school careers began at Montessori. Every day N and K would come home and tell us how much fun they had, puttering around the classroom doing random materials with their friends, with no homework whatsoever. It didn’t seem rigorous enough. They needed something more: evenings of tear-filled pointless homework where we’d eventually do most of it for them. High pressure testing to give the school bragging rights. Music pieces that they hated with lots of difficult notes. Remember: if they’re not resisting practice, it isn’t rigorous enough. You’ll need shorter lunchtime and recesses to make room for all the rigor of course. 

So we pulled our happy kids out of Montessori and put them into school #2, which was supposed to be more rigorous in both English and Hebrew curriculum. In terms of happiness it was perfect – both kids were miserable within weeks. But it wasn’t working academically. The math curriculum proceeded glacially, with one assignment asking the kids to write a story about 7×3 (true!). Most assignments were so abstract that I could not see what a right or wrong answer might look like (such as: “what are the physical and emotional state differences between two mountains?”), yet alone how I would do the work myself. In one math test, K got every number right and every spelling wrong – final grade: 50%. The best objection I could muster was to write “Grate Work” on her assignment when I signed the test. 

Maybe we needed to face the fact that whatever the hell this school was teaching, my kids weren’t good at it. When the school complained K was late 19.0 times, I saw my opening. After asking repeated questions about why a float instead of integer – is there a way to be late 0.5 of a time? – I wrote a (spoof) email asking if she was the most late in the school, saying we were looking to find things she was good at to encourage her. But alas, talking to other parents, 19.0 was nowhere close to the record – several overachievers were late every single day. K’s dream was to be late 0.5 of a time, but they wouldn’t tell us the secrets of how to do so. We tried everything – just a minute late, half a day late, late but didn’t get the slip, late and then forget something in the car to be even later, but nothing worked. 

The next year we switched the older two kids into a public gifted program (school #3), which was wonderful socially, but didn’t seem to help academically. 

So along came COVID, the kids were home, and suddenly we could see clearly what was going on. Nothing. Nothing was going on. Our kids were terrible at school and did not know their fundamentals in math or writing. Oops, my bad. 

Okay, so what to do – I figured the best thing was to back to rigor. Put the “fun” back in fundamentals. S said to forget public school – let’s try out homeschooling. Teach the basics, and once they learn their fundamentals, power them through the grades. And, perhaps surprisingly, it actually worked, in the short term – the math instruction and drills worked wonders, with the kids’ accuracy improving and their processing time cut in half. I was starting to think I could even work in a few humble brags. But then we hit the wall: they didn’t want to do two hours of Kumon every day plus the basics of writing. 

Okay, no problem, I thought, I’ll make my own rigorous work. Math was easy: Every last Kumon math problem done correctly, in order, for a certain amount of time each day. That seemed rigorous enough. 

Then I got stuck, as it turns out I didn’t know about anything except math. No matter, we created our four pillars of non-incompetence: 

  • Math: A goal of being two years ahead. I figured that lofty goal would satisfy most people and then they’d forget about it.
  • English: No idea, but that’s S’s problem
  • Science: I could not remember anything I did in elementary or middle-school science. Did we even do chemistry? Was it just a bunch of digging in dirt? Wait – thermocline – I remembered that word, for when water changes temperature depending on depth. But I think that was grade 9, so I figured I’d wait to teach them that gem. For now, we just joined HENSE*
  • Everything else not in the other three: This is S’s problem, so I left it to her, with the only condition that it be rigorous

Now that we had a model, I figured I’d start with a math test: what could be better for rigorous evaluation? That would show the parents we’re not total idiots. So I used a New Jersey grade 5 math test, and then my son got 50%. He rushed through, didn’t know some terms, and there was this one question I had no idea how to solve either (see below). 

What the &^$% does this diagram even mean? Who would do division this way? At least we know it isn’t to scale—that’s really helpful, thanks.

So what should I do now? Punish? Reward? Unschool? Back then I saw unschooling as the opposite of rigor: sprinkle (sorry, strew) some books around and they’ll be 18 and out of the house in no time! 

Stay tuned for the next installment of my journey.

Ed. note: Mr. December offered to change the last two words to “our journey”. I declined. The views expressed in this guest post are those of the writer, and do not necessarily represent the views of all of us here at SweetCrunchyJewy. -S

*HENSE: Home Educators with No Science Education