education · Homeschool · Kids · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 393: A Sisyphean Task.*

*If you don’t know what this idiom means, you can find a definition here

I made my children cry this week.

It was about their homeschool assignments, which I thought were both interesting and completely age-appropriate: E had to do one page of two-digit addition drills, while the older three had an assignment of my own device.

They were working on a language arts unit about metaphors, similes, analogies, and allusions; so I gave them a page of sentences that contained allusions to Ancient Greece (the subject of our current unit study) and instructed them to identify the allusion, briefly explain the background story, and rewrite the sentence with no allusion so as to maintain its meaning.

Here’s an example:

She definitely has the Midas touch.

First I would have expected the kids to figure out that Midas touch was the allusion. Next they needed to get online and google “midas touch” or “midas touch ancient greece” or even “what is midas touch an allusion to?” and write a sentence that said something like It’s alluding to King Midas: everything he touched turned to gold. And finally, I would have wanted to see them rewrite the sentence to say Everything she does is a success.

(We won’t go into the fact that Midas’s golden touch ended up being a curse, not a blessing. Any English-language allusions to it conveniently ignore the end of that story.)

I thought it was a neat assignment; so did Mr. December and my mom. The kids thought it was too hard. Oddly enough, the web searches were the most difficult part for them. They seemed to be completely lost when it came to finding the information.

I was baffled. Aren’t they the internet generation? When I was their age I was using card catalogues and encyclopedias to find information. When I got to university we had online indices but the search terms had to be maddeningly specific. Nowadays you can type in a question in colloquial English, misspell half the words, and Google will still give you relevant results. How hard is it, really?

I stuck to my guns as they railed against the injustice of the assignment. K groused, “Nobody says this! You never hear people walking down the street going, ‘Yeah, man, that was a sisyphean task!’

“I certainly hope you don’t think my goal for you is to be able to speak and write English like the average person on the street,” I sniffed haughtily.

She was not amused.

The next day the kids were still not happy with the assignment, but tears had given way to resignation. R asked me to help her sift through the search results; N went and worked on his own; K finally admitted, “I did it, but not really. I guess I’ll go do it again.” I was pleasantly surprised.

What have we learned here? I hope the kids have learned that they can type a question in plain English into the search bar and get reasonably close results; that sometimes you have to refine your search terms a few times; and that Google’s “People also ask” feature can be very helpful in finding the answer you’re looking for. As for me, I’ve learned that our kids can and do respond well to challenging work and high academic standards.

But man, some days educating these kids feels like a sisyphean task.

Early morning musings · Fibro Flares · Kids · love and marriage · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 384: Is *that* why I’m so happy?

Yesterday when I hauled my achy body downstairs in the morning, a full, fresh pot of hazelnut coffee was a very welcome sight. Mr. December had gotten downstairs before me.

“Kids,” I said after I’d had my first sip, “Your father is a prince among men.”

“Why?” They asked.

“Because he makes me coffee in the mornings; When I come downstairs I can have a nice warm drink right away.” I said.

“And that makes him a prince?” K inquired.

I nodded.

“Because he made you coffee, which he was making for himself anyway?” She prodded further.

“Because he makes enough coffee for us both to have refills. And he does it every time without my having to even ask. Besides, it’s not the grand romantic gestures that make love last. It’s all the little things you do to make each other’s day even just a bit better.” I’ll admit I was pretty proud of squeezing in an important life lesson before we’d even had breakfast. I looked over the rim of my coffee cup at the kids, watching to see how they digested what I’d said. K spoke up first.

“Eema…” she paused as if looking for the right words, “I think maybe your standards are too low.”

bikes planes and automobiles · el cheapo · Keepin' it real · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 380: Anti-Theft System

There have been a lot of car thefts in our area lately. It seems that every few days someone else posts on the neighbourhood Facebook group that their car was stolen, and the comments section is soon peppered with discussions of Faraday cages, The Club™, and other anti-theft measures. Despite all this, I have no fears of my car being stolen; you see, I have my own patented anti-theft system that I use for my car and my cellphone.

Here’s how it works: my stuff is functional but old-looking (and usually just plain old.)

Our car is a 2012 minivan with peeling paint and a dented side panel. It’s a workhorse that hauls lumber, bikes, and people. It’s pretty comfy to boot, with seat warmers in the front and a separate heat/ac system for the passengers in the back. It’s served us well for the past nine years and we plan to drive it for at least another six.

My phone is a 2016 iPhone SE. I bought it used in 2017 and immediately covered it with the most waterproof, shock-proof, me-proof cover I could find. It’s not new, pretty, or flashy, but it takes good photos and serves as my external brain; I don’t need or want anything fancier.

My anti-theft system works because, as Mr. December drily observed, even thieves have standards—and apparently, their standards are higher than my own. Just further proof that lower standards are the key to happiness.

DIY · Keepin' it real · Kids · snarky · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 347: Is now a good time?

Hey, kids! Today we’re going to talk about nonverbal social cues. Ready? Let’s begin.

Pop quiz: when is it a good time to ask me a question? Is it:
a) when I’m on the toilet
b) when I’m on the phone
c) when I’m under my desk with power tools, grunting and swearing
d) any and all of the above

If you answered d) any and all of the above, you’re probably one of my children.

No, really. About an hour ago N came up the stairs to my desk and started asking me something. I know he had absolutely no way of knowing I was busy, since he couldn’t see my face or upper body, which were hidden under the desk. I guess when he saw my legs he figured I was simply lying down for a minute. Yup, just chillin’. On the floor. Under my desk.

Image description: a person’s legs and part of their torso. The rest of their body is hidden behind a wall. There are chairs in the background.

I have to say that I wasn’t particularly surprised. I’d be hard pressed to count how often I say something like, “Take a look at what’s going on here. Does it look like I’m doing something?” And Mr. December is forever saying, “Come on, guys. Read the social cues!” And still the kids just come in and start talking, oblivious to whatever is already going on in the room.

In the spirit of explicit and direct instruction, I’ve created a flowchart. Enjoy!

crafty · DIY · hackin' it · Keepin' it real · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 346: Made with love… and some dental floss.

Building on yesterday’s success, today I finished N’s roller shade—sort of—and fixed E’s Roman shade. It’s fully operational again, now with a hint of minty freshness!

If you know how Roman shades are made, you’ll understand when I tell you that the clear plastic rings detached from the shade, rendering the string useless. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s a picture:

It’s ugly, I know, but nobody sees that side. Anyhow, nine of these little plastic rings had come off the shade when the string holding them broke. I had to sew them back on stronger than before; I had absolutely no desire to fix this shade every six months. That’s why instead of thread, I used dental floss.

Confession time: I’m not a flosser. I mean, I know how, and occasionally I’ll do it if I feel the need, but that happens rarely if at all. Our dentist gives us free floss at every visit (along with toothbrushes, toothpaste, and anything else we feel we need) which means that I’ve built up quite a stash of the stuff.

It’s pretty friction-tolerant (it would have to be if you’re dragging it past sharp biting edges of teeth) so I figure it should be able to survive the rigors of life as a bedroom window treatment. Time will tell, I suppose. In the meantime I get to feel productive—which my friends remind me shouldn’t be the yardstick by which my worth is measured, but it makes me feel good nonetheless.

education · Homeschool · snarky · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 333: Emails I Don’t Miss

I definitely don’t miss the plethora of emails we used to get from the kids’ schools… but I do miss the comic relief they provided. Here’s a look at some of the emails we haven’t received since our children left the school system.

Hello parents!
Just a quick reminder that tomorrow is school colours day!
(We told you about this special event three weeks ago by burying a one-sentence description somewhere in our weekly newsletter. You read those, don’t you?)
The students have been assigned one of our four school colours based on the first letter of their neighbour’s dog’s walker’s name. Students should come dressed in their assigned colour. Don’t worry if you don’t have the right colours for your child to wear—we’ll supply them with a cheap paper streamer to tie around their upper arm so that everyone knows what team they belong to… for about five minutes, until the streamer rips and falls off.
We can’t wait to share our photos of the day with you so you can see how uncoordinated most of the kids look when running the obstacle course. That ought to make you feel better about your own child’s athletic prowess (or lack thereof.)
The assigned colours are as follows:
A-F: Periwinkle
G-L: Turquoise
M-R: Ultramarine
S-Z: Sapphire
As always, thanks for supporting our zany endeavours to make the kids think school is as much fun as summer camp!

Dear parents,
Lice has been detected in your child’s grade. Due to confidentiality issues we can’t share the name of the affected family, but your children will undoubtedly tell you that it was Joey. Again. Please refrain from giving his parents the stink-eye in the parking lot.
We’d like to take this opportunity to recommend that you purchase either a fine-tooth comb and a Netflix subscription (all that combing takes a long time,) or else an annual membership package with Lice Squad or a similar lice-removal company.

Hi Mrs. December,
I just wanted to touch base with you because N hasn’t handed in any of his homework since September 15. I tried informing you through the “notes” section in his agenda book, which I’m sure he showed you even though that probably would have resulted in negative consequences for him. Since it is now February 15 and you have yet to respond to those notes, I thought it might be time to e-mail you instead.
Despite what the empirical evidence clearly indicates, worksheet-based homework is an essential element of any successful education. I’m sure that if you simply tell N you expect his homework to be done to a high standard we’ll see a complete turnaround in his work habits, so would you please talk to him?
Thanks for your support,
A. Teacher

This email is to notify you that your child has been late 18.0 times this month. As per section 42.b.(i) of the parent handbook, punctuality is of the utmost importance, as late arrivals disrupt the focus of the other children who are already well into their silent reading period, and of their teacher who is hurriedly trying to complete his lesson plans for the day.
Please remember that class starts at 8:30 a.m. Starting at 8:25 we will begin directing students to the office for late slips, since there is no way they’d be able to make it to class on time (what with having to wait in line for late slips and all.)
We appreciate your support in developing responsibility in our students, who of course are the ones in charge of the whole family’s timely egress from your house in the morning.

Hello Parents,
This email is a reminder that tomorrow is Standardized Test Day at school. Since our funding hinges on our students’ scores, we implore you to put your children to bed early tonight and to actually feed them a nutritious breakfast in the morning instead of throwing a Pop Tart at their head as they walk out the door.
We also ask that you remind your child that standardized tests only measure a small segment of their knowledge and skills. Children are so much more than their standardized test scores or report cards—they can also be used for unpaid manual labour! Students should never be distressed to the point of anxiety attacks about these tests. If they are experiencing severe anxiety, it’s probably because you’re an overbearing Tiger Mom.
We thank you for your support and look forward to our students showing us their superior test-taking skills what they know.
Your Principal.

Dear Parent,
Your Grade Seven student has requested the privilege of reading books that are written for Grade Eight and up. In order to protect your child from any material you may deem inappropriate, we require your written permission for your child to read above their grade level.
Thank you for helping us give bland Young Adult novels the allure of banned books!
Literarily Yours,
The School Librarian

Dear Parents,
We are asking for donations of clean, single socks for our class fundraising project. Donations of spare buttons would also be appreciated. Please leave them at the front office, as your children cannot be trusted to not lose them between your car and the classroom door.
Thank you in advance,
The Grade Three teaching team.

Dear Parents,
This Wednesday, the Grade Three students will be selling sock puppets they’ve made to raise funds for a children’s charity. We know that you’ll want to support their charitable endeavour, so please have cash in hand when you arrive for pickup on Wednesday afternoon. Also, please be encouraging to the students who will approach you about buying their puppets—we’ve deliberately given this job to our quietest, shyest students to help them come out of their shell.
If you prefer not to support the third graders’ fundraising efforts, we urge you to re-examine your values and priorities. Only a terrible person would refuse to pay $5 for a sock with buttons sewn on.
All the best,
The Grade Three teaching team.

Dear Parents,
After receiving feedback that the school sends too many emails, we have decided to set up an electronic notification system where you can see all of your school notices on one inconvenient webpage. Within the next two weeks, all school communications will migrate to the new system, which you can then check on a daily basis so you don’t miss anything important. Below please find your new login information.

Your Personal Login: December_9344hq302zo864qt83pmdd87fu
Your High-Security Password: password123

We look forward to bombarding you with messages on this exciting new online platform!
See you in cyberspace!
Your Formerly-Luddite Principal

DIY · Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Jewy goodness · Keepin' it real · Kids · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 329: Unappreciated

You know how sometimes you work really hard on something for the kids and their response is kind of “meh”?

Inspired by their interest in Hannukah, I decided to do an activity to gauge where they were on their understanding of Purim (which is around three weeks away.) So I came up with fake text conversations between the various characters, printed them on cards as screen captures, and then handed the kids the cards. “Read them and put them in order,” I said.

They did. They were mostly right, actually. And I did get some of the surprised, “Really? They never taught us that in school!” comments that I really enjoy hearing. But by and large, they were underwhelmed.

So here I am, sharing these with you, because I figure at least some of you will appreciate them. Feel free to print the images and use them in your homeschool or classes or whatever, but if you do that please comment to tell me that you did, and how it went. I’d really enjoy hearing it.

In the meantime, here’s my Purim slideshow of screenshots. Enjoy!

For those with visual impairments or otherwise needing a description:

Slide 1 messages:
Achashverosh: Hey guys, week-long party at my place!
Second King: Yo, last party was off the hook!
Third King: I know, right? The wine just kept flowing!
Second King: If you haven’t been before, you’re in for a treat. Achi’s crib is amazing!

Slide 2 messages:
Achashverosh: Vashti, baby! Come dance for meeeee!
Vashti: You’re drunk, aren’t you?
Achashverosh: Maybe a little. Wear whatever.
Achashverosh: Actually, don’t bother wearing anything! You’ve got a gorgeous body! The other guys will be so jealous!
Vashti: No way. I have some self-respect, you know.
Achashverosh: FINE. Then get the hell out of my kingdom! You’re FIRED!

Slide 3 is a screenshot of an emergency alert that reads:
The King is Queenless. Repeat, QUEENLESS. All marriageable ladies are hereby ordered to report to the palace harem IMMEDIATELY. Bring your bikini for the swimsuit competition.

Slide 4 text messages:
Mordechai: Esti, I just heard two servants plotting to kill the king! You have to tell him!
Esther: OMG!
Esther: OK, just told him. He’s got investigators looking into it.
Esther: He’s having them killed.
Mordechai: PHEW!
Esther: He says thanks, BTW. You’re totally in his good book now.

Slide 5 text messages:
Haman: Zeresh, sweetie! I got promoted! The King chose me as his right hand man!
Zeresh: I’m so proud of you! Now we can buy that villa we’ve always wanted!
Haman: Ugh, this one guy won’t bow to me. Some garbage about how Jews only bow to their god.
Haman: I hate him. Know what? I hate Jews. I wish they were all gone.

Slide 6 text messages:
Haman: Majesty, have you heard of these “Jews”?
Achashverosh: IDK, maybe?
Haman: They don’t obey the law. They won’t bow down to me.
Haman: *you
Haman: Stupid autocorrect.
Haman: I’d like to eliminate them. You cool with that?
Achashverosh: Sure. I’ll text you my authorization codes.

Slide 7 text messages:
Achashverosh: Guys, I can’t sleep.
Night Guards: Want some Melatonin?
Achashverosh: Nah, maybe some light reading.
Guards: we’ll bring you your good book.
Achashverosh: And some hot cocoa. Also cookies.

Slide 8 text messages:
Achashverosh: Hey, what do we do for a man who’s done me a solid?
Haman: Well, your majesty, we could dress me up fancy and parade me through the streets on your best teed while proclaiming my good deeds to all.
Haman: *him and his, not me and my. Autocorrect sucks.
Achashverosh: OK, let’s do that for Mordechai. Turns out he saved my life a while back.
Haman: Yes, sir.

Slide 9 is an emergency alert which reads:
For ALL provinces:
The King has declared that Jews must be destroyed. All those faithful to the king must eliminate the Jews—all men, women, and children—by any means necessary. This order goes into effect on the thirteenth of Adar. (Once you’ve killed them, you can go ahead and take their stuff. You’ve earned it.)

Slide 10 text messages:
Mordechai: Esti! Do something!
Esther: About what?
Mordechai: Didn’t you see the Emergency Alert this morning? The King has ordered all Jews to be killed! You have to stop this!
Esther: OMG I turned it off without reading it. I hate those stupid alerts. I’ll talk to the king.
Mordechai: Thx. KUP.

Slide 11 text messages:
Esther: I’d like to have you both over to my place for dinner. How’s tonight?
Haman: I’ll be there.
Achashverosh: For you, my queen, anything. See you at 8.

Slide 12 text messages:
Esther: No worries, Uncle Mordy! I told the king. You should’ve seen Haman’s face!
Mordechai: What did the king say?
Esther: He’s going to have Haman killed…the same way that Haman had planned to kill YOU!
Mordechai: Ah, the irony. But isn’t there still a decree against us?
Esther: Oh, crap.

Slide 13 emergency alert that reads:
For ALL provinces:
All JEWS are hereby permitted to defend themselves against attacks on Adar 13 by any means necessary, with no legal repercussions. 
They can also legally plunder their attackers’ belongings. 

Slide 14 looks like a news widget with four headlines:
Shushan’s Jews kill 500, including Haman’s sons
Kingdom’s Jews kill many in self-defense, but won’t pillage
Mordechai promoted to high office for service to the kingdom
“They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat”: everything you need to know about the new holiday.

family fun · Kids · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 328: And now, some fluff.

I think I might have fried my brain over the weekend, with all the back-and-forth emails arguing with my friend over pockets and patriarchy and stupid high heels. So today I’m falling back on fluff. A ball of fluff, to be precise.

Every night at my bedtime (and long after the kids’), there’s a soft knock at my door. When I open it this… thing… smiles at me and says, “I am a giant ball of fluff!” and takes a running jump to land on my bed.

Who is this fluff? What does it want?

The fluff is almost adult-sized; it wears glasses and its teeth are sheathed in plastic (Invisalign™.) It’s blue, fuzzy, and soft, with koalas all over it. It curls up on my bed and responds to touch by wiggling and humming. I think it must be lonely—it’s the only one of its kind in the house—so I try to comfort it with hugs and pats and gentle stroking.

But there’s a dark, secret part of me that wants to skin it alive and wear its fur myself.

Or maybe… if I get really close I might be able to “catch” the fluffiness from it. I wonder if its nocturnal hirsutism is contagious? I certainly hope so. K’s always so happy in her fluffy cocoon.

el cheapo · Keepin' it real · well *I* think it's funny... · what's cookin'

Day 325: I really need to stop shopping at Costco.

Is it just me, or does every Costco order end up costing $400?

I just need fruit and vegetables and some milk, I reason, shouldn’t cost me more than $100, even at Costco.

Then I realize that I need flour… might as well get two bags because it’s the softest, nicest flour I’ve ever worked with. We go through about a bag a month anyway.

And we’re almost out of coffee beans, and since only Costco seems to carry this brand, I’d better order them now, because I don’t do Costco very often. Hmmm… might as well order two. Future Me will appreciate that.

I need cream, of course, and milk. I buy two of each because we’ll definitely use it all before it has a chance to go bad, as long as the kids have cereal most days.

Thinking about cereal makes me think of oatmeal, and that’s when I realize that I only have a quarter of a bag of pecans (a favourite topping in our house) left. This time I resist the urge to buy two, though. A whole bag will see us through about four weeks.

And then there’s meat, because I just realized that our downstairs freezer is absolutely empty, and I’d rather just do everything in one big shop.

I’m starting to see the problem: at Costco, every food item seems to cost either ten or twenty dollars, with the exception of milk. So apples plus oranges plus grapes plus tomatoes equals almost forty dollars. Yes, I’m getting a lot of fruit for that price, and I might not need to shop at all next week, but boy does it all add up. And even though I’m stocking my freezer with a month’s worth of chicken and beef, I’m still unconvinced that the next grocery bill will be any lower.

As I’m clicking around, I notice the “non-food” section. Good idea, I think. Do we need anything? Printer paper? Pyjamas for the kids? Socks?

And then I see the iPad. We do NOT need that. Although… actually, that could be kind of useful. In the end I resist, because we really don’t need it. But holy cow, is it easy to buy unnecessary stuff when it’s all conveniently in front of you!

With that in mind, I go back through my cart and take out a few things. Croutons, because we don’t have lettuce and I won’t buy lettuce from Costco because it would go bad before I ate it all. Naan, because I’m really not going to make tandoori chicken this week and there’s plenty of other bread in the house. And the blueberries, because it’s February—how good could they possibly be?

So it is that I manage to keep my total just under $400. I wouldn’t say that I’m particularly proud of myself—it still feels like a lot—but I’m resigned to it. At least I didn’t buy a six-pack of grand pianos…

family fun · Kids · love and marriage · snarky · well *I* think it's funny... · whine and cheese

Day 312: Tough Crowd.

Word to the wise: don’t try to watch movies with my kids. Just don’t.

They’re their father’s children, that’s for sure. If there’s a plot hole or inconsistency, or if a character makes a stupid decision, they’ll shout at the screen. A couple of weeks ago K watched Contagion with Mr. December. Do you know what she took away from that movie? The fact that the doctors were doing an autopsy protected only by regular surgical masks, not N95 masks and plastic face shields.

“What were they thinking?” she ranted for days afterwards. “There’s an unknown pathogen that’s killing people, but hey, just the minimal PPE should protect us even though we don’t know how it’s transmitted. These people are idiots! They should have been wearing hazmat suits!

She’s not wrong. But no matter how many times I explain suspension of disbelief, she just won’t turn off the analytical voice in her head. Maybe she can’t—like her father. One of the big lessons he’s taught me is not to watch movies with an engineer who has a penchant for strategy games, at least not in private. In the theatres he at least keeps quiet for the benefit of people who aren’t married to him.

Tonight we watched Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. It’s possibly the worst movie we could have watched from a wife-and-mom-of-a-highly-critical-audience perspective. I’m sure there was some vaguely amusing dialogue, but I could barely hear it for these bon mots:

“Now is NOT the time to stop for a snack!” N screamed when a dinosaur—who had just eaten two people—stopped to eat another dino instead of running from the erupting volcano.

“You know,” Mr. December opined later, “he should probably have called the police as soon as he knew he’d been betrayed instead of waiting to confront his betrayer in person.”

“Why isn’t there a lock on the cage of the most dangerous dinosaur ever?” R asked; then Mr. December chimed in, “You guys should at least buy a $2 padlock from the dollar store and slap it on there!”

“There wasn’t even ONE INCOMPETENT GUARD! What were they thinking? They deserved to be eaten by those dinosaurs for being so stupid!” K crowed.

“Yeah, you should probably just stand there and look for the source of the terrifying sound instead of GETTING IN YOUR CAR AND DRIVING AWAY AS FAST AS POSSIBLE!!!!” was one of K’s many other contributions.

Did I mention how great they are? They’re the best. They’re also reading over my shoulder as I type this post. They’re so awesome. Especially when they stop reading over my shoulder and Go. To. Sleep.