A Land Far Away Beside the Crystal Fountains

Posted on 5/29/2014 12:05:00 PM
School is coming to an end soon and while this year has been a better year than last, so I'm not necessarily jumping up and down and yelling HOORAY!, I'm still pretty happy about it.

Look, I love school and I want these Shortlings to learn to love the education they receive.  I want them to just generally develop a thirst for knowledge that will continue throughout their lives.  I work with a church group of teenage girls and I'm always arguing with them about how school is Awesome with a capital A and they should learn to appreciate it now because, wow, being out of school is Not Awesome with a capital NA and I wish the biggest problem I had in my life was spending time in class again just learning Stuff.  Any Stuff.  Everything I want to know something about.  I now totally understand those thirty year-olds I knew in college whom we joked were "professional students" because if I could choose to do anything right now and money were not an issue, I'd go back to school and get like eight unrelated Masters degrees, not because I want to work in any particular career field, but just because I want to know stuff about Stuff. 

I feel strongly about this.

To the point where when The Shortlings do something awesome at school and the administration gives them a Get Out Of Homework Free Pass as a reward, I'm always mildly irritated by it.  I like that they're being given a reward; I just wish it was a different reward.  This reward isn't directly related to the work they did to get the reward.  I'm also annoyed by the reinforcement that doing work is a bad thing and you should always be looking for ways to get out of it and, I don't know about all kids, but my kids always use it for something that I'd prefer they actually do.  In general, I think the way they handle homework in school is stupid and heavy handed.  There's too much of it. Too much of it is dumb busy work.  Too much of it doesn't really help them learn. But neither of my kids ever use the homework pass on the dumb busy work things -- that thing where you have to write every word on your spelling list ten times in different fonts and colors on the computer and then they commandeer your computer for three hours playing with fonts and colors and writing the word alligator over and over.  THAT thing, they're happy to do. But about ten percent of the time, the homework they bring home is something they really need.  It's practice or reinforcement of a skill they haven't mastered in class and they need the added repetition.  For The Dormouse, it's usually a math concept.  For The Caterpillar, it's usually spelling.  This is the thing for which they want to use the homework pass.  My kids will invariably sit down at the kitchen table, look at That Thing That's Hard, that they actually need the homework to help them practice, and then pull out that long-saved homework pass they got because mom bought them a chicken sandwich at the PTA fundraiser four months ago and say, "I'm gonna use my homework pass on this one." What kind of message is that sending, School Administrators?

Maybe I'm taking the homework pass thing too seriously.

All that is to say that if there were a way to keep them in some sort of school, I would gladly consider it. But the problem with school is that it doesn't teach kids to develop a love for education.  More often than not, it stomps it.  And the toll it takes on a kid... whether it's problems with teachers, friends, grades, behavior charts, or whathaveyou, well, to borrow the current vernacular... I can't even.  Every year, even when it's been a relatively problem-free year, I get to the end of it thinking, "For joy, now we can work on my daughters' self-esteem and ability to find joy in life," because apparently those two things don't really get to happen in the same environment and the same time.  

So every year when school ends, my first, overwhelming feeling is relief, and, "Now we can have the summer off to repair the damage done by this year."

That's why we've made it a priority to find a good summer camp experience and keep them in it all summer even though it's expensive and inhibits our travel plans.  That's why no matter how much their teachers complain, I refuse to take music away from them as a punishment for not getting the grades everyone expects.  That's why, even though I hate, loathe and despise driving them to lessons and being scheduled up to my neck during the school year, and always having some place to go every weeknight, and paying for all these after school things, I get in the car evening after evening and drive them to the next thing, the next day.  Because school isn't always a life affirming experience. Kids are mean and parents yell at you and teachers are unfair and yes, that's the way the world works and they have to learn to work with the system they're given because it doesn't get any better when you're an adult and have a job (something I've said to my kids on multiple occasions) but you know what? You should also be able to get a break from it now and again.

The Dormouse switched from violin to viola in instrumental music this year and started to get really interested in playing.  She liked the violin last year, but as a string player myself, I know how many little violinists there are running around at that age and how much competition there is for each of those kids, so I suggested she try the viola.  Maybe it's because I wish I had played more viola in those years and maybe it's because I started to notice her really fixating on the harmonies and other intricacies in music as she sang alto in the chorus this year.  I'm gonna claim the latter.  I did know, however, that no string teacher in her right mind would turn down a kid who actually wanted to switch from an instrument where there were eighteen kids to an instrument where there were two.  Whatever the reason, it worked.  She wanted to practice more.  She excelled more.  Maybe she got more attention, I don't know.  If nothing else, she did seem to enjoy it more.



Solo and Ensemble Festival is a thing lots of school districts do to give kids a chance to play by themselves or in a small group. The Dormouse wasn't even mildly interested in it last year, but this year a lot of kids were going, so the instrumental music teacher put several small groups together.  This was The Dormouse's group.  They worked hard; they practiced their parts individually; they coordinated times to practice after school and secured permission from parents and teachers who allowed them to use a classroom; they asked for coaching from the music teacher, an older student, me; they tried hard to play together and listen to each other; and from what I saw, they all tried to both give and take constructive criticism to and from one another in a way that wasn't mean or defensive, which is sometimes a really hard balance to strike.  They came away from this experience with not just a certificate and a "Roman Numeral I" rating (something I remember so well from my Solo and Ensemble days); they came away from this experience having worked for something and feeling good about accomplishing it.  These are all things the school administration says it wants to teach kids but in actuality does very little to incorporate into the learning environment.  This is why I wouldn't listen to that fourth grade teacher who asked me to take my kid out of music because she talked too much in class one day.  This is why we need music (and sports and arts and clubs and other extracurricular activities) in schools.


If she got this kind of learning, experience, and positive reinforcement in each of her classes... even just once a week... I wouldn't need the summer off to repair.

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Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, Touch the Ground

Posted on 5/28/2014 05:51:00 PM
Wondering what that weirdo woman who pulled off the road, then got out of her car and stood on the curb fiddling with her phone was doing the other day?

Probably taking a picture of this roadside memorial:

We suppose two possible scenarios for what happened on this corner: 

1) an arctophile was decapitated in a car accident

-or-

2) bear attack.


Alternate angle:



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Rubber Ducky, You're the One

Posted on 5/27/2014 09:39:00 PM
Memorial Day weekend started out fairly normally for us.  We had a full plate planned of yard work, house cleaning and maybe a trip downtown for one of my favorite D.C. events, Rolling Thunder.  And then over dinner on Sunday afternoon, we decided on a whim that we instead needed to be in Norfolk, Virginia to see a forty foot tall rubber duck floating in the river on the last day he was there and within twenty minutes we were on the road with a hastily packed bag in the back, heading that direction. 


We are not planners, people. 



Ducky is a large scale, urban art installation by Florentijn Hofman, brought to Norfolk for the reopening of the Chrysler museum.  He was in Pittsburgh last year and I didn't get to see him then. Apparently, he is quite the world traveler and who knows, may be in Malaysia next. So, clearly, this required an impromptu three hour drive at the drop of a hat.  

We did some other stuff too.  Like we ate breakfast at a restaurant where a man at a table next to us appeared to practice some form of transcendental meditation while he stood a fork on its tines.



Then we saw him waiting for a taxi a several hours later and he appeared to recognize us and that was just downright creepy.

We went to a farmer's market where they sold Gummi Chicken Feet.



I have no response to that.

We took a water taxi/fake steamboat ride, went to a children's museum, I won the Game of Awesome and I think we saw part of a Memorial Day Parade.  But really, we made a six hour trip, coming back over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel during the worst of the Memorial Day Return to Home Traffic, to kiss a duck.





Totally worth it.




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In Defense of Nick Burns

Posted on 5/22/2014 05:16:00 PM
I realize that computer techies get a lot of guff from the rest of us.  I'm as big an offender as you are.  And truth be told, some of them deserve it, because there are a lot of Nick Burns guys out there in the world.  A part of my job involves being my company's network administrator, and I try not to be Nick-like, I really do. But sometimes... well... 

...like when a co-worker claimed that the computer had "eaten" her floppy disk and "wouldn't give it back."  Then twenty minutes later we found the disk shoved in between the CPU and the monitor that was sitting on top of the CPU, rather than in the floppy disk drive.

*Heavy sigh* 


A bunch of us use a portable notebook computers so we can travel with it, but when in the office, we connect it to a docking station so we can work on a large desktop monitor and real keyboard. When we come in the office we pick up the cord that runs from the docking station and plug it into a USB port on the computer.  All the peripherals are then connected to the laptop with one plug.  It looks a little something like this:


See, when you come back into the office with your notebook, you just take the cord from the docking station and plug it in the computer.  Then the external monitors, mice, and keyboards all kick on and take over control of the notebook and everything is copacetic and wonderful.  We've had these in use for over two years.

The other day a co-worker called to me that her computer crashed and what should she do.  This is always a dubious statement, because "not functioning in the manner to which I am accustomed" is not the same thing as "crashed," but you often don't know that until you sit down in front of the machine.  Hence the "Mooove!" which usually comes out of my mouth in the form of, "Can I drive your computer for a minute?"  I asked what she meant and she said she thought the computer was on because she could hear it humming, but the monitor and keyboard and mouse wouldn't work.  I usually try to suggest what they can do over the phone so a) people can learn to do it themselves when I'm not available and b) I don't have to get out of my chair because me=lazy, but something wasn't right about what she was describing so I walked down to her office to take a look.

I sat down and saw that the notebook was running - if you opened it, the internal monitor showed everything running normally - so the display just wasn't kicking up to the external monitor through the docking station and I couldn't figure out why.  We've had a couple of these docking stations go bad and that was my first.  I leaned back to think about it for a minute and happened to glance at the whole system.  Something seemed off.  So when I took a closer look, I realized that the docking station cord was, in fact, plugged in, but it looked like this:



She had plugged the cord from the docking station back into the docking station.  So no big wonder why the monitor and mouse wouldn't work.  Plug the cord into the computer where it goes?  Voilà, everything works!  We all had a good laugh over that one. Ha Ha.


Last week, I bought a couple of new computers for the office and had a problem with one of them.  I had to call the company I purchased them from and speak to their technical support department.  I hate to call tech support, primarily because I am good at fixing things when I can visually point to and see and touch the thing that is wrong, but describing something to someone about a computer over the phone is a great weakness of mine - whether I am giving the instructions or receiving them.

I spent over two hours on the phone with this guy, who was as perplexed as I was about why this one thing wouldn't work, but he persevered and together, we figured it out and fixed it.  While we were waiting for downloads and restarts and whatnot, we started talking. He told me about where he lived (Florida, in case you were thinking something else) and asked me about what I do.  He told me he had a son who was in the military.  I told him that my husband had been in the air force.  He eventually told me the whole story about how his son was injured in Iraq, watched his commanding officer die in the same explosion in what sounded like an excruciating experience, and then his subsequent three-year long rehab and drug addiction. I could hear a supervisor in the background urging him to wrap up this call as quickly as possible, and I could hear his long pauses in the narrative, in what I assumed was a need to not be talking about personal matters as the supervisor walked by.  I never encouraged him to stop talking to me.  I just waited.  We eventually fixed the problem and as we went to hang up, I thanked him and said, "When you speak to your son next, please thank him for his service for me."

He responded with, "Only if you tell your husband the same."

Sometimes those nameless customer support voices on the phone are pretty okay.

 


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Career Development

Posted on 5/18/2014 03:45:00 PM
This ridiculous little document came home with The Caterpillar this weekend.  She's being encouraged to outline her plans for college and a career...  and let me remind you that she is six. SIX. Apparently, the new common core has a mandate that they start stressing about what they'll do for a living now or by second grade, it might be too late.  We had to ask her the questions and fill her answers into the form.  I'd say we filled it out with all the gravity it deserved.

Personal Education Plan (PEP) Worksheet

Dear Parents:

Please fill out this Personal Education Plan (PEP) with your child and return it to school.  It is a toold that will help the school, you, and your child start to explore what they would like to be when they grow....

Things I do well:

"What are you good at?"

"I'm good at math. I'm a good reader. Piano. Science. I was good at playing a purple trombone when we went to visit our friends the other day."

"What else are you good at?"

"Eating cookies."

"What else are you good at?"

"Finding rocks and breaking them open to see if they are sparkly inside."

Answer:  Math, reading, piano, science, trombone, eating cookies.

Things I like to do:

"What do you like to do?"

"Eat cookies.  Being nice to people. Play piano."

Answer: Eating cookies, being nice to people, piano, finding rocks.

Things I enjoy learning most:

"What do you like to learn?"

"Math and science. And I like history."

Dormouse: "You don't study history in school, you do social studies."

"Well, I can still like to learn about people a long time ago and what they did even when it's not in school."

Answer: Math. Science.  History.  Don't know much geography. Alternate answer: Math Science, History. Unraveling the mystery. 

Something in school I need help with:

"What do you usually have a hard time doing?"

"My homework."

"No this is asking what is difficult for you. Not what you don't want to do.You never have any trouble doing your homework once you get started."

Answer: Social Skills. Work habits.

My Plan: 

"What's your plan for your life?"

"Huh?"

"What do you want to do in your life? You know like about school or your career when you grow up."

"Do well in school, study nature."

Answer: Do well in school, study nature.

People who can help me:

"Who can help you do this?"

"You guys."

"Who else?" 

"Other older people."

Answer: Teachers. Parents. Family.

What I know about college:

"What do you know about college?"

"A lot of people in college rush and run and talk when you tell them not to."

*quizzical look*

"In the the hallways, they do!"

"Who do you know that went to college?"

"Nobody."

"Did Mom and Dad go to college?"

"Yes?"

Answer: Mom & Dad went to college.

When I grow up I want to be:

"What do you want to be when you grow up?"

"What's the job when you are figuring out nature things? What's it called? Some kinda scientist, right? Or a music therapist."

"Why?"

"Because I like music and I wanna stay in nature and figure tings about science and sometimes when you're doing science you can figure out things like math and I like doing math.  Or maybe I could eat fifty cookies... if they were kinda small."

"What do you want to study when you go to college?"

"Nature.  And people."

Answer: Scientist or Music Therapist.

I like this career because:

"Why do you like this career?" 

"I like music and I want to study nature."  *rolls eyes*

Answer: I like music and I want to study nature.

Parental input/expectations:

Answer: We just want her to do her best and find a job that she likes to do... and to support us when we're old.

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Ira Gershwin, We're Not

Posted on 5/06/2014 05:41:00 PM In:
So, taking my kids to see that Frozen movie on opening weekend proved to be a huge misstep as we've had to listen to them sing those songs over and over for months now.  

I actually really liked the music... the first time... but think about your favorite song. You know, the one you can't actually live without and love with all of your heart.  Now think of hearing that song on repeat, non-stop on the radio. Everywhere. You. Go.  But not the whole song from beginning to end, just key, eight-bar, non-consecutive lines, which get sung over and over and over and over until you didn't know there were any other parts of the song and you can't remember what you liked about it in the first place and then you try to turn down the volume on the radio and you do... but you still hear the song because the radio is now just singing it quietly under its breath and you yell at the radio to STOP THAT SINGING ALREADY OR AT LEAST FINISH THE DAMN SONG, and the radio does stop or at least you think it does but then the song is still going on over and over in your head and you realize the radio is still singing the song, it just halved the volume and then you tell it again and it halves the volume again even quieter and you know Zeno's paradox, that theory how if every day you travel half the distance to somewhere you can never really arrive there, ever?  Well that works with sound too, so now it's half as loud and half as loud again, but what's really happened is the radio is now just singing in infrasonic tones or it's become a part of you on a cellular level and you don't really know the difference but it doesn't matter anyway because YOU HAVE GONE MAD, I TELL YOU, MAAAAAAADDD!

Can you imagine that?

That's what it's like to live my life since Frozen came out.


A few weeks ago, the kids had gone to bed and The KingofHearts was in the bedroom reading and I was watching TV or on the internet or something and I kept hearing what sounded like neighbors outside. When I finally couldn't ignore it anymore, I got up and realized The Dormouse was in her bedroom, all the lights out, with The Caterpillar sleeping in the bunk below her, singing that Let It Go song, among others, at the top of her lungs.  I quickly got The KoH out of bed and we stood at the closed door, listening.  She has a beautiful voice, actually, and while I'd heard her sing before many times, this was different because it was crazy uninhibited and profoundly joyful.  We sat there, both of us adults, with our ears to the door, just listening and trying not to make any noise for several minutes.  It was beautiful.

Until suddenly, the singing stopped in the middle of a phrase. We froze and looked at each other, wide-eyed.  We knew we had to get out of there, but the door knob started to turn before we could do anything about it.  We cowered and started around, Keystone Cop style, and began backing up like a couple of thieves trying to get the hell outta the bank vault before the SWAT team broke through and caught us.  He accidentally stepped on me.  I backed up and tripped over the shelf that came off the kitchen wall awhile back and has been sitting in the hallway, knocking it over and giving myself an extra toe in the process.  We both fell over each other as the door opened and spun in opposite directions, him trying to make it look like he just happened to be sauntering toward the bedroom and me pretending to come from the bedroom on the way to the kitchen while we both made every attempt to expel the guilty looks from our faces.  

Her head appeared from the darkness and I said, half-choking on my laughter, "What are you doing up, honey?"  

"I was just going to get some water."

"OK.  But get back to bed quickly.  It's late."

"OK, momma, good night."


Given that I am so sick of the Frozen songs, when The Shortlings came home from school singing new lyrics to Do You Wanna Build a Snowman? with the words "Do you wanna hide a body?" I was A-OK with that because it meant that they might actually try and finish a verse now and then.  I think it was originally an internet parody and they heard someone at school singing it, but they wrote their own words after that and then The KoH and I got into it and it's now become a dinnertime staple.  Every couple of days we write a new verse.  Yes, we're weird.  Everyone knows that.  But think about it, you're reading this, so that probably makes you weird too.  There's nothing wrong with being weird, I hear.  And because I love you, I shall share our lyrical creations with you now.  Enjoy.

Do you wanna hide a body?
We can put them in the trunk. 
It wasn't really all my fault, they let me
have some booze 
and now I'm really drunk.
I killed my mom and father.
I staged the car crash.
Now I'm in trouble with the law.
Do you wanna hide a body?
Or maybe you could lend me,
your buzz saw.
 

Do you wanna hide a body? 
I'll get the duct tape and the lye. 
We'll just do a bit of gardening, 
plan a barbeque
and then everything is fine.
I just need a place to hide out
'til the heat is off.
So hold this and don't ask why.
Do you wanna hide a body?
I really need to hide this body.
C'mon.
Let's not cry.

Do you wanna steal a body?
I know a place where we can go.
It’s technically illegal, but it's also

quite medieval, 
we can nibble on the toe.
We’ll have an awesome weekend
At Bernie’s house, 
just watching him decompose.
So let’s go steal Bernie’s body!
NO?
How ‘bout Joe?

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Bewildering Conversations in the Back Seat

Posted on 5/02/2014 08:08:00 PM In:
After a round of bathroom jokes designed to make any eleven year old boy happy followed by hysterical laughter from two children and two adults who probably should know better:

"Aaaaaah."  *sigh*  "I don't even know why that's funny." 

*more hysterical laughter - but this time for a completely different reason*



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It's Shaqtastic

Posted on 5/01/2014 05:15:00 PM
I bought a couple of these in the convenience store in my office building the other day, just for the novelty of it all and because I had this unrealized fantasy of placing Shaq's giant face in my husband's side of the bed, not unlike the horse head scene from The Godfather. (Aside: and if the cans themselves didn't completely skeeve you out, just take a look at that rotating .gif on their home page and you'll be put off soda for a month - questionable marketing campaign, AriZona Beverage Co.).


The Shortlings bugged me for three days to try it but I kept telling them to wait because the cans are so big I'm pretty sure they just drained Shaq's bathwater to fill one.  I finally acquiesced today and gave The Dormouse permission to drink the rest of a can that I'd opened.

"Can I have some of this now?"

"Yeah."

*takes a long drink*

"Mmmmm.  Tastes like gym locker... and strawberries!"

We're available for commercial spots any time you like, AriZona.

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Washington, D.C. Metro, United States
Married, 40ish mom of two (or three, or four, depending on how you keep score) who stepped through the lookinglass and now finds herself living in curiouser and curiouser lands of Marriage, Motherhood, and the Washington, D.C. Metro Area.

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