Thursday, 30 April 2009

The new June Cleaver

So, if June Cleaver were to appear in the year 2009, she would be: 5'3", with red hair, and green you hear that? That's the sound of my echoing laughter. Yesterday while visiting with a new friend, she dubbed me the "June Cleaver" of our neighbourhood. I laughed so hard I cried.

What precipitated the comment was my producing some homemade pretzels to munch on for snack. This friend often happens to be the recipient of yummy baked treats, hence the reference to June Cleaver. But I always felt I was so far away from this "ideal" of a homemaker, mother and wife I wouldn't even make it onto a 1950's television show, let alone be cast as this iconic character.

I clean my house once a week. I just don't have the time or effort to drag the vacuum out more often. I try to wash the kitchen floors every other week, but that doesn't even always happen. I always have piles of laundry. I don't do arts and crafts with my kids; I've never liked crafts and the idea of the mess is just too scary. I'm much more likely to be outside kicking a soccer ball or shooting hoops. I tell my kids to pick themselves up when they fall rather than smothering them in cuddles and kisses. My kids generally look like they've been playing in dirt (they have) and may have even eaten some. And more than likely I am covered in the aforementioned dirt, too.

I do enjoy baking and cooking, and I hope to add gardening to that. Music is a huge part of our home, which includes sing-alongs at the piano and dancing in the living room. Story-telling and imagination feature most of our playtime. I have yet to tire of the "why?" questions from Colin, encouraging as much learning and inquisitiveness as possible.

Perhaps I should re-pose the question above: what would June Cleaver look like in 2009? Since she represents the heart of the home, doing her part to create a loving atmosphere, supporting her husband and nurturing her kids, maybe I am a bit like her. But there's no doubt my rough and tumble, artistic, athletic, housecleaning-inept self do not resemble the image June radiated through the television all those years ago. I'll just have to laugh at those who read the minute aspects of my personality and seem to see that "model housewife" in there somewhere. She just ain't there at all.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009


Colin, on rainstorms:

"The rain painted the blue sky silver."


Getting ready for dinner, James lifted Colin up to the sink to wash his hands. The water splashed and wet Colin's sleeves, making for a very unhappy 3-year old. Trying to stop Colin from stripping off his shirt, James assured him it was only a little water and to please sit at the table to the blessing on the food. Colin repeatedly told James that he didn't like his shirt wet, and not to get it wet anymore. Ready for the blessing, Colin asked if he could say it:

"Dear Heavenly Father, we're thankful for this food. And Daddy will never, ever get my shirt wet while he's washing my hands again. Amen."

An indirect reprimand through prayer. It was all we could do to maintain reverence to the end of it.


Colin is enjoying using adjectives in his vocabulary. Unfortunately, he hasn't quite got the knack or definitions down yet. Here are some gems:

"I'm too lazy to walk." (he means tired)
"Mommy, I put my shoes on. I'm so proud of you!"


Do you think "dumbness" is inherent or a learned behaviour? Are some people just hopeless? Is it a result of evolution of a species (Survival of the Fittest)? The idea of the bell curve would say that some people are simply more intelligent than others - that 5 out of every 20 will be smart, 5 will be dumb and 10 will be average, and there's nothing they can do about it.

Could anyone be taught using the freer, "open source" idea of learning, spurred on by oneself? Can everyone be able to use critical thinking? Or, even if trained from a young age, would some people simply need to be taught every lesson?

What do you think?

Sunday, 26 April 2009

This is my house

Friday night I had a few girlfriends over for a gabfest. Six hours of munching on goodies and spilling our hearts to each other - exactly what a woman needs every once in a while. When I finally crawled into bed at 2 in the morning I knew I would be hurting when Caleb woke up at 5am, but it was definitely worth it.

The comment came up during the night about how my friend wished her house could look as clean and tidy as mine. I laughed out loud. My house rarely looks like this. Usually only when company is coming. Ignore the overstuffed basket on the stairs of things still needing to be taken upstairs. Don't get down on the floor because I probably didn't get all the granola bar out of the rug. The dishes are still drying in the sink. I told them that next time they come over, I'm not going to do a blitz cleaning - I'll just leave it as it was during the day. Then they'll realize the state we usually exist in.

But you know what? I have a friend I visit a couple times a month and I am always jealous that her house is spotless - with three boys and a baby to boot. But I visit during school hours, when there are no kids around imitating a tornado. Lately I'm starting to realize the insanity of competition. No one is perfect. Someone might have things under control in one area and totally hanging out in another. It is useless to compare my weaknesses with other's strengths. It is useless to compare at all. I am working really hard on sweeping this insidious habit from my life. It's hard - it seems to come so naturally in our society. (Yes, I attribute this to the effects of society rather than a natural human tendency.) But it's not worth having in my life and so I'm taking the trash out where it belongs.

Friday, 24 April 2009


Last night I played in my first concert as a flutist. It was a fantastic community event organized by our band, in which we play with the local high schools and elementary schools. Each band played a few selections on their own, and then we played all together. I can imagine the experience for the kids, especially the 11, 12 and 13 year olds, would have been inspiring. To hear the songs you have been struggling through come alive in a band of 150 people!

As I sat in my chair and looked around the the group of musicians that filled the gamut of ages between 11 and 60+ years, I realized: I was very likely the person with the least experience in the entire band! I knew that starting a new instrument meant I would be the novice in the community band; all of a sudden I realized that even the grade school students had been playing since September! I felt very humbled by the thought.

It was a great show. There were a few unusual fumbles, and the challenge of playing for new conductors and with new musicians, but the overall effect was amazing. We do it all again next week with a new round of schools, and then we have two more engagements to prepare for before we break for the summer. One thing for certain - I'll be back in the fall! I haven't decided if I'll keep with flute or take a turn on the clarinet, but I'm enjoying the immersion so much it won't matter which instrument I play. I'll simply be glad to be a part of this group again.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Nine qualities essential for successful adaptaptation into the workplace

Most teens will tell you high school is pointless. Some are simply going through the motions to get to university. Some are simply complying with the law. Even those who like to learn and get good grades see the futility of the things they study. Very little will actually prepare them for university, life, or the workplace.

Most university students will tell you university is pointless. They will learn almost nothing that directly helps them in a career in their field. Nearly everyone will tell you they learn more in a few weeks on the job than four years in a classroom.

The following list was compiled and posted at a Harvard campus. It was included in a brochure containing advice for students planning a career in the new international economy - the state our world is becoming. It would seem to me, then, that these would be fairly important skills to be taught and learned by university students preparing for their careers. And since these types of skills are ones that need to be fostered and deep-rooted, it would seem to me you would need to start in high school. Or middle school. Actually, since most study habits and modes of thinking are already established by middle school, it seems to me they should be taught from the very first days of elementary school. Hmmm.

1. The ability to ask hard questions of data, whether from textbooks, authorities, or other "expert" sources.
2. The ability to define problems independently, to avoid slavish dependence on official definitions.
3. The ability to scan masses of irrelevant information and to quickly extract from the sludge whatever is useful.
4. The ability to conceptualize.
5. The ability to reorganize information into new patterns which enable a different perspective than the customary.
6. The possession of a mind fluent in moving among different modes of thought: deductive, inductive, heuristic, intuitive, et al.
7. Facility in collaboration with a partner, or in teams.
8. Skill in the discussion of issues, problems or techniques.
9. Skill in rhetoric. Convincing others your course is correct.

Is it any wonder why kids graduate from high school only to flounder at home for another 10 years before deciding they should maybe try and "make it" in the world on their own? Is it any wonder why we graduate from university and feel completely ill-equipped to actually get a job in our discipline? Of the above 9 essential (and although not compiled by myself, I would agree with the list) qualities, how many were taught with any sense of urgency during our schooling?

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Education vs. Schooling

I loved school. I could never understand why anyone hated it at all. Now, as I get deeper into John Taylor Gatto's book, I'm starting to understand. I was never really exposed to "school" as the majority of kids and teens are. In fact, I can recall only three classes in 14 years - all of which were negative experiences for me. Let me share a little of what my education looked like.

There was little structure and much liberty given to myself and my classmates. Freedom to learn according to my interests, explore the questions I had, and to share the things I learned in meaningful ways.

1. The Paper Airplane Project - My grade 5 independent study project was just that - completely independent. We could choose absolutely anything the interested us. Perhaps influenced by my father who worked in the airline industry, I studied paper airplanes. I devoured books on different models. I built them all and studied how they flew. Then I gathered my research and created an "optimal" airplane based on different criteria. No one else in the class was doing anything to do with paper airplanes. It was my interest and my project.

2. Scrap the Essay - Grade 13 English Literature class, reading the play "A Man for All Season's." The "curriculum" dictated all 30 students read the play and write an essay based on one of 3 topics. As the teacher read the topics, I put up my hand. "Can we do something instead of writing an essay?" My question was not based on laziness or inability - I could have written an A paper overnight. The question stemmed from boredom. "What do you want to do?" the teacher inquired, entertaining my idea. I looked around the classroom, surrounded by students talented in many different areas of the arts. "Can we mount a scene?" Permission granted. Over the next two weeks I directed the pivotal jail scene. Our presentation included actors, set designers, musicians who wrote a score and costume designers. Everyone had been compelled to read the play more closely, research the time period, and really understand the message and themes.

3. Beowulf at age 10 - The inclusion of this text in my grade 4/5 class caused a stir among students and parents alike. It was "over our heads" and a "waste of time". I can still remember my frustration in trying to find imagery in the old English lines. I remember my teacher's frustration when I concluded there was no imagery to be found. I also remember his response, that the colour red was representing blood and violence. To this day I am acutely aware of the use of colour in imagery, and used colour prominently in all my filmmaking. All this stemming from that one lesson.

4. Games during class time - My time spent in grades 6/7/8 included a major game tournament each year. One year was V-gate, one year was Risk, (and the last game eludes me). We spent many hours in big tournaments. We worked hard at learning strategy. We interacted with follow classmates. One year we even designed, built and packaged our own board game, of whatever style and whatever topic we pleased. All during class time.

5. Schedule-shmedule - One of my elementary school teachers realized the futility of learning in hour long blocks, forcing kids to drop everything in one subject in order to start another. (He probably also recognized that we didn't need to respond to the sound of a bell, and that the constant shift in activity might lead to attention deficit issues). Instead, he gave us a blank schedule each week. On the side was noted the amount of time we needed to allot to each subject. Each student could fill in the schedule however we liked. If I wanted to read a book for English all day Monday, that was fine. If I was knee-deep in a science project, I could work on it all morning. The freedom was exhilarating.

6. Go beyond - I wrote my first essay when I was 10 years old. The assignment: to research an ancient civilization - any one of interest to me. Look into its political structure, model of society, the presence and influence of art, and more. But my essay wasn't about Ancient Greece. The topic was: was this ancient civilization more or less civilized than we are today? This meant I was going beyond regurgitation of facts from library books. I had to process what their lives were like, what our lives were like, compare and contrast, draw a conclusion, and then coherently express my opinion. Now that's education.

I bet you're wondering if amid all this chaotic, open, libertarian education I ever actually learned the basics. Well, I read "Les Miserables" at age 13, took Grade 13 calculus to raise my grade average, and wrote several short stories, books of poetry, a few plays and a musical before high school graduation. (I don't say that to brag about myself - just that open-ended learning doesn't mean sacrificing essential learning tools.) For the record, I should also include the three isolated examples of schooling that marred my otherwise exciting years of education. Also for the record, these three experiences were my exposure to what most children are exposed to day in and day in schooling.

1. You know as much as I do - This is how my grade 11 biology teacher introduced herself on the first day of class. She was a math teacher told to teach science, a subject she had barely studied past high school herself. She self-admitedly didn't want to be there, which didn't spark much excitement in her students.

2. Just read it. Grade 13 English. Our class reading assignment was a book dreaded by all high school students. I don't know one person who ever read it that liked it, or found anything to related to in it. I have no problem with "hard" texts (and this one was particularly challenging) but was it this teacher's mission to make us hate reading? Literally, not one person I ever met liked reading this book in high school. Pay attention a little, teacher!

3. I'll read it. Grade 13 calculus. I took it to boost my average for university admissions. The teacher spent 10 minutes reading from the text book on how to solve a problem, then dismissed us from class to complete the pages of exercises. The only class I ever considered skipping, but as we only had to be there for 10 minutes anyway, what was the point in ruffling the administrative powers-that-be with that behaviour? (By the way, my plan to boost my average with this class failed. I went into the exam with a 98%, completed the simple exam in half the allotted time, then gasped when I saw my final grade in the mail 6 weeks later: a 72%??? Yes - that meant I had scored about 14% on the exam. Yeah right. But my wonderful, caring, attentive (ha) teacher didn't notice the discrepancy. I didn't bother with a fight - I was just glad to be graduated).

So now you know what my years of early learning looked like, why I was a huge advocate of schooling, and why I'm scared to think of the schooling my boys might get in the "mainstream" class. I only wish all students could (and firmly believe they should) have the type of education experience I got.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

A hunk of bread

I had an interesting flash of a notion today. Colin, still hungry after lunch, asked for one of my homemade buns. I watched him take a huge bite and go to chewing it. Chewing, chewing, chewing. As I watched the muscles in his mouth work, I thought: all that dough is just going to gum up his system inside. Then I imagined his digestive system working overtime to process that sticky chunk of bread. I thought of ducks, to whom you should never give bread because it gums up their insides.

Then my thoughts turned to what our world naturally produces. Fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, those things that grow from the ground. As a human race we have fiddled with food for so long. Certainly most of the packaged foods in the grocery store have little naturally occurring food inside them. But even the idea of "homemade food" - like baking my own bread - is really fooling with Mother Nature. Was wheat ever intended to be ground, mixed with water and salt and yeast, leavened, baked and then eaten? Is that really the best nourishment for our bodies? Are our bodies even designed to really want that, or does it adapt and tolerate it? Was it simply a cheap creation years ago that would fill our stomachs and satisfy hunger, without the labour of planting and cultivating and waiting for something to grow?

I love breads. Bread, cereal, bagels, buns - all forms. But suddenly I find myself thinking even more closely about what I am putting in my body, and what it naturally craves.

Monday, 20 April 2009


The other day James was expressing his frustration over work. As a business owner, he lamented that he hated the fact that he never knew if he was succeeding or failing, and that there was no definitive end to anything he was doing. I told him the problem was clear - he simply had to unlearn everything he had learned in school, and then he would be alright.

Seriously. What he was longing for was someone to give an outline for a project, with a list of expectations and a due date. He wanted a mark upon completion, a definitive reward for having worked hard and completing the task according to specifications. But the real world doesn't work like that. Not the individual, thinking, business owner world. He actually drew the parallel to his previous university job at Chrysler, which was not an assembly plant, but operated in exactly the same way.

My frustration is boiling over. I am battling my own education background. I was thankfully allowed critical thinking and some educational freedom in the enhanced learning class I attended, but I still struggle against the futile act of simply performing as instructed to receive the paltry (and meaningless) reward of an 'A' grade.

I see how easily I am manipulated. I see how easily I fall into the mainstream. But I also see how easily I am picked up by every canoe paddling upstream. Persuasive government lulls me into a state of passivity; persuasive revolutionists convince me to string along the back of their tails. What I find hard is swimming on my own - being able to listen and analyze and understand the issues and really figure out what is best for me, my family, my community, my society, my culture, my world. I'm allowed to do that, right?

I am furious at our societal model. Wake up, go to work, collect a paycheque, spend it on things, lather, rinse, repeat. We are driven by the media and I'm appalled at the control wielded by people using this vicious tool.

Consume: Why on earth do I need a new top, because I don't have one in mauve? My boots still fit fine - even if they are only a 2" heel rather than the current stylish flats. My TV projects an image, if I even dare to turn it on. The toy room can't be kept tidy for an hour because of the mountain of toys. And yet I am bombarded by the argument that I need/want/deserve more. I have the urge to abolish gift-giving. Can there possibly be anything else I need? Is there an empty nook or cranny to be found?

Entertain: How is it we can empathize with a television character when we so sorely lack empathy in the real world? Why do we know more about 6 "Friends" than our neighbours? Why are our children unable to entertain themselves without a black box? There aren't enough hours in the day already - why on earth do I give up precious time to sitting uselessly in front of the TV?

And so you have it. Work to get money, and then have other people tell you how to spend it, then mindlessly engage in a fictional world so you aren't distracted by the real issues going on around you.

I'm not giving up everything I am. Questioning doesn't mean discarding. It just means knowing why you are doing it. It means understanding what it's really about, not just what others tell you it's about. It means making a truly informed decision about the real issues and motives. It means asking harder questions, not just answering the polite questionnaire distributed in the name of "free choice". It means beating your own drum because you know it's the right way to go, in spite of politicians, experts, media, and even friends and family. And then it's about accepting the decisions of your friends who have likewise opened their eyes and made their own decisions. Just because we come to different conclusions doesn't mean anyone is wrong. Everyone is right, when they have engaged in the process of critical thinking and understanding. And this revolution doesn't necessarily mean extremist. In fact, I might caution that extremism is just another persuasive movement vying for your vote. It's simply about regaining control.

Weapons of Mass Instruction

Uh-oh. I'm reading another education book. This time I'm going to have to make sure I don't infringe on copyright with the number of fantastic passages I want to share. But I'll start with this one, from the prologue of the book "Weapons of Mass Instruction" by John Taylor Gatto:
"Ellwood P. Cubberley (dean of Standford's School of Education and in charge of publishing elementary school texts) wrote in his book "Public School Administration (1922) that "Our schools are...factories in which the raw products (children) are to be shaped and fashioned...And that is the business of the school to build its pupils according to the specifications laid down."

It's perfectly obvious from our society today what those specifications were. Maturity has by now been banished from nearly every aspect of our lives. Easy divorce laws have removed the need to work at relationships; easy credit has removed the need for fiscal self-control; easy entertainment has removed the need to learn to entertain oneself; easy answers have removed the need to ask questions. We have become a nation of children, happy to surrender our judgments and our wills to political exhortations and commercial blandishments that would insult actual adults."

I don't think his statement about "perfectly obvious specifications" is too harsh at all. Children spend the majority of their time in school, therefore the majority of their thinking patterns and behavioural habits would be learned there. I have some serious reservations about the current school system, but I don't think I need to delve into educations specifics to convince anyone. You can tell the tree by the fruit it bears, and it's safe to say the fruit today lacks in so many ways. Should we not be inspired to reformation simply by seeing the undesired product?

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

A little divine nudge

These past few days I have experienced a sequence of events that has amazed me, and spurred me on in a new and unexpected direction.

Friday night I saw the film "Slumdog Millionaire." There was much in the film about the slums of India that moved me, but none more than the image of two young boys stealing shoes from tourists visiting the Taj Mahal. They had spent their childhood barefoot, and could not believe the treasure they had found when they stumbled on a room filled with piles of shoes. My first reaction was "those poor people, who will return to find their shoes missing!" And then I realized that they, like me, would be able to simply go to the nearest store and purchase another pair. I am not a shoe-aholic; but I do have multiple pairs of shoes for different functions (dress shoes, running shoes, sandals, etc).

Then, Monday morning I was doing a tidy up and realized the velcro strap on my sneakers finally broke off. I tied them up in a bag and tossed them into the garbage. As I dropped the bag in, I had the sad feeling, and a strong impression fell upon me: I wish there was some way I could get these shoes to someone in India or Africa who really needs a pair.

Half an hour later, I realized I was ten minutes late for "Focus on the Family", a radio broadcast I try to catch in the morning. I contemplated tuning in, and decided that even if I only caught the last half, I would. The guest that morning: the founder of "Samaritan's Feet" - an organization that collects people's old shoes for children in Africa. I couldn't believe the chain of events thus far. I listened intently to his story and passion for helping others.

The last five minutes of the broadcast took an interesting turn. The interview asked "some people who are listening might be inspired to do something to help. What can they do?" "Say yes to God," came the reply. "Whatever God is inspiring you to do in your life right now, whatever your heart is convicting you of, say yes."

Hmmm. Okay. I was definitely being pushed in a new direction. But it doesn't end there. I think God knows my passion for helping people, but also my weakness in actually taking the next step.

I mentioned my experiences to my mom that afternoon on the phone. That evening, she sent me an email. She had opened her latest issue of a health magazine, and lo and behold - found an article on what to do with old runners, and three more organizations listed that take shoes to people in Africa. She reiterated my feelings that I was definitely being led somewhere with this.

And if this all wasn't enough, there was one final push. This morning I tuned in on time to "Focus on the Family." Yesterday they advertised that today's program would be about a mother who had found a way to serve in a special way. But that program did not air. For some reason, today was a rebroadcast of yesterday's program. The exact interview, two days in a row. I have never known this to happen on this station, with this radio show. But I heard again, word for word, the interview with the founder of Samaritan's Feet.

On my walk this morning, I mulled over these experiences, wondering and pondering. I felt inadequate. I had no idea where to begin. I felt that I should really pass on this one, not being in a position to be the one to start anything. I thought of my young family, and that maybe this isn't the time in my life to do this. I felt inexperienced, never having worked for a charity organization.

Then I thought about the prophets of the scriptures. I thought of all the tasks they were asked to do, things they had no idea where to begin. I thought of Noah building an ark; I thought of Esther pleading for the lives of her people. I realized that many new projects and ideas come to people who have no idea where to begin. But I knew, most of all, the first step was simply to say "yes". Yes, I will do this. Somehow, I will take this journey, hand in hand with God and walking the path he has so clearly set before me.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Dumbing down our universities

Yes, this is exactly the suggestion I heard summarized on a CBC radio program yesterday. The topic was: are today's high school graduates sufficiently prepared for university? Call after call came in about how universities were not looking at who their students were and what they had reasonably accomplished in high school, and how their curriculum should be built.

I actually started to have a heated debate with the car radio.

I completely agree with the consensus that most students are not prepared for the level of work expected at the university level. I DO NOT agree that the universities need to change anything. Our high schools (and also, therefore, public and middle schools) are where the problems are. Every decade we are gradually making the majority of our kids dumber by expecting less. Kids are coddled through each grade, with second, third, fourth chances, with special attention, with bell-curves, with the inability to fail a grade. High school students today would have no idea how to engage in meaningful debate or conversation or critical thinking on their subjects. Even the bright students at the top of their class rarely have a chance to work to their full potential; rather they simply provide what will get them their 'A' and loll around the rest of the time (I know: I was one of these).

Do you know most university students don't use a library? I understand the innovation of the internet, and completely promote the use of it for research. However, the lack of credible sources and the over-saturation of information has resulted in essays, papers, and presentations founded on faulty research. Most high school students (and perhaps even many university students) believe Wikipedia to be as solid a source as the Encyclopedia Britannica. For some reason, even in the world of Facebook and Blogging, kids believe that if it's online it must be true. Somehow even the "National Enquirer", which proves that even if it's in print it's not always truth, hasn't made a connection in their brain.

It makes me want to put my kids in private school. The only difference between private school kids and public school kids is the number of figures in their family income. Yet I wonder what the acceptance rate at the top notch universities is, private compared to public students. Most private schools have a general assumption that their graduates will go on to the top universities. Few public grads will even think of applying to them.

On second thought, it doesn't make me want to put my kids in private school; it makes me want to radicalize the public school system. It makes me want to get in there and push the kids and the teachers and the administrators and the curriculum builders to do better, to help these kids reach their maximum potential.

In ancient Greece, when a tutor took on a student, (or disciple, in a specific discipline) a contract was signed. The teacher agreed to teach and pass on the knowledge to his student, but likewise, the student agreed to do all he could to learn. The majority of students may be lazy today, but I believe this is a result of the system of teaching and learning we currently use. If each was challenged to their maximum potential (not ability, but potential), many more would strive for excellence, succeeding in high school, university, the workplace, society... There is a cycle of success that would be started and spiral upwards with each turn.

Homemade bagels

I found a recipe for homemade bagels, which made me jump up and dance in the kitchen. (Literally. Bagels are really expensive to buy in the stores now. And they are one of my favourite snacks.) Flour, water, yeast, honey and salt. That easy.

Or not. It turns out I am terrible at kneading dough. Away I went, taking the crazy night and stressful morning I had out on my poor little ball of flour. Smoosh, fold, turn, smoosh, fold, turn, smoosh, fold, turn. My only instruction was to knead "until smooth and elastic". I also know you have to be weary of over-handling dough. So I stopped when it looked right. I thought it would look better when it rose. I thought it would improve when it broiled. I thought there would be a change while it boiled. I held out a little longer while it baked. But - no such luck. My scrawny, lumpy, puny bagels look nothing like the beautiful photo posted by the "Heavenly Homemaker". And she actually takes pictures as she makes it - so you know that's really what they should look like.

Ah well. They look awful, but there taste scrumptious. They aren't the dense lump of knotted dough I expected. Once I actually get the kneading right, they are going to be FANTASTIC! I think next time I'll let the bread machine do the kneading.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Lewis' thoughts

I read these two great passages last night in the Letters of C.S. Lewis. At 26 years old, he had just received a fellowship at Oxford University to lecture in English and Philosophy. On arriving, he learned that he would in fact not be teaching philosophy, simply focusing on English. These are his thoughts on the subject and profession of philosophy:
I have come to think that if I had the mind, I have not the brain and nerves for a life of pure philosophy. A continued search among the abstract roots of things, a perpetual questioning of all that plain men take for granted, a chewing the cud for fifty years over inevitable ignorance and a constant frontier watch on the little tidy lighted conventional world of science and daily life - is this the best life for temperaments such as [mine]?"
I had never considered what souls philosophers possess, what lives they must lead. Imagine to always be questioning lifestyle and existence, never to be at peace with your life. It must indeed be lonely and frustrating and certainly full of turmoil. Here is a second excerpt that made me laugh out loud at the truth of it.
At any rate I escape with joy from one definite drawback of philosophy - its solitude. I was beginning to feel that your first year carries you out of the reach of all save other professionals. No one sympathises with your adventures in that subject because no one understands them: and if you struck treasure trove no one would be able to use it."
I chuckled at the apparent uselessness of the profession - work as hard as you want, no one understands what you are doing. And even when you do finally (if ever) land upon an enlightening concept, no one can actually put it to any use. I guess the vast majority of people are happiest to be going about in their day to day lives and never really thinking past their own front door. But I should end here, or risk venturing into that uncertain and lonely realm of philosophy myself.

Finding answers

While day after frustrating day passes of trying to figure out my little Caleb, last night I think I finally found some answers. Not from a book or website or professional - just from a good chat with James. We sat for an hour hashing and rehashing the day, how Caleb reacted to certain things, what worked and (mostly) what didn't work. We talked about development stages and what he is realistically capable of and what are normal behaviours to be expected. It was a time to bounce things off each other, hear the thoughts out loud, and try to figure out, as the two people who know him best of all, how on earth we can help him (and us).

I knew we had come to a crossroads two days ago. Colin was sick, but Caleb spent all but 30 minutes of the day screaming and banging his head. This meant that most of the day Colin was left to himself, huddled on the couch, quietly pleading for me. When I finally put the boys to bed, I realized that all Colin had eaten all day was half a granola bar. Not because I hadn't made meals, but because he had no more than pushed the food around on his plate while we sat at the table. Usually I would keep tabs on him, but the day was lost in the chaos of Caleb's behaviour. I also noticed that Colin's behaviour was changing - he was starting to act out, throw things, was unable to play on his own, and was falling into tantrums completely out of his character. In short, he was crying out for attention. My own patience was thin and I spent much of the day angry or crying. I had also canceled all activities outside our home for the next month or so, as Caleb is even worse when we leave home. I realized that Caleb's behaviour was now affecting almost every area of our family life. This was going beyond normal.

I'm signed up for two workshops, and we've looked into talking to a professional counselor. I am recognizing that we can't go on like this, without some sort of change. But these measures are not immediate, hence the conversation last night.

I recognized that Caleb does not respond to "discipline" - he just doesn't seem to equate action and consequence yet, or he doesn't care. So we are going to try three things that will hopefully see us through these next six months until Caleb is more able to understand and deal with his emotions.

First, we are making the home a more positive environment. We have removed the typical things that set him off (things we wants but can't have): movies, the computer, the chairs he uses to climb up. Second, I have made Colin's room a place he can go and play on his own, to eliminate the battles over toys. These measures are to try and avoid the tantrums in the first place. However, as we will be unable to completely eliminate them, we also devised a way to deal with the tantrum. Currently, Caleb will lose it for anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour and a half, over one small thing (ie: wanting to play with the stove knobs). If we let him cry, it escalates. If I try to hold him, it escalates. If we try to distract him with a toy or food, he throws it. So now we are going to try a complete change of scene, like the backyard. I'm hoping that if we completely upend him in this way, the disorientation will stop the screaming long enough for him to realize he is no longer really angry. (Of course, there is currently a foot of snow in our backyard, but as it's already April, this won't last long).

Today is an up day on this roller-coaster, and I'm grateful for that. It's been a few weeks of downs, and my poor body and mind needed this day of peace. Hopefully these answers will aid us during the next low part.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

For the mind

I just spent the last hour reading a newspaper. I combed through some stories, read others in depth, completed the puzzles (crosswords and other word games). The Toronto Star has a promotion this month, where we get a paper six days a week for free. I am totally aware that this is to lure me into a subscription. In the past I have always declined, as I usually check in online to see what the top stories are.

But I have rediscovered the love affair I had as a teenager with newspapers. I abhor most television and radio news programs, because it seems that the only thing they count as news are horrible personal tragedies, such as car accidents and murders. The more violent, the more sensational, the more coverage. I can see how some of these incidents may be of interest to the public, when it concerns public safety or a larger issue that needs to be taken note of. But I cannot stand seeing or hearing footage of car accidents. It in no way will shape my world view, or inspire something in me, or inform me about something. I suppose it is from this morbid fascination that the following originates: "It's like a car crash - you just can't look away."

This isn't what I wanted to write about. Back to the newspaper. In the past couple of weeks, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading about an underground restaurant phenomenon, how Disney markets teen shows to toddlers and a small Spanish town famous for it's cider customs (just a smattering). I've loved doing the puzzles. Instead of clicking on a site and scanning for 30 seconds the news highlights, I've been slowing down and spending time in my world.

Slowing down. (My enlightened mind seems to be meandering.) This has been on my mind a lot lately. I haven't worn a watch in the past few years. I've been learning that there are few places I really need to be at by a certain time. I'm realizing that while planning ahead is the only way to ensure things get done, a rigid schedule is not necessary to accomplish things.

I will be starting my gardening plans soon. When I think of growing my own food, I think of slowing down. It isn't about instantly filling your fridge from the store; it's about planting and caring for and caressing my food into being. It's about starting something now that will not give yield for months. It's about slowing down.

I am reminded of the book "Better off: Flipping the Switch on Technology" - one of my favourite books I've read. I think I'll give it another read. The faster the world around me goes, the more instant things become, the more I feel pulled in another directions, the more I'm resisting.

Another newspaper article captured what I feel happening in the world. "Cirque du Soleil" is presenting a special event for a local summer festival. Here's the description:
"This event is an inquiry into the very essence of human civilization. Beginning Friday night, two “communities” will form on the Toronto waterfront: one representing the natural world in which we have our instinctual roots and the urban community, the world we have constructed around ourselves. They’ll make their homes at opposite ends of the site, each in an environment antithetical to their respective world-view. What will happen as the weekend unfolds and the two communities encounter and interact with each other?"
I am feeling my instinctual roots tugging me back to the natural world. These feelings are not new to people around me - I wonder if they won't be representative of the majority some day soon, and truly lead to a revolution in the way we live. Can we (do we want to) survive the current aggressive thrust by technology?

(Well, I think my newspaper's promotion just may have worked: I might find myself enjoying the luxury of time and a paper more often.)

Friday, 3 April 2009

Nothing escapes him

Today Colin's fever spiked above 40 C, which meant a trip to the ER. Not having a car of my own, I called a friend who graciously offered to drive us over. After a couple of hours (and everything seemingly okay) I called her again to pick us up. Trouble was, I couldn't remember what her car looked like. In my fast-moving chaotic rush out the door, all I could remember was that it was white or grey or tan - something light coloured, I thought. But knowing Colin's attention to detail, I thought I'd give him a try.

"Colin, do you remember what Joanne's car looked like?"
"Yep - it was a silver Mazda."

Sure enough, five minutes later, in rolled a silver Mazda, with Joanne at the wheel. Even in a feverish haze, half asleep, eyes full of tears and curling into my arms in pain, my three year old managed to catch the details of the car. He misses nothing, that kid.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Upcoming projects

Spring has sprung and my body and mind are gearing up again for the good weather. I'm bubbling over with projects I hope to accomplish before hibernation sets in again next winter. Here are a few of them:

1. Kitchen drawers. Our kitchen cabinets and drawers were custom built - out of particle board! A terrible way to cheap out on cabinetry, and now it means the front panels of my drawers are about to be yanked right off. Because of the custom design, I can't go and buy something at Home Depot or Ikea - I've got to get to work building my own. I'm excited about this endeavor, and also about buying my very own table saw.

2. Backyard landscaping. We have a nice big yard, but the ground is really bumpy, which makes it impossible for the boys to ride their cars or bikes around. I want to put down a dirt path around the perimeter of the yard for this purpose.

3. Gardening. My very first garden! I've already missed the early indoor planting, but a friend over planted her containers and has offered to pass some along to me. I'm planning a basic vegetable garden, and am really looking forward to salads and foods grown right in our backyard.

4. Constellations. I am fascinated by the night sky, and am getting a book on constellations to be able to identify some of the stars and their stories.

5. Children's Book. I'm a good way through writing a children's book on local foods. I hope to finish up the rough layout for it.

6. Children's Group. This is a maybe project, but I was hoping to have a reading/music group for kids in our backyard this summer. The local programs held at our library only enroll about 8-10 kids at a time, and are held in a tiny, stuffy room. I want to run something where the kids can run if they need to (sometimes three year olds just can't sit still!), or come and join in some stories and songs.

7. Local Farm. I want to find myself a local farm to buy my summer produce from. The purpose of this project is threefold: to support local farms, to enjoy the freshest food, and to preserve my own food for the winter. I hope to preserve pears, tomato sauce, jam, salsa, and a few select vegetables (like beans).

8. Music History. I've studied performance and theory music for more than 20 years, but never had the opportunity to learn much about this history of it. I want to read up on some of the major musicians, who they were, when they lived, what they composed, and what influence they had on music history.

9. Spanish. In university I took one semester of beginning Spanish. With my fluency in French it was actually fairly easy to pick up. I've lost most of my speaking ability, although I can still muddle my way through reading it. I've still got my CDs and books and I want to try and brush up on enough to be classed as "travelers Spanish".