Wednesday, February 25, 2015

An Ode to the Incandescent Lightbulb

I have long been aware of the fact that I am Old School.

In nearly everything, really.

I was nearly the last person I know to buy a cell phone. We've never had cable, and I don't really want it. Number two pencils, handwriting tablets, reading books rather than dabbling with educational software, encyclopedias rather than Wikipedia --  ask my kids and they'll tell you I'm nothing but boring.

One of the facets that drew me into Montessori education was the stuff -- real, substantial, high quality stuff. Maria Montessori would not have been surprised that modern day toddlers throw dishes -- most of what they're accustomed to using is nearly indestructible plastic. Give them high quality items -- silver, glass, wood -- and through control of error, they'll learn to be careful (and they'll also learn to clean up when things break). What is control of error? In the atrium we pour red wine from glass cruets into a metal chalice sitting on a white table cloth. Children get immediate feedback on whether or not they're moving slowly and carefully. Control of error.

But I digress . . .

So we've moved for the second time in eighteen years.

And a whole lot changes in eighteen years.

The other day I was having a nice long chat with Doug, an appliance salesman. He was trying to wow me with the latest bells and whistles that come with washers and dryers. I decided to level with him. "Look, Doug," I said, "we bought our last washer and dryer eighteen years ago. I think we repaired the dryer once. If the people who bought our house hadn't really wanted the washer and dryer, we would've moved them into the new house. We don't plan to be back for another eighteen years. What do you recommend?"

I got the impression that Doug doesn't get a lot of customers like me.

And here's what I learned about new washers: They don't have agitators. No, they don't. You peer into this cavernous hole and voila! no agitator.

(As an aside: On the issue of cavernous holes, Consumer Report was singularly useful. Their advice? Open the lid and make sure you can touch the bottom. I couldn't reach the bottom of half the washers. Thank you, Consumer Report.)
One salesman thought he'd really impress me by telling me that the top of the line washers can communicate with my Smartphone. I didn't tell him that I don't own a Smartphone or that even if I did, I was wholly uninterested in having my electronics communicate.

So our new washer has no agitator. And it's okay, but I feel a little like I did when I first got wind of the ban on incandescent light bulbs. Am I the only person who likes incandescent light bulbs? I get the environmental issues. Waste of time, waste of money. And I have to say the newer bulbs have improved over time. I no longer switch on the a reading lamp and feel like I'm trying on bathing suits under fluorescent lights at Target. The soft, yellow glow is a step in the right direction.

The kids are forever lampooning our lame, lame, mega lame vehicles that, in their knowledgeable minds, hearken back to the Cretaceous Era. I try to gently remind them that our dinosaurs help free funds for little things like vacations and swim team.

They don't get it.

The van, in truth, is sounding more than a little creaky. Buying vehicles is much like buying  a new washer after eighteen years. The new features -- which are not new to anyone else -- simple amaze. Yes, when we bought the van thirteen years ago, we were all "Power locks! Who knew?" I understand that vans of today are wired for every type of communication imaginable. If that means my packing list drops by five or ten power cords, I will embrace progress with enthusiasm.

Now, I am not completely anti-technology, and, typically, when I make the great leap forward in some form or fashion, tardy and somewhat reluctant though I may be, I'm usually happy with the results.

Some things I leave behind and never look back. All of us of a certain age remember the painstaking efforts we put into footnotes and bibliographies using manual typewriters. Remembers Selectrics? High-tech circa 1980. I watch Tim using Easy Bib and plopping out a bibliography in about thirty seconds with a nary a drop of Whiteout in sight.

Kids these days.

They don't know from suffering.

But, really, was there any benefit to that madness? Perhaps we are a trifle more diligent; maybe we developed an extra degree of fortitude for our troubles. But I wouldn't turn back that clock for love or money.

In the next week or so, I am taking the great plunge into the world of Smartphones. While I have no interest in having my phone friend my washer or text my dryer, my Dumb Phone has failed me one time too many, and if I have to tangle with customer service and the vicious cycle of automated technical support one more time, well, I fear for my eternal soul. Lord, forgive me, these things seriously bring out the absolute worst in me.

And now it's time to turn off my non-incandescent light bulb and go to bed.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Lent: A Gentle Compulsion To Do Hard Things

I plan to start writing again sometime soon. But moving? It's epic. Epic. As in I hope I never do it again, I'm pretty sure these doorways will one day accommodate my wheelchair epic.

So here's an oldie:

I love Lent.

Lent to me is chock-full of everything that makes me love the faith. 

Beginning with smoke and ashes and ending with Resurrection, Lent offers a fresh start, a gentle propulsion to do hard things,  a few tangible reminders that this life is not all there is.

Above all, Lent offers hope.

But Lent is never easy. And the first day of Lent is almost invariably awful.

Lent 2010 was one for the record books. In my mind, we began on a sour note.  Despite heroic intentions -- on day one, no less -- I overslept, encountered a broken appliance, and growled at the kids. That was just the warm-up. Three days later Kolbe broke both his arms. Yes, two ulnas and a radius barely 96 hours into the season of penance.

Lent 2011 didn’t begin in such a dramatic fashion. Kolbe thoughtfully broke his arm in early February. With Easter being late that year, it was fully healed and out the cast well before the close of Ordinary Time.

Lent 2012 involved no broken bones whatsoever. 

And now we begin Lent 2013. Tim's been dog-sitting for our friends across the street. He had a basketball tournament yesterday, so I walked the dogs one last time. I swept up one mess and cleaned up a second, yuckier mess. Dave closed the door. A job well done. Or so I thought.

We expected to see the neighbor's car turn up sometime Tuesday evening, but never did. This morning, I hustled Tim out of bed to walk the dogs once more. Tim was unusually quiet upon his return. With a little prodding, he finally admitted the unfortunate truth: The dogs were gone.

Gone! Gone? No, no, no, not on our watch! 

Panicking, I ran across the street to see if they had locked themselves in a closet or something. No dogs, in or out of closets, but I did see clear evidence that the family had returned late and left the house early this morning. 

But where were the dogs?

I schlepped the gang to school with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Do I scour the neighborhood? Do I call animal control? Check the closets again?  I called on Saint Francis to intercede for the missing pooches and tried hard not to panic some more.

I tracked down the phone number for the dog owner's mother (that would be the dogs' grandmother, I guess). I reached the dogs' aunt, spilled out the whole crazy story, and learned the happy news that the dogs were safe in her custody.

My heart rate is now going down, and I have freed Saint Francis to pray for other animal calamities elsewhere.

And what has this to do with Lent? 

A few years ago I wrote this about Lent: I find myself facing that unrealistic expectation that come Ash Wednesday, I will somehow be instantly different, instantly better.  Early on I run slam against my own willfulness, my own “I want what I want and I want it now!” In short, I fail.

I run up against broken arms and missing dogs and flairing tempers and bad attitudes. I really want grace and peace and holiness, really, I do. All the daily aggravations of life seem to conspire to ruin my Lent. In fact, they're the very reason I need Lent. I need a fresh start, a gentle propulsion to do hard things, a few tangible reminders that this life is not all there is. 

So have a great Lent. 

And if it gets off to a rocky start, persevere. 

The Internet abounds with great ideas for this season. Here are a few that I'm checking out:

  • For a list of family activities, click here
  • For Simcha Fisher's hilarious Lent for Rookies, click here
  • For Life Teen's list of Twenty-five Lenten ideas for young people, click here.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A Brief Downton Critique

I skipped Downton two weeks ago to watch a bunch of brawling football players, so that just tells you I'm not the fan I once was. Still, I love that Carson, Mrs. Hughes, and Mrs. Pattmore. Funny how I like the downstairs folks better than the aristocrats, but, really, the staff garners the funniest lines.

Here are my thoughts on this week's episode:

- Isis is a goner. Sort of like the diet candy introduced in the late 70's under the unfortunate name of Ayds. Timing is everything.

- Loved this (slightly paraphrased) exchange:
Robert: How do I know Bricker didn't make that up?
Cora: Because I said he didn't.
After 34 years of marriage, there are things you shouldn't have to defend: paint choices, expenditures that aren't ruinous, statements about men in your bedroom. I love that Cora didn't shout or cop a snotty tone, but just stated it as fact. Classy. Effective.

- Someone asked the actor who plays Mr. Carson if his character would ever marry Mrs. Hughes. His response? He might, but he'd still call her Mrs. Hughes. Classic.

- Cried when Edith swiped the baby. This is why we have adoption laws. Feel sorry for Edith, feel worse for the woman who has fed and changed and rocked that baby for two years.

- The Bates situation -- Julian, my dear Fellowes, we hardly survived season two (three?) with Bates in the clink. No round two. Pretty please?

Head over to Rachel's for more Downton chatter.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Math U See

I polled a bunch of my homeschooling Facebook friends to get their take on a program called Math U See.

John, who struggled through kindergarten big time, is doing well in school. He loves his teacher. He is in a class of all boys, and they love to create little boys' clubs, but somehow Mrs. C. always makes the cut and gets included, too. She is the mom of all boys, so she's particularly well suited to handle this tribe.

Some of the credit for his new found love of reading goes to Pizza Hut. Thanks to the Book It! program which offers pizza for reading, John has stuck to a book -- Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson -- long enough to realize -- drum roll, please, -- that reading is fun.

Who knew?

Thank you, Pizza Hut.!

(I'm so grateful to Pizza Hut, I'm choosing to overlook a few alarming details about our recent visit. The last time we cashed in our pizza certificates, we encountered what appeared to be a human hair coated in mozzarella cheese and a waitress who was three sheets to the wind or worse. Yeah.)

For those of you who aren't turning away with a queasy stomach, let me continue.

Reading is going great. But then there's math.

Math. Oh, math. Math, math, math.

This is a challenge, and I turned to my homeschooling friends for advice.

I love homeschooling blogs. I'm a closet homeschooler, really. I got into blogging, in part, because I fell in love with Elizabeth Foss and Melissa Wiley and then Danielle Bean and now Mary and Kendra and Dwija.

My favorite posts are back to school summaries that list all the materials for the year. I want to buy every last book and project and CD. I'm probably not a homeschooler because we'd be broke, I'd never be able to wade through the mounds of materials I had bought to find the materials we should actually be using, and instead of teaching, I'd spend my days sampling new stuff.

(And I'd likely strangle one particular child which doesn't quite jibe with my long term educational goals for him).

Anyway . . . I was a high school teacher, am currently a catechism teacher, and am simply fascinated by the process through which children learn.

If you want an amusing take on homeschooling (and a lot of other topics), check out Kendra's blog. I loved her post on curriculum choices. Handwriting Without Tears? She was turned off by the title alone. By golly, she wanted handwriting that promised at least a few tears, i.e. she wanted to push and challenge her children with high standards, i.e. she's a woman after my own heart. I'm all about that, yes, I am. (Says the woman who just thanked Pizza Hut for inspiring her son's love of reading).

Kendra writes:

I want to feel like my kids are really being challenged. I don't want "Handwriting Without Tears," (which I am not familiar with at all, so this is not a knock on that program and I'm sure it's lovely) I want "Handwriting You Almost to Death for Excellence in Handwriting." For sixth grade this year, we had a choice of grammar books. One was "Easy Grammar" the other was "Voyages in English." This was a no brainer for me. If they had offered a book called "Hard Grammar," I probably would have chosen that . . .

Hard grammar. Give me some skin, soul sister. I am not philosophically attracted to techniques that promise to make things easy. Excellence is not easy. Ever. Not in sports. Not in music. Not in writing. Not in math. Excellence demands repetition, attention to detail, perseverance. I love the quote attributed to Jack Nicklaus: I've noticed that the harder I practice, the luckier I get.

I look at a child like John and think a two-pronged approach could get us moving in the right direction.. First, old school drilling. Second, a new and different approach that might foster a deeper understanding of what doesn't seem to come easily to him.

On the old school methods of rote memorization, drilling, flash cards and all that, I have watched one of my sisters use Kumon for years. To my untrained eye, there is absolutely nothing innovative about the Kumon approach. Their take is something like this: The brain is just another muscle. Exercise it.

The long term effect (and I'm talking probably a good eight years of Kumon) is that my nephew can pump out some math problems. He moved on to higher math because Kumon ensured that the foundation was rock solid.

Math U See might be the other prong -- a completely different approach that might slowly build an understanding of numbers and  patterns and concepts.

Time will tell.

Thanks to all my homeschooling friends on Facebook for your input. Thanks, especially, to Rachel for loaning out her Math U See materials and to Holly who's going to give me a tutorial on the program.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

From Moving to Unpacking

So we moved. And it's been in equal parts peaceful and chaotic. We have faced lots of scenarios like the following:

1. Decide to take a shower. 
2. Realize there's no shower curtain.
3. Find the shower curtain.
4. Realize there's no rod.
5. Send Dave to the old house to get a rod.
6. Replace the rod and curtain.
7. Shower.

Terribly efficient, as you can well imagine.

Repeat this for combing hair, making lunches, going to piano, etcetera, etcetera. Slow and steady. Slow and steady.

I have oh! so many thoughts on moving. I'll whittle my advice down to these golden nuggets:

1. You need w-a-y more boxes than you could possibly imagine you would. Way more.Can you re-use boxes, especially on a short move like ours? Of course. But keep in mind the scenario above. If you're searching for your alarm clock, it just might be in a box marked "Fragile: Fine China." Good luck with that.
2. Pack each family member as if you were going on a three day trip. All the necessities -- glasses, prescriptions, chargers, etc. Put these bags in a locked vehicle that will not be involved in the move.
3. Scrounge up a few more boxes.
4. Sequester your essential electronics and their accessories, chargers, etc. and stow them in the aforementioned locked vehicle.
5. Grab a few more boxes.
6. Pry open the door of the locked vehicle and add complete bedding for each person. I did this, but didn't add sheets as I was running them all through the wash prior to the move. It's hard to make beds when you're utterly spent and you can't find sheets.
6. Boxes.
7. Add to the stowaway vehicle a  few basic tools -- hammer, screwdrivers, drill, etc. You'll need them, and you'll never find them in the chaos.
The old sitting room.
8. And boxes.

All is well, if a little off kilter. I'm cutting us all lots of slack. I was in search of a table top fan when I spotted John's backpack which had been AWOL since Friday. Score! Our friend Nick carried a recliner into the living room and out popped a library book we lost three months ago. Score again!

Ainsley's sneakers are good and lost, and I'm about to concede defeat and head to the store. Other than that, the unearthing process is moving forward.