Librum amo

What I think I’m saying is, I like this book. We’ve been using it for a few weeks now, at a steady-ish but slow pace (i.e. twice a week or so, for 20-30 minutes at a time), and so far we’re making good progress. We’re not very good yet, but it’s starting to feel less like a giant wall of incomprehension and more like something we can actually learn. And best of all, the kids enjoy being quizzed and enjoy getting the right answer ahead of their sisters even more. It’s very well done.

Bring on the bean pasta

Happy springy beans

One of my new hobbies after Sunday morning training (after I drink some water and scarf a banana) is to take my ginger-cinnamon tea (which I make myself; just slice up about an inch of fresh ginger, peel and all, throw it in the contigo with a stick of cinnamon, fill with boiling water and let sit for two hours – it’s strong but oh so yummy) and go wander the aisles at the nearby Bulk Barn.

No, really. I live a perfectly happy life. It’s just that I get excited with small normal things. You’ll understand some day.

I love the smells, the possibilities, that all those giant bins of stuff offer to the imagination. (I should have called this post Ode to the Barn of Bulk but oh well too late.) I find it relaxing and inspiring all at the same time. Yesterday I was looking for some noodles for the kids when I noticed a bin with black bean rotini. I’d noticed their red lentil pasta before and had briefly wondered about trying it, but black bean? That was a new one for me and, well, I didn’t want to try and resist that.

I love black beans. Plain boiled beans, mushed up with beef in lasagna, mushed up with rice, with spinach and a poached egg, you name it. But in pasta form? I’d never heard of that. I looked at the list of ingredients and it said, plainly, non-GMO organic black beans.

Well, now. Organic and non-GMO? Gimme that!

I bought a small bag, and tried them today. Boiled them as per the instructions (about 8 minutes), drained and let cool. Added them to bits of ham I had lying around and a giant pile of baby spinach with my usual salad dressing (mayo, dijon, honey) and it was excellent. The kids aren’t nuts about it, and I can’t blame them. When you think of this as “noodles”, it’s pretty lousy. It has the shape of noodles, but not the taste nor the texture. It’s a touch chalky, and it tastes (you’ll be relieved to hear) blackbeany. But if instead of thinking of this as “noodles” you think of it as “black beans in unusual form”, then it’s most excellent. And if, like me, you don’t actually eat noodles much because you’re trying to stay off the carbs and/or the gluten beast, the black bean springy noodles are your friend.

Next week I’ll even go crazy and try the red lentil pasta. I’ll keep you posted. 😉

I need me another mid-life, because I have another crisis

That’s a beautiful piece of music and it got me thinking this fine cold morning… Isn’t that just the most perfect guitar? I had no idea Stradivari made guitars.

As far as I can remember I was always a musical kid. I taught myself the basics of piano on a friend’s electric organ, playing Oh Susanna until my friends’ parents kicked me out. Then I got my own (old, very old) upright piano and worked on that. Then got some basic lessons with a kind young woman for a year, then moved on to a more serious teacher who got me into the university’s music school at the age of, if memory serves, 8. I stayed there and went through the music school’s degrees until I became a Really Terrible Teenager at which point I didn’t really feel like working the keys for four or more hours a day, which was what was necessary to continue past the 7th degree I’d earned.

So I quit music school. But I kept playing, and over the years and the countless moves in and around Quebec City and Montreal more or less always kept some kind of piano or keyboard around. I’m big on classical music, especially Chopin waltzes, and I play what I enjoy playing, just because. Of course since I’ve had children my time to play the piano has gotten squeezed out, but now they’re starting to learn it and I’m itching to get back to it.

I’ve also always been a singer, in and out of choirs, and also by myself. I remember as a kid I had to go to Mass once a week, and I hated it. They needed someone to play the organ and sing so I offered myself up. I was quite young (I want to say I was 9 or 10 when I started), but they were desperate so they let me try it and since I didn’t mangle anything they let me do it. I became my parish’s organist and also singer. I was mostly hidden behind a pillar and it was funny to see the faces of people filing by to go get Communion when they realized it was a kid playing and singing. I enjoyed doing that, and it helped make Mass fly by. Then when I turned 15 (see Terrible Teenager, above) I found a job and deliberately took shifts during Mass time so I could get out of church, and that was the end of my sacred music career. (Though it wasn’t always so sacred; we used to play a Glory Alleluia for Christmas that was to the tune of the Battle Hymn of the Republic – Quebec Catholics are a weird bunch.)

Anyway. I want to sing again. I haven’t got a sweet clue where to start or where on earth I’d find the time to get more music back into my life, but whatever! Details! I shall find a way…

Why I homeschool, reason #873483 in a long series

When you homeschool and your child misbehaves, you have all kinds of options. You can talk to her, to make her realize what the problem is, then move on. That’s especially useful when a child does something they don’t quite know is wrong. If they don’t do it again, yay. If they do it again, next time around you have the option of making them deal with the consequences of that. Because if they do something they know is wrong more than once, you can assume there is an element of mischievousness or possibly malice behind it. So you react accordingly. If you child does something you know they know is very wrong, you have the option of going nuclear (however your family defines “nuclear”).

It’s so simple and common-sensical it almost hurts having to write it.

And yet:

NEWARK, Del. — Finding character witnesses when you are 6 years old is not easy. But there was Zachary Christie last week at a school disciplinary committee hearing with his karate instructor and his mother’s fiancé by his side to vouch for him.

Zachary’s offense? Taking a camping utensil that can serve as a knife, fork and spoon to school. He was so excited about recently joining the Cub Scouts that he wanted to use it at lunch. School officials concluded that he had violated their zero-tolerance policy on weapons, and Zachary was suspended and now faces 45 days in the district’s reform school.

“It just seems unfair,” Zachary said, pausing as he practiced writing lower-case letters with his mother, who is home-schooling him while the family tries to overturn his punishment.

Spurred in part by the Columbine and Virginia Tech shootings, many school districts around the country adopted zero-tolerance policies on the possession of weapons on school grounds. More recently, there has been growing debate over whether the policies have gone too far.

But, based on the code of conduct for the Christina School District, where Zachary is a first grader, school officials had no choice. They had to suspend him because, “regardless of possessor’s intent,” knives are banned.

But the question on the minds of residents here is: Why do school officials not have more discretion in such cases?

“Zachary wears a suit and tie some days to school by his own choice because he takes school so seriously,” said Debbie Christie, Zachary’s mother, who started a Web site,, in hopes of recruiting supporters to pressure the local school board at its next open meeting on Tuesday. “He is not some sort of threat to his classmates.”

Still, some school administrators argue that it is difficult to distinguish innocent pranks and mistakes from more serious threats, and that the policies must be strict to protect students.

“There is no parent who wants to get a phone call where they hear that their child no longer has two good seeing eyes because there was a scuffle and someone pulled out a knife,” said George Evans, the president of the Christina district’s school board. He defended the decision, but added that the board might adjust the rules when it comes to younger children like Zachary.

See the problem is school authorities have no leeway. If they do take some anyway, they often get blamed, because there’s always some nit somewhere who makes the inane “but what if someone looses an eye” argument about everything. And it’s true. Someone might loose an eye. I mean, it’s life, right? It’s inherently not safe.

One of the goals of a solid education is to teach children how to take risks appropriately. How to gauge danger, how to think of possible ways to mitigate risks, how to back off when something is bigger than they thought, and how sometimes to trust themselves to do something scary. But if you’re in a school system where very strict “safety” rules are applied regardless of intent you not only fail to teach children how to manage risks, you’re also teaching them that the people in positions of authority make rules that are profoundly unfair when followed to the letter and then you proceed to follow the profoundly unfair rules to the letter, which breaks whatever bond there might have been between that kid and the school authorities.

Meanwhile, real bullies who are smart enough to understand how the game is played (i.e. don’t bring knives to school), have all the time and space in the world to traumatize their victims without being bothered much by the school authorities who are unduly busy evicting 6-year-olds who bring camping gear to eat their lunch with.

If they’d tried to design a school system upside-down they wouldn’t have done a better job.

A day of firsts – some excellent, some, well…

This morning I discovered that if you crank up your car’s butt warmer on your way to training it helps your lower back not hurt so much while the rest of your carcass warms up with kicks and such. It was most necessary today given the pretty intensive workout yesterday (one short jog, one cardio kickboxing class, one karate class, then 90 minutes of special black belt training). I slept like a log for 8 solid hours then went for a pleasant 3-KM jog this morning with the pup and a podcast about Aristotle’s Poetics, but for some reason I was still stiff at 9:30. You bet I’ll use that butt-warming trick again. It’s excellent!

This morning I also drew blood for the first time. We both came in with a back fist and reverse punch at the same time and clashed. So far so ho-hum. Clashes happen. But then she signaled the need for a break and explained that I’d somehow managed to get my elbow into her mouth, which made her bleed a bit. Which of course I felt terrible about. I know it’s part of the game, and personally I don’t mind it when I get hurt and it bleeds (provided it was not a thoroughly preventable accident; I dislike undue sloppiness), but I still didn’t like it.

I tried to drown my sorrows, as it were (okay, yes, I’m being dramatic), by going to David’s Tea and trying some chai tea (the Kashmiri Chai, with a splash of whole milk), which is apparently excellent for you. I don’t know if it’s true but I sure am enjoying the taste, so yay.

What else – oh yes! As we prepare for our dojo’s annual Kicks for Heart fundraiser (support me! I’m being out-fundraised by my kids) I decided to let the girls go out in the neighbourhood to try and raise some money for it. In previous years they’d just make a contribution out of their own pockets but this year they wanted to go knock on people’s doors. So I got them to practise their sales pitch and off they went and raised $150, doing the whole thing by themselves. They are back out there as I type, trying to get some more. That makes me feel so very proud.

Hope you’re having a happy Sunday, too! (Minus the blood.)

Why I learned to stop clocking my runs and enjoy going slowly

I used to feel guilty for not running faster. I’ve been having this problem for decades because, see, I love running, but I don’t enjoy running very fast. If running is all I did for fitness, I would push harder, and get down to 6-7 minutes per mile over 8-10 miles. But it’s not. I run every day (except if it’s colder than -28 degrees and/or if there’s too much ice on the sidewalks), and I normally do 3-4 miles/day in the summer and 2-3 miles/day in the winter.

I used to see other joggers pushing themselves hard and I would feel inadequate and then push myself harder. I used to think that it wasn’t really jogging unless your quads burned and you felt like throwing up. But that’s not the part of jogging I like – I enjoy floating gently, not pounding my knees. So I would alternate between pushing and not pushing, and feeling sick and guilty.

I used to log my runs, too. I was devoted to RunKeeper (which is a neat app). I can still hear that woman’s voice in my head telling me how long I’ve been running, how fast, etc. But I don’t use it anymore. Now that I train harder and more often in the dojo, I use running to loosen up, lose the lactic acid, and spend some quality time with the Eldest when she comes with me or with my dog and my philosophy podcast when she’s not. I take my time, usually 35-40 minutes for a 3-mile run, sometimes longer, sometimes not. I let the dog do his thing and sometimes doddle a bit. It’s my time to be outside in the early morning light and enjoy being alive. I still feel a touch guilty for not pushing myself harder, but only a little bit. I think I’ll be able to get over it soon.


What happens when you treat kids like kids

I find stories like this very encouraging:

The staff at McGlone Elementary School has a mantra: Happy kids learn more.

It’s why the extended-day school in far northeast Denver offers nearly two hours of specials like art and music per day; why the cheerful and affectionate principal keeps a few “golden tickets” clipped to her lanyard to give out as rewards; and why the classrooms aren’t the hushed, sit-up-straight, no-excuses type you might find elsewhere.

On a recent afternoon, two fifth-grade boys in matching navy polo shirts and spiky hairdos huddled next to each other in teacher Matt Johnson’s math class. Sharing a single notebook page, they worked to solve one divided by three, their skinny elbows pressed together in the unselfconscious way of elementary-school students.

“It should be three halves!” one exclaimed.

“Why?” the other asked.

“Oh, wait!” the first boy cried out. “Thirds!”

McGlone’s joyful philosophy seems to be working. Once one of the lowest-performing schools in the city, its impressive academic growth has turned it into a district darling. Then-U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan toured the school last spring, and the district recently made a video about McGlone after its students showed remarkable improvement on state literacy tests.

But McGlone wants to do more. In a district that values innovation and encourages its school leaders to think like entrepreneurs, the Montbello neighborhood elementary school—where 97 percent of the students are minorities and 95 percent are living in poverty—is asking to expand to serve sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders.

It’s somewhat of an unusual request. But leaders say that McGlone graduates who are used to a nurturing environment where hugs are as common as hellos are struggling at the area’s secondary schools, many of which follow a sixth-through-12th-grade model.

“I wonder if the system we have set up right now tells us that childhood in Montbello is over at age 11,” said principal Sara Gips Goodall. She hates to think of her babies, as she calls them, losing their way.

“I think our success hinges on kids feeling so supported and so loved.”

Indeed, and this is why homeschooled kids tend to do better academically (and in plenty of other ways, too) than school kids. Because they grow up feeling supported and loved in ways that kids who spend the majority of their daytime surrounded by adults who – even if they mean well and are as kind-hearted as can be – can’t possibly give them as much attention and love as they need.

If the regular school system focused on that instead of treating small children like over-scheduled little bureaucrats, school kids would be doing better. But that would require a massive increase in resources devoted to education (not, mind you, more money for teachers’ unions; it’s not the same at all) and very few people are willing to do that.

Because we can all use timely reminders

Was chatting with a friend last night about the irritating ways life treats us sometimes and we grumbled a touch (ahem) and then also said something about the need to find some good zen master who might help us not feel quite as annoyed and I was reminded of this monk about whom I’d posted a few times before. So here is his video again… You want to be happy? Be grateful. Yes, even when it’s hard.

And no, I’m not very good at it. There are times when I feel badly done to and I don’t want to feel happier or grateful or anything positive at all because dammit, I am badly done to and I’m going to feel badly done to because because. (Not the most grown-up aspect of my personality, but there you have it.)

That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t keep trying though… so here’s Smiley Monk with his gratefulness talk. Good luck!