Tuesday, May 30, 2017

They did it!

When they were younger, I'd tell them the cable's out, and change the code to the TV so as to cut screen time.   I've been known to hide the plug to the Wi-Fi on occasion as well.  So when the cable company which provides both the internet and television streaming on demand cut out, my children naturally presumed the culprit to be me. 

One thought the reason for the "cable outage" was exam week.  "You just want us to study."
Well yes, but no, I didn't do this, I promise. 
Another two thought, "This is just a ruse to get us to read or exercise more."
"No, but it's not a bad idea. After all, you can't do anything else." They went to stare at the box, in hopes maintaining a vigil would entice the cable gods to relent.  

Not that some of them didn't try.  One sought to play his DS, but without the link up to his friends DS games, it wasn't much fun. Another watched a DVD and for a time, entertained the masses with movies, but most of our movies now are digital, and they've grown accustomed to On Demand for any show, so not being able to access a show, vexes more than one might think it should.

The older ones ran  for the comfort of Netflix, but that doesn't work on a computer when the internet is out.  To prove it wasn't me, I spent an hour on the phone with the cable man convincing him that yes indeed, we did have a problem which couldn't be solved merely by turning the machine on and off or replacing the batteries in the remote.  The cable guy is coming sometime on Thursday between eight in the morning and eight in the evening.  He's said he'll call.  In the meantime, we're old school in all things.  

Come Friday, there will be channels again.  By coincidence, exams will be over.  I promise I didn't do it...but I may have to send my cable company a thank you note once the report cards are in, and file away the idea of having a seasonal outage whenever test taking rolls around.     

It's just, for the record, this time, it wasn't me. 

Saturday, May 27, 2017

DIY Food Network Fallen Star

I love cooking shows, but they're very unrealistic. Even the Top Chef competitions don't really challenge cooks to push themselves past their comfort zones. They have fully stocked kitchens and sous chefs and secret exotic ingredients. Most people who cook don't have to worry about crazy ingredients they must incorporate, but rather essential ingredients they can't.

For example, you begin to make french toast for dinner, and find out you have no eggs, but only after you've put the milk and cinnamon and vanilla together, so you dump a whole box of banana muffin mix into the milk cinnamon mix and make banana pancakes. Preparing to make hot dogs, you discover you have no onions or mustard. Welcome to the world of inventive condiments! Yes, putting cauliflower tater tots on top of the hot dogs wins cool points, and drizzling them with the trace elements of ketchup from the leftover packets from the car might make for good tv drama, but no freshly dressed MC ever stepped out of the kitchen cabinet to award me with Top Chef points and a cleaned kitchen for making a silk purse dinner out of a sow's ear stocked refrigerator.

It's not that I don't plan a menu or shop for the meals or cook, it's that at any given moment, I must cope with all the want-a-be iron chefs or at least Food Network Star Judges, who want not just food but the right food, the perfect food, the food they don't know what it is, but want served now, hot and beautiful.
Real Conversation:

 "MOM! There is no food in the house! Can you go to the store and get bananas?"
Me: There is food in the house. There just aren't any bananas.
Son: There are no eggs.
Me: There is bacon.
Son: There is no bread.
Me: There are rolls. There are tortillas. There is dark wheat bread, plain ordinary store white bread and the ends of at least three loaves all stuffed in one plastic bag and five blueberry bagels.
Son: There is no lunch meat.
Me: There is steak-um, I already said bacon, there is peanut butter, there is provolone and if you forage, I think, some chicken.
Son: There isn't any food that's easy to make.
Me: So if I get up and make you food from what we have, would you be happy?
Son: Yes! I'll even practice the S.A.T.

Because I want the S.A.T to be practiced, I'm willing to be bribed. I begin work on hot dogs.
Daughter comes into the room. "Hot dogs? I don't like hot dogs! Mom! Can you go to the store, there is no food."
Son now points out there are tortillas, bacon, peanut butter, blueberry bagels....daughter sticks out her tongue at each, but pulls out a box of mac and cheese. "Can we have this?" It goes with the hot dogs, so I roll with it. I'm getting a chorus of yays! and I'm thinking, this is good. I'm a good mom...they'll eat, they'll be happy...

Another player entered the kitchen. She got out the celery and nutella, and peeled a mango before announcing, she ordered out because she doesn't like hot dogs or mac and cheese and does anyone else want anything? They deserted me faster than I could spell dessert.

When I served the mac and cheese and hot dogs to the remaining children, I got the question, reasonable in my younger childrens' minds, "why didn't they get to order food too?" I recalled a neighbor who used to make her kid eat her dinner for breakfast and lunch, and snack, until it got eaten. I used to think this a cruel parenting practice. I admittedly reconsidered but revenge is for the unimaginative, so today I posted a message in the kitchen, explaining the reality of things in the family mess hall.

Dear Family

I considered declaring food martial law. If you don't pay for the food, make the food or clean up after the food, you get no say in what the food might be or alternatives to eat.

However, I recognize, there are twelve different diets, different palates to please and I've yet to hit upon the magical combination of fruits, vegetables, proteins and carbs that can accommodate all of your ever shifting appetites. In recognition of my inability to create a dish which uses all of the unknown secret ingredients necessary to the competition, and because that which is created is not up to industry standards as determined by all eleven judges in this house, I'm sorry but Mom has been chopped.

Whoever the other competitors are in this kitchen, I've taken away all of the car keys. Please, open the pantry and you have thirty minutes to create an entree and your time starts now. Oh, and I've been told repeatedly, there is no food. 

Good luck.

Love, Mom

Friday, May 26, 2017

Mom Hours

Everyone thinks when you have a newborn, sleep is something you aspire to have.  However the reality of parenting is, for pure sleep deprivation, nothing tops teenagers.  

Babies nap.  Babies have simple needs.  Eat. Change.  Hold.  Sleep.
Teens send you text messages at ten in the evening while you're folding laundry, "Are you going to the store?  Because we're out of bananas."  I sent back, "Where are you when you texted this?"
"In bed."   "So you want to know if I would get up, get my purse and drive to the store...before or after folding the laundry?"   The teen had the grace to send back, "No. I'm not in bed. I'm at school and I've been hard at work all afternoon, studying, studying, studying. I in no way would ever dream of asking you to go out after working all day if I'd not done the same.  Good night!"  

Evening patrols to guarantee lights out mean policing cell phones, taking the cord for the Wi-Fi on occasion, and reminding people that yes, there are after hours, when everything including the kitchen should be closed.   I find the hours between 1 a.m. and 5 to be most likely to be in compliance, but it's never quite a lock..  

At five, I've heard one rising with the proposal of a morning jog.  Believing in sleep as a normal part of life, I've explained,  once we get to morning hours, if the sun isn't up, you aren't to be out.  However I have the equivalent of electronic roosters all over the house.  My cell goes off at 5:50 and there are at least four alarms which blare at six, though to my knowledge, none of them rouse actual children, just me.

So nestle up with those newborns and enjoy this restful stage of life and remember, this is all just training for later.  This part of the road of parenting you're on?  It's the wide easy part.  

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Always Another Page

Writers, like teachers and parents, are fundamental optimists.  We begin with the unknown, the story we can't quite see but know is in our brains, or the unknown student, or the child in the womb.  Each day, we pour everything out like the ocean, and hope some of what we present, sinks in.  The cumulative effect of writing, of teaching, of parenting, is the outcome of all we give and all the reader, the student, or the child brings to the process.  In all three cases, it is also a journey and an act of faith, to every day begin again, even if what you wrote yesterday stunk, the classroom didn't sing, and your mom skills yesterday didn't quite measure up. Begin again. Begin again. Begin again.

That's the advantage in each of these vocations, they're as much about love as they are about knowledge and practice.  They're callings which demand one do even when not inspired, and one do and do and do again, regardless of outcome.  They are professions which care deeply about both the process and the product as it were, but can't be reduced to process and product.  You can't be a writer, if it is only about success, or only about generating word count. The words have to be about something and pointing toward something bigger than the mountain of cyber space they take up.  The story has to matter, has to move.  It is about relationship.  The story reflects both the author, and the reader's response, and is a thing itself.

Likewise, you can't be a teacher if all that matters is test scores or lesson plans, you have to work at those things, but teaching is about relationship, both to the students as individuals, and as a class, and to the topic.  It is a triangle.  Student-Teacher-Topic.  How do I reach them today?  How do I reach them tomorrow?  And also, what did I learn about them today?  What did I learn about myself in the process?  What will we learn tomorrow?  It is an ongoing snowball process, which should always build upon itself.

Parenting begins as a reflection of the Trinity, Mom, Dad, child, or if you go one step back, Husband, Wife, God.  It is always about trying to reveal to the other (in this case, the child) who God is by what we do.  To the extent we get in the way, we mess up.  However all of these processes are something which must begin again each day, and which build upon whatever came before, regardless of how well or poorly executed.

Writers Block, like teacher burn out, and distracted parenting, is when the person cannot get out of the way of either the process or the outcome.  Rededicating, rechristening one's self to the process, and not demanding that feelings or inspiration, supersede the act of doing, of being present; of working at writing rather than worrying about what to write, of teaching, or of parenting.

The solution is always self surrender, begin again and to try not to get bogged down in minutia or overwhelmed by the longevity of the task itself.  These are infinite professions.  There are ends to stories, to school years and stages of parenting, but the act of writing, art of teaching, and role as a parent, goes on infinitely.  Even silent, we will be telling stories.  Even without a classroom, we will be teaching the world, and we cannot cease to be parents, only better or worse ones.

In each of these vocations, the act itself often brings us to places we'd never reach on our own.  The journey on the blank page, into the classroom, or within our own home, is often a joyous surprise.  And when it is not,  the good news in all three roles is, there is always another page.  We can always begin again.  There are always more stories to tell. There are always new things to learn, new things to share, new ways to reveal knowledge and to invoke wonder.  Each day, we can begin again and love better, love more deeply, and get more out of the way.

Saturday, May 20, 2017


Today, I spent the day at the Gaithersburg Book Festival. Usually, it's a tad difficult for me, because I dream of being at one of those pavilions, giving a talk on the process and writing itself.  However this past week, we ran crafts as we always do at the fair, and we were so busy painting faces, I never had a moment to even grow whistful....until after the festival ended.

Life gave me a small irony, I received my writing scores on the Praxis today.  Scoring a 190 ought to make me proud, but I'm wondering what I lost the ten points for in the scoring.  (A perfect score is 200).   Now I just have to study up for the English Exam and the Pedegogy Praxis in July.  I'm thinking maybe next week will slow up, after the 5K, but before exams.  Maybe.

Everyone hosting a booth, selling books is really showing to the world, their dreams.  Their supreme goal is to be on that podium, or even if they are on that podium, to move the hearts and minds of whoseover listens.  Writing, while a solo act, is done ultimately with the goal of reaching everyone, of somehow being something as close to universal as we can make it.

So all the authors trying to convince us to part with our ten, twelve or twenty dollars, they're really trying to get each of us to be willing to peer into their minds, their souls, and see if they enjoy what they see.  I didn't get to browse the stacks for new favorites. Instead, today I've painted 35 unicorns, 27 Spidermans and at least 1000 pokeballs on people's faces.

I did meet one author because his kid wanted a Bird of Paradise.  We talked books.  We talked about the fun of researching books and writing.  I wasn't on the podium, but I was still getting to talk with someone who loved what I loved about what we both loved.  It was a nice little moment inbetween the glitter and the paint brushes.  

Maybe one day, I'll get to tell people about it on a bigger scale than one on one.  It's a dream of mine, to have a place as an author.  But the greatest moment in the whole day came when a four year old girl made her way back to my table to give me a pink puppet she made with stars and flowers and hearts all around it, as a "Thank you" for her unicorn.  It was a podium moment and a treasure.  

It also meant, I'll be back next year, happily painting more faces.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

True Mill Stories

Today's work...
1) Explain to the students they will be writing a four paragraph paper.
2) Require students to state their thesis in a question format and then, answer and defend it.
3) Find research on topic, 2 for, 1 against, and compose the argument using those citations.

Student 1 --with the topic of weed, "I think it should be legal." 
Me: Okay, you can want that all you like, but you have to explain why it should be.
Student --It's recreational, we could tax it to help the government provide programs.
Me:  Like...for people dealing with addiction?
Student --yeah. 
Me:  That's fine. You still have to deal with the arguments against it. You have to beat them in you paper.
Student --like?
Me:  It can be a gateway drug to other illegal substances.  It's something which has different effects on different people, and we might not want a society where judgement is so impaired.  Do you want a nation of people smoking pot?  Surgeons, firefighters, teachers, police....
Student  --can I switch topics? 

Me: Sure.  What topic?
Student:  Gun Controls.
Me: For or against?
Student: It should be easier.
Me: Do you know what is required now?
Student:  ...

Pulling up website of state government to show regulations, "You'll have to argue the process is too difficult and demanding or constitutes an undue burden."
Student: How will I do that?
Me: "You'll have to prove the regulations aren't effective or don't affect outcome."
Student: How will I do that?
Me: "I don't know, you'll have to find out if the regulations have worked." I pulled up Brady Campaign to show results of gun restrictions over the course of years. 
Student: "This doesn't help me.  It shows that the laws have helped."
Me: So you can't use that argument. 
Student: I....don't like this topic. 

Third time's a charm. 

Student: I've got a plan.  Cell phones in the classroom.
Me: for or against?
Student: For.
Me: Okay. Why?
Student: They're my property. I pay for it.
Me: That doesn't prove why you should have them in the classroom.
Student: Okay.  I can use my phone to do research.
Me:  That's true.
Student: And it would be a way I could always keep track of my work if I did my work online.
Me: Also true.
Student:  I could find out answers if I needed to.
Me: These are great answers.  Now back them up.
Student: How?
Me: ... Maybe use your phone to find articles that prove your point and illustrate it like you suggested?
Five minutes later, find student playing pool on his cell. 
Me:  This is why people argue against them.   

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Over at the Register Today

I dream of one day being a regular reporter/writer for a paper, but until then, I'll rejoice each time I make it onto the page of any paper.  I've got an article over at the National Catholic Register, You Will Be Used, So Get Used to It.  Please, share, like, leave a comment, tweet, or Google plus. I'd really appreciate it.  

Thursday, May 11, 2017

None of the Above

Last week, I took a standardized test; the first such exam I've taken in about twenty years.

Three hundred minutes of multiple choice, a computer monitor and me.   We had headphones for silence.  We had to sign in, and sign out. We had ten minutes allotted to bathroom breaks to be used as we wished.  In short, everything about the test conditions had controlled parameters....except my brain.

Half way through the math, an earworm made its presence known.  I'm doing a problem with square split end roots or radios or some such  and not loving life.  Instead of thinking of the process I needed to solve the equation, my mind went to the mental equivalent of X.  J

"Welcome to my secret layer on Skull Crusher Island...."  Mark Shea introduced me to the silly lyrics of Johnathan Coulton during one of our Connecting the Dots podcasts.  Stupid silly fun stuff, not very helpful for jogging the cobwebs off my brain from math I fought with over two decades ago. 
I flicked the thought away and perused the answers, looking to get rid of the outliers.  

"You like monkeys...you like ponies...you maybe like monsters...not quite so much..."
and I had a moment of clarity.

Next problem.  But the lyrics did not go away.  

I finished, fighting down the song the entire rest of the exam.  If I don't pass this math test, I'm going to blame Mark Shea.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Writer Guilt

Whenever I miss a day of writing, even if I've been in a slump, writing junkola that will never see the light of day, I suffer from writers' guilt.  Writers' guilt is different from every other kind of guilt, because even if you binge write for three days straight, dripping beautiful prose onto the page, if you declare a sabbatical for the forth day, you suffer.

The muse demands daily faithfulness, and is slow to return favors if you blow off a day. 

Recently, my humor writing has been reported awol.  Reports of the death of my funny bone however, are premature.   I still have eight of ten sources of inspiration in the house, and two due to return home in the next month.  I'm sure they'll think of something if they haven't already.

As if on cue, I heard from the other room, "Paul, stop throwing that monkey."  I am certain I should stop and check.  I am equally certain, I don't really want to know. 

The cure for Writers' guilt is pure maintenance.  Write every day.  Write when you have nothing to say. Write junk if you have to, but don't leave a day without leaving something on the page.  
However, I've decided there is a caveat to surviving Writers' Guilt. I need a Writing buddy who will solemnly swear upon my death to access my blog and delete all the junkola I wrote and didn't submit for your reading pleasure or pain as the case may be so that all the drafts sitting on the back page of my blog get squished.

In the meantime, you're stuck with me complaining about writers' block and writers' guilt and blathery pages like this one in part because I'm still thinking, I don't want to go out there and find out what happened with Paul and the monkey.

Leaving a comment is a form of free tipping. But this lets me purchase diet coke and chocolate.

If you sneak my work, No Chocolate for You!