Monthly Archives: June 2007

Graduation: it’s not just for graduates anymore!

Last night I attended what I thought was the high school graduation ceremony for my best friend’s son. But when the emcee welcomed everyone I discovered that this was, in fact, a “School Leaving Ceremony”. The kids paraded across the stage, held the principal’s hand in a frozen smile-for-the-camera moment, and received their…wait for it…”School Leaving Certificate”. I kid you not.

You see, the kids still had exams to write. Technically they were not graduates. And apparently some of them will not be graduating at all this year. But you can’t have a ceremony that isn’t totally inclusive, so instead they put on this big production just to mark the fact that the kids are leaving the school (with or without their blessing).

From a homeschooler’s perspective this was hysterically funny.* But even if your children should be heading down the path to their own “School Leaving” ceremony one day, you gotta admit this is just silly.

* I wrote a lengthier post (okay, a rant) about this over at my homelearning blog

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but wait, it *does* get even more lame!

In a recent post I linked to a site that is a prime example of how ridiculous our society’s attitudes are regarding school and its importance. Caps and gowns for preschool graduation?! You gotta be kidding me – what exactly is there to celebrate? What exactly did these kids do that is cause to applaud them?

I’m reminded of a line from The Incredibles: Mrs. Incredible is harping on Mr. Incredible for not being more involved with the family; case in point: her son’s “graduation”. Mr. Incredible replies:

It’s not graduation! He’s moving from the 4th grade to the 5th grade. It’s psychotic – they keep creating new ways to celebrate mediocrity!

I experienced this “celebration of mediocrity” firsthand last night. I attended my best friend’s son’s high school graduation. My first shock came when the emcee welcomed us to their “School-Leaving Ceremony”. Huh??

It seems that the kids aren’t done with their exams yet, and so nobody has officially graduated. Why not wait until they know they passed? Well, that might leave out the ones who didn’t. And one may presume from the title of the ceremony that those who don’t graduate won’t be doing their repeat year at this school (apparently that would be a social death sentence). So instead of celebrating graduation, the entire evening was celebrating the fact that they are leaving high school. In fact, when the kids walked up to receive their diplomas, what they got instead was a “School Leaving Certificate”.

I shit you not.

This was a pretty fancy shindig. It was held in The Orpheum, an ornately decorated and beautiful theatre in downtown Vancouver (pictured here). There were representatives from the School Board, and of course the friends and families of over 200 graduates (my entire high school had just over 200 kids!). There were florid speeches about “going out into the world” from the principal and cheesy songs from the senior choir. The speakers used words like “dedication”, “accomplishments”, “perserverance”, etc….

All this to describe the fact that they are leaving high school???

And you know, even if we are talking about getting one’s diploma, really – what exactly are we celebrating? As the principal said, the kids “have met the requirements for education as established by the BC Ministry of Education”…blah, blah, blah. It all sounded so institutionalized.

These kids did nothing more than what they were told to do and what was expected of them. It’s pretty safe to say that none of these kids chose to be in school, none of them had any say in what they learned, how they learned it, or when they learned it. The measure of their learning is a subjective one at best, and those who scored highest on the tests are not necessarily those who will meet end up happiest or most successful.

There were academic awards handed out, and I found myself wondering about the kids who received them. How many of those kids felt intense pressure to maintain high scores so that they could meet their parents’ (and society’s) expectations that they go to college or university? What was the attitude of the parents – were high marks rewarded and anything short of an A punished? What were the kids’ lives like in terms of finding a balance between striving for academic excellence and just being a kid? How many of those achievers were motivated by their own inner dreams and aspirations, rather than those that others imposed upon them?

As I sat watching the ceremony I felt as though I were at the end of some giant assembly line, applauding as yet another package of product was wheeled out the factory door. This featureless crowd of 200 faces appears on stage every year, getting the same cliche-riddden speeches and the same vague acknowledgements. It seemed all laid out for us there, for those who choose to question what they’re watching, rather than accepting it as the immense rite of passage our society makes it out to be. I think only those who contemplate a life for their kids where the children lead their education, create their own successes, and have the freedom to truly revel in their own accomplishments can appreciate the irony of last night’s pageantry. The cogs and wheels of planned, institutionalized education grind on, spitting out those who are lucky enough to navigate the system and discarding those who do not.

But not without awarding them a “School Leaving Certificate”.

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Weight issues already

Today I met up with a couple mama friends at a park that has a small pond. It wasn’t all that hot out, but the kids decided to throw off their clothes and go wading anyways. I had a chance to observe DD frolicking with the other two almost-5 year olds and it became quite apparent to me that DD is getting chunky.

No, I’m not paranoid or obsessed with weight. I’m not trying to be hysterical or anything like that. I weighed DD tonight and she is 47 lbs. She has gained at least 2 pounds in the last couple of months or so. According to this chart, she is about 90th percentile. But what matters more to me is what I see. I’ve been a bit suspicious for a while, but today I felt it was clear that DD was moving towards an unhealthy weight.

I’m concerned about weight for two reasons. One, because I know there is an epidemic of childhood obesity and I fully believe that responsibility for this lies almost solely in the domain of the parents. I swore I would never let my kids get to an unhealthy weight (note I didn’t say “fat”). I do not want to be the parent of an obese child, not just because it’s robbing them of health and life, but also because I believe it reflects badly on myself as a mother and I take pride in my job; I want to do it well.

Two is because I have an incredible sweet tooth and I am admittedly addicted to sugar. I’ve managed to indulge for the last several years without being penalized by the bathroom scale because I’ve been lactating and burning off excess calories, but that joy ride is over now. Unfortunately, when getting myself a daily treat (say a chocolate bar) I would get DD one too. A box of Smarties has more impact on a 4 year old than a Kit Kat does on a 39 year old. I know that DD has my sweet tooth and that makes me feel double responsible. It’s hard enough for me to restrict myself; I can’t expect her to do it. To make matters worse, I realized we’ve also been eating takeout alot lately, as I seem to have flunked out of my own meal planning program.

I’m taking this very seriously and soberly. I have fallen into some bad habits and it’s time to put a stop to it. If there is anything I cannot abide it would be to fail my child by feeding her too much crap and setting her up for a lifetime of weight and health issues. On the bright side, doing it for her benefit may just be the motivator I need to cut back on sweets for myself as well. Thank goodness it’s summer and there are lots of yummy fruit choices (nectarines are lovely right now!). Now, if I can just solve my baking dilemma….

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Healthy Baking: an oxymoron?

I wrote recently that I’m enjoying baking, and doing more of it lately. It is an effective way to get veggies into my kids’ bodies. But I’m running into some issues with the recipes. They use a lot of sugar!

I have a great recipe for zucchini muffins. They are chock full o’ the green stuff, but also include almost 2 cups of sugar (a mix of mostly white, and some brown). I mentioned before how I tried reducing the amounts of sugar, but discovered that it’s there for more than just flavour – the chemistry of baking requires the stuff. When I reduce the sugar, I get denser muffins with a not-so-pleasing texture. The zucchini ones are edible, with a generous dab of homemade organic butter, but they aren’t the sort you’d bring to a picnic with your friends.

I tried carrot muffins for the first time last week. I Googled “healthy carrot muffins” in an attempt to find something that wasn’t so sugar-laden. I chose this recipe. I used cows milk instead of soy, and I skipped the sunflower seeds. I got suspicious when mixing the batter – it was far too dry. I had to add another 1/3 cup of milk to get it at a decent consistency, but even then I was certain something wasn’t right. Sure enough, they had the weight and density of hockey pucks and the taste was bland. Even my homemade organic butter was not enough to make these palatable. Most ended up in the trash.

I know whole wheat flour is heavy. Even with my homemade waffles and pancakes I use half wheat and half white. I’m beginning to despair that healthy muffins = yucky muffins. Or, at the very least, muffins that don’t make you go “Yum!”. I know I’m very new to this idea of baking, but I’m not hopeful that there is a magic answer out there. I don’t know enough to look at a recipe and imagine how they’ll turn out, but I sure don’t want to be going through tons of recipes wasting food to find something I can live with from a nutritional perspective and enjoy eating (and sharing!) at the same time.

I’ll welcome all tips, recipes, and pointers from you readers. Please, tell me I can have my muffins and eat them too!

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I’m prob’ly the last person on earth…

…to see An Inconvenient Truth.

Everyone has been oo-ing and ah-ing about it, and I finally picked it up yesterday in anticipation of my last night alone before DH returned from his business trip.

I watched with a somewhat skeptical eye. DH can’t stand Gore and showed little enthusiasm for the film. I heard that Gore might be running in ’08 and cynically wondered if this movie was just a sideways attempt at kicking off his campaign.

Yes, it’s true, I don’t trust TV anymore. I don’t believe in “reality TV”, I know everything is heavily edited, and that the guy doing the talking is likely reading a script that was handed to him, rather than speaking from his heart. When Gore got all teary-voiced talking about his son’s accident and how it changed his perspective I couldn’t help but wonder which Hollywood spin artist said “hey, put this in, it’d be great!”. Ditto for the bits about the ‘ol Gore family farm. As much as I like the gist of the message he’s putting out, I confess that I find that, for me, Al Gore just oozes “used car salesman”. Maybe it’s that dorky American accent which, thanks to the current administration, will be forever etched in the minds of The Rest of The World as the voice of Howdy-Doody. I mean Dubbya, as in Bush.

My take on global warming thus far is this: it may be the biggest, fastest warmup the Earth has experienced in the last few hundred thousand years, but the Pale Blue Dot was here before us, and will be here after us. Many species are long gone, and many species are yet to appear. The dominant life form has gone from single-celled organism, to invertebrates, to reptiles, to mammals. I’m not worried for the Earth. And while I find species extinction sad, it’s the same kind of sad I feel when I see a baby water buffalo being brought down by a pack of hyenas on National Geographic. What makes humpback whales any more valuable on a Pan-historical scale than the Trilobyte?* Heck, if it weren’t for mass extinctions, none of us would be here.

In terms of the here and now, and in the “what does this mean for ME” category, I figured that man would adapt to global warming the way man has always adapted. We have technology, after all. Things get hotter, we can cool them. Heck, we’re planning to build habitats on Mars for Pete’s sake. I’m sure we can handle a bit of temperature change, right?

Well, that’s the part of the movie that really hit home to me: the maps showing what familiar places will look like after a 20 ft rise in sea level. Now I assumed these changes would take place on a slow enough scale (like over 50 years or more) that the net result would be a total loss on waterfront real estate investments (goodbye Richmond, BC), while those of us smart enough to buy on higher ground would laugh all the way to the bank.

But the rate at which arctic ice seems to be melting is rather astonishing. It suggests that, in as little as ten years, we could see major elevations in sea level. This puts things in a different perspective. It would have significant effects on the economy for starters, not to mention all the displaced people. Suddenly I found myself having thoughts of the militia-type folks who are prepared to homestead their way through Armeggedon. Yeah, we’re getting ready to buy 5 acres of productive land that is well up from sea level, but it occurred to me that defending that land might require a fast lesson in suburban warefare. After all, nothing gets creatures in a fightin’ mood like a sudden scarcity of resources.

Okay, so maybe it won’t be that bad, but it doesn’t bode too well for our future. I am concerned about economic collapse. Not because all my stocks and bonds will be worthless, but because I associate economic collapse with something approaching anarchy. Without an infrastructure to make the changes required to adapt to our new environment, we could all end up in some unscorched version of those old post-nuclear fallout movies.

Fifty years is not much. I may be around in 50 years – my children will be and will have children of their own, possibly grandchildren. Like any mother, all I want for my children is to live in peace. For me, the biggest concern about global warming is that it will bring conflict, violence, and war into our lives. Not that I wasn’t trying to do my bit before, but count me in as yet another individual who is concerned about global warming.

*just for the record, I tear up watching whales on our Blue Planet movies almost every time; I think they are spectacular, wondrous, and awe-inspiring. But perhaps that’s just my anthropocentric perspective.

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Eureka! or maybe not…

A few years ago, when DD was small, we took a tour of our local landfill. They had an open house and it was an interesting day. I was very proud to have my daughter in cloth diapers, after discovering that diapers are the number 2 item in landfills. The number 1 item? Plastic shopping bags.

I’ve managed to cut down on them by using cloth grocery bags, and now having my groceries home delivered. But I used to reuse my plastic grocery bags to line my wastebins (kitchen and bathroom). I actually had to go out and buy “garbage bags” because I was running out of plastic grocery bags.

We live in an apartment building and have a garbage chute. I can’t put garbage down the chute without it being contained, nor can I dump raw garbage in the dumpster. Stumped, I posted this question on the “Natural Home and Body Care” forum at MDC: what I can use as a substitute to plastic garbage bags? Not a person answered.

I was beginning to give up hope and then, while I was preparing to write a comment to this post by Miranda, it hit me:

If I’m composting (I plan to get a worm composter as soon as we have some property on which to grow stuff) then the garbage I throw out shouldn’t be too wet, right? So then I could use *paper* bags, which are totally biodegradable…

Addendum: I was looking for photos of landfills with bags to add to this post, when I stumbled across various articles about the paper vs. plastic debate. Seems the manufacture of paper bags is not much “friendlier” than plastic, and they don’t appear to degrade in landfills. It’s true that plastic poses a threat to wildlife, whereas paper would not, but I’m not so sure I’m down with cutting trees for garbage bags…sigh! What’s an environmentally-friendly wannabe to do? Apparently, just reusing my plastic bags for garbage is a big step, although it doesn’t seem too satisfying at the moment…

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Hilarious homeschooling comics

Check it out:

www.inflatablestudios.com/

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Sorry, I just couldn’t resist…

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Could it get any more lame than this?

http://www.rhymeuniversity.com/deluxe_package.asp

Oh how hard we work to convince our children that this is something truly valuable…

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Whattaya know – there’s a term for it!

When DH and I cooked up this scheme of dividing our time between the city and the country, it never occurred to us that there was already a term for that. I recently came across an article in our local newspaper that, to my surprise, described almost exactly what we are hoping to do. There’s a term for folks like us: “double nesters”.

The New York Times published an article on the concept, although their representative couples are doing it in considerably higher style than we plan to. One featured twosome own a fully furnished home in Florida and a similarly furnished condo in New York. Rather than driving a mere 90 minutes between homes, they have to fly.

The Times article notes: “Of course, this new lifestyle is largely open to people who have outgrown the obligations of young families.” I had to giggle at this. More appropriately it is not open to people with children in school, where regular attendance is required. Those of us without such constraints on our kids’ time can at least contemplate the idea. I mean, come on! That alone should make people go “wow, we should homeschool!”, lol.

And while, in our area, it does require an income level that many would consider high, one could certainly do it for alot less if living in a region where real estate is not as pricey as it is here. And it’s not like we have a luxury, decorated apartment in town nor a furnished, decorated country home. If all goes according to plan we’ll likely end up living in a yurt on our property. And if we were to decide to buy the city home now, with our current budget, we’d be looking at a one bedroom apartment and seriously asking whether we could squeeze us all into a studio (hey, just for 2 or 3 days a week?)!

One thing that irked me about the Canadian article was the emphasis on “having two homes to decorate”. Sheesh, is that really the primary reason for having such an arrangement? I’m so far away from thinking about decorating either place – I’m in this for the chance to get away from it all on a regular basis but still retain all the benefits of living in the city (exposing my kids to diversity, both ethnic and sexual orientation-wise, just for example). Being able to “try out different colour schemes” is really not up there on my list, ya know? Being able to make enough compost to grow my own vegetables? Now that is appealing.

But there is one commonality between the focus of these articles and our situation: there is no doubt that advances in technology have changed the way people work, and have allowed this situation to become possible for people who aren’t retired. DH can work from home part of the time, and I can work from home virtually anywhere. All we need is an Internet connection and a post-office within a reasonable distance (for me) and we’re both good to go. Certainly the ability to “telecommute”, even partially, has opened up possibilities like this for many people.

So anyways, there ya go. We’re wannabe double nesters. Huh…kind of sounds like a cocktail I think.

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