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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Emergency Homeschool Curriculum for the Everlasting Snow Day


Look. They're walking to school.
Photo by Boston Public Library



School has been closed for over a week. We are now approaching a fortnight of public school-lessness due to snow.
The natives are restless. Cabin fever settled in like Uncle Eddie’s RV four days ago. Fighting has escalated to the brink of bone damage, scalping, and bloodshed.
It’s time to homeschool.
Starting tomorrow the Wasting My Education household will begin the Emergent Interdisciplinary Snow Studies Program, Phase I.
MATH:
Primary Level:
Count the number of times Mother’s left eye twitches. Add the number of times she screams, “I swear, if I have to come up there!” Add the number of times one sibling bellows the name of another sibling. Multiply by how many cups of Amaretto-Latte and/or glasses of wine and/or shots of liquor Mother has consumed in the last 24 hours. Take the resulting number and spend this many minutes sitting in silence in your bedroom thinking about what a saint your mother is for not having dropped you all off in kennels at the animal shelter.
Intermediate Level:
Take a ruler and a one-cup measuring cup outside. With the ruler, make lines in the snow to divide the front yard into a grid of 25 equal sections, five sections wide by five sections long. Using the measuring cup, scoop all of the snow out of one section of the yard, keeping track of how many cups filled that section. Multiply by 25. Use the product of this calculation to determine the total amount of snowfall, in cups, that has descended on our yard. If there is still daylight left when you have finished this problem, go repeat the calculation in our neighbor’s yard. Then request to sleep at their house.
Secondary Level:
Using your knowledge of geometry, trigonometry, and the physics of sound, calculate the maximum number of decibels Mother can hear from the master bedroom’s bathtub when the sound originates from the furthest perimeters of the property line. Subtract one decibel from this number and establish this as the upper limit baseline for each of your sibling’s voices. Station yourself and your siblings at equidistant points around the established perimeter. If any voice ranges higher than the upper limit, the siblings nearest the offender may leave their posts and bury the noisemaker buck-naked in a snow bank.
SCIENCE:
Primary Level:
Using a magnifying glass, go outside and disprove the theory that no two snowflakes are alike. When you find two matching flakes, you may come back inside. If one or both of the flakes melt before you submit your proof to your mother/teacher, go back outside and begin again.
Intermediate Level:
Using the result of the snow-volume calculation you did in math, hypothesize which will dissolve that amount of snow most quickly: chemical Ice Melt, the sun, or a hairdryer. Re-divide the yard into thirds and perform a double-blind experiment to prove or disprove your theory. If the sun has not completed work on its segment of the experiment before it sets, make sure to lock all aspects of the experiment in place so no further melting or re-freezing occurs before sunrise. Don’t ask me how! This is part of the scientific method and it’s your job to figure it out. Geez. Kids these days.
Secondary Level:
Invent a new type of road construction material which will dissipate snow and ice on contact. It must be sturdy enough to withstand traffic, and cost-effective enough to replace current materials such as asphalt and concrete. Extra credit if you get the city to purchase it from you before the next snowfall.
ENGLISH:
Primary Level:
Read “Kitten’s First Snow”. Read “Kitten’s First Snow” backwards. Take a sheet of composition paper and number 1-30 down the left side of the page. Take “Kitten’s First Snow” and your numbered paper to the neighbor’s house. Tell them you must read “Kitten’s First Snow” to thirty different people or your classroom teacher will fail you in reading and make you repeat your grade. Get signatures. When you have finished reading “Kitten’s First Snow” to each person in our neighborhood come home and get “Puppy’s First Snow”. Repeat the process.
Intermediate Level:
Get a thesaurus and write down on a sheet of paper every adjective you can find which describes snow, ice, and/or winter. Get a second sheet of paper and consult the thesaurus to create a list of every adjective you can find which describes chicken-shoot public officials who close the schools anytime a weather forecaster whispers the word “snow”. On a third sheet of paper create sentences utilizing every possible combination of these two lists of adjectives, such as “On shivery cold days in Canada, schools can still remain open, because up north there are no cowardly, litigation-averse policymakers who never learned that it’s still possible to walk in and drive over and continue to be alive around a few fluffy little snowflakes!”
Secondary Level:
Write a scholarly, persuasive paper addressed to the superintendent, school board, and county/city board. Dispute the specious reasons cited for canceling school three days after the snow has begun to melt, and the roads are adequately plowed, and public transportation is running at full capacity, and cite the many negatives of extended and unexpected school breaks, drawing from disciplines such as education, pediatrics, psychology, neurology, and sociology. You may include photographs to document the despair and carnage evidenced in your own household. Support your arguments with quotes from such educational giants as Socrates, Plato, and Hobbes (of Calvin & Hobbes). Either MLA or APA format is acceptable for citations. Copy and deliver your treatise to its addressees by hand.
* * *
You know, I never got on board with homeschooling before now.
But I think I may be onto something here.
Oh, children…

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Confessions of a Hypocrite


Dave Morrison Photography


Sometimes I feel kind of guilty about some of the stuff I do, because it’s often the stuff I’ve told the members of my family not to do.
Yeah, I guess that’s hypocrisy.
But then I ask myself, “If no one saw it, did it really happen?”
Yes, it did. It happened. In fact, it’s said that character consists of what you do when no one else is looking.
So, in an effort to come clean about my personal failings I will now take a few moments to confess publicly a few of things I’ve done when my family wasn’t looking.
I’m so ashamed.
Deep breath. Here goes.
* * *
Sometimes, when no one’s around, I drink straight from the milk carton. And the juice bottle. And your glass, if I like what you’re having and I’m thirsty and you’re not paying attention.
* * *
I listen to classic rock when I’m driving but I change to Christian music when someone gets in the car with me. Or if the classic rock station plays John Mellencamp. I don’t like the music of John Mellencamp, even if we are both from Indiana.
* * *
Kids, I bite the ears off your chocolate Easter bunnies every year. It isn’t one of your siblings. Or your dad. I’m sorry for framing you guys for it.
* * *
A magnetic sun storm did not take out our Wi-Fi. I was sick of seeing the battery compartments of screened devices whenever I looked toward your faces, but I didn’t have the energy to be an actual parent and do battle with you.
* * *
Dad and I hide the good chocolate from you kids.
* * *
I hide the really good chocolate from Dad.
* * *
Darling Husband, I know—and don’t care so much—that I drive over a corner of the grass every time I back out of the driveway. And I only make a more careful egress when I see you watching me from the kitchen window.
* * *
I am aware of how the hardwood floor got that chip in it. And I don’t want to talk about it.
* * *
I actually do know how to use a hammer and a power drill and drywall mollies. I just don’t care to.
* * *
I occasionally serve meat and dairy products that have been in the fridge past their use-by date. If nothing smells obviously off, I trust that your gut bacteria can handle it. You’ll thank me later for the iron stomach I’m helping you develop. And no, that’s not why I sometimes say, “I’m fasting” while you eat dinner. That’s a spiritual thing. Really.
* * *
The other night, when one of you asked me what I was drinking and I said, “Cranberry juice,” it was actually cranberry and lime juices with vodka and Triple Sec. It’s called a Cosmopolitan. They’re really good. Especially after the day I had. (And I didn’t technically lie here; I just didn’t tell the whole truth— What’s “Okay, Clinton” supposed to mean?)
* * *
And yes, I do know where your favorite sweatshirt/pair of pants/pillowcase went. It was nasty and skanky and not even bleach did anything to improve its appearance or smell. It’s gone. Let it go.
* * *
Wow.
Getting all that off my chest felt really… cleansing.
Confession is good for the soul.
Wait— what? Did you say you’re glad I’m not going to do those things anymore?
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. Confession is one thing. Actually changing my behavior is quite another.
What do you mean, if I truly felt badly about what I’d done I wouldn’t do it anymore?
Geez. It’s not like I killed anybody, people.
I mean, I savor the exceptionally fine chocolate. And none of the rest of you have a palate sophisticated enough to appreciate the difference between chocolate dollars and DeBrand’s.
Why are you looking at me like that?
You know what? Let’s just forget I said anything. Strike all the above...

      So, who wants fajitas for dinner?!? Let me look around the fridge here. I’m pretty sure I bought a package of tri-tips a couple of weeks—I mean a couple of days ago…

Friday, January 15, 2016

One Tragic Flaw


Photo by Michael Shaheen

"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9).

If only King David hadn’t followed through on his itch for Bathsheba. This “man after God’s own heart”, who killed wild animals with just his hands and slew the nine-foot archenemy of his people with a sling and a stone, murdered an innocent man to cover up the consequences of taking something that wasn’t his to have. It cost him his child and haunted him the rest of his life. David is remembered every bit as well for that illicit tryst as he is for taking down Goliath.
In literature the deleterious trait or internal weakness which lays a character low and undermines or destroys the realization of his or her heroic goal is called a tragic flaw. It’s the thing you hope desperately for the protagonist overcome. It’s what makes you cry, “No! Don’t do it!” when you see the temptation looming.
Today’s media is awash with the story of a modern fallen hero who allegedly indulged his own tragic flaw repeatedly over the decades of his career. His America’s Father image now bears the indelible stain of a rapist. His entire life’s work is buried beneath the steaming pile of shame and rage he’s incited. No one will re-tell his clever and hilarious anecdotes, or recall an episode of his Saturday morning cartoon or his prime-time sit-com, or consider any of the wisdom from any of his books on family and parenting.
He’s a contemptible sham to us all now.
It’s heartbreaking, what he did to those women and what he did to himself and what he did to all of us who thought we knew something about his character.
But it should scare us, too.
Not because we’re afraid of someone like him doing something like that to someone like us, but because every single one of us is capable of doing something dark and horrible and mind-boggling. We each have our own tragic flaw.
I was raised in the church and got serious about God in my mid-twenties. I’ve done some things that I’m grateful happened before cell phone cameras and the internet, and I’m ashamed of my behavior on a fairly daily basis: I’m impatient, self-centered, and frankly kind of judgmental.
I’ve never done anything really bad, though.
But man oh man, there was once a co-worker I hated. I know Christians aren’t supposed to put the word “hate” on anyone, but the feeling was that strong. I eventually couldn’t find one good thing to like about her. I felt that my work life was miserable all because of this person.
Then one day I walked behind where she sat in her chair and got this powerful, visceral, vengeful urge to bludgeon her in the back of the head.
In the fractured moment it took me to imagine that, process that, and be horrified that I imagined and processed that, I caught a blinking glimpse into the darkness that is my heart.
I carry evil around inside me every single moment.
I have it in me to kill.
There is not one reprehensible thing that has ever been done by anyone in the entire history of man that is beyond my nature to perform in kind, should I elect to do so.
And the same can be said of all seven billion of us on the planet.
That’s scary.
So while I’m all for justice and accountability and taking responsibility for our actions, I always want to remember one thing when I’m tempted to measure myself against someone else’s behavior and think I’m pretty admirable in comparison:
      There but for the grace of God go I.
 

Friday, January 1, 2016

Year of the Love Letter


Photo by Jlhopgood
I never make new year’s resolutions. I figure if there’s an item of life-stuff that needs improving, why wait till January 1 to start working on it? As soon as I realize something’s off about me, I really ought to kick it into gear and make the necessary changes immediately if not sooner.
But I do like to undertake a new project or commitment with the changing of the calendar. Last January I challenged myself to write one blog post a week for 52 weeks. Through thick and thin, with subjects from the erudite to the inane, I hammered out words and attained my goal. I may have entertained no one but myself, but if little else was achieved I have at least proven that I can talk a lot about nothing for a very long time.
This year, however, I have decided that I will direct my prolific production of prose toward others. Because it recently occurred to me that we rarely, if ever, get to see ourselves through someone else’s eyes. Life and the world and work and other people can tear us down so much more than anyone or anything intentionally builds us up.
Mark Twain said, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.” But I think we can do more than just give an occasional compliment to the people around us. We can speak life and encouragement and love and hope to others. In fact, I think that’s exactly what we’re supposed to be doing.
So, during the coming year I will write one letter every week to someone I know, with the purpose of telling each person what they mean to me and how I see them. I will include four things in each letter:
    • a short characterization of our relationship
    • a memory of something we did together that had meaning for me
    • a description of how I see that person
    • and a message about what I hope for that person in the future.
Most of these I will mail or deliver by hand, but for this first one I’m going to kick off with an open letter to my husband.
Dear Aaron,
You have been my friend for 17-1/2 years, and my husband for 16. You are the person who I get to kiss good-bye every morning when you walk out my door and who I get to hug when you walk back in every evening. You take care of me when I’m sick, you feed me when I’m hangry but I don’t realize it, and you encourage me when I feel like a monumental failure at everything. Whenever I hear Toby Mac’s Move (Keep Walkin’) I will always picture you singing it to me in the kitchen.
One of my favorite memories is of the day we met. I was on vacation in Guam with a girlfriend and you were in port there with the Navy, on leave from your submarine for the day. Though we didn’t have any instant-infatuation feelings about each other (I didn’t take any makeup or hair products, or even a curling iron with me on that trip, so I was looking pretty… um… all-natural) I remember walking along the beach with you during a sightseeing trip, talking about whatever. At that moment I thought, “I’d like to walk and talk with this person for a really long time.”
And now I get to!
You are one of the most integrity-filled people I have ever known. I trust your word completely. I love that you love Christ, and that when we disagree we can always come back to the Word and find our correction and center there. I love that the truth is important to you, and that you will move heaven and earth to uncover it. You are organized and detail-oriented, and though sometimes you make me a little crazy when you spend days (or weeks) researching a purchase or planning out the minutiae of a trip, the results are always spectacular. You are reflective and wise and intentional in everything you do. You have challenged me to think more deeply, practice more patience, and offer others more grace.
I hope for ever more joy for you in the coming years. As our children grow up and start to grow away from us, I pray that you will find satisfaction in a parenting job well done. As I watch you growing closer to God I pray that His peace and love and wisdom will continue to flow in and through you. And I hope that someday your wife will mature enough to become the one you deserve.
Thank you for being my husband and friend.
Love,
Maria
One down, 51 to go.
And that wasn’t even very hard. In fact, it felt pretty good to write that letter. I’m kind of looking forward to starting the next one. Who’d have thought blessing someone else could make me so happy?
I think this is going to be a good year.
A really good year.
Definitely.

A Perfectly Wretched Family's Year-In-Review


This pretty much sums up the year.


JANUARY
Little Girl turns seven! And Father rediscovers his passion for Weird Al Yankovic. In his own endearingly obsessive manner, Father plays one Weird Al video after another, day after day after day. Mother laughs a little less at each successive parody. Her longsuffering smile wanes. She entreats Father to stop. “You’ve just got to hear this one!” he exclaims. Again.
On the eighth day of Weird Al, Mother snaps during dinner prep. She wields iron cookware over her head. “I swear, Father! If you play one more Weird Al song I will bludgeon you with this skillet, drag your lifeless corpse to the back yard, and roll you down the hill into the woods to be scavenged by coyotes!”
Father blinks at Mother. Looks down at the computer screen. Glances back at Mother. Clicks a key. “Just one more. This song’s awesome.” Hopefully the life insurance money will cover the outstanding principal on the mortgage.
FEBRUARY
Mother discovers that coffee may occupy an inappropriately cherished station in her life. She checks the weather online and gets a giddy little charge of glee when she sees, “Ice Latte”. Huh?  She looks at it again. No, it actually reads, “Ice Late”. Darn.
MARCH
March 1: I love you, Mom! March 2: I hate you, Mom! March 3: Thanks for taking us skiing! March 4: You never let us do anything! March 5: How do you spell “imbroglio”? March 6: You never help me with anything! . March 12: I am never leaving home. March 13: I can’t wait to get out of here and never come back! . March 19: You’re the best cook ever, Mom!” March 20: What is this? Gross! March 21: Did I tell you we’re having a class party today? I’m supposed to bring cookies. Homemade. . March 29: I have to wear all black for the band concert tonight. Shoes, too. March 30: Man, what a rough week. I wish I could just sit at home all day like you, Mom. March 31: Dad, why is Mom in such a bad mood all the time?
APRIL
In a fit of pique, Little Girl wails a superlative to signify her opinion about her mother, then storms upstairs. When she returns in a calmer state, Mother speaks with her. “Little Girl, you said something very unkind to me. Do you remember what it was?” Little Girl shakes her head in denial. “You said that I’m the meanest mommy in the world. Is that true?” Mother asks. Little Girl shakes her head again, and replies, “I didn’t say you’re the meanest mommy in the world. I said you’re the worst mommy in the world.” Well. Thanks for clarifying that.
MAY
After a camping trip with the Boy Scouts Son drops an item of clothing on the way in the door. No one notices it till Monday, when Little Girl discovers the offending article on her way to school. “Ew!” she shrieks. “Why is Son’s underwear on top of my sneakers?!?” Mother sighs. “Just get your shoes and put them on.” Little Girl screams again. “Gross! Son’s underwear is gross!!!” Son counters, “No they’re not! They’re not even dirty! I only wore them once!”
And apparently, if you haven’t taken them off for a week, you’ve still only worn them once.
JUNE
Mother suffers a morning of middle-aged-woman hormonal psychosis and decides to take a chill pill before the kids arrive home, and the afternoon chauffeuring begins, and she has to host a dinner party in the evening. But Mother can’t find the bottle. It’s nowhere to be found. She panics. “God, I might actually murder somebody if I don’t get some chemical help RIGHT NOW!” Then she remembers the pill case that’s in her purse. Inside she finds one little blue pill amongst the brown ibuprofens and white acetaminophens. Mother pops it in her mouth and gulps it down the hatch.
Hang on a sec, she thinks. Blue? I don’t think they’re supposed to be blue. She investigates. Then she shrieks. “I took an entire Ibuprofen PM!” At noon. Half of one of those sledgehammers knocks Mother out all night long and a significant part of the next day. “I have to drive! I have to cook! I have to host a party! How do you make yourself vomit?!? Why wasn’t I ever bulimic?!?”
Mother spends the rest of the day stoned, skims the curb twice with the minivan’s Goodyears, and may have agreed to let kids the skip the last two weeks of school to tour with Toby Mac’s roadie bus.
JULY
Daughter turns ten! And Summer 2015 becomes Son’s Summer of Cooking. Light on activities for the extended school break, he agrees to join his mom in weekly meal planning, grocery shopping, and nightly dinner prep. On the first day of his chef training, he mopes into the room and says to his mother, “Can we start tomorrow instead? I don’t feel like cooking tonight.” Mother bursts into a side-splitting bout of belly guffaws. “Welcome to my world, son!” she exclaims. “I feel like that every single freaking night.” Her smile dissolves. “Now get in the kitchen.”
AUGUST
When the man of the house works in the field of national defense, dinner discussion frequently turns to military matters. Daughter considers the subject of bombs and their tragic aftermath. One aspect of the issue strikes her as particularly unfair. “Why,” she asks, “does Ground Zero get bombed so much?”
SEPTEMBER
Son turns twelve! Just one more year till the Keffler house becomes infested with a teenager.
Upon opening a new package of coffee Mother checks out the description on the label: "Rich and balanced with crisp citrus notes and a sweet, chocolaty mouthfeel." She may have spent too much time writing romantic stuff recently, because that sounds to her like a better description of a really nice kiss than of roasted beans.
OCTOBER
Last fall, when Daughter was in fourth grade, she was invited to join the elementary school’s chorus. She came home furious after the first rehearsal and announced that she had quit. “All they did the whole time was SING!” she fumed indignantly. Mother indicated that such is typically the practice of a chorus. “Well, I hate singing,” Daughter responded. This year Daughter is again invited to participate in chorus. She asks her mother’s permission. “But you hate singing,” Mother reminds her. “You quit last year because you didn’t want to sing.” Daughter smiles at her mother. “This year we have a new director,” she explains. “And he told me I can lip-sync.”
What???
NOVEMBER
Father takes Son and Daughter to a concert, so Mother and Little Girl have a Mom-Daughter date night. They go to Chipotle for dinner, at Little Girl’s request. Mother anticipates a fun and light evening together with her littlest. Then Little Girl asks about the origins of life—specifically, where babies come from. Mother obliges her with The Talk. Eyes wide with horror, Little Girl asserts that she will never, ever marry, because she wants no part of that. Ever. Hopeful that she will one day procure some grandchildren, Mother really sells it to Little Girl: “Don’t worry, honey. It’s not as bad as it sounds.” Father hears about the discussion. “‘Not as bad as it sounds’?” he asks. “That’s how you describe it? ‘Not as bad as it sounds’?!?”
DECEMBER
As always, the best kid-discussions happen while driving in a car together. This month, Daughter explains to Little Girl in the back of the van that while Daughter never thought she wanted pierced ears, when she turned ten she decided to get them pierced after all. Mother interjects, “Yes. People sometimes change their minds.” And, still recovering from last months’ The-Talk with Little Girl, Mother continues, “I’m hoping that you girls will change your minds about having babies when you grow up, because I’d like to be a grandma someday.” Both girls re-affirm that they will never have babies, because having babies hurts, and it will be up to their brother to provide grandchildren. Daughter further expounds to her little sister, “That’s why when I get married I’m going to have a separate bed from my husband, because when you sleep in the same bed you end up with a lot of kids. That’s just how it is. It can’t be helped.”
* * *
On that scandalous, PG-13 bombshell our family wishes you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
(And if 15 or 20 years from now Daughter’s husband is reading this blast-from-the-past, we hope she changed her mind about the separate-bed thing. If not, we’ll get you an electric blanket and the name of a good adoption agency for Christmas this year.)

 Later this month this Year-In-Review will be added to the e-book Year-In-Review: the Entirely True Histories of a Perfectly Wretched Family, available at Smashwords and Amazon. Please select the 2015 edition.