Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Past Deadline: Today's Forecast - Whatever!

Yes, me rambling on about weather again. Sorry 'bout that. Here's the offering from The Courier, Aug. 25/09.

Today’s forecast: whatever!

A few weeks back the weather gurus of the nation (at least parts of the nation) were donning slickers, raising umbrellas and telling us all we might as well give up because August was going to stink, too. And I don’t mean “stink” as in “be hot and smoggy,” I mean stink as in “it’s going to continue to rain as if the sky has sprung a permanent leak and soon we will be figuring out what cubits are so we can build arks.”

I would hate to be a weather guru. Environment Canada’s chief climatologist Dave Phillips has been given this moniker, so we have come to expect he knows something about what’s going to happen – as if he can directly channel Mother Nature and develop long-range forecasts with some degree of certainty. Well, either he has a faulty connection or Mother Nature is doing some serious drugs, man.

In any event, every time Guru Dave opened his mouth and proclaimed we would not be afflicted with the Wettest Summer Ever (fear not!), some folks wiped their soggy brows and breathed a sigh of relief.

“Good weather is coming in mid-July!” people shouted from what was left of their flood-ravaged streets.

It did not come.

Guru Dave and his “weather expert” friends scratched their heads, grinned for the cameras and told us that, yes, July has been rather putrid, but August will be divine! Warmth and sunshine will grace us once again. I was sceptical, and as July continued on its cold and soggy course I started ignoring the forecasts because of their annoying rain-sunny break-rain-rain-sunny break-rain-rain-rain pattern.

One night, though, during a news story about this miserable summer, an expert from The Weather Network was featured.

“Whatever,” I grumbled, as they rambled about how Newfoundland and Manitoba are the only two provinces that have had a somewhat “normal” season.

But then this weather guru did something unusual. Rather than placating our weary, weather-beaten souls with more promises of “good times ahead,” she basically said, “You know what? August is probably going to stink, too.”

Huh? I perked right up. Finally, someone was not getting my hopes up and it felt refreshing! Within a few days of this brilliant revelation, I read in the newspaper that Guru Dave concurred. Indeed, August would probably be just as wet as July. Oh, and a cubit is somewhere between 45 and 70 centimetres, depending on who you ask.

I was talking to my mom about this astounding turn of events. “Isn’t it great? It’s going to keep raining!”

She offered some wisdom, though, as mothers are wont to do, and suggested that if Guru Dave says it’s going to rain, maybe it won’t. After all, can anyone remember when any of these so-called experts got it right in recent years? (Please note I am not including the Farmers’ Almanac in this category. I’m not sure what predictions were made for this summer.)

Lo and behold, August has shown remarkable improvement, featuring such phenomena as not one, not two, but three or more consecutive days where it didn’t rain at all! Not even a teeny tiny drop! And there has been heat! And sometimes even humidity! And there have been heat advisories and smog warnings!

Okay, so nothing is ever perfect and it always takes a bit of time to acclimatize when summer arrives in Canada – even belatedly. Nevertheless, the latent reptile in me soaks up the sun (with sunscreen) and heat and has felt generally much better about kicking the kids outside without forcing them to take umbrellas and slickers and such. Playing in the wading pool is more fun when it’s warm and sunny than when it’s overcast and threatening to drizzle at any moment.

I have to admit I am left wondering if the so-called weather experts ultimately got together, threw up their hands and said, “We have no idea what’s going on with this silly weather. Rather than constantly disappointing Canada, let’s tell everyone it’s going to rain forever so they won’t get their hopes up and then if it does actually get sunny it will be a joyful thing.”

Whatever works. Keep the sunshine coming!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Past Deadline: Credit Recovery - Failure?

Just back from a holiday so I'm a bit late posting. Here's what appeared in The Courier on Aug. 18:

Credit Recovery 101: Failure?

My eldest child is about to embark upon Grade 2 and, so far, I have been happy with his education. He goes to a great public school with excellent teachers.

There’s something looming in the distance, though, that scares the bejeebers out of me. If not handled carefully, I think it has the potential to undermine his future – and that of his younger sister.

It’s called Credit Recovery. (Cue ominous music.)

It sounds innocuous enough, but it has a sinister side. Credit recovery is a provincial education ministry initiative that, essentially, requires high school teachers to take every measure possible to ensure a student meets all learning requirements to receive a credit.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? The big ol’ ministry is looking after Little Johnny and making sure he gets everything he needs to succeed in school? If that were simply the case I would applaud it, but the reality of it might be enough to make me want to home-school my kids through high school. That is one heck of a lot of math homework for a Word Girl like me.

This issue has been reported in the news a lot in recent months. What I’ve gleaned is the province wants to increase the number of students who graduate from Ontario high schools. To do so, there is supposed to be a greater number of student supports – things to help students who are struggling for whatever reason.

This is a grand notion in theory. Student success is being taken seriously. Of course we don’t want our kids to fail. Or do we?

In the front lines, some high school teachers are talking about their hands being tied. They are required to offer Little Johnny chance after chance when he fails a test or doesn’t submit an assignment or cheats and needs his behaviour modified. He is supposed to be learning from these mistakes. The subtle subtext, though, is that some students are learning rules are made to be broken, deadlines aren’t really deadlines and that teachers, formerly authority figures, really have no power over them. There are ways around everything.

The students who aspire to do well and hand things in on time learn the less-motivated will earn the same piece of paper they do at the end of it all. It must be incredibly frustrating for the teachers and even the students.

Moreover, it is so unfair. Now college teachers are seeing some kids who are flabbergasted when finally faced with actual failure because they simply haven’t done the work. They want do-overs and extensions and they don’t seem to understand that cheating is unacceptable. They are stunned when presented with late penalties on assignments.

Sometimes kids fail. Sometimes they simply don’t do the work and shouldn’t get the reward. I’m all for offering supports to help kids to succeed, but to me that means figuring out their obstacles to success (such as learning disabilities or varied learning styles) and finding remedies, instead of minimizing the consequences, even unwittingly, for missed deadlines, cheating and lack of respect.

Sometimes kids need help to achieve success, but a big part of growing up is learning to take responsibility for one’s actions. Continually offering do-overs is just not going to teach that fact of life.

I think it is unfair that some young adults, many of whom are paying for their own post-secondary education, are floundering in college today because of the basic lessons or soft skills they weren’t allowed to learn or practise in high school.

It’s all fine and good for Ontario to have impressive graduation rates from high school, but what is quantity over quality going to do for society?

I want my kids to have an education that teaches them that, yes, sometimes you screw up and you’re penalized. Strive to do better. Hand in your work on time. Don’t cheat. Earn your reward for doing your best. Respect your teachers. Why wouldn’t we teach them this?

Are post-secondary teachers now the gatekeepers as the credit recovery stampede thunders in?
And if this ludicrous problem isn’t solved in about seven years, Word Girl here may have to brush up on algebra, calculus, physics and chemistry.

That’ll go well.Gulp.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Past Deadline: Monkey See, Monkey Do

As seen on TV! I mean, in The Perth Courier, Aug. 11/09.

Monkey see, monkey do

Apparently I have my work cut out for me, and maybe that means I should cut out some of my work.

It has been a long summer. The weather, in case you haven’t noticed, has been stinky. We have been inside a lot. All of us. Including two parents working from home and two energetic children. And two indoor cats. And a turtle and seven fish. (The turtle and fish are fairly quiet.)

More than usual, there is constant clutter peppered with occasional mayhem, chaos and general loudness. So c’mon over! Mind the cat hair tumbleweed.

I have never ever professed to be a model housekeeper. With all the crew cooped up in the rainy wetness this summer, staying ahead of things even in my shoddy, haphazard way has been challenging. This house full of people (some of them large) translates into an unrelenting routine of laundry, dishes and tidying.

So what? I’ll get to that.

This is a no brainer, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned about parenting it’s that kids learn from role models, and their role models are usually parents. Without you having to explain it all, they learn from how you treat people and animals. They observe your work ethic. They glean things from the way you talk. They mimic your manners.

As such, you can spend your days and nights teaching them to read in English, French, Spanish and Swahili while playing the violin with their feet, but if you, as the parent, have a potty mouth and are rude to waiters, then monkey see, monkey do.

Several months ago Boychild announced to my mom that when he grew up he wanted to stay home and type like Mommy. I wasn’t really surprised. After all, I work from home and spend a lot of time typing at the computer. Now that Groom-boy stays home and types, too, perhaps we’ve firmly cemented his career aspirations.


I suppose it’s not too late for me to enrol in med school or become an engineer – as long as there’s no math. What? There is? Oh.


So what does all of this have to do with my rambling about clutter and mayhem? Well, one night last week we were coming home from an event that took place over the supper hour. We decided to get some take out since time was marching on. Boychild resisted. He didn’t want any of the choices offered, so I said, heaving a huge dramatic sigh, that I could make him a grilled cheese sandwich at home.

“Pretty soon you’ll have to learn to cook for yourself,” Groom-boy teased.

“No, I won’t,” Boychild said. “When I grow up and get married the woman will cook for me.”



Groom-boy cracked up and nearly drove off the road. I muttered something about being dropped off on the street corner. Boychild thought it was all pretty funny.

Monkey see, monkey do.

Stands to reason, though, especially considering Groom-boy melted a hole completely through a metal baking sheet the other day when he accidentally turned on the wrong stove element. Perhaps he shouldn’t be allowed in the kitchen.

I’m afraid to think about what other “life lessons” my children are absorbing.

It got me to thinking, though. This must surely be a sign. This must mean it is time for mommy to go away on a two-week vacation and leave Groom-boy in charge of everything. Hm. But then I might not have ANY baking sheets left. Or maybe mommy needs to learn a construction trade or build a space shuttle or become a lumberjack or a paramedic or a mechanic or something equally non-traditional for this houseful of writer/editor/communicator types.

Hm. Decisions. Nah, I think the two-week vacation is a better idea. Where should I go? Definitely somewhere that involves someone else cooking for me and doing the laundry and picking up messes.

Failing that, maybe I should at least relinquish some of my (ahem) control and insist that some of the men folk in the house take over more of the culinary duties. First, though, a little lesson on which knobby thingy turns on which burner might be in order.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Past Deadline: Wobbling Down the Road to Ruin

The World of Pain, as published in The Perth Courier on Aug. 4/09.

Wobbling down the road to ruin

I would like to thank all townsfolk who have kindly averted their eyes rather than pointing and laughing as I wobble along side streets in my learn-to-run quest. Shouts of encouragement are fine, assuming I can hear them over my gasping breath of course.

A couple of columns ago I mentioned my friend Heather, who lives in Calgary, and I have committed to a beginner running program in an effort to rescue ourselves from certain wrack and ruin. Since we are thousands of kilometres apart, we report in electronically and record our progress. I have also convinced my best bud in town to join me in this quest, so most times I have a running partner.

Generally, it’s going well. Now. Sort of.

The very first run was exhilarating. The fact that I did it at all and didn’t collapse in a breathless heap was a thrill for me. Given that it was six sets of running for one minute and walking for two you might not think much of it, but since I typically recoil from running anywhere at anytime unless being chased by armed aliens or trying to capture small runaway children, it was something.

Then, though, things got interesting. I discovered something. Actually, I discovered many things, called muscles and other connective tissues, that didn’t appreciate being roused from their long hibernation. At first it was thigh and caboose muscles, which was not really unexpected and actually made me feel as if I were accomplishing something.

Then other parts of my legs started to complain. Loudly. In a screamy sorta way that required ice packs and elevation. This happened for the next several outings. I’d get everyone feeling better and then I’d set out on my next run and make them cry all over again.

As I continued to the next level (10 sets of one minute running and one minute walking), I started to feel a difference. The World of Pain eased a bit. Stretching and icing and resting were helping. My Handy Dandy FancyPants Rocket Shoes™ were obviously doing their job!

Then along came Small Angry Muscle. It was one of the spots that had flared up with all the rest early on, but as everyone else settled down to enjoy the ride, SAM persisted.

And persisted.

In fact, SAM is persisting right now.

Ice helped a bit. Elevating helped a bit. Resting helped a bit. Just when I thought maybe I had SAM licked because after a particular run it barely said “boo!” I learned it was merely sleeping on it. I awoke lame.

Now, many of you might say “Get ye to a doctor!” or “Obviously you are not born to run” or even “Suck it up, buttercup.”

Heather’s hubbie is something of a running guru and said informs me SAM happens to lots of beginners and often makes them think they are not built for running. He provided some exercises for me to try and suggested I work through it, that SAM can be trained.

I’ll let you know how it turns out because I know you’re all on the edge of your seats about this.


So, as I forge ahead with level three (seven sets of running for two minutes and walking for one) I’m armed with the knowledge that, yes, I just might be able to do this. I wasn’t ready to throw in the towel, but SAM was making me utter some nasty words when out of earshot of children.

Speaking of children, learning to run reminds me a little of pregnancy. When you first tell a runner you have joined the cult you are usually showered with congratulations. As you progress and that initial elation gives way to the World of Pain, you get the knowing smile. “Oh, yes,” these experienced and sage runners say. “It’s really hard at first, but it will get better.”

I’m sure I heard those very same words about pregnancy and childbirth. There are lots of things people conveniently forget to mention, and mothers “forgetting” the magnitude of the pain of labour is why siblings are born on this planet.

Children are worth the pain; hopefully running will be, too!