The Results May Vary

Observations from my Mixed Up World


New Tool of Torture


Do your kids drive you mad in the car?  Bickering getting to you?  Well, I just bought 4 fantastic new discs that spell payback all in capital letters.  Amnesty International released Chimes of Freedom – The Songs of Bob Dylan.

Now, I confess that I am a huge Dylan fan.  I’d likely buy a CD of trained donkeys braying out the tunes from Blood on the Tracks.  But that’s just me.  But Amnesty got singers from every genre to play their favourite Dylan songs in their own ways.  Miley Cirus’s version of You’re gonna make me lonesome when you go is already on Much Music’s Top 20 videos.  But the host of other artists are all amazing in their own ways.  Imagine such gems as:

  • Diana Krall               Simple Twist of Fate
  • Lenny Kravitz         Rainy Day Women #12 & 35
  • Maroon 5                  I shall be released
  • Kesha                          Don’t think twice it’s alright
  • Sting                            Girl from the north country

But despite the fact that my kids request their favourites from my Jimmy Buffett collection, put in the Dylan songs and their faces twist in horror.  Watch them cringe to the question “Would you like to hear Adele sing a song you’ve never heard?”  It is joy to the parent that learned to drive while Barney DVDs were played full volume in the back seat.  It is great.  There is guaranteed an artist that you kids love singing on this CD and you can show them that everyone respects Bob.  So should they.

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Failing due to Success

We were watching Survivor – One World last night and at Tribal Council something that was said jumped out at me.  Kat, as seen below, screwed up the immunity challenge and was trying to convince the others not to send her home.

 She said that she felt absolutely terrible because she had never failed at anything.  Jeff asked her incredulously if she was saying that she had never failed at anything in her life before.  She said that she had never attempted to do anything that she wasn’t certain she would succeed in.  Wow.  How sad.  She either has incredible hubris or she has never seen the value of testing herself before.  I am reminded of the proverb, those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad.  I think Kat is going to leave in a tight fitting white coat.

But it makes me wonder about how many kids are being set up to fail because as parents we want them to succeed.  The media is full of endless diatribes against parents who schedule every moment of their kids lives, who make endless excuses for them and who attack anyone and anything perceived as an obstacle to the child’s success.  I can see no example as clear as the stereotypical hockey mom/dad, whose self worth and future happiness has become inextricably entwined with their child’s success on the ice.  Verbal and physical assault on referees, coaches and other kids are completely appropriate to that parent because if their child fails then the parent must face the fact that the sword has fallen on the Gordian knot of their own goals.  Pity little Johnny who at 12 was the star of the team and at 14 has past his peak and can only play house league.  Little Johnny has just sacrificed 10 years of his life to something and doesn’t know how to start fresh because no one spoke truth to him.  No one made sure that he knew most kids don’t grow up and join NHL teams.

I keep telling Milo that I am not saying or doing things to be mean but just dealing with the truth of the matter.

A simple example occurred this morning.  Milo was heading down to breakfast and asked me how he looked.  I told him that his clothes looked good but his hair looked like it had been styled by a blind scarecrow looking for some help in the fields.  He was hurt and insulted until he looked in the mirror.  Suddenly, he decided the hairbrush might not hurt him as much as his hairdo was going to hurt his reputation.

A more interesting example is that Milo is trying to convince his mother and me that we should allow him to quit the book club that he joined at school.  In fact, last night a more tearful and incoherent child could not be found as he burst from the bedroom that we were certain he had been asleep in.  Multiple attempts were made to figure out the cause of the hysteria and in the end, it appears that he is afraid he can’t read the five books in three months that he committed to read.  He couldn’t face that he would fail.  Tragically for Milo, his mother and I have hardened hearts reminiscent of  cold-war era KGB interrogators.  We brutally forced him to admit that his penchant for watching 3-4 hours of TV each night did not help him achieve the goal of reading a book.  Despite further tears and accusations that I’d best not write down, we held fast to our point that we were not rubbing his face in his failure but simply telling him the truth.  He will also need to face the truth that TV time just got shortened.  See how we support our child by removing obstacles to failure.  My arm is sore from patting myself on the back.

Disclaimer:  The photo above was taken from the Survivor – One World website.  I am certain that it is legally encumbered by a mountain of protection from misuse, distribution etc.  By no means am I attempting to claim any right etc. to the photo and fully acknowledge that ownership of the photo was, is and ever shall be with the producers of the show.  My inclusion of the photo was to add colour to my blog, to accredit the show with  making me think about a wider issue and it was certainly not an effort to create excitement by having a bikini clad woman titillating my readers.

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Whiskey and Boiling Water

It’s finally official.  I’m sick.  I have been avoiding being sick this year in a huge way.  The kids and my wife have schemed to spread their diseases all over the house but hand washing and a steadfast refusal to clean up have kept me healthy to date.

(GROAN)  I can barely think.  My joints ache like rusted linkages in a decrepit machine.  The noise of my children is that of thousands of banshees terrorizing dormitories full of virgins in a lonely nunnery on the moors.  Even the relentless pacing of our cats around my feet is as if squishy, whining traps have been set in motion with the sole goal of having me dash my brains out on the counter.  The burning, scratching in my throat evokes the destruction of volcanoes, sand storms and a nasty loofah sponge.

I can turn to only one thing.  Whiskey and boiling water.  Ratio – 2 parts whiskey to 1 part water.  Repeat as required until you don’t notice anymore.

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Why do I bother?

As usual on Sunday mornings, Maya and I went shopping for groceries while the rest of the house slept.  An hour of father-daughter time spent picking out firm potatoes, the perfect strawberries, finding the freshest thyme and basil so that we don’t need to resort to eating boiled noodles and canned pasta sauce is time well spent.  I’d bought some croissants the day before and figured that making them into French toast and adding fresh strawberries and whipped cream might make for a nice Sunday brunch.  A quick stop at Starbucks ensures that the under-caffeinated won’t rise up and revolt at the extra time needed for a decadent meal.  A culinary delight is born.

The results:  one plate eaten, one plate with 2 bites from 1/2 a croissant – no strawberries left and a bowl with the whipped cream eaten and all of the strawberries abandoned.  Why do I bother?  One won’t eat toast, the other will only eat rye toast.  One won’t drink apple juice, the other demands Coke.  But assuredly, no one wants whatever I’ve slaved over.

After swimming yesterday, Maya and I were waiting to pick up Milo.  We were sitting in a little Italian cafe and she asked me for a muffin.  “What kind of muffin do you want?”  “Do they have banana?” she pondered.  “Yes, both with chocolate chips and just plain.”  “I like plain banana muffins”  I went and got in line, ended up buying dessert for dinner in addition to the plain banana muffin.  As we met up with Milo, Maya asks, “What kind of muffin did you get me?”  “Plain banana.” I reply.  She starts to cry.

“What’s the matter?  You asked for a banana muffin and I got you one.”

“I just wanted to know if they had them,” comes the tearful reply, “I wanted blueberry!”  Why do I bother?

I need to sign off now, as the most interesting comment from my wife has just floated down the stairs. “We will never make it out to breakfast if I have to keep doing origami in the nude.”  she’s just predicted.  This I’ve gotta see.  She’s likely asking herself, “Why do I bother?”

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What’s For Dinner?

So my wife’s Tassimo threatened to explode or at very least, it denied her the afternoon latte she so disparately needed yesterday.  Hence, I was sent to find descaler in an attempt to not destroy the machine with vinegar. ( My in-laws are apparently defying the strict prohibition against vinegar based descaling in order to avoid paying $10 for 3 packages of citric acid.  Poor pensioners risking their lives.)  I needed groceries as well so I opted to get my groceries at Wal-Mart to avoid trips to 2 different stores.  Sigh.  Oh, the extra 15 cents that I saved will surely choke me someday.

It is no surprise to me that there is a standard 80/20 ratio of prepared foods to actual food ingredients in every grocery store these days.  But as someone that actually cooks, it really gets me steamed when all of the fresh ingredients are shipped from thousands of miles away.  Have you tried to get Ontario grown garlic in a grocery store?  Not even vaguely possible.  How it can possibly be more economical to get garlic from China is beyond my understanding and I have a bloody degree in Economics. (My degree is actually in War – Military and Strategic Studies, Politics and Economics)  I went to the Farmer’s Market across from my office today and garlic from Argentina is $6.99/lb and the elusive Ontario garlic is $8.99/lb.  Locavores are apparently rich.  I must be too since I shelled out for 2 heads of the local stuff.

Now in general, the Farmer’s Market is absolutely the place to spend your grocery dollars.  I’ve taken $50 bucks and eaten fresh vegetables and fruit for 2 weeks.  The local produce is better, fresher, lasts longer and sooo much cheaper.  It seems that the only people that understand how much better market food is are the old immigrants.  As I walk through the market, I check out what the grannies are putting in their bags.  If I have no idea what the hell they’re buying, I ask them.  They’re happy to tell me what to buy, how to get the good stuff and how to cook it.  This is how knowledge is supposed to pass from generation to generation.  But there is a huge chunk of our generation that didn’t ever learn from mom and grandma how to cook and they are the ones in the freezer section of the grocery store buying pre-cooked rice.  How friggin’ hard is it to put 1 cup of rice and 3 cups of water, a bit of salt in a pan and boil until dry?  How much time is really saved buying pre-made hamburger patties?  My 5 year old can mush together ground beef, for God’s sake.  I’m not asking you to grind the cow up!

I’m socially conscious and listen to hours of public radio on the CBC, so I hear and empathize with people trying to live on limited means.  Why does no one every say, “Go to the market!  You can feed your family cheaply and they will be healthier than those rich bastards that are eating the chemically altered food from the freezer.”  Does it hurt anyone’s feelings?  Tonight, I cooked Basa (a fish) fillets crusted with a bag of ground up old pretzels, local potatoes with some shredded cheese in them and fresh hydroponic tomatoes with oil and vinegar on them.  Total cost of the meal was about $10.  It fed 4 people and there was enough for 2 adult lunches tomorrow.  Total prep and cooking time, less than 30 minutes.  It took about the same effort as it did money.  It can be done and it can taste good.

Of course, I listened to Maya scream at me because she didn’t want to eat what I put on the table and I am so done with that crap.  I said, “No!  Eat what I made or go hungry.”  She screamed until she fell asleep on the couch or passed out from hunger, I’m not sure which.  But, if she had  eaten it, then she’d have learned that cheap is good.  Also good is the silence this evening.  She can have a good breakfast tomorrow.

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Embrace Your Jimmy

My wife mentioned to me that my genetics were gradually defeating all of the training that she had put into me.  By genetics, she was referring specifically to the genes that came from my dad, Jim.  Now, both my wife and I love dad very much but it’s not unfair to admit that he does have a certain quirk he’s famous for.  Dad can get easily distracted.  While this sounds harmless enough, allow me to crack open the pages of family lore to share an example of dad’s quirk.

One day, Mom sent Dad out to the garage to get something.  On the way from the house to the garage he passed our ancient bird bath, as he did many times each and every day for the 20 some-odd years they had lived at the house.  Since we lived in a centuries old former farm house, I’m quite certain that the bird bath had been placed there by early settlers to Canada fleeing American persecution before Canada was even a nation.  It was that old and it looked that old.  But today, for whatever reason, Dad looked at the bird bath and figured that two and a half centuries of weathering needed to be cleaned from it.  Immediately.  For the next few hours, he lovingly scrubbed the age from that pedestal with likely no less that 3 acid solutions, each carefully custom mixed, applied and improved upon.  At the end, he proudly brought my mom out to look at the now pristine altar of bird libations, waited patiently for her praise and heard this.  “That’s lovely, Jim.  But I needed the squash for dinner hours ago.”

So to celebrate Dad’s quirk, our family has adopted the verb “to Jimmy”.

Jimmy (verb):  to be sent on a short errand and enroute become distracted by a much longer and less important task completely forgetting the original errand.  The completion of the second task, while glorious in your own estimation, will not be appreciated by the person whose task was forgotten.  (e.g.  “Sorry dear, I totally Jimmied.  I know that you totally needed those tampons but look… the car is so shiny now!”

So to honour my Dad, whose genes are steadily eroding 18 years of conditioning, I charge everyone to go forth and embrace their Jimmy.  You’ll still end up doing twice the work and be in trouble, but now you’ll have the words to explain how it happened.

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The Insult

Today I was mortally insulted.  In fact, I contemplated punching a woman in the face.  It was outrageous.  I know that I’m no Adonis but really!  I hope she was on commission because she lost out big time.  To explain, we need to start at the beginning.

I was not in the best of moods when I got up this morning.  It’d been a late night and having Maya get up at 6:14am did not help me feel any better.  You must understand that she can’t just watch TV and let me sleep.  She needs to check in with me every 22 minutes which is about 3 minutes after I fall back asleep.  So when 8am finally rolled around, I was feeling pretty punchy.  So after my shower, I threw on jeans and a sweater.  Nothing fancy but not exactly pajama pants and a tank top either.

I was slightly out of sync with the rest of the family who all opted to dress to a stricter guideline.  I was the only one that was not wearing any black.  My wife looked very nice(oops, I just learned that “very nice” is code for ugly so I amend this to read “super hot”), Maya was pretty in a dress and tights and Milo… well Milo decided that today was fashion day.  I’ve got to give that boy credit.  He can pick out an outfit.  He had dark grey straight leg pants, a white turtle neck and a cardigan vest.  Top it all off with the Tommy Hilfiger scarf tied slickly around his neck and wow, the kid looked super.

It was a day out of shopping and as we wandered the mall, I noticed a number of people doing double takes at our little fashionista.  I wore my crooked half smile that said “yup, he for real and he’s mine.”  What can I say, I’m a proud dad.  But towards the end of the trip, in fact in the last store, came the slap of reality that wrecked my day.

My wife had spotted a great top in the window of a store that we passed on the way to lunch.  After Eastside Mario’s tormented us with the thought of food for 45 minutes before making eating a reality, we wandered back to the store to hunt up the top.  It was an upscale women’s store with lots of well groomed sales staff.  When Milo made his entry, there was an excited reaction.  Apparently they’d never seen a 9 year old boy that wasn’t wearing clothes that advertised flaming monster trucks.  Milo ate up the attention and paraded through the store like royalty.  That’s when the 50 something sales woman looked at me and said, “He sure takes after his mother.  He certainly didn’t get it from you.”  I was stunned.  She actually looked me over and told me that I looked like a hobo.  It took a lot not to haul off and drop her right there.

Surely someone that sells clothes can look at me and realize that there’s a real lack of stylin clothes for the short, squat man.  I mean, it’s only 24 inches from my crotch to the ground.  And it’s a lot more than 24 inches around my waist.  So unless I can find Danny DeVito’s tailor (God, that man can dress) I will never have a chance.  But does that mean I should be insulted to my face?  I hope not.

It hurt.  I can only hope that she had a Julia Roberts-Pretty Woman moment later that day.  Bitch.

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Report Card Translations

Well, today was the day that all parents love and hate; Report Card Day.  If you have a good relationship with the teacher there should be no surprises but I do love the jargon.  I’m sure that to most parents, apart from the actual grade your kid receives, the rest is techno-babble.  I have been very linked in to the teaching profession for many years and I will share some translations from my own kids report cards.  Judge for yourself.

  • “Recently, Milo has struggled with staying on task in the classroom and this can affect getting his work done…”  Translation:  The huge amount of homework that you kid is lugging home everyday is because he is too busy yakking with his friends to finish things on time.
  • “Milo is often the leader of the group and helps to keep the group organized and on task.”  Translation:  Your kid likes to be the boss and likes to control what the group is doing.
  • “Maya has participated vigorously in physical games…” Translation:  Your child has a take no prisoners attitude during PhysEd.
  • “Maya has shown persistence and patience while learning new skills…”  Translation:  Thank God your kid doesn’t scream and cry as much as the other kids.
  • “Milo excels in balancing but needs to improve his hand-eye coordination.”  Translation:  While he can stand up very well, he catches the ball with his face much more often than with his hands.

Don’t get me wrong.  There were no marks less than a “B” on any of our report cards and I am proud of both kids.  It’s not like when I was in grade 5 and my mom came to the school and the principal said “It must be so hard on you, Mrs. CivilServantDad, with your son having such bad migraines.  It seems like every time we have PhysEd he misses out.”  A whole term of dramatic personae was lost in that one simple exchange.  I too caught the ball with my face much more often than with my hands.  Damn genetics.

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My Crappy Superbowl

In spite of my insistence on eating together as a family, I don’t always succeed in having everyone eat the same meal.  For instance, 48 hours ago, it seemed totally reasonable to let Maya eat almost a pint of cherry tomatoes for dinner.  Hey, at least they’re nutritious.  But alas, malicious rhymes with nutritious.  Oh, the foreshadowing I missed.

So 24 hours ago, when I had fed the family early, poured a generous glass of Whiskey and settled down with my wife to watch the Superbowl, the cherry tomatoes made their wrath known.  Maya had started to complain that she had a tummy ache but all in all had no fever, no lethargy and there was certainly no decline in noise.  If I was to worry about every stomach ache she got, it would be like when we first had Milo and I thought a night out was best spent in the Emergency ward.  And for the last couple of days she’s had it in her head that being sick might be fun and she’s been carrying a bucket about the house, just in case.  But about 10 minutes before kick off, she dashed to the bathroom and within seconds began screaming.

As I dashed for the bathroom, I was praying that the emergency trauma first aid I learned in the army would be sufficient to the situation since nothing short of a gut wound should be producing the reaction I was running towards.  Crashing into the bathroom, the triage was very straight forward.  Maya stood in front of the toilet, pants around her ankle, making a combination scream-sob that would have put Florence Nightingale’s nerves on edge.  The toilet was filled with material that was once tomatoes but had since been fermenting in a closed, oxygen deprived system.  Now anyone with any experience with diarrhea knows enough to stay sitting even after the first violent wave has passed.  Not so Maya.  Nor would she accept or even acknowledge my gastronomic  folklore.  She just kept up the scream-sob and added some incoherent babbling.

As I heard Kelly Clarkson belting out the National anthem, I pushed her back onto the toilet and quickly explained runny poop best practices.  Now, I must digress to explain that I, like all of us descended from my paternal grandmother, am a hypochondriac.  I tend to specialize in the heart disease symptoms that have killed all of the men in my line, while my sister likes to broaden her scope out to nasty tropical syndromes, but the result is that I can read bodily excrement with the accuracy of a medieval Arabian doctor. (that’s pretty good, if you aren’t aware)  I can also characterize pain into enough sub-types to fill a decent medical journal, but that’s besides the point.   So I was able to explain to Maya, with what I felt was sufficient empathy that while her poop was runny, it had none of the characteristics of e-coli ridden excrement nor did she have a fever which may have pointed to an enteric bug like c-dificile.  So, Daddy was going back to the football game and she should just hang in there until she had gone 5 minutes without passing anything else.

Perhaps not empathetic enough.  For the whole first quarter, it was run to the TV, then run to the bathroom.  Provide moral support, provide sage advice on wiping technique, scrub my hands, disinfect and run back for a sip of sweet whiskey.  Repeat… and repeat again…  Mercifully, by the end of the first half, the bathroom trips had almost run out.  She snuggled up with Mom and fell blissfully asleep.

So the game finally ended in the same way it had begun for me.  In fact in the way that all professional sporting events I watch do.  The team that I had randomly chosen to support at the beginning of the game had lost.  Shit at the start and shit at the end.  That’s the way it goes.

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French Immersion… Merci, Non!

So the kids arrived home all full of piss and vinegar hell bent on going to French immersion schools.  Seems that the school board had sent in the propaganda experts to fill their heads with the joys of learning math, science and social studies in another language.  I can imagine the assembly.

“Come to a different school…” they said, “You’ll have so much fun learning about stability, the states of matter and long division in another language.”

“Wow”  said the kids.

“Think how amazing it will be to learn about your community (which is predominately Italian and Serbian) in French.”  promised the spin doctors.

“Ahhhhhh!” replied the kids.

“Wait.  That’s not all… we have clubs at our schools” proselytized the board’s zealots.

“Sign us up.” screamed the kids.

“Go ask your parents, ” was the reply, “and be sure to report them to us if they don’t like the idea.  We can re-educate them!”

Ok.  Perhaps the last sentence is hyperbole but I can’t even begin to tell you how much I hate the idea of French immersion.  Firstly, you should know that in our school board up until next year, the French immersion program is based on entrance essays that are mostly written by over-achieving parents for their kids.  Here, now that Gifted Education programs were completely gutted, French Immersion is strictly for the social climbing elite.  It’s the new way to show to your neighbours that little Timmy is so smart, much smarter than your kid, that he needs to learn in another language.

Oh, I know how the bullshit goes on and on about opening doors and opportunities, but it is all crap.  I’ve known plenty of people who were in French Immersion programs that discovered in high school that a) the world doesn’t care and b) they have no idea what the teachers are talking about in English. (the language that incidentally 99% of them will need to function for their careers – the 1% will go on to become French teachers)  Now, don’t get me wrong, teaching French is a noble and important calling, but most kids don’t want to do that and there are only so many teaching jobs anyhow.

So when my kids got home and told me that they felt their current school, 500 meters away from my house; newly built 3 years ago; fully equipped with the newest technology and staffed by some of the finest educators I’ve ever met, was no longer good enough for them.  I said “Too bad.”

If the school boards really want to help our kids get careers in the future, then here’s some important facts.  China and India are the next biggest consumer markets in the world and they have LOTS of foreign currency.  Teach our kids those languages so they can impress their new bosses.