And it's been bloody cold here - minus temperatures every night - I'm a little fuzzy on any and all Fahrenheit temperatures that dip below 70, but I do know that 27 is below freezing. This I know. For my shivers they tell me so.
We had a nasty spell of snow then black ice this week, which made getting in and out of our neighborhood, which sits perched upon a "mountain," impossible. After one scary slide back down the hill into oncoming traffic on a busy road but thank God I had another guy direct traffic so I could do so escapade, I finally gave up and parked in a lot below our hill and hiked in and out that next morning. Cars were abandoned left, right and center everywhere. And there were accidents galore so traffic was snarled Tuesday. The city finally got around to sanding and clearing the roads - something they should have done Monday night.
I sometimes marvel at civic tax dollar priorities - this has got to be the darkest lit city in America - yes, I know, its oxymoronic but there you have it - archaic street lanterns from the turn of the century or some time close to that, which are now dwarfed and hidden by overgrown trees that might have been tiny when the streetlights were first installed but which now block and and all light. This.Drives.Me.Nuts.
I've asked locals about it because it baffles me, and one guy who hails from Santa Barbara claims it's actually a bit of an American aesthetic-sensibility issue. Most prefer to have more dimly-lit streets. To me, that's really dim and not so sensible. You literally need infrared lighting to navigate these streets at night and in the wee-hours of the morning.
Ah well, whatdaheck - that's OK. I sleep at night knowing that the city is spending oodles of dollars on new soccer fields and downtown arts events. Such prudent budget spending has me resting assured.
Reeding, Righting & Rithmatic
But what can I say? The wheels on the Schmidt bus still go round and round, or as Holy Daughter would say, the wheels on the rhombus. I had to google what the hell a rhombus is. Thank God for Google or I'd only be as smart as a first grader.
She's learning all about shapes in math and has, just this new year, gotten into reading in a big way. Her current favola? Captain Underpants and the Perilous Plot of Professor Poopypants. That's right - nothing but the best fiction for the children in this house.
Actually, this series received two thumbs up from my children's literature professor, who is, arguably, one of the world's foremost and top-ten kid-lit scholars. He hated the Harry Potter series and wouldn't even talk about Harry Potter in class, but Captain Underpants was A-OK. Go figure.
As one who has never touched the former but been read aloud most of the latter, I have to admit, Dav Pilkey was onto something. How do you foster a love a reading and help kids bridge that gap to early series books? Create a superfantastical protagonist and weave a never-ending spin of school escapades for kids to relate to. Of course it helps to fill it with potty-talk names, cook up endless pranks to play on the principal and teachers, and ensure that most of the words are spelled phonetically close but technically wrong, as would befit the spelling ability of the average 7 or 8 year old. If reading is for didactics and delight, then this series, albeit a bit crude, is formulaic fodder for the little farts. Literally.
Yes it's true - Captain Underpants literarily saved my butt and other exciting stories. While I was toiling away at university (ironically in this very same children's lit class), my son was one of those struggling emergent readers. This series really engaged him, and hooked him enough to get him progressing to other series such as Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events.
Holy Son has skipped a grade in his language arts (the school raises the bar for all kids in his grade so there's more time within the curriculum for AP classes in high school) to 7th grade Honors Humanities, which means he's now reading "not to contradict and confute, not to believe and take for granted, not to find talk and discourse, but to weigh and consider" or thus spoke Sir Francis Bacon.
This critical thinking and reading thing is most difficult for him. Free translation: it sends him into hissy-fits. Previously guilty of whipping through a book with little or no consideration save having to deliver a 30 second oral account or draw a pretty poster for the wall, Holy Son is now having to stop, jot and droll and this pains him beyond all things.
It's a torturous process for him but probably more agonizing for me, because he makes me stay tethered within a 10 foot radius while he struggles through his humanities homework. I end up being a sounding board more than anything, which seems to work for him.
Holy Son: Mom, I have to ask an evaluative question after reading these two
chapters. How do I do that?
Holy Mom: (tired voice because it's almost 10 o'clock at night by this point) Well I don't know, hon. What's an evaluative question?(he proceeds to explain it to me)
HM: OK, so what transpired in that chapter that's so
pivotal that you're left with a burning question for one of the characters?
HS: What does pivotal mean?
HM: OK, what major event happened - like, did the main character make a big
decision, did something sad happen - that you're left wondering what if they had
made a different choice?
HS: Oh yeah! I get it! OK, I know one.
It's not always that simple. One night, Holy Hub was hard at work for 2-3 hours, helping Holy Son out with a math problem. Now here's the thing - Holy Hub is an aeronautical engineer - he kinda sorta does math for a living. This cracked me up.
Not that my plight is much better. With Holy Son snowboarding all day Wednesdays now, it's all but impossible for him to get any homework done that day so the 2-3 hours he normally has each night is now getting added to the other nights. Which has us all exhausted, as we have to ride his figurative board to get him to finish homework early. Not easy considering both the antagonist and protagonist in this non-fictional homework equation are both attention-deficit. Hence the 10 pm scenes.
And Venus Was Their Name
It wouldn't be so bad, but right now he's in the middle of a Venus Flytrap science fair experiment. Guess who's stuck keeping an eye on these carnivorous little buggers in the daytime to ensure a trap hasn't re-opened? And guess who's helping him feed the plants worms and slugs? It's amazing and creepy to watch the lengths crickets and earthworms will go to in order to escape once trapped.
And who's helping him stay on track with his research? Beats the heck out of snovelling snow outside, but still.
Thank God he's studying Canada right now (sad but true fact - this geography component is a repeat of his 3rd grade Canadian curriculum) so he can semi-coast through at least one course. He has the dubious honour of correcting his teacher whenever she pronounces Newfoundland as New-found-land instead of Newf'n lind, or when she bastardizes Saskatchewan by calling it Sask-catch-oh-wan instead of Sis'catch-ih-won, as Canadians tend to refer to it.
Or when she refers to First Nations people in Canada as American Indians or whenever she calls the Inuit peoples Eskimos. That sort of thing.
No schmidt shmerlock that his school is now able to brag about being the 5th ranked school in the country based on 100% college-readiness upon graduation - the work he's doing in 6th grade with essay preparation and science has me wondering if they could actually present a get into college free card in just a few years.
Maybe one day we'll say it was all worth it. Like when Holy Son is a poor, out-of-work cellist and Holy Daughter is a cruiseship performer or something.
To be fair, there is a silver lining in it for me, if I do manage to stick out this grueling schedule. I am getting pretty gosh darn smart as a middle schooler. I have re-learned what a mitochondrion is and I'm, once again, getting savvy to the ways of MLA citations.
And, to add masochistic insult to injury, I recently started tutoring a 10th grader (sophomore in American-speak) in humanities and international studies. Because apparently, three nights a week of 6th grade coursework isn't enough for me.
I take comfort in knowing that I only have to slog through another 3,000 days of this. And in knowing that pretty soon, at this rate, I'll be able to take my GRE exam. Don't laugh - that's my secret master plan - a graduate degree when my kids go off to college. I'll be so old, they'll have to drive me to school and then carry my books for me.
It's not exactly top-of-the line. In fact, it's pretty basic. Mileage is negligible, not great. But it's safer than walking the local interstates, praying we don't get run over.
As well we should because for the first time in our life, we are making car payments to the tune of $500 and some a month, although had we opted for the fully-loaded version, we could easily be spending $900 or more per month.
I'm not sure if you've heard of this vehicle - it's called the HealthCar and so far, we've been making payments on it but have yet to even take it out for a test drive.
It doesn't go many places. It takes us to and from a tune-up and vehicle inspection specialist six times a year and also allows for major overhaul trips and emergency road services. And even though most of the year it wears a nice front-end black bra, I can remove the bra once a year and take it to the drive-thru naked for an undercover inspection. If ya know what I'm saying.
Making this vehicle purchase feels pretty awful though, I have to say. It took us 2.5 years to get to this point, but we were getting worried that if we encountered a health emergency with our children, there wouldn't be any public transportation available for them to ride to the hospital on.
It's also been difficult for us because we used to drive a perfectly good car back home. The government supplies every Canadian with a decent model healthcar, free of charge. There are rare exceptions such as if you are self-employed and thus, aren't eligible for an employee car. Then you do have to pay a nominal monthly surcharge for direct government supplied vehicles. And of course, Canadians pay extra and dearly at the end of the year in taxes, but one expects car allowances and taxable benefits when one has a health car with unlimited mileage, free gas and car wash.
Granted, our old car was not top-of-the-line either. Sometimes, if you wanted to go see the auto detailer for a shine, or a paintjob, or if you wanted to get a parts overhaul, you'd have to book an appointment and wait months, sometimes years, depending on the job. But in so many ways, the system seemed healthier and more trustworthy. And the car was so much easier to drive. For one thing, it was an automatic, so I never had to worry about trying to park on a hill or shift gears in rush hour traffic. The provincial governments adminstered the insurance, in concert with federal government monies, so insurance was very streamlined.
And it offered unlimited mileage. You could take for a car wash or tune-up daily or even more, if you liked without worrying about things like a co-pay fee.
Our new Healthcar is a standard transmisison, so we'll be constantly having to shift ideological gears to get anywhere. I'm not sure I like the stickshift thing ~ sometimes I feel like it's constantly stuck in reverse or neutral and decidedly not progressive ~ but I have no choice. Only a privileged or underprivileged few in this country get to drive automatic healthcars - seniors, veterans, military families and low-income earners. The rest of us are stuck driving these so-called fuel-efficient cars.
It wouldn't be so bad but everytime you turn around, there's a parking fee or a toll bridge fee. There are fees for everything - they call it fee-for-service but when you're used to driving a free-for-service healthcar, it's a huge adjustment, having to make sure you have spare change handy everytime you go visit someone to get your car fixed or looked at.
Here's the one tiny thing that I like though. I like that you can just call up and get an appointment to see whoever you want. Immediately. But I just question: at what price? I get scared when I see huge advertising dollars being spent by Healthcar shops, each vying for drivers to come bring their vehicles to them for services. And I get depressed when I read that this entire healthcar motor vehicles program is so dysfunctional and in-bred. It's virtually run by insurance providers and statistics indicate that more than a third of the astronomical costs of the program are wasted on bureaucratic inefficiencies - way more than other developed nations' healthcar transportation programs.
But what choice do we have? Not much, I'm afraid. So we have this car that sits parked and idle. I guess that means we're keeping up with the Joneszes because we're no longer a deprived minority ~ some 16% of the population is left stranded on the side of the open road in this country at any or at least some point in time each year. If and when these poor souls do get access to a Healthcar, studies show they end up taking it out for longer and more expensive road trips and causing traffic jams; having been deprived of basic Point A to Point B trips for how ever long, such as they have.
I know there is this whole, huge underbelly of society that are near and dear to the Healthcar industry - the salesmen, the management organizations, the insurance providers, the various tune-up places, the fuel companies, and all the countless car specialists - and I also know that most Americans don't realize there is a viable alternative or more to the point, that they are entitled and deserve a better system - but if they could see their world like us outsiders do, here's the theme song we, the outsiders, would attach to it. If you're easily offended or belong to one of the aforementioned segements of the population, maybe don't click the link. It has lots of swear words in it. Yet the profanity fits, and this system is nothing, if not extremely profane to my health and wellness sensibilities.
You see, I've always been an advocate for a Healthcar incentive program, whereby the less you use and abuse the system, the more you're rewarded. And where car specialists are rewarded for how quickly and efficiently they can treat and manage your car problems. And where the pharmafuel companies, who own Washington, no longer get to host their little puppet shows, control government policies, and quite generally, foster and prosper from a system that is so grossly unhealthy.
But on the off chance you clicked the link, and heard even just a few seconds, then you'll at least better appreciate why I've nicknamed our new vehicle the PIS Schmidt car or PISS car for short.
And then if naming the thing wasn't apropos enough, I even saw the neighbor's dog come over and lift a leg to the backtire the other day. What other proof does one need?
Suffice to say, I'll be riding my donkey on a daily basis and taking the car out only when necessary. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
Which is good, because the world just keeps getting crazier and more inexplicable. We came home New Year's Eve to the disturbing and shocking news of the Carnation Christmas Eve murder spree, in which six immediate family members were murdered by a psycho woman and her boyfriend, who were living rent-free in a trailer on the property of her parents. Ultimately, it was all about a bit of money and sibling rivalry. The twisted sister familial parallels are rather disturbing to us.
So in a world gone decidedly madder, it's nice to know that I now hold the golden compass in the number of rings of my tree trunk. I shall be the veritable solution - way, truth, life and all this year, rather than the problem or so the theory goes. I have to confess, I much rather like being an even rather than an odd number. I even feel younger and I even feel wiser. Wouldn't that be the grandest of elixers if it really transpired in such fashion - to be younger and wiser.
I stumbled upon a site that sums this notion up nicely. The web author of IResolveTo.com advocates this very thing. She insists that it all begins with a promissory note - "I resolve to achieve my New Year's resolutions, One Resolution, One Day At a Time for One Year," and that it begins and ends with a five-step plan: Dare To Dream, Decide, Define, Develop A Plan, and Do It Daily. Every day is D day.
Yes, the donkey is apropos, methinks. I'm beginning the year leisurely, as I always do, analyzing whether I should really bother with resolutions that I'll only end up breaking anyways. The last (and only) time I actually stuck to my resolution (to quit smoking) was 18 years ago on January 1st, 1990. Then, as now, I was on a mission to achieve something life-changing. And apart from one wee cheat puff three weeks into my born-again non-smoker mission, I've never looked back. I've turned the pages on the smoking book and glued them shut.
And as you just read, I'm braying and generally, balking in my ever-stubborn attempt to stay put and not move forward.
Donkeys also live large in pilgrimage lore - think Jesus riding into Jerusalem, Don Quixote sauntering past windmills, and even Donkey's travels to Far Far Away in Shrek, if you must.
So it's a trusty steed for my travels this year. Most especially because if the truth be told, I'm going to need to ride my ass daily if I hope to accomplish my goals and dreams of harmonic health, wealth and happiness (which now sounds like some kind of tribal greeting - "haheweha" instead of my donkey mating call, but that's OK: it never hurts to have an anagramic theme when embarking on metaphysical quests).
So that's how my story begins this year, and I'm sticking to it. Like flies to a donkey's tail or tale, as this year's story would have it.
Speaking of flies, I'm heading out tomorrow to purchase four healthy Venus Flytrap plants for Holy Son's Science Fair experiment.
He will be measuring the digestion rate of said carniverous plants by feeding each one a different type of bug. And while I'm at this shop, which specializes in exotic plants and indoor sun solutions, I may look into purchasing a sun lamp for myself. Because sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy. And happy, happy, joy, joy is where it's at this year.
I received two books for my birthday that will also figure prominently in my quest for harmony this year. The first, a gift from Holy Bro, is How To See Yourself As You Really Are: A Practical Guide to Self-Knowledge by the Dalai Lama (translated by Jeffrey Hopkins). I look forward to cultivating loving kindness towards myself and those around me and to ridding myself of toxic thought.
The second book, also Eastern in orientation and one I bought for myself with b-day gift card monies, is Change Your Thoughts - Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao by Wayne Dyer. I've had the PBS special taped for months but have yet to get around to watching it. I'm looking forward to reading the book and reflecting on the Tao Te Ching, an 81 verse text of chinois philosophie that deconstructs the ebbs and flows of the universe and the nature of all things. I especially relish flirting with polarities in thought and action, as a transformative tool, in accordance with what Lao-tsu instructs in the Tao Te Ching.
Thus, instead of flight in a fight-or-flight scenario, I will try fight. Or instead of action, I will choose wu-wei or non-action (effortless doing). Easier said than done or not done or whatever, but I'm nothing if not totally for the effortless path.
There you go, I took you there, albeit the long round about way, rather like the blind might lead the enlightened (think Pin the Tail on the Donkey). But this is a magical, mystical, inter-galactic tour and I am a kind of hitchhiker's (ie. lurker's) guide this year, after all.
There's only one rule if you're going to follow along on this two-bit donkey yote pilgrimage - no baggage allowed (note to self: no baggage). My ass can only take so much weight and God knows, it's packing enough already. And there's only one safety precaution - to avoid arriving at our unknown destination prior to my ass, I would ask that you remain seated with your seatbelt securely fastened. Any questions? Fire away, 'cuz I've got an answer for everything now.
On that note, happy New Year, fellow time and space beings.
Do you have any resolutions that you'd care to share? Fork 'em over. After all, you know the saying: ass, grass or gas - nobody rides for free.