School-Life Balance

I did it again! I skipped a post. In my defence, we’ve just come out of a week-long school vacation, and we try to have as much time together during vacations as we can possibly get. That means that my blog took a backseat this last weekend of the vacation.

School vacations are always a balancing act. It’s wonderful to have my daughter home with me – she’s a lovely girl and I have a great time hanging out with her and doing things together with her that we both enjoy, like baking cookies, playing games, doing projects.

Of course, just because it’s vacation that doesn’t mean that the household will suddenly start doing itself. This naturally means that the necessary chores need to be done either in our “spare time” (read: when we should be sleeping), or that I will have to find some way of making my daughter complicit in my activities during the day. Happily, this works about half the time: she doesn’t mind joining me on grocery shopping trips, or helping me catalog books, or dust (she loves dusting; it’s a little odd, but you won’t hear me complaining!). For other things, such as sorting laundry, I have to catch her in the right mood.

But I digress.

I feel strongly that school vacation means taking a break from school – period. We do plenty of activities with her that allow her to pick up some knowledge, but I will not do any school curriculum work with her at home when she should be relaxing. I know some people feel that school is not so stressful at the age of seven and that a little work during vacations is fine, but right now while she’s still so young, I disagree. She’ll have to get on the treadmill soon enough as it is; I’d like her to enjoy being young and relatively unencumbered while she can.

What seems small to us is pretty impressive to a child, and school is to children what work is to us. It comes with both satisfaction and frustration, it takes energy and commitment, and – as is the case with work – the results sometimes exceed expectations, and sometimes they aren’t what they expect or would hope for. So when the vacation rolls around, my kid gets a break. That way, she can return to school rested and able to study and learn with fresh energy.

It’s Monday morning now, and my daughter is back at her desk in her classroom. Luckily, there are lots of little breaks coming up, what with Easter and Pentecost around the corner, so we’ll have plenty of chances to balance out the intensity of school with the relaxation that comes with the pressure being off for a few days.

I hope that my approach teaches her that work is work and play is play, and that it’s okay to draw some lines. Establishing a good balance between work and relaxation makes for a productive and happy life. I do hope she’ll end up being better at it than I am. I still haven’t quite found the off-switch when it comes to work but as my daughter learns that balance is important, she might teach me a thing or two.

Shelf Space

Today my daughter and I did a little bit of spring cleaning. Actually, we continued something we started a few weeks ago: our book cataloging project. At this point, I should probably mention that we might occasionally have a slight impulse control issue where the buying of books is concerned. As a result, with the amount of books we have lying about everywhere a clear picture of what we have in the way of reading material is much needed.

To be honest, my husband and I are both bibliophiles. The look of certain books, the feel, even the smell of them holds something enticing. Combine that with fairly broad interests and you end up with a severe shortage of shelf space.

We purge our collection every once in a while and weed out the books we don't feel the need to hold on to. We collect them – generally fiction of various genres – in bags and eventually end up taking them to the American Book Center for one of their trade-in days (where we get vouchers in return, which we promptly end up spending on more books; lather, rinse, repeat…)

About half the books I buy these days I buy with my children in mind: books that are fun for them now or will be fun for them when they're older, books that I used to love, classics that I hope they will read, books that will prompt them to think about issues and ideas, and books that reflect some of my own interests so that we can hopefully share them. Having these books for them gives me the opportunity to read with them and to them, and there's nothing quite like it. I can't really explain it, but there's a connection that comes from that that is unlike anything else.

But to get back to the spring cleaning, we finally decided to start organising our books properly this time, and actually cataloging the books we have has been very enlightening, as well as cathartic. I am finally beginning to get a clear picture again of what we have, and what I still have to read (no real need to buy anything new in the near future – not that that will stop me, of course).

After all this work, perhaps the only book I should allow myself to buy anymore is a book on how to exercise some self-control so I won't end up buying more books for a while.

Oh, and by the way: that dress is blue and black. It is so not white and gold!

 

Perseus, et al.

Today I read my daughter two chapters from Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief. She wanted me to read her a lot more (we’re at chapter 17 now). My kid is 7. She loves this book. To be honest, I’m having a grand old time with it myself.

For those of you who are miraculously unaware of this Percy Jackson I speak of: he is the creation of Rick Riordan (last name pronounced rye-er-dan, sort of; it rhymes with “fireman”, as per his website), whose site contains a wealth of educational resources and background materials in addition to the usual info on the books and the author.

Percy, by the way, is the son of Greek god Poseidon and a human mother and must learn to come to terms with his origins and the dangers and responsibilities they bring.

Ah, those Greek gods: always misbehaving. As you might have guessed, Percy isn’t my first encounter with the Greek pantheon. My fondness of the gods, heroes, and their adventures and exploits actually dates back to when I was quite little. One day, my father brought me a book of Greek myths as retold by Gustav Schwab (in a Dutch translation). Initially, my parents would read them to me, then I began reading them myself. In fact, I read that book so often that it has literally fallen apart. Oh, it’s still there, tattered and torn and held together by endless amounts of scotch tape but it’s not much to look at these days.

Then when I was seven my sister, who is seven years older than I am, had to learn the Greek alphabet (she went to a school where one of the required subjects was classical Greek; I would later attend the same school) and I helped her study. By the end of the study session we both knew the Greek alphabet, and I knew that I wanted to go to that school, because I imagined they could teach me the language those myths were originally written in so that I could read them in their original iterations. Didn’t quite work out that way (as it turned out, I wasn’t great at ancient Greek until I got some help from a wonderful tutor who, incidentally, had been my sister’s teacher years before; once I got it, though, I ran with it!), but still, I appreciate my classical education.

Then, when I was in my teens, one of the Dutch public broadcasting channels aired Jim Henson’s “The Storyteller: Greek Myths” and I got a fresh helping of my favourite stories. Unfortunately, only four myths were ever filmed.

To make a long story short (too late!), I have a long-standing love-affair with the Greek myths, which I seem to have passed on to my daughter. I had already read her a few of them from this book before we discovered Rick Riordan’s books, so she’d had a decent introduction to Percy Jackson’s extended family before she discovered the stories.

From the way she can’t get enough of Percy’s adventures, I can only deduce that her love of the adventures of the gods and heroes is in no way second to mine. I hope it lasts and that she will enjoy these tales in all their versions and retellings for years to come the way I’m enjoying Mr Riordan’s books right now. He does a great job of bringing the myths to life. I know there have been criticisms, such as that his stories are infused with undue slang, but the familiarity with which he treats the subject matter seems well in line with the treatment of the gods in the classical tradition, just updated for a new generation of readers. Of course, offending the gods would never do, but the fun of the Greek gods is that they’re so human. They make mistakes, they engage in improper behaviour, they’re just so marvellously fallible.

Once we’re done with Percy Jackson and the Olympians, we still have Percy Jackson and the Greek Gods and Percy Jackson: The Demigod Files. No, we won’t be running out of these stories for a while yet and I’m glad the gods, demigods and mythical creatures are being brought to life for a new generation of readers.

I hope Mr Riordan keeps the stories coming for a long time yet!

Cookies for a Cause

There has been a lot of door-to-door fundraising going on in our neighbourhood lately; it feels to me like it’s more than usual around this time of year. That could have something to do with the fact that the government has decided to cut funding to certain charities, causing them to have to resort to finding funding elsewhere.

Because these days it’s hard to get people to part with their money – times are quite tough at the moment – some charities offer some incentive or some item in return. And that is how we ended up buying cookie baking mix from a non-profit organisation called Live Your Talents. They’re an organisation dedicated to encouraging self-awareness in teenagers in order to give themselves some room for exploring their talents at a time in their lives when they experience a lot of pressure to make choices in preparation for future careers. I had never heard of them before, but the idea is certainly something I can get behind.

coconut cookies raw spoons

I wouldn’t say that I have a talent for baking per se but I’m not too shabby, so with the very limited instructions on the accompanying card I managed to turn out a small batch of rather tasty honey-oatmeal coconut cookies.

And the best part about these cookies: I won’t have to feel guilty when I eat them. After all, it’s for a good cause.

coconut cookies baked plate

Confessions of a 40-year Old Mom

I have a confession to make, and it’s just a little embarrassing.

A little under four months ago, I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy (no, that’s not my confession). His sister, who is seven years older, is thrilled with him, as are we all.

But for me, in addition to all the obvious delights of watching this little person grow and change and develop, there is a guilty pleasure that I now get to indulge in again: watching CBeebies.

We are a bilingual household, English and Dutch – at home, my husband and I primarily speak English to each other – but since we live in the Netherlands our primary language is Dutch and so initially when my daughter was little we would watch Dutch children’s television, which is very good. Dutch children’s TV consists of both original programming and a number of British (and other international) shows, dubbed in Dutch.

We noticed, however, that while our daughter could understand English perfectly she was very reluctant to speak it. To encourage her a little, I decided it might be a good idea for her to watch some English children’s television and that’s how we landed on CBeebies. Before you start thinking that we leave her entire verbal education up to TV viewing, rest assured that I have been reading to her since she could open her eyes. She’s always loved company and conversation, so there’s never been any shortage of interaction.

But like us, our daughter also loves film and television and if you love something you learn from it very easily. One great advantage to movie and television dialogue is that you don’t only learn words, but you learn words in context, making it easier to use them appropriately and correctly. This is especially true for children’s television, which is often geared towards that specific purpose.

Since I like to know what she watches, and which programmes she especially likes and why – it’s been very helpful in finding approaches to explaining things to her that she required some additional help with once she started going to school – I used to watch CBeebies with her. And I loved it!

Some shows are just funny, like the tales of the mischievous Timmy (I think he’s Shaun the Sheep‘s nephew) in Timmy Time. Some are educational, like The Octonauts – my daughter can spout some very cool facts about marine life these days – Andy’s Dinosaur Adventures and Numberjacks (math concepts, anyone?). Some shows appeal to the playful, like the educational dress-up show Let’s Play (you can find some episodes on YouTube; BBC is still very rigid about opening up content to users outside the UK). Some shows instill in children some useful social skills, like persistence, willingness to learn, the ability to take constructive criticism and understanding that sometimes you win and sometimes you lose; here I’m thinking of shows like Chuggington and Swashbucklers (again, YouTube).

There are the straight-up storytelling shows, like Driver Dan’s Story Train, Tinga Tinga Tales, In the Night Garden and 64 Zoo Lane, and of course the Bedtime Story. Some of our favourite children’s books are ones we first heard read during this segment of the  Bedtime Hour (I highly recommend Badly Drawn Dog – for the video, click here; and What Does Daddy Do? – for the video click here.).

And some shows are just brilliant in their observations of children, like Wooly and Tig, and Charlie and Lola, based on Lauren Child‘s equally brilliant children’s books. The latter is a particular favourite of ours. It speaks to children and adults equally: children recognise themselves, and we certainly recognise our children!

In short, there’s a lot of really good stuff on there and, frankly, it’s addictive. Or maybe that’s just because I’m a mom. Or still a child at heart.

Either way, thanks to our lovely little boy, I get to indulge with impunity for a few more years. And how I love my guilty little pleasure!

From the New World …

Before I start today’s post, a quick note on my frequency. Last week I announced “one post each day”. As it turns out, that may have been a tad ambitious. With our new baby in the house and a social life that is slowly beginning to resurface a little, I think it’s more realistic to publish one post each day, and to give myself one day off per week, simply to be able to keep up with my current pace of living, and also to give myself an opportunity, once a week, to relax and catch my breath.

After my day of rest, then, today’s post.

Lately, I haven’t been very good at managing my e-mail program’s inbox, and so – as was inevitable – my inbox overflowed today, and soon I was met with text messages and phone calls from friends and family who all saw their e-mails to me bounce.

It was time to clean up my inbox.

Enthusiastically, I set about doing exactly that, only when I sat down at my laptop and keyed in my password on pure finger memory, I didn’t get past the login screen and my password was rejected. Again, then again, and again. Somewhere in the back of my mind I vaguely remembered that my husband recently began practising typing on the Dvorak keyboard: an alternative keyboard that you can engage by adding the keyboard to your preferences in your settings. Surely, I thought, after practising typing in this totally different keyboard layout my husband would not have forgotten to switch back to the normal, US QWERTY keyboard, would he?

But, of course, he would.

Luckily, he keeps a “map” of the Dvorak keyboard next to his own computer. I found it and managed to translate the sequence of keys I needed to type in order to enter my own profile. Relief!

But what is Dvorak? For the complete story and logic behind it, you should check out this Dvorak website. Let me highlight a few things here already.

When the typewriter was first invented by Mr Christopher Latham Sholes, the keys were immediately next to each other, and simply placed in two rows directly above one another and alphabetically arranged from A to Z. One of the problems with the typewriter was the mechanism of the keys, which led to neighbouring keys often getting stuck if struck in quick succession. So Sholes rearranged the keys and placed them further apart in order to prevent this problem. How this led to the QWERTY keyboard is something I’ll leave you to read in the DVZine.

Some thirty years on, an educational psychologist and professor of education at the University of Washington in Seattle, Mr August Dvorak, decided to rethink the keyboard layout, and his research led him to the Dvorak simplified keyboard layout, based on logic and dedicated to fast and accurate typing.

(Mr Dvorak, incidentally, was distantly related to composer Antonin Dvorak, whose 9th Symphony is a work of staggering beauty and intensity.)

It turns out that the current standard keyboard layout, QWERTY, is remarkably conducive to repetitive strain injury, or RSI. The Dvorak keyboard would go a long way to preventing that ill, as typing fingers would no longer have to roam around the keyboard in order to type frequently used letter combinations. Rather, for the most part your fingers can remain on the home row – the central row of keys on the keyboard.

Using Dvorak would make typing faster, more accurate, and less hazardous to your wrists’ and hands’ health. Of course, QWERTY is so ingrained in everyone by now that Dvorak would be like learning a whole new language.

Still, with all the advantages to the Dvorak keyboard layout, that could very well be worth the effort. Perhaps you could motivate yourself by wearing this t-shirt

And no: I did not type this post in Dvorak.

Quickie

Just a quick, brief blog post after a fun but busy day.

Visiting friends and family is always great, and today was no exception: good company, happy children, wonderful food, good conversation and some much needed relaxation.

But it was a long day, so for today’s post I’ll have to settle for telling you that I’m a tired mom who will get a good night’s sleep after a day well spent.

The Pink Shoes

Our daughter is a very energetic girl. She doesn’t like sitting still, and she loves to dance. What better option to help her out with both, while simultaneously helping her acquire a skill, than to enrol her in dance classes?

The dancing bug she gets from my sister, who used to do ballet with verve and elegance when she was younger. My mom saved most of our stuff, and when she heard that our little miss was starting dance classes, she dug up my sister’s old ballet shoes and gave them to our little dancer. She was thrilled to receive one pair of black velveteen ballet shoes and one pair of plain white ballet shoes in just the right sizes, with the black ones fitting her when she started classes and the white ones being there to replace the black ones once she’d grown out of them.

Being a dedicated dancer, and very enthusiastic during classes, our girl has actually managed to wear out the white pair, and had thus worked through her supply of ballet shoes. It was a sad, yet happy occasion, because it meant a brand new pair of dancing shoes were now required.

We went online and from a site specialising in ballet clothing we ordered a pair of pink ballet shoes (“Just like Barbie!!” Squee!!). They came in today. Since each pair of feet is different, the shoes come with elastic straps that need to be sewn on by hand; this in order to ensure that they fit the feet just right: not too loose, not too tight.

Pink shoes

I guess I’d better get sewing then!

Once upon a Time …

Back when I was teaching Legal English at the University of Leiden, I once had to draft and supervise a resit for two students. My colleague and mentor has always maintained that teaching is a lot more successful if done with humour, so I decided to make this resit a little unusual, and a lot more fun than an ordinary resit would be.

I decided to write them an original case for their questions on English law, and the result was this cliché-ridden, unfinished contemporary American crime/detective story in film noir style and set around the 1950s. It had my students thinking hard, and possibly laughing harder.

The exam questions were basic questions on mortgage vs. hypotheek, contract, the legal profession, mens rea, criminal procedure, divorce, coroner’s court, wills and probate, trust, tort, and criminal prosecution.

After they had finished the exam, they wanted to know how the tale of mystery, murder and theft ended. I had to tell them I didn’t yet know myself. I suppose maybe one of these days I should see if I can finish it.

I present, for your amusement: Dick Snoop and the Case of the Lost Locket.

The Case of the Lost Locket

Dick Snoop

Private Investigator

My name on the door. I was officially in business.

I had just set up shop on the fourth floor of an old delapidated building on 39th Street. The rent was steep, but so were the stairs – I accepted it as a fact of life. Bottom line: my venture had to be legit; the only people better than me at snoopin’ around in someone else’s business were the IRS and I didn’t need them on my case while I was workin’ on somebody else’s. At least I hadn’t had to take a mortgage – that way I would’ve had the bank on my case as well and you know what they say: two’s company, three’s a crowd. I can hear you thinking: if you’re renting you gotta have a landlord. Well, he don’t exactly count as a person. He’s got more in common with a cockroach … a very rich cockroach.

Dick Snoop 2

This was my first morning in my new office. After thirty years of frustrating police work and a Captain breathing down my neck, I decided it was time to strike out on my own. I was just about to drink the hot coffee I had picked up on my way to work when there was a cool knock on the door. I said I was open for business and the door creaked when it swung inward.

The minute she walked into my office, I knew she was trouble: with legs up to there and lips redder than the fire truck I need so badly to put out the flames that were licking at my heart. She walked slowly up to my desk. I gestured for her to sit down but she declined. Instead she leaned over my desk and looked me straight in the eye. She said huskily: “I need your help. The police think I murdered my husband.”

I wasn’t surprised, her looks were lethal.

“And why do they think that?” I asked her.

“They found my letter opener sticking out of his chest.”

Compelling evidence.

“Honey,” I said, “You need a lawyer.”

“The coroner said it was murder,” she said.

“Smart man, the coroner,” I replied. “Go on.”

Dick Snoop 3

What she said next didn’t make things any better.

“The bastard was cheating on me…”

“Who? The coroner?”

She said nothing for a moment while I mentally slapped myself.

“Right, your husband.”

“I told him I wanted a divorce, but he wouldn’t give it to me. My family’s rich, and in case of a divorce he gets nothing. My late father made that provision in his will. He’d set up a trust fund for me. My late husband couldn’t touch a cent unless I gave it to him.”

I wanted to hear more, so I just sat and waited. She sat down. She had tears in her eyes, but it didn’t impress me. If a dame cries, especially one that looks like that, that means she’s trying to sell you something.

“Naturally, from the moment I found out I never gave him another cent,” she continued.

“Naturally,” I replied.

“But he found other ways to get money from me.” She got up and started unbuttoning her jacket, I was startled but I didn’t say anything. I just sat and waited. She was wearing something under it with no sleeves and a low neck. I liked the view but I didn’t like the scenery: there were bruises on her arms and shoulders and there was a deep red cut around her neck. She looked at her arms. “That’s where he grabbed me.” Then she reached round her neck. “And that’s where he tore off my necklace.”

Dick Snoop 4

She put her jacket back on and sat down again. “The locket on that necklace was very precious to me. I want it back. And I want you to prove that I didn’t murder my husband.”

She got up again and looked at me before she turned to walk out of my office. At the door she turned around. “And I didn’t murder him, Mr. Snoop.” She reached for the door.

“Wait!” I called after her. “How do I find you?”

She cocked an eyebrow. “Read the papers, Mr. Snoop.”

The door closed, and she was gone.

The (Illegal?) Sisterhood of the Yoga Pants

So the other day I was browsing my Facebook feed when I came across this article with the following headline:

“A Brief History of the GOP War on Yoga and Its Pants”, with the subtitle “A Montana state representative says the leggings ought to be illegal. Oh, and Speedos too.”

War on yoga pants? The leggings should be illegal? Surely this was an exaggeration! But alas, it was not. The state representative in question, Mr David Moore, apparently feels that yoga pants are too tight and therefore suggestive and therefore indecent. Based on this, I can only assume that he is deeply uncomfortable with particular parts of the human body, even when those parts are in fact fully covered by fabric.

Still, the man is at least consistent, as he goes on to explain that he feels this way not only about yoga pants, but about “any garment that “gives the appearance or simulates” a person’s buttocks, genitals, pelvic area or female nipple[,]” as the article goes on to report. The pelvic area? Really?

As though this was the point of yoga pants.

The thing is: yoga pants are form-hugging and made of pleasantly stretchy fabric for a very good reason: most of us yoga practitioners will engage in contortionism of a higher or lower order at some point during a session, and what we don’t need at those moments is for those challenging poses that require a significant amount of concentration as it is to be additionally complicated by the distraction of loose-fitting clothes whose folds and extra fabric will inevitable get in the way. In other words: the clinginess is entirely functional.

Still, it’s not all bad. After further reading I found out that Mr Moore at least does not want to outlaw my comfort wear altogether, he merely wants it to be illegal if worn “in public”. I am still allowed to wear yoga pants while doing yoga at home, or in a privately owned studio or resort. I would just not be allowed to wear them in public, so my doing yoga in a park or on a beach while wearing appropriate attire would mean that I would engaging in illegal behaviour. How exciting. And how non-sensical. I would argue that it would be many times more indecent or at least distracting if I performed a bridge pose or a bend-to-leg pose or even just a downward-dog pose in a still-perfectly-legal bikini, for instance. Then again, perhaps the representative plans to place contemporary ladies’ swimwear on the indecent list next?

Actually, while we’re on the topic of swimwear, it seems the Montana representative is, at least, equal opportunity as to what constitutes indecent: Speedos are also far too tight to be decent, so there’s that. For Speedos, this proposal would be even more limiting. You wouldn’t be allowed to wear Speedos in public? Since most people tend to wear swimwear when they go swimming or sunbathing at a public pool or the beach (very few people have access to a private pool), that would leave precious few opportunities to wear Speedos.

Still, my favourite bit from the article is this: “The Republican from Missoula said tight-fitting beige clothing could be considered indecent exposure under his proposal.” Yes, quite. See, everyone’s skin is beige. Therefore, if tight-fitting beige items are worn by anyone at all, they will simply seem naked, which is, of course, evil. Now it all makes sense.

But let’s get back to the initial premise: “Yoga pants should be illegal in public anyway,” in the words of the Montana state representative. A concise summary of his arguments would be that these tight-fitting yoga pants are suggestive and indecent and lewd. And just … just … well, evil! I say: why stop at banning them from public life? Just cut this off at the source and make the sale of the things illegal, since the items themselves should definitely be illegal. Same for Speedos, naturally.

So tight-fitting beige items are evil, and yoga pants in general are evil. I shudder to think what it all means for beige yoga pants…