Monday, January 30, 2012

Play On.

My sons do not own a lot of Lego.

I thought they did. There's a huge tub of it in our family room. They have projects sitting on their bookshelves. The cats are forever finding odd bits and running around the house with blocks in their mouths. But an internet search for storage solutions disabused me the notion that our collection was huge. There are people who spend a lot of time and money storing, sorting, preserving, cataloguing and acquiring vast amounts of Lego.

My sons get new two or three new small sets a year. They build them, play with them for a while, then dismantle the pieces and build their own projects. Because I value creative play, I love that Zarf and Klaxon invent their own projects and do not treat Lego sets as if they are models, or fret about mixing together sets.

(The Titan of the Sea, by Zarf)

Playing with toys -- such a novel concept.

• • • • •

Lego has begun to market a new product line called Friends aimed at girls.  Critics complain that the line panders to stereotypes and lament that Lego use to be gender neutral.

(This one is my favourite: it's an inventor's workshop)

I don't remember Lego being gender neutral in the seventies and eighties when I was growing up. ONE SINGLE advertising campaign in the 80s might have readily employed the image of a tomboy, but I don't recall that decade as bastions of gender-free fun-time. I played Lego with my brother and his friends, or by myself. Usually the latter since I liked building shops and houses, whereas the boys were making vehicles or weapons.

I did not play Legos with other girls, because the girls in my neighbourhood preferred Barbies, Cabbage Patch Kids, Fashion Plates and Pound Puppies to bricks, tiles, baseplates and SNoTs. I am not casting aspersion on the girls I knew growing up. Rather I am questioning if women are accurately remembering their childhoods.

On social media I see comments from women my age expressing a nostalgic love for Lego which they played all the time. These women also tend to anti-Friends Lego. Sure -- I bet some women loved playing Lego. But how many owned their own Lego bricks or did they (as I suspect) borrow their brothers? Any women other than myself pass down a Lego collection to their children?

If the Friends line had been around thirty years ago, I'd have wanted it. Ideally Friends will operate like a gateway drug. Girls who receive Friends sets may play with these sets in early elementary when adherence to gender norms is strongest and continue to play with more advanced, less purple sets as they grow.

• • • • •

Do you think it's fair that Lego's attempt to diversify their market share is met with derision, but no one makes a peep that American Girl and Maplelea dolls are marketed exclusively to girls?

• • • • •

Don't tell JK Rowling or Lego -- lest they come after my mom for copyright infringement -- but she made these awesome pillows for Zarf and Klaxon based on their Harry Potter mini figures:


Sunday, January 29, 2012

More Tail Tales.

A few weeks ago we received a notice to renew Falafel's dog license for 2012. This was going to necessitate a trip to the municipal  district's animal control office, aka the Used Pet Store. I persuaded Mr Wrath that Osiris -- the most social cat on the planet -- might benefit from having a feline friend. Of course, in my world persuaded is a synonym for relentlessly badgered until he gave up just so he could have a moment's peace

On Monday, the boys and I renewed the dog license and I asked if there were any kittens up for adoption. There were none, but they had a very gentle, beautiful, flame-point Siamese cat up for adoption.  We named her Ezri:


We brought her home on Tuesday and she finally stopped purring on Friday. She and Osiris are getting along well enough. They didn't meet face to face until Thursday, but he'd been sitting outside the door to the guest room (where she was quarantined) alternately hissing or trilling at her. After a few brief introductions (instigated by Ezri and Osiris who kept streaking through open doorways) Ezri spent most of Saturday as a free range cat. Osiris is either sniffing at her butt or trying to get her to wrestle. They're well on their way to being friendly, provided Ezri NEVER AGAIN COMES CLOSE TO his cat tree. 


Ezri and the dog are getting along well, as they are both of a similar temperament: mellow, keen for a cuddle, and slightly terrified by Osiris' spastic and enthusiastic attempts to play. We're not sure of her age (probably less two years old), but she's the same height as Osiris, though her legs and tail are about 75% the length of his limbs. 


And THAT is why I didn't blog last week. 

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Don't You Just Hate It When...

...you don't realize until your mouth is full that you've mistaken your blackhead astringent for your mouthwash?


On the advice of my husband, I'm no longer reading whilst I perform my nightly ablutions.

Friday, January 20, 2012

DEWEY does not DEFEAT TRUMAN!

PIPA and SOPA have been shelved. I'm surprised. I'm happy, but a bit incredulous. I thought Wednesday's Blackout protests were lacklustre and that the majority of internet users were apathetic. I assumed SOPA and PIPA would pass.

It turns out that I am victim of my own sampling bias. There was hardly any SOPA/PIPA chatter on my twitter feed. Only a handful of the sites I frequent were blackouted or sported an anti-SOPA/PIPA message or graphic. But my social media networks OBVIOUSLY do not represent the web as a whole and my online community is not nearly as diverse as I like to think. There were many high-profile on-line protests, and many Americans contacted their government officials. I'm very grateful.

Yesterday I wondered if getting involved with the protest was ill-conceived. Did I annoy people with my political tweets and my blacked-out blog? Was this protest best left to tech-savvy, (largely) males, born after 1980? Was it delusional to think my voice/opinion/blog mattered? Am I like Hal and Barry in Flashback? I can't work the computerized jukebox and am shattered that "Born To Be Wild" has been replaced with INXS. "Those soulless bastards!" I long to yell. Ugh. I hate feeling sympathy for aging-hippies.

Anyway, good job young people of Reddit, et al! You young whippersnappers saved my blog header! I *heart* you. NOW GET OFF MY LAWN AND TURN DOWN THAT HIPPITY-HOPPY MUSIC!

• • • • •

For the benefit of the Young Turks who rule the internet, an explanation of this post's title can be found here.

• • • • •

Does anyone else think that PIPA and SOPA sound like the names of two mascots from some long forgotten Olympic Games hosted by an Asian nation? Or is it just me?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Warp Speed (Not Really) Wednesday Post: SQUEEEEEEEE! CUMBERBATCH!

It's been over a month since I composed a Warp Speed Wednesday post. I was looking forward to writing one this week, but felt it was more important to participate in yesterday's SOPA/PIPA protest. Instead of waiting yet another week to pontificate on Star Trek, I'm just going to post a day late. Hey. This is a personal blog, I can make up my own rules.

Filming started this week on Star Trek 12, aka the second Star Trek featuring the newer, younger, prettier cast. The internet has been rife with speculation. Most of the chatter centers around the unsubstantiated rumour that the film's villain will be Khan Noonien Singh. This idea caught hold when Benicio Del Toro was linked to the project. He's since dropped out, and Benedict Cumberbatch was hired on.

Before I watched the UK tv show Sherlock, I'd seen Cumberbatch's name and photo in magazines and online and I thought he looked...erm...well, a bit odd, truthfully. Now that I've seen that show I still think he's odd, but he's also brilliant and sexy in a "post (really fabulous) coitus, I'll sit up all night and watch you sleep," emotionally-distant kind of way. So while I'm excited that he's going to be in the movie, I just don't see him carrying off the role of viciously brilliant Khan. I suspect Cumberbatch is really an alien, so I want him to play an Andorian.


Another name linked to the film is Alice Eve, who I had never heard of before last week.  I'm going to predict that her character's role was initially called, "the hot -- but naive -- girl who Kirk sleeps with and who will tragically die in Act 3."

I already hate her.


• • • • •

Have you seen this?


It's so awesome. Five words. One image. Four pop-culture franchises.  Millions of nerds doubled over with laughter.

Long live the internet!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Blackouts Shouldn't Just Be For Teenage Girls Binge Drinking Malibu Rum.





Today I'm participating in a global protest against two proposed American laws by blacking out my blog.


Written under the guise of stopping piracy, the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect Intellectual Property Act are really attempts by large corporations to censor free speech. These bills will curtail freedom of expression and stop innovation, creativity and commerce -- not just in America, but everywhere.


Help STOP SOPA.


If you are an American, write letters to your elected representatives voicing your disgust with these bills. If you're not American -- there isn't a whole lot you can do. Just sit back and enjoy the internet before the American government ruins it.


Twas fun while it lasted.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Not My Zinest Hour.

We're going through a cold snap. It's -27ÂșC right now and the boys aren't feeling well. This is a week to hibernate with books and magazines.

• • • • •

I read Death Comes to Pemberley. It was awful. It was not good. I would not recommend it. That is to say, I think you would be better served reading some other tome. Chief among my complaints is that PD James believes her readers are dullards who won't remember important plot points unless she repeats them -- with only slight alterations -- multiple times. Only after frequent exposure will the imbecilic readers of this book, by PD James,  retain knowledge germane to the plot.

• • • • •

One of the items on my To Do List this week is ordering two magazine subscriptions for Zarf and Klaxon. I've been meaning to do this for at least six months, but I can't make up my head. Owl seems like a good bet, but it (along with Chickadee, Zoobooks and Highlights) ) is available for the free at the library. Why pay good money for something I can get for free? I almost bought a year's worth of National Geographic Kids. Then I picked up a copy at the grocery store. I'm not thrilled with the amount (a lot) and type (video games and snack foods) of advertisements.

My interest in this notion wanes and waxes with the arrival and disposal of the Lego "magazine" that my boys receive in the mail. But a new edition is due soon, so my motivation has returned. Anyone have suggestions for non-sports, pro-geek, science-loving emergent readers?

• • • • •

With an eight year old son and another rapidly approaching age ten, I'm finding Parents magazine to be increasingly irrelevant. My least favourite column in the magazine is the "It Happened To Me" section. This really should be called "Something Awful Happened To My Child And I'm Going To Make You Totally Paranoid That It Will Happen To Your Child, Too." It's anecdotal fear mongering in less than 150 words.

If I ran Parents magazine they'd have a column called "Settle The Fuck Down Already." It would feature mantras for mothers to recite on a daily basis. They'd all be variations on the theme that random things happen to good people for no discernible reason and maybe instead of freaking out, modern-day mothers should just accept the fact that we are -- like every generation of mothers who've come before us -- NOT TO BLAME for being unable to control EVERYTHING in the universe.

This will never happen. People being at peace with their fate isn't really good for advertising revenue, is it?

But I'd really like it if some parenting magazine started a monthly feature about mothers who drive themselves crazy thinking they can prepare for every eventuality. Or maybe one could print little quizzes so parents can learn to differentiate between people who give sound medical advice and those who do not. An example of the former would people with medical degrees from REAL universities. An example of the latter would be anonymous people on the interwebs who say that vaccinations do  NOT prevent children from dying from communicable, preventable diseases, but instead give kids autism, leukemia, shingles, or moobs.  I would also definitely read an article called "The University of Google Is Not A Real Place, So Do Not Listen To Jenny McCarthy When She Tells You She Is The Provost."

• • • •

Do you hate it when you turn the page of a magazine and come close to being suckered into reading advertising copy masquerading as an article? It's not unlike when you read a blog post with a glowing review for a product or service, and not until the last line does the blogger say they were paid or given graft for their biased opinion. I always feel like a fool. It makes me less inclined to try the item. It makes me trust that blogger just a little bit less.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Beginner's Guide to Homeschooling. It's Serious Stuff.

 When my children's science lessons take the form of sitting on the chesterfield, watching streaming videos of NASA rockets launch, they are benefiting from the political strife of the 19th and early 20th century and from the philosophy that Canada is a mosaic, not a melting pot. Homeschooling is legal in Canada because of legislation (ie the Manitoba Act) that protected the rights of early Canadians to access education in accordance with their religious and cultural heritage (namely English/Protestant or French/Catholic). Today the right to homeschool is guaranteed by the federal government, but education (including homeschooling) is regulated by provincial and territorial governments.

Deciding to homeschool is a big deal. It can be an overwhelming choice to make.  It's actually just the first decision in a long line of decisions that you'll make.

If you're Canadian and you're going to homeschool, the absolutely first thing to do is enter "department of education" and the name of your province into a search engine. I apologize for not posting the actual links to all thirteen education ministries, but with the rate government sites are overhauled, the links would all be dead within a few weeks. There are a few things you must check out:
– the legal requirements for homeschooling, ie writing a letter to your local school district, submitting forms, meeting regularly with a representative from the department
– the amount of support offered to homeschoolers. Contrary to the attitude created in popular media, the government is very supportive of homeschooling. There may be funding, programs, or curriculum available. You might be permitted access to the school's gym equipment or supply cabinet or be invited to participate in special presentations and events.
– determine how your homeschooled child might access counselling services, speech or occupational therapists, etc.
– the documents spelling out the educational goals that the provincial government has set for each grade. These might be describe as curriculum goals, prescribed learning outcomes, or education objectives.

The latter documents will be geared toward use by teachers, but they're vital when picking curriculum. Your family might not always have the financial or emotional wherewithal to homeschool. The smooth re-integration of your child into a bricks-and-mortar school is NOT a trifling detail and I recommend keeping your child on equal footing with his peer group, as much as possible. If nothing else, look at the sections on math and language arts. Familiarity with these educational bench marks will also be helpful if you begin to suspect your child has a developmental delay that must be treated quickly.

When you've got a grasp on these somewhat dull, nitty-gritty details you'll be ready to look at buying curriculum. Here are things to keep in mind…
– kindergarten today is more academically intense than kindergarten ten or fifteen years ago. It reverberates through subsequent grades, and your own memories of school won't jive with the new reality
– the current trend is to emphasize literature-based education at an earlier ages Your children will be expected to write sooner and with greater proficiency than you and your peers.
– foreign produced curriculum doesn't always correlate to Canadian standards. For kindergarten, I bought Klaxon the first set of Singapore Math books. The books that were sold in Canada as Kindergarten level, but were sold as Early Pre-School in American markets. I believe in Singapore they were marketed as Pre-Natal workbooks.
– be careful when ordering curriculum from the US. Translating worksheets and lessons into SI gets old fast. The sections on counting money are completely useless. Your child will be frustrated when texts assume a familiarity with US geography and history that they lack.
– sometimes books that are labelled science are really propaganda generated or inspired by the Discovery Institute with the aim of mis-educating people about real science. Familiarize yourself with the lingo and double-speak employed by this movement. Also be aware that Intelligent Design™ is NOT the same as theistic evolution.

I have made no bones about my complete lack of patience with the push by certain Christian sects to demonize scientific knowledge. I struggle not only to keep these books out of my house, but also with whether or not I will financially support homeschool supply stores who support this agenda. Generally I do not. However, I do deal with the Canadian Home Education Resource store for  language arts, social studies and Painted Lady Butterfly pupa in the springtime.

I buy most of our reference books and programs from Amazon.ca or Chapters-Indigo. If time permits I order in titles via a small independent bookstore in the nearest big city. For information about grade-appropriate texts, I recommend a visit to the Sonlight site. Poke around for inspiration. Same thing for the Calvert school site. I'd love to buy more science kits from the Steve Spangler store. But shipping from the US is cost-prohibitive, and there are many similar products on Mastermind Toys.

And this concludes the driest post I hope to ever write. To reward you for making it to the end, I present the men of Leverage...








Le sigh.

• • • •

This is my second post in a series about homeschooling in Canada. I promise the next post won't be so dry. In that installment I'm going to name drop some of my favourite titles for text books, work books, read alouds and reference material. Plus list manipulatives that have been useful to our family.




Tuesday, January 10, 2012

At Least They Didn't Call Her Tiana May.

After a few days of not blogging I struggle with inspiration for a new post. "I've been gone for more than a week, I should have something really juicy/interesting/personal/funny to share with the six people who read my blog -- but WHAT?" I pondered yesterday.  Quite frankly, I've nothing of substance to write. Instead I'll just begin with...

Blue Ivy Carter is a dull, but not overly horrible name.

If this were 2007 I could probably churn out a few hundred words about the awfulness of the name given to Beyonce and Jay-Z's progeny. Alas years of watching celebrities give their children stupid names (Zuma, Clover, Apple, Buddy Bear, Kal-El, Jermajesty, Banjo, Princess Tiaamii, and so on) have taken their toll. In 2012 the bar for shitastic names has been set very low and Blue Ivy easily passes. Quite frankly, I was hoping the baby would be named Credenza, or something equally random.

A while back someone alleged I was a "mean girl" for -- amongst other supposed offences -- mocking baby names. I dismiss this out of hand. Firstly, I hate the phrase "mean girl."  Girls who psychologically or physically hurt other girls are bullies even if our culture feels safer assigning a cute label to their viciousness. Furthermore "mean girl" is now applied to any female who stands up for herself, a behaviour that even today is seen as unbecoming to a woman. I wish this sexist phrase would fall from favour.

Secondly, I'm not making fun of the babies, but rather their parents. Parents who pick outlandish names (ie Bear Blu) want attention. In courting public validation for their cleverness, they risk censure.

Thirdly, show me a baby and I will coo over their little fingers and their tiny toes no matter how bad the name given to them by their misguided parents. It's hypocritical, but I do not publicly ridicule the baby names chosen by real life friends (and I extend this label to my fellow bloggers), just celebrities who are strangers to me. Also non-celebrities generally know it's a bad idea to give a human being a career limiting name (ie Sparrow) and so there is less material for me to work with.

My final justification for mocking baby names, is that names are really subjective. I'm sure there are people who think my sons' names (one is an ethnic, vowel-rich name that is hard for English-speakers to pronounce, and the other is an uber-Bible name that we chose despite not being Christians) are awful. But I'm not a fragile flower who needs her opinions and tastes affirmed by strangers and I can't abide by people who are otherwise.

Next up in the What Will They Name The Baby sweepstakes: Jennifer Garner and Jessica Simpson. Do you think one of them will use Credenza? What about Ottoman




Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Year That Was...

I'm reinventing a meme I saw in the summer into a Year In Review post:

In 2011, what was the...

…most beautiful post (on your blog)?
I love what I wrote about our very old, very wonderful dog, Falafel.

…most popular post (on your blog)?
By far the most popular post in the last year is my parody of the Tiger Mom essay. Many people continue to read about incorporating Star Trek episodes into homeschool lessons. Search engines continue to direct readers to the post "written by" Laureen Harper, my close, personal, imaginary friend. Ditto for everything I wrote about Will and Kate. A curious number of people look for photos showing Natalie Portman's pre- and post-op nose -- WHY?! Less disheartening, and more humbling is the stats showing people are reading my thoughts on going grey.

…most controversial post (on your blog)?
Ugh. Let's not re-open that particular can of worms, okay? Instead look at this photo of my kitten:


CUTE!  Everyone loves photos of cats sleeping in boxes, right!? Especially cats as cute as Osiris. We are still besotted with him even when he morphs into a bloodthirsty ghoul.  In honour of his first Christmas my mom even made him a stocking:


She spelled his name in hieroglyphs! I think my mom should open her own Etsy store -- don't you agree? Speaking of Etsy (pardon my heavy handed, clumsy use of segues) this is what we gave my mom (who is a total Harry Potterhead) for Christmas:


I bought this wizard boy pillow from the Pantoufle de Verre boutique on Etsy. I'm very pleased with the quality and service. I'm also pleased that my sons did NOT ruin the surprise -- they were really excited about this gift. 

…most helpful post (on your blog)?
People regularly come to my blog when researching tattoos. Search phrases that I've seen:
        √ tattoo for new mom
        √ want tattoo for mom
        √ new mom wants tattoo
        √ ideas for tattoo for mom with new baby
        √ new baby tattoo for dad
        √ tattoos for breeders
        √ tattoo baby name
        √ Chakotay's face tattoo
        √ Star Trek tattoo
        √ mom and dad tattoos in chinese

 If Tattoos are the New Mom Jeans stops even one person from getting a tattoo under the mistaken guise that tattoos are anything other than symbols of middle-class conformity, that post has served its purpose.

…post whose success surprised you?
Many people are seeking pictures and information about damaged toenails. I'm not a doctor -- though I sometimes play one on the internet -- and I'd like to advise anyone with a damaged toenail to consult a podiatrist. I wish I'd done that seven months ago. 

…post that you didn't feel got the attention it deserved?
I was surprised -- and quite frankly disappointed -- that my post about the under representation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in Star Trek didn't get much attention. It's time to gay up Trek, because while this photo is awesome, it just doesn't go far enough:


…post that made you most proud?
 Of all the things I wrote this year, my favourite was Why Trekkie Mothers are Superior. As I noted above, it is really popular and that makes me love it all the more.

• • • •

Oh, and before I forget:

Happy New Year!