Yearning for learning

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Lecture Hall Yearning for learning

I miss school. The learning part mostly, but the thermos of lemonade and Wagon Wheels were pretty cool too.

I’ve missed it for a while, but I knew things were serious when I started reading my daughter’s high school Geography textbook and bribed her into a “chat” about igneous rock formations and soil erosion. I was halfway through making a set of flash cards for conjugating my son’s grade four level French verbs when the kids staged an intervention and told me enough was enough. They’re smart kids and for the most part they get things on their own. As it is they rarely need my help with homework and my absconding with their textbooks is one of the only ways I can get my hands on “real” school materials.

More university  courses would be lovely, and I could go back to take a course for kicks, but it’s too expensive a hobby for now. I’ve tried book clubs for literary discussion, but almost no one wants to make flow charts about overlapping Gothic themes in contemporary literature and my “Come dressed like your favourite ‘Satanic Verses’ character” idea was shot down in flames, almost literally.

I just want to know more stuff! Knowing stuff is all I have! I love knowing stuff because stuff is super interesting and you never know when you’re going to need stuff. I am an information hoarder, where instead of cat fur and empty tuna cans, I want to know what comprised the basis of an ancient Roman’s diet and why does every episode of Frasier resemble a Shakespearean comedy and how the feudal system literally changed the landscape and what the hell does HTML stand for? These are some of the questions that run on loop in my head almost constantly, and as soon as one question is answered another takes its place. Reading is great and I do a lot of that, but there’s something very appealing – intimate even – that comes from listening to someone lecture on a topic they’re passionate about. One of my favourite classes in University was  “Rural Sociology” seminar. I took it because it fulfilled a requirement and honestly I had no idea what the syllabus would include. It turned out to be far and away one of the more fascinating courses I took because although at first glance the learning material looked dry – forestry, fishing, and farming practices in Canada – the Professor was so passionate about the material that when I scanned the room at the bored teenage faces listening, I wanted to tie all of their shoelaces together.

Apparently there are some intriguing and informative University lectures available on iTunes and through mail-order catalogs and I’ve also been thinking of doing a “Documentary a Day” self-challenge. This morning I caught the tail end of one on motorcycle gang culture in Winnipeg and it was giddy-with-the-learnin’-bug-goosebumps awesome. If you’ve seen a good documentary or read an interesting non-fiction book lately – no matter how obscure – I’d love to hear about it.

(Fires up the popcorn machine.)

*image courtesy of WikiCommons


Ask a silly question…

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It’s not uncommon for parents to sometimes look at their children and wonder “Who the hell are you and when does your spaceship return?” I have those moments often and it’s usually when my kids bring home reports cards or receive glowing verbal reports of their “attentive and respectful” behaviour. While I think it’s great that my kids are well-behaved, I can’t take full credit for it because I know parents far better than me who work hard at parenting and have still have kids who have the ability to kill sperm with a single shriek at 100 paces. It’s a crapshoot folks; sometimes you win at the lottery and sometimes you don’t. But there’s balance in the universe because while my kids get excellent grades without stress, they also do things like take all of the garbage bags for flags to decorate a makeshift backyard jousting arena and also eat ALL the Oreo pudding cups even though I emphatically expressed how these cold creamy treasures are the only things which bring me joy three days every month. So yes; parenting is a “win some, lose some, lose some more, call-it-a-draw, lose again” proposition.

The biggest and most obvious difference between my children and myself comes in the math department. I can’t count past 12 without a pen and paper and in grade three I risked schoolyard taunting by faking diarrhea in order to spend half an hour in the bathroom rather than submit to “Speed Round” multiplication drills. I may not know my times-tables, but I did perfect “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow” thanks to the awesome acoustics of the first floor primary bathroom.

Math is not something I “get” because I don’t think logically. I think emotionally. Why is eight plus eight sixteen? What does it mean? How does it make you FEEL? I don’t like things that are concrete and have definitive value; I’d rather analyse an entire novel than figure out the tip on a bill ending in .57. My kids think I’m nuts, and they have many supporters. They are logical thinkers, these two, and both excel at math and science, and even when they don’t know the answer, they turn it around so that that’s your problem, not theirs, because it was probably a dumb question anyway.

Case in point – a grade four math test returned home with a mark of 22 out of a possible 23. Only one mark was missed, but I would have given it to him for sheer balls:

 Ask a silly question...I’ve posted in a few other places this month as well. I’m at talking about some nice guys and some jerks and all sorts of other terrible people. and today I have a post up at about how Halloween was kinda sorta better when we ran feral in packs of masked children.


Choking on her dust

| Posted in Family, Health, Writing | By

leaving you in my dust Choking on her dust

My daughter starts high school next September. Her grade eight teacher tells me she should be placed in the Advanced Program at high school – that my daughter is a hard worker, a fast learner, and that she retains information.

I hope they offer “Emptying the Dishwasher 101,” and “General Laundry Folding Techniques” next semester.

She does indeed have excellent study habits, and refuses to miss school  for almost any reason. I say this not to brag, but in the same way that I would tell you my son once buried our compost bin in 3 feet of mud and that I am 39 years old and need compression stockings and blood pressure medication– because it’s true.

Last night her future high school hosted an orientation for grade eight students and their parents. Bubbly high school seniors in black polo shirts with popped collars gave the kids warm cookies and a tour of the school while telling them what to expect in terms of uniforms, dances and clubs, and delicious hot cafeteria lunches. They told them all about study abroad possibilities and travel opportunities and how they could earn credits by building schools in the Dominion Republic!

At the same time, parents were corralled into the freezing audigymnateria where school officials in suits and ties told us how much we had to pay for uniforms, how much we had to pay for dances and clubs and lunches, and also how to begin the organ donation process so that we could afford to have our kids build schools in the Dominion Republic.

When the parent presentation was over, the parents of these intelligent, quick-learning studious children in the Advancement Placement program were invited to another room for further discussion.

I was almost late getting there, to that Advanced Placement meeting.

My finger was stuck in my purse zipper.


How an Institution of Higher Learning would ever allow me to graduate is beyond me

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I graduate from University in a few weeks.

A real one.

I’m technically done with my studies this coming week, when all my final assignments will be handed in, but until then I’m milking it with the “alllllmmmmmmost there” shit.  I hope that’s okay with you because I worked my ass off and I AM GOING TO MILK THIS.

But it is becoming apparent that while I  have learned a lot about English literature, social philosophy and Undergraduate sexual prowess (Overheard conversations people, overheard) it appears as though I have learned little common sense or future planning. (Or math, but who needs that hassle anyway?)

Case in point:

I received an email from the University bookstore stating the hours and times for their annual textbook buy-back period. They’ll buy all new and gently used textbooks for a portion of their original cost and then pass on that saving to students next year. I have never taken my books in before, since I felt the previous year’s textbooks could be useful in the following year’s studies. And they were – for stacking up high enough to prop my tired feet on while I wrote another essay about some facet of Victorian women’s literature showcasing elements of blah blah blah.

I loaded up two old-lady trolleys (Which, as a matter of pride, were NOT borrowed, but from my personal collection) and set off to the re-sale counter. I sold every single book I had ever bought from the school. I sold Anthropology, Sociology, History, Physics, Philosophy and Geography. I sold poetry anthologies, I sold novels, I sold atlases. I even sold my 15 pound, hardcover copy of Chaucer’s entire works.

I needed the money – I’m a University graduate now.

I left there with $149.95 in my pocket, happy that not only could I buy groceries this week, I was passing on savings and knowledge to another freshly Oil of Olayed, enthusiastic 37-year-old single-mother freshman.  I returned home, satisfied and eager to complete the full circle of my education and was sure that while experiencing this high I could knock out those final essays within hours.  I sat down at my computer and reached for the required reading ….

….that I had just sold for $7.


10 things to do before you graduate University

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graduation 10 things to do before you graduate University

As of today, there are seven weeks left in my undergraduate University career. To say I am starting to panic is putting it mildly. I am freaking out capital F, double- underlined-large-open-circle dotting the “i.”

There is so much I haven’t done yet. As a mature* student I understand that there are many facets of university life I’ve had to forgo, most of them willingly. Not once has “Brittany” asked me to hold back her hair while she puked in her purse. I have never lived in a dorm, never attended a sleepover at Caitlin’s or Katelyn’s or Kaitlin’s, and never done anything I can excuse or qualify later under the umbrella dismissal clause of “but that was back in college.”

When “typical” students were painting their game faces with our school mascot (some kind of a flying chicken creature) and tacking up Bob Marley posters to cinderblock walls, I was reading Chaucer to my kids at night in lieu of bedtime stories and teaching them how to order take-out dinners online.

But I’ve got seven weeks left until it’s all over, and I’m determined to make the best of it.

Except now, as I’m writing this, the things on my list seem unlikely to happen. I don’t have a lot of time left, and there is actually some real school work that needs to be done. But I am on a mission! I am in control of my own destiny! I am steering this here boat, and I am headed for open water with no GPS and several bottles of cranberry vodka! So I propose to merely modify these goals, by utilizing resources at hand. I will not give up my goals, merely make them more attainable by lowering the standard slightly.

thingstodobeforeyougraduateuniversity2 10 things to do before you graduate University

I anticipate problems only with #3. I’m probably taking my chances entering a house of God.

Am I missing anything?


*Mature in the chronological sense only.


I have high expectations and possibly A.D…Look! Something shiny!

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 I have high expectations and possibly A.D...Look! Something shiny!

This is for procrastination skills.

I have been working on an essay for my Canadian History class for what seems like forever. It’s probably only been a few weeks, but I’ve straightened a lot of pictures, dusted door frames, organized a bucket of Lego heads, and cooked 717 freezer meals since I began. I have a hard time staying focused on things sometimes. In fact, I started this blog post in 2009.

The essay this week is about gender role and labour division in pioneer communities in Upper Canada. Woot.  It’s due at 3:30 today and it is thisclosetobeingdone. My work is never late, but let’s just say I am very familiar to the feeling of the underside of the wire.

The subject matter was interesting at the beginning. But all the joy has been sucked out of it from the sheer amount of reading I’ve had to do on the subject. Eventually all the information just starts to morph together into a huge mass of knowledge that I cannot swallow. Or puke back up onto paper. Or even care about anymore.  In fact, if I ran into a pioneer woman today I’d probably punch her right in the face.

I really hope I don’t have to write any essays about puppies or abandoned orphans next semester.

Regardless of how boring I may find the subject matter, I have high expectations of myself. I am in class all day with many people whose vocabularies seem to consist of “like, literally!” or “O-M-G. She SAID that?” or “Ohmygawddddyouguys? I was so uber-drunk last night that I crashed at Brittany’s/Caitlin’s/the bus shelter and so now I like, literally cannot believe SHE SAID THAT!”

So here is my breakdown of grade acceptability:

A+          You are moderately intelligent, but don’t get cocky.
A             Hmm.
A-           Future employment likely includes a shopping cart.
B+           Is the Canadian government aware you drive?
B             When people look at you funny? THAT’S DISAPPOINTMENT.
B-            Start making end plans.
C             This is a “C.” C is the third letter of the alphabet. ALPHABET. That is a collection of letters. COLLECTION- a group of similar objects…Oh, just forget it.

My fingers are crossed, but I’m still buying an orange fluorescent vest and heading to the grocery store with my resume.




It’s what I do.

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I ask a lot of questions.

I am curious about everything and everyone. There is no subject about which I don’t want to know more. If PM tells me someone he knows had a baby, I am not satisfied with mere weight and sex information. I need to know when labour started, how long it lasted, if the mother plans on breastfeeding, where I can send cloth diaper info, what names she called her partner during delivery and which Republican President the placenta most closely resembled.

I would make an excellent lawyer except that: a) I can’t afford law school; b) I think everyone is guilty; and c) I would spend more time in prison for contempt than someone serving a sentence for keeping body parts in his fridge.*

This isn’t a new phenomenon. I’ve always been this way. When I was in grade three, our class studied hermit crabs as part of a science unit. I could not know enough about these creatures. Where did they sleep? How long did they live? What do they eat? Why were they called “hermits?” What was a “hermit,” anyway? Was the guy who lived in an empty dumpster behind Kentucky Fried Chicken and wore a crocheted beer can hat a hermit? Where-did-you-get-these-crabs-Can-I-take-one-home-for-the-weekend-How-was-our-changing-ecology-and-climate-affecting-their-life-cycles-and-reproductivity-andohalso-is-Canadian-Wildlife-Protective-Services-aware-they-were-in-our-possession?

Our teacher said he need to leave the classroom “to check.” Even at eight years old I was pretty sure that was the teacher code for “I’m going to do whiskey shots in the staff room.”

No one seemed surprised when we got a supply teacher for the afternoon, because Mr. C had a “head-ache,”and I was sent to the kindergarten class to help out as “a special treat.” I was fine with this. Those 4 year olds would tell you EVERYTHING.

Even now as an adult I can’t control it. I start off making innocent inquiries about where a sweater or purse was bought and end up discussing self-esteem issues and why your parents divorce probably was your fault. I have verbal diarrhea of the chronic, explosive kind, and I make people cry.

And possibly drink.

I am available for parties.


*I realize that my choice of the pronoun “his” perpetuates a certain patriarchal stereotype about serial murderers who keep human bits in their fridge being male. My apologizes to any female body part hoarders. You count too!


Cut in Four

| Posted in Family, Food | By

  sweetboy Cut in Four

My son came home today, dumped his knapsack on the floor and sat quietly.



Something wasn’t right.

After a dinner where he ate little, I took his lunch box out of his bag and found it was  90% full. I asked him why he wasn’t eating today and he burst into tears. He said he “didn’t want to talk about it” which of course means ‘oh hell yes we are going to talk about it.’ I finally got it out of him that he was scolded by a teacher today and it made him feel sick. He said that after it happened, “his tummy hurt” and he couldn’t eat anything.

Eventually he said he felt brave enough to tell me exactly what had happened. He didn’t hurt anyone, or use inappropriate language, or act disrespectfully to person or property. He and a friend were fooling around, doing something silly, acting six years old.

He was spoken to by a teacher in the hallway who I’m sure forgot the minor incident moments after it happened.  

I’m fine with it.

But tears over a tiny ham sandwich cut diagonally into four, an unpunctured juice box and a whole apple say otherwise.


Smells like Pre-Menopause Spirit

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Tuesday was my first day back at school for the winter semester. I should have gone back Monday, but I read the start date on my schedule as 10/01/11 and my brain told me, “Jeni, you go back to school on January the 11th. Make sure you wear pants.” My brain is smart enough to remind me to wear pants, but not smart enough to notice that the actual date is January 10th, 2011. I really need to start wearing a helmet when I ride my bike.

In the class I remembered to go to today, the Professor asked our small group of 20 or so to introduce ourselves. I won’t relay them all, but here are some approximate statistics:  

  • 6 students are applying to a graduate program, after which they will likely apply to teacher’s college
  • 7 students are applying directly to a Teacher’s college
  • 1 student had a really wrinkly neck,  muffin top and corn chips in her teeth, and is now seriously re-evaluating her  plans to apply to teacher’s college

Here’s a typical introduction:

“Hi. I am a fourth year English major, minoring in bio-medical sciences. I spent the last semester abroad where I compiled a detailed thesis on the complete works of every great modern author. I also just returned from a winter holiday at a health spa retreat in the Mediterranean– that’s why my hair is so shiny, and I have a youthful glow. After graduation I have been accepted to Graduate School with a full scholarship. I belong to Greenpeace, PETA, the Student Council, play forward on the soccer team, write for the University Newspaper, head up the local Amnesty International Chapter and play bass and keyboards in a band. I organize the annual food bank drive to feed the homeless and I am looking forward to what this year brings!”

Then she did a cart-wheel.

My introduction was slightly less stellar:

“Hi. I’m Jeni. I don’t understand metric , skinny jeans, or what ‘bio-medical’ means. I own several pairs of brightly coloured velour pants. I forget what year I am at in my program here, but I think it’s eleventy-four. I spent my Christmas break learning Bakugan attributes forcibly at the hands of a tyrant in a Transformers housecoat, pulling Lego out of the vacuum cleaner and giving CPR to a wet hamster. My 6-year-old son has started getting up at 2am every morning and that’s why the bags under my eyes are darker than my future employment prospects. The last things I read were “Franklin gets a Friend” and the Poison Control Centre pamphlet. After graduation I will be wondering how many overtime shifts at Tim Horton’s I will need to work to pay off my student loan. I kick ass at Rockband vocals and haven’t dusted my house since ‘Friends’ went off the air. (That was a show with Courtney Cox before she moved to Cougartown.) This morning I told my son there were no chocolate chip muffins left and then ate the last four of them in the bathroom with the tap running.”

They smiled and nodded. They’re polite, these kids.

They’re also optimistic, assured, confident, and young. They are bright-eyed, energetic and enthusiastic. They have their entire lives ahead of them and they deserve every opportunity the work they do here brings forth.

How the hell am I going to compete with that?

They make me feel old.

But I truly do want them to have all the best life has to offer.

I also want to kick them in their well-toned-skinny-jean-clad-tropical-vacation-tanned-shins.


Mortarboard to Paper Hat

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carts Mortarboard to Paper Hat

Future Workspace

If I were to list my top three fears, they would go something like this: 

  1. Starvation
  2. Flying
  3. Gathering shopping carts in the parking lot for a living

But it seems as though #3 is exactly where I am headed. I know I’m going to end up with a job that involves a name tag, orange day-glo smock, and shopping carts. And I really, really don’t want to learn to drive one of those cart pusher machines.

I graduate in less than a year and have absolutely no idea what is next for me. I have two expectations for myself after graduation: either to become Queen of the World, or stock cans of cat food on discount store shelves. I cannot see a middle ground; I do not anticipate any grey area; I am not able to visualize anything other than horrifying poverty or thrilling success.

Why so glum, chum?

I got a mark today that I am sure was a mistake. But I checked, and no;  it’s right. And it’s bad. Really bad. I received the grade online, and won’t get a chance to see the actual paper with comments until our next lecture. And that’ll be awhile since the Prof cancelled class until next week as they have a paper to present at a conference. I’m sure it’s the conference where Profs get together once a semester to share their student’s worst papers. And maybe drink blood.

The Prof did post a sample ‘A’ paper online. I read it. Correction, I tried to read it. It had all sorts of words I didn’t even know existed, like “jouissance,” “antomasia,” and “understanding.”

Even without seeing the comments on my paper, I can pretty much guess what she’ll have written. It’ll be something like: “This paper is dumb. Seriously, how did you get this far at school? Do you understand what I am saying to you? Let me spell it out for you in terms you may understand: You are S-T-O-O-P-I-D.”

It is the worst mark I have ever received for a paper. I double checked my submission email to make sure I didn’t hand in my son’s grade one homework by accident. (I’m not telling you what the mark was. But it’s like a mark you’d get if you wrote the paper somewhere between “serious head injury” and “too drunk to walk.”  What makes it even harder to understand is that I am usually an A student. One year I accidentally handed in a very rough draft version of an essay that was incomplete – here is an actual excerpt:

Insert Title Here

The Bubonic , or “Black” Plague in Britain killed XXX people. (Insert actual number here – make sure to Wikipedia this information later) .

And I still got an ‘A.’ It had a minus in front of it, but the letter was an ‘A.’

Today’s paper was less than an ‘F’. It was something more like an ‘S.’

For ‘Shopping Cart Pusher.’