Sorted out

Last week something unusual happened – I got rid of last unsorted box of stuff from my bedroom. Nine years after we moved into this house we are finally unpacked! Over the years I sorted out boxes and boxes of items around living room, office and the basement. It is not as if I haven’t been processing through the junk deposited in this room, but as the least public space in the house, the most unsortabe and unstorable of items would regularly get sent there. There was furniture from our old house that we could not make use of here, junk from other bedrooms as we made room for each new child, boxes of hardware, sewing and knitting paraphernalia, baby clothes that one kid outgrew waiting for the next one, overflow toys. On top of this, any time we needed to make the house tidy at the drop of a hat, we would just stuff everything in sight in bags and drop it off in our bedroom.

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Yet, over the years I also managed to contain this mess. We passed on baby items, gave the extra furniture away, matched the toys with the kid that was interested in them and sorted the proper storage of hobby items. It the place where there used to be banker’s boxes and more banker’s boxes of who-knows-what there is clear tidy space where a little red head can camouflage.

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I was surprised at how giddy I was when this last room was “finished”. We are cluttery people and I never expect to always have things in place but it is a nice feeling when you know that any room in the house is no more than two days away from being tidy. This in turn means that we could have the entire house tidy in less than a month – a theoretical possibility that is somehow comforting.

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Book: Frostbike

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Frostbike is a fun new book about winter cycling from Tom Babin, a Calgary journalist. He talks about his own experiences winter riding in Calgary and then visits and interviews the usual winter cycling suspects in North America and North Europe. There is no new or shocking information in the book, but it is quite well written and free of that single mindedness and arrogance that sometimes accompanies bike advocacy. In short, it is an enjoyable read for the “been there, done that” crowd and a recommended introduction for those who would like to know more on the subject.

We sold the Accord this past August. I had never quite warmed up to that car. It was so large I felt I was riding a boat, it had almost the same mileage as the minivan, it handled terribly in the snow even days after the last snowfall, the combination of the moonroof and the cabin size resulted in a loud flapping noise making it pretty much impossible to enjoy opening the moonroof unless I was parked. The final insult to injury was that it had cost twice as much as my lovely old Protege which had none of those problems. It was not so much that I wanted to not have the second car, it was more that I did not want that particular car.

We had toyed with the idea of sharing a single car for a while, but we were never at a point where not having the second car would not be really inconvenient. This year, a lot of the things lined up and we finally felt we can give car-lite lifestyle a go. I have finished grad school and all of our current weekly activities are close to home. I have a cargo bike that allows me to go to work, carry children and pick up groceries. Chris bought a foldie bike and winterized his old hybrid for multimodal commute on the days I need the van during the day. To avoid paying the babysitter too often, we usually schedule our individual outings on different nights anyway. Finally, since we first moved here almost fifteen years ago, Kanata has grown and we have grown into Beaverbrook. Bus service has improved, there is an increasing number of shops and businesses available to us and many of our friends now live within walking distance.

In last four months, absolutely no instance came up in which I regretted not having the second car. The next four winter months are going to be more interesting. We have worked out alternatives and contingencies and, if all that does not work, we always have an option of buying another car (one that is both economical in price and fuel efficiency with good winter handling and functional moon roof hopefully!). I think we can make it with just the minivan. I am looking forward to the winter, not only because of all the exciting winter fun ahead, but I am curious to see how we meet this new challenge.

New Hampshire 2014

Because we take our summer vacations in early in the summer, by the time our Thanksgiving mountain getaway comes along, we are more than ready for a break. This year, as always, was lovely.

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Maybe one day we will rent a lonely mountain hut away from it all and hike for days, but for now ski resorts are the place to be. Our condo included lift tickets, bike rentals and access to the skating rink. Combined with a train ride on the Hobo Railroad and the visit to the Squam Lakes Natural Science Centre our stay was just what the doctor ordered.

This is the first year that Markus was expected to walk all the hikes by himself.

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How did he do? Not too bad. By the third day he was pretty exhausted and Chris carried him for a while, but otherwise we were good to our word to not pick him up if he complains. He was busy enough picking up sticks to not ask more often than that.

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Trevor and Owen really got into hiking and had a great time.

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Though I am sure this is always true, this year in particular I feel that I have so many things on the go I can barely get the minimum done. I was reluctant to be away from the work and house for the four days but I was so glad to be able to spend this time with just my guys and none of the other tasks that I usually run mad with.

Three cakes

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Harvest Cake ingredients (partial)

On the weekend I had friends over for some cake. This meant that I dropped everything and had three cakes ready for 7PM. It was hectic but I am glad I did it. I hope my guests liked the cakes – this (ok, there is more apple pie in another dish) is all that was left:

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The cakes were frazzled to reflect my state of mind while making them.

Oh the education…

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What I told Trevor would happen if he doesn’t do his homework

Did you know that memorizing multiplication tables is not required by Ontario curriculum?

Yes! I say. Good riddance rote multiplication tables and don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

Alas, not everyone is as relieved about this as me and many parents in my neighbourhood are concerned with the “Discovery Math” approach currently used in Ontario schools. With nothing better to recommend my opinion than having had 12 years of math instruction in the traditional system here is what I think:

Somewhere between grade one and post graduate level, a student with an average brain has to make a shift from “fundamental” (i.e. you have memorized the rules and methods and are applying them to a problem that is obviously calling for these) to “derived” (you have a problem and you have to figure out how to solve this based on what you already know). My understanding of Discovery Math is that instead of having to make this shift in private, as was the case when I was in school, it pre-emptively makes this shift for you by making it difficult to rely on “fundamental” approach to solve problems.

In Discovery math students tend put in much more work and get lower grades. I think this is because in the same period of time they are not only expected to learn mathematical concepts thought through “fundamental” method, but are expected to learn to learn. At our local high school the students are expected to work in teams to figure out solutions rather than have the teacher answer all of their questions immediately. Furthermore, they are given word problems such as “how many balls can you fit in the box of this size” or “here is a picture of a bridge, describe it in mathematical terms”. The parents I talked to are are somewhere between slightly disapproving to outright outraged. The teachers I’ve spoken to are not worried at all. Though I have neither gone though this kind of instruction myself nor had a kid go through it yet, I like the idea – this is pretty much how it was at University. Professors were very rarely available to help and even less rarely of any use therefore groupthink was the most efficient way to learn. Questions on the exams were almost never prepped for in the class and many old exams had to be obtained on the sly (or not at all) with only few of the teachers willing to share them. It is interesting that a high school would create up a mock-University setup. It well might be “too much too early” but the idea of forcing students to deal with situation they are to encounter in a much less supportive environment in a year or two is not unappealing to me.

Though if I had to admit the truth, I think that my inclination towards Discovery Math stems from personal experience. I would say that people use “fundamental” approach for as long as their mental abilities to remember methods and apply them appropriately can measure up to the complexity of the math curriculum. At one point, if you are not streamed away from math and math-like courses, you hit the wall and have to invest more time and effort to do tasks your peers (even those that are not as strong in math as you) are doing with no visible trouble. I would not think it uncommon that “hitting the wall” is usually accompanied by a period of bad grades and severely injured pride along with the hitherto not required mental effort to keep up and get back to begin good at math. For me this happened in grade two and multiplication tables. It took me until grade five to recover.

So let’s say that you had to solve 8×7 and you were not allowed to use a piece of paper or your fingers. A kid that has multiplication tables memorized would simply say 56. I would have to (and still do) calculate the following

– add a 0 behind 7 to get to 10×7
– subtract 7 to get to 9×7
– now I have to subtract another 7 but we only have 3 until the next 0 so actuality subtract 3 and then 4 to get to 8×7

7×10 – 7 – 3 – 4

Also, you have to do this quickly to keep up with the jerks who simply memorized this. To my credit, by the time we got to grade 9, I was able to do calculations in my head using my technique while most other students had to use the calculator because memorization only got them so far. I am not saying that you should not memorize things if you can, but I don’t believe the benefit of memorization is particularly long lasting. For me the “wall” period lasted a few years and was not pleasant. It also happened unusually early – I would guess that most people going into University programs requiring math credits would hit the wall in late high school or at University.

If you go along with the wall analogy, the Discovery Math is essentially artificially creating this wall, perhaps earlier than the student would encounter it in the wild, and teaching them to get over it explicitly as part of the curriculum. I wonder how successful this is, particularly as many people get streamed out of math before they get to make the switch or perhaps choose to stream out of sciences because they are not able to make it.

In any case, I don’t think my kids in particular are in danger from Discovery Math though I can’t vouch for anyone else’s. I think I would have done well in a Discovery Math setting if it was available when I was a kid, but at the end of the day I did fine anyway.