Category Archives: Education

Knitting reduces stress…and don’t call me a goddess

Two links for you today. On the front page of CNN, an article that will surprise no one who knits, or does any kind craft work: Crafting can help those who suffer from anxiety, depression or chronic pain, experts say. My own non-scientific self-study shows this is true. Had I not picked up my knitting needles at the end of 2010, I’m not sure I could have gotten through 2011 without turning to scotch. Sometimes I joke with friends who ask why I knit so much, “Knitting saved my life,” but the truth is, it kind of did. 🙂

Then a spot-on blog post I stumbled upon yesterday, written by blogger and author Kim Werker, former editor of Interweave Crochet, where she says and I quote: “My pet peeve is this: woo-woo rhetoric in the context of business advice for women. It seems like everywhere I look, someone is selling an ebook, course or seminar on some or another topic that involves the words goddesssoulfulness, or spirituality. Or some variation or combination of words like that.” It was one of those posts I wish I’d written because the mashup of business education and feminized woo-woo claptrap annoys the stuffing out of me. Full disclosure: I teach a class for freelance writers of either gender designed to help them develop ideas for magazine articles, but they find no talk about spirituality, inner goddesses, or discovering their souls although I do urge students to write about topics that speak to their interests. Practical advice, not potions!

The snowstorm we were supposed to get fizzled into nothing, which is fine with me … no complaints. It is, however, quite windy and cold. I’ve been standing in the kitchen window with my hot cups of coffee, watching the birds feed outside our garage. O and I are getting better at bird identification. So far, we’ve spotted male and female cardinals, tufted titmouses (titmice?), hairy woodpeckers, female blue jays, juncos, and chickadees. Oh yes, and a very naughty squirrel who climbs down our garage roof and onto the birdfeeder, draping himself over it like a blanket to nibble the black oil sunflower seeds upside down. It’s so funny to watch that it’s hard to get mad at him. Next time I see him out there, I’ll get a picture or video through our kitchen window.

How is your week going?

Holiday knitting

steam and brass kerchief

When I was in Mystic, Connecticut, a couple weeks ago, I saw a sample of The Age of Brass and Steam Kerchief knitted up in sock-weight yarn (the pattern specifies a DK-weight yarn). The ruby-red sock yarn I purchased that day was so soft and pretty that I decided it would make an equally lovely kerchief. My mother really loved the color of the yarn (by Other Kingdom, a dyer I cannot find on the Web!) so this is a Christmas present for her. She looks terrific in this shade of red.

My mother doesn’t read my blog, so no worries about her finding out. 🙂

It’s a very enjoyable knit with lots of stockinette broken up with rows of eyelet, an easy pattern to remember, and something I can work on in front of the television or while waiting for an appointment. I figure I’ll have this “wrapped up” by the weekend so I can move on to my next gift knit.

So far in my gift knitting, I’ve finished two cowls, two earflap hats (stranded colorwork), one and a half socks, and a hot water bottle cozy. Just a couple more things and then I can move on to some selfish knitting. 😉

This week has been a trying one, professionally and personally. Professionally it has been a week of rejection after rejection, then having people (mostly PR) play bait-and-switch with me. Frustrating!

And maybe because of the cold and darkness, my temper is running a lot hotter than normal, esp. with my family. Last week I “bragged” about my son. Well this week he came home with some pretty bad lab/test grades in science, math, and social studies. I was really angry about the social studies grade because he had brought home a two-sided study sheet but insisted and argued with me that the test would only be on the first side. I kept telling him, “Let’s just learn the facts on the second side,” but he wouldn’t have any of it. You can guess what happened … the test included all the facts he didn’t study on the second side. When I asked him what kind of grade he’s expecting, he tried to put a positive spin on it by saying, “I’m sure I didn’t get an F.” I told him I wasn’t going to be very happy with a D or a C, either.

Then yesterday O had a half day. The town was giving out free flu shots after school, so I told O I would walk up to school to pick him up and we’d walk over to the town hall. The walk to school isn’t bad at all; it’s just a mile down the bike trail and a cut through the woods. However it was bitterly cold and windy, and the trail was covered in ice, which made it hard for me to walk. I get up to the school and O comes bounding up to me with his backpack … and no coat.

“I left it at home,” he said.

I was pretty ripped because there was no way he would be able to walk home in that cold in just a t-shirt and flimsy sweatshirt. Sure enough, on the short walk over to the town hall, O complained about the wind, that his ears were hurting, that his throat …

Oy! Enough already!

We ended up popping over to a new pizza place in town to kill some time. Since my husband and I had an appointment at school later on that evening, the plan was we’d hang out in town until DH could pick us up. However, I was sitting there in the warm restaurant, I started wondering if I’d turned the iron off in my sewing room. I’d sewed a holiday table runner that morning (seen above in photo) and I couldn’t remember switching the iron off. So I told O he’d have to wait at the library until his father could pick him up. There was no way I could sit around for two hours wondering if my house was in flames. Cue more whining.

The walk home was even colder (and longer because I was walking home from town). All that worry for naught: the iron was off. Then I started getting texts from O complaining about being bored so I told him to read a book and leave me alone, and my husband was being difficult … argh. I know the common belief is that women are difficult to live with, but in this house, it’s the male species! I ended up blockading myself in the bedroom with my hot water bottle and a novel to avoid the two of them.

OK, moving on. We ended the evening with an appointment with O’s math teacher, who was generally positive about O but agreed he could use an extra push at home. The good news is that his teacher said he’ll recommend O to move into the highest level math class next year because of his grades and MCAS scores. The bad news is that we’ve got to play some hardball with O because it’s clear he hasn’t been working as hard as he should be. We are very generous with him because he’s a good kid, but we have an understanding his #1 job is schoolwork and when he doesn’t perform to his abilities, he gets things taken away from him … like his iPad.

I was hoping the week would end on a good note, but I have a feeling it’s going to get worse before it gets better.


Mom brag

O’s report card came in the mail today, and there’s cause for celebration: he got eight As and two Bs, which puts him on the high honors list. He got As in all his major subjects (math, science, English, etc.), including an A+ in science/chemistry. My father, a chemist, will be thrilled to hear that since I was such a disappointment in this branch of science.

On top of this, O scored in the top 2% of fifth graders on the science portion of the MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) last spring, and placed in the “above average” category for math and English.

Normally I wouldn’t brag about my kid like this. But two years ago, when he was in fourth grade at a private Montessori school, he was an unhappy, poorly performing student. He kept telling me he was bored, and his teacher was frustrated that he couldn’t/wouldn’t get his work done. We went in circles with her, trying to get her to understand he needed more structure and more challenging materials. She, and others at the school, went so far to tell me we should consider holding him back … which, if you ever met O and talked to him for two minutes, is ludicrous. This is a kid who wanted to do a science project on astrophysics (and was shot down–no pun intended–by said teacher). Montessori wasn’t working for him anymore, but rather than admit this or open their eyes, the school was willing to keep him in their program — as long as we held him back. We couldn’t get out of there fast enough. I wanted to pull him out in March, but he wanted to stay because of his friends.

He started fifth grade the following September in our local public elementary school, and we warned the principal and his teacher that he’d had problems at the private school. Putting him on the bus that first day was nerve-wracking for me. The Montessori school had about 100 students total, with only two other students in his grade. The elementary school had 180 students in fifth grade alone! When the bus dropped him off at the end of the day, he came running across the lawn toward me with the biggest smile on his face. “I love it!” he said. “I can’t wait till tomorrow!” I heaved a sigh of relief. Later that week his teacher e-mailed me, puzzled by what his old school had said about him. He was clearly a bright kid and he was fitting in with his classmates.

He did wonderfully in fifth grade, earning high grades and the respect of all his teachers. He made dozens of new friends and was chosen for student council. Moreover, he would come home at night and do his homework without being told, something he still does to this day. Our only problem? He was grumpy on Friday nights because there was no school on Saturday and Sunday! Public school is much more structured, unlike the Montessori school, where a lot of learning is self-directed. O is definitely a kid who thrives with structure, likes knowing when to do X and knowing when Y is due. This year he’s in middle school. The transition has been harder moving from elementary to middle school than it was going from private to public school, but obviously he’s coping well.

I’m writing this as a reminder to myself that a lot can change in two years. Many of my friends have had similar challenges with their children and they put a lot of faith in the system that’s supposed to support their kids. I was one of them two years ago, even though I had an inkling my son wasn’t the problem: It was the school’s philosophy/teaching style that wasn’t working for him. I try not to be angry with the old school; it’s hard because I feel like they came close to crushing O’s self-confidence and one of the administrators behaved abominably near the end of our tenure there. I have few kind thoughts in my heart for her! Today when people ask me about Montessori, I’m careful not to disparage it; some children thrive in that kind of learning environment. O also had several wonderful teachers there: his first-grade teacher “R” who he adored and we still keep in contact with; his kindergarten teacher who was such a gentle presence in the classroom and clearly loved all “her” children, and even a couple teachers who never taught O but who were interested in his development. When I feel bitter about that last year, I try to remember the good teachers he had — and thank the heavens that all it took was a change in learning environments to help him thrive.

Thank you Jeff Kinney

I’m just about to hop on my bike, pedal down to the bookstore, and make O very happy today. The latest in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series was released on Tuesday, and before you roll your eyes and scoff at my son’s reading choices, hear me out.

One of my biggest hopes — nay expectations! — was that any child I birthed would be a reader. Of course he would! Both my husband and I are bookworms. My husband read more books than any other kid one summer and won a trampoline through the public library. I learned to read when I was three, and my childhood is one long, hazy, pleasant memory of gorging on everything from Nancy Drew mysteries and Little House on the Prairie, to biographies of doomed European queens (Marie Antoinette and Anne Boleyn were particular favorites) and books about faraway places I longed to visit (Japan, India, England of course). I was the kid who read under the blankets with a flashlight, whose parents claimed I’d go blind for reading in the dark. When I had my own child, I dreamed not only of the books we’d read together before bedtime, starting with Goodnight Moon and Richard Scarry, but I even held off reading all of the Harry Potter books so we could read them in tandem when he was old enough.

You probably see where this is going.

O has never been a reader. He resisted learning how to read, and I swear, he only liked me reading to him at night because it gave him an extra 10 or 15 minutes before we turned out the light. I offered to buy him any books he wanted; there was no limit to what I’d spend. Instead, he’d ask if he could turn that largesse into Legos or stuffed animals or anything besides a boring old book. When his teacher in second grade noted that he read far below his grade level, I cringed. No, I’ll admit it. I was embarrassed. I wondered if she thought we were one of those families who didn’t read. You know, you walk into their house and the only book you can find is the phone book, covered in dust, because who really needs a phone book anymore now that there’s Google? I felt the need to tell her that when we moved to Massachusetts, I got an upcharge from my mover because of all the books I owned. That I’ve written three books; I practically read for a living! That our town librarians know me by name, as do the cashiers at Barnes & Noble … in multiple locations. even used to send me plastic travel mugs at Christmastime for being such a valuable customer.

I may have even come home and ordered O, “You’re going to start reading, dammit, and you’ll like it too!”

During one trip to Texas a few years ago, I told O that we needed to stop by Barnes & Noble. He must have been in a good mood or wanted something at Target because he agreed to go. Wandering around the children’s section, I noticed The Diary of a Wimpy Kid display and picked up a book. It was written in big type. It had pictures … well, line drawings, but enough to break up the type. I brought the book over to O and gingerly asked if he wanted me to read it to him. Much to my surprise, he said I could. We read a chapter and he asked (cue angels singing), “Can you buy it for me?”

(And the devil in me replied), “Only if you promise to read some of it yourself.”

He said he’d try.

I read the book to him the rest of the week we were in Texas. He read it again — by himself — on the plane ride home. When we arrived in Boston he asked if I could buy him the next book, which I did. That night. When he found out the third book wouldn’t be released for several months, he cried.

Mental stadium cheer.

I’ve talked to a lot of parents who scoff at these books. They’re not Literature, they contain poop jokes, they don’t offer valuable life lessons for children … oh please, I want to interrupt. Just stop it. O now reads far beyond his grade level; in fourth grade he was spelling and reading at the sixth grade level, and this year I’ve caught him reading The Hunger Games and The Hobbit, not to mention encyclopedic tomes on wildlife. Books like Kinney’s get kids who don’t like reading to read. And then they talk to their friends about what they’ve read and those friends recommend books they like. And they start wondering what else is out there to read. And even — I kid you not — they talk about writing a book of their own and would I mind if it contained a poop joke or two?

Do I mind? You’re talking to someone who enjoyed reading about queens who got their heads chopped off. What’s a little poop?

ETA 6:15 p.m.: O has been reading The Third Wheel steadily since 4 p.m., taking a break only to eat a jelly sandwich. 🙂

Looking back

Last night my husband arrived home from work with my birthday treat, something I look forward to all year long:

My annual treat

Don’t laugh. It’s very tasty. It’s a long-standing tradition in my family that I get a Pepperidge Farm Coconut Cake on my birthday. It stems from one year when my mother forgot to make me a birthday cake and all we had on hand was a frozen Pepperidge Farm one in the freezer so that’s what I got. DH came home very late last night so I’ll work on devouring my cake today (no one else in the house loves cake like I do). I give myself a day to scarf it down because my digestive system doesn’t tolerate wheat and sugar the way it used to. I’ll be paying for this debauchery tomorrow.

With birthdays I guess it’s “traditional” to look back. I didn’t do much of that yesterday, but it has been one of those years where my past has knocked on my door and invited itself in for a visit. In most cases this isn’t such a bad thing, but it’s not comfortable for me. I’m not one who spends a lot of time looking over my shoulder. No, I’m the one in my family who’s always eagerly anticipating what’s around the corner and urging others to stop living in the past. Maybe because the future hasn’t been as shiny and bright for me as it has been in other years (sorry if that sounds mysterious and morose; life isn’t that horrible!) that I’m lulled into thinking it’s not so bad to trip down memory lane.

A few months ago I learned that my 30th high school reunion would be held in November, just a couple weeks from now. I’ve never been to one, nor have I had any desire to attend. High school wasn’t  a happy time for me. While I wasn’t unpopular, I, like of lot of kids, never felt like I fit in. There was a definite clique element in our school that I had no part of and it was pretty clear early on I’d never be part of. Fresh off my parents’ bitter divorce, I struggled through those four years and went through great lengths to hide my misery, which, in retrospect, I failed miserably at hiding. Throughout high school I was always looking forward, planning my escape into college and adulthood. However, in the last year I’ve reconnected with several of my high school friends (thanks Facebook!) and it has been — well — nice! To my great pleasure, I found out that my instincts picking out friends in high school were pretty good. They all grew into kind and interesting adults, with productive and interesting lives, people I’d associate with today and not just because I sat next to them in 10th grade English or that we liked The Cars.

And funnily enough, none of them are attending the reunion either. Hmm.

My 25th college reunion is also coming up, and this I may attend. Visiting my alma mater is always a pleasure; my years at Smith were some of my happiest, and I love walking around the campus, letting the nostalgia wash over me while alternately marveling at all the changes — houses gone, new buildings up, feeling so youthful inside but looking around and realizing I’m the oldest person sitting in the cafe who’s knitting. (Northampton, and Smith in particular, is filled with knitters and not just because WEBS is down the street!) It’s a strange feeling, but one that doesn’t bother me.

This year I’ve had a couple ex-boyfriends look me up; not surprising as we’re all approaching/have passed the half-century mark and I suppose it’s natural to want to take a last look at what you passed up before it shrivels into raisinhood. These exchanges haven’t been unpleasant either. A few years ago I would have ignored them. Now it just feels silly to hold grudges or wonder “what if.” What’s done is done … move on.

But I’m still not going to my high school reunion.

Criminal or besotted?

Normally I avoid news stories about older men seducing young girls — pedophilia stories give me nightmares — but the recent case of British math teacher Jeremy Forrest, 30, who ran off to France with his 15-year-old student Megan Stammers nabbed my attention. Not because of the creepiness of it all, but because it highlights the gulf between Anglo and Gallic sensibilities.

The British focus on the fact that a teacher ran off with a student, a child in the eyes of the law (I believe the age of consent in the UK is 16). Stammers was cast as the victim, Forrest the manipulative kidnapper. Some papers reported that he’d seduced female students in the past. The case has British police urging David Cameron to continue cross-border arrest and investigation work with the EU, as Forrest was charged on an EU arrest warrant. With that kind of cooperation gone, what will happen when the next British schoolchild is ferried off by a creepy pedophile?

The French, on the other hand, took a laissez faire stand. The age of consent in France is 15. What could be more romantic than a pretty girl running off with her musician boyfriend to the south of France? So there’s 15 years between them … love is blind, they say. He had a wife? Eh, so what? Men will be men. They just didn’t see why the British were making such a fuss.

In the end, Forrest was arrested by the French police and he’s about to be extradited to Britain, but again, his attorney on the Continent  exhibited that classic Gallic attitude: “Jeremy Forrest is in no pervert. This is a story only about love and passion … I believe it will never end. His only crime is to have fallen in love with a 15-year-old, without any recourse to violence or manipulation.” Ah, so this is why Woody Allen loves Paris. It wasn’t the baguettes.

American newspapers that reported on this story took a similar stance as the British, not surprising given our Puritanical background and our hardline position on underage sex, especially when it involves a teacher and a student. We just aren’t very tolerant of that, unless the teacher is a female and the students are 16- and 17-year-old boys — then the attitude seems to be “those lucky lads.”

What do you say? Do you take the Anglo/American position that Jeremy Forrest violated the law or the French position that he was simply following his heart?

Spring break begins at Chez Hail Britannia

After what can best be called a craptacular two weeks, I’m eagerly anticipating next week’s spring break.

  • No two-way drives back and forth to school.
  • No dealing with my son’s anxiety during those drives to school. (Long story. I’ll fill you in when the school year has ended.)
  • Sleeping in without an alarm clock.
  • Several scheduled playdates, which means I get a couple hours to relinquish my CEO title. That’s Chief Entertainment Officer.
  • A week where I have only one thing due for work — and I’m pretty sure I can finish it tonight.

Anyway, because of above-mentioned craptacular two weeks, I haven’t gotten much done around here. I did manage to knit my way down the bottom of my Simplest sweater, despite not listening to the nagging voice in my head that said the yarn was all wrong for it. It was only until I tried it on that I discovered I knitted about 3″ too much and the hem was hitting my hips most unflatteringly. To top it off, the bust was too loose. So tonight it’ll be paying a visit to the frog pond.

Sort of looks like a sleeveless haircloth shirt, doesn't it?

My latest pair of socks have been more successful. Here, I’m just finishing up the gusset and ready to start knitting down the foot. That yarn, btw, is the much coveted Trekking XXL in Brach’s Candy/#126, which I picked up a couple weeks ago at Hub Mills in Billerica. I’ve been searching for this colorway for eons, and was pleased to find it in my own backyard!

Candy socks. Yummy!

And then lastly, a cowl pattern I started on the spur of the moment, something to reduce my stash.

This one’s called “A Very Braidy Cowl.” I’m loving it, except that I have no idea why I’m knitting it on straight needles. I’ll probably finish this and give as a gift. Unless it looks good on me. Ignore that dirty fingernail — I spent the morning planting shallots and weeding the peas, and that’s my excuse.

So what are you doing for spring break? Whatever it is, I hope you’re doing it where it’s sunny and warm.



Want to learn how to social climb in England? Hire English Mentors

I thought it was a joke when I read in the Daily Mail that the Duchess of York participated in an advertisement for English Mentors, a service that promises to help children of foreigners fit into upper-crust British society.

It’s no joke, folks. This venture has a website, which includes details about the mentoring they offer, as well as must-see video. (Love the military guy!) If you’ve got an extra £100,000 sitting around, you can pack off your nose-picking Dmitri or chavvy Brittny to an English country house where a member of the British aristrocracy will show them the proper way to dine, dress, interview for boarding school, and stumble out of Mahiki at 3:15 a.m. without looking bleary eyed. Well, that last one I made up, but you get the idea. Around the halfway mark, I fully expected John Cleese to step in with, “And now for something completely different …”

Here’s a link to the video for English Mentors. Let me know what you think. I loved the little slip of Manchester United near the end of the vid — was this a subliminal message for the Beckhams and the Rooneys to sign their kids up pronto? Or children of Russian oligarchs or Arab sheiks need only apply?

Weekend roundup

  • Few mourn US embassy relocation — “Now all is set to change, as the embassy prepares to shut up shop in central London and move to a brand-new building – in somewhat less salubrious surroundings on the south bank of the river Thames.” (BBC News)
  • Do WAGS make good role models? — “Lizzie Cundy, the wife of former Chelsea Player Jason Cundy, and Caroline Jordan, headmistress of St George’s school in Ascot, discuss whether WAGs make good role models for schoolgirls.” (BBC News)
  • Britain’s lonely high flier — “A resurgent Rolls-Royce has become the most powerful symbol of British manufacturing. Its success may be hard to replicate, especially in difficult times.” An exceptionally interesting article. (The Economist)
  • Old time ads — “Nostalgic commercials and brands are being revived as advertisers seek to tap into recession-ridden Britons’ urge for security, predictability and reassurance.” Interesting slide show of some classic British ad campaigns. (Financial Times)
  • She’s married to one of the country’s sexiest actors – so why does Emma Thompson think British men are retarded? — “The Oscar-winning actress compares her husband to a clam because he’s so hopeless at opening up — like all his ’emotionally autistic’ countrymen.” If I had to pick a celebrity to be my friend, I’d pick Emma. (The Daily Mail)
  • Blagojevich, the Iambic Anglophile — “Impeached, indicted and feeling alone, Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich has found some unlikely friends: Dead British poets.” May I suggest a little Robert Browning? “I give the fight up: let there be an end, a privacy, an obscure nook for me. I want to be forgotten even by God.” (the New York Times)
  • Kate’s no lady in waiting — A video from CBS’s Early Show about Kate Middleton’s 27th birthday and will Will or won’t Will pop the question soon?

British international schools growing in popularity worldwide

According to story in yesterday’s Independent, over 1,200 British international schools were opened last year worldwide, most noticeably in Asia. I did a bit of poking around, and it looks like there are five British schools in the U.S. (including one I knew about here in Boston), with plans to open 15 more over the next few years.

I have a few friends who’ve graduated from international schools abroad. They’re all amazingly bright people … multilingual, culturally savvy, and inquisitive. I don’t know if I’d go so far to send my son to a British school here in the U.S., as cool as an idea that is, but we’ve thought about sending him to the German International School in nearby Allston once he finishes his elementary program at our local Montessori school. We speak some German at home, the we being my husband and the two au pairs we’ve had. Being that I’m painfully monolingual and because I’m the resident Anglophile, I stick with English.

I’m curious to research what the growth is in American international schools compared to British. Do British schools get a better reception abroad given how unpopular the U.S. is right now in the world? If you were or are living abroad, would you/do you send your child to an international school? What’s your opinion of this type of education?