Family

Rest in Peace Mom

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On July 15th, 2014, Susan Marie LaMontagne ended her courageous battle with cancer. She was surrounded by her family who will proudly carry her spirit with them. We will cherish her life, her strength, and the lessons she taught as her legacy.

Susan was a loving daughter, mother, and grandmother. She drove her husband, Gerald J. LaMontagne, Sr. crazy for 52 years, a testament to their love for each other.

Those fortunate to have known her will remember her love of teaching and commitment to family. We are thankful to have had her in our lives. She will be missed.

To honor her wishes, there will be no services. In lieu of flowers, please support a charity close to her heart. Kiva.org is a non-profit organization that supports entrepreneurs worldwide who wish to begin small business ventures.

Donations can be forwarded in her name to:

Conversational Threads
Attn: Cindy Fitzpatrick
6 South 4th Street
Emmaus, PA 18049

Another Bloom

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My red obesum bloomed as well.  Mom always enjoyed them.

For Mom

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The first bloom of the Summer this year.

This Summer’s Project

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It’s been awhile since the kids have accompanied me for a grocery shopping trip.  Frankly, its easier for me to do it while they’re at school.  Anything I can do to minimize the time spent in the grocery store is worth it.

Today, though, they both accompanied me.  Neither of them would let me push the shopping cart.  This seemed fine initially…

…until both had driven up my heels several times each. Grrrr.

Thus, my Summer project has now been determined.  They will learn how to pay attention to what the hell is going on around them with a grocery cart even if I have to have reconstructive heel surgery by Summer’s end.

LDoS

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The kids were rather subdued this morning.  Probably wondering what the point is of going in today.  The teachers pretty much mailed it in on Monday.  Plus, today’s only a half-day.  So basically, we’ve got a 3rd and 5th grader on our hands.

They should be happy when they get off the bus in 10 minutes or so.

Happy Father’s Day

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On the left, the boy’s handmade card and “The Maze Runner” series of books.  He wants to read that series soon, but it needs to be pre read to make sure it’s age appropriate.

On the right, a water bottle full of mixed nuts along with the lass’ handmade card.  What Dad doesn’t like mixed nuts?  The water bottle will come in handy during karate classes.

Happy Father’s Day to all the Dad’s out there.

The Boy in Crisis

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The boy experienced the extreme emotions of the thrill of accomplishment and the agony of big mistakes. Unfortunately, the big mistake happened after the thrill of accomplishment and that’s the foot his school day got off on.

Did I mention this happened over a game? Clash of Clans to be precise.

It all started with a seemingly innocent offer. I told the boy he could check on his village and play for 15 minutes this morning. The nice thing about the game is you don’t need to sit in front of it for hours and hours. A few minutes spent at a time can be sufficient to keep your position in the game moving steadily forward.

He started playing and immediately went on a raid for his Clan. He won the raid easily and earned a bunch of stars for his Clan. This is a status marker within the game and he was rewarded with 50 gems for his efforts. This was his thrill of accomplishment moment.

I headed up to take a shower. Several minutes later, the Wife appeared and said the boy was hysterical because something had happened to his gems. She had brought the iPod, as a safety precaution, and in the background I could hear the wailing and lamentations of the boy.

First, a word about gems in CoC.

Arguably, they are the most precious resource in the game. They can be earned, in small amounts, through completing different achievements in the game. They can also be purchased via actual money on a credit card. The game is a timer based game. Everything takes time to be built and upgraded. Gems allow the timers to be shortcut, so if a defensive unit typically takes a day to build, it can be built immediately for some number of gems. Gems also are the only way to get builders, arguably the most important character in the game. The builders are used to create a village and upgrade its parts as a player advances in level. Everyone starts with 2 builders, but another can be had for 500 gems. Having more builders means being able to advance more quickly through the game.

Alright, back to the boy.

My own play had convinced the boy to start working towards getting a 3rd builder. Prior to my participation in the game, he had been spending his gems to complete building projects more quickly. Now, he was saving them for a 3rd builder.

The boy mistakenly traded 150 of his gems for gold this morning. I’m not entirely sure of the sequence, but it was a bungle on his part that cost him all of the bonus gems he’d gotten earlier and then some.

This being a completely unimportant video game and all, the boy was completely inconsolable. His initial reaction was tears. Lots and lots of tears. And screaming too, as well as not a little bit of wailing. There was probably gnashing of teeth. You know, the full gamut.

This crisis occurred 15 minutes before school, which is not nearly enough to to allow the strong emotions associated with such a momentous event to run their course. He was still in tears when I finally loaded them into the car and he was stewing in a nasty fury when he got out of the car to head into the school.

Hoping to try and break his fever, I told him “Your friends won’t be impressed when you get in there. Don’t make things worse by making another mistake that’s more costly than the one you made in a game.”

I’ve been in his shoes before. Both when the trigger was something completely stupid like a video game and when it’s been something far more significant. I’ve had that response of fury at myself for making the mistake. It’s the confusion created as the mind tries to come to grips with the fact that it’s a mistake that cannot be undone. I know the “self-immolation” that goes on as you try to figure out how such a thing could have come to pass. I also know that all the consoling in the world will not convince him that the game is not that important. Simply put, it was important to him and his emotions need to run their course.

Thus, the tact the Wife and I took was to merely to try and contain him and to keep him from doing something he would find even more regrettable. Thankfully, the lass knew better than to try and chip in and she politely kept her distance from her distraught brother. We didn’t try to tell him it was no big deal, though we did try to emphasize it was only a game. For the most part, considering the raging emotions he was dealing with, he allowed better judgement to prevail, the occasional door slam not withstanding.

The temptation to repurchase the gems for him is strong. They are not that expensive (~$5 for 250 if memory serves). But that would undermine the larger lessons available. Being a parent sometimes requires us to fix things. Other times, it requires a life lesson to play out and we can just hope that he learns the right things from it.

Being the Bad Guy

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We had a really nice evening, the kids and I. Putting them to bed was an entirely different matter.

With the lass at dance, the boy only had a couple of things we wanted him to do. One was to study his spelling words. The other was to put aways laundry. Given those two things, he was allowed to play Clash of Clans for awhile. Not all of the laundry was done and it was taking forever to dry the towels. So he put away his clothes that were folded, studied his spelling and then I let him play his game.

He and I discussed different strategies and how we liked to approach different aspects of the game. He liked to completely destroy other villages. I like to raid them for loot so I can afford to upgrade my own village. He likes to attack one way, I like to attack a different way. Mostly, I think he enjoys having the game in common with me as something to share.

We picked up his sister and came home to have a little dinner. The lass helped by getting the silverware and dishes out for dinner and the boy finished playing his game. After dinner, the lass cleaned up while the boy learned how to fold towels. I was able to put the final load of laundry in the dryer.

We played a couple of games and I let them turn on an episode of Scooby Doo on Netflix. While the watched that, I kept tabs on the clothes in the dryer. Things timed out reasonably well with their episode ending and the clothes completed drying right around their bed time. I sent them both upstairs with folded clothes to put away. Then, it was in to bed.

I could hear them yelling at one another from downstairs. The lass screamed at one point and someone either kicked or threw the laundry basket. After the past 2 weeks where every morning we have to listen to them snipe at one another, I’d had enough. I went upstairs and informed them they had both lost game privileges for tomorrow. The boy would not be playing Clash of Clans and the lass would not be allowed on the computer. I informed them I was tired of their inability to control themselves and their mouths and they were going to start paying for it.

That was bad guy, Part 1.

Bad guy, Part 2 was much worse and arrived only a couple minutes later.

After I went back downstairs, my expectation was they would finish putting their clothes away and get into bed without any more incidents. It wasn’t more than a minute later that the screaming and sniping started anew.

I didn’t go flying off the handle, but I was more than a little upset by the time I got back upstairs. To make sure I got their attention, I kicked the laundry basket. I then stated my disbelief at how I could have just punished them both for the exact same behavior they were currently engaging in. I stormed through one room and then the other. I went on for a few minutes and ended with the dire warning “God help you both if you do this tomorrow morning…” By the time I’d finished, both of them were sniffling and trying to hide tears.

On the one hand, I hate doing that. I take no pleasure in the yelling. I take no pleasure in punishing them. Every time I’ve done it, I replay the whole thing in my head wondering if my actions fit their crime. Tonight was no different. I’m still doing it as I write this post.

On the other hand, I firmly believe there are moments where a clear point has to be made. Where a line has to be drawn with florescent marker so they know the time has come that they have to start accounting for their behavior, and change it.

Sometimes, that requires a bad guy.

The Boy’s JBB

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Technically, the boy earned his Junior Black Belt a couple of weeks prior to Friday. Friday was the day he was officially granted the belt, though.

He was rightfully proud of the achievement. Four years of training, patience, and not a little frustration finally culminated in a moment he’d been seeking.

The instructors hold a graduation for all students whom earn a new belt. This particular graduation was “The Junior Black Belt Show” as there were 4 new JBB’s including the boy in addition to all the other graduates. It was a nice chance to showcase to the lower belts what they had to look forward to as well as allowing the JBB’s to shine in front of the lower belt levels. There was a pretty clear contrast in the abilities and I’m sure the instructors were pleased to see it. It’s one thing to tell a kid “stick with it and you’ll get there,” it’s another to actually show them the money, so to speak.

When it was done, the instructors already started planting the seeds for the next level of achievement. They challenged the boy to become a better sparrer as he works his way through the remaining full black belt curriculum.

He’s managed this far. I’ve little doubt he’ll be up for the remainder of the challenge.

Joining the Teeming Clans

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The boy and his friends have become invested in Clash of Clans.  I won’t say it’s the latest mobile game to take the world by storm, but it’s definitely popular.

I’d avoided it myself for my usual reasons- I can’t play video games casually.  It’s basically an addiction thing for me.

I blame the father at karate a couple nights ago.  When it was seemed it was just the kids, I was able to shrug it off.  But seeing him playing it and talking with him about it made it too tempting for me to resist.

The boy was excited to see me playing, for his part.  He’s been full of advice and suggestions ever since.  The only thing that stopped him was going to school.

I’m tempted to say nothing good can come of this.  But we shall see.  Having something silly in common with your kids isn’t a bad thing to have.

Pool Is Open

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Well, sort of.

I took the winter cover off a while ago, but hadn’t been in a hurry to fill the pool since the weather was still cool.  Now that Spring and even some Summer weather seems to have arrived, I’ve been slowly filling it an inch or so a day for the past week, out of respect for our well.  A bonus heavy rain last night put us over the top for today.

The water had also started clouding up, a sure sign that the temperature had reached the point where algae growth was possible.  So I got the filter running today and shocked with liquid chlorine.  I’ll be hitting it again tonight with another round of chlorine and then take the water for a test tomorrow.

The kids wanted to get in there today.  I told them as soon as the water was clean, they had the go ahead to go in regardless of temperature.  They’ll probably be in by the end of the week.

There’s Bird Seed in My Boots

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This wasn’t the only thing the kids filled with bird seed.  Even though they filled the feeder this weekend, I only discovered my boots were full of it today as I was readying myself for a hike with my Cub Scout Den.

The best thing is, when I ask them how my boots got full of birdseed, I already know their answer.

“I don’t know- but it wasn’t me.”

Today’s Project

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Our previous Weber gas grill has served us well for almost 15 years.  They weren’t 15 easy ones either.  It’s completely exposed to the elements.  Many times the cover was left off, including the entirety of this past Winter.  I like to think of it as well-seasoned.

When the grease pan on the bottom finally rotted out and fell off from rust, it was pretty obviously time for a new grill.  It’s not like we don’t get lots of use out of it.  Hopefully, this new one will serve us as well as its predecessor.

UPDATE:

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Here it is, all assembled. The boy helped me put it together. Using a socket wrench flummoxed him for a bit, but he got plenty of practice and I was in no hurry. I find that’s important, that there be no timetable, when he helps. It’s more for me than him. When time is pressing, I tend to take over and he just sits and watches. Today, I sat back and let him figure things out and also offered little hints where I could. My main job was to make sure he finished the job.

Anyway, it’s a handsome enough contraption. Hopefully it cooks as good as it looks.

April Fools Paranoia

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The lass got April Fools off to a start today when she told the Wife to look at all the birds out in the back yard. The Wife went to look and the lass declared “April Fools!” I think we can let the Wife slide since she was only on cup of coffee number one.

No, it wasn’t exactly epic.

The boy spent the day paranoid. He was certain that anything out of the ordinary was a prank. So when a classmate jumped up and declared that the writers of Minecraft would be deleting the game, he sniffed it out. When we tried to fool him about dinner, he sniffed it out. When we told him there was no Pack committee meeting tonight, he sniffed it out…

Wait. There was no committee meeting tonight. However, we’ve typically had our meetings on the first Tuesday of the month. The boy was hoping a friend would come over for the meeting, and when we told him there was no meeting tonight, but tomorrow night, he decided that we were pulling a fast one on him. Nothing the Wife or I could say would convince him otherwise, so we dropped it. It seemed likely he would figure things out eventually.

Around 7:30, the boy looked around a blurted out “When’s everyone showing up for the meeting?” Apparently, he hadn’t figure it out. Even then we couldn’t convince him there was no meeting.

Suffice it to say, things ended with the boy mad. Now, he was upset there wasn’t an April Fools prank.

Guess there’s no satisfying some kids.

Always

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The Wife asked the lass to vacuum the downstairs. The lass rather pungently replied “How come I always vacuum he downstairs?”

I asked the boy to feed the animals and he replied “How come my sister never has to feed the animals and I always do?”

Ask them to put away laundry and they ask “How come there’s always laundry?”

I put together dinner the other night- grilled pork chops. The lass lamented “We always have pork for dinner.”

The boy was playing Minecraft on the Wife’s iPod. While the lass was waiting for her turn, she asked “How come he always gets to play before me?”

When we finish a gallon of milk, whichever one is asked to retrieve the next gallon typically complains “How come I always have to do it?”

When the dishwasher need to be emptied and they are asked to empty it, their usually good for a “Why do we always do the dishes?”

The word “always” is one of their more abused words.

Their other favorite word to abuse?

“Never.”

Why Not Push Athletics?

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I’ll be perfectly honest- I’ve been disappointed with the boy’s efforts regarding his junior black belt. It’s not that I expect him to be Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan. It’s more about the level of effort which, in my opinion, is non-existent.

Thus far, I’ve more or less allowed him to find his own way. With the sole exception being that we’ve forced him to attend classes because they cost us money but also because he’s made a commitment and we want him to learn that he has to follow through. Outside of that, we haven’t really pushed him to practice outside of class or even to take as many extra classes as he wants.

The choice to not push him has been deliberate on my part and the Wife’s part. We’ve felt all along that it wasn’t really something we could push him to do because we didn’t want him to come to resent it. We’ve also felt that he would, well, figure it out on his own.

Thus far, that hasn’t happened.

Then, a couple days ago when he was struggling with some of this math, it occurred to me that the Wife and I haven’t hesitated to do just the opposite with regards to school work. Having trouble with spelling? Let’s drill your word list. Having trouble with math? Here are extra problems and I’ll sit and work with you on them. We forced him to read until we didn’t need to anymore and we’re doing the same with the lass.

So if we school work is important and we push them in that arena, and we’ve deemed that his martial arts is important, why not push him just as hard there as with school? So far, I haven’t been able to come up with anything better than “It’s different.”

School is their main job right now. Doing well in it requires learning to put in the proper effort to learn the material. Helping him to do that enforces the importance that the material has for his future.

Martial arts is an after school activity and, for now, it’s supposed to be fun. It’s hard for something to be fun once it starts to feel like work. Pushing him to practice more runs the risk that he starts to think it’s more like work. And then what? It’s not hard to see him wanting to stop after that point.

The flip side is, how does he learn what it takes to become excellent at something without the effort? Doesn’t the concept apply equally well to other aspects of life outside of his school work? If we wouldn’t hesitate to make him work more for school, why do we do so in athletics?

There are no easy answers sometimes.

Delusions of Grandeur?

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On the way home from the tournament yesterday, the boy said something that’s stuck with me.

I had witnessed, during the tournament, his sparring opponent was being tended to by the judges and some master belt instructors. The boy was waiting for the match to continue while the adults seemed to be tending to the other kid. I asked the boy what had happened.

He said that his opponent had started crying for some reason. After a pause, he continued “I guess sparring against an apprentice belt must have been pretty stressful.”

I paused for a moment. Without more information, my own guess was the poor kid was overwhelmed by the environment and needed to vent his frustrations. The boy had jumped right to something along the lines of “he was trembling in the awesomeness of my being. LET ALL WHO LOOK ON ME QUAKE IN THEIR UNDERWEAR!”

I actually pointed out that there might be other possibilities. The boy was having none of is though. “Yeah, but I was, like, 4 bet levels above him,” he said in his defense.

I didn’t push any further.

The boy has many moments like this where he greatly overestimates his own capabilities and competence. He has other moments where he fails to recognize that his comparisons that make him look so superior to the person he’s comparing himself to aren’t fair. For instance, with the lass learning addition and subtraction, the boy will often test her by giving her a… multiplication problem. Then, he’ll claim “it’s so easy” to her. All the while, I can remember when he was in tears because he couldn’t remember the answer to the problems he quizzes his sister with.

Most times, I or the Wife will do our level best to give the boy a check on his ego. So far, no matter how many times we’ve done it, he comes up swinging for another round at some point.

More and more, I’m coming to wonder if there’s much point to pushing back against him. As long as he isn’t putting people down, I’m not sure I see the harm anymore. I used to think that his perception of reality was blinkered and often times, like yesterday with his sparring opponent, I still do. But I also think it’s just more of the myopic world view kids his age have. Most of his friends have put on similar displays at one point or another in my presence. I often call their bluff, and they just laugh it off and continue on their way.

In other words, I’m thinking it’s just the age, and the boy is just putting his own peculiar spin on the it.

Listen to Dad

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On the way to a martial arts tournament today, the boy realized we didn’t have any boards for his breaking.  We were well passed any known hardware shops by that point, and certainly beyond “run back home and cut a few up.”  So, I started keeping an eye out for a Lowe’s or Home Depot.

Fortune smiled on us about 10 minutes from our destination.  I pulled off the highway and went into a Home Depot to get some boards for breaking.  I was able to get a 6 foot, 1×10 piece of pine cut up into 10 inch lengths in short order.  We were on our way in less than 10 minutes with plenty of wood to break.

On the way I asked him what he was planning to do for his break.  “A spinning side kick,” he replied distractedly.  He had his nose in another book.  The spinning side kick is his goto break because he knows he can do it.  It happens to be a good break for his level as well, so it all works out.

Then I asked him how many boards he planned on breaking.

“One.”

“Here, take another and break 2 boards,” I told him.

“Why?” he asked.

“Because you already know you can break 1 board with that kick.  There’s no challenge in it for you.  The point of the tournament and martial arts is to challenge yourself.  You like to break with that kick, so change the number of boards.”  I thought that was a pretty thorough case without any wiggle room for argument.

“Do you think I can do it?” he asked.

The thing about board breaking in martial arts is its less about strength and more about technique and courage.  Hit a board off center with everything you’ve got and it won’t break.  Hit a board near the center with good solid form, and it will crack like an egg.  It just takes some nerve to stand up there and perform the break with good technique.  I had no doubt the boy was physically capable of performing this 2 board break.

The bigger question was would he have the courage to actually do it?

I was waiting to compete in my own division when our instructor came up to me and said “Your son just won his breaking competition.  He did a 2-board break with a spin side kick and nailed it on his first try.  It was really good.”  He showed me a picture of the boy just as he’d creamed the two boards.  The boy had hit them dead center and his leg was fully extended through them.  It was a great picture of the break.

After I finished up with my competition, I caught up with the boy.  He was all smiles.  “I guess you can break 2 boards,” I said.

“I guess I’ll have to break 3 next time,” he answered, still smiling.

Math Troubles

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The boy forgot his homework today, so I helped him out by improvising some problems for him.  It was just math work, double digit multplication in fact, so coming up with practice problems was easy.  I’ve already done this sort of thing with him.

As a side note, I’m not sure what to think about how they are teaching him how to solve the problem.  It’s easier to show than describe.  Take 35×41.  They have him solve 4 multiplication problems: 5×1, 5×40, 30×1 and 30×40.  Then those results are added to get the answer to the original problem.

Now, it’s a perfectly valid way to go about it and I suppose the argument is that it’s easier to perform the multiplication on the broken down problem.  I think it makes the addition harder but no one asked me.  Typical.  Plus it takes longer and I don’t think it lends itself to being done in the head- too many numbers to remember.

Regardless, the boy wasn’t overly thrilled with my giving him problems to practice.  So I gave him a few extra just to be nice.  He finished them without anymore comments.  I checked them over and he’d made a bunch of mistakes.  Amusingly enough, it was the addition step that he’d flubbed for each wrong answer.  Does that count as an “I told you so” or was it too obvious?

So the boy came back and asked which ones he’d gotten wrong.  I wouldn’t tell him.  He wasn’t happy about that at all and several minutes later, he turned back to me and said “They’re all right.”

“So you found the wrong ones?” I asked.

“None of them are wrong.  I checked them,” was his reply.

I was speechless.

I knew he had several wrong answers, yet here he was trying to create his own reality in which that wasn’t the case.  Essentially, he was saying I made up his mistakes. 

I was at a loss.  Arguing with him would be futile, because he was going to get defensive and start yelling.  I didn’t want to tell him which ones were wrong because he’s the one that needs the practice.  So how to resolve this little standoff?

More than a little exasperrated, I handed him my phone with a calculator app running and told him to check his answers.  Several minutes later, he’d corrected all his mistakes.  When he was done, I asked him if he’d believe me the next time I told him he had some corrections to make.  He chose to ignore me.

I suspect it won’t be the last time.

Eggs Aren’t Always Good for You

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The lass had a meltdown this morning, over eggs. Actually, it’s probably fair to say that everyone but the boy had a meltdown over eggs this morning. Ironically, he’s the only one who didn’t at least try to have eggs this morning.

She started with the best of intentions. She wanted to make eggs for herself and the Wife. She planned on making them scrambled with some ham and cheese on them, which the Wife has a fondness for. Eggs are easy enough to cook up and we let both kids prepare them all the time and they’re actually fairly decent at it anymore.

Trouble started brewing shortly after she started cooking them. She’d scrambled 4 eggs and she became convinced that 4 eggs weren’t going to be enough for her and the Wife. She started to protest that she should make more. The Wife tried to assuage her fears and said that what she had would be plenty.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t good enough. Somehow, the situation deteriorated quickly into a shouting match. The lass HAD to make more eggs, if she didn’t she wouldn’t have enough for herself. The Wife was insisting it was all fine. The lass stomped off, leaving the eggs cooking. The Wife got up in a huff, incredulous that the lass just left everything there. She finished cooking the eggs and prepared a couple of plates, at which point the lass returned.

And immediately made the situation worse.

Now, she was upset because she had meant to serve the Wife her eggs. Her mood became darker. With a great “harrumph” she folded her arms across her chest and stared at her eggs. I think she was trying to burn them, but I can’t be sure. The Wife tried to calm her down and get her to eat. They got as far as sitting down with the plate in front of her. But she refused to eat her eggs.

At which point, I finally got involved. And not for the better.

The lass bellowed about how her breakfast was ruined. The Wife bellowed back that she was being ridiculous and that there was nothing wrong with her eggs and all she had to do was eat. I bellowed above them both. The lass started crying. The dogs were cowering. The boy was somewhere else on the planet. I think the bird were staring in slack-beaked amazement the train-wreck before them. The cat was, well, where the hell the cat was.

Since she was refusing to eat the eggs, I grabbed her plate and started eating them myself. Now she cried harder because she suddenly really wanted the eggs. The Wife got smart and walked away from the whole thing. I continued to eat the eggs and told the lass I didn’t want to hear anything else from her until she’d eaten something. So she got up and prepared herself a bowl of cereal, which is probably what she should have done from the get go.

It will probably be a few mornings before she has eggs again.

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