The Mind Boggles: Pinball Wizard Meets the Dictionary

Online dictionaries can be distracting

I enjoy helping my daughter with her homework. It’s a way of spending time with her, sharing what I know with her,  as well as teaching her some learning strategies.  But, as most parents come to realise, there’s a big difference between helping kids with their homework, and doing it for them.  For instance, she knows better than to ask me how to spell a word,  because the only answer she ever gets, ever has gotten and ever will get is:  “How do you think it is spelled?”  What I hear instead is: “Mum, do you spell [evidence] e-v-i-d-e-n-c-e?”  or at worst “e-v-i-d-e-n-s-e?”  Sometimes I correct her if she doesn’t spell the word right.  Other times, I tell her to look up her spelling of the word in the dictionary and see where it takes her.  No, not the online dictionary, the hardcover one.  Like I grew up doing.

Why? Because I am a hopeless pedant?  Perhaps.  But also because there are some real, if subtle, benefits to using the book.  With both the book and the web dictionaries, if you look up the word “correlate,”  you encounter not only the word “correlate” and its definition as a verb, but you find its definition also as a noun.  You see that the word has derivatives such as “correlation” and “correlational.” You learn that the word originated in the mid-17th century.  And you encounter words that can be found near the search word.

But when you  look up, say “correlate” in the New Oxford Dictionary of English (a wedding present from a friend of ours), you come across a number of interesting things.  You might notice that there are a great many words beginning with “co” that surround it.  You might begin to wonder what “co” has going for it that it introduces so many words.  You might even just notice that the book itself is very heavy [roughly 3 kilos] and contains 2176 pages and a very many words, each of which is available for use, at no additional charge.

Searching through the pages of a dictionary forces us to rehearse the alphabet – not just in searching for the first letter of a word, but in the order of the subsequent letters as well.  We are forced to actually scan many other words before settling on our target.  By not arriving immediately at an answer, we allow serendipity to enter into the game;  how many times have you looked up a word and followed your eyes along to the meaning of another word they stumbled upon along the way?

BoggleSpeaking of games, our family loves to play Boggle which allows players to search for words among a collection of random letters.  One of the great features of the game is that, unlike a printed word search, there is no specified list to find.  As a result, you can bump into a series of letters that be a word, that can be made plural if you can connect it to an ‘s’, or that can also be made into another form.

I will hand it to Dictionary.com for including many valuable features.  It  includes a separate list of “nearby words” you would encounter before or after yours.  It also shows sample sentences that demonstrate how the word is used.  It includes synonyms, some word origin and history, as well as a button for hearing how the word is pronounced.  Also on offer is the ingenious  “Visual Thesaurus,” that shows  a map of your target word and its synonyms,  and a game that challenges a user to identify the correct definition of words found on standardised tests.  But your eyes will also have to fight their way through all these features as well as a dizzying array of animated ads, banners, social media gadgets and games to reach the definition you’ve set out to find.

Take pity on our children.  Their developing brains and emerging minds are bounced around like pinballs, sprung between bumpers and shooters of sights and sounds.  We need to help train our children, their minds and personalities,  to take things one step at a time, to accept learning as a process, to follow their noses, but not to be lured off anywhere someone else wants them to go.  Let’s help them to focus.  They will have the rest of their lives to tap, swipe, click and surf.

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Taking Walnut to Allnut

Glen Eira Party in the ParkI’ve been trying to get back on my bike again.  This might seem insignificant, except that, until last week, the last time I’d ridden it, I spent the next three months in a cast and a moon boot.  It took so little to knock me off that riding my bike seems like a much scarier undertaking than ever before.

But I rode myself, down Walnut Street, over to Allnut Park where the City of Glen Eira Party in the Park was in full swing, complete with Pet Expo, rides, multi-ethnic foods, face painting, and stalls representing all kinds of animal related organisations, as well as the Scouts, the Guides and others.   I really wished I’d brought Hugo! But I’ll know for next year.

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Ladies Who (Make) Lunch

It began when Abby was in kindergarten at West Leederville Primary School (Western Australia).  All the mums were asked to bring in a few pieces of fruit for the teachers to cut up and share among the kids.  Mostly, it was apples, pear, oranges and bananas.  But not yours truly.

healthy lunch

No, I sent Abby to school with Mangosteen, dragonfruit, starfruit and kiwis, to make sure the kids were tasting the wonders of Au stralasia.  Unbeknownst to me, there was another mum on the same mission.  She was to become one of my best friends. It turned out that many of the kids didn’t even know nectarines, peaches and plums, let alone the exotic fruits we were sending in.

But I’ve also noticed that I give Abby different lunches than the other kids get — healthy lunches that she really enjoys.  I’ve decided to share them every so often, in case they offer parents any new ideas for school lunches.  Let me know if you have any good lunch tricks up your sleeve.

So, what’s in the box?
  • Two kiwis with kiwi spoon;
  • a mandarin, snap peas and mini corn;
  • a nut and fruit bar from Oasis (http://oasisbakery.com.au/);
  • a chicken salad wrap;
  • and a box of almonds and dried cranberries (also from Oasis but also available in supermarkets)

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Miscellaneous Blogging

climbing treesOver the weekend, I participated in a blogging workshop at Writers Victoria taught by Karen Andrews, the Miscellaneous Mum – developing different types of content, defining an audience, search engine optimisation, marketing, monetisation, content curation (repurposing) and more.

Not only did she cover a lot of ground, but the other participants are doing great work as well.  Take Colleen, of 15 Trees.  Colleen’s mission is to reduce our carbon footprint by getting all of us to plant trees, or at least to support tree-planting through her work and the work of her affiliates, such as Planet Ark’s National Tree Day.

The first post I saw in Colleen’s blog touches on a subject near and dear to my heart:  the importance, and relative absence, of outdoor and unstructured play in the lives of our children.  I’ll take this up more in another post, but this is an area where I am proud of how Simon and I have structured our family life:  Abby has been engaged in nature play all her life. Our involvement with the WA Family Bush Walkers has meant that she’s enjoyed camping, bush walking and  all the associated mucking around since she was four years old.   It has also meant that, even as an only child, she had kids with whom she regularly climbed trees, played in mud, fondled leeches, toasted marshmallows and climbed mountains.   All children are entitled to such a childhood.  

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Ear-ringing in the New Year

Abby has been bugging me since she was seven or eight to let her get her ears pierced.   Other girls had them; why couldn’t she?  I was already used to doing things differently from many of the families in our neighbourhood, but I explained my reason the best I could:  there were stages of growing up and there was no need to rush through them. For me, although clearly not for all, earrings symbolised a next stage in feminine sexuality.  It could wait.  When could she do it? she would ask.  There was already a built-in coming-of-age ritual:  I decided that she could do when she became bat mitzvah (daughter of the commandment) at 12.

Well, that seemed simple enough at the time.  Then we moved from the traditional community in Perth to Melbourne and found ourselves a home in the Progressive Jewish community where boys and girls both are deemed to become bnei mitzvah at 13.  Now what?

I hoped she wouldn’t notice.  Who was I kidding?  When the lobbying resumed, I had to think: 12?  or bat mitzvah?

Various developments have conspired to present me with a solution and we agreed that with high school beginnning in a few weeks, it was time.  Strangely, it wasn’t so easy to get it done. Jewellers don’t seem to do it, even though it would seem that they could make money selling earrings that way.  Very few pharmacies do it.  Fewer had anyone available during January.  So, when I found someone yesterday, Simon and I took her  to Bare Beauty salon where Rebecca did the honours.

It was really sweet. Abby beamed with proud excitement as Rebeccah talked her through what to expect.  She had her choice of several rows of studs with different coloured crystals.  I’d brought my first earrings to show her, and she chose the same: classic gold balls.  She looked lovely.

When we left, it was hard to tell who was more excited, Abby or me.  Next stop:  high school.

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Give Me A Break!

neoprene wine bottle holderWell, in one more week, I return to Sandringham hospital for an x-ray.  The orthopods who saw me and set my leg projected that this visit will see my cast removed.  All I can say is: From their lips to God’s ears.

It’s been a very interesting five weeks.  In the beginning, I felt a lot of regret — wishing the accident hadn’t happened, if only I hadn’t cycled that morning, if only I’d been cycling on the road instead of the footpath, if only I’d stayed at home, as I had wanted to do in the first place, instead of pushing on.

But I guess my mind got tired of that, because it is exhausting to keep wishing for something different to have happened in the past, fighting against the insistent and pressing truth of the present.

So it picked up a new toy to play with:  how this broken leg would be my passport to “doing some serious writing.”  I’d get really stuck into my blogs, sort out all the options for accessing a large readership and so on.  Fortunately, I have a lifelong friend who kicked in with some sobriety:  my only job was to get well.

And it was a good thing she did, because I hadn’t counted on how exhausting every little task was going to be.  Bob Slusher is a contributer to MyBrokenLeg.com, a community website for broken leggers.  He writes:

‘Relax when you get home, and be prepared to take good care of yourself. Prepare to be pampered. Don’t do anything. Put your life as you knew it on hold. You are entering a road of recovery from a severe shock to the ole body. It is probably far more than you yet realize. Relax, even if you feel great and want to be off doing things and being busy. Relax. Give your body some time to do what it needs to do. I felt great after a few weeks and began doing more than I should have. Uh-uh. Don’t do it. Listen to the words of wisdom from those who have gone before you in this “little misery.”‘

Slusher also writes about “safety first” in all undertakings.  This means planning every move, as I discussed in an earlier post. Some have commented that they had expected I would be moving more confidently around after five weeks, but it’s scary:  every change of floor surface poses different challenges.  The crutches don’t move as smoothly on carpet as they do on solid surfaces.  On the other hand, tiles are sometimes wet which is a huge hazard.  I was feeling no more pain in my leg a few weeks ago when I slipped on the tiniest wet spot in the kitchen and fell, and I’ve been sore again since then.  I have to be constantly vigilant, and that takes its toll.

I have learned new tricks:  I use a small backpack to carry a few essentials from room to room, and just a travel pouch on a cord when I’m just carrying my mobile phone, which has really come in handy.  When it’s time for lunch, I use a picnic backpack that is waterproof and padded,  and has structure and a firm bottom (don’t we all want a firm bottom?).  I prepare some lunch sitting on a stool at the counter, then pack it into a plastic box with a tight-fitting lid which I put into the picnic bag. I include a bottle of water, a plate, a dishtowel and whatever utensils I need.  If I only want a cup of coffee, I pour it into a sturdy plastic cup with a lid, and carry it to the couch using a neoprene wine bottle holder (such as the one I found on Ebay pictured above) with a handle that I can just manage to hang from my fingers while I use my crutches. Then I throw in the house phone that sits on the kitchen counter in case someone calls; I don’t want to be rushing on crutches to answer the phone.   Simon had the brilliant idea of moving the garage door remote into the house so I don’t have to rush to the gate to answer the door.  I’ve tied the curtains back so I can see who’s there.

Anyway, I am hoping that all these hard-learned skills will all be obsolete next Friday, since Simon leaves Monday, and that I’ll soon be able to walk and drive…to my rehab!

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All Broke Up. A new twist on travel writing.

WheelchairAs is our usual morning routine, Abby was cycling ahead on the footpath, leading Hugo who was scampering alongside.  I was cycling behind so I could take him back home when we all got to school.  I steered around a pedestrian, the wheel went into a little ditch, and the rest is history.

A man who was working on the house across the street came and helped get me back home.  I could step ever so lightly on my foot and hobbled into the lounge.  The phone rang and it was Nancy, wondering if I wasn’t supposed to be at her house sipping a coffee.  She came over right away and spent the day she was meaning to spend working on her illustrations taking me to the doctor and then getting seen at the hospital.

The doctors were optimistic that it was only a sprain because I’d been able to step on my injured foot and because the swelling was limited to one side.  After the x-rays, the orthopaedic resident came in and said “You’ve tricked us.”  Not the kind of trick I’d intended to play.

So, there it is: a break in the fibula.  One little moment and a projected six weeks in a cast.  No walking, no driving.  I’d rung Simon who was in Sydney to let him know what had happened.  He offered to come back a day early but at the time I couldn’t see why he should.  I rang later to ask him to come home when I realised the extent of my incapacity.

So it’s over to you, Simon.  It’s been Simon doing the shopping.  Simon doing the cooking.  Simon not doing the cleaning instead of me not doing the cleaning, because there’s only so much even Simon can manage, while working every day.  Abby has also risen to the occasion. She is cycling herself to school and to b’nei mitzvah class, helps with the cooking and washing up, as well as her usual vacuuming.

Hugo has probably copped the worst deal.  I throw the balls for him when I manage to get down the steps to the courtyard, and Abby takes him for walks a few times a week.   We take him out when we’re all together on weekends, but he really deserves more.  And he lets us know by poking his head into the room with the ball in his mouth.

Two weeks down the track, I’m more confident with my crutches.  I can hobble more quickly from the lounge, where I’m set up on the couch with my laptop, to the kitchen.  I now navigate steps more easily although I still find it really scary: I understand that the crutches go first when I descend them, and second when I ascend them.  I use the metal surround to sit on the toilet.  I use the plastic seat to take a shower, and I get Simon to lower the shower head.   We move the seat back in front of the sink so I can brush my teeth, put on deodorant, pop my calcium, pluck my wiry chin hairs, and anything else.  He wraps my foot in a plastic bag and tapes it securely when I need to take a shower, which, apologies to those around me, I do less than when I’m more able-bodied.  Simon fills a thermos with hot water before he leaves for work, and makes sure the stool is on the side of the counter near the sink and the stove.  I’m so grateful I have them both to help me. 

But, wow.  It takes such a lot of work to do anything.  I plan every move: Anytime I get up, I make sure there’s nothing on the floor to trip me up. If I’m going to the kitchen to make a coffee, I make sure to bring my little backpack that holds my phone so I don’t have to rush with my crutches to answer it, or miss the call (I’m isolated enough).  I make sure I have my cup with a lid. I’ve also found our wine bottle carrier perfect for carrying the cup to the lounge because it has enough structure to hold it upright.  I’ve read that the point of learning things well enough that they become habits is so that we don’t have to think about every single thing we’re doing.  Because having to do that is exhausting.  How much I take for granted, and how I long to do that again!

It’s back to the hospital tomorrow for new x-rays and a review, perhaps a new cast.

I said to my lifelong friend Abby today “Another setback.”  She said, “Set back?  Where are you going?”  That’s my mate, Abby.

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The Shavuot Update

From Evernote:

The Shavuot Update

Clipped from: file:///

Today is the Jewish chag of Shavuot. Since we now live near a progressive shul that I can relate to, I treated myself to participating in the dairy breakfast and morning learning session, followed by festival services. Rabbi Gersh gave a great learning on the different roots of Shavuot and how the Rabbis connected an agrarian festival with receiving the Torah. He also introduced us to the concept of the SONO — the Strictly Orthodox Non-Observant Jew, a phenomenon I’ve been encountering and grappling with since coming to Australia. More on that some other time. If it’s Shavuot, that means that it’s been 49 days (seven weeks — Shavuot means weeks) since Pesach and a few days more since Elisheva’s wonderful bat mitzvah.

And, if it’s Shavuot, it’s past time for another update. We find our Bachrach-Coxes a few steps further along in the process of settling in Melbourne. Mid-second term, we’ve filed the first form indicating our preference for Abby to attend McKinnon Secondary College. We rented our house because it is in the zone for McKinnon which has a great reputation for being a secondary school that is very strong academically, in the arts and in music, as well as being strong in sport. We will need to get our lease extended, or buy in the zone over the next several months to be considered permanent residents of the zone. The McKinnon Zone is so small and in demand that properties cost $100k more here than they would outside the Zone. And the school is so vigilant about people renting in the zone only to leave when their kid is admitted that they are now known to actual send investigators to make sure that the family is actually residing in the zone on the original school application. As you can imagine, we’ve been visiting the various schools around here, and McKinnon seems to far superior for Abby’s needs that we’ll establish residency, one way or another.

Abby’s been enjoying Valkstone Primary School very much. It is a warm, stimulating and very well-organised school. Abby’s made friends there and is enjoying even her homework which includes learning how to edit digital music using Audacity. But even the spelling homework is more interesting: instead of coming home with lists of words she has to copy over and over again, they have exercises that invite the students to use the words in sentences, construct wordfind games, generate other words in the family and other activities that are interesting but still require them to spell correctly.

Abby has also made her Promise in Girl Guides and is really enjoying the club. She goes every Monday evening but also is participating in the Adventure Guides which gave her a chance to swim with dolphins a few weeks ago and to go GoKarting this coming Sunday. It’s also fun for her that some of her friends from the neighbourhood and Jewish community are also in the Guides. Thanks Alexis for introducing us to it!

Abby’s also very much enjoying her netball. She’s on the Maccabi Meteors team and is really making her mark as Goal Defense.

Simon is slowly recovering from his dislocated shoulder. Although the shoulder was eased back in the evening of the accident, his arm is still very sore and prevents him from sleeping well — not fun for him.

We’re planning a trip at the end of June to New York City for my Mom’s 80th. Never a dull moment.

Well, that’s all for now. Please stay close.

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Keeping Shabbat in Mind

I was meditating briefly this morning and had this insight:  Just as Shabbat is intended to be a time for refraining from creating, constructing and intervening in God’s world, meditation is a time to refrain from planning, worrying, deliberating, analysing and other strategies we might have of trying to control the world.
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Progress, not Correction

I took Abby to school, then took Hugo to the local dog park.  There, he had a play with Alfie and another dog — a few good run arounds, two poos, good sniffs and some social time — before I took him home.  I heard the voice scolding me:  “That wasn’t very much exercise for him — he really needs more! and”You didn’t exercise!”  But I didn’t take them on. I said to myself:  I took him out for some exercise.  Some is better than none.  Good for me.  I’m planning to have a swim before I see my physio today. That will be some exercise.  And some exercise is a lot more than I usually give myself.  So that’s where I am right now.  I’m learning to put down the whip because God knows it hasn’t helped me to become fit.  “Easy Does It” is worth a try.

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