The Lost Art of Signatures

I have to renew my daughters’ passports.

Now that they are both over the age of 11, it is strongly suggested that they sign their applications. They’ll be legally required to do it once they turn 16.

This is causing some problems.

This morning I had them both practice writing their name and – this probably comes as a surprise to no one but me – they don’t actually know how to write their own names in cursive.

My two oldest got a year of cursive practice each, before it was officially phased out of the Ontario education system. My youngest never had any instruction at all, but she does know it exists and some girls in her class practice it and showed her how to make a few letters.

But it’s safe to say that none of my kids EVER does cursive writing. Frankly, I can barely read any of their PRINTING because it’s so awful. They spend more time typing than writing by hand and they should all definitely become doctors because that’s where their handwriting seems to be taking them.

(Although come to think of it, our doctor now prescribes things by printing out a form and just signing it, so guess the last hope for Those With Terrible Writing is now gone.)

Our oldest has had to sign a few things lately – he’s now 16 – and his signature is – sorry buddy – HILARIOUS. He doesn’t know how to write capitals in cursive so he signs with all lowercase, and writes so carefully and with so much intense pressure I think he is going to rip through the page every time.

The girls were just as awful. They’ve somehow managed to scrawl something on their passport applications but they have a long way to go to create something fluid that is also unique to them.

I wonder if this means that the whole notion of a “signature” is going to go away sometime soon. Perhaps we will just digitally sign things with a finger scan, or if paper is required, put down a thumbprint. Maybe we’ll go back to the days of signing with an “X” and then I’ll just have to notarize everything they sign.

These past couple of weeks, Gal Smiley has been working on a cool history project where they pick a Canadian soldier from WWI, get all their records from Archives Canada, then sift through and put together a picture of one soldier’s life. It required a LOT of reading of cursive – every medical report, enlistment document, and transfer document was written in cursive – and I had to translate for her like it was a foreign language.

It’s interesting how quickly cursive – the ability to read and write it – is vanishing. In just one generation it could be a lost skill.

So how will we sign things in the future? I wonder.

Gifts for Teenaged Boys

Teen boys can be hard to shop for, am I right?

The other day I was at the orthodontist with Gal Smiley. I had brought a book to read, the latest one by Randall Munroe, called How To.

Randall Munroe is the geeky engineer behind the comic strip XKCD, which I love. But even better than his comic strip are his books, which are very funny explorations of really cool scientific things that often involve explosions.

Before Gal Smiley went in for her appointment, I was explaining what this new book is about. It’s about how to use science to do everyday things, like digging a hole or skiing, in the craziest, most don’t-try-this-at-home way possible, using science.

(Or rockets. There’s a lot of rockets.)

Anyway, Gal Smiley went in for her appointment and another lady in the waiting room came over to ask me about the book for her teenaged son, who is geeky and likes science and funny stuff and doesn’t read much. If this describes your son, then Randall’s books are PERFECTION.

I personally would start by giving them What If, his first book, which hilariously answers such questions as what if we tried to build a model of the period table using every element as its own block, and what if we wanted to build a ladder to the moon (insider tip: to manage to have enough energy for the climb you are going to need to pack a LOT of butter).

The chapters are not too long and very readable and contain lots of funny cartoons, so perfect for picking up and putting down. But if your son is REALLY not a reader, consider his other book, Thing Explainer, in which he draws blueprints for many common (and not so common) machines and explains how they work, using labels that use only the 1000 most common words in the English language.

It’s actually a really beautiful coffee-table sized book but also deeply hilarious AND informative.

Anyway, I don’t often do gift guides around here but I wanted to endorse Randall and his books, really for all the geekly people in your life. Especially if this means he’ll mention me in his next book, Secrets of License Plates, because he clearly is My People.

Braces Off!

Our middle daughter, Gal Smiley, got her braces off earlier this week. Like many things regarding children, it felt like both forever and just yesterday since she’d had them put on. Needless to say, she’s overjoyed to have them removed and celebrated by eating all the chewy, sticky candy she could, all week long.

Now that we are through the process, I’m still not sure we should have done it and likely I will have ongoing guilt about it for an unreasonable amount of time. She does look amazing, and our orthodontist is both cool and capable, and the whole process was very smooth and easy. If you’re going to do braces, you really can’t ask for better.

But I have to say, her “before” and “after” photos aren’t really that different. In theory she had a bit of a side-bite that was fixed, and one oddly twisted front incisor is now perfectly straight. She still looks pretty much the same though, unlike in this YouTube video, recently shared by Chris Hadfield (so you know it is awesome):

Now she’s up for a literal lifetime of a) wearing her retainer in the evenings and overnight, and b) having a permanent retainer wire on the back of her bottom teeth.

Was it worth it?

Let us review. The Pros:

  • really nice teeth
  • managed to keep her away from candy for almost two years

The Cons:

  • two years of feeling self-conscious when smiling
  • occasional pain
  • permanent retaining wire (preventing FLOSSING, which I am obessive about, so this is upsetting) and retainer
  • in theory, additional brushing and managing of elastics and other braces care things, which Gal Smiley literally NEVER did, so this one is kind of a wash.

I don’t know where that ends up. I asked her about it, and she says she thinks it was worth it, but that it’s maybe too soon to tell.

We have one more kid coming up so I’ve been thinking about this a lot. We’ve already been getting noise from our dentist about an ortho referral, but she is just-turned-12 and still has only lost 8 baby teeth, so I’m thinking it’s way too early. And like her sister, she has some crooked teeth but no serious problems and maybe they will sort themselves out if we just let her grow up a bit, and get a bit bigger, and get some more adult teeth.

Giving it time seems like a good idea.

And then, we’ll only do braces if it is something SHE wants – and is willing to OCCASIONALLY wear her elastics in pursuit of her own goal of straight teeth, SO HELP ME.

Getting Existential

Lately I have been having some existential thoughts on personal blogging.

It’s been a few years since I ran Blog Out Loud, which was an event where personal bloggers got to read their favourite post of the year at a kind of open-mike-type environment. Sometimes people ask me why I don’t run it anymore, and you might be surprised to hear that it isn’t because it was a lot of work – it was because we were having trouble finding people to read. Blogging had moved away from the funny personal essay style of writing, and more towards commercial blogging on a theme.

These days, I think a lot of blogs, especially new blogs, are magazine-type lifestyle blogs, rather than places to dump hilarious stories of family life behind the scenes. At least, every new blog I’ve followed in the last five years has been something like that – recipe blogs, or How To Dress Now That You’re 50 And Can’t Wear Jean Shorts Anymore kind of blogs, or Get Awesome At Clash Of Clans So You Can Crush Your Kids Just In Time For Them To Become Disinterested In That Game kind of blogs.

But not so much diary kind of blogs.

Maybe it’s just that I’m getting older, and my kids are getting older. Maybe there’s a whole new generation of young, tired moms telling hilarious stories of diaper blowouts and rumbles in the daycare yard that I am just not connecting to. But I fear not.

(If I’m wrong, please do send me their blog links.)

Lately, Sir Monkeypants and I have been watching The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on Amazon Prime. It’s set in the 1950s and it’s about a young housewife who tries to start a new career as a stand up comic. Many, many people told us we would love this show, so naturally we strongly resisted watching it. But one day in desperation we decided to try it, and one episode in, I was HOOKED.

It’s seriously SO funny and delightful, although if by saying that I have absolutely turned you off of watching it, I GET IT.

Also, word of warning, watching it will make you feel like a) you do not own nearly enough coats, b) you do not own nearly enough hats, and c) you should probably invest in a few sets of curlers before you and your husband end up in single beds.

Anyway, if you have never seen the show, one key thing about it is that Mrs. Maisel’s style of stand up comedy is new and radical for the 1950s – it’s personal. Instead of just doing impressions or telling a rapid series of jokes like Bob Hope, she gets onstage and tells long, funny stories about her crazy home life.

That is, she is a verbal personal blogger. Her monologues are EXACTLY like the funny, funny posts I used to read in the glory days of blogging by my favourite bloggers.

I read an interesting article recently that talked about how Mrs. Maisel has inspired a whole new generation of young moms to try to get into stand up. Apparently there is now a flood of sassy young women getting up on stage to tell personal anecdotes about their kids and husbands and mothers. And I was all like, SO THIS IS WHERE THE BLOGGERS HAVE GONE.

I’m nowhere near extroverted enough to appear on stages, so I’m happy I was around for the ancient days when we got to write this stuff from the safety and quiet of our own dark bedrooms, while the kids were napping. How these young moms are finding the energy to get dressed, let alone put on a minimum of makeup and go out in the EVENING, for heaven’s sake, is beyond me.

But now that I have a kid who is old enough to babysit, giving me the freedom to go out in the evening myself – perhaps I should get out to a comedy club near me. Because perhaps that’s where my people have gone, and can be found once again.

Another School Year

I’m one of those people who thinks of September as being the start of the year, rather than January, because I still have kids in school and that means in September our house transforms from glorious, glowing days where we all sleep late and eat whenever and have seemingly endless hours of energy and sunlight for outdoor sports and board games, to a house where everyone just feels tired all the time.

This year, Sir Monkeypants and I keep saying over and over how much this feels like back when the kids were in primary grades, and for the first three weeks they’d be so exhausted they’d be begging to go to bed an hour before their actual bedtime, and we all developed month-long bags under our eyes. Is it always this way every year, and I forget? Or are we having even more trouble transitioning to early mornings and making lunches as we all get older and more interested in staying up until midnight to watch The Predator on a school night? WHO CAN SAY.

It’s always a bit frantic getting back on the school schedule but this year I am also especially put out by the laundry schedule. I have never managed to figure out the one-load-a-day process or even the teens-do-their-own-laundry process so I still have a Laundry Day where I do six loads in one day and fold it all.

(So it can then lie around clean, in bins on bedroom floors, rifled through for extra underwear and socks, for the remainder of the week. Sigh.)

Laundry Day is Thursday and it has been Thursday for ages and I remember to do the laundry on Thursdays because it is THURSDAY. But this summer, we had some weird off-kilter family visiting time in the end of August, plus an overnight wedding to go to, which meant I was doing laundry on unusual days so we’d have enough clothes to pack and enough to wear when we got back. This threw off the schedule. Thursday would come around, and I’d be all, “But I just did laundry two days ago, so no need to do it today.” Then five days later everyone would be all, “I don’t understand why I don’t have a bin of clean clothes on my bedroom floor, how am I supposed to wear underwear under these circumstances?”

And then I’d do emergency laundry on an off day and it seemed like the schedule would be wrong for always. I even considered moving laundry day to Tuesday – TUESDAYS, for heaven’s sake – to establish a new routine, but NO. Instead I am doing laundry today, Thursday, even though it’s just three days’ worth, so I can get back into the groove and things will go back to normal and I can finally get some goddamn work done around here because I am not spending three-quarters of my brain power worrying about Laundry Day Jet Lag.

Welcome to September, everyone.

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner

And the winner of the guessing game is…Lisa!

I guess we were a little off in that I was picturing (and had led you all to picture) something for each of us. But it was indeed a crokinole board – just one – with a set of coloured buttons for us each to play together.

Did you know that crokinole is a Canadian invention? It’s now played in international competitions but I would guess that it’s really just in Ontario where you will find a majority of people who have even heard of it. (If you’ve never heard of it – it’s kind of like shuffleboard and curling and darts rolled into one, where you slide the little wood pieces across the board with a flicking motion and try to score in the rings.) You can read more about its cool history (invented in Perth County!) on the Crokinole Wikipedia Page.

We had a board as a kid and played some, but this new board is a step above. It was handmade by Jeremy Tracy of Crokinole Game Boards in Elmira and it is just gorgeous. And oh, that sliding action! PERFECTION.

We’ve played hours already. Definitely a fantastic gift.

For the record: Little Miss won our personal family guessing game by guessing Croquet Set, which we felt was the closest. Other guesses included customized colour-coded Jenga set (Sir Monkeypants), tennis raquets (me), canoes (WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO WITH FIVE CANOES, GAL SMILEY), and child-sized rocking chairs (again, WHAT THE HECK, Captain Jelly Belly).

A Guessing Game

My mother is an early Christmas shopper. This is because we only see her a couple of times a year, and she likes for us to have our Christmas gifts on Christmas morning. So she tries to have them ready for us to take back with us when we do our annual summer visit.

This year is no different. We are seeing her next week and she has our presents ready.

But what’s different this year is this: we know all five of us are getting the same thing, as is my sister FameThrowa and her husband Mr. Chatty.

Also: apparently this item is too big and awkward to be wrapped, so we will be receiving them right away when we go next week, instead of the usual tucking away of wrapped parcels to wait out the next four months.

This has started a guessing frenzy in our household. What could this mysterious item be?

Here are the clues we have so far:

A – About six weeks ago, my mother asked us all to “pick a colour” from a list of about 12 colours for our item. Each of us had to pick a colour that was “distinct” from the others. Also, curiously, one of the colour options was “natural.” (We selected: Captain JB – purple, Gal Smiley – red, Little Miss – turquoise, Sir Monkeypants – orange, if it isn’t too similar to red, otherwise grey, Me – natural).

B – FameThrowa and Mr. Chatty had to pick a colour too, but they were invited to pick two additional colours, in case they “had guests over who also wanted to play.”

C – From hints my mother has dropped, we know that this item is handmade. And from the wrapping information, we know it is large and awkwardly shaped, but not so large that she couldn’t fit nine of said item in her car when she went to pick them all up.

D – This is my own inference, but I would guess that from having “natural” on the colour list, and the fact that these items are made in Elmira, home of lots of handmade furniture, that this item is made of wood.

So far we have no slam-dunk guesses. Is it a game? If so, why would we need five copies of it? Is it something we can play where we can all have one – like a ping pong paddle? But surely those would be wrappable? Is it something decorative, like a stool or a little shelf or a pretty box? If so, why would FameThrowa need one for “guests”?

We are constantly speculating, and our plan is to have everyone write a secret guess on paper on the drive down. But at this point, I’m not sure anyone is going to get it right.

Your guesses are invited. I’ll let you know next week the answer to the mystery!

Breaking New Slang Ground

My older two kids love nothing more than making fun of my social media illiteracy.

This is Gal Smiley’s all-time favourite meme:

Credit: dopl3r


One thing they really bugged me about for a long time was that on Instagram, when I liked a post, I would “like” it by hitting the heart icon at the bottom left of the post.

You can also “like” an Instagram post by double-tapping it, and they laughed and laughed at me for carefully selecting the icon instead of just double-tapping. It was SO OLD LADY.

(I admit I didn’t see what was so funny. That was, apparently, EVEN FUNNIER.)

So the other day at dinner, Gal Smiley said something funny, so I reached over and double tapped her shoulder. “Double tap,” I said.

I thought I was so funny. As funny as hitting the heart icon on Instagram! I was going to start a revolutionary new in-joke! Soon we’d see people on TV giving each other the “double tap” of “like”!

I was cutting edge. Very briefly.

Then the Captain pointed out that the trailer for Zombieland 2 had been released that day, and in the first Zombieland – a movie that is much adored by all in this house (except the 12-year-old, who hasn’t seen it, I am not THAT bad of a parent!), “double tap” is one of the rules for killing Zombies, as in, make sure you shoot them in the chest and head to make sure they are really dead. In fact, the second movie is actually CALLED Zombieland: Double Tap.

So giving your kid the “double tap” is maybe not that great.

But I still feel like I am on to something big, don’t you?

Driving Dreams

I think you all know that once the Captain is a fully licensed driver, I intend to never drive again. Instead, he will whisk me from place to place as I chat on my phone or control the radio, and hold the door open for me like a little chauffeur as I dash out of Chapters with an armful of shopping, and take his sisters places while I recline with a new book and a glass of Club Soda on the couch.

However, this plan has recently come under fire for two reasons.

First, he hates driving. We have to force him to practice and he’s a nervous wreck the whole time. It’s getting better, slowly. But I will probably need to wait at least a year until he would even THINK of trying the roundabout that leads out of our subdivision, so unless I want to be swanning around in the three blocks that immediately surround our house – and let me be clear, there are no bookstores there – then I’m out of luck.

Second, I’m a total wreck myself when riding next to him.

Here’s a funny story for my husband to tell at future dinner parties, while everyone sighs knowingly and pats his arm in sympathy. When the Captain first got his license, my husband was outlining a plan for some practice and lessons, and where they would go.

And I was all, “Ooooh, are you sure YOU should be the one to take him out?”

And Sir Monkeypants was like, “Um, YES, most terrible driver in the world, probably NOT YOU should teach him to drive.”

And I was like, “But I’m afraid you two will butt heads and he’ll be stressed out already, so maybe his mom should take him.”

And Sir Monkeypants was like, “YOU BE CRAZY. But fine, have at it.”

So I took the Captain out a few times, and almost had a heart attack. The handle on the door practically came off in my hand, I was gripping it so hard. This was while we were going at about 20 km/hr around our closed-circuit crescent.

I was sure he was going to crash into a parked car, or hit someone while going around a corner. When it was time to pull into the driveway, I was POSITIVE he was going to ram into the garage door and yelled at him to STOP STOP STOP.

(Actually, that was probably correct and I think I was probably right to yell.)

I think I lasted two times. Then I apologized heartily to Sir Monkeypants and begged him to take over, and he was like, “OKAY THEN.”

They are doing better, the two of them. But I am quite happy to be staying home. Guess I’ll put that chauffeur hat away for a while, at least.

Songs For Lynn

Recently I watched the movie Baby Driver with Gal Smiley, and we both found it delightful. It’s very music-centric – the lead character is listening to music all the time and several segments of the movie kind of feel like music videos.

When he meets The Girl – there’s always a girl, right? – she complains that her name is Deborah, and there aren’t any songs about Deborahs. Her sister’s name is Mary, and she gets all the good ones.

Baby Driver, of course, knows an awesome Deborah song, by the band T-Rex. That’s how you win a woman’s heart.

I don’t know any songs about girls named Lynn. I decided to hit Google and Spotify. I found at least 10 songs or so with Lynn in the title or lyrics, but I’d never heard of any of them.

So I put them all in a Spotify playlist and checked them out. Turns out that songs about Lynns are all:

  • instrumentals, often from movies, or
  • really terrible country songs, or
  • songs that Gal Smiley describes as “the kind of creepy lullaby they play in horror movies when an animated doll is about to kill you.”

That is NOT the way to win a woman’s heart, unfortunately. I deleted the playlist. Note to songwriters: the position of “great love song for the Lynns of the world” is still open.

Speaking of songs, Sir Monkeypants was watching an interesting YouTube video the other day about the song Mr. Brightside by The Killers.

(You probably all know it. But here is its video, just in case.)

The YouTube video was asking why Mr. Brightside continues to pop on to the British top 100 hit list from time to time, a full fifteen years after it was released. It is still one of the most-played songs in the UK and USA, even after all this time.

I don’t think the video had any answers, but it did refer to Mr. Brightside as “the song of a generation,” and as perhaps (he suggested) Don’t Stop Believin’ by Journey was the song of a previous generation.

I don’t think either of those are songs of MY generation, though. But maybe I just listened to weird stuff.

I would say here are some songs of generations past: Rock Around the Clock by Bill Haily and the Comets; Love Me Tender by Elvis; Yesterday by The Beatles; Hotel California by The Eagles. I’d give the 90s Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana.

What is the 80s defining song though? Maybe Thriller by Michael Jackson? Like a Virgin by Madonna? U Can’t Touch This by MC Hammer?

Maybe it’s too hard to pick a song of your own generation, because those are the songs you know best. It’s too hard to pick a favourite child.

But I can tell you this: if one of them were about a cute, smart girl named Lynn, THAT WOULD BE THE ONE.

It’s not too late, songwriters of the world. GET ON IT.