An Ode to Nowak


Roses are red,

Homework is a bore,

Why do my kids wait to put the massive poetry project together

 the night before?


She knew it was coming,

and I did too.

Her sisters made the same mistake,

The night ends with boo – hoo.


Due in three weeks,

 she wrote hard for the first.

Then set it aside,

Oh Lord, we’ll be cursed.


I got back to the house

at 10 PM from a meeting,

the project was due in 10 hours,

was even too late for some cheating.


She wrote haiku, a couplet,

free verse and a sonnet,

Dad, get the glue out and the hole punch,

Although late, I was on it!


The writing was easy,

Putting it together was not.

A nice binder, and drawings,

The presentation, a lot.


With colored pencils, and crayons

And glue and some tape,

She worked and she worked,

Michelle was up really late.


And me, well I watched.

I coached from the side,

And picked up little round papers

from the hole punch til I thought I would die.


This is my last child

to learn from Mr. Nowak.

He has motivated my daughters

And taught them Shakespearean clack.




My Hypothesis

Science Project

I have a hypothesis:  The Science Fair is a pain in the butt.

I have another hypothesis:  Most parents hate their child’s science teacher during the weeks prior to the Science Fair.

Here is my proof –

Today I spent three hours coloring with magic markers.  Michelle’s hypothesis is that Sharpie markers last longer than Crayola or the Target generic brand.  She is correct.  I have the marker stains on my kitchen countertops and my middle finger knuckle to prove it.

And how did testing magic markers become science?  She’ll probably grow up and get a job at Consumer Reports.

At our school, science projects are mandatory for all 4th and 7th graders.  Since my children were born in three-year increments, we typically have two mandatories at a time.

When DJ was 8, my overeager third grader decided she and her friend would enter a project into the Science Fair for extra credit.  Who needs frickin’ extra credit when they already have an A?

Her friend’s father was an engineer so he spearheaded the project.  We met at my office.  The experiment had something to do with conductivity.  I thought we were going to the symphony.  Imagine my disappointment when we met at my office, and he pulled out a bunch of wires.

He meticulously explained each step of the electrical process, and if I recall correctly, at the end he told us we were right about our hypothesis.  The problem was that neither third grader, nor one of the third grader’s fathers understood what we had done.

When he left my office, DJ looked at me puzzled, “Dad, I didn’t really understand that.”

“Me neither.  Wanna go to the symphony?”

When Lisa was sick, Stephanie decided her project would be to determine if Zip Lock bags, fold over sandwich bags or plastic wrap kept vegetables fresher longer.  It was January, and Lisa was recovering from surgery to remove her tumor.

On this Sunday morning, Stephanie and I decided it was about time to tackle the project which was due in three weeks.  We headed to the grocery store to buy our goods:  baggies and plastic wrap – check; green peppers – check; onions – check; tomatoes – check.  As we were standing in the check out lane, my phone rang.  It was Lisa.

“Honey, I blacked out in the shower.  I don’t know what’s wrong with me.  I feel dizzy and weak.  I had to crawl to the phone.”

“I’ll be right there.”

I quickly paid, and we ran to the car.  Thinking back on it, perhaps I shouldn’t have taken the time to pay.  But the damn science project was about to be due, and we had weeks of rotting vegetables we had to observe.

When I got home, Lisa was in bed and was waiting for a call back from the surgeon – it could be hours.  So I began the process of chopping up our veggies while Stephanie made labels to identify each one.

For the Science Fair, you have to complete your experiment three times.  The teacher wants to make sure that you are fully tortured – a slight torment just wouldn’t do.

We cut 9 pieces of pepper, 9 pieces of onion and 9 pieces of tomato.  Each piece was labeled and put into its container – Experiment 1, onion, Zip Lock; Experiment 1, onion, sandwich bag; Experiment 1, onion, plastic wrap.  Oh, and we took a photo of each of the 27 veggies along with its label.

We put all of them on a tray and set them in the refrigerator.

About the time we finished, Lisa got the call.  The surgeon wanted us to check back into Duke for a couple of nights so he observe her.  I called my mother-in-law and asked her to come stay with the kids.

About 6:30 pm, I was sitting in the hospital room watching the evening news when my phone rang.


“Yea Steph.”

“You’re not going to believe this.”


“Nana started making a salad with our science project!”

Oh $%&#!  “Seriously?”

Lisa laughed so hard she nearly fell out of her moveable bed.


“How did that happen?”

“I don’t know.  I just walked in the kitchen and she was pulling tomatoes out of the bags and tossing them into a big glass bowl.”

Son-of-a- “Just toss them back into  bags – and make sure the onions go into a bag labeled onion!”

I hung up, unable to speak.  I’d spent three hours chopping, labeling and yes, even photographing vegetables, and Nana was well on her way to creating a scrumptious garden salad with our study.

Lisa consoled me, “This is your first year with the Science Fair baby.  You’re doing a good job.  And seriously, are they going to flunk a kid whose mother has stage IV cancer?”

Both of my kids got A’s that year – probably a nod of sympathy.

This time, Stephanie decided to prove that girls were smarter than boys by seeing which sex could perform better on a word search.  It looks like the girls might have won the 4th grade test.  The planned 7th grade test has hit a snag.  All of the boys have refused to return their parental permission slip to be a science project lacky.

Either they’re scared of the potential results or they are indeed the smartest!

Sunday Post 37: Teamwork 101

Posted by Danny

When Stephanie was two, we were diligently working to get her to use the potty.  Lisa was tired of the hassle of diapers.  I knew my annual income would increase by $600 when I stopped having to buy Pampers four times a month.

We tried everything:  reason, a sticker chart, the comfort argument, peer pressure.  Nothing seemed to work.  

When October hit, Lisa made her annual trip to the store to purchase candy corn.  Lisa was big on annual traditions, big or small.  Candy corn was a fall staple.

This was Stephanie’s first experience with the delectable sweet and she was hooked immediately.  A new tool!  We’d bribe her with candy corn.

That night we headed to Nana’s house for dinner.  DJ was five and excited to help teach Stephanie about the wonders of the toilet.  She understood the stakes were high for Stephanie.  Potty = candy corn.

About an hour into the evening, the two ran out of the bathroom with exuberance!  “Stephanie peed in the potty!  She gets candy corn!” our oldest reported.

Stephanie was beaming with pride.  We all ran to the bathroom and looked in the miniature commode.  It was full of urine.  Lisa and I began to clap – the accolades flying.

Nana, being a bit more seasoned than we, took a second look.  “That looks like a lot of pee for a two-year old that’s never gone before.  DJ…”

Yes, the candy corn mafia boss and her associate pooled their resources.  DJ would provide the urine and Stephanie would share the loot.  Incredible teamwork!  And we almost bought it, hook, line and sinker.

Tonight I had a work function and was headed out of the house after taking a quick shower.  When I came out of my room, I was amazed.  My three daughters were again teamed up – rather than stress me out with making dinner for another night this week, they decided to take care of themselves.  DJ took charge – scrambling the eggs.  Michelle, without being asked, set the table and got the drinks ready.  Stephanie was in charge of waffles, syrup and butter.  They teamed up and took care of business – just like before.

I wonder if it is a coincidence that we just bought the annual candy corn at DJ’s request this past weekend.  You know, those little sugar pills bring out the best in people.

Summer Math, A Huge Downer

From DJ's Summer Reading List

Posted by Danny

We didn’t have to learn in the summer when I was a kid.  Now a days there’s a summer reading packet, asummer  math packet and Stephanie has to learn the Catechism for church homework.  I turned out to be a reasonably intelligent, successful dude without formal training in June, July or August.

When I was a kid, we learned from each other when school was out, not a book.  Tracy McDonnell taught me about the female anatomy in our above ground swimming pool while my dad mowed the lawn around the perimeter. 

“I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.”

Sounded good to me.  With murky water and no goggles, she could have shown me her elbow and I would have been impressed.  But that hot July day in 1973, I left the pool at least knowing there was something different about her from me.  Why else would she want to cut that deal?  Although I still wasn’t sure what it was.

We played hide in go seek until 10 pm on Friday nights on our cul-de-sac on Berkshire Road. There were ten of us.  That experience taught me to stick with the big guy.  Any time I hid with my older brother or Mike Mask, I came out a winner.

We played Boyland each week – if the boys caught the girls we could do whatever we wanted to them.  It usually consisted of making them play matchbox cars in the big dirt hole in the backyard.  I think Tracy wanted to do something else.  The art of persuasion in action.

At one point, my brother and I got a bow with darts that had suction cups on the end.  We stood in a vacant house storage room and shot the darts at a friend’s butt until they eventually stuck.  This was no easy task and taught me a great deal about perseverance.  I not sure what our target learned…perhaps true friendship???

At our church, some person back in the 1950’s set up an endowment where the proceeds are used to give each 5th grader $50 bucks if they memorize the Catechism.  In my opinion, having to memorize this epistle could turn you from a true follower of Jesus Christ to an atheist in a quick minute.  I don’t think God intended for us to memorize the thing – just to basically understand the jest and work to live by it.

“Stephanie, you’re gonna learn how much God loves you if it kills you!  Get to memorizing!  You’re only on question 6.”  I’ve got some repair work to do for poor Stephanie who I insisted follow through on this assignment.

My kids sob about their summer math homework.  Learning the Catechism has been like pulling teeth.  There is a summer reading list we’re crunched to complete, primarily because I didn’t start pushing it until late June.  Even I needed a break from the homework. 

I’d have to quit my job to finish five chapter books in a summer.  I don’t know how they do it.

I do hope that all of this work pays off.  Perhaps Stephanie will become a Presbyterian minister and work to remove the Catechism from the curriculum.  From the looks of it, Michelle’s gonna be stronger in an addition field than one that requires significant talents in subtraction.  Those pages cause the most tears.  I look ahead and assign them when the babysitters with us.  But I think that’s bad parenting. 

DJ’s gonna be our author.  You’ve read some of her stuff.  For her school, she had to pick one of six books to read and report on by the end of August.  Miss Overachiever said, “I’ll just read them all.  Got to have something to do at rest period at camp.”

Me?  I’m choosing to stick to my old patterns of experiential summer learning.  Thinking of building a pool.

The Bailiff

Posted by Danny

This morning we were working to get out of the house early – I had a meeting in Chapel Hill about 40 minutes from Raleigh.  Wednesdays are dance days for the girls after school so they pack their change of clothes and we head to the studio at 4.

I was sipping my coffee and working to wrap a few things up via email when Michelle ran into the den.  She barked out these orders:

Michelle:  “Dad, raise your right hand.”

Me:  “What?”

Michelle:  “I said raise your right hand.”

I comply.

Michelle:  “Now repeat after me.”

Me:  “Ok.”

Michelle:  “I, say your name.”

Me:  “I, daddy.”

Michelle:  “promise to make sure”

Me:  “promise to make sure”

Michelle:  “that Michelle’s leotard”

Me:  “that Michelle’s leotard”

Michelle:  “is clean EVERY Wednesday.”

Me:  “is clean EVERY Wednesday.”

Michelle:  “Thank you.”

That kid.

How can we remember all this?

This is how we learn vocabulary in our house when the mind just can’t take any more and the clock is ticking down.  Kids are given a word bank and a list of definitions and must match the two.  It’s all about connections.

Vigorous:  strong; energetic

I hold my big guns (biceps) up in the air – “Look Stephanie, my arms are strong and energetic and are in the shape of a V – just like Vigorous.”

Illogical:  contrary to the rules of sound reasoning.

“Do you know what logical is?”


“Most people just study – they follow the study guide that their teacher sends home.  Tonight you are crying and pitching a fit.  That is illogical.  ILL – means sick.  Your logic about studying tonight is sick.  We need to get it well like it was last night.  Ill-logical.”

Subdued:  quiet; not as active as usual.

“Ships are on top of the water – moving quickly and loudly.  Submarines are quiet and sneaky under the water, like subdued.  Now what is the word?”

“Sub something.”

“Think about the time a kid pooped in the pool last summer.  Sub – like a submarine; dooed – like an underwater poop.”

“Got it.”

Invariably: constantly; always uniformly.

“Dad, the word uniformly reminds me of my uniform.”

“Well, you invariably wear a uniform to school.  And the “v” in invariably looks like the “v” in your uniform collar.  And the “n” sort of looks like a pair of short pants, just like your uniform.”

Vantage:  favorable or advantageous position for observing.

“I hate to have to point this out, but the word vantage is in the middle of advantageous.  Take advantage of that.”

Laboriously:  with much labor, toil, or difficulty.

“Do you know what labor means?”


“I and Us go with Lee to do labor.  Labor is done by I, us and Lee.  Labor-I-US-LEE. ”

Loped:  Moved with a long swining stride.

A big, funny, daddy lope across the den floor.  Arms dangling like a monkey.  “I’m lopin’ baby, I’m lopin’.”

Warily:  In a careful, cautious manner.

“Let’s all sing…Warily we roll along, roll along, roll along; warily we roll along in a careful, cautious manner.”

Rancid:  Unpleasant odor or taste.

“Your uncle’s feet smell rancid.  Remember the smell.  Remember the word.”

(By the way, rancid is one of my all time favorite words.)

Respite:  a temporary period of relief or rest.

“You tired of this?”


“Me too.  We need a respite.”


“Let’s go to bed.”

My kids are going to fail the SAT.

Don’t Get Much Sleep, But We Have A Little Fun

Not my actual bed.

Posted By Jesse

Last Sunday morning I heard a light tap on on my bedroom door, followed by a twist of the knob and slight cracking. I turned my gaze from Sportscenter to the room’s entrance, anticipating the appearance of a bored 8-year old looking for someone to entertain her. Sure enough, Michelle peered through the doorway with an “I know I wasn’t exactly invited, and I know it’s kind of early, but….” look on her face. When she saw me smiling rather than shooing her away, the door flew the rest of the way open and in three quick steps she had bounded into the room and up onto my bed.

I’m not sure exactly when the girls decided I was less of a guest who was not to be bothered and more of a family member who is only granted semi-privacy, but it was a welcome change from my perspective.

On this particular morning, Stephanie had had a night of restless sleep and coughing, and Danny was letting her sleep in a bit in his bed, which is where Michelle had undoubtedly begun her quest for a playmate. But he booted her to let Stephanie rest, and 8 a.m. is just too early in the morning to start playing with dolls I suppose.

So Michelle and I did lounging stuff. I tickled. We snuggled. We wrote letters on each other’s backs and tried to guess what the message was. I wrapped her up like a burrito in my comforter and pretended I couldn’t figure out how to get her out. I acted like I feel back asleep on top of her, smothering her until she could stop laughing enough to belt out, “Get! Off! Me!” All in all…it was probably the best Sunday morning I’ve had in a while.

I’m not overly eager to have another human completely dependent on me. But if you put enough of these types of moments in the brochure to draw in people to become parents, I’d probably get suckered into signing my life away without looking too closely at the fine print.

Lisa and Danny’s bed used to be the main hub of activity in the house, I have gathered. That is because it was also Lisa’s throne. Danny tells me in the evenings she would set up shop in her bed: Law and Order re-runs on the television, laptop computer open for work or Disney planning, she would welcome kids to her bed to review flash cards, plan summer activities, or just plain snuggle. In fact, any time I ask Michelle about memories of her Mom she brings up snuggling in her bed.

Danny probably recognizes some of Lisa’s sedentary traits in her brother, because after dinner I often post up with a laptop on my bed and dial in the evening’s sporting events on the television. I’m not nearly the center of activity Lisa was, but I’ve come to find that more and more the girls treat hopping up on my bed–to chat, to play, for study help–as a regular thing, and not something they have to ask permission to do. And I love it.

Yes, there are times I’m trying to bang out an article that I have put off and put off and now have to write double-time just to get it in a day late. And there are probably times when I would enjoy sleeping in. But I’m trying to put the word out that my bed is open for family business.

It may not be “Grandma’s Feather Bed” and it certainly can’t compete with Lisa’s throne, but my bed is starting to work its way into the rotation of family hang-out spots. DJ will stop by if Danny is putting the other girls to bed and she needs someone to quiz her on vocabulary words. There are still a pair of Stephanie’s dress shoes in my room from when she got home from church and sprinted to my room to let me know how lazy I was for still being in my pajamas….and ended up staying for a while. And, of course, the world is Michelle’s playground, so she’ll come in looking for entertainment any time she pleases.

Moving in with the Tanners, I basically forfeited the right to lock my door. Best trade I ever made.

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