Friday, March 15, 2013

DI Details. With Video!

Destination Imagination (DI) is a program that fosters creativity, independent learning, and teamwork. Each school year, teams of children work together to solve specific problems. Parents and coaches sign strict non-interference pledges for anything relating directly to the main challenge.

Although the policy is frustrating at first--okay, I'll be honest, it's frustrating the whole time--adults quickly see the benefits of letting the kids work out both technical and teamwork problems by themselves. As an example, a parent might teach a child to sew a pillowcase and then let the child sew a simple cloak herself. This independent creativity teaches life skills in an amazing and lasting way.

Here's another example: when I assisted with the script, I asked leading questions and, I admit it, held the pencil and scribbled frantically, trying to capture everything the kids said. The children just weren't coordinated enough to hold the pencil that long and none of them could type. Scribing was probably an appropriate assist for third-graders, but I would consider it too "hovering helicopter" for fifth graders.

Methinks Daniel will work on typing practice this summer.

Representative sample conversation:
Gail: [pencil poised] So what happens next?
Lydia: Well, they go to candy land, and they talk to the witch, and they get the unicorn...
Gail: Can you be more specific?
Daniel: Well, they walk through a magic portal to get to candy land and they meet the witch who asks them some riddles and then they get the unicorn...
Gail: Thanks for those details. What does the witch say?
Lydia: Well, she asks them if they will take good care of her unicorn and they say yes and then she says "Okay, unicorn, now go with them."
Gail: Aha! Actual dialogue! [She writes] Can you give me some more direct quotes from the witch?
[Lydia and Daniel stare at Gail blankly]
Gail: [sighing] Okay, let's pretend I'm a villager. I walk up to the witch and I say...what?
Daniel: [rolling his eyes at his mom's obtuseness] 'Hello, witch, can we use borrow your unicorn?'
Gail: That's it! Perfect! [She scribbles] Then, Lydia, what does the witch say?
Lydia: 'Will you take good care of him?'

You can see how it takes a lot more time than doing it myself. It also takes a lot more time than telling them what to do and how to do it. On the other hand, if they flail around a little until they figure it out themselves, they are much more likely to retain their lessons. Nothing teaches like actual experience. As Ms. Frizzle would say "Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy."

There was one moment when I could see the perfect way to tie to ideas together in the script. The kids missed it. I bit my lip and said nothing. It was hard. I told Jon later "You can tell I did not write the script. If I had written the script, it would have been very different. For one thing, it would incorporate more transitions." As it was, I may still have "led" them a little too much. Though I did try really hard to control myself.

Take that frustration and multiply it by several hundred. That's what poor Renae went through all the time.

For more details about Daniel's DI team, check out this post by their great coach:

Also, there is now a video up of their performance at the regional competition. When you watch it, remember they did all the work directly relating to the challenge themselves. Adults helped indirectly by providing transportation and treats. Plus a modicum of money.

You can see the video here:

Aren't you proud of them? I am. :)

Monday, March 11, 2013

Fundraising: Daniel, DI, and Bear's Baptismal Brouhaha

After a year of practicing and over 500 hours preparing for the regional Destination Imagination competition, our first-time team of six elementary students qualified to advance to the state meet. This is a wonderful surprise, but it comes with unexpected expenses which can create hardship to some family budgets. While most teams are sponsored by their schools, our team is unaffiliated.

As part of the fund raising effort, I just published a short story online at Here's the teaser:

Dave's teddy bear is almost eight years old and wants to get baptized into the Mormon church. The bishop says stuffed animals aren't people. Bear's grandstanding antics demonstrate otherwise. Who will win the most argumentative baptismal interview the poor bishop has ever conducted?

Though funnier to people familiar with the LDS faith, this humorous short story should appeal to anyone who ever believed that stuffed animals might have souls.

Any proceeds from now until April 13th will go toward helping my son's DI team get to their state tournament.

If I can sell more than 25 copies, I'll publish a sequel about Bear trying to pay tithing with live leopards.

This is a new venture for me and I'm sure to make lots of mistakes. Among other things, I didn't see a way to offer a "see inside" optional preview of the story. Let me add that here:

“WHAT?” shrieked Bear. “What do you mean I’m not a person? I eat, I breathe – except that one time when my mom had to do CPR on me – I walk, I talk, I know sign language! -- I act obnoxious and cranky when I’m tired. I get in fights with Dave and then we make up. I love little Spencer and George and help to entertain them…I have a birthday, for Heaven’s sake! How do I not qualify?”

“You’re not a real person,” the Bishop clarified.

Bear was annoyed. “I think you lack faith,” he scolded.  “I have lived, loved, lost, and been betrayed. I have almost died, had huge fights, gotten lost, and been rescued.” Bear paused melodramatically. “If you prick me, do I not bleed?” he demanded. Then, realizing he couldn’t actually bleed, he quickly changed tactics....

Here's the link again:

"Bear's Baptismal Brouhaha" for only $1. Low risk, high reward. Try it right now. If you like it, post a review on amazon. Recommend it to your friends. Offer feedback to me. (Yes, I know it needs a cover page, but feel free to make other suggestions, like how to tighten up the ending.) Help Daniel and his Bear get to an important competition. Maybe that adventure will spark another story.

(You can also contribute directly at this website: )

Monday, March 4, 2013

Mommiest Moments: February, 2013

[For ease of future volumes of Burg Berry Books, I have decided to incorporate more facebook posts into my monthly blog. There will be much new material here, but my apologies to facebook followers who read some quotes twice. This space is primarily for the grandparents.]

Sippy cup of milk, dry cereal eaten out of a silicone cupcake holder (with a few cake crumbs mixed in), orange juice cap. All part of Jeff's wholesome, nutritious breakfast!”

Daniel: Bear, let's check your blood pressure!
Bear: Can't...breathe...[he faints as the cuff squeezes all air from his lungs]
Mom: Oh dear. His numbers look awfully low...
--Brook, Eric's fabulous math team coach, is an ER physician. She brought in some equipment for a special science lesson after the regular middle school math group disbanded. She also demonstrated how to check the airway in a realistic model with a nifty fiber-optic scope with a digital display. (She let the kids play with the scope and stick it down the poor mannequin's throat. Kewl.)

When I asked a hypothetical question about toddlers choking on legos the older kids had left carelessly out, I was hoping for a Lecture about the importance of protecting babies from choking hazards, but instead we got a dispassionate medical explanation about the the procedure for extracting artifacts from small windpipes.

It was still awesome!

“I have four boys. They are amusing, brilliant, cute, and so forth. Unfortunately, the alphabet also includes loud, messy, naughty, obsessive….”
--Gail, in an email, explaining why her house might not be the best forum for an event.

I spent twenty minutes over breakfast trying to convince the boys that I don’t actually love reading. Upon their close cross-examination, I claimed that I kept a library “to be seen of men.” That I read books in the bathroom because there were no better options. That I had heard parents needed to inculcate a culture of literacy, so I had read books ostentatiously as a supreme sacrifice, to set a good example. They promptly impaled me upon the horns of a dilemma: So I had spent ten years lying to them in an effort to set a good example? Isn’t it more important to be honest than to inculcate a love of literature? But if I backpedalled from that stance, it meant I had been lying for the last twenty minutes—and, worse, that I was losing the argument. Some days a mom just can’t win…

--Jeff. At long last! After three hyper-verbal children, I was getting worried. But in the last week he has acquired "Mama" and maybe "Uh oh." He's talking! And he's soooooo sweet. (Also adorable. I never worried about the comparisons there.)

“So, do we punish the kid who made the mess (Sam), or the kid who left the library door open (Daniel), or the kid who left the kitchen gate unlatched and the package of waffles sitting temptingly in reach (Eric), or the kid who is now eating thawed waffles off the disgusting floor and spreading the crumbs around, making the mess worse (Jeff)?

Daniel: I just can’t get to sleep!
Mom: [Brutally] Exert yourself. 
[Two nights later]
Daniel: No matter how hard I try, I just can’t get to sleep!
Dad: [Brutally] Practice.

Is it abusive to call my kids “evil mutant monster children”? Even if they malinger, delay, whine, squabble,  shove, disobey, sneer, disrupt, tantrum, throw pencils, and panic that I was singing ALTO during a hymn, all while disrupting the talks of two apostles? I feel singularly unspiritual right now…
--We had a regional “stake” conference feed from Salt Lake. What if I say it behind their backs but not to their faces?

Just survived hauling two toddlers across a major college campus—in the dark—with one hand—sans stroller. While dodging distracted teens flying by on bicycles. In the rain.

What productive and/or totally insane things have everyone else done today?

Jan Grambo You forgot uphill both ways.

--I was trying to get Eric to the AMC 10 math test, which was at the Chemical Engineering building at UT Austin. The plan had been that Jon would get to campus first and phone me. Then I would pull up to the curb, disgorge Eric, and drive away again. Instead, Jon got stuck in horrible traffic. I ended up driving all over campus, trying to navigate from a map on my smartphone (which indicated streets but not parking locations). I finally located the building, found a (slightly-less-likely-to-be-towed) parking spot, and then walked Eric to his building. We’d taken the stroller out of the van for the garden box wood and I hadn’t put it back because it wasn’t my plan to meander all over campus. I carried Jeff in my good arm (the bad one was in a brace from carpal tunnel). Eric held Sam’s hand. I hovered anxiously because trusting my wiggly toddler to a distractable older brother was not ideal in the circumstances, cited above.

“Well, would you rather be conquered by an empire that is brutally honest about how it’s going to exploit you, or by an empire that lies and says “We’re doing this for your own good,” even though it really doesn’t care, or by an empire that says “we’re going to conquer you, but if you cooperate, you can befit somewhat,” or by an empire that lies to itself and convinces its citizens that they are helping to “civilize” your backward, barbarian ways by eradicating your culture?”
--Gail, as part of a homeschool history lesson. The boys all said they’d rather be conquered by Rome than Great Britain. (Personally, I’d go for Great Britain, but mostly for the technological advantages. It would mean I was living in the 19th, not 1st, century.)

Sam: [peeps out from underneath his protective blanket on the couch] I am tired of hiding from scary monsters.
Mommy: I can see why that would get annoying. Just grab your sword and “ha” them. After all, it’s morning—
Sam: [Firmly] No. [He disappears again.]
--He’ll get bored with his fear eventually. Right? 

“It’s like spraying for cockroaches, only in reverse.”
--When I lived in Sarasota, my mom fed the LDS missionaries every week. They told stories about sneaking into their apartment, grabbing the can of RAID strategically sited near the door, tiptoeing to the kitchen…then flipping the lights and spraying like mad at all the roaches suddenly scurrying for cover behind the walls.

I have an inverted problem. I sneak up the stairs, tiptoe to the door of Eric and Daniel’s room…then throw open the door and turn off the lights in one smooth motion, while noting which boys go scurrying for cover in their beds. Maybe I should start squirting them with icy water from a spray bottle?

For Fun Friday, we created a kingdom. I laid out an uninhabited “island” in the living room, which was discovered by one storm-tossed fisherman. He noted the location, went back to the “mainland” (the couch), and recruited a few of his buddies (and their wives) to come settle the place.
Over the years, they built farms, survived Viking raids, erected earthen walls and palisades, reproduced, intermarried, formed a collective cattle grazing/herding system (towards the center of the island, away from the Viking raids), built a primitive castle, recruited a blacksmith from the mainland, assigned boys as lookouts (for Viking raids), elected a War King, moved from wooden clubs to swords (courtesy of the blacksmith and the War King), argued over fence boundaries, successfully fought off the Vikings, kept the king for his administrative and magisterial functions, agreed that his son was the logical heir (since the son had followed Daddy around for years and knew the entire island, not just one farm), grumbled when the king’s grandson took over and did a poor job of mediating property disputes (but concluded that the occasional bad decision was better than chaotic feuding), and established a tradition of primogeniture.

So, this week we went from discovery to farm to kingdom. Next week, we’ll go from kingdom to empire. Maybe the new Emperor will have the authority to throw toddler giants in the dungeons when they disturb the scenery.
A representative Viking raids the colony with his trusty mace.

“I think it’s hilarious that my elementary age boys were arguing with me about which stuffed animals they were allowed to bring to a high school level lecture on the campus of a major university.”

Daniel always wants to know, first thing in the morning, what his afternoon chores will be.
He gets frustrated when I say I don’t know yet.

Yesterday I asked him “Well, just what messes do you and your brothers intend to make? How about if you come up with a schedule every week. ‘On Monday, we will spread game tokens and cards all over the playroom. On Tuesday, we will take cardboard and textbooks and make a fort in the library. On Wednesday, we will “sled” down the stairs on our dirty laundry and leave it lying around the living room. Then, on Thursday, we will eat crackers in the living room, scattering crumbs all over the dirty laundry still littering the floor…’ Whatever you do, it will be your chore to undo.”

[Making dinner in the kitchen]
Gail: The cardboard castle is lumbering across the living room. Apparently on its own.
Jon: [peeks over, eyebrows raised as the castle lurches to a stop in front of the piano]
[A sippy cup is hurled over the rear wall]
Jon: And now it’s throwing up. [A mass of paper towel confetti, toys, and a shoe splat on the carpet] Blearghhh.
--You had to be there to here the disgusting sound Jon made. It was horrible, and I cracked up. Fortunately we hadn’t eaten dinner yet.
--Sam had been inside the castle, bent over as he moved it. He was further blocked from view by two pillars.
Burg Barf.
Just wish I'd gotten Sam in the picture, too.
Doesn't the castle look like it's
suffering the effects of a drunken spree?

It was a glorious moment when Daniel, after whining for thirty hours, finally gave in and did a load of dishes. (This is after it finally sank in that the chores and consequences would only accumulate with his non-compliance.) He pulled apart a sippy cup lid and valve and got splattered with old, stinky milk. On the next sippy cup, he opened to find really disgusting curdled milk. (It didn’t splatter him, alas.) As he held the offensive object at arm’s length, I remarked helpfully that if he’d done his task the day before, it wouldn’t have had as much time to solidify. Or stinkify. It’s kind of pathetic to say “My big accomplishment for the day was getting a load of dishes done (by Daniel)!” but it was true.

He spent the entire time whining and arguing about how this was unfair. I retaliated by scrounging up dirty dishes from all over the house and then dumping them in the sink he had just managed to clear.

For the next two days, he was suddenly very good about clearing his place promptly after dinner. He verbalized “Huh. I guess you have to do this every day,” the next time he saw me doing a load of dishes. Of course, he still can’t see why HE had to do them—but, oh, boy, do I “get” the  benefit...

As a short-term pay-off, it wasn't worth the investment. Long-term...this whole "mean mom"/"chore chatelaine" thing had BETTER prove to have been worthwhile...

Sam: [Waving around a foam straight sword] This is my singing sword!
Jon: What does it sing?
Sam: “I am a Child of God.”

“There was a dragon at the bottom of the stairs. I wasn’t allowed to go down there by myself; Sam had to escort me. He killed the dragon and let me proceed to the laundry room. I grabbed some clothes, but then, just as we were re-entering the kitchen, we were attacked by a nest of baby dragons. It took Sam a long time to take those out one by one, but I was impressed with his form. His stances were so smooth…but now I’m late.”

Other pictures:

 Valentine's Day, 2013. I had the boys create homemade valentines for Jon. Left: "Heart attacking" his car at work. Right: "Head" attacking.

Above: Jeff toddles around in Eric's shoe. His shirt reads "Mom's Knight in Shining Armor." I love his blue-grey eyes. Blue eyes never last in my family, but his have lasted longer than any of my other boys. Here's hoping he holds on a little longer...

Right: Daniel's cake for the Blue and Gold Banquet. The theme was "Wild West." Daniel, always creative, wanted a bull reading a book. He selected Tory, the arch conservative, instead of Jeff's unnamed bull. The text on the page reads "Sustainable Human Ranching" and "Toreador: The Bull Fights Back!" Okay, yes, I helped a little with the words. But Daniel frosted the cake himself!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

I Loathe Lighthouses!

Six or seven years ago, at a Relief Society retreat in Raleigh, the event organizer asked us all to write down three harmless secrets. "Interesting things that nobody knows about you," Amy specified.

She dug each item out of a hat, read it aloud, and then asked everyone to guess who had written it.

After several iterations, Amy pulled a strip of paper from the hat and started laughing.

"I'm sorry," she gasped, "That's just so...random. It says 'I hate lighthouses.'"

(It was one of those "late at night/girl slumber party" things where everything seemed more funny than it actually was.)

Nobody guessed the correct identity. (I may have subtly laid false trails to deflect attention away from myself.) Eventually everyone gave up, and I confessed. Then I explained (briefly!) why lighthouses are evil incarnate.

I've always been rather proud of that minor feat. Mystery, suspense, humor, entertainment. Plus a great missionary moment.

I was reminded of that a week ago, when the following conversation took place: 

Jon: Don’t let Mom see that!
Eric: What?
Jon: That image on your screen!
Eric: A lighthouse--?
Jon: Shh! Don’t let her hear you say that word!
Eric: What’s wrong with a lighth—
Gail: A lighthouse? Where? Gaaaaargh!!!! [She rushes over to his computer screen and mimes stabbing it with a knife. Then changes the background image.]
Eric: What is wrong with a lighthouse?
Gail: It’s not a castle!
Eric: [laughing] Lots of things aren’t castles!
Gail: Yes, but lighthouses are SPECIFICALLY not castles! Come into the living room, and I shall explain…
[The family gathers ‘round]
Gail: Long ago, I liked lighthouses. I thought they combined a pleasant form with a useful function. Your father and I even had a fascinating conversation about the emerging technology of digital signals on unmanned buoys in the oceans, and the growing use of GPS navigation aboard cargo ships, back when we were still dating.
Jon: We did? I don’t remember that.
Gail: [to Jon] It was one of many fascinating, minor conversations we had early in our courtship while walking to class. [Continues] When I was engaged to your Daddy, I went looking for castle decorations for the wedding reception. I walked into hobby store after craft store after home decoration store after dollar store in the Greater Indianapolis area, and in every single one, I saw lighthouses. Little lighthouse toothbrush holders. Medium lighthouse wooden cutouts.  Large lighthouse umbrella stands. Oil paintings of lighthouses in huge frames! No castles. None. I started to hate lighthouses…
Eric: Did you complain to the store managers?
Gail: Yes.  And they said things like “We’re a national chain. I don’t actually have that much control over my inventory” or “Um…well, here’s a catalog, and there’s a small, blurry, black-and-white image of the single castle in our inventory. I could special order it and have it here in two weeks…”
Jon: Did you go online?
Gail: YES. You may recall that we talked on the phone every night, and I complained frequently that I had tried numerous internet searches which had availed me nothing. [Acting increasingly like a mad hatter, hands twitching to her hair, voice going wonky in silly melodrama.] I grew to loathe lighthouses…they drove me bonkers…the mere sight of one sent me screaming in frustration…
[Eric and Daniel giggle extensively]
Gail: [briskly] But, really, I’m over it now. I don’t hate them anymore.
[Eric and Daniel giggle even more.]
Eric: [wryly] I can tell.
Daniel: Do you really not hate them anymore?
Gail: [conspiratorially] Actually, I don’t mind them so much. I just ham up the hatred because I think it’s funny…And that’s our scripture study for the night! Forgiveness! Charity! Turn the other cheek, though the lighthouse stalk you seventy times seven…
[They pray and family harmony is restored.] 

I've done it again! Mystery, suspense, humor, entertainment. Plus a great missionary moment. Even reconciliation. Though if Jon can't remember conversations about lighthouses and castle shopping, what's next? I suppose soon he won't remember the dress I was wearing when he proposed. Tsk, tsk.

Über Analysis vs. Hyper Verbosity

Once upon a time, I had a friend who hyper-analyzed her relationships with boys.
My issue was not that she over-analyzed the next day, over lunch, with her friends. That is an unavoidable “girl thing.” No, it was that she super-analyzed in real time. 

I exaggerate here for effect, but imagine that the boy tried to hold her hand and she immediately started asking “Does this mean you like me? A lot? Do you like me? Are we dating?” and then would launch into a two-hour discussion about the definition of “dating” and where each of them would be in six months. (All while holding his hand, of course.)

I used to bang my head in frustration. “Flirt, or do not flirt,” I advised, “But don’t discuss it. And for pity’s sake, don’t start arguments about whether or not he was flirting and whether or not you were reciprocating. (‘Well, you started it…’) Enjoy the moment. Act mysterious. As Oscar Wilde said, ‘The essence of romance is uncertainty.’”

She ignored me. A few years later, she was flirting with a boy and started to hyper-analyze—then realized she simply didn’t know how to have a “define the relationship” talk in Spanish, so she refrained.

I rejoiced. “So that’s what it takes!” I said, and wondered if I could find a nice boy for her who had strong technical English skills but who lacked social vocabulary. In other words, an LDS German Aspie engineer.

Earlier this month, I spent a week writing very terse emails. My carpal tunnel was particularly bad and I avoided any unnecessary keystrokes.

Epiphany. “Oh!” I thought. “So that’s what it takes to keep my writing concise. Maybe I should play Minecraft more often…”


Facebook post from February 19, 2013:

"There's only so much genocide a woman's conscience can stand."

--Gail, explaining to Jon why we should go with one, not two, introductory garden boxes this year. He overruled me. Poor helpless little tomato seedlings...apologies in advance for your dessication. Haunt my husband. My guilt will be sufficient unto itself.

(I just don't remember to feed things that never scream at me.)

Jon Berry See if I share any with you! You plant murderer.
Gail Homer Berry If they're all dead, how can you share them with me? And if you're thinking about retaliation, remember that dirt on my pillow would soon spread to yours.
Gail Homer Berry Also, it would be plantslaughter, not murder.
Matthew Calabresi I always just smile to myself and visualize my nice, green, lush portion of heaven -- caused by years and years of herbicide.
Tedra Richter Cracking up here...Gail!! I thought u had the whole Earth-Mother/Gaia thing going on! For shaaaaaaaaaame!
Gail Homer Berry Tedra--no idea where you got that idea. I'm more of an ivory tower intellectual divorced from any kind of practical skill.
Brian Thomas Or get hardier plants than tomatoes. Like rosemary. I doubt you'd be able to kill that one even if you tried.
Gail Homer Berry My mom says zucchini is hard to kill, but Larry managed it when he was Eric's age. Of course, he was actively trying.

Juvenile Revenge Juvenilia

"Revenge is a dish best served cold."

The last line of this poem threatens vengeance--and here I'm delivering, seventeen years later. Wahaha.

I'm not sure who this will embarrass more--the guy who once had bad manners, or the girl who once wrote a rather bad sonnet about it. (I was sixteen at the time. Maybe seventeen. Be merciful, to both of us.)

The details are hazy, but what I recall, perhaps incorrectly, is that the young man was driving me nuts. I said not to annoy a writer, because “she might lampoon you in the press.” He didn’t believe I could churn out anything embarrassing or specific enough. I maintained I could. He challenged me to write a poem in just one lunch period—in a crowded, distracting cafeteria. I composed a Shakespeariean-style sonnet. Not a particularly good sonnet, I admit, but one that followed the basic structure. 

I did not claim at the time that this was Great Literature. I was aware that the meter was weak in places, especially in the last line, where the stress is reversed in one of the iambic feet (on “vengeance”). I was also never happy with the rhymes. Again--tight deadline.  I was pleased with the alliteration in line six, though. And the true connoisseur of our language will also note that I used the semicolon correctly.

The text reads:

Why is it that the gods above decree
That you at lunch should be so immature?
I'm constantly on edge, shouting, "Bradley,
Your childish actions I must now abjure!"
Your open mouth displays the food inside
As from my French fries and my food you steal.
And my ideas you constantly deride;
You say my world is wrong but yours is real.
You take my seat and say that it is yours,
You tease me and delight to see me blush,
You drink your root beer (or perhaps your Coors?)
And then to flirt with girls away you rush.
Oh, if you could but learn this simple thing--
That if you don't behave, vengeance I'll bring!

Recently someone unearthed a poem by Charlotte Bronte, written when she was thirteen. This article is about how "serious" collectors love acquiring juvenilia (or "immature" works from an artist's youth). Well, here you go, though I doubt it would fetch $67,000 at auction.

You can see my rough draft with working notes and revisions on the top. Potential rhymes down the side. My final draft is written more neatly on the bottom.

One would think that the threat of a similar fate would keep my own sons in line. Sadly, it has had no effect whatsoever on their disgusting boy behaviors. That’s okay. I can wait another fifteen or twenty years for some serious vengeance. (Wahaha.)