Monthly Archives: August 2010

Sesquipedality Can Be Fun!

Our nephews are still providing interesting insights into the contemporary educational system.  Today’s lesson was spelling.

With respect to spelling, each of them gets a word list on Monday and each day they are supposed to practice spelling the words.  There is a test on Friday to make sure they have committed the words to memory.

Up until this past week, the word lists were about what you would expect for 10 and 8 year olds. 

So you can imagine my surprise when Yazdy, the 10 year old, and I were going through his word list and right after ‘success’ came ‘trypanosome.’  And right after that came ‘anomy.’

“Where did these words come from?” I asked.

“From the dictionary.”

I knew that.  At least I knew that with respect to trypanosome.  To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t so sure about anomy.  As it turns out, it’s a word that, if it didn’t exist, would have to be invented in order to describe the education system.

Anyway, back to the conversation.  I countered with, “Yes, but why did the teacher pick them for spelling words.”

“She didn’t.  I did.”

Yes.  Apparently, outsourcing has come to education.  The teacher told the kids to go to the dictionary and pick out their own spelling words.  Yazdy claimed that he picked out some words that looked practical but he picked trypanosome and anomy because they “looked interesting.”

I was impressed that he’d found words interesting but sceptical of the whole process.  “What happens if some kid just picks out a, and, the and but?”

“I don’t know.”

“Do you know what these words mean?”

“Not really.”  (Which really means “no.”)

“Well.  What do you think a trypanosome is?”

“Maybe something with three of something?”

I had to give him credit for thinking of that, but clearly it was time to consult the dictionary.  To the accompaniment of the customary groans and eye rolling I retrieved the Websters and we proceeded to look up the words in question.

In case your recollection is hazy, a trypanosome is the nasty bug that causes sleeping sickness and anomy, also sometimes spelled anomie, means a Lady Gaga concert.

It seemed like a good time to reinforce the learning process.

“So what are you going to do if the teacher asks you to use these words in a sentence?”

“She never does that.”

“Maybe, but this is the first time you’ve chosen your own words.  Maybe she’ll want to know if you know what they mean.”

“But she wouldn’t think I’d choose a word I didn’t know.”

“But she’d be wrong, wouldn’t she?”

“No.  I know what the words mean.  Now.”

I found myself wondering if embodying anomy was the same as knowing what it meant.  But I persevered.  “OK.  Use them in a sentence.”

After an indecently short interval he responded with “In the morning my brother acts like he has trypanosomes.  But when he wakes up, he causes anomy.”

I’m so glad I’m not a teacher.

When Green Isn’t Necessarily Clean

Have you noticed that nowadays, no matter who you are entertaining, one of your guests will inevitably ask, “Where is your compost bin?”

A nod toward the wastebasket or the kitchen sink waste disposer is no longer an acceptable response. 

“What?  You don’t compost?” 

This question is asked in the same way that one asks, “Oh, so you never bathe?”

So my wife and I decided to find out what this whole composting business is all about.  Short answer:  It’s complicated and there are lots of options.

A worm farm was out of the question.  You basically feed your garbage to the worms.  Apparently the worms interact with (i.e., eat) the garbage and produce something called “casts” (i.e., worm shit).  The advertisements show people running their hands through this stuff like it’s black gold or something.  No comment.

Not only that, a long time ago I saw this movie in which lightning strikes a worm farm and turns the worms into ravening man eaters.  It’s just not worth it.

A reasonable option appeared to be something called the Bokashi system.  It sounded promising.  It was invented in Japan for people who live in apartments and don’t have big back yards where they can have worm farms.  And let’s face it, the Japanese would never invent anything that wasn’t neat and clean and efficient.  How bad could it be?

But I’d forgotten that the Japanese are also the people who invented Godzilla and reality television.

Here’s how it works.  You get two buckets that fit inside each other.  One has holes in the bottom and a sealable lid.  The idea is that you put your food scraps in the bucket and the seal keeps all the smell and nastiness in.  You can put in anything you want.  And no worms are involved.

But that proves to be a mixed blessing.  Each time you dump something into the bucket, you sprinkle something called “Bokashi Zing Powder” over the scraps.  They don’t tell you what Bokashi powder is made of, and it’s probably just as well.  The “secret” ingredient is something called EM, which stands for “effective microorganisms.” 

It gets better.  EM is also known as a microbial innoculant.

I used to think worms were bad.  Now I have the Andromeda Strain incubating in the garage.

The idea is that after you fill the bucket, you let the EM go to work and ‘cure’ your food scraps for a couple of weeks.  You then bury what is left in the garden and in six weeks it turns into wonderful soil.  And you don’t have to do anything else.  The instructions assure you that if it smells bad you are doing something wrong. 

That’s a brilliant marketing idea.  And like a lot of marketing ideas, reality falls somewhere short of the claim.  I will admit that if you do it right, the system is largely odourless and relatively easy. 

But there is one very large but.

Remember those holes in the top bucket?  As result of the interaction of the food scraps with the Bokashi powder, and other natural processes I don’t want to know about (microbial innoculation, I guess), liquid condenses out of the mass in the bucket and drips through the holes into the bottom bucket.  The brochures and web site call this product “Bokashi Juice.”  In concentrated form it is one of the most powerful herbicides known to man.  Diluted 1 to 1000 it makes for an excellent fertilizer.  I can attest to the veracity of both claims.

Make no mistake.  Bokashi Juice is pure evil.  It looks like vomit and smells infinitely worse.  I have poured it on weed patches in the yard on a breezy day, come back hours later and the stench was still as strong as when I first poured it out.  Even the flies avoid it and the thought of getting some on me is now my number one primal fear. 

The other downside, minor in comparison, is the ritual burial process.  The stuff you bury, regardless of its original components, is a yellowish orange mass in which can be discerned the odd teabag, orange peel or eggshell.  It’s not appetizing, but nothing like the juice it produced.  And digging the holes is good exercise.


We’ve been doing it for quite a while now and it’s done wonders for our garden.  It’s greatly reduced the amount of garbage we throw out and prevents looks of horror from guests. 

But I keep worrying that the cops are going to think I’m a serial killer with all the freshly dug holes in the back yard!