ComPost Live with Alexandra Petri

Aug 20, 2019

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Happy Tuesday, all! Let's make like a french feline and chat! 

...well, it's all uphill from here, anyhow!

School is starting again around the country. Florida started last week. Schools in PA are starting this week or next week. It would be interesting to see the different justifications for starting school before Labor day, or waiting until after. What do parents think of this trend? Signed, Someone who walked to school uphill in the snow both ways

This feels too early! I understand that Summer, as a concept, is impractical for a society where By And Large Many Fewer People Are Ardent Farmers, but if today's students grow up with barely a few weeks of summer off each year they might be relieved rather than grotesquely disappointed to discover that summer vacation is a bare few weeks scraped off each year from the time they leave school until the moment of their retirement or death, whichever comes first! And then where would we be?

Here we are in the second half of August, and already stores are putting out their Halloween-sized bags of candy. My local Costco even has the life-sized skeletons for sale. But what topped them all was when I drove by my local Boston Market the other day and saw a banner over the entrance that read "Open Christmas Day." My first thought was "Wait, what about Thanksgiving??" With only two meat-eaters in the house (the five cats don't care for turkey), I've found it easier for my son and I to just have our turkey meal at Boston Market rather than cook and then have weeks of potential leftovers.

That does sound like a better approach, especially since a turkey's worth of leftovers would be much slower to disappear with only two mouths contributing. 

Much as I think it is too early for Fall things (away from me, pumpkin spice lattes! It is not yet my time!) I am starting to be excited for Spooky Halloween Nonsense, but this is on-brand for me. I love seeing what each year's Noisemaking Plastic Skeleton fashion is! w

Plateau: the height of flattery


What time to go to the Renaissance Faire depends on what you want to get out of it. Early morning is better for families with small children - less crowds. Afternoon is better if you want to have more "revelry", but, the crowds are larger. Early in the season can be hot - watch out for bees! Later in the season is nicer fall weather. Also, if you can find it, Chef Robert Irvine did an episode of Dinner Impossible from the Faire. It's called "Medieval Mayhem," and a link to part of the episode can be found here:

I am *always* watching out for bees, but I will be sure to increase my vigilance! 

This is actually a rural myth -- I suppose if there are urban myths there can be rural ones -- because the hardest work is in the fall, during harvest, when school has already opened. Signed, farmer's daughter.

Now I want to know more rural myths! Has anyone in this chat ever tipped a cow, personally? 

When I was in HS, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, football practice began (by state policy) about August 12th. We had all-day practices until school began after Labor Day, which was brutal. And we stunk, perennially. If school had begun the way it does now, we would still have stunk, but we would have hated it a little less.

Oh man, there's nothing like that feeling of pouring several weeks down a big drain whence they can never be retrieved! At least you got to... run drills? I don't know, not sure I have anything. 

As a mom, I'm sooooo ready for school to be back in right now. My kids are tired of the pool, tired of being home, and tired of me (which is fine because I'm tired of them). Vacations are over. It's hot. It's boring. I'd much rather have them get out of school in May (when they're barely able to sit in their seats) and start school in mid-August. Signed, someone not happy with Gov. Hogan's school schedule takeover.

If you get really desperate, perhaps you could find a school that IS in session and drop them off there every morning for the next two weeks, insisting stubbornly that this is their school and you do not understand why they are not on any of the class rosters. If they detect your ruse, move to another school. Continue this for the next two weeks, causing a huge fuss, refusing to believe anything the administrators say, and then two weeks from now say, "Oh! My bad! I read Springland Elementary but it was actually McClellan Elementary! So sorry about this mix-up! Come on, kids!" Maybe for this scenario you should give them, and yourself, assumed names! On further thought, I take this back, it is a bad idea all around. Teachers are stressed enough as it is. 

Avoid the mead stands, and the spilled mead, and mead barf, etc...since it's honey, dontcha know.

Well, honey is bee barf, so maybe there's something poetically right about mead barf? 

An on-line group is discussing the rabbit hole of historic research when you idly decide to, say, try to visit all the places in Paris named in "The Three Musketeers." This seems right up your alley, Alex. Ever done that?

For some, one of the most dreaded seasons, for others, close to the Rapture.

I used to be the latter but -- so soon? So soon?

I think the rationale for starting early is so the fall term ends before Xmas. But back in my day in California, public school didn't begin until after Admission Day (Sep. 9), which was an official state holiday, regardless of the day of the week (and also the last day of the State Fair in Sacramento). In other states, school typically began right after Labor Day. In both cases, the fall term didn't end until late January, but I found the two weeks off at the end of December helped my grades by giving me time to rest up, as well as catch up on any studies I'd fallen behind on, and to work on term papers without the distraction of attending classes. For those reasons, my fall term grades were always higher than my spring term ones, where there was no breather near the end of the semester.

That makes a lot of sense! The catch-up time is key!

Fortunately school in my area starts the normal day - Tuesday after Labor Day. I went to college in the South, and was baffled by it starting the second week in August. Then I realized the did it to let everyone out the first week in May, because Louisiana in June is unliveable.

If your kids take the tests that decide whether or not your school is allowed to survive, or your teachers get part of their pay, or whatever in mid-May, then any school that happens after those tests are done is wasted with respect to the most "important" thing that happens all year. Start 'em in August and let them go by the end of May just makes sense. Of course, I think the tests were scheduled for May to make sure it wasn't too hot so it is kind of ironic that the tests are forcing places that are too hot for high stakes testing in June to start school in August. (My brother is an education professor, so I know what I am talking about a little.)

You raise a good point about the post-May Awkwardly Sitting Around, Exhausted By The Past Test weeks of school. I wish I knew more about why the tests happen in mid-May; if to avoid heat, as you say, there is a certain irony in the August start. 

And farmers are the reason we have daylight savings time, but every farmer I've known from growing up in the midwest works when the work needs to get done - regardless of whether the sun is shining or not. Let's stop blaming them and get rid of the seasonal time change that messes with all of us and has no benefit.

I went to college in the mid-west. My girlfriend was an Ag major, and we went to try cow tipping late one night. Cows are pretty much un-tippable. I did discover that cows kick sideways, though.

I read an article once that said you needed six sober people all pushing in the same direction, which seems hard to obtain! 

I'm in my 60s, but I still think of the fall as back-to-school time. Don't you think it would make more sense to have the calendar year start in September, which feels more like the start of something new, than January?

I sort of like having two opportunities to feel as though I'm starting something new. By September, whatever I started in January tends to have worn off, and it's nice to get to mentally purchase a new day planner and attempt a reset. Ditto, by January. 

No; cows don't actually sleep standing up. Horses do, but you never hear anyone talk about horse-tipping. OK, i guess you do, but it has to do with inside racetrack information, not pushing horses over. Anyway, the whole point to sleeping standing up is to get away from predators all that much quicker, so they'd never stay asleep and let you tip them; they wake up as you approach.

This is what I believe, also! I enjoy asking because it's such a pervasive legend that you would think at least one person would have done it, but I have yet to meet anyone who has! Or rather, I did encounter someone who said that she had done it but she said she used a truck? Which seems QUITE  different and much harder on the cow. 

I would never argue with anyone's Thanksgiving choices, but small turkeys are available and canned cranberry sauce is of the Devil. Crans, water, sugar, heat, and you're good to go. Merry Christmas to all!

"Small turkeys are available and canned cranberry sauce is of the devil" feels like the kind of sentiment someone has burned onto a piece of driftwood and hung in a living room. I like it. 

I did not get the weather that I ordered. Way back when, by the time my birthday came around, the heat waves would be shorter and a little less brutal than the July ones. Then again, this was Massachusetts, so not quite the same thing anyway.

Happy Birthday!!!!! We will all get together and imagine that the weather is going to be better -- which, incidentally, is the EPA's current current climate policy! (or some joke of this format! Yes I realize climate and weather are different!) 

In places that school starts in mid-August, classes generally end in mid-May, so the kids don't really have shorter vacations; they just attend August-May instead of September-June. I have no idea of the reason behind the paradigm shift. When I was a kid, we were told that the reason behind the September-June schedule was that schools weren't air conditioned, so it would be too hot to attend in July and August. Kids will believe anything.

This so depends on where you're from. I grew up in Texas, where school dismissed by Memorial Day and started in mid- to late-August. A friend from Arkansas says her school system did the same.

ren fair that sells tons of different kinds of honey. You can do a tasting. They have little dip sticks (one use only). Comparing blueberry honey with wildflower with raspberry with...well, you get the point. It was quite fun the last time I went. The flavors aren't really what you expect.

Ooh, this does sound fun! 

For those of us of a Certain Age, long before television took over and the World Series was played in November, MLB actually played the games in the daytime. And our teachers' said, "If you are good, I'll let you listen to the game at the end of class." With that incentive, even the rabble-rousers were Choir Boys (or Girls) and for a few minutes we all strained to hear the broadcast from a radio. When someone hit a homer or other critical play, you would hear cheers resounding up and down the halls, as each class shared that moment.

Ooh, that would be a good incentive! 

Six SOBER people would likely have little interest in tipping over a cow, IMHO.

I think the article said you could do it with a larger crowd of inebriated people if you could all manage to get hands on the cow. My recollection of this article is quickly becoming its own sort of rural myth and I should really just go Google it. 

Paraphrasing the Dave Barry quote... No one can give you a clear and compelling reason why we follow Daylight Savings Time, or the origin of kids out of school for Summer.

I went to college with someone who would go out with his friends and they would throw eggs at cows. The cows would run in fear. Repeat. He said that was basically their entire Friday and Saturday nights.

Now this I believe! 

I had a can of FOS, but thought "No, I don't want to eat it because then I will have no cans of it." You see where that can lead, right? I'm eating it now. With el parmesan and los croutons.

Oh, that sounds wonderful. I wish that I shared your forethought about how Eating the Last Delicious Thing means you no longer have the Delicious Thing and therefore you should hold off on it; I would get through my bags of Snyder's Hot Buffalo Wing pretzel pieces much more slowly. 

I still need my summers off, starting in mid June and ending after labor day. Anything other way is Not The Way I Remember It, therefore, wrong. I've been lucky to always get fired just in time....Also, helps to have spouse who doesn't get fired the same way.

Yep. We moved to heather country for three years (northern England) and pounced on heather honey only to find that it tasted like dirt and grass. And not the nice-tasting grass, either.

I hope it was the nice-tasting dirt, at least. 

Our school district has a really good reason for starting super early--closer to the beginning than to the end of August. This shift forward puts finals before winter break, where the dates are pretty much set in stone. Kids in our district get a healthy, relaxing, stress-free winter break because they have finished preparing for and taking finals. They also finish the school year two weeks before everyone else, which is GREAT for visiting parks before the crowds arrive. My kids just started their second week of school, my nieces and nephews still have another week off. It took some getting used to, but I like it!

Ooh! The only difficulty I foresee is that your Park Advantage depends on other schools not catching up with the pace of your innovation! 

these days. Buying Greenland is one, obviously. But the new stuff coming out about the president being really upset that he wanted to get rid of the fuel efficiency regulations from Obama, but his plan is being undermined by the companies voluntarily signing on to the California plan to keep the same standards. "You WILL sell more inefficient cars!" "No, we don't want to." "Yes, you will. My fossil fuel overlords demand this of me!" Seems to be funny somehow. Sad, but funny.

No, I agree, there's something bleakly, grimly humorous in his thinking that everyone, given the chance, would behave as badly as he would like to behave. But it's closer to humor than usual when it's something like companies refusing to become less efficient! 

My farmboy husband (now in his late 70s) said that a popular prank (?) on Hallowe'en was tipping over outhouses. Back then, not as many poor farmers had indoor plumbing as they do nowadays.

We've developed the habit of putting items on the shopping list as soon as we finish them, with the added precaution of always having a backup in the cupboard. Finish the Saran Wrap, put it on the list, then take the backup Saran Wrap out of the cupboard...occasionally we end up with two or three backups.

I currently have enough bar soap to last until doomsday due to a similar system! 

It always seems to me that the expression "you can't have your cake and eat it too" would make -much- more sense if it were "you can't eat your cake and have it too."

Ah, but you can have your back-up cake and eat your "last cake" too! 

Where I live (Nelson County VA). My guess is that it provides a cushion for multiple and unpredictable snow days. Very rural down here and mountainous, too.

On one of her earliest "French Chef" episodes, Julia Child advised viewers that if they didn't have time to make French Onion Soup from scratch, they could enliven the canned stuff by adding a little grated raw onion to it, before broiling topped with bread and cheese. Have never tried this, however.

Ooh, that does sound enlivening!

One I hear a -lot- is the one where you're near a quarry that was turned into a swimming hole, or a pond on an industrial property, one of the locals always says that there's excavating equipment at the bottom. The equipment struck groundwater and the water filled the pond/quarry/whatever so quickly that there was barely time for the operator to escape, leaving the equipment to be submerged. If you swim down and touched the bottom (in the case of the quarry turned swimming hole, anyway) you'd get rust on your hands (I suppose you would in the industrial pond, too, but ick). I suppose it may be true somewhere, but -every-where?

But my uncle's car mechanic told him that he had a friend who really saw this happen, at our swimming hole!

The historic start of the new calendar year was the spring equinox or the cross-quarter day, which is why all the horoscopes start with Aries. Spring, new beginning, etc. Makes sense. The move to the winter solstice celebrations ("Yippee, tomorrow will be two minutes longer than today was!") happened when Christianity was being spread and the church couldn't get the pagans to quit partying hearty in December.

"Quit Partying, Pagans" would be a good if confusing Driftwood Slogan. 

There used to be a law in Virginia that schools could not start until after Memorial Day without special permission from the State Board of Education. The law was drafted and lobbied for (HARD!) by the owners of Kings Dominion and Busch Gardens, who didn't want their summer help to disappear before one of the busiest weekends of the year (back when they used to employ a raft of high school kids). It was even referred to as the Kings Dominion Law, but they hated that and didn't like people to use it. Just got repealed a couple of years ago.

I do very much like the idea of them lobbying, disinterestedly, for a late school start. "Because we want children to have their summers! Because summer is sacred! Because kids work too hard!" "Wait, don't you... employ... like a bunch of those kids?" "THAT'S NOT THE POINT, CLIFFORD!" 

How do you feel about year-round school? My sister is a an elementary school teacher and she was reluctant, but is now in favor of it. Instead of 8-9 weeks off in the summer, there are breaks throughout the year. The advantage is that kids tend to retain more without the giant, memory-sucking break in the summer and the breaks give teachers a chance to tutor and catch up students who may be falling behind without waiting until they are a whole year behind. The downside is for teachers who use summer break to work other jobs or work on extra degrees, of course...

I think this is one of those things where if it were already the case, we would think it made a lot of sense and never question it, whereas the present system is probably not one we would devise if we were doing it from scratch. Sometimes having a sort of unwieldy inherited system that is not perfectly efficient can be a gift, but sometimes you just want the more efficient system. I have a certain nostalgia for Long Vacations, but that might just be because wherever you go these days, there the Internet are. 

Also back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I grew up in dairy farming country. Guess what? The dairy cows need to be milked every day, not just in the summer! And twice a day —- 5 AM and 5 PM. The boys on my school bus started working on the family farm in junior high school and had to help milk the herd before and after school every single day. You could tell the kids who lived on the daily farms because they always had damp hair from their after-the-milking shower when they got on the school bus in the morning. Their hair sometimes froze in the winter.

Boy, someone should really explain to those cows about Daylight Savings Time and how it is being done for their benefit! Seems unappreciative of them to maintain such a consistent schedule. 

"There used to be a law in Virginia that schools could not start until after Memorial Day " Surely not.

Oh, sorry! "And don't call me Shirley!"

The fiscal year for the U.S. government used to end on June 30. But Congress always had trouble passing an Appropriations Bill by then, so they moved it to September 30, to give Congress -more- than enough time to pass the spending bill.

Seems more appropriate. 

If you leave it in the pantry long enough (a number of years), the can might become misshapen, meaning the item must be thrown out due to having turned toxic.

I definitely, absolutely, certainly, indubitably, cannot speak to THIS scenario from personal experience ONE BIT! 

and occasionally a big sedan with a frustrated weather man and a groundhog, too.

But having Xmas vacation available for catching up on schoolwork before January final exams potentially enhances LEARNING.

Another vote for what that earlier poster said! (I guess we're voting now!) Those catch-up weeks could be key! 

Australian school years are proper "school years" - starts in January, ends in December. Still four terms in a year, but with breaks in-between. (Although, to be fair, there is a long-ish break between school years, as they stop around mid-December, and start in late-January.)

*nods sagely* And this is due to the Coriolis Effect. 

Friggin' Clifford.

And on that note, I will skedaddle! Have a great Tuesday, all. See you on the blog (, Twitter (@petridishes) and-- right here, next week! 

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Alexandra Petri
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