slice of life · technology · writing

The Big A.I. Talk

The time has come for all of us to have THE TALK with our kids.

Not THAT talk! Rather, THE TALK about A.I. Chatbots!

I’ve been keeping A.I. under wraps since I read about ChatGPT in The Atlantic in December 2022. Then I read this “The A.I. Chatbots Have Arrived. Time to Talk to Your Kids” last week, which made me realize I need to talk to my daughter about A.I. before someone else does. As important as I think it is for people to do their own writing, I’ve come to understand — through a lot of reading about A.I. — that there are many benefits to using A.I. chatbots.

But first, I needed to talk to Marc about A.I. to get on the same page. A.I. isn’t going anywhere, so it’s time for us to decide how we will and won’t sanction Isabelle to use it as parents. (In late January, when Melanie Meehan and I recorded “The Benefits of Teaching Writing Through a Workshop Approach” with Olivia Wahl for her Schoolutions podcast, I admitted to keeping A.I. hidden from Isabelle. You can listen from 37:20 – 39:45 if you want to hear me talk about this.)

This morning, we played with the Poe app, which allows you to try out a variety of A.I.-powered bots. I kept feeding Poe’s A.I. chatbots prompts to show Marc how they did writing essays on everything from Civil War battles to writing a Bat Mitzvah speech. He noticed that the essays it crafted in less than 15 seconds were better than decent. I explained to Marc that while the chatbots’ essays were good enough, they lacked voice. (I told Marc about Michel de Montaigne, who wrote in the French countryside for pleasure and called his attempts at writing, essaying, which is the French word for trying.) We also talked about GPTZero, which can detect whether a human created a writing piece or used A.I..

Throughout the day, Marc and I have circled back to A.I. and its implications on everything from essay writing to practicing medicine. On our car ride home from King of Prussia, I was trying to distract myself from a miserable (albeit healthy) decision I made not to buy myself a milkshake for the car ride home. (Marc, Isabelle, and Ari bought milkshakes for the drive home.) I decided to task Poe with some mentor text work by telling its various chatbots to write a poem in the style of “This is Just to Say” by William Carlos Williams that dealt with drinking too much of a milkshake.

Most ELA teachers would know the first, second, and third poems were created with A.I. since Williams’ “This Is Just to Say” does not rhyme!

GPT-4 produced the only poem that could pass muster. (GPT-4 is more advanced relative to ChatGPT. It is supposed to be better at creative writing, solving problems, and following instructions.) I attempted to run it through GPTZero, but couldn’t analyze what GPT-4 produced because it was too short.

Now that the day is drawing to a close, I have two parting thoughts:

  1. Before talking to my kids, I have more tinkering I need to do with A.I. Chatbots.
  2. I need to get that milkshake out of my head!
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schedules · slice of life · technology

Feed the Meter

Click on the image to enlarge.

I HATE being late. I DETEST rushing. If REFUSE to be late when it comes to picking up my children.

I felt the blood drain out of my face when I attempted to feed the meter on the parking app about 18 minutes before my children’s art class ended, only to find that I couldn’t extend my parking time on the app! Either I’d have to get a ticket or move my car. I was FURIOUS because I had been sitting in the building’s lobby for nearly two hours when I realized I couldn’t feed the meter. And here I was with 20 minutes to spare before they would be dismissed from their classes!

I packed everything strewn across the table and marched out of the building. I power walked to my car, which was parked diagonally across the street from where I was sitting. I reopened my side mirror, snapped a screenshot of the abomination I was viewing on the app, and thought about where else I could park quickly so I could return by noon.

I didn’t grow up in Lancaster, PA. I grew up in the NY Metropolitan Area. We went to Manhattan or Brooklyn most weekends when I was a kid. I remember plenty of meter feeding so we wouldn’t get a parking ticket from parking enforcement. (We’d only move the car if the tires were marked!) Now that we live in the days of digital parking apps and parking enforcement that uses technology, it seems that meter-feeding is a thing of the past.

I had two nearby choices: the Hager Lot or the Prince Street Garage. Seeing as Prince Street was jammed up since Saturday is a Market Day, I put on my signal and pulled into the Prince Street Garage. (Little known fact: I dislike parking garages.)

I walked out the wrong exit from the garage onto Orange Street, rather than onto Prince Street, which gave me an extra block to walk back to my destination. Expletives were rolling around in my head since I was worried I wouldn’t make it back on time. I HUSTLED on the sidewalks saying, “excuse me,” to anyone I passed. (I may have a NY mentality when it comes to feeding the meter, but I walk through life here with Pennsylvania politeness.)

I reached for the door to the school and discovered a line about ten adults deep. “Are you waiting to pick your kid up from class?” I asked the lady in front of me.

“Yeah, but the kids are downstairs yet.”

I peered down at my watch and was greeted with both hands on the 12. THANK. THE. LORD.

I caught my breath, retrieved my phone, and snapped a photo at 12:01 PM.

This evening, I googled “feeding the meter” and found a WNYC piece on meter feeding. While I used to think feeding the meter wasn’t a big deal because one was paying to park, I now understand there’s an allotted time limit. You cannot stay in that area (be it a large zone like we have around Central Market in Lancaster or on a city street in Manhattan) past the time limit. Quite frankly, I think it’s preposterous to make it impossible to buy more time — even 15 minutes extra — on a parking app. However, a rule is a rule… and I’m a rule follower. Next time, I’m heading straight to a parking lot (not the parking garage)!

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homeschool · slice of life · technology

The Fruits of Your Labor

On Friday afternoon, I asked Isabelle if she had any work to complete over the weekend. She paused. I could tell she was thinking through what (or how much) to tell me. “We’ll, I have to finish my AR Project for STEM, but that’s it.”

“When is it due?” I asked.

“Tuesday,” she replied.

“Okay,” I replied.

And then, amazing even myself, I spoke nothing of the STEM Project to Isabelle all weekend.

This afternoon, I picked Isabelle up from school early since she needed her (maintenance dose of!) allergy shots.

“Did you get the STEM project done over the weekend or during REM this morning?”

“I’m going to work on it after I get my horrible, terrible, boring-old allergy shots — when we are waiting around.”

Enough adjectives for you, I wondered.

“Okay,” I replied. “I know you’ll get it done. Self-managing your assignments is something you got really good at last year when you were homeschooled.“

Isabelle nodded knowingly.

“Did you notice I didn’t ask you about it all weekend?”

“Yeah. Why didn’t you?” Isabelle inquired.

“Because I knew you’d get it done and submitted by the time it is due.”

After Isabelle’s shots, she emerged from the shot room, grabbed her iPad, opened it up to Tinkercad, and began working. I gave her work the fish-eye a couple of times, but said nothing as she put the finishing touches on the project.

Eventually, she asked to read me the paragraph she wrote. If I’m being generous, it was a poorly written overview of what I saw in front of me.

“What do you think?” she asked.

“Um, I think you could’ve combined the first three sentences into one sentence. Are you being graded on your writing?”

Isabelle shook her head.

“Are you sure? Because if you are, then the writing needs some work.”

“I’m not being graded on the writing, but I had to write something — to describe what I created.”

“Do you know what you are being graded for?”

Isabelle nodded.

“Okay, then you can go ahead and submit it early,” I replied.

I watched as Isabelle typed something up on Schoology and submitted her assignment to her teacher.

“It’s in,” she said after a few minutes of hunting and pecking.

“Go ahead and enjoy some free time on the iPad. You’ve earned it.”

slice of life · technology · travel

Why I Detest Waze

I like Apple Maps. It synchs with my calendar. The user interface is simple. It provides me with alerts when there’s a faster route. It’s perfect.

My husband, Marc, prefers Waze. He insists it finds the best route and saves him time.

But I detest Waze. I don’t like the gamified nature of it. When I’m driving, I don’t want to be prompted to press the screen to let others know if there’s still detritus on the road or a police officer looking for speeders. My hands — and everyone else’s — need to be on the steering wheel and my eyes — and everyone else’s — need to be on the road!

Marc doesn’t think this photo shows how grumpy I was. I guess he caught me at a better moment.

Marc insists one doesn’t have to engage with the pop ups, but the very nature of them distracts me. Quite frankly, I think there’s too much happening on the screen — and with the navigation voice. (More on that later.)

On the way up to my in-laws’ house, Marc told me he needed me to drive a little before 1 p.m. since he needed to attend a virtual meeting. Given the time and where we’d be at 1 p.m., I wasn’t thrilled. I knew I’d be driving through Northern NJ, as well as Rockland and Westchester Counties. Of course, I would “need” to use Waze because I’d be driving over the Tappan Zee Bridge. (Don’t come at me about the fact that that’s not the name anymore. It’ll always be the Tap, rather than the Mario Cuomo Bridge, to me.) Waze would give us the heads-up about potential traffic into Connecticut. In my husband’s mind, Waze is a necessity while driving in the NY Metropolitan Area.

I acquiesced and fired up the Waze app on my phone. (Truth: I had to download it again. I detest it so much that I deleted it from my iPhone.) And that began the most stressful 80 minutes of my day.

I got onto 287N at the point where it’s four lanes of traffic across. It was as if every maniac driver was out on the road. There were tailgaters, lane-changers who didn’t signal, and reckless drivers who dramatically zip from one side of the highway to the other without a care for other people’s lives.

To make matters worse, Waze felt the need to give me every freaking piece of information about our route whenever possible. Waze told me every possible thing I could do when exiting. Case in point: Look at the amount of directions on the screen!

📷: Marc took this while I was driving grumpily on 287.

“Take the right lane to I-87 South/NY State Thruway South/I-287 South/Mario Cuomo Bridge/New York City” is just too freaking much. Apple Maps would never overload me with info like that!

AND ANOTHER THING! I had to keep the kids quiet while dealing with all of this craziness. Seeing as that was about three hours into the trip, I had to make a deal. “If you are quiet while Daddy is on his call, then I’ll give you the iPad to share once he’s off.” They took the deal. By the grace of G-d, they were quiet.

The only positive of the whole driving experience today was listening to Handel’s Water Music softly while I drove.

Luckily, Marc got off of his call in Westchester County. I took the second exit to Hartsdale and got out of the car to change places with him. No way was I going to drive on the narrow lanes of Merritt Parkway with Waze!

Now I’m in the passenger seat. The kids are taking turns with the iPad. Marc is driving us on the Merritt Parkway. We are sitting in slow moving traffic. Not even Waze can help us get around this always-present traffic. Whatever. At least I can relax now.

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animals · slice of life · technology

Making a Call with Siri

Ari: Siri, Call Fluffy.

Ari (as Siri): Calling Fluffy, home.

(Ari makes ringing noises.)

“Fluffy” (Really Ari, but using a high-pitched puppy voice.): Hello?

Ari: Hi, Fluffy. It’s Ari.

“Fluffy”: Hello! When are you coming home?

Ari: We have 17 miles and four minutes until we get home.

Mommy: That’s 1.7 miles, buddy.

“Fluffy”: Oh, good. See you soon.

Call #1

This is not the first time that Ari has called Fluffy, his newest stuffy (Courtesy of Lynne and Ralph who have bought some incredible stuffies for my kids through the years.), from the car. The calls began about a week ago. At first, I thought it was fleeting… something he’d said because I often use Siri to make a phone call. However, it’s becoming a regular thing for him.

Ari: I forgot to tell Fluffy something. Siri, call Fluffy again.

“Siri”: Calling Fluffy, home.


“Fluffy”: Heh-looooo!

Ari: Hi, Fluffy. It’s me, Ari, again.

“Fluffy”: Where are you?

Ari: We’re almost home.

Call #2

I really didn’t register anything after that because it devolved into silliness.

Eventually, I came to a stop sign and looked behind my right shoulder at Isabelle. She looked at me as if to say, is he for real?! Meanwhile, I was stifling a giggle.

“Remember,” I told her. “He’s five.”

She gave me an exasperated look, but said nothing.

But then…

Ari: Siri, call Fluffy at home.

CALL #3 (aka: Here we go again.)
Ari and Fluffy reunited once we got home.
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government · slice of life · technology

Sometimes Pen & Paper Is Better

I’m not the kind of parent who typically drops everything to help my fourth grader complete a study guide. However, I had a feeling, based on how she’s done on some of the assignments, that she needed some help to prepare for her upcoming test. Therefore, I took an hour out of my day to sit beside her to help her complete the study guide.

Isabelle began learning how to type a couple of months ago. She completed her final module on yesterday! While she has improved her knowledge of where the keys are and her accuracy, she still types slowly. Therefore, when I noticed her social studies (U.S. Government) study guide was on Seesaw, I groaned. Audibly. It was going to be a s-l-o-w process to get the answers typed in. (Good thing I had some time!)

Isabelle was able to squeeze some of the responses onto the form by using a stylus. However, most of the spaces were too small for her to use the stylus.

Once I read through the guide, it became clear to me that I’d need to do some teaching since Isabelle didn’t remember most of the information off of the top of her head. Whatever needed an exact answer (e.g., how a bill becomes a law in PA), we located in the textbook or in the packet her teacher provided. Then, I read and discussed it with her. Next, I waited as she typed things in, letter-by-letter, using the Seesaw text function. While she typed I checked email on the sly. I even threw in a load of laundry while she typed a longer response.

Eventually, I suggested, “Why don’t you use Siri to dictate your responses? Then you can just edit the capitalization and spelling.”

“Good idea!” Isabelle replied.

But. That. Also. Takes. Time. To. Do. Well.

Once Isabelle was two-thirds of the way finished with typing the study guide responses, I flipped through her social studies packet and discovered the printed study guide was in the packet. Whaaaaat?!?!?!

“Did you know it was in here?” I asked.

“Yeah. Kind of,” she replied.

“Next time, I think you can save yourself a lot of time if you write your responses by hand, take pictures of the pages, and then upload them for your teacher to Seesaw. Technology doesn’t always make things faster. Sometimes pen and paper is better. What do you think?”

“Writing it would probably be faster,” she admitted.

Yes. Yes it would be, I thought. But I let it rest. Isabelle was calm, despite spending an inordinate amount of time typing and dictating her answers sentence-by-sentence. I bit my tongue. Being righter-than-right wasn’t going to return the extra half hour she spent laboring over her keyboard today.

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slice of life · technology

Typing Boot Camp

I learned to type when I was in fourth grade. As a result, I type 87 WPM.

Isabelle is in fourth grade. She hasn’t received any typing instruction yet. As a result, she types 6 WPM.

Seeing as Isabelle just had her first writing assignment on Google Slides (which I typed for her so she wouldn’t get frustrated) AND is staying in an all-remote class until she’s vaccinated for COVID-19, I thought it was about time for her to learn how to type since I don’t want her to view me as her personal typist.

Enter our unofficial “typing boot camp.” Every day of her winter recess, I am insisting that she works on so she can learn some keyboarding skills.

Day 1 went great. Day 2 was less than fun. Today is Day 3 and she reminded me when it was time to practice typing. So, that’s progress.

The biggest struggle I’m noticing is that she doesn’t use the correct fingers for some of the letters. Thankfully, Isabelle accepted my redirections on finger placement today.

What she doesn’t care for is when I tell her to work on her posture. She has no desire to sit at 90-90-90. This is how she sits:

“Criss-cross applesauce”

I guess we’ll work on proper posture later…

COVID-19 · post-op life · slice of life · technology

"Mommy, can I have iPad time?" #SOL20

This morning, Isabelle and I took session one of Amy Ludwig Vanderwater’s Keeping a Notebook, which was dedicated to curating a collection of quotes and writing long about one of them, for this morning’s writing workshop. Here’s the writing I did, which is what led to the slice of life story you’re about to read:

I heard a hand jam down the bathroom’s door handle. In a flash, Ari appeared with soaking-wet hair and a white towel around his body. He went from a trot to a canter in three seconds with his towel moving from a secure wrap to falling off of his shoulders. He stood before me, completely naked, asking, “Mommy, can I have iPad time?”

“Are you kidding me?” I asked.

But I knew he wasn’t. Ari probably felt as though he had been mightily wronged since I restricted his screen time to 20 whole minutes today in an effort to curb his screentime since it has been hovering around the two-and-a-half hour mark.

“Hey, what happened to my iPad?” he whined while water drop rolled down his forehead.

“I turned it off when you were in the shower. Come back to me after you get dressed, get your ears cleaned, and have your hair done, and we’ll talk.”

A few minutes later, Ari ran into my bedroom in striped pajamas with his hair a wet mess. “Now can I have iPad time?”

“Your hair isn’t brushed and I’m sure your ears aren’t cleaned,” I replied.

“But I want iPad time!” he continued.

In the blink of an eye, Ari turned on the iPad’s camera, reversed it, and began taking pictures. Have a look:

That’s our ceiling with his unbrushed hair in the top right of the photo.

That’s when Marc came over, scooped Ari up, turned him upside down into a handstand atop our bed, flipped him over, and said, “You’re coming with me.”

Isabelle and I laughed since we got to witness an upside-down, giggling Ari being forceably removed from the room while yelling “hey” as a way of protesting the latest perceived iPad injustice.

“See what I mean about what I wrote in my notebook this morning? He can’t get enough of that iPad. He’s like,” I paused and met Isabelle’s gaze, “an iPad junkie.”

She doesn’t know what a junkie is, but she laughed just the same.

See the glow on his face? Yes! Well, then please pay attention to his freshly-coiffed hair.

Finally, Ari returned with his hair brushed and clean ears. “Now can I have iPad time?” he asked.

“You can have ten minutes,” I replied, punching in the code.

“I want ‘Thomas,'” he said.

“You can have Khan Academy or nothing,” I replied.

I secured the iPad on guided access, handed it to him, and he played happily for ten minutes.

I know more screen time isn’t going to massively harm anyone, which is why I’ve been more lax about it in the past week. However, when the first words out of your child’s mouth — for three consecutive days — are “Can I have iPad time?” then you know something is wrong. Being stuck in bed post-op isn’t helping the situation since I’d be baking with Ari at times I couldn’t take him outside to play. But that is my reality now. I’m not sure what kind of an intervention we’re going to have tomorrow, but I know one is needed to break this little guy of his iPad obsession.

slice of life · technology · travel

FaceTime: The Bookends of My Work Day


I received a text message from Marc at 6:48 a.m. asking if I was free to FaceTime with Isabelle. I was available (despite needing to finish putting on my makeup, get dressed, and pack up my technology for an 8:00 a.m. presentation).

I opened the shade in my room exposing the Elizabeth River, which I could see from my hotel room. What a gorgeous day! I pressed the FaceTime button on the text message and was instantly connected with Marc and Isabelle who were in the kitchen. I learned it was slow going this morning since Marc was making Isabelle’s breakfast when I called. I talked to them for a couple of minutes, but the call kept freezing. “Poor connection” is what my iPhone told me. I hung up, disconnected from the hotel’s WiFi and tried again. More of the same. Could it be that the problem was also our home’s WiFi connection? (I didn’t even want to think of that. I don’t be bothered with home-related issues when I’m presenting at a conference.) Therefore, I texted Marc back and asked him to go onto LTE so we could FaceTime. It took a few minutes, but eventually we were back in business.

I’d like to say the call was idyllic. It wasn’t. It involved Marc reminding Isabelle to sit at the table, eat her breakfast, and drink her chocolate milk. But Isabelle had her own agenda. She wanted to see the view from my hotel room and get a tour of my room. (BTW: She loves hotels. And I mean LOVES. I think she’s destined to work in the hospitality industry when she grows up!)

I flipped the FaceTime view and showed her everything, including location where I’d be presenting. But it was 7:00 a.m. and Marc needed her to hustle since she needs to be finished with breakfast by 7:15 a.m. in order to catch the school bus. Plus, I knew I needed to get myself together so I could be out the door on the way to the convention center by 7:30 a.m. So, I wished everyone a good day, told them I loved them, and hit the end button. Sometimes you have to put the needs of other people — in this case Marc’s need to get Isabelle out the door so he wouldn’t have to drive her to school — before your own needs.


I checked and discovered it was 74 degrees at 5:00 p.m. so I decided to take a walk down to the Elizabeth River. I changed into workout clothes and took the elevator to the ground floor of my hotel. Once I was on the street, I called my mother-in-law to determine if it would be a good time to talk to the kids. Ari had come downstairs after his afternoon nap and Isabelle was playing a game with my father-in-law in-between reading and PT exercises.

I initiated the FaceTime call and was instantly transported to the familiar surroundings of my house. I was wearing sunglasses on my walk and Ari seemed confused when he saw me. I removed my sunglasses and said, “Do you know who I am?”

He smiled and replied, “Mommy” in a voice that melted my heart.

I was excited to show him (and Isabelle) the boats that were docked. I was especially thrilled to show him the Stratsraad Lehmkul, which is a three-masted Norweigan naval ship that’s docked in Norfolk through tomorrow. Ari seemed interested for a few minutes, but lost interest when I was unable to zoom-in on the tugboats that were passing by.

Isabelle made a few appearances towards the end of the call. She mostly snapped FaceTime photos of me while we were talking. (I’m sure my mother-in-law has a whole bunch of not-so-lovely photos of me.) Just for fun, I snapped a few of her too!

Does anyone else’s kid do this when they FaceTime with you?

Eventually, we hung up and I went on my way with the rest of my day. While I enjoy having extra time to myself while I’m away, I’ll be honest… I miss my kids.

siblings · slice of life · technology

Don’t take your brother out of the crib… unless there’s a fire.

We purchased a drop-gate crib when I was pregnant with Isabelle so I wouldn’t have to bend down as far to pick her up out of the crib. Ari has been using the same crib since we brought him home from the hospital.

Once Ari was old enough to stand, we told Isabelle she wasn’t to lift Ari out of the crib unless there was a house fire. Do you think she listened to us?

Well, mostly she did, but one day — a few months ago — Isabelle lifted Ari out of the side of the crib. Why did she do that? “Because my arms weren’t long enough to open the drop gate,” she told me.

“But you were told not to take him out unless there was a fire,” I stated.

“But I wanted to play with him,” she replied.

Marc and I gave Isabelle a stern warning and it had not happened again… until this morning.

Look! She’s even letting him hold Teddy!

Both kids woke up before we did. By the time Marc entered Ari’s room, he found Ari out of the crib with the drop gate down. Apparently, Isabelle’s wingspan is long enough to open the drop gate now. (Gotta love an almost six-year age difference!) He returned to our bedroom to relay the news.

I prepared a stern speech as I rolled out of bed. But I softened when I walked into Ari’s room. The two of them were sitting together on his glider with an iPad. It was locked, but Isabelle was commanding Siri to place a FaceTime call to my mother-in-law. However, she said, “FaceTime Linda Shubitz” (Shubitz is not my mother-in-law’s last name.), which led to Siri denying her the connection. Therefore, I gently reminded Isabelle for her safety and for Ari’s safety that she shouldn’t take Ari out of the crib. Then, I reminded her Grandma’s last name was Schaefer, not Shubitz. Then I left the room so they could make their FaceTime call without me hovering over them.

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