Thursday, November 13, 2014

Miscellaneous

We've had another power outage already. I'm getting closer to prepared. His Majesty brought by an emergency stash of firewood, which the ducklings had put away in about five minutes flat. (Let's just say an emergency supply is a lot more fun to stack than an entire winter's.) I bought some lovely glass gallon dispensers for water storage, although we haven't gotten the taps tightened enough to actually put water in them. Still, closer.

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I have totally messed up with Harry Potter. I let Duchess read the first four books and told her she could read the last three when she was thirteen. Only as soon as she had read them, Deux had to, also. (And since they are by far the thickest books he has ever attempted and finished, I wasn't going to stop him.) Then they wanted to get them on CD to share with the twins.

But . . . Duchess will be 13 before everyone else. And they'll all be clamoring for it. Oh dear. I should have doled them out one a year for everybody or something. DOB has insisted that it's what we'll do with the movies.

Meanwhile, our house has been turned into Hogwarts and sorted into houses (stuffed animals included).

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We are almost finished with our first term of school. I am always astounded that we actually do this: we set out a plan and we stick to it, come hell or high water. I'm not sure where this is coming from, honestly, because I never really thought I could be that consistent. The big kids and I have finished reading A Midsummer Night's Dream together, Duchess with the graphic novel version. We're almost to the end of Robinson Crusoe, which started slow but has definitely picked up the pace with the arrival of cannibals. (In our curriculum discussion boards, people are always expressing concerns about the maturity of content as the years progress--in my experience, there is nothing to excite an interest in history and literature like mature content.) We also had due encounters with witch-burning, pirates, and battles of all sorts.

Teaching the twins is very different from the big kids--they take to listening and telling back the stories much more readily and pick up on the ideas very easily, but their progress in basic skills is more slow and steady. I'm not used to having to actually teach basic reading and math, so it's a change. Kind of fun, though.

Teaching everybody at once is usually totally insane.

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Maybe if I think of four more items by tomorrow I can turn this into a quick takes Friday. But I probably won't.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Persuasion

I may muddle up the order of the other novels, but Persuasion always comes last and best, as it should. Most of the other novels were written or at least started when Austen herself was very young, and although their heroines may seem quite grown-up when one first encounters them at fourteen, later in life they start resembling the Lord High Chancellor's wards: "All very agreeable girls and none/are over the age of twenty-one."

Undoubtedly Marianne Dashwood's assertion that "a woman of seven and twenty . . . can never hope to feel or inspire affection again" is meant to be a bit over the top, but the portrayal of twenty-seven-year-old Charlotte Lucas, with the choice of celibacy or Mr. Collins, leaves us in some doubt as to whether it was meant to be very far over the top after all.

Regardless, Anne Elliot (who is, in fact, seven and twenty) seems Austen's own answer to her youthful lack of perspective. She does fear that she cannot inspire affection again, but she has no loss of affection herself. Indeed, Persuasion is by far the most passionate of the novels. The undercurrent between Anne and Captain Wentworth, unspoken, unacknowledged, runs through every encounter. They speak to others, they look everywhere but at each other, but they are always so acutely aware of each other that everything and everyone else is only so much background noise.

The short version of the plot is that, eight years before, Anne had become engaged to Wentworth, then a lowly underofficer with no money or immediate prospects for marriage. Her family and friend opposed the match, and given the long and uncertain nature of the engagement, she is persuaded to end it. (I had not really noticed it before, but at Austen's time there appears to have been a clear double standard with regard to engagements--a lady could end an engagement without shame, but a gentleman could not, as witness Edward Farrars.)

As things turned out, however, Wentworth advanced rapidly in the navy and made his fortune in the Napoleonic wars. He returns to the neighborhood eight years later an excellent match, ready to settle down with any reasonably suitable young lady except, of course, Anne, whom he is certain he can never forgive.

Unfortunately, of course, he also realizes that he can never quite find anybody to match up to Anne. He tries to flirt with her teenaged relations, but his heart is never in it. They are younger and prettier and more lively, but they don't measure up. Meanwhile Anne--whom everyone has been thinking is quite on the shelf--goes through a bit of a renaissance herself, and acquires an even more eligible suitor.

The ending of course, is just as it should be and an eminently satisfactory response to the early novels' implication that love and life pretty much end at twenty-two. And in addition, there's the marvelous middle-aged Mrs. Croft, whose intelligence, energy and spirits make her the sort of person anyone would want to grow up to be, and whose marriage to the Admiral is perfectly delightful to see.

An interesting character contrast within the novel comes between Anne's sister Mary Musgrove, and Anne's school friend Mrs. Smith. Mary is not really a bad character, but she is a perennial whiner. She has everything anyone could ask for: plenty of money, a nice house, a kind and well-behaved husband, children arriving in due course (I suspect she's pregnant with number 3 during the novel, though it doesn't go on long enough to verify), decent health, pleasant in-laws. Yet she is constantly aggrieved at someone or something: someone is always slighting her, something is always going wrong and making her miserable. I do hope she grows up a bit (she is only 25, I think) or some of her blessings are going to go sour. Mrs. Smith, on the other hand, has next to nothing: alone in the world, money gone, health gone, living in a tiny room and supplementing her meager income with knitting. Yet she is constantly cheerful, interested in everything, entirely lacking in envy. I'm not sure one could want to be Mrs. Smith, yet one can still admire her from a safe distance.

Alas, though, now I have come to the end and must put something else in my novel slot. I've never given Sir Walter Scott much of a chance, so I'm trying Rob Roy.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Be Prepared


It's a phrase one will never hear the same way again after watching Hoodwinked.

Anyway, yesterday was our first real storm since moving into this house seven months ago. For those of you not in the Pacific Northwest, we just don't have storms in the summer. A brief thunderstorm might happen once a year, tornadoes are a thing of legend and thanks to ocean currents, hurricanes are impossible. But in winter, we get wind-and-precipitation storms, and they meet the trees and the wires.

Apparently ten years of city living have erased my memory, because even as the rain poured and the wind rose, and even when the power blinked for a minute, I completely forgot the rule number one of storms in the countryside: fill every available receptacle with water. (You would think after the well debacle of last month, this would be foremost in my mind, but it was not.)

So when the power went out for good, we had one half-filled pitcher and whatever was left in our glasses. Fortunately it was the optimum time for a power outage: after the supper dishes are done, just in time to go to bed by candlelight. (The one thing I *do* have plenty of is candles, thanks to cleaning out the estate.) It's not cold enough yet for the lack of heat to be much concern in a house full of warm bodies. And the power came back on in the middle of the night, before we had to start worrying about the fridge or anyone was desperate for a shower.

Now we've had a good reminder of all we still need to do. Get the stove checked and a backup stash of fuel, in case the power goes out in a snowstorm and we really do need heat. Get a proper water store.

We might get to it. But we're not mountain goats, so maybe not.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Miscellaneous

My beloved cordless drill, which is the only power tool I have ever had any understanding with, has finally given up after more than a decade of use. Or at least the battery has. Nonetheless, thanks to the loan of a drill from Toolboy and the assistance of B5, we finally have a coat rack in the entry, instead of a large drift of coats underneath.

The twins and I are at loggerheads over math. I firmly believe in the value of hands-on, game-oriented math, especially in the first year of school. They want worksheets. Since I can't find a program with worksheets that uses the sequence of instruction I want, I've made the two weeks' worth. That is probably enough for them to get tired of the idea. And if it's not, I can make some more.

We attended the local bar's CLE and dinner yesterday. It was enjoyable as usual, except that to my everlasting shame I could not even get the right century for Joan of Arc's death during the evening trivia game. (When we asked them later, both of the big kids knew it, so I suppose I'm doing something right.) However, I did impress my table with my knowledge of where the asteroid belt is located, so that was something.

It's been a couple of weeks in which no new crisis has occurred and I am almost starting to feel caught up on sleep and inspired to deep clean the living room. Must be time for a new crisis. I have a suspicion about what it will be, but there are always the surprise ones, too. Might as well leave things lying as long as possible.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Mansfield Park

This is not the most popular of Austen's novels, and Fanny Price is probably the least popular heroine. But then, popularity is not something she would value. To love Fanny one must begin, as Mr. Crawford found, by seeking to get her to like you. Once you have learned what a challenge it is to obtain her good opinion, you begin to realize how very worth it is getting.

Fanny is in some ways the antithesis of Austen's most popular heroines. The novel is a triumph of character over personality. Indeed, in personality and intelligence Mary Crawford is very nearly exactly like Elizabeth Bennett; but without sound principles, her charm must pall. Both Elizabeth and Emma are outwardly-engaged people who must make a journey inward--Elizabeth must learn to slow down and judge others rightly, and Emma to know herself.

But Fanny is already adept at understanding herself and others; she does not need witnessed explicit roguery to see Mr. Crawford's flaws, nor the appearance of a rival to recognize her own attachment to Edmund. It is, indeed, her own acute awareness of her own feelings and those of those around her that makes this novel the most emotionally intense and least light-hearted. Her whole life is one of observation and thought, intensely internal.

Fanny needs to journey outward: to stake the place for her own opinions and conscience in the world. To have the courage to hold on to her own "no," even against those whom she respects the most. In order for her to become Edmund's lover, she must cease to be his mirror, for all real love is a love of the otherness of someone. In order for her to be valued for her principles by Sir Bertram, she must hold true to them when he cannot see how they apply. To complete her journey she must become an entity in her own mind: realize her ability to mentor Susan, and recognize that her role at Mansfield Park is not simply a poor relation, but the capstone of the whole edifice.

Mr. Crawford starts out the least far along the path of vice of any of Austen's villains. His worst established fault is flirting with an engaged woman. Indeed, Austen raises the possibility that had he managed to persevere a bit longer and won Fanny, he might have been reformed. (Nonetheless, Austen seems to have little faith in the Love of a Good Woman as a motif and refuses to submit any of her heroines to marital reform work.) His real flaw is vanity--he cannot bear to *not* be admired, and that both attracts him to Fanny and undoes him with Maria.

An interesting contrast can be seen between the favor Crawford does for Fanny (securing a promotion for her brother) and the favor Darcy does for Elizabeth (forcing Wickham to marry Lydia). Crawford immediately proclaims what he has done, and then presses his romantic attentions on her--in the very same conversation. He obviously expects a quid pro quo. Fanny feels the obligation, but does not let it shake her principles. And note that although it was obviously a great benefit to William, the cost to Crawford was nothing more than a bit of gadding about and socializing--hardly a sacrifice for him.

On the other hand, Darcy, who must undergo considerable humiliation and expense to deal with Wickham, tries to keep the favor a secret. His love is, by this time, entirely unselfish--his only thought is that Elizabeth be benefited, not that he be credited or even that she be won. (And indeed he succeeds, not because she feels obligated to him, but simply because it confirms to her both his character and his continued regard in spite of the obstacles.)

A few more random thoughts--although Austen has many characters in running for the Person Most Desirable to Slap Silly, surely Aunt Norris is in the very top running. Also, Mansfield Park gives us a more intimate picture of young men than seen anywhere else--it is the only place where the main character has close familial relationships with them. And seeing the way Edmund and Fanny interact, it is not hard to understand why cousin marriages were relatively common--with the allowed intimacy of the family circle, it must have been the only opportunity to really get to know another person, rather than having to select one off the marriage market on the strength of a few balls and card parties and a frank tallying of assets.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Leftover Symbiosis

This will probably totally destroy my intelligent homeschooling mother credibility, but I really like to play computer games. I know, I'm supposed to restrict myself to intelligent and domestic hobbies while bemoaning the devotion my husband and children have to the screen. But, although I love to read, I don't love to do it all the time. I read fast, and a half hour or so of reading gives me enough mental food to chew on all day. I don't often enjoy reading fluff. I don't like watching TV or movies by myself and I have less than no interest in sports. Although I have the full complement of domestic skills, I am too clumsy to do crafts for the fun of it. Plus, they involve mess and quite possibly the expenditure of money.

Computer games are not at all messy and, if one watches for sales, not very expensive. They may not sound impressive, but despite the specter of people sitting at their screens while they lose their job, families, and sanity, most people do not become hopelessly addicted (and those that do would probably have become addicted to something regardless, addiction being more a function of the mind seeking an anchor than the object that it ties to). In balance, they're like jigsaw or crossword or logic puzzles, or following politics or sports--a nice way to give the brain something to do when the body needs a rest. And for rainy days, long winter evenings, and recovering from the flu or a sprained foot, they are a lot more fun than staring at the wall and a lot less stressful than stupid internet fights or reading domestic blogs where everybody's house is better decorated, meals are better cooked, and children are better dressed.

Last weekend, DOB packed me off to Bookworm's under a diagnosis of an acute case of four children. He and B5 managed to hold down (or up? how many forts are in danger of floating away?) the fort in my absence, supplemented by cold cereal and hot dogs, both rare and awe-inspring treats around here. (Well, hot dogs get mixed reviews.)  I finished up the work project that had pushed me over the edge of frazzlement and then read a Wodehouse cover to cover and then some Sayers. After several hours of no one asking for food while I was trying to document the obligations of insurance carriers, my right eyelid stopped twitching.

And then I felt like a new computer game, so I bought one I'd been wanting for a long time: Reus. You get to control various giants who plant resources on a tiny globe, which is then settled by tiny people. The challenge is helping the little towns grow without letting them become too greedy. The graphics are pretty (and two dimensional, a deciding factor for me, since the tiniest whiff of the third dimension nauseates me). To get things to advance very far, you have to take advantage of the symbiosis built into the game: this thing next to that thing makes more good stuff, but that thing also likes to be next to the other thing . . . It gets quite involved and a makes for a fun puzzle with many possible solutions.

OK, so it is kind of like housework. Such as cooking with leftovers. My current theory is to cook up a big ol' chunk of meat on Friday nights--a couple of chickens, a pork roast, or a ham. (Not beef--the price of beef is insane lately.) After supper the bones go in the crockpot with water for broth. The uberhealthy bone broth fans don't talk about it, but ham and pork bones make a lovely broth that gels up just fine. Then on Saturday morning I can strain the broth, pick the rest of the meat off the bones, and make up a couple of casseroles for the next few days with the extra meat and any beans and such left over from earlier in the week. The broth goes into soup or beans for Monday. Tuesday night is usually pizza with the last remnants of meat and vegetables, which cleans out the fridge and makes easily portable leftovers for our weekly outing, which includes grocery stopping, at which we restock the fridge and have meals heavy on the fresh vegetables and extra frozen meat until Friday comes around again. When it works, it's a beautiful thing of symbiosis. And when it doesn't, nasty things start growing in the back of the fridge, finding their own symbiosis.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Working Things Out

The other day I took a wrong turn on the internet and wound up on a fitness video website. I admit that I try deliberately not to keep up with the current trends in fitness, but even so I was a little astonished. There were exercise videos to make one's rear larger. I know I'm a little fuzzy on these concepts, but I had the general impression that the goal of exercise was to make everything exercisable smaller, but apparently not any more.

What I really wonder is how one determines whether one is at the optimum level of callipygous achievement. With whom does one have this conversation? I mean, I guess I would be comfortable talking about it with DOB, but his opinion would be strongly prejudiced (albeit not prejudicial).

Then of course, there are lots of exercises to lift the rear, which also mystifies me. What is wrong with its current location? Where would one sit if it was elsewhere?

Also, it turns out there are special exercises to do to get "tank top arms." I always thought "tank top arms" were "arms that were too warm in sleeves," but apparently that is not sufficient.

Anyway, the rest of the videos were all done with incomprehensible initials and references. Nobody organizes them the way I would. If I were doing it, workouts would have titles like this:

"Routine to keep you from smashing furniture in February."
"Exercises to get that little tweak out of your shoulder thanks to spending way too much time with a mouse."
"This may make you stop feeling so blah, and if it doesn't, you can totally have a piece of cake and see if that works instead."