Sunday, October 19, 2014


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."

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Bad Housekeeping Seal of Approval

Good mothers teach their children to pick up after themselves right from the first. If a child can get out toys, they can certainly put them away. All you need is a place for everything and everything in its place. I once had a lady very seriously lecture me on these principles, back when I was pregnant with the twins, while she was doing the dishes because I could not move without vomiting. Since I also couldn't really speak without vomiting, I didn't try to point out the obvious flaws in her plan.

Anyway, we got a little behind. A lot behind. The place kept moving and the everything kept changing. (Who are these people who can actually design enough places to contain what their kids have? Do their kids not create an entire new fleet of paper airplanes, the frontispiece of three unwritten novels, and seven maps of paradise for miniature plastic horses every time they have twenty minutes of free time? Then there are those who say, "Oh, I can't think in a mess; it really stresses me out, that's why I keep things cleaned up all the time." Well, I also can't think in a mess. That's why it's still there.)

But I've always figured that the least I could do is not make us feel bad about the mess. After all, it's not the ducklings' fault that they don't have proper places to put stuff and I haven't taught them to pick up every day. And it's not my fault that I operate at a preschool level in sorting ability or have moved eight times and lost everything all over again. So when--about once a quarter--it comes time to actually face up to the mess, at least we pitch into it with a right good will. They actually get excited. No doubt we will uncover some lost treasures. There'll be open space for a day or two to get things out in.

I let them pick things up for as long as they stay interested. Then, when they drift away, I start salvaging anything that we will desperately miss. (Library books and clothes, mostly.) I throw away anything I am reasonably sure they won't scream if they find out. I put away anything really obvious that they missed. This process has already taken most of the day and we probably have slighted lunch and I am getting very crabby.

And then--here is my Bad Housekeeping Secret--I get a big box. Or two. Or three. An extra laundry basket sometimes, but the holes are a problem. And I just scoop up everything that's left, put it in the box, and shove it down in the basement (or, now, the garage). No, I do not sort it into Things to Keep and Things to Give Away and Things to Put Away Somewhere Else, because at this point in the project if I try to start sorting I will have to be committed as a danger to myself and others.

For several years I have been telling myself that I will get to these boxes and sort them out afterwards, in a calmer moment, if I can only wrap up the cleaning project and vacuum today. We do filch stuff out of them from time to time--large items of dress-up tend to stick out and every once in a dreadful while a library book misses the initial scrutiny. If I pull a few larger items (firemen hats take up a lot of space) out I can usually consolidate the boxes and keep them in manageable numbers. But they begin to accumulate. I think we're close on to a dozen now.

Some might argue that this proves that these items are of no importance and we could get rid of them. They would be wrong. I know there are all kinds of things in these boxes that *are* of importance and we very much want, like the glass gems we use for tracking life in Magic: The Gathering and also teaching math, and all the pieces of all the puzzles, and three of the Clue murder weapons, and spare golf balls which are essential if you don't have time to get to the chiropractor, and enough writing implements to prevent us from ever needing to buy school supplies again. When we moved this spring I finally found one of these boxes from a previous move and there . . . THERE! . . . was the favorite purple coat I had been hunting for every winter since we moved in, hoping to find it for one of the twins. Unfortunately it was a 3T, so it was no longer any good. But had I found it sooner, it would have been, you see.

But retrieving these items would mean sorting them out from the twenty mixed decks of old playing cards, the plastic ball mazes and pencils that don't sharpen from Oriental Trading Company, and the other toddler snow boot that I finally gave up and threw away the mate to, and I keep waiting for that calm and relaxed day to come on which I feel up to such a herculean task.

I didn't really mean to tackle cleaning the kid zone this week. (One of the many wonderful things about this house is the kid zone is large enough that I can herd the mess upstairs and the living room stays fairly neat.) I was only skirting around the idea and getting ideas. The trouble is, we run on ideas. And so as soon as I had posed the question to the ducklings, "What could we do to make your rooms better?" they were all on fire to get started. And I'm not one to waste energy. So this week we put up shelves and moved dressers and drew lines and sorted through the fall clothes. And when we started running out of steam, I started filling up boxes again.

Over time, with children getting older, the mess has gotten better. I really do think our latest reorganization is going to help. And if it doesn't, I'm sure I can find a way to stack the boxes more carefully so the pile doesn't come over.

Friday, September 19, 2014


Somehow it just seemed like time to re-read all the Jane Austen novels. (We also tried watching the more recent Pride and Prejudice, but mercifully couldn't finish it before it had to go back to the library. That was a painful experience.)

I saw a quote where Austen described Emma as a character nobody but herself would much like. I have to concur--I *don't* like Emma much. She's an insufferable snobbish busybody. In consequence I haven't read Emma nearly as many times as some of the others.

However, reading with more attention this time, I found much to enjoy in the novel, and although I still don't much like Emma, I think she might (after the book is over) grow into a person I could like. Most of Austen's novels turn on some disparity between perception and reality, but Emma's misperceptions are so willful that the novel broadly hints to the attentive reader exactly what is going on the whole time. So instead of reading it *with* Emma, you can instead read it to laugh at her.

I have come to the conclusion that Emma's mother must have found her health overtaxed by pregnancy and childbirth and gone into a gradual decline that began almost with her marriage (she died when Emma was four). Mr. Woodhouse, too self-centered to fully notice or comprehend what was going on, still felt vaguely responsible. That seems the only reasonable explanation for the intensity of his aversion to marriage as an institution.

When I was single it seemed to be assumed among my family and acquaintance that I would need to marry someone much older and wiser to counterbalance my apparent flightiness. (I am very glad I did not; it would not have suited me at all. I hate to feel at a disadvantage in information or experience, and I never respond well to being told what to do.) One friend suggested that I should marry a Mr. Knightley. After rereading Emma and paying more attention to the character of her brother-in-law, an attorney, devoted to his family but with a certain degree of moodiness and mild aversion to unnecessary social gatherings, I have concluded that she was simply mistaken about which Mr. Knightley would suit.

Emma offers a unique opportunity in Austen's novels to contemplate swapping the main romances. Nobody could seriously imagine Lizzie with Bingley or Darcy with Jane, but most of the middle part of Emma has us contemplating a Fairfax/Knightley and Woodhouse/Churchill pairing. It is plain that the first would be far too stodgy and the latter far too frivolous. Clearly this is a case where opposites attracting is a good thing.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Coming up Dry

This was a busy week, what with DOB going to the Seattle doctor on Wednesday (which means me driving to Seattle in morning traffic, always a terrifying prospect for all concerned). We didn't get anything particularly earth-shattering out of that visit, except for genetic testing confirming that DOB does have the disease he's had his whole life, but it's just the garden variety and no particular reason for it to cause any other weird symptoms.

The afternoon before this trip, I dumped DOB's water bottle out in the sink and turned the tap on to refill it. Nothing came out. I tried all the other faucets. Nothing. I talked to all the neighbors, and found out all about their alternative water sources, which should come in handy if the power goes out. However, it was clear that the trouble was with our system.

Failing that, I called His Majesty and Toolboy. His Majesty seems to be in the process of handing off the mantle of He Who Knows How Things Should Be Fixed to Toolboy, but he brought over several buckets and bottles of water. Toolboy and Rocketboy showed up (with more water) and began doing mysterious things in the well house.

After several hours, Toolboy emerged with the verdict that though most of the above-ground component had needed to be and had been replaced, nothing was happening still and it was time to call the well drillers. Except it was 8 p.m., so it wasn't time to call them.

Really, it was just as well it happened this week, because we were gone most of the day for the doctor's and the ducklings were already slated to spend the night at Their Majesties, so B5 (who recently moved in) was the only one who had to face the whole day without water. We called the well drillers, but couldn't get anyone until the following day. Faced with the prospect of at least four extra buckets of water to haul to the upstairs toilet, not to mention trying to fix breakfast for the ravening hordes while helping DOB look presentable for court, I begged and Their Majesties kindly conceded to keep the ducklings an extra night.

So by the time the ducklings returned in the morning, the big truck was here and the well was being cleaned out of nasty sludginess and the pump replaced. It was still nearly noon before the water came back on, and the one remaining above-ground component that Toolboy didn't already replace will have to be replaced within two months. And it turns out that one of the 1,567 things to be done immediately upon moving in that we forgot to do was add the well rider to the home warranty policy. Still, at least the well is shallow so it cost much less than it might have.

And, for the first time since moving in, we have actual water pressure: showers rather than dribbles, and the ability to run two appliances and flush all at the same time. So, all's well that ends well.